Meetings and Mentors

Eleisis 5, 1358:

The small dark figure clambered over the wall in the dark, then let herself down, small fingers fitting deftly into the space between stones. She knew it would bother Father, but she couldn’t put up with the others anymore.

Between Brother Norvin’s preaching about her sins being worn on her skin, and Felger’s recent attempt at “helping”, she’d had enough. She’d left Father a note, gathered a few things, and climbed the wall.

Meliantha realized, as she moved, that the smell of that “help” still clung to her – that bully Felgar and half a dozen of his cohort had dragged her, screaming, to the laundry, and tried to scrub her clean. When the laundry soap hadn’t been able to do it, they took to the bleach. It was only luck that kept her from being blinded, but she still smelled of it a little, and her skin still burned from the force of the scrubbing brushes and the soap and the harsh cleaners.

Even so, it was time to go. She was four, after all – and easily the strength and speed of a child twice her age. It never occurred to her that, as a matter of fact, that wasn’t really enough to survive in the wilderness. Or for that matter, in the city.

She’d never left the temple before now, but armed with the pure belief of a child that she could do whatever she wanted, she moved on.

* * *

There was nothing else to do, she realized. She was good and lost, and hadn’t even gotten to a city wall. It was not a good showing, she thought. What sort of adventurer didn’t even make it out of a city? She’d avoided guards, that was good, but still, she didn’t want to be a thief, she wanted to be the kind of hero they’d respect. Not the kind they’d scream at for being evil, or try to scrub the skin off of, that was for certain.

She was also cold, so she thought she’d try her hand at sleeping somewhere out-of-the-way. The first place she found seemed promising: the door, with a mark on it with rays and some kind of glowing picture, opened freely, so she stepped inside.

Inside was a shop – and what a shop! Items in glowing globes floated slowly about, taller than she could reach. The floor was clean, and in the center of it all hovered a lady, her entire face veiled, dressed in a gown that obscured her entire body.

“Welcome to The Dawn Of Any Day, child. You don’t look like my usual shopper, but still, I welcome all who look for a brighter tomorrow for themselves.” There was something oddly thin about her voice, but it was warm and pleasant. Meliantha curtseyed as best she could, putting down her small sack to do it.

“I don’t have any coin,” she said as seriously as a child could, “so I should go instead of bothering you.”

The lady let out a bright, warm laugh. “Oh, child, you aren’t bothering me. There’s no other customers here now, so no one else to be bothered here either! Come closer,” she said as she gestured with a gloved hand. “My name is Darthleene, and I am the proprietor here. May I ask your name, honored customer?”

Meliantha felt a soft blush come over her cheeks. “I am Meliantha, a foundling living in the temple of Helm.” She curtseyed again, politely.

“Oh, you are Meliantha. I have heard of you, little one. Probably not the best tales, but those who told them were not of the best character, so I discount them.” Despite the veil, Meliantha felt herself examined closely. “And rightfully so. Blood does not always tell, child, remember that always.” Then she clapped her hands. “And so, for all the things that have been said that you did not deserve, I believe you deserve a gift to make up for them.” She turned, almost floating, as she moved to one of the bubbles. “What would… ah, yes. Indeed.” She reached into the bubble, making it fade, and then came out with a bauble.

“This, child, is yours. Take it.” She offered the green bead on a chain to Meliantha, who took it wonderingly. “It will bring you some good luck if you let it. Now, you should go from here, and out that door,” Darthleen said, pointing at one. “You’ll find a fellow there who will help you a little, I think. And come back again when you have some coin, dearie, and I’ll see what baubles I sell might fit you.”

“Thank you, Lady Darthleene,” Meliantha said, awestruck as she curtseyed a third time, then picked up her sack and went to the door that was indicated to her. She was usually a good judge of character, but even with her feelings about Darthleene, there was just no malice at all.

As that door swung closed, the door she had entered swung open, letting Davlin in. “Oh, good heavens, Mistress Darthleene, I beg apologies, but my daughter’s missing and I heard tell she was seen near here -“

A raised hand stopped him. “Well met, Davlin of Helm. She has been here and gone. Quite a polite girl, but you and I, we need to talk a bit before you can go where I sent her. Trust me, she is quite safe – I sent her to one who I feel would be a good person for her to meet, and both she and the street she walks was watched by Those Who Harp. After all,” she continued, “Those Who Harp find her most interesting…”

* * *

The door let out into another street, across from a narrow old stone house, trim painted a dark green. A sign hung in front, but she couldn’t read yet, and so she didn’t know what it said. The door was open, and she heard a man inside singing a trail song in a rough, cheery voice. Carefully, she crept forwards and peeked in the door.

The man was dressed in shades of green and brown, and while his hair was thinning, his shoulders were broad, and his skin the color of varnished oak. She didn’t understand a bunch of the words of the song, but she found herself enchanted by it, and found her foot tapping along. He was moving things around as he sang, and hanging them on the wall. He finished, turned, and spotted her. With a wide grin on his face, he gestured to her. “Come in, come in, little lady, welcome to Thunderwood Forays, purveyor of the best equipment for adventurers in this city!”

As she stepped in, he sat down on a stool, gesturing to a nearby small chair. “It’s for a halfling, but I think it’ll fit you.” Politely, she curtseyed, then walked to the chair and sat down. It did fit her, well enough.

“I didn’t mean to disturb you, sir. My name is Meliantha. I am pleased to meet you.”

The man smiled broadly. “And I am Olbrimsur Thunderwood, owner of this fine establishment, and it is a pleasure to meet you. I shouldn’t be surprised – when I leave the door open at night, something interesting always happens, and always to the best. Have you had supper?”

A brief, soft noise passed before she answered.

“That would be no, then.” He rose. “I’m sure I have something to share with someone needing it.” She tried to protest, but he fixed her with a look. “I’ve been hungry on a night, deep in an unfamiliar place, and would have been most thankful for a meal, and a companion makes any meal a bit better.”

“Then I would be happy to, sir.”

He blew out between his lips. “Little lady, I am no ‘sir’. I would be honored if you call me Olbrimsur. And I shall call you Meliantha.”

After a meal of a thick, savory stew, Olbrimsur started showing her around the shop, which was, as he said, a place for adventuring supplies. From the armors that hung from the ceiling in thick chains, to the assortment of items. At one point, she sat on a camp cot, and then, quietly, she leaned on her side, and dozed off.

Ten minutes later, Davlin entered the store, and bowed to Olbrimsur. “Master Thunderwood, I apologize for bothering you, but -“

“No bother at all, son,” the old ranger said, “none at all. You’ll be wanting your daughter now.” His voice was not the booming roar, but hushed. He led Davlin to that cot, where Meliantha lay curled up, her sack next to her.

“Thank you,” the priest said. “For taking care of her. Mistress Darthleene said that there was some interest in her by some people.”

“Indeed,” Olbrimsur said, turning out part of his vest to show a pin of silver, a crescent moon surrounding a harp. “She’s a good lass – good-hearted despite what those louts did to her, and what that bastard says to her. Not my place, but if it was, I’d undo his jaw.” He shook his head. “When the time comes she’s old enough, let her come to me. She’s going to be strong, but she needs skills, and I will teach her the ways of the wood and the shadow.”

“Those aren’t quite Helm’s ways,” Davlin said, mildly. “Helm’s way is to protect and defend, not walk the woods.”

“Your lord Helm needs scouts, good priest, and all goodly folk need defending. There’s nothing wrong with knowing the remote places that some of the worst of threats breed and rise, and nothing wrong with knowing how to weaken or stop them before they come roaring from mountain or cave or forest, is there?”

“No, no, there is not. And if, as it seems, her destiny is to wander, she’ll need those skills. She’ll be trained by the battle-priests, for certain, but from what Mistress Darthleene said, she’ll need to know more. I’ll arrange some payment for you, Master Thunderwood.”

Olbrimsur gestured dismissively. “No, no money from your temple. The Harpers want to see her thrive, and keep her well. Her heart won’t keep her in Berdusk forever, lad. She’ll need to be free.”

“I know. I just fear for her.” He took a deep breath, and four years of worries came out: “So few will accept her with her face, and even the other foundlings can’t be trusted. When I found out about today’s incident, Restless Teeth practically had to cudgel me before I throttled all of them! And I am sworn to protect my brothers, but it is sore tested when I find her crying and she tells me that Norvin went into one of his tirades at her about ‘wearing sin on her skin’ and ‘murdered her mother’ and ‘corruption among us to test our faith’. One day he may raise his hand to her – Helm ward her if that happens – and them who knows what’s going to happen. If I can’t protect her in our own house, how can I have her safe when she leaves?” He’d kept his voice low, but felt tears running down his face as all the emotion came from him.

“You can’t. There’s no way. My son is out there, somewhere, wandering – last I heard, he was in the Shaar, with other druids like himself. I worry, yes, but he’s doing what his heart calls him to do.” At the incredulous look, he nodded. “I don’t talk about him much – his mother and I separated, and he went his own way, not like either of us – but I love him. Like you love her. Not your child of body, but your child of heart, and all the more precious for that. But you can’t keep her locked away, or she’ll become bitter and angry. But teach her well – and I promise you, in Mielikki’s name and ways, I will, as well, and not try to convert her away from Helm – teach her well, and she will remember you in her heart wherever she goes.”

Davlin nodded, then nodded again. “Thank you, Olbrimsur. Thank you for all this.”

“All for the best, lad. Now, you get her home. She’s had dinner, so she just needs sleep.” The ranger picked up the sack. “And I’ll carry this for you.”

* * *

When dawn broke, Meliantha woke in her own bed. She slid out of it and looked out of her small cubicle, to see her father sleeping, dead to the world. She climbed into his bed, and curled up with him. She was going to get a scolding, she knew, but for now, she would rest in a place she felt safe.

She would not know that her father dreamt of the same idea: places where she would feel safe.

 

Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

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