This is the first chapter of my current WIP The Diary of Gwennyth Grimsbane. Comments and opinions would be appreciated. Thanks.
The Death of Ravyn Grimsbane
The day we were banished from the Xaggarene Empire is one that will live in the memory of the witches and wizards of Grevared forever; though, in retrospect, none of us would mourn the loss. We have our power, and we have our faith, and we have ourselves. Our home at Crowrest in the Kingdom of E’ma Thalas is a beautiful place where we can live in peace among the elves of that kingdom. We have been welcomed here and given the sacred duty to protect the northern borders of E’ma Thalas from all who would harm her.
When I was small I wondered what could possibly harm us, perched as we were on the edge of the land with nothing behind us but the vast emptiness of the void. It wasn’t until my fifty-sixth year that my question was answered in the form of a void serpent, a gigantic, legless creature with scales the size of shields and fangs the length of swords. Vicious and cruel, the beasts rode the currents of the void and attacked all who dared cross their paths. Not even the great scholar Mylar Massengill fully understood why these monsters behaved the way they did, but on the day the creature attacked, I learned just how powerful we of Crowrest really were. I’ll never forget the stench of the vile creature or the burn from where its blood splattered me.
The serpent arrived just as the light began to shine. A guard, I’ve forgotten his name, sounded the alarm just as Ravyn, Vonner, and I were sitting down to break our fast. We arced to the ramparts to join the guard, and my soul trembled at its appearance. Ravyn issued orders, a rapid fire of words that the body understood even if the mind failed to comprehend them, and we jumped to obey. Wizard fire lit the morning, and the void serpent was soon nothing more than charred bits raining down upon Crowrest Keep. I never again doubted our purpose or the elven king’s wisdom in assigning us this task.
My people call themselves the children of Aradia, goddess of magic; though the last of us to speak with her was my mother Ravyn Grimsbane. I found the following letter in my mother’s effects when she transposed forms at nearly 800 years of age.
My Dearest Gwennyth,
As you know, we witches and wizards claim to be the children of the goddess Aradia. This is true in essence; however, there is a secret known only to the Grimsbane family that can only be shared by Aradia herself. Seek her out, but look not in the places of the gods. Hurry, my child, for the fate of our power may rest in your discovery.
My mother often spoke like this and created mystery where there was none. I disregarded her message entirely, thinking it nothing more than her typical theatrics, then three days ago our world was shaken.
Ravyn transposed six weeks ago while searching the woods below Crowrest Keep for an herb she claimed only blooms once a year. She’d done this every year for as long as I could remember, more than a hundred winters, so I’d had no cause to be concerned at her absence. When I was small Mother would take me with her, and we would spend several days in the woods as I learned herb craft and animal lore. As I got older my interests took another direction, and I ceased to accompany her. On this day I regretted that choice.
Two wood elves, who had long been friends of Ravyn’s, discovered her body and returned it to us. Zaleria laid my mother’s body in the courtyard of Crowrest and stepped back with her head bowed. Long, mulberry hair wavered in the breeze and tears watered eyes the color of new leaves. Her wings fluttered once then drooped, and she looked at me as if begging me to explain this thing before her. Silence and stillness emanated from her in a way peculiar to the elven folk, and that stillness screamed her sorrow more than sobs ever could.
Calerel, too, kept silent. She shifted her quiver on her shoulder and pulled her emerald hair from her neck. She held her longbow loosely in her hand, and tears poured from her crimson eyes. Younger than Zaleria by more than a century, Calerel was still considered a child by her people. She and I had played together as babes, and I longed to reach for her now, though I knew it wasn’t the elven way.
“We found her below in the forest,” Zaleria whispered. “It looked as if no harm had come to her.”
I nodded, unable to speak. As immortal elves, they would have little knowledge of death from old age, though Mother appeared to be little older than me. It didn’t occur to me at the time to search for another cause of death. “Thank you for bringing her home.”
Zaleria nodded and rose silently into the gray sky. As always, I was amazed that such delicate wings could lift her. I watched the fairies fade into the distance, then I turned my attention to my mother. It was summer, long passed midsummer, so our mourning ritual would have to take place quickly. I needed to gather the witches, set the fires. My mother was our leader, so someone would have to take over the business of Crowrest. My siblings were older than me by several centuries, and all four had left Crowrest before I was born. I’d never even met the eldest, a sister. I thought of trying to contact them using the magic that surrounded me; but I dismissed the thought, for it could take weeks for them to arrive. Our magic wouldn’t transport us through the void, and I had no idea where my siblings resided.
There’s so much to do.
I slowed my rambling thoughts with deep breaths and the exercises my mother had taught me in my youth, then I entered the keep to get busy.
The fires ringing the courtyard had burned to embers that glowed like eyes in the darkness. The others had gone, leaving me to stand a solitary vigil until the last light extinguished. It was our way, and I knew this, but I longed for companionship – a soft touch, a kind word – but I was alone with the ashes of the only leader Crowrest had ever known. I was alone with nothing but the sturdy walls of the keep for comfort. The scent of smoke was heavy in the air, and I could hear the night creatures from the distant forest below. The keep itself was silent, as it was near morning, and I watched the embers with the same silence – not seeing, not feeling. I simply was.
The last fire died just as the faint light of day began to shine. There was a gradual lightening of the gray void that crowned our world, and I always thought of it more as an illumination of thought than a true break of day. I watched the nearly imperceptible expansion of light and pondered the world for just a moment. We’d been instructed in the nature of existence and how the multiple planes had become one. We’d been taught that a sun and moon once rose and set and that stars once twinkled overhead. I wasn’t sure I could conceive of a universe where gods and demons lived on their planes and elves were no more than legends, and I knew I couldn’t comprehend the event that had destroyed it all. All I knew was that the collapse of the universe was what made our magic work. The chaos of the void, the rampant energies that surrounded us, fueled our blood and charged our nerves. Thus I had been taught, and thus I believed.
I rose from the chill stones and said a silent good-bye to Ravyn Grimsbane. I thought about all she had accomplished since fleeing the Xaggarene Empire, then I turned into the shadows of the keep, anxious for bed. My muscles hurt from the long night of saying farewell, and I knew the coming days would entail sorting through my mother’s belongings. I had yet to shed a tear, but grief would come later. It was our way.
The corridor leading to my chambers was dark, almost sinister in this noiseless hour, so I raised my left hand and called forth the magic light I normally used. For a moment, a soft nimbus of pale purple surrounded my hand and lit the way forward, then it winked out, and I was in darkness.
Just tired, I thought as I opened the door to my chambers. I tossed my cloak on the floor and climbed into bed. A moment later the sweet oblivion of sleep overtook me.
Days passed into weeks, and I adjusted, though exhaustion was an ever-present reminder of my mother’s absence. How she’d managed to do all she had done without collapsing for all those years, I’d never know. She’d overseen everything in Crowrest Keep – the food stores, the maintenance, the cleaning – and she’d led the council and decided trade policy. Reward to punishment, Ravyn Grimsbane had done it all, and I was nothing more than a woefully inadequate replacement. Every sidelong glance, every condescending remark, every correction reminded me that I was not Ravyn Grimsbane and never would be.
I awoke one morning several weeks after Ravyn’s last rites to someone banging on my door. I cursed and untangled myself from the twisted blankets. Though I was annoyed, there was relief for being awakened from yet another dream of Ravyn. I tried to remember what she had been saying, but the pounding continued and destroyed my concentration. The images that had been crystal clear a moment before dissipated like the shredded fog that crept through the lower forest, and I was left with nothing more than the lingering sense that I had forgotten something of the utmost importance.
“I’m coming!” I called.
I stumbled on my clothing, left on the floor after another late night, and opened the door to see Vonner Calerook looking even more exhausted than I felt. His blonde hair stood in spikes from where he’d neglected to brush it, and dark circles lined marigold eyes. The clasp of his cloak lay on his shoulder instead of at his throat, and I was fairly certain he was bootless. His normally rosy cheeks were the pallid gray of bread dough, and he shifted from foot to foot. His mouth moved as if he were trying to speak, but no sound passed his lips.
“What is it, Vonner? We took care of trade with Bonetide yesterday.” I couldn’t keep the irritation out of my voice, and the comfort of my bed called from behind me. I glanced back over my shoulder to see nothing but blackness beyond my window and turned back to Vonner with a scowl.
Vonner held up his right hand, palm upward, and took a deep breath. “Watch,” he instructed.
I watched, though the flickering torchlight to my right made my head ache. His fingers were long and delicate, and his palms were calloused from his work in the stables. His hands trembled, but, other than that, I saw nothing of interest.
“What am I supposed to see?” I peered into the gloom of the hallway and almost wished someone would come to distract him so he would leave me alone.
I lifted an eyebrow in askance and rubbed my eyes beneath my spectacles. “Please, Vonner, I’m tired. What am I supposed to see?”
My breath caught, and I looked at my own hand, focusing my will with all my might. Nothing. I looked at Vonner, and he looked at me. Together we hastened to my mother’s chambers.
I grabbed the torch by her door and burst into the room. My heart hammered against my ribs with such force that it knocked my breath from my lungs. The torchlight danced in my trembling hands, and a knot of dread sank into my gut.
“The letter,” I breathed.
I rifled through the pages on her desk, scattering many like feathers onto the floor, until I found the letter I’d tossed aside several weeks before, the one I’d considered to be nothing more than melodrama. I passed it to Vonner, who scanned it before his mouth dropped open and his eyes widened.
“Our power?” he breathed.
“I’m not sure,” I replied. My mind whirled through possibilities. “Perhaps.”
Now, three days later, I’m prepared to begin my journey, the one my mother desired me to undertake. Vonner has said he’ll go with me, but I’m not sure how long he’ll last. At least I won’t be alone. For a while. May the gods guide my footsteps.