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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Tell me my love...

“Tell me my love, what weighs on you so?  Is it the friends you told me of?  You wish to see them again, yes?”  Tresha said to Aelar who lay next to her on their bed of animal skins which was situated in front of the comforting fire inside their hovel.

Tresha’s face, so delicate and lovely, was marred by a few smudges of soot and dirt from the daily chores that were a part of life out in the forest, but these did nothing to diminish her beauty.  A sort of innocence burst forth from the half elf woman. How could he not love her, Aelar thought.  He remembered coming upon this shrine to Silvanus on his way to Myth Drannor.  It was as if he was led here, and perhaps the Oak Father had done just that, so that he could meet Tresha.  She and the other two druids at the shrine had welcomed him without questions or judgments of any kind.  Such was the way of the followers of Silvanus, and so it was that he found a home.  The gentle nudge of Tresha tugging at the pelts which covered them both brought Aelar back from his memories to once again look into her eyes as she stared back at him with one eyebrow cocked and that curious smirk she wore when she expected something from him, and then he remembered her questions.

“It ALL weighs on me.”  Aelar’s expression went from a smile of fond remembrances to the solemn fa├žade of one with the deep regret of unfinished business.

Tresha knew that Aelar had something that haunted him in his past.  He spoke little of his life before they had met in the woods nearly 9 months ago.  She knew enough not to ask him too many questions, but lately he had grown even more sullen and she worried for him.

“If you would talk with me about it, maybe it would make you feel better.  Maybe the Oak Father sent you to me for this reason, yes?”  Tresha’s smirking smile returned along with the cocked eyebrow.  There seemed to be nothing that could keep the smile from the beautiful, half elf’s face.

“You’re right.”  Aelar said after a few moments of silence had passed.  He sat up and reached for his robes that were draped across the foot of the bed.  “There’s no need for me to keep things from you.  You deserve to know what disturbs my heart.”  Aelar felt an enormous relief just by saying those words.

And why shouldn’t he tell her?  She has done nothing but love him and in return he has kept his pain from her.  Of course he did it to shield her, lest it corrupt her as well, or at least that is what he had been telling himself for the last six months as they had grown closer.  Tresha did indeed deserve to know him, and he would tell her everything.  Nothing held back.  Would she think him a coward for leaving his friends?  Aelar thought about that for a moment and nearly lost his new found conviction.  He could not bear the thought of disappointing her, but he trusted her enough to know that she would understand and be able to see the truth of things.  Aelar dismissed his doubts and sat down at the small table next to the cooking pots that lay around the hearth in front of the fire.  Tresha was propped up on her right elbow with the animal pelts draped over her body.  She stared back at him and gave an understanding nod for him to continue when he was ready.

“Begin at the beginning.”  Aelar sighed.  He gathered his wits and began his tale.

“The Dalelands Defense Academy was my home for nearly four years.  I know it seems odd that one called by nature spends his time at a school and in a city no less, but I always knew I wanted to be out there answering the call of Silvanus to right wrongs and protect the innocent.  It was the best place I could think of to prepare for that.  Martial skills, alchemy, ritual magic and secrets of meditation and prayer were just some of the things I learned while there.  My time at the Academy was well worth putting up with stone under my feet for so long.”  Aelar paused to collect his thoughts, and then continued.

“It was at the Academy that I met Boucher, Murook, Arquelios and Mandlebrot.  If you can imagine a half orc, dwarf, drow and gnome hanging around with an elf like me.  We were certainly not a normal looking group, but we were close.”  Aelar paused smiling and shaking his head as he remembered the carefree times the five of them had.

“Folk must’ve parted when this group walked toward them, yes?”  Tresha chuckled as she sat up on the bed made from crudely carved wood piled high with straw and wrapped the pelts around her as if she could feel a bit of the warmth of Aelar’s fond memory.

“Aye!”  Aelar chuckled with her.  “In truth, the people of Highmoon were used to the odd mix of races from all over Faerun that attended the Academy.”

“Highmoon?  That’s in the south, yes?  Near Sembia?”  Tresha asked.

“Yes, the Academy is… or was… located just outside in the foothills of the Thunder Peaks.”  Aelar’s voice trailed off as the realization that the Academy was gone always seemed to hit him just as hard as it had the first time.

Tresha remained silent sensing his solemn contemplation, and trusted that he would continue when he was ready.

“We were attacked by a dragon, an ancient blue by all accounts.”  Aelar continued after several moments.  “The foul beast laid waste to the old keep that served as the main building of the Academy.  The five of us were caught out in the open, in the main courtyard.  I thought us all dead for sure, but the blue beast had other things to worry about.”  Aelar stopped and thought for a moment.  “You see, the Dalelands Defense Academy was founded centuries before by a powerful elf sorceress named Thaelioth.”  He paused awaiting the expected question that he knew would be forthcoming.

“Wait… the same elf sorceress that it was rumored just recently ascended to godhood?  THAT Thaelioth?”  Tresha leaned forward with anticipation.

“Yes, the same one.”  Aelar continued.  “She was there, you see, Thaelioth herself was there that day.  We could see the top of the highest tower erupt with magic spells so powerful that they sundered the very air.  The ancient blue fought back with searing blasts of lightning breath that blew stones the size of an ogre’s head from the tower ramparts.  The stones rained down all around us.  Many people died.  We just ran as fast as we could and didn’t look back.”  Aelar paused, as he tried to stop the memories of that day from flooding back into him.

“But what could you do but run, my love?  If you’d stayed…”  Tresha fell silent then as Aelar looked up at her with a pained expression and she understood then how he struggled with that very question for these long months.  She could do nothing else, nor could she say anything that would bring any comfort to him at that moment.  Tresha sat there feeling helpless.

“You’re right.”  Aelar said after long moments of silence.  “I don’t feel there was anything more any of us could’ve done had we stayed, but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.”  He said with his head lowered staring at the dirt floor of the couple’s hovel.

All of his young life had been spent in battle or training for battle and now he had found happiness with this half elf maiden of Silvanus.  They had a small dugout cave beneath the roots of a mighty oak right next to a shrine to the forest god.  They were happy, or at least Tresha was happy.  How could he not be happy here with a creature as lovely and kind as Tresha?  At that thought he looked up to see her lying on their crudely made bed of wood and straw with only enough of the animal pelts covering her to make his mind race with memories of the times they had held each other on the long, cold nights during the past winter.  She stared back at him with her head cocked to one side and her face showing deep concern for what was troubling him.

Oh, she was easy to look at, and even easier to love.  Tresha had a way about her.  A capricious flirt and a sharp wit made her irresistible to him.  It did not hurt that she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen, and though his years be few, he had seen more than most would in a lifetime.  He was shaken from his pleasant memories by the half elf maiden as she spoke after the long moments of silence.

“All five of you made it into the cave, yes?  What a terrifying thing to endure.  I wouldn’t know what to do if I saw a dragon.”  Tresha said and then lowered her head.  She shuddered at the thought of having to face a dragon, and suddenly, she felt cold.  Tresha pulled the skins around her tightly and noticed that as soon as she did that, Aelar got up and added more wood on the fire.

“Aye, the five of us made it into the cave just as the lightning breath from the great blue dragon collapsed the entrance and trapped us inside.  We stumbled around for a while before we finally discovered a way out once we defeated the dark one assassins sent by the Cult of the Dragon, who we later learned had planned the attack to recover an artifact of immense power, but not the artifact that we first thought.”  Aelar rubbed his chin and looked over to Tresha who looked quite perplexed at that moment.

“I know…, I know. I will attempt to explain it all.  It sounds rather confusing when I say it aloud.”  Aelar offered to his befuddled love that accepted his promise without hesitation and settled back down in her spot on the bed and waited.  The elf druid started to realize then that talking to his love about these extraordinary events might actually help him work out what had gone so wrong and, more importantly, what was to come.

“This Academy was founded by Thaelioth, as I said earlier.  A powerful mage ascended to godhood in our time, but in the beginning, over three hundred years ago, she was just another adventurer like all the rest.  She fell in with a grand group of heroes calling themselves the Guardians of the Balance.  By all accounts they were a mighty force for good in the realms.  The founding members of that group included Himoro, always quick with a blade but just as quick with a sharp retort.  Treefiddy, a curious halfling with the strength of an orc and the agility of the drow all wrapped up in a small, ferocious package.  Razmussen Whiteblade, a man that was always prepared with a clever song or a shrewd scheme, whichever was needed.  Ragnar of Arabel, a man whose strength of arm rivaled that of giants, but the greatswords he wielded proved to be less than able to cope with his powerful swings most of the time.  And lastly, there was Fredregar.”  Aelar took another sip of water from the drinking barrel and sat back down at the small table to continue.

“As curious a creature as I think I shall ever encounter.  Fredregar began his life as the apprentice to a powerful Red Wizard in the land of Thay, but he apparently disappointed his master so greatly that the Red Wizard polymorphed the poor man into a small monkey.  The tormenting wizard kept the little monkey in a cage in his study, feeding him rarely and beating him often, apparently content to watch him grow old and die in misery.  The Red Wizard didn’t count on one of the side effects of his spell.  Fredregar was now a creature of magic, and thus was able to feel the call of the weave itself.  This didn’t help him at first, for even if he could learn to cast spells, he would never be powerful enough to escape his prison.  Then one night, while the little monkey lay in his small cage listening to his tiny stomach growl from hunger, he heard a strange call.  It whispered on the weave of magic like the wind playing with the surface of a still pond.  It was a summons.  Someone was using magic to summon a creature to bond with them.  Without hesitation Fredregar answered this call and was pulled from his cage to serve as Himoro’s familiar.  Thus, Fredregar escaped his fate and became one of the Guardians.”  Aelar heaved a great sigh and shook his head when he thought of the enigmatic wizard Fredregar, and all he had been through.

“Well, I’d heard of Himoro’s pet and all the rest of the Guardians.  I mean everyone growing up in the Dales has heard the tales, yes?  But, I’d not known how the monkey came to be in service to Himoro.”  Tresha raised an eyebrow and her face screwed up as she thought about what she had just heard.  “But, how and where did you learn of this?”  She asked finally and try as she might, she could not work out just where this tale was leading.  She was truly intrigued now and her expression begged Aelar to provide the answers.

“I learned it from Fredregar himself when we entered the lair where he had been trapped for the last hundred years.”  Aelar patted his hands in the air before him to cut off the torrent of questions that Tresha had sucked in a mighty breath in preparation to shower upon him.  After a moment she let out a great sigh and resigned herself to remain silent and let him continue.  Aelar smiled at his exuberant lover fighting so hard to keep her thoughts inside, and at that moment he decided to tell her everything.  Indeed he thought that he had been foolish to not confide in his love these last months.

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