Chapter 2: A Thing Lost...A Thing Found
here was an extended campaign that had held Sonea's 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 door 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, 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 campfire had flickered and danced the ghosts of its flames about her face 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 another day 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, the ghost 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 the end-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. And 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.