Chapter 3: A New Day Dawns
n a darkened corner at the back of the Hall of Mirrors, TaleSpinner shifted from foot to foot. She gazed upon those who were gathered and was touched by how reverent they seemed, whispering quietly to each other as they found seats.
A youngling sitting next to a friend smiled and pointed excitedly at the visage of the father carrying the daughter limned on the wall behind the stage. A newcomer nodded soberly as he listened to one who had been present at TaleSpinner’s first speaking describe how the visage had formed at the end of the tale. TaleSpinner watched as a young woman close by the speaking place and the image, reached up to the limning’s cheek and then touched her own, as though in memory.. of the tale or of tears of her own. Who might know?
TaleSpinner smiled gratefully as she saw familiar faces among those who had braved the cold to join her at Heart’s Ease. Their smiles calmed her somewhat, yet she still took several deep breaths, preparing herself for the night’s telling. This next speaking of the Fool and The Fair would be difficult. Though it marked a turning point in Sonea’s young life, there might be some who would find the turning to be an ill thing. Ah well, there was naught to be done but press on.
Finally, the last guest was seated and silence fell on those who waited. Then the rite began as it always did. Youngling voices began the chant:
" A tale... a tale.... a tale...."
From the security of her corner, TaleSpinner took one last soul cleansing breath and she stepped forth. The lights in the Hall went out. A moment’s pause.. when all that could be heard was the rustle of an one settling further into his seat. And then, from the darkness the voice came..
"Did ye ever hear tell of Thunder and Lightning? Of the Fool and the Fair?"
And the light came again, small and flickering just as it had on the night when TaleSpinner first began speaking Sonea’s Story. On the stage now, TaleSpinner’s eyes sparkled in the flame. And just as she had done before, she began by speaking a child’s rhyme.
Sonea Finder, mother broke her,
silenced by the stone.
Staff-found voice and new-found healer,
Blood will paint her dawn.
TaleSpinner looked out over the audience and, seeing that all were caught, she continued.
The father did his best to nurture Sonea and to help her recover from the trauma she had suffered, but the little girl was terrified of most everything. She would not be left alone in the dark. When nighttime came, she would not sleep until her father was near, and then she made sure that her hand was held firmly in his ere she drifted off. And when one in the company would raise his voice, or even when the men would suddenly burst out laughing over some funny thing, Sonea would startle and then cringe and creep away. Until she celebrated her 7th year in Istaria, Sonea spoke not a word. Can ye blame the poor thing?
Seeing her fear, and hoping to help ease it somewhat, Sonea’s father, being a man of war, did what he thought right (from a warrior’s point of view) and put a weapon in her hand as soon as she could lift it. He found a sapling of sufficient girth and length, and carved for her a wooden staff that fit her hand and small stature. Sonea’s first lesson was a child’s game against a stuffy man, a bundle of cast off clothes stuffed with leaves and lashed to a pole that was stuck upright in the ground. To finish the likeness, oft times a pumpkin was carved into a face and then set atop the pole.
As she trained, her father pushed Sonea to gain endurance and strength. And he watched for a return of that vital spark that would come from a healed soul. Ye see, it takes more than brawn to excel with the staff. The wielder must become as one with the weapon. And to do that Sonea would need all the boldness and spirit that was locked away inside her. To her credit, Sonea tried. Day after day, she would beat and bash at the stuffy man until she dropped to the ground in an exhausted heap. And thus, Sonea learned her first adventuring skills from her father.
Though she did not appreciate the lessons, no word of complaint did Sonea offer, but yet no other word either. Her father thought she endured only to gain what small protection the training might bring. And, he hoped in the long waking nights, that she also endured to in some small wise please him. And in those nights he wept where none might see, that he might never know her fully. And as he wept, he pondered...
Now among the camp there was but one that Sonea would take company with as calmly as her father. That one was Jorquas by name, and a near giant of a man he was. In any fight, he could take the mightiest of blows, and crush down the mightiest of foes with the near tree he bore as a club. But in any other time he was seen to be slow of mind and thought, as childer are slow, and he was given few tasks to do save the simplest.
And Sonea and Jorquas would oft be seen sitting together, silently watching the skies for a glimpse of the draku that inhabited the area. Or they might be seen engaging in some strange and wordless play. And none thought aught of it.
The time of Sonea's birthing day came close, and it was to be her seventh year. Her father knew he had thought long and longer, and long enough. And the time had come to act. So the father called Sonea to him and sat her close. He told her that he must leave the camp for but a short time, that he might seek her birthing day gift. But that she not feel threatened, he also called Jorquas. And to Jorquas he gave the task of guarding Sonea that no harm might come to her. Straight did Jorquas go to his place of sleeping and bring forth the iron bound close-tree that he used in war.
Jorquas sat himself close to Sonea and a look of rock and steel did come to his face. And he set his eyes to Sonea's father, and he nodded. And he set his eyes to Sonea, and he showed her the club and he nodded. Satisfied, Sonea's father set forth. For a day and a night did Sonea sit, unmoving, waiting. Till Jorquas did bring her food and set his own forth and make it plain that he would not eat save she did also. Only then did she move, and only to eat, that Jorquas might also eat. And as she did finally eat, the food passed to her lips through a rain of tears.
The next day dawned full sun in the Spring. It was her birthing day. And Jorquas woke her, and he urged her to her lessons. He would not be resisted, and though Sonea sought to return to her place of eating, he did bring her the staff her father made and he would not rest save she took it. At last, take it she did, and set her feet to the stuffy man. And the stuffy man was there. But yet it was not. For bound to its shoulders was a new thing, and the thing was a head. A woman's head with long golden hair. And the eyes were glazed and blood still hung around the neck. And the visage she clearly knew...
And thus it was that finally, on a sunny day in the Spring of her seventh year, something changed. A wound opened up, mayhap, that could only heal were it opened raw and then set closed. The door to Sonea’s soul sprang open, that at last the hell inside might pour out. As she faced the bundle of leaves, Sonea felt something within her snap. It seemed as if she had suddenly awakened from a deep sleep. A moment later.. she screamed, “NOOOOOO!” She leaped high in the air, gave a mighty swing of her wood staff, and tore the bloody head clear from the corpse. And the corpse, for so it seemed she saw it, fell.
From behind a bush where he had waited, her father stepped forth. In his hands he held a new staff, leather bound in the middle, tips of steel on each end still shiny from the maker’s hand, sized and balanced for one of small stature and strength. In his eyes were tears as he simply stood, waiting. But Sonea also stood unmoving, sapling staff hanging by her side like a crippled arm, staring at the broken form.
Her father fell to his knees and hugged Sonea tightly to his chest, elated that she had at last spoken. Sonea still stared at the remains of the stuffy man. Then slowly, just as light first begins with the dawn of a new day, and then brightens as the sun continues its rise, Sonea’s lips turned upwards. Her eyes widened slightly. And.. she smiled… the first since her father had found her crying and bruised and alone.
The dam pinning her spirit had finally broken wide open and little Soni began to blossom and grow. Soon the camp rang with her laughter as she chased squirrels and other small creatures around the tents and through the trees. Jorquas continued to be Sonea’s playmate, but now oft times ye could hear her animated chatter, taking both sides of a conversation, that she and he used to share in silence. And time and again her father bit his tongue rather than admonish her as she asked the men of the company endless questions about anything and everything. And her smiles.. why, they were bright enough to outshine the very fires of the sun!
TaleSpinner stopped speaking for a moment and her eyes seemed lost in the light that was the ghost of a thousand flickering camp fires... it was as though they looked down the distance of a thousand miles and a hundred thousand years. The eyes smiled, but they held a shadow of sorrow.
“Clan broken.. but they never broke her smile. And then came the flames.. they burned.. but her spirit burned brighter Serilian.. and burns still.. ye will see..”
With a start, TaleSpinner looked up, and for but a moment she looked beyond the flickering light before her to those beyond.
“Ye have all walked hard roads. Aye, and hard roads lie yet before ye. The Foe seeks thy door. The winds rend thy crops. And thee, Flozzie, there may yet come a day when ye find thy ale skin empty!”
TaleSpinner smiled, and a start of horror came to Flozzie’s face as he clutched his half full skin close to his chest.
“But each and every day ye wake, and ye smile.. why then the Foe is beaten, the wind is but a wind.. and that may be the day Sonea Fair One breaches a new cask of Southern Stout – WinterDark!”
And the Hall rang with the sudden laughter of those who listened. And a smile came to Flozzie’s face, and his eyes were also lost, mayhap in dreams of casks and dark brown ale.
And the TaleSpinner’s eyes went back to the ghost of campfires, and it seemed they dreamed.
“The Tale sleeps. Mayhap it dreams.. for there is but one Tale and it has no end. Let it sleep.. and let its dreams visit thine own. Sonea be fair, but not yet the Fair. And the Fool.. well his tale is yet to be told. For now.. a youngling dances, and this night’s telling is done.”
With those words, the ghost flames flickered and went out. After a few moments, the Hall lights came on. TaleSpinner was gone from the stage, but those gathered were not surprised. They had expected as much.
Yet not a soul moved. All remained seated, waiting in silent anticipation, eyes seeking the father and daughter visage behind the speaking place. After a time, when no glow appeared and it seemed that nothing new would come to the Hall's wall from this telling, a rustling began as the listeners gathered their belongings and made ready to leave.
A bent old woman in the front was not so ready to go. She leaned forward in her seat, squinting up at the wall behind the stage. She mumbled something and then slowly rose. With the help of her granddaughter, she shuffled up the steps to the speaking place where she might see the father and daughter visage more clearly.
The ancient's breath caught and she clutched a hand to her chest. And then she wrenched her other arm free from her granddaughter's helping hand. She raised a gnarled finger, shaking with palsy, and she pointed to the limning. "See! There! Just as the TaleSpinner spoke!" she crowed in a quavery voice that was nearly drowned by the rustling. "And he smiles!" she exclaimed, this time with more force.
The listeners, who had been moving towards the exit, heard the grandmother's words. They whispered their wonder to each other as they surged to the front of the Hall and crowded around the old woman, each trying to get a glimpse of the visage. Sure enough, the limning had changed with this night's telling. No more did tears course down the father's cheeks.
And no longer did he carry Sonea in his arms. Now, young Soni was dancing for her father. Skinny arms and legs, all elbows and knees, yet graceful in a way that only a few are born to. In her hands she held a staff, raised o'erhead as if she and it were spinning about. And on her face was a Soni smile. And as each looked it was as though the smile was for her father indeed, but for them also.
And her father smiled in return.
As each of those who had gathered gazed upon the changed visage, he or she smiled too. After much exclaiming and pointing, their curiosity satisfied, the listeners left the Hall, traversing the tree covered walkway to the courtyard entry of Heart's Ease.
Bidding friends and neighbors good eve, each went his or her way, some to hearth fires and others to camp fires or some other place that would keep them warm through the night. As each bedded down to sleep, to dream, an echo came to them of a child laughing. And each fell to sleep with a child's simple smile seeking their lips.
And the Hall... waited.