OF GODS AND FATE
hen questioning one’s self, we are always wrong. We either were wrong before, or are wrong in doubting ourself.”
- Dygan Heartswind, on self-inquiry
Even though Dygan was overjoyed to see his aunt Veleri, she didn’t quite hold the same opinion. “What’s this? Who are you?”
“Aunt Veleri? I’m your nephew…Dygan.”
“What? No… you’re some kind of con man. If you even have a shred of decency, leave this sad old woman to her own sorrows and steal from someone else.” With that, she promptly slammed the door in Dygan’s face.
Melrous would’ve laughed, except for how serious the situation really was. “What happened, Melrous?” Dygan asked.
“My unthinking friend, what would happen if someone were to come up to you and tell you that he was your real father?”
“That can’t be. He’s dead, and he’s been dead since I was born.”
“Precisely. Your father is dead. Therefore, no living person can be your father, correct?”
“Right, but I don’t see what that has to do with me.”
“According to you, your father has been dead for years. Well, according to Veleri, you’ve been dead for years. She can’t trust you, because according to her, you are dead.”
“But I’m me… That’s what I’ve been looking for, and when I find it, no one believes me! What’s wrong with me? What did I do wrong this time?”
“Nothing, dear boy. But you’re going to need to win over Miss Veleri , and you’ve already got one strike against you.”
“But I can’t prove who I am… I just am!” Dygan was so frustrated that he kicked the ground, sending a loose cobblestone rolling an uneven path.
“Look boy, I’m sure we’ll think of something. It’ll be tough, I’ll admit. But then again, you and her have the same blood in you, so there must be some link. A bond that must manifest itself somewhere.”
“I know… but where? How am I supposed to know when and where it happens?”
“For that, my boy, I cannot help you. I do not share your lineage. Only you have the answer to that question. You’ll know the answer… I think.”
“You think? You mean I might know who I am, but no one will recognize it? That’s two times as worse!”
“There’s no need to get angry. You’re going to need your wits about you, out of the fog of an unthinking rage.”
“Damn it, Melrous! All your pretty words aren’t going to help, so save the philosophy for a time when it will!”
“Because you are young, emotional, and headstrong, I will pretend I didn’t hear that. You’re acting like a child. You’ve got responsibilities to take care of, so show some maturity or you’ll get absolutely nowhere.”
Dygan didn’t want to believe it. Melrous was right, and he knew it. He just wished that the old man was wrong this time. Wrong so that Veleri wouldn’t deny him, wrong so that Dygan could at last have done something right for a change. Instead, Dygan just hung his head. “I apologize,” he whispered, but Melrous heard it as if it were as loud as thunder.
“You see? That’s the first step towards being on your own. You’ve got to accept the consequences of your actions.”
“But…” Dygan asked, but Melrous didn’t let him give his answer.
“Whatever happens, we are responsible for our thoughts, our words, and our actions. They are our own, and reflect upon us.”
“You’re right, of course.”
“Thank you, and you yourself are forgiven. Have you calmed down?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Thanks Melrous. You certainly know what to say at the right moment.”
“Speaking is an art form. When some cannot paint or sculpt, we craft beauty when we speak and write. Don’t get me wrong now; statues and murals are wonders. I just don’t have the talent for it.”
“Alright, but how are we going to solve my problems?”
“Well, you search for the link, or maybe just talk to her. Talking does wonders.”
“But I’m no honey-tongue like you.”
“Listen, I say there’s nothing to it. All you need to know are these four things: First, gauge your target’s interest. Political figures will want information about opponents, and most ladies will enjoy gossip about a neighbor. Of course, almost everyone will listen if you talk about making money. Second, never think about what you’ll be saying next, but keep an open mind. You never know if something might happen. Third, maintain a balance. Listen, but don’t be engrossed. Talk, but don’t be dominating. Last, and one of the most important is this: From the listener’s viewpoint, any story about me and my life will always be more interesting than any story about you and your life. People love to talk about themselves and to hear others talk about them.”
“Doesn’t the fourth thing kind of contradict the second?”
“No, that’s the beauty of it. You keep your mind on topic, but don’t think of your next words. You relate what’s happening to your listener, but you again keep the balance. Just like trying to do two things at the same time.”
“And how do I gauge my listener? Or keep an open mind for that matter?”
“Practice. I’ve been doing this for longer than you’ve been alive.”
“I don’t doubt that. Maybe I’ll pay Aunt Veleri a visit tomorrow.”
“Now you’re taking control. Good for you. Let’s go to the inn; it’s getting late.”
In the late morning, after a rather average-sized meal with Melrous and his traveling companions, Dygan stood in front of the Heartswind estate. He was wearing some moderately priced clothing Melrous was gracious enough to purchase for him. The old bard said that the clean clothes would make a better impression than the Seyella-knew-how-long clothes he wore since he began the trip. He also wore that armor, against Melrous’s wishes, that he bargained for from the thief master. It made him feel comfortable wearing it, like some sort of emotional armor as well as physical. Taking a deep breath, he walked up to the door. A servant approached him, and asked his business.
“I am here with matters for Veleri Heartswind, and they are for Veleri Heartswind’s ears alone. Please summon her so that I may speak with her.”
Dygan was ushered into a waiting room, until the woman made her way to it.
“You?! I should have you arrested for harassment. You have five seconds to explain yourself before I summon the guard.”
Dygan remembered what Melrous taught him, and began one of the hardest conversations he had ever faced. “I know you do not believe my words, but I am only asking for you to stave your opinion of me, at least for a few moments,” he looked at her, and she gave no response, not even a non-verbal one. “I can understand the pain you have suffered from your losses, and my mishap yesterday evening only served to amplify that. For that, I am truly sorry, and can only offer my humblest apologies.”
Her gaze softened, but it was still clear she was not won over. It’s a start, Dygan said to himself.
“I came to this city with no one to call my family, and I know that you have no one either. It is an emptiness that is cruel, sometimes unbearably so. Yet the pain is so constant, it becomes us, and even relief from it is sometimes all the more terrible. I’m not asking for your love, all I ask is that you can give me the chance for you to judge whether I am or not Dygan Heartswind, son of your only brother. All I ask is that you allow me to see if a blood bond is between us, to see if you are my long lost family, and that I am yours.”
Veleri was teetering at the edge, but it was then that something piqued her interest. “That armor? Yes, that suit of mail? Where did get it?” she pointed a thin finger at the suit.
“This? I bargained it from a thief in exchange for information about his rivals. I really don’t know why I picked it, I was just sort of compelled to.”
Veleri had moved close and was examining the armor quite intensely, as if she needed to see some sort of tiny mark, or lack thereof.
“It is…this is my family’s heirloom,” she gasped. From her tone, Dygan guessed that she could scarce believe it.
“Stolen from us so many years ago. It’s been in our family for almost 1500 years.”
Dygan didn’t believe that for a second. This armor didn’t even look a day old. He could understand looking new if someone took great care with it, but 1500 years was just ridiculous, no, even past that. It was plainly absurd. But however it may seem, to Veleri, it was the bond that Dygan had been seeking.
Veleri’s eyes started to water. “You are…” she started to sob for joy. “One who I had lost. Welcome home…”
The next few hours made Dygan seem like a fish out of water. The change was just so different from anything the boy was ever accustomed too. The wealth and comfort were just so foreign; it was like he stepped into another world. His own room in the Heartswind estate, for example, compared in size with Raye’s entire house. Not only that, but the furnishings were so elaborate and expensive. Sumptuous carpets and precious metals abounded, and Dygan could tell that this room had more money put into it than he had ever used, seen, or even thought of. With all this wealth, it was sort of disheartening to know that people in this very city were starving, but it was all just a part of the city’s ethics system. There was no grand income disparity back where Dygan had grown up. Everyone made enough for themselves, and shared with those who had fallen upon misfortune, expecting the same to be shown to themselves when hard times came around. Perhaps it was because there were so many people in Voldar, that they became just nameless figures in an alley. It would take a little time to get accustomed to, as all things were, even caring about his own family. The thrill of finally having someone he knew was starting to thin out, and Dygan realized that even though Veleri was his aunt, she was still a complete stranger. He knew nothing about how she lived, who her parents were, and so on. Though his mind told him that she was his family, he only felt pity for any other lonely woman he might know. He could tell she felt the same way, with that same aura of uncertainty and slight distrust. He would have to break that, but only time had that sort of power.
To accelerate the process, Dygan kept asking questions about Veleri and the Heartswind family. He saved his most important questions for later in the day, after a bond had started to form.
“Aunt Veleri,” he asked while he and she sat to the table for a late evening meal. This is what he really wanted to know. “What kind of person was my father? I don’t know anything about him.”
“Oh, he was a good brother. He was a very shrewd diplomat, as most merchants are, but he was also a kind one. He could understand what people did to help him make profit, and he saw fit to reward them. He knew how to motivate and organize people as well as things. I know the death of your mother really touched him. It made him painfully aware of his own mortality, and so he wanted to see the whole of Tharania before he died. That was the last I ever heard of him. I couldn’t believe he took you with him.”
“My mother? What happened to her?”
“Oh, she died in childbirth. It was so…” Veleri started to sniff, and a tear dropped from one of her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“Dygan…you’ve asked all these questions about me, but now I want to know. How did you get here?” Veleri seemed eager to change the subject.
How could he paraphrase his own tale? True, he could say what he did, but that wasn’t the entire length of what he had done over the past few days. A lot of it was what he felt, and to think about it, how he still felt. “It’s not a very happy story, and I doubt it will lift your spirits, but I’ll tell it to you, if you want to listen.” Dygan began after a quick nod from Veleri. “I was found and raised by Flisgard Naronell, a hunter from the village of Tereftan. Every heard of it?” Veleri shook her head, which didn’t surprise him. “Well, it’s a small village, the sort where everyone knows each other. Well, Flisgard was a hunter, and he had a wife named Raye. She is an herbalist, growing plants and preparing herbal medicines. Well, I thought I was their son, and I was just a normal boy, I guess. Maybe I had something different, because when other youths my age were starting to learn trades, I was practicing with swords.”
“Why did you choose swordplay?”
“Well, I guess one reason is because I saw Flisgard’s sword. It’s this one,” he drew the blade and laid it upon the table. “I felt like…I don’t know, like it wanted something. Like it was tired of being hung up on a wall, for decorative purposes only. I know, it sounds silly. Swords don’t think. Maybe it was just the imagination of a very young me. Well, anyways, I lived that life. I was content to spend days doing chores and shadow-fencing, but it was not to be forever. There was one day, when both my parents had gone missing. I went to search for them, and I saw a wizard trying to kidnap Raye. Flisgard tried to stop him, but the wizard…,” Dygan paused for a second, “killed him. Then he was going to kill me, but I was able to outsmart him and rescue Raye. She admitted that I was adopted, something I heard from the wizard before he died. Well, I exploded into a blind rage, stupidly cursing her and her hospitality for the past 15 years. I slipped a note of apology, but I can’t face her. I’m just too ashamed.”
“And you made it here?”
“No, not actually. I nearly starved on a death trek through the wilderness to find something that I could do to redeem myself. That’s when I met Melrous, and I joined his caravan that went here more or less. He’s a bard, and a really good one, too.”
“But how did you find out I was your aunt?”
“I had to descend into the sticky mess called politics. Melrous bailed me out by helping me carry out a trade of favors with House Sellus.”
“Then you should properly thank him. I’ll help you. What would he like as a gift?”
“That’s just it… I think all he wants is just to be able to do whatever he wants to do. He sets his own obligations and duties; answering only to himself. I really envy him, deep inside. It must be wonderful to be so free like that.”
“I see. It’s really an amazing story. You’ve been through so much, and all I know is it’ll take you some time getting used to it, but I’m sure you’ll be comfortable shortly. All that pain and suffering will finally be over.”
Dygan excused himself to retire for the night. The next day would bring him more questions he would want to ask, and more Veleri would want answered.
“All my pain and suffering…over?” Somehow, Dygan doubted it. Everything that had happened to him couldn’t just be stopped. His instincts told him that whatever had happened wasn’t just going to stop suddenly. He still had so many questions that desperately needed answers. Who was that mysterious voice that saved his life countless times? What was he going to do to atone for his misdeeds? Was this all a string of coincidences, or had fate spun a cruel thread for Dygan Heartswind? These were things that Dygan could not answer by living as a reclaimed nephew for a merchant family.
So it’s not over. Dygan sighed deeply in humble acceptance of a bad situation. He knew it wasn’t over. But when would it be? And when it was, would he know it? And even if he knew it was over, what would await him after that? How did he know there wasn’t some other uncertainty, desperately needing an answer, waiting to be discovered when he continued this journey? It made his head hurt, and he saw no clear possibilities. He doubted that any could answer this question. Not Veleri, not Melrous, not any mortal being to be found anywhere. And what if he went beyond that? What if by some strange twist, he would be able to ask a God, Is my life predestined, or do I make my own legacy? Is what I do already known, or do I make my own impact upon my future? Well, he could always ask, but if he received an answer, how could he know it to be true?
Or am I only wishing it were so? If it was fate, Dygan could shift the blame off of himself. If it were not, then he could justify that he was right in going through this entire disaster.
These things to think about didn’t make Dygan feel any better about his current situation. How had these thoughts come to Dygan’s maturing mind? True, his whole ordeal had him questioning his past, but he wondered if some other force was at work. Like in Melrous’s home village, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was just some insignificant pawn on a grandiose game of life, the world, and everything in it, doomed to insignificance and failure. Even if he had the free will to shape his own path, would it even matter in the end with such a lot?
No one can answer any of them, he admitted to himself, cursing the thought. That was all he had, and although it couldn’t serve his insatiable curiosity, it had to serve.
Unable to fall asleep, he sat on his bed for a second. It didn’t feel right to be accepting such lavish comfort, even though they were rightfully his. After all the pain and shame, living a well-to-do life with plentiful food and no need to battle against the odds just seemed so peculiar. He opened the doors to a balcony, welcoming the chill winter wind that blew against his chest and permeated to his bones with its icy touch. That was what he was accustomed to: The pain that he had to receive through his own fault. Something beyond his power but yet still caused by what he had done. He stood there for a second, before walking back inside and finally laying in the bed. It was a long day, full of small successes, but they didn’t even marginally lift the burden of guilt that hung over him like a cloak of lead.
His sleep was short, and not at all restful. He woke groggy and heavy-eyed not too long after the sun had peeked over the horizon. He didn’t dream, or he didn’t remember it leastways. After a small morning meal, he went to meet Melrous. He found him not far outside the inn he and Dygan had stayed.
“Melrous, I’ve got a deep question to ask.”
“Deep eh? How deep, dear boy?”
“Do you believe in fate? Or do our own actions shape our destiny?”
Melrous stroked his moustache for a second. “What brought this on?” Dygan relayed his entire internal debate about whether he brought on his misfortunes, or if an ill strand of fate particularly cursed him.
Melrous thought, “Well, do you make decisions?”
“I do…but how do I know that I’m making them.”
“Well, what I believe is this: Regardless of fate, I do things, and I accept their consequences. If it’s fate or free will, then I’ve got nothing to worry about. Whether I mean to, or I’m meant to, I just do whatever it is my senses tell me to do.” Melrous grinned and adjusted his hat. “Philosophers are rubbish. Don’t think so much about life, but live it and judge for yourself.”
Amazing, simply amazing. Melrous seemed to have an answer, or in this case, just something that allowed him to skirt the problem all together. “How did you ever get so wise?”
“Wisdom? I simply found that it’s easier to just live then sit and contemplate it. Leave that to men that lock themselves in stuffy rooms with their thousands of books. They’re happy doing that, and I’m happy leaving it to them. So, what’s next is in store for Dygan Heartswind?”
“Well…” Dygan bit slightly into his lower lip, as if thinking hard. “I can’t shake the fact that events have been set in motion, and their end is not here. I need to see if I can answer for what I’ve done to my foster mother.”
“A simple apology would be fine.”
“Yet for me there are no simple answers. I have a duty here as well as to her.”
“Duty is important,” Melrous conceded, “but I don’t think running on some dangerous task is the right thing. Just assume responsibility.”
“But if I stay, and become a noble, I can already guess that road. Living a pampered life, never running into anything more serious than a bad season for the merchants. I don’t want that, Melrous, and I know that if you were in my situation, you wouldn’t want it either. I’m going to find something I can be proud of, and then show it as proof that I truly wish to repent my wrongdoings against her, and at the same time, help a city that has been home to my ancestors.”
“You are the only one who can convince yourself otherwise, it would seem. Then you and I part ways for now. I don’t know where you’re going, but I have my own duties to attend to. Promises made and that sort. My last favor then shall be to give you a name: Wesel Ajantir. Look for him near the Temple of the White Order, and he shall assist you.” With that, Melrous gave Dygan some brief directions to the temple.
“Wesel Ajantir… got it.”
“I don’t know what you’ve got planned, but do be careful.”
“I’ll remember everything you taught me,” Dygan shook the man’s hands and bid farewell. He doubted he had seen the last of the old bard, but for now, the two friends had their separate ways. The Temple of the White Order… Dygan said to himself. Through history and story-telling from Flisgard when he was young, he knew of the White Order. History painted them as honorable, noble people who were kind, courteous, and above all, generous. This Wesel might be a senior monk or priest with wise advice or deeds that needed doing. The goodwill of the White Order could certainly help him on his quest. Excitement started to flow in Dygan’s veins, and he headed off in the direction of the temple
The temple was an impressive building. As the house dedicated to the Gods, nothing was spared in the construction. However, he could see that it was unlike the nobility’s homes. In the courtyard, peasants and paupers consorted with priests as well as a wealthy man moving about to pay his respects.
“How may I help you, good sir?” A man came up to him. He looked to be in his early twenties, with blond hair and beard that was kept neat and trimmed. He was a solidly built man, with forearms that rippled with strength. However, he wasn’t dressed in the white that the order was, but rather in green and white common clothing.
“I am looking for a man named Wesel Ajantir.”
“Then you are in luck, for I am he. How may I help you?”
“You are in the Order?” Dygan asked, eager to learn about Melrous’s recommendation.
“Me? No, I am afraid not. I have not the dedication that these men have. I assist here for no reward save one of virtue. This Order shows the goodness of humanity, and by association, I hope that their virtue will pass to me as well.”
“Do you know Melrous Frethon?”
“I do. Sometimes he does things that the Order frowns upon, but I do know that he harbors little selfish interest.”
“Well, he referred me to you, saying you could help me in a quest to restore my honor and to make amends.”
“I see, and what exactly are you planning, Sir…” Wesel was at a loss for a name.
“Sorry, my name is Dygan Nar… Dygan Heartswind.” It felt odd calling himself that, for he was only Dygan Heartswind for a day. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
“Well, I have heard whispered rumors about, well, I don’t know, up north. North, past the borders of civilized land and in to the highlands of Tandala.”
“Thank you, Wesel. Is there any way I can repay you?”
“In return, I only ask for one thing. You wish to reattain your honor, and I can respect that. I wish to go with you, to help you. And to help myself find things I may want as well.”
“Wesel, I would be honored to have someone as noble as you be my companion. But I fear I might need more companions to aid us. And I doubt all I could find will be as willing and generous as you.”
“Indeed. However, you might be able to find some lured by the promise of adventure, or if all else fails, companions may be bought. I don’t doubt that you can find enough people to suit your needs. I’m sure you can find a mercenary or two who’d be willing to fight if the price was right. My suggestion would be to check the local drinking establishments in the evening, when they drown their memories with alcohol. I shall be here when you return for me.” Wesel did a slow, honorable bow, and returned to his aiding of the members of the White Order.
“What could I do until then?” Dygan asked, but the answer already occurred to him. He would have to talk to Aunt Veleri anyway. Taking step after determined step, he made his way back to the Heartswind estate.
“Aunt Veleri, I have to tell you. I’m going to be leaving again soon.”
“I already know,” she said, although she didn’t sound too thrilled by the idea. “That Melrous fellow told me. You can answer to your duties just by being a part of the family. You’re all I have, and I don’t want to lose you.”
“I will be all right. I will return.”
“I wish I could know that was completely true. But you don’t know.”
“It is not something with a choice. This is something I must do, and not just must. It’s something I want to do. The life of a noble is not for someone like me.”
“Then at least wait until spring.”
Dygan paused for a second. He wanted to wait, but what would happen when it was time. Would he keep waiting indefinitely? Would he lose the determination he had now?
“No…” Dygan answered, to himself as well as his aunt, “I must do it now, while I still have my resolve.”
Aunt Veleri spent the rest of her day brooding, as Dygan packed and prepared. He went around the town, collecting supplies from merchants. He remembered especially to bring rations, the pain of nearly starving to death still fresh in his mind.
At nightfall, Dygan looked and asked around town until he came to the tavern, the Helmsman. This inn and pub, most said, attracted a fair amount of fortune-seekers. He made sure that he brought some money with him, money Veleri had allowed him to use when she discovered that she couldn’t change his mind. He took a deep breath, and opened the door, to the sound of lute playing and many conversations. The innkeeper greeted Dygan as soon as he walked in. “Good evening. Are you interested in a room for the night?”
“Actually, I heard I could find some people here, people who would take a little adventure with the right amount of motivation.” Dygan tried to add the correct air of mystery to his request. Almost before he could finish, a rather gruff and heavily bearded dwarf approached him. “If’n ye be wanting a mercenary, pup, then I be yer dwarf.” Dygan sized him up, and Dygan could see he was the typical dwarf. Brave, strong, and more than a bit greedy. That was perfect for what he was looking for. “I see by the way you carry that axe upon your shoulder, you are quite competent. What’s your price?”
“Equal share of treasure, and ale up front! Another round of yer best, barkeep!” the rather loud dwarf blurted out, fanning alcohol fumes upon Dygan. “I don’t care if’n you be 6 or 600 years old, as long as the money’s good!”
Dygan sincerely hoped the rest of his companions wouldn’t be like this. This dwarf however, did look like he knew what he was doing. His face had scars of many battles, and Dygan just saw, well, a look in the dwarf’s eye. The killer edge that was only gained from seeing battle first-hand. He shrugged and laid money on the counter. Little was he finished with this encounter when another person drew his attention.
“I’ve heard what you’ve got to say, and I might be willing to help,” a rather short, beady-eyed halfling spoke up in quite quick tones. “I’ve been involved in some rather, well, shady business, and I need to get out of town before certain people learn of my location. In exchange for transport out of the city and a fair share of loot, I’ll walk your path for a while.”
Part of Dygan didn’t want to be involved in anything like this, but beggars weren’t choosers. Not to mention that it didn’t cost him any money now. Adding two new comrades to his list, and he turned and looked in the crowd for more faces. Just a little longer, and I can return with pride… Dygan said softly to himself, before whispering the name Raye even softer, at a tone where even he could barely hear.
In four days, the companions were assembled. They each provided their own supplies, or most of them anyway. Under Wesel’s advice, Dygan found a good deal on packhorses to carry most of the supplies while the others walked on foot. This would keep them less tired than lugging about supplies on their backs. Besides the dwarf and halfling, whose names were Thorag Ilderfoot and Anick Fell respectively, Dygan had hired a few more mercenaries. One was a rather ragged and rugged fellow named Beyar MeDenis who said he was an ex-sailor looking for work. The second was a bookish man who called himself Laslo, another whose loyalty was purchased through Dygan’s money. Dygan doubted he took anything very seriously. A third was a rarity, a mute spearman simply named ‘Vlock’ who was dismissed from Voldar’s army for insubordination. He could only communicate through writing and gestures, which piqued Dygan as simply strange. He left Voldar due to the unpleasant memories of the guard, or so he claimed. The fourth was someone Wesel had brought himself, for assistance. A servant of Nehtor, who was schooled in various of the god’s healing arts. She was a dainty girl, with delicate hands, red hair, and a calm voice. Dygan wondered how she could ever stand to the rigors of travel, but Wesel stood by his decision to let her accompany them. “Whatever is out there, I only hope that it and my honor can be found hand in hand,” Dygan spoke very quietly to himself. He took a deep breath, “All right then, we go forward.”
Story written by Eskon