An Ambitious Proposal

Eidr sat alone on a rugged stump at the edge of the cliff, his quill poised above a sheet of parchment as the wind tousled his unkempt hair. Below him, the grotto stretched out, a dark and mysterious abyss that had captured the interest of the Runeheim Society of Scholars. To Eidr in that moment, this was a much-needed sanctuary, a place where he could let his mind roam freely, far from the prying eyes of the highborn who now looked to him as the temporary Master of Coin.

His rise from a lowly gravedigger to the position of tax collector was nothing short of miraculous. But it was a miracle he intended to exploit to its fullest extent. The sudden vacancy in the position of Master of Coin, resulting from the execution of one of the previous Masters for slave trading, had presented him with an opportunity like no other. He had planned on using that title, planned on manipulating things as tax collector. But Lady Vindicta had given him something far greater than he had ever had before. He would repay the debt with work befitting.

Eidr dipped his quill into the inkwell and began to draft his proposal to Lady Vindicta Dragomir. He knew that in order to wield power, he must first appear legitimate, which was something he could never achieve in person. His social class had been one of servitude and poverty, but his mind was his weapon. It was his knowledge of academics and logistics that had set him apart.

As he wrote, his thoughts flowed like a river, each word carefully chosen to convey his intentions without ever stating them outright. He spoke of fiscal responsibility, of the need to maintain the stability of the realm’s finances, and of the importance of fair taxation. He emphasized his commitment to upholding the laws and values of the land.

Eidr knew that Lady Vindicta Dragomir was no fool. She would read between the lines, see the potential for mutual benefit in his proposal. He couldn’t afford to be seen as a threat, not with so many eyes on him. He needed her support, her trust, and he had to earn it subtly.

The grotto below him whispered secrets of forgotten ages, and the cliffside stood as a symbol of his ascent from the depths of society. Yet Eidr couldn’t help but think that he still had to descend into it. He still had to investigate the blood-stained grotto beneath him.

With a final flourish, he signed his name at the bottom of the parchment. The proposal was complete, carefully crafted to give him the legitimacy he so desperately needed. He would send it to Lady Vindicta, and for now, let the ink on the parchment speak on his behalf. He would have to get second opinions, his words alone weren’t enough.

As he folded the document and pocketed it, Eidr gazed out at the grotto once more. It was a reminder of the lengths he had come, and the depths he was willing to explore to secure his position. The wind carried his thoughts away into the abyss below. He saw only shadows below.


Sitting at his workbench, Valentin is trying to modify a pump valve, his hands fumbling with the machinery as if he had forgotten what it was for. He is desperate to lose himself in his work, but his mind keeps wandering to a lovely face. ‘The very idea is ridiculous. I am too old for her.’

The metal parts in his hands felt like strangers, despite having fitted valves to piston’s dozens of times. No matter how Valentin turned the pieces, they would just not fit correctly. This was made all the worse by his increasing inattention. ‘If I were to marry Sophie, Camille would be at peace. Juliene might be safe. I might. No, I cannot ask that of her.’ With a shake of his head Valentin forces himself to pay attention to the task at hand. To the reliability of metal fitting with Metal.

Valentin takes out a file, and shaves a small amount of metal off of the recalcitrant piston. He goes back to trying to jam it back into place, despite the fit still not being quite right. ‘She is everything I could want in a wife. A brilliant mind. Possibly the most compassionate woman I know. She loves knowledge and learning as much as I do. She is beautiful. And she has so many books. I could easily’

Valentin’s inattention causes his hand to slip, throwing him forward. He lets out a gasp of pain as his arm slams into the edge of a nearby metal plate. Looking down he sees the cloth of his shirt has been sliced open, and below that his arm.

“Merde” he mutters under his breath, watching the blood start to stain the white cloth. Crossing the workshop he grab an old piece of mostly clean linen and presses it against his arm. Gritting his teeth, Valentin presses the gashed arm against a work bench while he ties the bandage with his other hand. ‘I don’t need to be happy. I have my work. And I have Julienne to watch over. That is enough.’

Valentin lowers himself into an old chair as he waits for the throbbing in his arm to go away and the sweat to dry on his forehead. Now he has no familiar distraction to pull him away from the thoughts run through his mind. ‘I could be happy with her. But she deserves better than me. Sophie gives so much to Luisant; she has a right to ask for her own happiness.’

Sinking deeper into the chair. Valentin closes his eyes and fights off the pain. After a long time he rises and goes back to work.

Brushfire Lullaby

It is a warm Summer day, the shadows hanging far from the trees keeping the clearing cool during the long days. ‘Perfect time for a wedding.’ Alex thought to himself as he watched his friends get married, Cadence the Templar he was squired to and Milo, the dashing rogue that always had his back, even during stupid plays. Honestly surprised it was happening this market, they seemed to keep pushing it back, with everything getting in the way. It was honestly Cadence’s trademark, pushing off stuff that they wanted to do and focus on what needs to do.

Henri was officiating the wedding, looking so proud as he opened up his words. The forest behind decided to erupt in noise, trees falling all over. Not wanting their wedding disturbed, Alex would excuse himself to see what went wrong. He’d make it over to the old bridge, listening to it creak and moan with his weight, making sure to only step in spots where it was still sturdy. The beavers had made a mess of everything, eating all of the wood that was good. Stopping near the end of the bridge, he’d see some rustling in the bushes ahead and readying his gun to meet whatever shows up. Three beavers come out, looking straight at him. Sighing, he’d yell to make some noise towards them, scaring them off into the deeper forests. They dropped their sticks in a hurry, trying to lessen the load to get away from the gunman.

Alex would step off the bridge into the forest, his vision getting clouded for a moment and with a quick wipe, he’d see the forest on fire in front of him. Trees would be long ablaze and the ground shrubs long gone, with the bonfire reaching towards the heavens. The beavers would be replaced by the shadow people, looking back at Alex with their shiny eyes and having multiplied about. All of the eyes would be on him, with him unable to move from his spot and can almost taste the ash on his lips. His hands would feel sticky while grabbing his musket, with what looks like blood covering them. One of the figures pointed back towards the wedding, with Alex forcibly moving his head like it was being held in place by a giant’s hand.

The wedding party would be barely visible through the smoke, the guests all being more shadow people who turned their heads to look at him. The bride and groom would be still look the same, though with both their heads missing and Henri being replaced by a Lion headed man, with a mane of pure flames licking out. Slowly the head would turn to look at him, same as the shadow people.. Same as those in his dreams. A voice would ring out from behind him, making him catch his breath. The flames would blink out, the shadow people all gone and his hands as clean as they were when he first cleared the bridge.

“Is everything okay Alex, anything up ahead?” He’d hear Gerard say from behind him, the town captain showing up to back him up. Taking in a couple of breaths, he cough what felt liked ash from his lungs. “Yeah.. Yeah, its all good. Just some beavers that scampered back into the forest. All is good now.” He’d say, looking back at the wedding just wrapping up. All was well, it was a nice Summer Day for a wedding. His friends looked happy there, now together and able to start a new life together. He’d sigh slightly, ‘That’s something we don’t get to have anymore.’

A Dream and A Daisy


The ringing of hammer meeting anvil echoed in the lonely smithy. The heat of the forge a comfort in the rainy autumn evening. Sparks flew after each impact and gently floated down as embers. A strong steady hand held the piece in place as the the man worked his craft. Focus, concentration, strength, endurance all cycled in the man’s mind. On the wind a voice danced, “I’m still here”.

The man paused, deafened by the noise of his labor, but still able to hear the whispered words. “You think I’m gone, but you know me better.”

The man looked now through the open door, into the gentle rain, and amongst the foliage appeared a…shape? A human? A wolf? A spirit?

“You run but I will find you. You fight, but you know me stronger. Remember what you were taught.”

Suddenly, the skies darkened and lightning ripped across them, the figure now standing just outside the door to the smithy. The flames of the forge were snuffed out, leaving the man in darkness. Another lightning crack illuminated the creature’s mangled form just moments before them man was struck.

Then a bird chirp echoed in the darkness. Light crept through a window and roused the man in bed. His sweat soaked the linens and his breath galloped from his lungs. He sat up not believing what had happened and questioned what was and wasn’t real. He touched his face where he imagined the strike to have connected and found no scar, no wound, only a memory of the event. He sat for many a minute trying to work what had happened, what meaning there was in this…dream? returned memory? false memory?

He was stirred from his thoughts as the door to his room burst open

“Big Brother!!! Good morning! Did you sleep well?” A young girl bound into his room as sunny as this pleasant early morning.

“Uh, Yeah. I slept fine. How’s our little daisy doing this morning?”

“I’m good. One of Father’s friends came by earlier wanting to talk to me, but he scared me. I don’t want to talk to scary people”

“It’s okay. We can talk to him together another time. Would that be okay? You wouldn’t have to be scared if your big brother’s there” The man gave the little girl a warm smile.

“Hm, maybe. Only if we can get pastries after”

“Haha, alright then.” The man smiled again, but buried in his eyes were the pangs of doubt, anger, and hatred. The girl was right to be afraid, and the man would protect her and the rest of his family with his life.

I Just Wish This Was Easier

“Why am I talking about him?” I said in bewilderment to my younger sister, Sev. I had not expected her to come to forum, but I guess she had been cooped up in the house for a while now. She did take after her mother a lot, or so it seems. She’s nothing like Dad. She’s more head-in-the-clouds, eccentric, and rambunctious. Many things dad would never allow. God, why am I thinking of him so much. He was so horrible to all of us, Sev probably more than the others. Despite all that, though, I guess he taught us some useful things. Why did I have to inherit his work. It’s just a burning nail of a reminder for me whose trying to live the life he wish he could. It’s so similar to what others saw of him that they see it as the same. It’s not. It absolutely was not. He dealt with coin. He spoke honeyed words to those who would give him money, but saw his own children as cattle, slaves, property. He deceived, or paid off, anyone who would have a second mind about him. He deserves all that came to him. Despite all his going-on about hard work, preparation, vigilance, and all the other bullshit virtues that he hammered into us, he was a bastard. I mean some of those are good things to have. There’s some in town that could use a good lesson or two about hard work. He didn’t even let us be kids, though. From when I could talk, I had a hammer in my hand, or at least a pair of pliers. When all the other kids were out in the mines or out enjoying themselves I was at the smith with him. For good or for ill, he taught me everything I know, and I despise that. I’m an adult now, and only know what he taught me. I don’t know what -I- like, what -I- want to do, only what feels like what he’s worked my mind to like and want.

Fabron takes a big sigh

I can’t let him control me anymore. -I- live for what -I- value and care about. If that’s smithing, that’s not because of him. If that’s caring for -my- family, that sure as hell is not because of him. I-…

I hate him so much, and the only way I see to truly get rid of him is to stop worrying about him.

I just wish it was easier though.

“Hey can I go out into the forest?” Sev asks, snapping me back to reality. How long was I just staring?

“No” Came my practiced response, grimacing at how familiar it sounded.

“Pleeeeease? I’ll be safe” Sev begged.

I glared at her, again in a rather practiced way. Maybe she’d see the pain behind it, or maybe tell from the time it was taking for me to respond that I didn’t want to say no, but only knew this way of taking care of her.

God, I just wish this was easier.

One Foot Already In

“Hey mom… its been a while. Winter has finally thawed and snows no longer covering your grave… Its nice out today, light rain, flowers in bloom. You always liked this time of year, when the mornings still cling to your bones with a chill, but burns away midday to where a coat isn’t needed.” Alex would say, taking his hat off and holding it in front of him. Fidgeting and scrunching it up, he’d stammer out, “I.. I… I talked to Lenore recently… She’s doing well it seems. Jan has grown up like a weed, he seems set to be a big as dad…” He’d glance down to the ring on his thumb, sniffling then cough to try and compose himself.

“She told me part of what happened.. How you died shortly after I left. How the man you set her up with turned out to be an alcoholic that got violent with them… How she blamed me for leaving…..” He’d let the words hang out in the air, trying to keep his thoughts from crashing in. “She says she forgives me, I don’t fully believe her. In all honesty though, I don’t blame them if they do. They’ve been living out in the forests for the past couple of years it sounded like and the first time I get to talk to them, Jan is off running into the woods and Lenore has their leg busted open by a bee hive person. Benalus that was awkward… Especially since the reason that Jan left was trying to become a bandit out in the woods, just like their Uncle. I swear I am looking at a mirror set years in the past with how set on adventures he was, though his stubbornness definitely comes from his mother.”

“I do think some of the damage is getting repaired though, the trust I broke. Lenore showed up to church for my re-baptism, going by Alexandre now.. We talked a little about that last time, needing a fresh start. It went nice.” His hands would relax on his hat as he looked at the marker for her, trying to crack a small smile. “I set them up with House Dubois, Granny Jo offered to help us out for the time being, with the hope we’ll fix up a house for them. Honestly with how much I’ve been doing for the town, a house to put up my feet instead of out in the woods sounds real nice. They should be safe there for now, much better than how things were. Especially now since the woods are even more unsafe for those who can’t defend themselves.” He’d say, sighing as his thoughts began to wander.

“I.. I had the intention to promising you I’d take better care of them now.. Of being there for them. But I can’t lie to myself, nor to you mom.. I know you’d be proud of me getting re-baptized, trying to start a new life, but even after the ceremony I still feel this… this weight on my shoulders. When I shot Emile in the street, I thought this was it.. Everyone will know about who I am and they’ll condemn me. But then it didn’t. The town decided they wanted to keep me around and have my penance be working with Cadence to keep the town safe and explore the Mouth. And ever since then I’ve had this feeling that I’m the next tooo…” “Doesn’t matter..” Alex would shuffle in place, his eye drifting to the bare ground next to the plot.

“The town’s different from when we grew up. So many people died from the plague, those that are left are trying to keep the pieces together and yet.. Someone is going to get hurt. They make plans and plans on top of it and then last minute, they shift without telling everyone. And they ask me to keep everyone alive, everyone safe. So honestly.. its gonna be me there, taking hits for others when their plans blow up and living with the consequences afterwards… Well.. that’s if I even..” His face would slump slightly, trying to push out thoughts he was having. He’d run his hands through his hair, setting his hat back on and slipping the sling for his rifle over his shoulder, taking a final look at the marker. “Goodbye mom.. I love and miss you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you then… I’ll see you later, maybe sooner than we both expected..”

A Community Apart

Theo: A Community Apart

Why do we even try? Etienne was right. Peace is a lie. They will never truly welcome us as equals.

Recently they had been kind, caring, or at least giving. They consider us better than the outsiders, better than the malefic. Such praise! Maybe someday we can aspire to be as appreciated as the animals in the forests and swamps! They’re just bribing us into not being a problem for them later. Whatever. Do they actually like us though? Do they really believe we are part of their community? Of course not.

Some try to convince us that we can join them, that we will be happier if we were part of their community. I’m not even sure what that even means. Seems like just another way people try to make us go away, to put us under their thumbs. One more group for them to balance. They don’t really know us, they don’t really care. Maybe someday they’ll actually explain it to Cole. I bet now that Etienne and Aryeh refuse to come to market, they think we are easy to break off from the group and consume. To fix us like those priests did to Nadja.

One minute you torturing an elf for information is wrong and you should talk nicely with it instead. The next talking to it makes you evil and someone no one should trust.
You can listen to them about how to do a thing, but they will use it as a weapon against you.

They might seem happy to hear your opinions, the next they will reject you for trying to give advice they don’t like or don’t understand. Clearly your advice was meant as an attack upon someone they liked better. An apology is too much to ask of them.
You can pretend to include yourself, but they will turn their back on you in favor of anyone else at the first opportunity.

They might ask you for information about something, and you might give it to them. You might expect them to include you in whatever is going to happen. You would be wrong.
You can try to be part of their community, but they will make their own plans behind closed doors and exclude you. They don’t really trust you.

You can give them the tools and encourage them to find a solution, but somehow there is malice in your hear
We are just a cog in their machine that never really fit or worked the way they wanted.
Always one step away from being thrown away.

Hornets Nest

Hornet Nest

She was well and truly exhausted, as she sat in the shadow of the Grove looking at the spilled blood, torn grass and shambles of the chime. Her cloak wrapped around her trying to keep the heat in and the rain out. Pain radiated from her back down her legs, her heels feeling like she was standing on daggers even though she was seated. Her heart was broken with the pain of what she had allow to happen in the tunnels, the ending of a Spirit, and she had begged, grovelled to Isabel , abasing herself pleading to have the Spirit released. All the time having to work with that hideous corruption of a mage. It all came to naught of course, the priests prevailed. It was all for the ‘good of the community’. Her head was buzzing, it was like having a hornets nest inside her skull.

She leaned into the tree, seeking solace in the familiar smell and texture of the bark under her cheek. She sung softly to the tree and to herself about spring and the flowing of sap and new buds and leaves. The buzzing did not abate, it droned and swirled around and stung her. She had risked everything, her Grove, her Circle to help them and still, they didn’t understand. They could never get over their stupid writing in their books telling them what was right and who was evil. Even when faced with one of their living Saint and hearing the truth from him, they were bound by their scribbles from small minded fools of ages past.

She worried about what the People would say, she hadn’t seen or hear any of them since Grandfather had whispered to her to welcome the elf as an honoured guest. She hadn’t, she’d been rude to it. Hadn’t offered Hospitality even when the elf demanded it. Had tried to get to the Great Spirit to see if a compromise could be made but the damned Lion people kept getting in the way and then when Etienne had stepped up, she hadn’t been quick enough to stop the Pact. It was one thing to bind yourself but, the whole community? That would be a mistake that everyone would bare.

She thought that maybe she could temper the Pact the next morning at the feast but, the priests were there again, and the mage. Then the worst had happened, when she had stepped back from the Spirit she had seen the mage, waving his hands and wriggling his finger, casting corruption on her! She had called out for him to stop but he had tried to silence her, in desperation she had order dear, sweet Hugo to attack him. He hadn’t, blessing of the Spirits on him, his head had been clear, no hornets sting or buzzing to distract him. Then, the community actually did something together and stopped it. The Great Spirit would have certainly gorged on those emotions. Cadence was there, bringing her back to herself,the Spirit entreating her, almost bending her to pray to him. So much so that she did start to Pray, like crossing a racing river, she Prayed for community, for friendship, anything to try to get to the other side,as the Spirit retreated, in one desperate grasp for safety she wretched away from the Spirit and dedicated the Prayer to Cadence instead.

She though of the Spirit from the tunnels again grieving for the loss, of the Great Spirit corrupted, tormented entreating her to Pray to him. She had denied so much recently, all for this community, these people. She wondered which would happen first, the people burning her as a Witch or would the Standing People destroy her. The buzzing crescendoed in her head, PAIN! Then, in a burst of light she had a brief vision of a figure surrounded by light, then silence and darkness as she collapsed against the tree in relief as the pain stopped and slept.

Conversation After First Market

Hadrien walks through the door to his home.

“Ma, Pa, I’m back”

“Oh, Hadrien, dear. Welcome back. Your father is resting,” Merle DuBois emerges from a back room, smelling of bitter herbs and dirt. “Please, please, tell me of Market. Was it good?”

“Well, I had a bit of a rough start, you know. Me and a few other folk got a bit twisted around in the mists and got a bit jumped by some walking corpses full of bees. We had a couple fellas with us who cut them down well enough, but it looked real painful, on account of the bees. Apparently the corpses had honey in them and everything, but also apparently someone tasted the honey later, and the honey wasn’t so sweet, so it’s anybody’s guess how much of the honey was people as opposed to, you know, honey. But anyways a little ways on we found some poor woman with her skin cut off who we had to carry into town. I shouted for some help, and they tried to bandage her, but I’m not sure how you bandage a person when they are missing all of their skin, so they took her to a tent, and I guess whatever they did works and she ended up living somehow.”

Merle could barely hide the shock on her face, “Well, that certainly sounds like an introduction to Market. But I am sure that is the only excitement that happened.”

“Well, actually, it was just a bunch of people standing around and talking for a while. But then I found our family, and they took me to the grove–”

“Oh, you met the circle. What did you think?”

“Well, I gotta admit, I don’t know how to feel about it. When we were walking to the grove, we met some kind of weird ghost or something who was offering us items and stuff in exchange for other stuff, but he was being real creepy, and later I heard he might have cursed the town, but the Mother was real enthusiastic about trading with him for simple stuff like wool, but I wasn’t sure how to feel about it until this man who looked real smart said something like ‘do we need to trade with these strange beings when we can provide for ourselves’. And I asked him straight if we was so hard up for food and supplies that we needed to make weird deals, and he was all ‘No, but some people are impatient’. And then later when we got to the grove, and elf just showed up–”

“You met an elf!”

“Yeah, an elf was there talking something about a spirit who wanted something and she wanted us to do something. I don’t know, I didn’t understand it, and I kinda zoned out a bit there, but a woman who I think was staying in my bunk came out, I think she was with the elf, talking about something. But apparently later someone said that the elf wants to kill a bunch of people, and that would be bad. But in the moment the Mother seemed real keen to do what the elf said the spirit wanted us to do if I caught the bits and pieces right, but someone else suggested we talk to the town about it, and I thought it was weird that the Mother was just jumping to do all these things, and other people had to bring up other considerations on how many to do things better. I just didn’t get a real leadership type vibe from her. But it’s a good thing we talked to other people about it, because that’s how we learned the elf probably just wanted to kill people”

“Oh, so you didn’t do what the elf wanted you to do?”

“Well, not exactly. From what I could tell the elf wanted us to have a big feast and worship the elf like a god like to make it bigger, but the next day Vecatrans and Benalians were like ‘What if tonight we have a party and instead of worshiping the spirit, we teach it what community is’ on account of maybe the spirit caused some people in town to eat people. I don’t know, it seemed like there was some history there that happened before. But anyway, the town was supposed to have a party in the woods to show it how much we liked each other, except when the elf and the spirit came apparently one guy was told the elf ‘you said you was my enemy before, and so you are my enemy now, and I wish you would go away’, which kinda killed the whole party energy, so people who just standing around all tense like. But, apparently the spirit said it found out what community was ok with it, but we needed to invite it to our feast in the morning and how it as our guest of honor, which I thought was kinda weird because I was told worshiping it wasn’t what we was supposed to do, and having something as a guest of honor sounded an awful like worship as far as a spirit was concerned. But anyway I almost got stabbed by one of my new friends, but he said it was an accident because his hands got possessed or something, and I wouldn’t have believed it if it wasn’t for something trying to make people stab and shoot each other after the elf and the spirit left, but no one got hurt. But I got real scared because we were all standing around while something was trying to creep into our minds, so I shouted real loud for us to get the fuck out of there, pardon me ma, but that seemed to do the trick and we all started moving back towards town. Then the next morning got kinda tense there because no one knew what to do with the spirit. Some people wanted to talk to it, but I think most people thought it best to just ignore it, but Mother got real heated because a magic guy who was suspicious of the spirit was, I guess, trying to protect people in the tavern, and Mother didn’t like that much, but he wasn’t doing nothing to her, but she called for some people to take him down anyway. Luckily someone else spoke up and talked some sense into her and said there was no harm being done so no harm should come to him, and things calmed down for a little while, and I think things calmed down after that. People were encouraging folks to be happy and jovial and not angry on account that we were trying to still teach the spirit about community, instead of how to yell at us I guess.”

“Oh, well, that does seem like an eventful market, but at least it sounds like no one was harmed. Well, no one besides that, umm, flayed woman you mentioned” Merle looked pale and felt for a chair to sit in.

“Oh, no that wasn’t all that happened. I went into a weird smelling old forge. They said some kind of earth wizard or someone built it a long time ago, and at the end of it there was a weird moving statue that people were calling an “atomatom” or some approximation, and that thing swung a real heavy sword real hard at us. I just kinda tried to run out of reach of it because I aint no good at fighting. But one guy did get got in the chest, and I had to hold the blood in him until we could get some bandages around him. A real strong woman ended up knocking the statue over eventually and hit it a bunch. And then there were the weird blood mud puddles in the forest that apparently hurt like hell if it got on you, and when it did it jumped at something else to try and hurt them too. I think some kids got caught in that stuff, but they turned out ok. And then there was a lot more corpse bees. And then I saw some trolls attacking some lady who sang real loud to call for help. And then apparently there were some werewolves around trying to attack people. And there were ghosts who were trying to kill the lord, but that turned out fine because apparently there was some lady in town related to an old king, and that made the ghosts go away, and she’s the head of the town now. And I think I saw some weird skeleton things, and it was all kinda blurring together.”

“Umm, I see. Well, Market seemed especially lively this go ’round. Thankfully it isn’t usually so….busy”

“Well actually I heard lots of people saying that this has been kinda normal lately, and there’s lots of problems happening that we didn’t have any right answers to, so it sounds like Market is gonna be quite busy for some time to come”

“I see, well, did you at least have any good points?”

“Well, I met a bunch of really nice people. Most of the people in my bunk house seems real nice. There was one who seemed like she was trying to get some of the Benalians to commit a bunch of sins without them knowing and then acting dumb when people were calling her out on it. She wasn’t too discreet like about it. And there was a wizard man who seemed kinda aloof and like he had a lot going on who I didn’t talk to too much, but I made him some ink, so that was something. But besides them everyone else was real nice. There was one lady with a big sword and shield who seemed honest and forthright enough about the happenings in the town, and seemed like she wanted to protect people. And there was a guy with a bunch of knives who seemed a little weary at first, but I made him some ink too, and they seemed real appreciative of it. He asked if I wanted to go out and gather in the forest, and when I said ok he asked how I defend myself, and I told him I hadn’t need to in quite some time, so I didn’t really have a way to, and he offered to help keep an eye on me. He was real impressive because whenever there was the slight hint of a yell in the forest he was off like a shot to go and help. I don’t think I saw a glimmer of hesitation in their eye the entire time I was around them. And there was a couple other people who offered to help too. One of them was a DuBois with a bow who kinda seemed like he was on the outs with the family, but he seemed to be alright and honest enough. And there was a woman who was small, but real bubbly and cheerful like, but carried a heavy looking weapon that was bigger than her. Her whole body must have been one huge muscle for her to carry that thing. I didn’t get to see her use it, but it must be a spectacle when she does. And then there was the guy who accidentally almost stabbed me in the chest. Like I said, I would have been more weary of that particular event if the whole town wasn’t fighting off some kind of crazy, but also the whole Market I saw him do nothing but work making stuff for the town, Vecatran and Benalian alike. And he seemed like he just wanted to work hard to provide for everybody, and it was real sweet watching him work, but it seems he might be overloading himself with all the responsibility. Well, actually, the same could be said for most of the people in the bunk. Well, anyway, there was another man who I think someone said had the charisma. And while he was real nice and charming like, and people really seemed to like him, I don’t exactly know if he was more charismatic than a lot of other people. But people seemed to think he was something special. He could tell things not to hurt him, and then they couldn’t, and then he would jump in front of things. I’m not sure how effective it was, but it was real entertaining to watch. I also met a person who sung real well, and made me feel all energetic and happy hearing them sing, and I think it was that song that gave me an awareness to jump away from the sword that one guy accidentally swung at me, so I was real appreciative towards them. And there was a bunch of nice people doing things.”

“Well, it is a relief that it wasn’t all bad. And I’m glad you met some kind people who you can lean on for the next market”

“Actually, Ma, I was hoping there wasn’t going to be a next market. To say the least it was scary as shit. And it seems like they already had people who could do what I could do and more. And mostly I felt like I was a liability on most occasions. So there’s no real reason for me to go.”

Merle paused for a moment and folded her hands under her chin before meeting Hadiren’s gaze. “Look Hadrien. Taking you in has been the best decision your pa and I made. You saved Pa’s life, and for that we will be eternally grateful, and we have tried to keep you safe and sound. But I fear we may have taken that too far. You said when you were out on your own you were still scared as hell on those streets, but you had some capabilities for hiding and scapping if you needed to. And while we tried to teach you useful skills, I’m afraid we might have coddled the scrap right outta you. Now, we can’t do much about the past, but we can try to instill a sense of confidence and capability in you, and you ain’t gonna find that around this ol’ house. Now, it doesn’t much matter that there are people out there who can do that same things you can. That isn’t what matters. What matters is that you can do it yourself, and you can provide for yourself and people and add to the helping that everyone else is doing. And it matters that you get to know people who can teach you to do new things, and who can help you make up for your shortcomings. What matters is everyone is able to do slightly different things, and all those things working together helps make the town and every individual in that town that much stronger. Now I know there was a little more than any of us bargained for this market, but you made it out alright because you depended on the people who could help you, and you helped some people in return, and maybe next time you can help a little more. And the more you help and the more people help you the more you grow, and I think you will grow to surprise yourself in what you could do.”

Hadrien looks down at the ground and takes a deep breath. “Ok, I think I know what you’re getting at. I’ll go to the next Market, and try to do what I can do for people. If I got past my fear this time I can do it again, and make you and Pa real proud of me”

“But Hadrien, you also need to be proud of yourself. You have already made us so proud, my son.”

“Thanks, Ma”.

Miracle For Rollo

Whenever I’m conscious, I hear footsteps on the hardwood. My Lord, clergymen, the doctor – even Fritjof’s mother. It seems I’m causing quite a stir – they refuse to give up even though I’ve accepted the reality of my situation; I went to my family to help them, and am now cursed like they are. And I will die like one of them.

Never in my life have I been so incredibly wretched – which is saying a lot. The very air stings my skin. My face is swollen, crusted, chaffed like dried seawater. My eyes are going to burst from my head. Every breath is pain in my mouth, through my throat, to my chest. My pulse is in my teeth. Twitching or uttering breath takes long moments of deliberate preparation. If only there were anything I could do to spare myself beholding Lady Death’s face just one more night…!

Friar Ignatius and Brother Erasmus enter with the skald, Saga. I feel like I’m thinking through heavy fog; his words make little sense. I must be delirious, as I feel like laughing – not at the poor man, but at it all. How is it possible to be so terrified and yet so cavalier? Yet that is how I feel.

My Lord lingers nearby. He’s invited me back into his own bed (even if he refuses to join at the moment), despite proclaiming that I’m not to go near it until I am well again. I hear Sir Knut has offered drink to ease the pain. My heart skips a beat as Solfyre peers into the room with a ball of flame in her hand. I know well to fear her, and all magi, but her reputation is… poignant. When the light and shadows retreat with her, I notice the room is far more comfortable than before. Perhaps more than the fire spell, though, my heart is warmed by the stalwart willingness to aid me, an outsider, by the Benalian community.

My Lord tips the drink to my lips, a wild reversal of roles… he can be so tender, when he chooses. I am assured once again that they’ll find a solution, come Helheim or high water. I hardly have energy to register their words. It will take a miracle.

The clergymen believe they can lift the curse with a ritual of Benalus. The very idea petrifies me, but what am I to do? To call the Lion’s gaze upon me… what will it entail? Though whatever it is, if it can spare my life, I will agree to it.

Brother Erasmus helps me to cleanse my hands with holy water. The friar is reading from the Testamonium, and Erasmus asks if I will face the might of God. Nothing could frighten me more. With everything I have left, I ask him to begin. Erasmus carefully lifts a sizzling coal from the censer with a pair of tongs and takes my hand. He turns my palm upward, and presses the ember to my wrist.

I don’t know what happened to my body. My mind fills with the image and overwhelming presence of an enormous white lion. He has a huge and kingly mane, and his sunset eyes burn. Burning. Sizzling. Scorching. I feel his might. I hear someone asking that he drive away the curse and forgive my sinning. It feels like eternity, staring into the fiery eyes of God, but when the coal is lifted from my skin, finally extinguished, I fall back into my body. I try to strangle a scream – somehow I’m still not empty of tears. I lay exhausted and in agony, trembling from what I’ve just experienced.

And then Erasmus murmurs, “…Now once more,”