A Long Hard Rain - The Story of Autumn of Fallon - Completed: 8/14




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    A Long Hard Rain - The Story of Autumn of Fallon - Completed: 8/14

    Those of you who are reading my "Out of the Frying Pan" story hour, which is drawing to a close, might be asking, "What is he doing posting another story hour? Shouldn't he be working on Book IV?"

    Chill!
    This was already written about eight years ago as the background for a character I played in a 2E Aquerra campaign my friend Sean ran set in the infamous Black Islands Barony. (Sean is the one that ran the now defunct the Promised Land game). I am in the process of cleaning it up for grammar and spelling and fixing some continuity changes in the setting that developed since then in order to post it here.

    The challenge with this campaign was playing heroes in one of the most evil and oppressed places in the setting, and wanting even more of a challenge I chose to play a priestess of the goddess of healing & mercy - someone who is supposed to help anyone regardless of who they serve or what they worship.

    So while I had the general idea for the character, I had to think a lot about how someone who has lived in a terrible place and probably has not had that great a life becomes "Good".

    I was still thinking it over when I sat down to roll my stats the old school way to ensure that I had the stats I needed to play such a character before I put too much effort into it - and the stats all worked out- except I rolled a '6' for her Comeliness (yes, we used Comeliness back then) and that threw me for a loop. "Damn!" I thought. "She's ugly!"

    But that just ended up leading me in the direction I needed to make the background work.

    I ended up writing a nearly 30 page background for this character - not something I can imagine ever doing again - but it was really an exercise in finding her voice and setting her personality and adversity she had so far overcome so I could do the idea justice.

    So, I will be posting a few pages every few days or so, but two things before I begin:

    1) For those of you not familiar with Aquerra, it can be a dark place and bad things happen to good people. Horrible! Horrific and traumatizing things - so stand warned.

    2) Reading it again, I am amazed at how much the background reminds of the story of Ratchis, the background a player in my "Out of the Frying Pan" game wrote for his half-orc ranger/priest character - though this was written first, I don't think he ever read it.
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    Part One: Autumn

    I am writing this as a testament to my life and the glory of Fallon (1), who through her grace (and that of Nephthys (2) and Isis (3) - May their beauty and power never fade from the fair, yet foul-seeming world - redeemed me and delivered me from the position of victim to the helper of victims, so that these poor people might live the good life they deserve.

    My name is Autumn Rain-Storm and I was born on the 6th of Ter in the year 529 H.E. to Bountiful and Ella Rain. They were already in their forties when I was born and they had no intention of having children at that point, but I came anyway. As I grew up I felt the resentment they had towards me, more often than their love. The worst part was that I was a girl and could only be of limited help in my father's small pottery shop, which he ran from the front room of our cottage on the outskirts of Paragraine. (4) My mother definitely did not want me around the house helping with her chores. She had no idea what to do with a young girl. It was as if she had forgotten that she had been one herself.

    I was a plain girl and not much to look at. No boys ever took an interest in me; not even enough to tease me as other girls were teased. I was quiet and had no friends and spent my free time perfecting the pottery I had picked up by watching my father. By the time I reached my middle teen years my parents were both very old and my mother grew sick with the yellow wasting disease and could do less and less. I took up her household chores, in addition to the chore of caring for her once she became bedridden. My father and I were constantly worrying that someone would find out that mother was sick and that the Monks of Anubis (5) would come to fulfill their duty determined by local law. All infected persons within the city walls or within ten miles of the city were to be put to death to avoid larger contamination.

    In the end Anubis' servants did not need to help her along her way to their master's realm. My mother died on my fifteenth birthday. I will never forget when the monks came for her corpse and laid it upon the cart with the others, their solemn dark faces betraying no emotion about their work; not speaking a single word of condolence. This was my first experience with death and while some part of me understood that this was a necessary part of the life cycle, part of me raged against it and I wished there were something I could do to delay death and make life better for the living.

    Such philosophical thoughts had to wait. The next year was very difficult. My father also became frail and could do less work. My cooking did not seem to nourish him as much as my mother's had, his pottery became less beautiful and reliable. He was late with several commissions, and I had not progressed enough at the craft to be a sufficient substitute. At first I did not understand what was happening to him, as he seemed otherwise healthy, but one night I heard him weeping and peeking into his room I saw him curled up on my mother's side of the bed holding a pillow to his body. It became clear to me. He really did love my mother. This came as a shock to me. I had never seen any overt affection between them and as far as I knew they had had an arranged marriage. I was also surprised that two people that could show so much resentment and coldness to their own daughter could be capable of such a deep love. But it was true. I realized then that love was in the hearts of all sentient beings, even the cold, cruel or evil. It only took the right conditions or people or opportunity to bring that love and goodness out.

    It was the first of several turning points in my life. I came to understand why they resented me. I came along and changed the dynamic of a friendship and romance that had lasted over twenty years and they did not want it changed. Perhaps if I had been born earlier in their marriage they might have been the loving affectionate people I desired as parents, but for some reason they had remained infertile until now and had taken it for granted that no child would come from their acts of love, but Isis works in mysterious ways.

    Something else became clear to me the next morning as I served my father breakfast. He was willing himself to die. My father did not want to go on without his wife of so many years.
    I could see it in the way he ate and in the way he went about his chores. He hardly spoke anymore and only glared at me when I did not do the chores he expected of me on time or exactly as he expected. Eventually he went days without getting out of bed and only ate one meal a day. He fell behind on his quota of pottery and the tax collector visited us three times. The third time he mentioned debtor’s prison and slavery. (6) I was afraid, but said nothing. One day my father spoke.

    "Autumn," he said in a croaky voice, hoarse from hardly speaking. "I am selling the house and the shop."

    I was stunned.

    "But where will we go?" I stammered.

    “I am going to die," he said quietly. "I know that you know. I can see it in your eyes. It is all I want to do now. Life does not satisfy me."

    "Am I to die too?" I asked, half-wishing that he would answer in the affirmative. My life had always felt so weighty and miserable and now it seemed unbearable.

    "You are to be married," he said and coughed.

    "No one would marry me," I said.

    "I have already arranged it through an intermediary. You will marry the youngest son of Norwich Storm. He is a land-owner from the vicinity of Zentralp. The boy is a bit dull and will not go far in life, but he will provide for you. It was the best I could do with no dowry."

    I did not complain or argue. I just accepted my fate. Within a week I was on board a wagon headed for Zentralp with a wicker basket, which held my pottery tools, a change of clothes and a letter from my father to Norwich Storm, who would soon be my father-in-law. I do not know what the letter said, for at that time I had not yet learned my letters. I did not even know what my future husband's name was. I spoke even less than I usually did during that last week and never asked. My father sold the house and his business and as I left workers were carrying things out of the house. I do not know what my father ended up doing. I never saw him again. I still imagine him dying on the streets of Paragraine a poor miserable beggar or perhaps leaping over the Chalton Cliffs to the northeast of the city as many of the miserable did.

    I was frightened of the change in my life and of being with a man I had never met, but at the same time part of me was happy that there was a man somewhere that wanted me. Love comes from strange places. Had not my parents fallen in love after an arranged marriage? Perhaps that was how it worked best. The wagon came to “Sown with Bones”(7), the plantation of my soon-to-be father-in-law and I got off. My new life started.
    -----------------------------------------------------------
    Notes:

    (1) Fallon is the goddess of healing. Once a mortal, she ascended to godhood in the Third Age by the combined wills of the goddesses Isis and Nephthys.

    (2) Isis is the goddess of motherhood, magic and the moon. Her worship is illegal in the Black Islands Barony.

    (3) Nephthys is the goddess of freedom, bravery and friendship. She was once married to Set the god of evil, tyranny and serpents. Her worship is illegal in the Black Islands Barony.
    (4) Paragraine is the capital of the Black Islands Barony, on the western coast of the northernmost of the two large islands that make up the majority of its territory.

    (5) Anubis is the guardian of the dead and his monks are charged with the burial and protection of the dead and the administering of rites.

    (6) Nearly three-fifths of the population of the Black Islands are slaves or indentured servants.

    (7) The plantation is built on the site of a great battle against the wizard Heenuce who ruled these islands before the coming of the Herman-landers in the 2nd century of the current age. This place is named for all the bones still found when the earth is tilled or dug into.
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    Part Two: Winter

    My husband's name was Eric Storm and he was the youngest son of the second brother of the head of House Storm. He had some made up position on the small plantation, organizing the overseers who watched and whipped the slaves. Speaking of slaves, I had never seen so many in my life.

    When I first arrived at the plantation, I thought the slaves to be happy. Their dark skin glowed healthily with the sweat of hard work and their voices rang out in beautiful song as they sowed and reaped and dug and carted. It would not be until much later that I would learn that these were songs of sadness and oppression, mixed with the longing for freedom. The songs were a mix of common and slave slang which I learned arose from their original language. Where these dark-skinned people came from I did not know, but I could see in the eyes of even those born into slavery that they were far from home. (1)

    Eric was cruel to the slaves and not very nice to their overseers either. He would come into the small cottage that had been constructed for us upon our wedding on the edge of his father's property, calling out a list of profanities and curses at the slaves and their overseers and everyone else he could think of, including me. He had been quiet on the days leading up to our wedding and even on our wedding night he was gentle and loving and whispered his dreams of having his own land and not having to live under the shadow of his well-respected father and his two older brothers (Reginald and Narllion) into my ear. He seemed so vulnerable and even pathetic that night holding me close to him, promising me that he would make a good husband and supply me with everything that I would ever need, that my heart went out to him and I mistook pity for love. I felt joy in the fact that he reached out to me with words that I was certain he had never spoken to anyone else before. It was for that reason that I was so surprised the first time he struck me.

    Eric had just returned from the field and was in a particularly foul mood. It was early yet and I had just put a small hen to boil for supper and was sitting by the window using the last of the afternoon light to sketch with a piece of charcoal. I had an idea for a large vase in the style of urns used for the dead that were cremated, but that could be used to pot the small trees common to the roadsides of the area.

    "Where is dinner?" he asked roughly. I looked up at him and saw that he was holding a bloody rag to his cheek. His face was dirty and sweaty. I stood quickly to help him.

    "What happened?" I cried, reaching for the rag. With only one hand he shoved me back so hard I fell to the ground.

    "Get away!" he yelled. "Where is dinner? I work hard all day in those goblin-turd fields and all I ask is for you to have dinner ready when I get back. Can't you do that'? Or are you too stupid, you ungrateful wench?"

    I was stunned. I slowly got up and went into the kitchen to get something prepared for him to eat just while the hen was done cooking. Nervous, I was shaking and clattering the plates and goblets that I brought to the table.

    "What, in Set's name, is this?!?" I heard him cry from the entry room. He came stomping in with my sketch half-crumpled in his hand.

    "A sketch," I said, meekly.

    "I know what it is, " he said and smacked my across the mouth with the closed fist that held the small paper. I dropped a plate and it shattered.

    "This is why my dinner is late?" He was almost foaming now. His anger was so unfocused and powerful. "You don't need to waste your time with this craftsman filth! " He continued. "All that should concern you are my needs and the needs of this house and the family we are going to make. I will give you everything you need, so don't waste your time with this. The silver I earn will buy us pots or vases or whatever we need. You really are an ungrateful ugly bitch. She gets dragged out of a life that would have ended in the gutter to this…" He gestured with his arms. “And she’s too stupid to see it…”

    He struck me even harder this time and I fell. My hands embedded in the shards of plate on the floor. I felt blood pouring from my nose.

    "Get up!" he roared and kicked me with even greater fury.

    "Get up! " he kicked me again. "And pick up that plate before I break another over your stupid head. Can't you do anything right? Get up!"

    He kicked me several times and then I struggled up to my hands and knees and scooped up the shards. I practically crawled into the kitchen. Eric walked out of the house to use the pump to wash up. I cried as I finished the hen and set the table. I did not take the time to clean my bloody face. I could feel the bruises welling up on my side and back from his kicks.

    As much as I had felt my parents had resented me they had never beat me, nor had I ever seen my father raise his hand to my mother, but I figured that I must have done something wrong. I needed to be more attentive to his needs. I needed to know when he was going and coming and what kind of mood he was in. I was his wife, that was my job. I guessed that if I failed in that duty I deserved his wrath. What a fool I was!!

    Eric was completely different after dinner. I was washing up in the kitchen when he came behind me and put his arms gently around my waist to caress me. I cringed and he squeezed more tightly.

    "I'm sorry," he said and kissed my cheek. "My work is hard and I really need you to do what I ask. I don't want to have to hurt you. I have really come to love you."

    I was not in the mood for his advances, but his sudden tender way blinded me to wrath he had displayed before and allowed him to pull me off to our wedding bed. I lay there wondering if I was supposed to enjoy this, too. When he was done he got up, got dressed and rode into town to drink with his friends. I finished cleaning up and went to bed.

    I awoke to the feeling of a pressure on top of me. Eric was back and reeking of foul spirits and trying to force my legs apart. I instinctively locked them.

    "Come on, Autumn," he pleaded.

    "I'm sorry, husband" I told him quietly. "But I am tired and not in the mood. Once was enough."

    I did not see his fist coming in the darkness, but I could feel the heat of my lip swelling up.

    "I am your husband. You have no more right to refuse me anything," he said and forced my legs apart. I struggled and he struck me again. I began to cry.

    "Stop that whimpering," he said and slapped me a little more lightly. I quieted down and waited for him to be done. Again, I began to think he was right, that I was wrong to want to refuse my husband anything or to fail to foresee his desires and needs. I was weeping inwardly not because of his blows or his forced coupling, but because I felt as if I were a bad wife. He was right, I thought. I was ungrateful.
    ------------------------------------
    Notes:

    (1) There are two classes of slaves in the Black Islands Barony. There are indentured servants who have certain rights and may buy their way out of servitude (though this rarely happens), and whose children are born free (but are often sold by their parents out as soon as they are born to help pay for the cost of raising them), and there is the race of slaves who are descended from captives from the Hellish Isles to the far south.
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    The next day I took two buckets to the barn to collect some milk and wondered how I might discover ahead of time when my husband approached or what his mood might be at the end of the day. As I held the cow's udder in my hand and squeezed the milk into the bucket one of the slaves entered the barn. He was tall, bronzed and muscular. His hair was short and had tight curls. His back was latticed with the scars of many strikes from a whip. He looked at me and I nodded to him. His expression became bewildered.

    He went over to recover a bail of hay. An idea hit me. "Excuse me," I said to him.

    He did not respond. The slave had never been addressed in such a manner and so assumed that I was talking to someone else. I waited a minute and almost forgot the whole thing, but Fallon must have been with me that day and pushed me just enough to assert myself more than I usually did.

    "You there," I called to him again. He turned as he hefted the bail onto his muscular shoulder. He did not speak.

    "Do you come to the barn for hay often?" I asked him and his eyes widened and still he did not speak. I did not know that the males slaves were not permitted to talk with free women.

    "Do you not speak?" I asked again. He shook and then nodded his head. Now it was my turn to be confused.

    "Are you mute?" I asked. He looked puzzled. He began to walk out of the barn.

    “Wait," I said and not knowing what I was doing stood and grabbed his arm. Such assertiveness was very unknown to me. I was shocked that I had done it. The slave spun around and now glared at me.

    "I heard of you women,' he said in broken common. "Not worth getting cut like a horse's gonads."

    I was very confused. He stomped out of the barn. I watched him walk up the path to the fields, past the cottage that Eric and I shared and tried to figure out what he had meant.

    Many days passed and every two days or so I would see this slave in the barn when he collected hay and I was milking a cow. I tried to speak to him a few times, but he would only glare at me and go away. Once he paused as if he were going to say something, but before he could an overseer entered the barn and seeing the slave standing these facing me yelled at him.

    "Morn! Get that bail out there before you force me to do my job," the overseer said nastily. His hand reached for his whip. I noticed the slave's glare intensify for a second and he turned and hurried out.

    "Are you okay, Missus Storm?" the overseer asked me, he did a bad job of hiding his wince when he looked at my face.

    "Yes, of course, " I told him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

    “Don't trust them savages," he said to me. "If I can speak plainly, only this here whip can keep their savage lusts in check. " He hefted his weapon.

    I stepped back in horror. It was all coming into place. The slave thought I was trying to become involved with him carnally and feared the consequences to himself. No wonder he would not speak to me even when no one was around. I had to convince him that I had no such intention. I knew his name now, Morn. Perhaps that would make it easier to get him to help me. I thanked the overseer and collected my milk buckets and returned to the cottage to do some chores and prepare the mid-day meal for my husband.

    During this time Eric beat me occasionally. Always for what I considered must be a good reason. When the duck or ham was too tough or when the wine was too vinegary. Once when I asked him not to drink so much when he went out almost every night. That last time he knocked me unconscious. I awoke on the floor in the dark and he was gone. One black eye or harsh bruise would barely heal and he would deal me another one and I just withstood it and did not complain.
    Every couple of days his demeanor would change and he would bring me a gift and apologize and more times than not want marital relations afterwards. I had to find a way to gauge his mood when he returned from the fields. Morn was going to help me, at least that was my plan.
    I thought a lot about the problem of talking to the slave. I needed his help, but I did not want to get him in trouble. He seemed intelligent enough and if he really was a victim of "wild lusts" why did he avoid me'? I knew it must be some false rumor about them. Anyway, who would do such a thing with a slave? The slaves were rarely in a position to force themselves upon a woman. It must not be true. The only time I had ever known of a slave alone with a woman was when I was in the barn with Morn and he hardly had the time. Any delay and an overseer would come looking for him and he hardly seemed to have the disposition.

    Again, I was wrong. I was naive as to the nature of people and to the boredom of the rich that leads to immoral curiosity and occasional cruelty. I would soon learn of this and Morn would be a victim of it all.

    One night Eric and I were invited to his father's house for a dinner party. I actually got Eric to take me into town a few nights before so that I could get a new dress and he even refrained from striking me (whether by design or coincidence I do not know) for some time before the event, so I was able to show myself in public without a bruise or mark on my face, though I still was nursing a bruise on my hip from when he had knocked me into a table. As nice as I thought my dress was I felt as if I were wearing a sack when I arrived. The dresses of the women there were gorgeous and as people milled around talking and my husband went into the den to speak with his brothers about the situation with the Kingdom of Neergaard (1), I noticed I was being ignored. The other women talked among themselves or chatted with the local priest of Set (2) who had been invited. He stood dressed in blood red robes lined in green, his nose was flat and his eyes serpentine. I did not like the way he scanned the crowd as if looking for a meal. I felt bad that I thought such awful things about a holy representative of our patron deity, but I guess even then Fallon was trying to show me truth through my instincts. I did not trust him.

    Finally my sister-in-law, Sarah, began to talk with me. She spoke to me in a tone as if I were a charity case and her few superficial words were manna from the gods to sate my hunger. I think she noticed that I wasn't listening to what she had to say and asked me if I wanted to go out and get some air. I agreed, for a minute before the priest of Set had turned and looked right at me and suddenly the room's air had seemed oppressive.

    Outside the air was cool and the night was clear. I could see the constellation Cat's Eye winking in the blue-black darkness. I wondered if this were the right time of year to see Bazel's Chariot.

    "It is a cool night for mid-Ter," Sarah said. (3)

    "Uh-huh, " I mumbled, figuring that she was going to continue with more of her superficial chatter. Not that it was so bad, I didn't have many people to talk to and even the most inane chatter was a great relief to me in those days. I guess I was just disappointed that my sister-in-law (who I understood was the daughter of an important land-owner on the southern island) could not be a true and close friend. I guess we were too different.

    "I know a good way to work up a sweat,” she said and I could her the mischievousness in her voice.

    "Huh?" I questioned looking up at her. She was one of these tall elegant women that towered over even men and had a way of walking on those long legs of theirs like a leaf carried by the wind.

    "Oh, come now, Autumn," she said with increasing condescension. "I know you are simple, but even you cannot be satisfied with this life here. From what I understand you even fetch your own milk in the barn like a slave. I know Eric is not in good favor with his father, but that must really anger the both of you. I know you must want more. Even more than Eric can give you."

    "I. . uh.. " I did not know how to answer her. I did not know what she meant.

    "Is Eric good'?" she asked, again with mischievousness in her voice and now a gleam of it in her eye.

    "Eric is a good husband. He provides for me and even bought me this dress,' I pulled at the hem of it awkwardly. "He works hard and get a little cranky…" I whispered the last part afraid even there of his overhearing me. "But he is good to me in his way."

    "I don't mean that! " Sarah almost hissed. "I mean - " She paused and lowered her voice. "Consummation. The ole give and take." She grinned lasciviously. “And don’t give me this ‘good in his own way’ line, broken noses and black eyes are helping you get any prettier.”

    I was shocked that anyone, especially a woman, would speak so crassly. No one but my husband had ever brought up that topic so directly before and I was struck speechless.

    "Oh come on, don't look so insulted, Autumn," Sarah said. "Do not act as if you are some pristine flower. I know that bugger of a husband of yours must have an insatiable appetite. All little men do. But I also know that more often than not men with insatiable appetites are terrible and selfish lovers."

    Again, I did not know what to say. Part of me wanted to argue in Eric's defense, but mostly I knew what she was saying to be true. I did not know about other men, but making love with Eric did not bring me any carnal pleasure. On occasion I could appreciate the affection he was showing me when he actually stuck around long enough to hold me as we drifted to sleep, but was that true enjoyment'? Not really.

    "Okay, I know you are too delicate to talk of such matters openly, even to another woman, and I know you very plain and not much to look at, but you we have certain options that I have partaken of once or twice and tonight seems like a good night for it," Sarah said looking off across the fields.

    "What are you talking about'?" I finally brought up the nerve to ask.

    "The slaves,” She said as if I were stupid. "They are ours to do with as we please. They tend our fields, pull our loads, handle the beasts and even you must know that our husbands, on occasion, pleasure themselves on their women. "

    She paused. I was shocked at what I was hearing "Why can we not do the same?" She looked across the fields again and now I realized that she was looking in the direction of the slave quarters. "All you need to do is exercise some caution and take care to always do it at the right time as to not become heavy with child and you can get away with it too. "

    It all came together. No wonder Morn had showed so much fear. It was not that he was afraid of the consequence of some imagined act, but of real acts that must happen more often than my naive mind could imagine.

    "And they want to?" I asked.

    Sarah laughed loudly and I could hear the conversation in side die down at the laughter. She took my arm and pulled me off the porch and whispered. "Of course they do," She said. "Why would they not want the thrill of coupling with a free woman? And even if they did not want to there are ways to get them to do it anyway. It is all about your pleasure, forget about them. Think about it. If you ever need me to cover for you I will and don't think that I might not look to you confirm my stories."

    I was bewildered.

    "I think it is time for you and I to go for a walk, " she said. "Or, at least you will go for a walk I am going for something else." And with that she walked off across the field towards the slave quarters and I stood there dumbfounded. Eventually I wandered around until her return. When the others asked where we had been, Sarah said we had gone for a walk and looked at me. I nodded in agreement. That night after the party Eric forced himself upon me again and I lay there and took it. I felt a sudden anger that dwindled away to a profound sadness and long after Eric was snoring I lie there weeping and wondering why the world seemed as cruel and crazy as it did.
    --------------------------------------------------------
    Notes

    (1) These were the years leading up to the Black-Neergaard War, when the Kingdom of Neergaard rose up in arms to fight again Black Islands privateers that kept waylaying their ships and impressing their men into service.
    (2) In the Black Islands Barony, Set is worshiped as the god of Power and Rule. The Church of Set is the official religion of the barony, though it tries to separate itself (at least publicly) from the cultists found throughout the rest of Aquerra.

    (3) Ter is the third month of the year and the first month of summer in Central Aquerra. Summers tend to be very hot and humid on the Black Islands.
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    Time passed and the usual warm gritty breezes of the Black Islands' summer gave way to the sudden and crisp fall. Autumn is the prettiest time of year in the Black Islands, even if she is the ugliest girl. The leaves turn bright and mottled colors and birds can be seen in great numbers flying from the northern island to the southern shore of the southern one. I understand that the bright colors of the leaves are particularly beautiful in the trees that can be found on the north and western shores of the islands. It is said they contrast beautifully with the black stony shore that the islands are named for, but Fallon has not yet blessed me with a chance to see that. I hope that one day soon I will.

    The leaves had just begun to change when I saw decided to speak to Morn again. I was kneeling down beneath a large black and white spotted cow when he entered and began to wrap thick metal wire around two bales of hay in order to make it easier to carry them together. I could see the muscles beneath the brown glazed skin of his arms strained as he bent the metal to his need. I looked back down at my work and spoke to him without looking up.

    "I understand now why you fear talking with me, Morn," I said. I could hear him stop what he was doing. "Trust me, I have no interest in what you fear. I am not that kind of woman. I am satisfied with my husband. It is because I want to please him that I need your help."

    "Ma'am, I dunno what yer talkin' ‘bout. I cannaw hep nobody," he said and began to heft the two bales.

    "You work in the west field. I know that my husband, Eric Storm is often there near the end of his day," I stopped milking the cow and stood up. Morn dropped the bales.

    "Get back to dat cow, ma'am, case-uh somebody come on in hee-uh," he said a little forcefully and wiped sweat from his brow. I obeyed him, knowing it was a good idea. Despite his strange accent and the reputation of slaves I knew that he was not stupid.

    He continued. "Now, you talkin' 'bout da oversee-uh oversee-uh. He your husband?"

    "Yes, and I need to know what kind of day he is having before he comes home. I need to know if he is likely to come home early or late and in what kind of mood. It would he easy for me to come to the barn in the afternoon and have you tell me or as you pass my house I could look out the window and you could give me a signal or something." I was excited that I was finally getting to tell him my plan. I was anxious to hear his response.

    "You are-uh crazy lady," he said and finally positioned the bales on his broad muscular shoulders. He turned to go.

    "Please," I begged him and got up from behind the cow again. "I need your help.”

    "Whass in it to' me'?" he asked as he spun around to examine me.

    "Food. Clothing. Whatever you want. Whatever I can spare," I told him.

    Morn squinted his eyes as if deep in thought and then quietly asked, "Can you teach me letters?" I was shocked at his request and embarrassed to have to tell him that I could not read either.

    "Oh, I fergot dey treat you like a slave too," he said. "Poor woman, you is a slave,
    too."

    We stood there silently for a moment and then he turned to go through the barn door again. At the doorway he stopped and looked back. "I'mma gonna hep ya," he said. "You can hep me with food and things, but I'm gonna need your hep in anutha way, one day and youse gonna hep me. Okay?"

    I nodded in agreement. He smiled broadly. It was the first time I had seen him smile and I notice that four of his front teeth were missing, He turned and I watched his whip-worn back disappear out into the muted light of the autumn afternoon.

    The plan did not work as well as I had hoped. On occasion I would see Morn walk slowly by the house and without looking towards the window smile broadly, which meant he thought that Eric was in a good mood. If he rubbed his hands that meant that Eric might come home early and if he rubbed the back of his neck it meant Eric was working late. The signal I liked he least was the one that meant Eric had been having a particularly bad day and had been taking it out on the slaves. In that case Morn walked by with his back slightly bent to face my window so I could see the scars of so many whippings and sometimes the marks were still fresh and wet with blood and I knew that Eric had made them.

    Occasionally, Morn and I met up in the barn. On those days we would talk as much as possible. I would sit behind one side of the cow and milk and he would work in the bails and we would not look at each other, but talk. Sometimes Morn had not seen Eric all day and he would tell me of other things. He would tell me about how he had been sold to the Storm family when he was a child and that he had been separated from him mother. He told me how his father had been hung for trying to escape and that he had brothers and sister he had never really gotten a chance to meet. He explained to me that the only slaves allowed to be married were those that had been made slaves due to being in debt or committing crimes, but who had once been citizens of the Barony, but that slaves as he was, born into slavery were not allowed to marry, but were bred.

    Morn also explained that his people were from a place to the south. One overseer had said that demons were from there, but Morn explained that he did not feel like a demon and we both laughed. I assured him that he did not act or look like a demon either. Morn told me that he had once overheard some indentured servants talking about an island to the south called "Erthage". (1) Morn speculated that perhaps that was where his people were from. I had never heard of such a place, and though he often asked me about it, I could not tell him if his theory was true.

    The reason that the plan did not work as well as I had planned was because Morn did not see Eric as often as I hoped. Other times I did not get to see Morn, and even Morn had a hard time reading how Eric was feeling that day, so the warning was for naught. This is not to say that my conspiracy with Morn did not save me any beatings. It did. There were several narrowly averted episodes, when Eric would come in screaming that I probably didn't have dinner ready and I would walk out of the kitchen with a plate of his favorite, baby duck stew.

    The plan also led to Eric beating me at least once. Morn had told me that some of the slave children were not properly clothed, so I went through some of Eric's old clothes that he never wore and got some things I thought might help. As I was occasionally helping Sarah with an alibi for her occasional night-time excursions to the slave-quarters, I got her to deliver the clothes when she went to do other things. She thought I was crazy, but she did it because I was making her affairs so much easier for her. I felt guilty about helping her to be unfaithful to her husband (who was my husband's brother) but I knew that she would do it anyway and at least this way I could make some good come of the situation. Eric did miss the clothes, however, and when he asked me what happened to them I lied and said I had cut them up for rags to use around the house, since he never wore them. He beat me as he had never beaten me before that night and it took over a month for the swelling in my face to totally go down. I bared the agony and tried to console myself with the fact that through my pain young children would be clothed and fed. I thought that even if I were to die, it would be a worthy cause.

    A year passed in this manner. Autumn gave way to winter and then to spring, and with summer came a new problem and another major change in my life and also in Eric's. One evening as I sat by the window taking in the cool breeze coming in from across the fields and sketching an idea for a sculpture of Morn by the light of a candle; a sculpture I never hoped to actually get to make, I heard a commotion down by the slaves' quarters. Eric was out drinking in the town with his friends again and I relished the time alone. I wondered what was happening down in those long, connected shacks, but I had a feeling what it was. When Eric stumbled in a few hours later, stinking of mead and what I thought might be woman's perfume he slapped me without saying a word. I fell from my chair and thankfully I had been able to hide the sketch under the chair cushion when I had heard him at the door.

    "Set damn you Isis-lovin' whores. You are all the same," he roared. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I just lay there looking up at him, knowing better by now than to try to get away or to speak. The beatings were only worse then.

    "Get up," he yelled and grabbed my by the collar of my dress and pulled my face right up to his. "You ever do that? You ever do what that stinking whore of a sister-in-law of mine does? You ever get some of that?"

    My fears were realized. Sarah had been caught.

    "Well?!?" Now I knew he wanted an answer.

    "I don't know what you're talking about -"

    "Liar! " he screamed and smacked me again, allowing me to drop to the floor.

    "You lying bitches, all of you, whores," he said and kicked me hard in my side. I fell over and only now began to cry.

    "Eric, I don't know what you're talking about," I begged and feigned ignorance. I was terrified of what he would do if he thought I did know and what he would think that meant.

    He lifted me back up and plopped me down in the chair. He wasn't that much stronger than I was, he was just taller and weighed more and had an unfocused rage behind his blows.

    "Oh, you don't know what I'm talking about?" He opened my knees with his hand and put his body between my legs. "I'm talking about this!" He thrust his pelvis into mine and held my face up to his. He was panting like an animal. "You only need to get this from me,” he said and pulled up my dress with one hand. He glared at me and I knew that meant to undo his pants. Tears were rolling down my swollen cheeks. He slid roughly into me.

    "You goddamned whores," he whispered as he did his deed. "I'm lucky I'm man enough for you, you don't need to go anywhere else. Not like my cuckold brother. That bitch of his. . I always thought my nieces were a little dark. Ah, they'll grow up to be little lyin' bitches, too. Not you though. You like it. You love it You don't need that, do you honey?" And as usual his demeanor changed slightly once he actually got the pleasure he sought, and he tried to feign some gentle caring for my sake.

    The next day I was forced to watch as they hung the slave that Sarah had been caught with. It was Morn. They hanged him without a hood over his head and he stared at me the entire time and I was forced to look away. As the horse' rear was slapped and I heard the crackling of the rope, Eric forced me to turn and see. Morn's eyes popped out of his skull and slithered down his face. the local priest of Set damned him to eternal suffering beneath the belly of the snake god, and afterwards I was forced to entertain guests and serve tea and cakes. All they could talk about was the hanging and I had to force myself to keep from breaking down in hysterics the entire time.

    Morn had been the only friend I ever had and my actions had helped to get him killed. If I had not conspired with Sarah she might have never gone to the slave quarters and they would never have been caught. I felt like a trapped and struggling insect on a web of evil. I could not escape it. It seemed to me then that the world was evil and just by virtue of breathing we helped to perpetuate it. I was ready to end it all. But I was worried about Sarah, what would they do with her?

    That night Eric did not go out. He remained in and bedded me again. When he fell asleep I slipped on a housecoat and snuck up to the big house where Sarah lived with her three children while her husband was away on business. I tapped on her window and she came to it and was surprised to see me.

    "Well if it isn't my accomplice," she said slyly.

    "Please don't say that," I begged her. "I just came here to see if you were okay; to see what they are going to do to you."

    "Oh, nothing much." she smirked. "I claimed the poor bastard had forced himself on me. I faked the tears and the screaming. It worked beautifully. "

    I felt an incredible anger rise up in me. I might have been grateful that Sarah was not going to suffer some horrific fate as Morn had, but instead all I felt was the injustice of the whole thing. Only Morn suffered and she would get off scot-free to keep trying until caught again and she didn't even care.

    "How could you be so unfeeling?" I asked her. "Mo -, that slave was a human being with feelings, with a family. You got him killed."

    Sarah laughed. "Careful what you say, Autumn, people will start accusing you of worshiping Nephthys or Isis. "

    I had heard of Isis. The use of her name was a common enough curse in the Black Islands. The
    Witch Queen, she was goddess of foul magic and elves. I had never heard of Nephthys.

    Sarah continued. "I did not go entirely unpunished. I have to go to some retreat at a temple of Set a few days ride from here in order to be purified of the violation committed against me. Since Narllion is away I have to take the girls with me. It will be such a bore. I do hate those religious events. I have to stay there three days! Ugh! I feel as if I'm going to suffer almost as much as that delicious piece of meat did. Too bad I did not get to see him hang. I hear their member grows hard when the rope jerks. Did that happen? Did you notice?"

    I simply walked away. She called to me, but I did not answer. I could not believe the cruelty all around me and the disdain for human life. I was in a daze. Several days later I would find out that Sarah and her daughters were killed when brigands waylaid the carriage they had taken to the temple. Something inside me knew the truth. She had made it to the temple. They had killed her there.
    -------------------------------
    Notes

    (1) The Democratic Island State of Erthage is nearly a fortnight away by the fasted caravel, south of southeast of the Black Islands. It is Aquerra’s only known democracy, founded by exiles from many other places in the world.
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    (Philosophical Aside: If one is true to one's heart and learns to free the mind of fear then Fallon will speak to you. I had a great deal of fear then. It controlled my life, but I was learning slowly but surely. Many in this atmosphere of evil and ambivalence would become evil as well, but as terrible life seemed to be, some goodness in my heart prevailed. I know that everyone has this goodness in their heart and it need only be reached, either through compassion or through the mace, but it can be reached; for even a blow from my mace can be out of compassion as much as I am reluctant to exercise that option. Fallon and the gods of good speak to us constantly, if we would only listen. Our conscience, our pity, our wonder and respect, these are all the voices of the gods echoing in our minds and showing us the right choices. I am not claiming we are puppets of the gods, for it is obvious we all have freewill, but the gods want us to choose right and whether many realize it or not, they are always helping us to make the right decision. I had no real proof that the priests of Set had Sarah and her children killed, but I knew it in my heart as I had known little else and I trusted it. Fallon was guiding me.)

    The year was 546 H.E. and I was barely eighteen years old and had been married a little more than a year. This was a bad year in the Black Islands and I was not exempt from the ill luck of the times. Not long after Sarah's death the troubled relationship between my husband and his father finally deteriorated beyond repair and Eric and I were forced to move off my father-in-law's property. Eric lost his position at the plantation. I am still not sure what Eric did to provoke his father in such a way, but later I learned from a servant that the rumor was that Eric had drunkenly insulted his brother and wife, Sarah, in public and had brought shame to the family. Eric took the little money he had saved and bought an even tinier cottage on the outskirts of the small town of Lambert. Lambert is several miles east of Geffanstag and is close to a fort where the Baron's standing army is trained. Eric took what he considered to be lowly job. While he was technically an officer, he was in charge of logistics and provisions at the fortress. He often referred to himself as a ‘trumped up cook’ and was miserable. Eric's other brother, Reginald, had gotten the job for him, but Eric cursed Reginald's charity and claimed that Reginald had only gotten him the position to mock him. Eric always felt that he should be a soldier, but he was too thin and often sickly and had always been treated like a runt by his family. During this time Eric's beatings became nightly. He took out all his frustrations and anger out on me and on occasion I could have sworn he called me father as he knocked me down; by now my face had begun to permanently become misshapen and on occasion my left eye would be swollen shut for days.

    Eric did not make much money at his job and he often said the only good part of the job was that he got to wear a sword. Once or twice when very drunk and angry he menaced me with that sword and I would run from him and hide behind the house until he passed out from his stupor; even his attempts at reconciliation become less frequent. Regardless, the fact that Eric's job brought in little money became a large concern when I announced to him that I was with child. I had not been sure, as my mother had taught me little as a girl, but by the second time that Isis' Curse did not come to me I knew that I was with child. Despite the unhappiness of my life at that time, I was overjoyed. I naively thought that this would change the whole tenor of my marriage with Eric. In addition, I had begun to fear that I suffered from my parents' infertility and this soothed my fears. Eric only seemed mildly happy. He smiled and kissed me, but grumbled about another mouth to feed.

    Rumors began to spread about the political situation with the Kingdom of Neergaard. It seemed that the expansionist nation of warrior-knights had taken it into their heads to try to control the sea trade in the area between itself and the Black Islands. (1) I do not know much about politics, but that did not seem right to me. Word had reached us that there were several battles at sea already and that the Neergaardians had sunk many of our ships and killed many of our men or taken them prisoner. Rumor also had it that an invading fleet might be making it way to our shores. The thought of war worried me. I abhorred violence (and still do, Fallon forgive me when I need to resort to it) and Eric's being involved with the military now did little to calm my fears. Eric, however, loved the prospect of war and would come home drunk in the evenings babbling about the wars of old and how Herman Land should never have given up its attempted conquest of Derome-Delem (2) and how our son would grow up to be a fierce warrior and that with any luck this coming war would last twenty years or more like the wars of old did, so that our son would have a chance to slay the braggart knights of Neergaard.

    During this time Eric was required to remain within the fort for a week at time and on occasion went on maneuvers with the troops for a few days and once for over a fortnight. It was during this time, the only time I had ever had alone in my life, that I began to explore the town of Lambert and learn of it and meet some people there.

    I had on occasion been to the markets but I had always hurried back. Now I lingered and looked at some of the exotic goods for sale there. Some of the merchants sold odd things that they advertised as being for "adventurers". I had heard of such people before, but had never met any. Eric spoke of them on occasion and did not like them either. (He had little good to say about anyone or anything). He had told me that one of the captains in the regiment of men he was attached to was an ex-adventurer. He said the man was always bragging about his feats and patted his supposedly magic sword. From the market I would wander around the shops and admire the dresses and goods I could not afford. More than once I spent an afternoon looking in the shop where Eric had took me to buy a dress over a year before.

    Eventually I found a pottery shop. The shop's proprietor was named Malsted and he was an old man that did not look unlike my father, except he had broader shoulders. He said he once been a sailor, but had retired after a terrible shipwreck that had cost the lives of most of his crewmates. He had opened his shop fifteen years before. A friendship grew between Malsted and I. We would talk for a long time about pottery and then our conversation would change and we would talk of personal matters. He told me how he had been married and had a daughter, but ashamedly he had abandoned them for a life at sea and had not been able to find them again when he returned. I told him of my parents and I eventually even told him about Morn and my sister-in-law Sarah. I never told him about Eric beating me, but he seemed to know. (How could he look at my face and not?) His friendship helped me a great a deal those weeks that Eric was away, and I would visit Malsted everyday. Again I felt that this had happened for a reason. Looking back I know that Isis or Fallon put us together. He became the loving father I had always desired and I became the daughter he had abandoned. We could help each other and care for each other. In time I began to work on the wheel in his shop and the love for pottery reignited. He cleared off a shelf for my work alone and soon it was selling well. After the first week of my pottery selling Malstead called me into the back room .

    "Autumn, my child, this is for you," he held a pouch of silver coins.

    "I could not take money from you," I told him.

    "I am giving you nothing. You earned this. This is the money for the pots you made that I sold."

    "I did not make them for money. I made them out of joy and love. I do not want the money. "

    "It was because you made them out of love that people were so drawn to them. Take this you earned it," Malsted put the pouch in my hand.

    "But I used your wheel and your materials," I told him.

    "And I subtracted a fair amount thusly. Don't worry your work is good for business. I have sold many of my pieces as well. I put a few of your works in the window to draw attention. "

    I was overjoyed. I took the silver home and buried it in the back. Eric would have killed me if he learned of my pottery and especially if he knew I was making more money than he was. I figured that this would be a special fund for the baby when he or she came (though deep down inside I knew it would be a girl) and Eric need not know about it yet. Once the baby was born he would be too happy to care when a few items appeared for the baby. If he asked I would tell him that they had been gifts from his family. He would never know the difference and would be too proud to inquire of them.

    Weeks passed and the year was waning. Winter arrived and Eric was gone from home a little less and I would spend the mornings helping him to remove snow from the front of the house, even though I was already showing. One evening I was setting the table for dinner, which was right by the front door and I heard it open. I looked up just in time to see Eric smash one of my pots in my face. I could feel shards of the ceramic cut into my face. One large piece felt lodged in my eyebrow. Somehow I managed to stay on my feet and looked up at Eric again with blood pouring into my eyes.

    "You just love making a fool out of me, don't you?" Eric screamed at me and pushed me against the wall.

    I was suddenly more frightened of him than I had ever been. I turned to run and he put his arm up stopping me and slapped me on the back of the head with his other hand. I tried to duck under his arm and he punched me on the side of the face. This time I hit the wall and slid down to the floor.

    "Why have you been doing it'?" he asked, standing over me. I gurgled blood. He kicked me. "Why?!"

    "Why what`?" I managed to gasp. I could feel anger swelling up in me and I had never felt that towards Eric in all the times he had beaten me. I had only ever felt remorse or pity or fear, but never anger.

    "Don't act more stupid than you are," he said and pulled me up by my collar and knocked me against the wall. "I'll ask you one more time."

    I scrunched up my face in anger and defiance. "None of your Set-lovin' business! " I screamed and spit blood in his face. Filled with the bizarre strength he would get when he was angry he shoved me across the room into the table. I slammed into it belly first and felt a sharp pain in my womb. I lay there on the table hunched over, weeping and crying, "The baby… The baby…" I felt Eric behind me and he leaned in close over me grabbing my hair in one hand putting the other hand around my neck. I was certain he would kill me. I was panting and crying.

    "I have to spend the night at the fort tonight. When I get back in the morning I want you to have gone down to that little worm's shop, get all your sh*t and have it here in pieces for me to inspect. You understand`?" he asked.

    "How did you know?" I managed to ask. He slammed my face against the table. I felt my nose crack.

    "A gods-damned officer in the army was eating out of a gods-damned bowl you made! He looked up at me when I asked him how he liked the stew we were feeding the men while on the road, and said, 'I hear your wife's pottery is pretty popular around town. Too bad you'll never amount to nothing." Now it seemed that Eric too might cry. I felt my pity for him rise and then the pain in my belly and the blood pouring down my thigh reminded me what he had let his anger do to our baby.

    "I'll be damned if I'll let my own wife act like she is better than me. You understand, bitch? You understand?!!!!! " he screamed.

    "But Eric, the baby," he shoved me against the table again.

    He paused and must have looked down at my leg. He must have realized what he had done. He stammered and then strengthened his resolve.

    "It was probably a damned Isis-lovin' girl anyway." He let me drop to the ground and walked out. It took me a long time to get up. At first I just lie there crying holding my apron between my legs to try to stop the bleeding. And then I picked the shards of the pot from my face, chest and shoulders. By the time I had the strength to stand up I knew for certain that the baby was dead and I knew that I would not do what Eric asked of me. I would stand and defy him. If I had to I would leave using the money I had hidden in the back.

    But again fate worked in my favor. That night the Black Islands Barony officially declared war on Neergaard and Eric was shipped off. I would not see him again.
    --------------------------------------------------
    Notes:

    (1) This is a very skewed perspective on the Black-Neergaard War.

    (2) The Little Kingdoms, featured in the “Out of the Frying Pan” and “The Promised Land” campaigns, were founded as a result of that war, often called “The Mountain Wars”.
    Last edited by el-remmen; Friday, 28th July, 2006 at 01:54 PM.
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    This makes me want to hear about her adventures! Are any of them written up?
    I haven't explored any of your other writings yet, but now I'm ready to. What's the best jumping-on point?

    smiles - ellinor
    (for whom Gilligan will now forever be remembered, um, differently.)
    A Rose In The Wind: A Saga Of The Halmae. It's like "Daughter Of Welcome To The Halmae." Um, literally.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ellinor
    This makes me want to hear about her adventures! Are any of them written up?
    Unfortunately not. The saddest thing about this nearly 40-page background is that over the course of a year the campaign would sputter and stop and re-start and then stop again and the the next thing we knew it totally lost momentum. We never got past 3rd level.

    However, I did plan to add some short synopsi of her adventures after I am done with the background (well, the parts I can remember anyway, it was about 10 years ago at this point).

    Quote Originally Posted by ellinor
    I haven't explored any of your other writings yet, but now I'm ready to. What's the best jumping-on point?
    Well, I guess the beginning? If you click on the banner in my sig you'll go to the portal thread where you can find links to all the story hour threads and also links to download the first two books in word doc. form. The downloadable files have been cleaned up and edited, the threads are still littered with typos (and in a few places awkward language :\).

    However, another option is to start with Book III, which I created a kind of jump in point mid-adventure for those who were intimidated by the hundreds of pages that come before that point.

    Quote Originally Posted by ellinor
    smiles - ellinor
    (for whom Gilligan will now forever be remembered, um, differently.)
    Thanks for dropping by and reading. And if I ever get married to a Deep One, I certainly would ask you to sing at the wedding.
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    The next day when Eric did not arrive, I limped my way into town and to Malsted's shop. I was still bleeding slightly and was very dizzy. I collapsed as I entered the shop. Malsted helped me into the back room and put a warm wet towel on my head and gave me rags with which to help hold back the bleeding.

    "I have to go get help," he told me.

    "Who will you get?" I groggily asked.

    "We are lucky that there is a visitor in town that would normally not be around," and with that he left and returned soon after with a beautiful young woman dressed in white. She wore a red head band and a golden ankh in a red circle about her neck. She placed her hand upon my body and spoke soft soothing words and I felt a warmth come over me as divine energy filled me and I was healed. I could feel the blood stop its flow.

    The woman's name was Kellina and she was a medicus of Fallon. I was unconscious for a time after she healed me, but when I awoke she was still beside me. I awoke with a start.

    "Oh Gods! Eric must me back by now. He will be angry. He will trace me here. He could hurt Malsted," I cried.

    Malsted entered my field of vision and Kellina took my hand.

    "Eric is gone," he said. "The war has started. He will not be back for a time, if ever."
    As much as I had hated the idea of a war I felt relieved and again I felt that some other power was taking action in my life. I looked up at the kind and gentle eyes of Kellina of Fallon and I knew who and what it had been.

    "Thank Fallon," I sighed without knowing much of who I was speaking of.

    "Thank Fallon, indeed," Kellina said and squeezed my hand.

    I spent the next few days between my home and Malsted's shop. Kellina was just traveling through and knew several people in the area. I found myself telling her of Eric's abuse and of my parents and childhood. She explained to me of Fallon and Isis and Nephthys and the other goodly gods and I was happy to hear that such powers were watching out over my life, body and spirit. Kellina also explained to me of Set and how through deception he duped the people of the Black Islands into worshiping him and committing acts of evil. Things began to come together and I told Kellina about my suspicions about Sarah and how I felt secure of in my heart and what had happened to her. Kellina explained that that was Fallon guiding me to good; giving me the instinct to sense evil. She also explained how everything that had happened to me had happened to bring me closer to Fallon and that it had been no coincidence that she had been in the town of Lambert when I needed her help, because it was not really her help I was getting but Fallon's.

    I learned a lot in those few days and Kellina inspired me to learn my letters and to continue in my pottery and to explore my desire to do sculpture. She explained that she was off to teach at the seminary a few days east of Geffanstagg and that I was welcome to visit her there at any time. Kellina instructed Malsted to help me with my letters and to help to teach me how to defend myself so that I might fight back and not allow myself to be victim of the tyranny of men and those that would do me harm. Before she left Kellina gave me a gift, a book. It was entitled, The Ascendancy of Fallon. (1) It was from this book that I would learn to read.

    And so the years passed. I continued with pottery and began to make sculpture; mostly out of clay, but I also learned how to carve stone and wood. Most of my subjects were religious in nature and I also created woodcuts of scenes I had read about in The Ascendancy of Fallon. I picked up on reading very quickly and soon I was devouring any book I could get my hands on; not that there are a great number of books available to be read in the Black Islands, but I read what I could. I read the messages put on the post on the edge of town and the signs on shops and I got a copy of The Will of Set (2) which professed the twisted teachings of his church. Malsted began to teach me to fight. He did not teach me how to use a weapon, but mainly how to hold myself and a few throws that might get an attacker away from me. I grew to enjoy wrestling and once or twice I accidentally hurt Malsted as he was growing increasingly elderly, so my lessons stopped.

    It was also during this time that I began to visit The Inland Sea a tavern in town. I met many people there and as usual men never paid me much attention, but I did not care. I was still a married woman and had all intentions of behaving like one. Occasionally, a drunken man would become too forward and the bouncer Briff would show him the door and once I had to kick a man hard; Fallon forgive me, but it was never worse than that. The best part of being at the tavern was meeting local people who owned shops or were vendors in the market or were just passing through. I listened closely to the bards and often asked for stories about Fallon, but few bards in the area knew anything except a basic knowledge of her. I met kind people here and in time I became a staple at the place and I gave Morrin the owner a discount on two sculptures of ships I made. It is ironic that the years of the war were among my happiest. We would hear news of the battles and once I saw a contingent of Neergaard troops march past the town towards the north. There was a great fear that they would sack Lambert, but instead they took and held Geffanstag and left us alone. Only occasionally would Neergaardian soldiers come into town and the townsfolk always gave or sold them what they wanted to get rid of them.

    In the last year of the war there was a huge battle near Baernhoft leading up to the the effort to retake Geffanstag. The battle itself took place several miles south of Lambert on the banks of the Millet Gabel river's northern fork. It would soon gain the name River of Blood,(3) for many soldiers and knights on both sides died and the water was bright red for months afterward from that point south. The Black Islands lost that battle and it was one of the things that began the Baron's attempt at reconciliation.

    I saw the aftermath of that battle as I ran out with others to help the wounded and dying when the tide of the battle had left them behind. I had never seen so much blood and hacked off limbs and entrails twisted in piles like sausage on the ground. I did what I could and during that time learned something about first aid. Some of those that volunteered to go out to help would not treat the Neergaardian soldiers, but I helped anyone I came upon. There was a teenage boy, almost of enlistment age going around slitting the throats of the dying Neergaardian soldiers. Someone told me of this and I immediately began to search for him. An uncontrollable disgust and anger formed inside of me and I was determined to stop him. I thought about Eric and other women's husbands and brothers being in the foreign lands of Neergaard and thought that if they deserved fair treatment so did these invaders.

    Since the fort that Eric had worked was now taken and nearby we had heard news that Eric's troop had taken the town of Narvedale in southern Neergaard, but battled everyday to keep it at a high cost of human life. I feared Eric was dead and part of me was relieved, and I was disgusted at myself for feeling that way. I was searching for this murdering boy as a way to redeem myself for those thoughts.

    I found the young boy, blood staining his leather jerkin, standing with his short sword beside an armored knight who was lying on his stomach. I could see the movement of the soldier's breathing and could tell it was labored and would soon cease all together even if the boy did not plunge his sword in the man's side where his armor was already peeled back as if by some weapon designed to do such a thing. The boy was raising the blade when I called to him to stop.

    "Huh?" he turned and looked at me and an evil grin came across his face. It was the face of a baby. If he had seen thirteen summers it was a lot, but already in his eyes was the gleam of a killer.

    "Whaddya want'?" he lowered the sword momentarily.

    "Leave that man alone. He needs medical aid," I told the boy and he began to laugh. "He is the bleeding enemy lady. He deserves to die," the boy said and began to raise the sword again. I stepped up to him and grabbed his arm.

    "He has fought valiantly and lived. Everyone deserves a chance at life and to be treated with respect no matter who they are," I told the boy in a motherly tone. He pulled away from me and began to menace me with his sword.

    "Stay away from me you bloody crazy lady," he said. "This here is the enemy and if you try to stop me from doing my duty as a servant of the baron you are the enemy too. "

    "I am not your enemy. I am your friend. Now step aside, boy so that I might treat this man's wounds and try to save his life."

    The boy stepped forward pointing the sword at me.

    "He's mine. And so is anything of value I find on him. Spoils of war!" the boy said and shoved me hard. I was unprepared for the assault and tripped over a corpse. The boy laughed loudly and prepared to kill the fallen knight who was now trying to drag himself away. The boy placed one foot on the man's back and pinned him down and raised the sword again. I watched in horror and I felt my hand encircle something. I looked and there was the mace of the corpse I had tripped over. Without thinking I charged up and at the boy with a violent scream. For a second the evil young boy appeared to me to be Eric, keeping me from doing what I wanted, what I loved, what I believed in and I swung the mace heavily at his head. The boy turned with a shocked look in his eyes and brought the point of his sword between us. I felt the sharp heat of metal piercing my flesh and the warm spray of blood up and down my body. I felt the hard crunch of the mace against the side of the boy's head and heard the audible pop of his eyeball coming free from his skull. The boy collapsed in a hump on the ground and I felt a weakness fill my legs as I looked down at his lifeless corpse. The mace fell from my hand and two seconds, two hours or two days later I felt myself follow it to the ground in a faint. Everything turned black and lights swirled around my head.

    I opened my eyes to see that I was lying next to the knight that the boy had been trying to slay. He was still on his stomach. I sat up and turned him around with a heave. He was wearing full platemail armor which made it difficult. He was still alive, but barely; his eyes were turned back in his head and it appeared that the face plate of his helm had been ripped off by the same weapon that had punched a hole in his armor. He had a thick mustache of a style that the men of the Black Islands seldom wore; his skin was pale. I noticed that his hands were fumbling at his belt and I moved to see what he was trying to get at even in his semi-conscious state. I saw the fresh blood on my hands and realized it was my own as I felt a spasm of pain from my wound. Of all the times Eric had hit me and all the pain I had felt it was nothing like what I was feeling now. Even when I had lost the baby the pain had not been like this. I knew that the wound was deep and that I might soon die.

    The knight was fumbling with a belt pouch which I took from his belt and opened. Inside was a glass vial that held some yellowish thick liquid. I held it up to the fading sun and I saw the warrior's eyes open and widen. He tried to reach up for the vial but his arms fell back down devoid of strength. He opened his mouth to speak, blood and bile were the only words that came dribbling from his lips, but I knew what he wanted. I uncorked the vial and began to pour the liquid into his mouth. Even before I had poured a full two-thirds of it he had the strength to grab my hands and stop me from using it all. I was startled and jumped back a little in the sitting position I was in. I allowed the vial to remain in his hands. He slowly sat up.

    "Thank you dear lady for your aid," he coughed. "I was in sore need of it." I was astounded at his amazingly quick recovery.

    "Do not be frightened," the man said to me. "It was but a magical elixir prepared for us by the priests of Ra in our country. But why am I still talking You are wounded as well. Drink what remains."

    I was still silent and then a jet of pain went through me.

    "Fair lady, do not be stubborn. Drink this," he told me, offering the vial.

    "I am not fair." Now is was my turn to cough and I could taste blood in the back of my
    throat and nose.

    Now it was his turn to be astounded. "Drink it," he almost commanded and I took it and sipped down the bitter drink. I could feel the warm healing power in my body similar to that which I had felt in the arms of Kellina and the wound was already closing and then in a surprising reversal of roles the knight was standing and helping me to my feet. We both teetered there for a few minutes as we were both gravely wounded, but it was now clear that we would live.

    The knight looked down at the young boy's corpse and I shuddered and felt tears well up inside me.

    "For a time there I thought that you and he were locked in battle over my immortal soul," the knight said, pointing to the boy.

    "Huh?" I was confused.

    The man looked at me. Despite the dirt, grit and blood on his face I could see he was handsome.
    "I thought he was some imp sent to bring me to serve Set in hell and that you were an angel sent by Ra to defeat him," the knight said. "In a way I guess you were."

    I thought of his estimation of the strange battle with a thirteen-year old boy and wondered. I could not stop but feel that no matter the outcome that I had done some foul evil and had cut short a life that might have still done good to save a life longer-lived that had dedicated his way to war.

    "I am being rude," the soldier suddenly said. I looked up.

    "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Sir Belegard Thomsine of Gildenstone, Knight of the Order of Storm." (4)

    I was silent.

    "I will need to find my way back to my men and to Geffanstagg. Do you think you could help me?" Sir Belegard said.

    "You are the enemy," I murmured.

    "What was that'?" he asked.

    "I am Autumn Sto- Rain," I said.

    "A pleasure to meet you Lady Autumn," and he tried to bow forward and I was forced to keep him from falling. "My wound disallows me the usual knightly courtesy. I am sorry. "

    "That does not matter," I said. "I will help you get to Geffanstag."

    "And so it seems that I am doubly indebted to you," Sir Belegard said.

    "Huh?" Again, I was confused.

    "You saved my life and now you will guide me to my men. I am forever indebted to your mercy and kindness."

    "You owe me nothing. It is my duty. It is our duty to help each other in any way possible."

    "You sound like a noble woman, but I will repay you."

    Leaning on each other I led him up the road towards my house. It was getting dark now and so I did not worry that anyone would see us. The next day I used some of my saving to buy a nag in town. Horses were rare as many were being used in the war effort, but I was able to find a broken-down horse that would soon have found its way into the meat-grinder. I gave the horse to Sir Belegrad and told him the way to Geffanstag. As I handed him the reins of the horse I was afraid that he would say he was now triply indebted to me (or even quadruply, for I had fed him the best I could the night before and that morning), but he said only a word of thanks. As he mounted the horse he turned to bid me farewell and I spoke.

    "If you really want to repay me then make me a promise," I said to him.

    "Anything," he said flatly.

    "You will use whatever influence; whatever favors or promises or power to bring a quick end to this war. I want the killing to stop. A situation that forces me to kill a young boy in the name of good is evil at its heart. There is no honor in it, not even for knights such as yourself. "

    Sir Belegrad sighed and nodded.

    "I promise," he said. "And if you are ever in the Province of Seareach in the Kingdom of Neergaard seek out Gildenstone. You would be my honored guest for as long as you wish and would have want for nothing." And with that he rode away.

    The war ended three months later, but I was not naive enough by then to think that the promise I extracted from Belegrad had anything to do with it. I spent those three months in quiet contemplation. I thought a lot about the boy I had been forced to slay and offered my prayers and confessions to Fallon nightly and begged that she forgive me, but I could not find forgiveness in my prayers. I stopped going to The Inland Sea and even stopped my sculpture. I visited Malsted only occasionally. The war had been over two months and still Eric was not back. I thought he was probably dead. On my final visit to Malsted I explained that I was leaving Lambert and going to the seminary outside of Geffanstagg to study and volunteer. I explained to him how I felt the gods had been guiding me in my life since birth and that the misery I felt was due to the fact that I had not followed that path that was so clearly before me. Malsted hugged me close and gave me his blessing and made me promise that I would return to visit and to not give up my sculpture. I left with him, as a gift, my sculpture entitled, "Captain Yeardley Scott Discovers the Black Islands" (5) went home to pack a few things (including my sculpting tools) took my savings and hired a wagon to the large town of Geffanstagg. I left a letter for Eric on the kitchen table unsure if he would ever get it or if his rough reading skills would allow him to decipher it, but it was all I could hope.

    6th of Sek, 552 H.E.

    Dear Eric,

    I always tried to be the best wife I could be to you, but now I know that there was nothing wrong with me. Now I know that it was simply that you took your anger and failures out on me. I do not blame you for your feelings, only for how you acted on them.

    Despite the pain your beatings caused me, they taught me something. Perhaps not the lessons you sought to instill in me by dealing them out, but there were lessons there none-the-less. I learned patience, mercy and I developed the ability to withstand pain, all of which I hope will help me in my new pursuits.

    I will dedicate myself to healing others. I have no aspirations to become a priest, only to be what little service I might be to the gods that have granted us all life and the potential to be gentle to all other living things; Fallon in particular has become important to me.

    Do not bother trying to find me. Our paths have deviated from one another and though it is possible that I will one day return to see what has become of you (for deep in my heart I still care about your welfare) it will be a different woman you meet that day.

    I hope you have a happy life. I hope that the horrors of war might have taught you something about the pointlessness of destruction and evil. I wish you love and luck, and I hope you will try to understand and not be angry, though I must admit it is an unlikely hope. The war has changed me, as have the five intervening years. You would not find the same meek wife when you returned, but I fear greatly that I would be greeted by the same cruel husband.

    With Fallon’s Blessings,

    Autumn
    -------------------------------
    Notes
    (1) The Ascendancy of Fallon tells of Fallon’s mortal life, her trials, suffering and triumph, and to some degree tells the tales of the emergence of the modern churches of the gods of Ra’s Pantheon in Aquerra.

    (2) The Will of Set is the Setite holy book, which uses obfuscating theological language to justify the premise that might makes right.

    (3) The Battle at the River of Blood is one of the most infamous in modern Aquerra, where thousands died in five days of fighting. Among the dead were the older brothers of Dresden the Black, who were hedge knights serving Neergaard. (Dresden was a PC in an old Aquerra campaign, and made up the battle for his background. I later used it in mine. I love using stuff other people make up for their characters and building on it to develop the setting).

    (4) The Order of Storm is the official knightly order of the Province of Seareach in the Kingdom of Neergaard.

    (5) The Black Islands were discovered by Captain Yeardley Scott in 131 H.E. He was soon after awarded the title of baron and given control of the islands by King Herman V.
    Last edited by el-remmen; Thursday, 28th December, 2006 at 04:23 PM.
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    ø Ignore Richard Rawen
    Wow.
    I echo Ellinor's hope for more, though you've already said there's little tale to tell from here, the character detail is marvelous.
    Autumn is a woman I would hope to meet someday, to sit and talk with, to learn what more she experienced. What better compliment I can give you I know not.
    Thanks for sharing this amazing character, no matter what she went on to accomplish.

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