ONCE IN A RED MOON
BY LUCIRINA TELOR VEVAN




Say the stories, whisper the words, of one that had been both gifted and cursed by the Gods. Her name still remains in the places she wandered, remembered with both love and fear... - This is the story of Ehlaina.
 

CHAPTER II
H
OMELESS

hlaina had no memory of all that had happened when she had been born, all she knew was that her father had cared for her, keeping her alive despite all the warning from the priestess and the rest of the people in Astran. He had stopped working at the mine and started working in the sheering house to be able to stay close to his house where a slow witted maid fed his daughter with warm and nourishing milk, the babe being raised healthy and strong.

Ehlaina grew up to be a sweet looking girl, her wavy brown hair and her shining hazel eyes reminding him of his wife Neecha when they first met, sorrow burning his soul. He loved the child, yet she was always reminding him of his late wife, how beautiful, how pure and loving she had been, each day a piece of his heart was ripped away as he was reminded his wife was now with Queprur in the land of the dead.
 

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 come to 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 and he 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 were wearing.

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.

"Two sans."

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. He 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 sight.

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 locks.

“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, cutting 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 desperation.

"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... like this..... Don’t...despair... Just complete... your... mission."

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 moving closer.

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 sound.

"...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 it.

Ehlaina stared until her eyes were sore from the beating drops of rain, a single word escaping her lips in a reverent whisper.

"Queprur."

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 collarbone.

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 the city.

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.... to the Silvermarshes.
 

Story written by Lucirina Telor Vevan View Profile