Slowly the heartache from the loss
of his wife and the deformity of his daughter had broken the strong
man, the contempt from his work mates and the fear from the townsfolk
driving away the smile that used to always linger on his lips. He had
started drinking to drown his pains, and had ended up drowning not only
his pains but also himself. The leithe had gradually dulled all his
senses, taking from him the laughter and the soft glow of joy in his eyes.
He managed to stand against the devastating effects of the alcohol for
eight years, but as Ehlaina reached her ninth year he had finally
a point of no return.
He no longer worked, because his drunken hands had accidentally gutted
several sheep when trying to strip them, staining the wool with blood, and
wounding the animals, some of them so badly that they had to be
sacrificed. His foreman couldn’t let a plastered man sheer his sheep
aymore, he was losing money more than gaining it and soon Tenris was
without work. With his pride hurt he found no other solution than begging
on the streets.
People once had been proud to call him friend now crossed the street when
they saw him approach, and even the other beggars refused to come close to
him. In their eyes he was as cursed as his daughter, having stolen from
Queprur what was rightfully Hers. He had condemned not only himself, but
his daughter, the night when he refused to drown her in the swamp, letting
her live and grow to be a strong child.
The disdain of the people drove him deeper into the bottle, some times
almost pushing him into the depths of alcoholic dreams to never return.
For almost three years he had not abandoned their humble home, the decay of
the man becoming evident in his before so well kept cottage. Weeds invaded
the small patch of earth he called garden, rain dripped quite easily
through the badly thatched roof and wind blew with ease through the windows
with no shutters.
Ehlaina was scorned by all the people in Astran, the only one that did
actually talk to her was the man in the pawn shop and the owner of the
most miserable tavern of the city. She could feel loneliness peeling away
her skin as she walked the streets, careful to avoid other children that
would throw stones at her and call her by the worst names.
Keeping her body hidden under an old cloak she tried to mingle with the
beggars and paupers, yet they recognized her easily and shunned away from
her as if she had a pest that could contaminate them with. Even the poorest
among the poor refused to let her near and many times she had been chased
away like a leper when she even dared to approach them.
Her only solace in the solitude was her father, when he wasn’t too drunk
he would be gentle with her, telling her about her mother and how much he
loved her. But then the spirits clouded his brain beyond recognition
would start rambling about something she didn’t quite understand, a
mission she knew nothing off and that he couldn’t explain. Then he would
get angry at her, blaming her for the death of her mother.
At that point Ehlaina would be cowering in the corner of the room, trying
to pass by her father unnoticed as well as she
could, fearing his anger
and his hard beatings more than anything else. The last three years she
had become more and more afraid of her father as he slowly lost all
contact with reality and started getting less and less out of bed. The
alcohol seemed to seep out of each pore of his body as if he was filled to
the brim with it and starting to overflow.
His mind simply refused to work at times and she had seen him confuse her
with her mother many times, speaking to her about how wonderful life would
be once the babe was born, telling her how dearly he loved her and how he
would never move from her side.
Other times he simply forgot who she was, he had thrown her out of their
home several times, treating her like she was an intruder, a thief trying
to steal what little was left in the cottage. On those occasions Ehlaina
had nowhere to go but the overgrown garden, hiding amidst the weeds and
waiting for her father to calm down or fall asleep. It was in these
moments she prayed to Seyella, begging her to help her, to lighten her
burden. Kneeling on the stony ground she bowed her head and prayed to the
Goddess of Destiny, hoping for her to listen to her words. Yet it seemed
like Seyella was deaf to her words. The beatings became more habitual as
her father sank into the dark labyrinths of his mind. She could find no
support in her fellow townsmen, for they both hated and feared her, most
of them never really acknowledging her presence, as if she was a ghost
wandering the streets of the city.
But today, after that last slap her father had given her, she had been
sitting in silence, watching the snoring figure hidden under dirty
bedsheets. And for the first time she had prayed, not to Seyella, but to
Queprur, begging her to free her from this life, to let her die, to let
her scythe take her away from this place where all she knew was misery and
all she felt was disdain. Her eyes filled with tears as she clenched her
one hand into a tight fist, for once letting anger invade her, she cursed
the people of the town and their pettiness, the way they had treated her
and her father, how they had made them into outcasts, all because...
She trailed off, her hand lifting slowly to touch the small stump of her
arm, slowly moving over the stub.
"...because I am different."
Her voice was but a whisper, yet it held all the sadness of the world
within it. She had had already came to terms with her missing arm, yet she
had not, until that moment, realized that it was her fault, and not her
father’s, that they we treated like pariahs, that people spat on the
ground at their feet because they were afraid, afraid of her.
Ehlaina stayed in silence for a long moment, pondering what she had just
realized, maybe she was just exaggerating, maybe it wasn’t as she thought
it to be.
A loud snore from the man on the bed took her out of her reveries, she
remembered that he had emptied the last bottle of leithe and sighed, now
she had to sell something to get money to buy a new bottle of alcohol so
he would be able to drink when he woke up. If not he would only beat her
again. Slowly she let her eyes move over the room, there
were so few things
in there, it was easy to spot anything of value. Yet no matter how much she
looked, she couldn’t find anything that could be sellable. All the
furniture were simple and rustic, only a table and two chairs remaining,
besides the bed. The only clothes left in the house were the ones they
Ehlaina scratched her head in search for more ideas, long brown locks tumbling
over her shoulders, caressing over her fingers as the purest silk. She
knew she had beautiful hair, despite the poverty they were living in she
was always careful to keep it clean and well brushed.
She sighed and decided to try to sell one of the chairs.
Struggling to walk down the streets while dragging the chair behind her,
Ehlaina tried as well as she could to lock out all the nasty words and
insults thrown at her by the people on the street, yet some of them burned
like warm coals on her skin, specially the ones about her being the reason
why her father was such a bum and drunkard.
Clenching her teeth so hard it was a miracle they didn’t break, she
continued her way to the pawn shop and placed the chair on the floor.
The man behind the counter looked like he had never heard of the existence
of water. His skin was dark, but not because of the sun, it was covered
with filth that seemed to have incrusted itself on him. If one looked
closely at him it actually appeared that some kind of fungus was growing
on his skin, nurtured from the layers and layers of smut that covered the
man as well as his clothing.
He said as he cast his dull eyes on the old chair, it was worth around 6
sans for the wood in it but he was not about to say that to the girl.
scratched his grimy chin and looked at her as if she was a rat that had
just scurried into the shop.
Ehlaina didn’t know what to do, a bottle of leithe, even of the cheapest
kind, cost at least 5 sans each and even when she could drag the other
chair back to the shop she would still not have enough to pay for the
alcohol her father would demand once he woke up. She looked into the
counter, her long hair falling over her shoulders and hiding the tears
that were starting to form in her eyes. She knew she couldn’t argue with
the man behind the counter, there was no way he would pay her more for the
chair. She slowly nodded, her voice strangled with tears.
"Done... Can you give me the money now?"
She asked in a very humble tone, stretching out her arm and placing her
hand palm up towards the tender. The grime covered man nodded and placed
the two coins in the hand of the girl.
While this transaction took place another man had entered the shop. Unlike
shopkeeper behind the counter this man was clean from top to toe, there was a
soft smell of flowers around him and his clothes were free from muck and
dust. He was tall and slightly gangly, a quite well kept mustache grew
under a rather aristocratic looking nose. On his head
sat a three cornered
hat adorned with many colored feathers.
He wrinkled his nose as he moved into the shop and spotted the greasy
tender as well as the client, a young girl that was as poorly clad as a
pauper, yet down her shoulders fell a cascade of brown and silky locks.
The man had been listening to the conversation between them and from the
short glimpse he had caught of a sliver tear that slowly slid down the
cheek of the lass he understood that the money that she was given was not
enough for whatever purpose she had for it. His eyes moved over the
abundant mane of brown and he decided to make his move. An almost skeletal
hand landed on the shoulder of the girl, startling her in such way that
she dropped the two coins she had just been given, his hand slowly
pressing on her shoulder to make her turn around.
Ehlaina was trying to figure out where she could get the extra three sans
she needed for her father’s drink when something heavy landed on her
shoulder and scared her. Her hand, that had not been but half closed,
jerked and sent the two coin to the floor where they rolled out of her
She turned around, too scared to not follow the unsaid order of that hand,
almost expecting its owner to slap her in the face or insult her for
daring to stand in front of him.
Instead she heard a soft voice speaking to her, the hand moving away from
her shoulder to run slowly over her hair, caressing the long and brown
“You have beautiful hair, lass. If you are willing to part with it I´ll pay
you two silverbard for it... such nice hair.”
The voice of the man was low and slightly raspy as he continued running
his hand over Ehlaina's hair, caressing the brown locks as one would caress
a pet that was loved highly by its owner. The touch made the girl shudder
in disgust and fright, as if the fingers were the legs of a giant spider
moving over her her head, toying with her hair.
Yet the offering was more than generous, with that money she wouldn’t only
afford to buy the leithe, but also food and a new blanket for the bed.
Ehlaina lifted her hand to dry away the tears that were staining her
cheeks before turning around and looking toward the man behind her.
"It is a deal then... But give me the money
first!" She nodded at the man, her brown eyes shining with determination.
The sharply clad man nodded and asked the tender of the pawn shop if he
had some sharp scissors. The greasy tender nodded and handed the man a
pair of shearing scissors.
Ehlaina stretched out her hand to receive the two silver pieces, her
fingers closing around them in a vicious grip so she wouldn’t lose them.
The man nodded and lifted the shearing scissors, the sharp blades suddenly
looking threatening in the dim light of the shop, slowly they started
approaching her head.
Ehlaina closed her eyes and barely dared to breathe as she felt the
scissors move with its snapping sound around her head. She could feel how
the curtain of hair slowly was pulled away and a cold feeling touched her
scalp. As subdued as a sheep during the shearing the girl stood completely
still as the scissors moved around and deprived her of the only feature
that she had been really proud of. Tears stung in her eyes as she waited
for the man to finish, in her mind she told herself over and over again
that her hair would soon grow, that it didn’t matter, that now she had
money both for food and drink. But no matter how many times she repeated
this she couldn’t help but feeling a twinge of pain in her heart each time
she heard the scissors cut another lock of her hair away.
Soon the scissors closed for the last time and the last long lock of hair
fell away. Ehlaina's eyes remained closed for yet another moment as she
could feel the cold air in the room caress over the back of her head and
her neck. Slowly she opened her eyes and turned around. The first thing
she noticed was her long and flowing locks, now held by the stranger,
hanging like the severed tail of a royal horse from his hand, the long
strands that used to caress over her cheeks and her shoulders were no
longer there but hanging from the bony hand of the stranger.
Still with tears stinging in her eyes she bowed to the man, her hand still
clutching the two silverbards.
"Thank you Milord... I do hope you have a good
use for my...hair..."
Her voice cracked as she spotted her image reflected in a copper pot in
the back of the room. She looked like a boy, only few nailbreaths of hair
stood up straight on her head.
Not being able to say anything more Ehlaina ran out of the pawn shop, tears
streaming down her cheeks as she hasted down the street towards the market
to spend the two coins that seemed to be burning the palm of her hand as
if they were made out of glowing cinders.
It was a heavily loaded figure that staggered down the street towards the
cottage later that day, a big whicker basket filled with bottles and food
hung from her hand as a thick woolen blanket was neatly folded under her
arm. She was smiling and humming softly as she moved down the deserted
alley, despite the loss of her hair she knew that it would grow back soon,
and she also knew that tonight at least she wouldn’t have to go to bed
with an empty stomach. She looked into the basket and grinned. Three
bottles of leithe and a bottle of soft apple cider, three loafs of bread
lay side by side with a piece of fresh meat and vegetables. And in a
small box on top of the basket was a very special treat, something she had
been longing to taste for many years, five small
Santharian mint kisses.
She felt like a queen when she moved through the market and chose what
she was going to buy, paying for it without haggling. For the first time
she had looked the shopkeepers in the eyes when she asked both for the
leithe and for the food, not begging and groveling like a pauper would do
but demanding and paying like any rich lady would.
She almost started skipping when she remembered buying the mint kisses,
each one was worth 2 sans and she paid for it without hesitating an
instant. She just wished she could see the expression on the face of the
tender once more, a mix of both suprise and scorn -
as if he would have
liked to reject her money and send her empty handed out of his store.
Ehlaina had felt the hatred from the people as she passed them on the street
with her whicker basket but for once there were no shouts nor stones
thrown after her.
She turned down the alley that led toward her home, her lips were still
curled in a smile as she spotted the humble cottage in the distance. Soon
she would be home and could show what she bought to her father. Maybe
he would be proud of her, take her on his lap as he used to do not so long
ago, and tell her stories of her mother, of the work in the mine.
She entered the cottage and looked around, noticing her father was still
in bed, sleeping quite heavily it seemed.
Deciding not to disturb him,
Ehlaina started preparing the food,
slices of the piece of meat and frying it in a simple copper pan.
She chopped the vegetables and prepared the table for the dinner,
placing a simple
wooden mug filled to the brim with leithe by his plate and a mug with
cider by her own. She pulled a wooden box close to the table to replace
the chair that she had sold.
Soon the food was ready and placed on the rustic clay plates, the
delicious smell of fried meat filled the small cottage, making her mouth
water and her stomach growl.
Ehlaina wondered why her father hadn’t woken up from his sleep and walked
over to the bed, wary to not startle him as she gently placed a hand on
his shoulder and shook him slightly.
"Papa... dinner is served!"
The man in the bed didn’t move, it actually seemed like he was
hardly breathing at all. Ehlaina got scared and shook him again, this time
harder and for a longer time, her voice tinged with fear and slight
"Papa! Its time to eat dinner... Papa?.... PAPA!"
Behind her the food first became cold, then the smell of something edible
called forth the rats that gobbled down the meat and vegetables and
knocked over the drinks, spilling the cider and leithe on the ground.
The sound of the tolling bells filled the air as rain fell like tears on
the newly covered grave. No flowers, save a small bouquet of simple lotann
adorned the mound of dirt, none but Ehlaina, covered in the new woolen
blanket, stood by the tomb of her father. The cleric had already left the
place as he saw that there was no more money to be collected from
mourners. The rain kept on pouring over the small cemetery of the town of
Astran, as if the sky itself was mourning the death of Tenris.
Ehlaina stood in silence, staring at the final resting place of her only
family. The last, gasping words of her father still rang in her ears.
"Dearest Ehlaina... I´m sorry... sorry to leave you...
this..... Don’t...despair... Just complete...
Then he had closed his eyes and expired, the room seemingly filled with
light for but an instant, before turning cold and empty once more.
She had been crying for a long time before she managed to pull herself
together enough to walk out of the cottage and find a cleric of Queprur to
perform the last rites. In her mind she repeated over and over again the same thought.
She had a mission, a cripple like her had a mission. It was absurd,
ridiculous to say the least, yet it seemed to call out to her somehow,
something in her soul had been touched by the words of her father.
As the sky emptied its tears over the humble graveyard, Ehlaina fell to
her knees in the mud, not caring for the cold that invaded her body, nor
about the weight of the soaked woolen blanket. Her head was bowed low as
the words of a prayer escaped her lips, a prayer made of confused pleading
to both Queprur and Seyella, begging, imploring. One of them for relief
and the other for guidance. Tears flowed down her cheeks and mixed with
the drops of rain.
The poor girl sobbed the words of her prayer, at one moment the plea made
no sense as she felt her heart would give away at any moment, thus letting
her join her parents in the embrace of Queprur. Yet the relief of death
didn’t attend to her desperate calling.
Exhausted from crying and mourning the loss of her father, not caring at
all for the mud nor the pouring rain, Ehlaina curled up by the grave,
rested her head on the still fresh dirt and fell asleep, finding relief in
a lethargy that reminded more of death than of slumber.
Amidst her dreams Ehlaina could see a place that she didn’t recognize, yet
something about it was strangely familiar. She was walking on something
that looked like a mist covered moor where hundreds of will'o’wisps
floated amidst the silvery shroud that covered the ground. In her reverie
she saw herself walk over the moor, the argent fog curling around her
legs, hiding the soil from her sight. Rising from nowhere was a song, a
soft and beckoning choir of voices calling out for her to follow it,
entrancing in its sorrowful summoning.
Ehlaina couldn’t resist the beseeching of the bodiless voices and ventured
further out on the moor, the will'o’wisps floating around her legs,
following her every step as if they wanted to guide her.
As she reached the middle of the moor the voices went silent and the wisps
dimmed their light until they disappeared in the shimmering haze, leaving
Ehlaina completely alone in what seemed like a endless sea of silver.
"Where are you?"
She called out to the emptiness around her, receiving no answer but the
fading echo of her own voice, ringing over the desolate moor.
She let her gaze move around the place where she was standing, yet she
couldn’t see anything but the dim light that seemed to come from the mist
itself, the land under it covered by the scintillating surface of whirling
fog was still concealed from her sight.
All of a sudden, a sound. A soft whistling. A sound she found oddly
familiar, as if she had heard it a thousand times before yet couldn’t
place it at the moment.
Ehlaina listened intensely in case the sound would repeat itself, and it
did. Now it seemed to be closer and it was followed by a small breeze that
caused the mist to ripple slightly.
She couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that she had heard that sound
before, somewhere in another life maybe, yet she somehow knew it had
nothing to do with this place.
Once more the whistle, as if something incredibly sharp was cleaving
trough the air, followed by a soft wind. Whatever was making the sound was
Ehlaina tossed in her sleep as her mind struggled to find the origin of
the sound. Images flashed tough the glum dreamscape. Images of a big and
shining sun over a seemingly endless field of gold, of men working in a
tawny sea moved by the wind.
In dreams Ehlaina shook her head, what did these images have to do with
this dark moor?
The sound came again, this time like a loud hiss followed by a strong wind
that made the mists coil and dance over the moor.
The images moved across her mind once more. Men to their knees in
something golden, the whistling sound, followed by the din of something
else, a blade cutting through thick stalks.
Ehlaina’s eyes widened in fear as she finally realized what was making the
"...a scythe..." She muttered as the sound repeated itself, louder, closer.
Suddenly some tall trees seemed to sprout around her, sickly looking trees
growing at an insane pace. The fog dissipated and she could finally see her
feet. Realisation struck her like a lightning, she wasn’t standing on
solid ground as she had believed but on the murky waters of a marsh.
Slowly she started sinking, the mire seemed to swallow her eagerly,
dragging her under the mouldy surface toward a watery death.
The sound moved even closer, rising to a shriek that seemed loud enough to
tear open the sky. The mist moved aside as the sharp blade of Queen Death
made a path towards the awaiting figure of Ehlaina, only to stop its
advance before reaching her.
Ehlaina could see as the blade started receding, disappearing in the
silvery haze as if it had never been there. The vision
was filling her eyes as
the waters of the fog closed over her head...
Her eyes opened as she awoke with a start and found herself once more on
the cemetery, her face towards the dark sky, the pouring rain filling her
nose and mouth with water, the heavy woolen blanket weighting her down.
For an instant she thought she saw a wonderfully beautiful face among the
clouds on the sky. A face that held both great danger and great pity in
Ehlaina stared until her eyes were sore from the beating drops of rain, a
single word escaping her lips in a reverent whisper.
Stumbling she ran toward the town, dragging the wet and dirty blanket
after her, Ehlaina longed to warm up in front of the fire in the small
cottage. Her mind a turmoil after her dream and the vision in the clouds.
Was she going mad?
She didn’t notice the many people that were standing along the streets,
glaring at her as she ran toward her home, nor the many shouts that
followed her, all that she had in her mind now was simply to reach the
cottage and get rid of the terrible cold that was chilling her bones.
But as Ehlaina turned down the alley that lead to the place she called
home she saw a crowd of people blocking her path. Her eyes could barely
understand what she was seeing as a group of people were tearing down the
cottage in front of her eyes, destroying the only safe haven she had ever
known in this world.
A meaty man that she recognised as the butcher took a step toward her, a
long wooden staff in his left hand and a rock in his left one.
“There is no place for one tainted by the Darkwinds in our town... You
have already made it off with your poor father. You are not welcome here!”
He rose his hand and threw the rock at her,
hitting her shoulder.
A moan of pain escaped her as Ehlaina felt the heavy stone crash against her
The people that stood in the crowd started yelling at her, insulting her,
calling her by the worst names possible. All of them blaming her for the
death of her father and for hundreds of small accidents and misfortunes of
Soon the air was filled with stones that flew in her direction, along with
rotten fruits and eggs. Ehlaina didn’t understand why people hated her so
much not why they blamed her for things she didn’t even know had happened.
All she knew was that if she stayed it would only mean more pain, more
stones being flung at her. So she fled, running like a small hare towards the
gates of the city, past the cemetery and towards the only place that she
knew people shunned and where she knew she would be left alone....