The Testing

Ches 19, 1372

 

“Good morning, daughter,” Davlin called out as he moved the curtain aside. “Happy birthday.”

Meliantha looked up from where she sat in her small room, sword across her legs, and one hand holding a polishing cloth, dressed in simple clothes. She nodded. “Good morning, father. Thank you.”

The priest regarded his daughter, as she stood. She was – would never be – a great beauty, nor even simply ‘plain’. Her demon blood had left its mark: her skin the grey of burned charcoal ash; her ears longer and more pointed than an elf’s, her eyes the most alluring, no sign of white or pupil and just like a pair of amethysts inset in her skull. She wasn’t as tall as he was, but she was broader. Her body was powerful, able to swing a heavy blade or lift a large crate without much effort. For all the robustness of her frame, though, she was still nimble – she tended to wear lighter armor than most, and had developed her fighting style with speed, force, and avoidance. The blade she carried was what was called by some a bastard sword, and she could wield it with both hands like most, or with just one. She wasn’t tremendously feminine in build (one of the warpriestesses had commented, on learning Meliantha never had started her moon-times, that she was “a barren as the desert and almost as flat”, a crack that got her a challenge and a beating from Meliantha), but she took solace in learning from her two teachers outside the temple, who had never shown her anything but goodwill.

“It’s time, isn’t it?” Her voice was soft, and had a slight undertone like a growl, which was audible at times like this.

“Indeed. You should dress for it.” She nodded, and he stepped out to give her privacy.

She emerged, dressed in the formal clothing he’d given her just a few days before. Underneath the buff-colored shirt, red vest and dark grey breeches, the suit of chain that she’d been given could be seen (and heard). The sword was on her belt. The medallion of Helm that had been her most prized possession, more than the sword or the armor or even the clothes, the one she’d fought like the demon that her blood came from when one of the other foundlings tried to take it from her, hung from its chain, polished and gleaming. Her boots, made of black leather that came up to mid-shin, shone just as much, and were polished from toe to heel to upper.

“I’m ready.”

 

He led her out of the room they’d shared, and down the corridor. The temple was quiet, as it approached dusk on this day. As they entered the chapel, those present turned to look. Tathlosar Brimmerbold, grey-haired and grizzled, arms folded and in his most formal armor, stood before the door. Sir Brimfold Torvallos and his protégé, Taralanth (now a paladin on his own) stood vigil on either side of it. Gathered around it were others: Aemon McFallgar, his face expressionless but with his eyes twinkling at the girl he’d seen grow the past four years; Olbrimsur Thunderwood, her teacher in woodcraft and the combat not taught in the temple, wearing a suit of chain she’d never seen before, his great bow and his twinned short swords hanging just so on him. Darthleen was not present, but she had already said she could not be.

“Today,” Brimmerbold said, “this child of the temple, at the start of her eighteenth year, will stand vigil and pray for the guidance of Helm. You have counted yourselves her teachers; you have trained her in your arts and brought her to age. You have taught her to use her strength for others, not for herself; to know and understand the laws of gods and of men and to defend them; to face those who would use law to break souls and bring them under tyranny. Now, before she enters her vigil, each of you may give her your advice and, should you wish, your blessing.”

Aemon McFallgar spoke first. “Ye arenae what your birth-father gave ye. Ye are what ye make of yeself. Go with my blessing and the blessing of Helm.”

Sir Brimfold cleared his throat. “You have something of a willful spirit. You know and respect the law, but you can see what harm may cause when misused by evil. Keep both sides in your thoughts, and never falter. The blessing of Helm be upon you.”

Olbrimsur spoke next. “I have shown you the skills of blade and bow, wood and field. You have been an excellent student, and no teacher could be prouder than I. Go with my blessing, and with the blessing of both Helm and Mielikki, so that you know how to walk amongst both man and beast.”

Taralanth took his turn. “I have watched you grow, as I have grown, into an instrument of righteousness. You know right and wrong, good and evil, and your heart shows you the path of goodness. May Helm’s gauntlet stand between you and mortal danger when you need it most.” Sir Brimfold glanced at his protégé, and Meliantha had the feeling there would be a discussion between them.

Finally, it was Davlin’s turn. “My daughter, there is no more advice I can give you. Go in Helm’s grace.” His eyes shone with tears of joy he would not share in public.

“Thank you all. I will begin my vigil now.” She strode forth, her heels clacking on marble, and then muffled on the carpet, as she entered the vigil chamber. As the sun set outside, the doors closed behind her, and as she reached the vigil altar, she drew her blade, kneeled, and kneeled before it, and soundlessly prayed.

* * *

Four candles had burned and been replaced, and she was midway through the fifth, when her senses pricked. She slowed her breathing and listened. And there!

She brought her sword up in time to parry the strike from another blade, bringing herself from her knees to standing straightening her legs. Eyes that could see through the darkness only saw the sword. The candle burned, and she dueled the sword and its spectral wielder as it did. When the candle snuffed itself in the molten wax, the blade rose into a salute position, then faded.

Meliantha had expected something odd to happen; that seemed to be part of it. She took a deep breath, knowing she had no way to wipe the sweat that she’d gathered during the strangely bloodless duel, more a test of skill than an actual combat, and then turned to face the candle and kneel again.

She wasn’t alone now. A man in bright-polished armor, his face revealed with the visor of his helm raised, stood between her and the armor. He was very slightly see-through, and there was light limning him.

As she raised her blade, she raised her hand. “Stay your blade. I am not here to fight you – you have passed that test, and passed it well. I am here to test your mind.

She raised her blade, then turned it point down, placing the tip on the floor. “I await your questions.”

Whoever he was, he gave her an exhaustive examination on the rules of Helm, and the laws of Berdusk, before engaging her in debate on points of law and justice. Finally, after what felt like hours, he ended it. “Enough. While I may not completely agree with your arguments, your knowledge is complete.” He faded away, the light being the last to go, and she kneeled again. The night was taking its toll – she felt exhaustion crawling into the edges of her mind.

Another candle had gone, when something prickled at the back of her neck. She opened her eyes again, and turned to look behind. In the alcove between the vigil chamber itself and the door, a figure stood. She was tall, slender, bosomy, and beautiful. On her, the grey skin was touched up with cosmetics to make her look glamorous; her black hair was long instead of chopped short like Meliantha’s, drawn back into a long tail down her back. Instead of armor, she wore a gown that dove nearly to her navel, with sleeves that came halfway down her arms, and slit on one side to show one shapely leg.

“Mmm,” the woman said, and the voice was throaty, and seductive, for all that it was Meliantha’s own. “Too bad. If you hadn’t been so intent on being a warrior, you might have had this.” She gestured at her body. “But you threw away any chance at this body, choosing a life of duty and honor and sacrifice and all those boring things.” She took a step forwards. “You still could have it, you know,” the woman purred. “Just say you want it… just say you want this life, a life where you can have men and women wait on you, at your beck and call.”

It was everything she’d ever wanted. Everything she’d dreamed of. She’d throw off all the bindings she’d put on herself, every single moment where she would be the pretty one, not the ugly one. She saw those moments where no one stood against her, because she could just make them do her bidding. She saw… a betrayal of everything she’d learned, that she’d believed. Not just her faith in Helm, but what had been taught by Olbrimsur and Darthleene. She could choose this, and the few people she cherished would turn against her. She’d have to kill them, or they’d kill her… and if she killed them, she’d lose any hope of not becoming the sort of demonic horror she feared she was.

It passed through her in a moment, and then she said, simply, “No.”

Her dark twin smiled. “We’ll talk again, I’m sure.” And then she faded away into a mist, the smile on the rouged lips being the last to go.

Finally, Meliantha kneeled again, head bowed, exhaustion chewing at her mind, and she prayed still.

* * *

Hunger clawed at her, and so did thirst. And just as she felt she might collapse, the door opened, letting in the sunlight. She rose, wearily, then sheathed her blade and turned. Davlin was there, holding a tray.

“Good morning,” he said. “Are you well?”

She smiled thinly, and said, “Well enough. Tired and hungry, but well, Father.”

“Then come forth and eat, Meliantha. You have passed your test.”

“I must prepare,” she said. “I think, Father, it is time for me to go.”

“After you eat and rest,” he said, firmly. “I am still your father.”

She smiled again, wearily. “After I eat and rest.”

* * *

Ches 28:

 

“You have everything?” Davlin fretted, checking the straps on her backpack and the hang of her scabbard.

Meliantha chuckled, softly. “What you and Olbrimsur suggested, father.” And she meant that. Tied to her upper arm was a small package containing a set of tools for opening locks, a skill Olbrimsur had a friend of his teach her. While the friend was now a law-abiding merchant, some things both said told her he hadn’t always been, so that skill was not one she displayed in front of her father.

“And the coins?”

“In the pouch inside my shirt, Father. Stop fretting,” she said, putting her hands on his shoulders. “It will be all right. Olbrimsur has me as a caravan guard, and I will send messages.” She gave him a little shake. “This day had to come, father. I can’t stay here forever.”

“I know, Meliantha. But…” He took a deep breath, and let it out. “I’m worried about what might happen to you. What kinds of things might happen to you when someone sees you and…” He hung his head. “I’ve known you since you were born. I can’t bear the idea of losing you.”

She hugged him, tightly, and he let out a small gasp as she did, so strong was the hug. “You’re not losing me. You’re letting me go to find out who and what I really am. My test… showed me things I hadn’t considered about myself. Now I need to go.” She released him, then stepped back to go. Lissenen ar’ maska’lalaith tenna’ lye omentuva.

“Blasted Elftongue,” he said, then hugged her, briefly. “Rest in Helm’s hand until we meet again.”

She didn’t cry as she turned to go, and went down the stairs. Waiting at the doors was old Sleepless Teeth himself.

“A present for ye,” he said, and offered his hand, palm up. She reached out her own, and he poured what was within his into hers. She stared for a moment, then looked at the old priest, astonished.

“Was mine when I was an adventurer. Ye don’t have quite as much need for it, but take it anyway.” Wordlessly, she fastened the chain, with the silver pendant of Helm, around her neck, then tucked it into her shirt. “Go with my blessing, girl, and may those who need protectin’ know hope at the sight of you and may those offenders know fear, and may Helm bless you and keep you.”

Unsure of her ability to keep her voice from trembling, she dropped to one knee before him for a moment, then rose and went. She kept going, not looking back, through the temple gates. She passed Olbrimsur’s shop, but the door was closed. So were the doors of The Dawn Of Any Day, but she still felt a hand on her shoulder, laying one last blessing on her.

That final moment done, she headed towards the caravanserai to meet with the caravan she was going to guard, and into Cormyr to see what life outside Berdusk had to offer.

Posted by Meliantha Demonblood

Leave a Reply