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Chapter 1

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IN WHICH a letter is read, and Osmorn decides on a destination, hampered only slightly by his entire lack of geographical knowledge. 

Once I was about a mile away from Rhys, I opened my pack to find what the druid had dropped into it. It wasn’t hard; it was the only piece of parchment in the pack. It was folded twice and sealed with a small daub of purple wax, the character pressed into the wax was one I knew well; two hearts, bleeding together. We had thought ourselves so poetic when we chose that sigil for our correspondence. 

Chaedi had lightly scented the letter with her perfume as well. Of course. This meant that my traveling clothes would smell like her for a bit; but I found I could bear up under that strain. I sat down under a tree and opened the letter, carefully preserving the seal; I wasn’t sure when I would see one again.

 

Osmorn,

I have been confined to my chambers during this trying time. With no-one to talk to but my lady in waiting, I have been left to reminisce over the events leading us to this point. What could we have done differently? How could we have kept our love a secret but a bit longer? Or perhaps falling in love itself was the mistake and it were better I simply denied myself my feelings, letting my actions be ruled only by political necessity, as my father would seem to do.

Or perhaps I should simply have locked the door to my bedchamber that night. 

I do fear that it will not be safe for you to return, and so I beg you not to; I know that were you unbidden you would come back for me, beg me to come with you, to live and love amongst the mortals, to be like them almost. But I know my own heart, I would not fare well in such circumstances. Nor could I in good conscious do that to my family. I had hoped to have them accept you, to join our houses through our love, in spite of your step-mother’s antipathy. But now, though it break my heart, I know that I have a duty, and it is best that I perform it in all seriousness, that I allow my father to rule my actions for the betterment of Rhys and House Ildroun. My father, seeking no doubt to conflate my new betrothal with any possible rumors, has already promised my hand to the Viscount Melruth. We are to be wed at midsummer. 

Fare ye very well, my beloved Osmorn. We knew we were meant to part sooner or later, but I would that I should have been granted the privilege of caring for you while your mortal life ran its course, and thus held in my heart the full tale of your love. As I have been denied that honor, I release you from any bonds you might still feel towards me. Seek you another, and let your heart forget our first love. Find one who will cherish you as I know you will cherish them. 

- Shady

Simple enough, right? Forget my first love and find another. Also fare very well. I know I make light of these events now, in hindsight, but I admit that even in hindsight, remembering the contents of Chaedi’s letter is painful. The fact that she signed it with our own little private nickname for her somehow made it even worse. What we had was wonderful. I do not say it was unique or perfect, or would have lasted, who can say?

I have heard that she has born the Viscount an heir. I wish her family well. 

 

First things first: I had to find somewhere to shelter. I could camp for a while of course, it was early in the year. But honestly, who wants to live in a tent? 

Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time. I was sure I didn’t. 

I hadn’t really thought about myself as a child of privilege at the time; I mean, by my family’s standards, I was the outcast son. But now I had to think about things like “money” and “work” and “not freezing to death in the rain.” I’d always been a bit vague on the concept of money. In general I asked my father’s seneschal to purchase things and he did and then I had things.

I had a feeling that wasn’t going to work now. And for all her protestations of love, "Shady" hadn’t provided any money with her letter, so I was on my own to figure out how to make financial security happen. 

I opened the purse I had been provided. It had about forty gold and three times that much silver; no wonder it was heavy. Was that a lot of money? At the time I had no idea. It occurred to me that my first few transactions were going to be somewhat disastrous.  Unless I found someone to teach me. Of course, my transactions with that person would depend entirely on the honesty of that individual. 

In other words, I was unlikely to have much of my money left before too long. 

Also, I was a bit put out at the time. Silly, I know. To be angry because your own father threw you out of town and made it so you can’t even curse his name for it. But there we are. I was angry. I wasn’t thinking entirely clearly. I considered just sitting down and staying there until I died. But honestly that sounded like it would take a long time and didn’t sound pleasant in any situation. 

So I decided there was nothing for it but to do it. I stood back up and started heading…I hoped, towards the nearest town. 

Had I been in a better mood I might have enjoyed the trip more. The middle of Flowermoon is as beautiful as everyone says and sings; everything is fresh and new and beautiful. At the time it all felt wild and threatening. It seemed like someone lurked behind every tree, just waiting to throw me out of my house. 

Look, at the time that fear seemed more rational. 

I have to confess, I’d never really walked this far at that time. I knew my boots were good, I’d had them for twenty years at that point, and they fit me well. But within an hour my feet were sore in several places. I wasn’t walking all that steadily. I hoped to find shelter before too much longer.

I felt I was right for a city; the population was growing as I kept on the trail. I tried not to stare; human settlements felt so ramshackle. My cradle was eight hundred years old, and I grew up in a nursery that had stood since the Fallen Era, wrought in the very living marble of the earth, coaxed from the ground and shaped by secret arts long forgotten. The small villages I walked through looked like they had been built last autumn, and had had a hard winter. Wooden houses, built of dead wood, decaying with age and the weather instead of growing stronger. Roofs made entirely of bundled grass. Why would anyone live like that? Dirt floors? That’s not a floor, that’s camping. Were all humans so temporary?

It’s hard to fully qualify my feelings at that time, harder still to face them; they seem so puerile. I was becoming aware of how lucky I truly had been in my life up to this point. On the extreme other end of the spectrum I was bitterly angry that I would never be that lucky ever again. I missed my sheltered, pampered life as a hated stepson. 

Presently I realized that people were looking at me, yet avoiding my eyes. Looking down at myself, I saw their point. I was dressed as the son of an Elf Lord, they were dressed in…whatever their dinner was wearing before they killed it. Furthermore I wasn’t making any particular effort to hide my emotions. I can only imagine the expression on my face at that time.  I was making good time, and I suspected that my father had given me some extra help with that; a spell of faster motion would be well within his abilities. But just heading along a northward track was no good if I didn’t know where I was going. 

So I walked into the next little hamlet I found, one that actually had a paved town square, with cobblestones and everything. I sat in the square and waited until I saw someone who didn’t look to busy. 

“Hello sir. May I ask a question?”

“O’course milord.” 

“Ah, I’m not a Lord, per se. Just a traveler.”

“If ye say so, milord.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with this situation. 

“Right, anyway. I’m new in this land and I’m traveling, as I said. Tell me, where would be the nearest inn or hostel?”

“Well, milord, there ain’t one here in Crossroads, I can tell ye that. Certainly not one fine enough for the likes of ye.” 

“I’m really not looking for anything too fancy; just a place to lay my head for the night, to get in out of the night air and so forth. Warm fire, warm bed, and so forth.”

“Quite so milord. I think the nearest will be in Lightmere, and yer on the right road for’t. ’Tis a pleasant little fishing town, not as hectic as Madreach, but they do have lodgings for people of quality like yourself, milord.”

“Lightmere, that sounds pleasant. Thank you, kind friend.”

My talkative companion bowed deeply and looked at me expectantly. “Ah, yes, um, for your troubles,” I said and threw him a silver coin. His eyes got quite large for a split second before he was able to cover the expression. Clearly I had over-paid him, and was now not so much an annoyance as a source of easy money. 

“O’course, milord, if ye are weary now perhaps ye could stop along with me and the missus. We’d not charge your lordship for the privilege, sir.”

Not up front, anyway, I thought and shook my head. “Not this night, I fear, but I thank you for the kind offer. I expect I will have a lot of traffic along this road, and I will surely make a point of staying with you and your lady wife next time I’m through here.”

I hoped the promise of more silver later would hold off any kleptomania now. 

“As ye say, milord. Well, I’ll bid ye fare well then, may you find what you seek in Lightmere.” He said and turned back to his work. I very deliberately did not look over my shoulder as I walked out of his little town. With luck I would be in Lightmere by sundown and far out of the reach of Crossroads’ more enterprising citizens. How far could it be, if a rustic like this knew about it?

Six hours later, long after sunset, I was in the middle of a forest. No city, no coast, no river, no fishing village. Nothing but trees. And animals. I could see the trees well enough, of course. I have excellent vision for a mortal. The animals I never saw. But I heard them. So very many of them. 

Uttering quiet but heartfelt curses against my obsequious but unhelpful guide and his entire extended family, I realized something. Something I had been hoping to avoid. 

I would have to camp. In a tent, on the ground, like a human. Or a soldier. My half-siblings could simply rest against the bole of a tree, perched on a limb, and let their mind wander the waking dream that all elvenkind seems to inhabit. The few times I had tried that I discovered that I sleep like a human, not an elf. Shady had teased me about that a few times, when I was sleeping over, she remarked that for such a short-lived race we spend a lot of time unconscious. There was one time, I had been asleep and Shady woke up hours before me, of course, and—

But never mind that. 

I opened my pack and looked inside. Clothes, check. Boots, check. Food, yea verily. A tightly-rolled and warm cloak that was also large enough to be a blanket, present and accounted for.

No tent. 

Of course not. What use would my elven father have for a tent? Why would his seneschal think to pack one for the outcast child of the family? I was almost sure this wasn’t malice, simple forgetfulness. 

But what was the point of defending my now nameless family now? 

I found I couldn’t say my father’s name, but my step mother’s first name was well within my powers. 

And so I invented a new curse. Many of them in fact. A few years later, I happened to hear a drover call one of his mules an “ill-begotten, thrice-cursed Laniatte” and it warmed my heart. 

But that was years in the future. At present I simply invented all manner of new phrases exploring my stepmother’s heritage, physical characteristics, hygiene choices, and preferred companions while I tried to settle into some semblance of comfort under the warm cloak and on top of a pile of leaves. 

You know what else sleeps in piles of leaves?

Every insect ever. 

And some rodents.

Well, I say sleep, but based on my experience that evening all the little inhabitants of the forest require even less sleep than an elf. They were all quite active, and deeply interested in the large, warm being that had come to share their sylvan world. I had never made any particular study of biology before my exile, so I had to make up some classifications on the spot. The flying, biting Laniattes were my least favorite. I had no particular grudge against the crawling Laniattes with the long tails, as long as they held at least somewhat still. But I drew the line at spiders. Yes, I left them their original names. And treated them the same as I ever had. 

Several years—or possibly only a few hours—later I sensed that the sun was rising; there was a definite lightening along the eastern edge of the world and I could see the trees more clearly. Without any great regret I bid my bedmates farewell and stood to re-pack my supplies.

The thrice-cursed crawling furry Laniattes had crawled into my pack, and eaten my rations.

 


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