(This the first part of Sonea?s Story as told by her spirit sister, the drakonel Aimitis)
[/b] The night was unseasonably cold in Mia?s Edge. Each star was a frozen tear of ice in a sky as black as the Lich King's heart. Those of two legs and those of four, who found themselves out, seemed to care but little. For a short distance away, at Heart?s Ease.. the forested home that Sonea Finder had built first in her mind?s eye and then built again of wood and stone with the help of a handful of dedicated friends.. the Hall of Mirrors shone bright and welcoming. As they came to the Hall, each one made swift for some favored place on the benches. Some in company with friends, some seeming alone, but not truly so. For none were ever alone in the Hall. And as they took places, each would eye the walls, and mayhap point out to some companion or new visitor a visage found limned upon those walls, and they would whisper some fragment of an old tale. For the shadows of mystery and history both were set there pell and mell, that the tales might not need speakers to live. And all were come. And for a moment, all was silence. And then, then the rite... the chant. As was tradition, the younglings would begin. For this was no place of solemnity save by the needs of that told there. And thus it was: " A tale... a tale.... a tale...." And soon all those there would be chanting. Of a sudden... all the light was gone, and the Hall was dark. But where there might be fear, instead there was sudden excitement and joy. For this was ever how it began. And then a voice came.

? The night winds were cold. The rain fell like daggers against the skin. And the Long Road was hard? so very hard. Alone, a warrior walked, worn cloak huddled close against the wind. Wrapped close and bound about the child he carried in his arms. He had slain many Foe in his time, but the battle he fought now was a battle no sword could win??

The voice paused. Suddenly there was a loud crash, and a flare of light, as though the roof were gone and the Tempest Ogres danced among those who listened, enwrapt. Then? all was silence. All was dark. From the darkness the voice came again.. "Did ye ever hear tell of Thunder and Lightning? Of the Fool and the Fair?" And the light came again, flickering now, as if cast by a fire on a mountain side where a traveler or three would sit close that the night might pass. And in that light was a drakonel. And her face was cast in the flickering light that she might not be made clear. For tonight she was not the name she bore. Nay, on this night she was the WordSmith, the TaleSpinner, the bringer of the magic. And again she spoke..

"Well, they were not always so. The Thunder was not always Thunder, and not always did he walk by the name ye do know. And the Lightning? Ah, there was a time that one thought never to take the warrior road, and a time before that that it was all she knew... and a time before that? Why, then she was..." The TaleSpinner paused. A flicker of a smile came to her eyes asthey sought those who watched, and they lighted in delight on a slip of a human lass who snuggled in her mother's arms. "Why, she was no bigger than ye!" And the tale was begun.

The TaleSpinner settled herself more comfortably on the stage and she spoke a child?s rhyme.

Sonea Finder, little cinder, cast upon the storm. Burned by fire and crossed death?s pyre, ever-now reborn.

She surveyed those gathered and saw that she had caught their interest. And then the TaleSpinner continued..

Have ye heard of the Gifted? Of course ye have. Gifted. Great warriors who battle the Foe. Great healers who walk among us all. Great crafters who twist metal and stone and wood and cloth to wondrous things. And all different. Different, aye. But alike in one thing. Being Gifted means that when of a time death comes knocking at the door, tis no true death. Rather, a Gifted One finds himself reborn in the city where his essence has been bound.

If ye have heard naught of binding, it is a ritual that allows ye to tether thy spirit to a shrine, a binding stone, that ye may travel magically through the aether to it from anywhere in the land. Another thing about being Gifted is that if one happens to perish when another is near, and that one near has the magery to resurrect, then the corpse may be revived upon the very spot where it lay staring at the sky.

Not everyone is blessed with the Gift. Or cursed? In fact, neither of Sonea?s parents were so blessed. So.. there ye have the preamble. Let?s on to the tale, shall we?

Serilian, a drakonel of the Clan, delighted in meddling in biped affairs. If ye have not heard of them, the Clan are draku who follow the dark path. Evil in thought and deed they are.

The TaleSpinner lowered her voice to a whisper..

Now, the Clan seek ever the darkness. Even most draku know but little more of them than what is told in night tales of terror for the young. Those who know more speak but little and less, that the Clan not come and silence both those who speak and those who hear, forever.

She raised her voice again..

But.. this tale is from long ago, and naught has been heard of the Clan in ages.

Now Serilian sought to experiment in association with the Hidden Ones of the Fiends. Her goal was to combine Fiend magery with draku to modify the minds of bipeds, that they might be brought to do Clan will. Serilian worked primarily with a Fiend named Umriel, a male. It was hard for the Clan drakonel to work with a male, but that was the way it had to be for Umriel had the needed skills and the ability to travel biped lands with minimal distraction.

Of a time, Umriel would pose as a tinker and pass through the woodworker's village of Heather.This allowed the Fiend to monitor the effect of a certain experiment's progress and to implement new mageries as needed. When Umriel did visit Heather, if one passed by the dwelling of a certain mother and daughter, whose husband and father was often gone adventuring, one might overhear the drakonel Serilian combining her power with the Fiend?s to craft and cast some vile mind magic. And if one were particularly observant, occasionally one might catch a glimpse of the drakonel in the shadows.

Over time, the mother, who had as sweet and bright a disposition as that she had passed along to her daughter, did begin to wilt. No longer did her smile brighten the Istarian day. And no longer did she find delight in each new thing that her youngling learned, nor did she savor it against the time that she might retell it to her warrior husband upon his return.

And where once Heather was filled with the song and laughter of daughter and mother, less and less frequently did the two burst forth into song, or dance happily as they journeyed from home to whatever task was before them. The elders of the village did notice this change, but knew not what to do. And so they watched, but none acted.

Eventually, the mind-damage that Serilian and Umriel were causing managed to malform the mother's mind to such a degree that she began to abuse her child. If one passed by their dwelling, instead of laughter one might hear the mother screaming at the daughter over some transgression. And instead of song, one could hear the child crying softly as she sought to avoid her mother?s ire. This was made more extreme over time till the mother began to physically harm her little girl.

Now, I?d like to think that somewhere deep inside, the mother realized that her treatment of her daughter was wrong. And try as she might, the mother could not o?ercome the compulsion that had been placed on her. And since she could not stop the doing, the mother decided to remove herself lest she harm her baby further. Or perhaps the evil ones did induce the mother to leave. But whatever the reason, the mother left the home and left the girl alone to fend for herself as best she may.

The villagers woke one morning to find that the dwelling place of mother and daughter was deserted. And none knew what had become of them. Though some worried over the child?s welfare, they were also relieved that they no longer would feel guilt each time they did see the sad little girl. And none thought to enter the dwelling place, though some did pass by and peer in the window to see if aught of worth had been left that they might add to their own dwellings. And naught was there to see but a few broken things.

One day a traveling bard did visit Heather. And he did mention that the inn-keeper in Dalimond had a new lady. And wouldn?t ye know, it just happened to be the mother. Now upon being plied with some fresh gruok stew and a pot of ale, the bard did also mention something odd. Ye see he was somewhat surprised that in all the time he had been in Dalimond, he never did see the delightful little daughter. He had been so looking forward to having her dance and sing for him as she had done when last he visited Heather. The village elders shook their heads sadly, not anxious to greet the day when the child?s father did finally return home.

The TaleSpinner paused for a moment, and she looked out on those who had gathered. ?Ye seem quite comfortable. ?Tis cold out and like to get colder ere morn. Would ye go to hearth and home now? Or do ye care to hear more??

And those who had gathered raised their cups in the air, except for the one who raised a half-gnawed fowl?s leg. And they did chant, ?More.. more..?

The TaleSpinner smiled. And then she took a deep breath and continued..

She was born on a night when the very tempest demons stalked the heavens and made war against each other. Not one second passed that lacked the crash and roar of their voices. And the night sky was near to the brightness of day with the flash of their swords.

In a hut on the outer edge of Heather, as a young woman made the last push that cast a new-born into the world, a bolt flashed from the sky and tore the roof from their dwelling. As the rain fell in rivers about them, and the blood washed from her, she whispered into the face of the storm:

?Her name is Sonea. Sonea??

And in that whisper, her spirit gave up the too-long and too-hard struggle. She lost her grasp on life, and she was gone. And the man who had been there each second, each cry, each scream, each moment of the struggle? wept. Wept as the sky wept and like never to cease. But cease he must, as the babe must have care and coin and food. And he did take up the babe and his sword, and set foot to the raven?s road that ever waited?

At least that was the tale Sonea?s father told her. For it had spirit and some nobility, and some ease for Sonea as she grew. And it was better than to speak of a wife who had found the charms of an inn-keeper and the inn he owned of more delight than the raising of a child, and the mercenary road her husband walked.

And each time, if Sonea was there, she would leave the fire or table and all would speak that it was sad that a child so lost a mother. And if any asked Sonea, then she would not speak, and if she showed sorrow, then the one who asked would never know how close he walked to death. And if she showed anger and rage, then any would understand at the daughter missing her mother and blaming herself, or the mother, or the very fates. And Sonea would herself become a demon of storm and take her rage elsewhere. For darker shadows than any knew attended the tale.

For once there was an extended campaign that had held her father away from home and family for far too long. Ye see, he had been away from Sonea and her mother for nigh on two years. And the child's 5th birthday had come and gone ere he returned. To his credit, throughout that time he had sent coin home as he could, often via the merchant traders, for their living and their treasure chest. He even once sent a small carved bird with sparkling blue stones inset in its eyes, and wings that moved if you shook it gently up and down.

His campaign over, and the lord?s lands finally cleared of the blight that had besieged it, the father journeyed home. Arriving in Heather, a small woodworking village near New Rachival, after sup was long done and most hard-working folk were already abed, the father found his hut dark, silent? deserted. He ripped open the open and then stood frozen, his silhouette stark in the light of an uncaring moon. For the moon?s cold light shown in past him to reveal a room bare but for a few sticks of broken furniture, and a bundle of rags in the corner.

And then the rags moved. A small form rushed him, striking out with a knife. His warrior instincts took over and he struck back, his hand connecting. The form collapsed in a heap and the knife fell from dirty, limp fingers. Immediately, he pulled back, seeing that the one was so small and frail, there was no harm it could do him. But as he looked, as the moonlight shone on a dirty, tear-stained face, his heart almost stopped. It was Sonea. And she moved not. He had struck down his own daughter.

He fell to his knees and gathered her to him, crying his own tears and moaning his anguish. And he sat there with the limp form cradled in his lap until the morning dawned and the light of the new day shone in through the doorway of the hut. The father must have dozed at some point, for suddenly he jerked awake. And his eye caught sight of the knife, forgotten until now, laying on the floor, bloody. She had not scratched him with it. He knew the blood was not his. He looked into the hut?s single room. There was no other victim whose blood it could have been.

Then he looked down at the daughter he held yet in his arms. Her face, so pale and fragile, held the peaceful look that only comes when one is lost in the bliss of sleep. ?By the gods!? he thought to himself, almost o?ercome with relief, ?She yet lives!? And he looked over the rest of Sonea, seeing rags for clothing, layers of dirt and grime on her hands and face. She was undernourished, bruised, and ?dear gods!? she had slashes on her arms and legs. And the scars of older wounds.

Of his wife there was no evidence. Upon surveying the room in the morning light, it was clear that the mother was gone and had been for some time. Next to the hearth was an opening in the floor, the mat that had covered it lay carelessly tossed aside. He knew without looking that the pouch that should have lay hidden there, the coin they had been saving against the day that he might give up the warrior?s life for one more settled, when he might watch his daughter grow, was gone.

And then Sonea woke. And the tears began to flow anew. She must have recognized him for she made no attempt to leave his arms. But when the father tried to comfort the daughter, she responded not. Not to his words, not to his touch except for a slight widening of her eyes. When he lifted his hand to brush strands of hair from her face, she flinched as if she thought he might strike her.

Through a fog of heartache that threatened to paralyze him, in part caused by the pain of Sonea?s suffering, and in no small part due to guilt for the role he surely had in causing it, he realized that he had to seek help for his baby. Ye see, he knew that though he might comfort Sonea, he could not heal her wounds. He sought an old woman trained in the healing arts, that she might clear the scratches and vanish the scars. But the healer could only cure that which was physical. She could not repair the damage done to Sonea?s spirit.

The father, distraught over the loss of wife, and heart-broken over the ill treatment of child, gathered Soni (for that is what he called her) to himself that he might give her now the protection he hadn?t whilst away fighting the lord?s battles. And he took her with him now, to live the only life he knew. He rejoined his band of mercenaries. Ye can imagine that the life of such an one is harsh in the extreme. The trials of a father raising a mind-lost girl-child made it ever more difficult. Somehow, they managed to survive the early years.

Throughout the TaleSpinner's speaking, the light of the invisible campfirehad flickered and danced the ghosts of its flames about herface and lit the room. Yet even though they appeared lost in those flames as she spoke, those same eyes missed nothing.She saw the young ones asleep in their mother?s laps. And she saw the dwarf Flozzie snoring in the corner, an ale skin limp in his lap. And a small smile slipped gently to her eyes.

My friends, these tales are old... old and older. And they are young. Young and younger, even as are we all. And even as we, it comes time for them to sleep, that they may wake once more in hearts and minds and deeds to come. So we have come to the end of the beginning of the tale.. the Tale of the Fool and the Fair.

And as the tales sleep, they dream... and what do they dream? Why, they dream of you all. They dream of other Fools and others Fair, and the deeds that may yet be. So for a time, but only a time, till we sit at another fire and dream again, let them..... sleep......"

And as she spoke her last words, theghost flames flickered slowly lower, even as a fire burns low in the midnight dark.And then the light flickered and went out. A moment, mayhap two passed in total darkness and then the Hall lights came on. The TaleSpinner was gone from the stage.

The Hall, which had been quiet as death except for the TaleSpinner?s voice, suddenly erupted. Those who had gathered to listen surged to their feet, clapping and cheering, giving thanks for the telling.

Flozzie, who had only looked to be in his cups, also rose. And he began to chant.. ?Well told.. Well told..? Those nearest to him joined in, and like ripples in a pond when a stone has been cast, others joined until the very rafters rang with the sound of it.

As they chanted, the wall behind the speaker?s stage began to glow. At first it was naught but a flicker of torchlight reflecting off the wall?s finish. But as the chant grew and as more joined in, the glow also grew until it shone so that it hurt to look full on it. Those who were nearest did shield their eyes with their arms.

The chant faltered as one by one each stopped speaking and stood silent. Watching, and waiting. When the chant ended, so did the glow. And in its place, in the center of the wall behind the stage, there formed a visage.

At first all that could be seen was a faint outline cast into the very wall itself. Silently all watched as the image formed before their eyes. And when it was complete, this is what those who had gathered saw. It was the father, sword and pack strapped to his back, cradling his daughter in his arms as he set foot to the Long Road.

Those who were nearest leaned forward to examine the visage more closely. And then they did gasp in surprise as they saw tears form and roll down the father?s cheeks whilst he gazed grimly into an unknown future.

All gazed in awe and wonder, and no little sadness, upon this miracle of magery. And then quietly, they did collect that which they had brought and they 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. And each looked forward with excitement to the next tale telling.