The Tearing of the Weave
Alora is a cold magic focused mystic theurge.
Sorceress 4, Cleric of Shaundakul 3, Mystic Theurge 3
My father was like the forest I grew up in: often loving, occasionally harsh, always interesting, and seemingly eternal. He taught me to hunt and fish, gather fruits, grains, greens, nuts and tubers, tan the hides of our kills and stitch the furs into goods we could sell for slightly more money. Some things I remember as lessons, others I don’t. I seem to have always known them, as if I had somehow absorbed the knowledge directly from him as some side benefit of being his daughter.
I must have been ten before I realized that human children don’t simply spring from their fathers and the north wind. We were in a town selling our wares one winter when I became separated from my father by some small distance, more focused on the scent of freshly baked berry pies than the task of keeping up with him. One of the village women approached me and asked where my mother was. From the way her face sharpened when I told her I didn’t have one I knew that my answer was wrong, even though it was the only answer I had to give. Father found me then and ended my conversation with the woman, scooping me up in his big strong arms. I was grateful for it, but the question haunted me for some time. If I must have a mother then who was she? And why had I never met or heard of her?
I forgot the question once we were in the woods again. The familiar wind laced crystals into my eyelashes and teased my hair. I danced with the leaves under the frigid moon and forgot my questions for my father. The glitter of the snow and its tricksy shadows seemed far more important than some unknown mother. What need had I of a mother when I had frost laced berries kissed by the north winds and apples frozen tart and sweet under the moon’s benign eye?
That question floated to the surface of my mind every time we entered a town, and every time we left it was quickly forgotten. There were so many other things to think about. Summer saw us tanning and stitching. We set up temporary camps to process our kills. Winter was a more relaxed time, tromping through the snow from town to town selling our goods. Often our walks were filled with lessons. Father would drill me endlessly on the ways and beliefs of the people in the various towns we stopped at. I memorized lists of Gods and their antics so as to not insult anyone on accident.
Gods seemed strange to me. There was a purity of power in the frozen forests we traveled. The wind cared nothing for the beauty or pleas of men. It did not even care about the beauty it created for itself. How many times have I woken to find beautiful images etched into the frost just see them destroyed later that day? Gods lacked that purity, acting more like men than like powers. They were vain and often foolish. It seemed to me that gods were simply people who had somehow gained access to the powers.
Humans were just as strange. I always felt this sense of impending danger when we entered a town. I had special clothing just for such visits. My normal hat and scarves were put aside for one that left only my eyes visible, and my thin mittens replaced by clumsy gloves. This danger is what kept me from asking about my mother when we were in town. I clung to my father’s belt and tried to draw as little attention as possible to myself, like a baby animal certain that predators abounded.
I was most comfortable in the woods with only my father for company. He knew the woods so well we were rarely threatened by any dangerous condition. Winter was my favorite time, but fall was nearly as good. The cold fall breeze carried the promise of winter freezes and glistening ice. Spring was the worst. Sudden thaws turned gullies into rivers and flash floods were dangerous even to those as woods wise as my father.
It was a flash flood that proved to be our undoing. We lost most of our stock, though the mule managed to make his way out of the water. I ended up a bit bruised, but otherwise alright. It was father who took the worst of the damage. Once he coughed most of the water up and started breathing on his own I thought the broken leg was the worst of it. Yet the cough wouldn’t go away, it just kept getting worse. I strapped him to the mule and we carried him into the nearest town searching for a cleric, or anyone who knew more about healing than I did.
A cure for wet, persistent coughs was not among any of the skills I had learned throughout my life. Neither the icy winds that chilled my flesh nor the fire that warmed my blood had ever taught me such things. I’d learned the nature and uses of herbs from my father, but none of the syrups I knew how to make had any effect.
So we traveled; from village to village, village to town, town to town. There were no cities in our cold northern forests, no large temples to which a girl could take an old man for healing. The mule and I walked; father rode and coughed. I aimed higher each time, heading from the deepest wilderness to the largest communities I knew and always the answer was the same. “No one here can help you.”
In the end we stayed at a farm house in a small village on the verge of farming territory. In the summer these people made their living forcing crops out of barren, rocky ground. One of the farm wives let us stay with her stock. Father was too sick to keep traveling, and I had given up hope of finding anyone who could help him. Instead I kept him warm and spooned warm broth into him.
We talked. It wasn’t the structured lessons of my early years. Instead he rambled, telling me about his childhood friends and the stifling life in a farming town that he had abandoned for the forests and fields. I never asked him about mother, but he told me about her anyway. Some times he spoke to me as if I were her, the fever turning shadows into monsters and warping familiar faces.
He’d found her in the woods with no idea of where she was or how to take care of her self. He’d offered to escort her somewhere safe, and she’d accepted. It hadn’t taken him long to realize that she had no clue where safe was either. She was just running. She had nowhere to go, just something to get away from. He stayed with her, helped her, hid her. It wasn’t good enough however. One day he came back from hunting and she was gone. No footprints or marks in the soft spring mud to let him know if she’d gone willingly or not. Just no Skadi. He didn’t even know if that was her real name.
After that it was just the two of us. He didn’t know if her vanishing while he had me was purposeful or not and worried constantly that someone would be back for me. That’s why he had me be so careful when we were in towns. He worried that word would get around about me, and I looked so much like my mother.
I studied myself later, while he slept. My hair was easy to examine. Long silvery white strands slid silkenly through my fingers. I’d never seen anyone with hair half as pale. Moonlit ice, new fallen snow, they shared coloration with me. Nothing else ever had. My mother had hair like this. Perhaps that meant that I would know her if I ever saw her.
That thought lead to another. I borrowed a pie pan from the farm wife, trading my last deer pelt for it and a copper pot. I mended and smoothed the pan, shining it as best I could. Next I filled it with water. It took me several attempts, but eventually I froze it properly. A passable mirror sat thawing in my lap and I studied my face in it.
Delicate was a good word to describe my features. A pert little nose perched above a cupid’s bow mouth. High cheek bones arched towards the strangely pointed ears that peeked out from amidst my hair. A wing like arch to my brows made my wide eyes seem to take up even more of my face.
Pale described me just as well. Silvery brows and hair glittered in the flickering light of the fires that warmed father. Despite a life spent outdoors my skin was paler than that of any noble woman I had ever seen. Milky pale, the faint blue tracing of veins beneath it were all that gave my arms or hands and color. My face seemed the same.
My lips stood out from that milky paleness, soft rose blossom red. A hint of paler pink stroked along my cheek bones. That hint of color couldn’t compete at all with the icy green of my eyes. The reminded me of mint leaves, fresh and pale, sparkling with frost. The traders sometimes sold little figures and pendants of a similar color carved from a stone called jade.
My mother’s eyes, her skin, her hair…would these things allow me to recognize her should I ever encounter her? It seemed important that I be able to recognize her. The stories of the Gods father had made me memorize were full of horrible things that happened to people who failed to recognize their mothers.
I turned my face sideways to the mirror, struggling to examine the odd shape of my ear. In the stories elves had pointed ears. Was this what that meant? Was mother an elf? Perhaps that explained why I always seemed smaller, younger, than other children who should have been the same age as I. Elves aged slowly, didn’t they?
I had never met an elf. They were rare around the forest. There was supposed to be a community of them to the south. We had never gone there. They didn’t welcome traders unless those traders also happened to be elves. Insular, that was the word people used for them. None of them ever seemed to leave, and no outsiders were allowed in.
When I was still a child we’d visited a town on the Eastern border of the forest. I’d gotten into a fight with one of the boy children there, and he pulled my hat off. I can still remember how one of the women exclaimed over my looks before father bundled me up and carried me off. “Why, it’s a little elf girl!”
We never went back to that village.
Father faded a little more each day. I kept hoping things would change, I made him every poultice and syrup I could think of and some I made up. None of it helped. It was late summer when we stopped at the farm house. By mid fall we had moved from the stables into a back room of the main house. Winter crafted its crystalline beauty around the farm, but I missed most of it, closeted in a tiny dark room, panting in the heat. Father shivered constantly. Nothing I could do kept him warm.
He died the next spring.
The farmer’s three sons dug a grave for me in the spring softened mud of the village cemetery. Their tottery priest came and blessed the plot. I had no token to leave with him. He taught me to travel light when I wasn’t trading. Instead I left him with a lock of my incredibly pale hair. It gleamed in the dimness of the grave while loose clods of dirt rained down upon him.
I ate with the family that night. I hadn’t eaten with them often. Instead I’d sat huddled next to father, afraid to leave his side for any length of time lest he die without me near. I couldn’t bear the thought of that. He’d striven so hard to keep close, and the demons of loneliness stalked his fever dreams. All I could do was stay close, so I stayed as close as I could.
Now there was no demand for my presence. No place to go, nothing I needed to do. I drifted through the next few months, as directionless as dandelion fluff. I felt empty, as if the bottom of the world had dropped away and all that was left was a yawning void.
I helped the farmwife to pay my way. She marveled at my skill with mending, and I let her think I had fixed her goods by normal means. It seemed too much effort to explain how I’d learned the spell for it one midwinter’s morning. Many things around the farm were like that. A lit fire from wet green wood, an injury soothed to a bit less than what it might have been, nothing special, no magic here, it is all simply a bit of skill. It is amazing what one learns when one depends upon ones’ self.
It never occurred to me that the farmer’s eldest son was courting me. It never occurred to me that I might stay. This wasn’t home. It was just a place I’d stopped to rest. I was like one of the twirling maple seeds, fallen to the rocks, soaked by rain, yet still hoping for a breeze to call back the dances of my youth.
It wasn’t till he proposed that any of this flickered through my mind. It was then that I felt the jaws of the trap snap closed around me. I’d sold the mule to pay for medicine. All of our furs had gone long before, ‘donations’ to churches that couldn’t help but wouldn’t say yeah or nay until they’d been paid for their services. Marlow offered me freedom from debt that I hadn’t even realized I possessed. A daily tally of fees unmentioned, against which none of the work I’d done counted. He made it very clear that I had few options, after all winter had come. I had nowhere to go, and life as his wife would be far better than facing the stocks.
I told him that I would have to think and retreated to the room I’d shared with father. The heavy warmth of the furs I’d wrapped around him slid through my hands, and I realized that they were shaking. My hands were shaking just like they had when I mixed potions for father. Fear and hope had lead to those tremors, but a review of my current emotions revealed neither fear nor hope. All I felt was anger. It scalded my blood. The taste of it tainted my tongue. Anger was an unusual source for inner heat. Normally I depended upon the sorcery that had bloomed with in me years ago. Lines of fire laced through my body, an echo of the unreachable threads of power that traced thought he earth. Those had warmed me for many years. Sorcery gave me the power to light fires, something I never could have learned from the ice or the cool breezes of Shaundakul.
I embraced my anger now and reveled in the feelings of betrayal that flooded me. They were the first true emotions I had felt since father died. I’ve been empty, a walking statue, a snow maiden with no heart or purpose. Anger was a relief from the emptiness.
I dwelled on the reasons for that anger as I packed, counting insults like logs, fueling my anger as I would a fire. Anger kept me moving while the tears poured down my cheeks and I tended it carefully lest they put it out, like rain falling on a newly lit fire.
I left father’s furs. They were more than adequate repayment for the ‘debts’ Marlow claimed, and I did not want them. They were more reminder than I needed of the hole in my life, the empty space father had once filled.
My own furs I wore. Soft rabbit’s fur hid my oddly shaped ears. Leather encased my slender form. I forced my delicate feet through the tight confines of my heavy boots and stood panting. The gear I wore was not meant for use inside a house. I felt like I would melt like a snow ball left in the midsummer sun light.
The heat of the kitchen was like and attack, but I moved through it, reminding myself of the icy grip of winter, the cold and snow that awaited me beyond the door. The family stared at me as if I had gone mad, but I ignored them until I reached the door.
“The furs I left should balance the debt I owe you.” I told Marlow’s mother.
“You can’t leave! It’s the middle of winter!”
“My mother is waiting for me.” I told her seriously. She gaped at me, and I turned away. For a moment I pitied foolish Marlow, who had imagined the winter as his ally against me. Winter was my time and I was a fool for staying here so long rather than claiming it.
Leaving the stultifying heat of their home behind I stepped into the embrace of the only mother I had ever known. The north wind howled around me and the silver moon’s frigid light bathed me in cool radiance. I buttoned my coat as I walked across the frozen fields, comfortable for the first time in months. I cursed the foolish inertia that had prompted me to stay at the farm for so long. This was where a maiden of ice and snow belonged.
The frozen soil crunched beneath my booted feet and I leapt, twirling with the frost covered leaves. Perhaps I should head north. I knew every twist and turn of the pine forests there by heart. I could almost taste the sharp flavor of their sap.
Instead my feet turned east. I had never been east, around the frozen lake. That way lie the Gold Road along with the dwarves moved their bounty. East was the direction of strangeness and wonder, sights I had never seen, cities too large for father’s peace of mind. I may not like what I found in the east, but the pine forests would still be there should I choose to retrace my steps.
Alejandro: Alora is also my longest constant companion. It was she who assisted me when I somewhat mentally fried myself whilst mis-using a Sharran item of some power.