Friday, December 21, 2012

A Bedtime Story for Erinn

Erinn shivered in the narrow, barely lit alleyway, thought it was not cold in Cordillera in the spring. She had had another close brush with a group of armed vigilantes, hunting any and every "elven spy" they could find. Now she was hiding out, and as always the only comfort she could turn to was the warm voice of Oghma, first Archdruid of Fianna and a friend to many elves in his time.

"Oghma," she whispered quietly, "you told me about how the war with the Fomori started yesterday. It was very sad. Did things ever get better?" Erinn had no need to talk aloud to the presence within her head, but it had a way of making her feel less alone, drowned out some of the quieter, more disturbing noises of the city's  massive slum. 

Oghma smiled. Erinn did not know exactly how she knew that he was smiling, but she did, just as she could picture his weathered and ancient face, just as it had been ten millennia ago, when he had walked the earth as a man. "Relax, child," he said, "and I will tell you the story of just how things improved, and perhaps you will understand why I am here, inside your head, rather than passed on to a new life." Erinn, nestled between two crates, a burlap sack covering her from feet to nose, tried to tell herself that she was safe, that no one would find her here. Instead she felt a spell spring to her hands, found herself whispering its words. "There," Oghma said, "a ward for you. I cannot do that often, but rest easy this night." Erinn settled down, warm in her makeshift nest, closed her eyes, and listened to the Keeper of Wisdom's words roll across her mind.

Fianna was gone, we were no more, we had come to an end. Many moaned that we had followed the whispered voice of Danna, had followed the high paths from the west and south into this land, wished that they had never seen the sea they were singing praises to only months before. The great ones had been killed in the many battles I told you of--Arawn, Carach, Three Fingers--and though they had traded their lives dearly for some of the greatest and most fearsome of the Fomorii, well, their competent fighters and sorcerers were the match of ten of our best mortal warriors. I had come to Daoine, sure that I was needed on the front lines and just as sure that someday, one of the tribesmen of the east, or the halflings and gnomes of the south, or even the benighted barbarians from out of the west, would come upon the mountain of scrolls I had assembled and learn who we were. Perhaps give a prayer to Danna when we had become silent. At the time it was a wonder even to us, who you think of as the Ancients. There we found ruins, and we would come to know that they were built before the Titans' children set foot in the world, by your people, Erinn.

I recall vividly to this day what an oddly dark night it was when I rowed ashore in my longboat, but it seemed fitting at the time. I would learn later that it was a lunar eclipse, a night which is auspicious for secrets and magecraft, and little else. It was both magic and secrets that I found then, though, so I suppose it was appropriate. I found an ancient cairn, its designs and carvings worn but more delicate than anything a Fiannan hand had ever crafted. I began to dig beneath it, burying the scrolls and tomes I had brought with me, trying desperately to keep the tears in my eyes rather than on the already salt-weathered parchment. It was then I heard a voice, very close.

"Tell me, human, if you have that many secrets to hide, why did you write them down in the first place?"

I started, turning about, and I saw an impossibly slender--and quite frankly, beautiful--figure sitting on a piece of ancient stonework. Moonlight seemed to shine on him, though as I mentioned there was none. His silver hair was braided, and his dark eyes looked amused. His long and pointed ears betrayed him to be what we called the Ellyl--an elf. Attempting not to seem completely taken aback, I set the tome down, smiled wryly, and explained to him exactly what I was doing.

His name, I learned, was Illiarus, and he had come to Fianna on an errand from his goddess, whom he called Gaia. He told me that she was the mother of the elven races, and the grandmother of both my own and the Titans' progeny who had ravaged our lands. I explained to him, in return, that the Fiannans, unlike our brethren whom we had left in the south and west so many years ago, venerated a lady, a fair mother named Danna. He smiled a knowing smile and led me about a mile away, off to the north. Funny, Daoine is a very different place these days, and there is something rather in the way of the spot that Illiarus took me. What he showed me was a column, covered in names and images, all of which belonged to the mother of our world. I began to sense the point of the discussion long before he reached the name, the image, the sacred symbols which had been given our seers in dreams, of Danna herself. Our mother, it seemed, was theirs.

"Orima," he said, for that was my name then, "I am what you would call, in your language, a druid--a wise one of the forest. Our mother, Gaia, tasked us long ago with protecting this world as best we could. She gave us the task of striving to create a balance, a pleasant harmony, and that is all but gone these late years. The pride of Patrus and the ruthlessness of Sol have brought this barbaric crusade which seems to have no purpose but to halt change with a blood payment." It is worth noting that I had no idea of what Illiarus was talking about. I had not met an elf, and goodness knows I had not met an Eracian. The Titans themselves had  little need to walk in our lands, as their most brutal and capable children the Fomorii were in little need of assistance in their massacre. "As I was saying," Illiarus had continued, "I didn't come here to look over this old ruin. I came here because it was easy, because the trees of the west still mingle their roots with those of this old temple. I intended to craft a boat, or shift into a seal, and find my way to mankind's leaders. But now it seems I have a guide. Perhaps you can give me some hint as to how your leaders might feel?"

I had no idea what my leaders thought. I had no idea what leaders were still alive, or if there was an army. If there were even children. For a week it had been only myself, the sea, and the last works of the people of Fianna. I must have had an odd, and hungry look in my eyes when I turned to face the elf, given the expression on his face. I couldn't read it at the time, mind you, but I've had some experience deciphering the expressions of the Fair since then. "What do you wish to ask them?" I said.

Illiarus smiled. "We'd like to know if they would be receptive to help. We have an army waiting on the moor, but we've been very careful not to impose on other civi--"

The elf stopped short then. I had fallen, in my filthy clothing, onto the ground before him, had grasped the folds of his robe with my mud-encrusted hands, and I began to weep. I will never forget how grateful I was to him for looking down on me, not with pity, but with sympathy, and even a kind of kinship. I still don't understand it. He lifted me up, and said, "Then we will fight on your behalf against the children of the Titans. Come, have you ever travelled by root and stone before, brother? I suppose not. But there is always a first time."

And that is how things began to get better, Erinn. I will tell you more tomorrow. Go to sleep now, child, while the wards still hold.