A Name of Honor (Part 1)
Location: Teardrop Lake, Hidden Meadow, Harkania March, Cymeria
Timeline: Mid-November 3550
The lake had no formal name. In fact, Mikhael doubted very many people even knew of its existence. It lay in a mountain valley north of Stormholm Caer and could only be reached by a narrow game trail. A small, agile horse might manage the climb, but Mikhael had never tried to make the trek on horseback. The lake narrowed into an impressive cataract that tumbled out of the narrow valley to eventually flow into the raging waters of the Gwyfal River. Like many of his other favorite places, Mikhael had found the valley while out hunting when he was much younger.
In shape, the lake was almost a perfect teardrop. Because it was not a place many people knew of, its waters were well-stocked with various fish including some of the best trout in the march. Although a person had to be aware of their surroundings, very few of the larger predators frequented the valley. The lake also offered another benefit in the form of a wide sandy beach sandwiched between larger, flat-topped rocks. In the summer, it made a good place to go for camping and swimming.
Although it was now mid-November, the day was warm and clear although the breeze carried a chill edge. Older Cymerians said that the first snow would come later than normal and that winter was going to be harsh. For now, the High Lord of Cymeria was not concerned with the weather. Mikhael leaned back against a tall, sturdy oak that offered its shade to the rock he had selected. The boulder slanted just enough toward the water to let him put his line in for fishing while at the same time offered a high enough vantage point so he could keep a wary eye on the surroundings and on the two small boys who played on the sand. Currently, Vasily and Aeonar were focused on building their own castle in the sand. The plans for it were ambitious. They included a moat to be filled by water from the lake. Mikhael considered it a good exercise in engineering and planning for the boys, but mostly a fun game for them.
Renestrae stretched her fingers behind her to prod them against the woody curve of her bow, adjusting the way it sat against the line of her back. With her other hand, she brushed away raven-black strands of hair that had escaped her braid, tipping her head back to take in the trail as it meandered upward. Ahead of her was Gero of the Dawnrunner clan, whom she had grown quickly attached to; the old cat had something to him that, for all his gruff wisdom, brought her some measure of comfort. How easily did he seem to shape the landscape about his shoulders, as though it were a mantle he was born bearing! Her sense of woodcraft waned in comparison, but she was steadfast in her desire to learn.
Sure-footed, she took even breaths as she traversed the craggy path upward. It reminded her very much of Haradar, but the only facet of her home village that she missed was the landscape and her mother's company. She was then reminded of her father, but then, when was Lorcan far from her thoughts? With Gero's careful directions, and in the company of one of his trusted comrades, a Wyr named Tyreán, she thought herself to be on the last leg of the journey that had first spurred her from Haradar. She was to be reunited with her father's possessions, kept safely in the keep of one of his closest companions. There, she not only sought some fragment that linked Lorcan to her mother, that spoke of his feelings for her, but also for the other half of the song they had penned together. If nothing else, it was perhaps the only way she might connect to the man whose blood she bore, whose blood bound her to House Stormdanovich.
Fate would have it that her answers would have to wait. Word reached Renestrae and her stalwart escort of an attack at the Feast of Samhain by none other than y'Carthu brigands. Her stomach twisted itself into a knot at the news. As she had grown up in the company of y'Carthu sympathizers, with her perceptions having been overturned by meeting her kin, it troubled her. She felt guilt by association, even knowing she did not bear responsibility for their actions. She felt disgusted by their conduct, by their blindness, knowing that she equally had blindly believed until her abilities started manifesting. On the ever-long journey back, time having been strained by their urgency, it gnawed at her. If only she could do something!
It was among her other reasons to see her cousin. There were things she had to say, things that he needed to hear.
She sought Gero immediately, and so, he took her to see her cousin. The crisp mountain air filled her lungs comfortably, the icy tinge in the air having a taste of familiarity. She paused at the trail's crest to take in the breathtaking glory that was Mikhael's secret valley. She had resolved to explore the local lands for herself and to find all the enchanting places for herself. Distant fragments of sound reached her ears; the children sounded as though they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. She was unable to help but smile to herself. Even in the wake of such dire events, at least the children were able to be just that, children.
Gero turned around to check if Renestrae was still following. She had the sure-footed step of a child of the mountains, but he knew he had traversed the grounds rather swiftly. He waited for her to catch up, down the winding path they could see the hidden lake, shaped like a teardrop against the darker grounds. The laughter of the boys echoed through the cool breeze, Gero could hear Vasily's voice speaking fast followed by Aeonar's eager response. For only a fraction of a second, the light-haired boy looked up, having sensed Gero's approach, before going back to playing like nothing had transpired. "There they are," he said.
"Just so," Renestrae replied, and threaded her way along the trail downward. Breaking through the trees revealed several things: the boys, playing in the sand, undergoing the impressive task of building a fortress of sorts in the sand; the magnificence of the lake; and a fishing line, the line of which she followed back to none other than the High Lord. She sauntered over to the boys first, exchanging an affectionate hug with Vasily, and a careful greeting for Aeonar, who would take time for closer gestures, then made queries of their engineering venture. She left the boys to their machinations shortly thereafter, making her way over to the rock from which Mikhael was fishing.
"Cousin," she greeted him, outstretching one leg before her and bending the other, dipping with the bardic bow. "I returned as soon I heard of the attack by - by y'Carthu." Her voice caught as though the moniker were a poisonous piece of fruit. Her face hardened with distaste before immediate worry softened the lines. Just briefly, there flashed in her eyes a suggestion of remorse. "There must be something I'm able to do."
Mikhael was a man that rarely stood on ceremony with those belonging to his inner circle of family and friends. This included Gero and his recently acquired young cousin. He rose to his feet, wedging his fishing pole into a crack between two rocks, and enveloped Renestrae in a warm, strong hug. "Welcome home, Ychydig’dryw." His Heniath nickname for Renestrae was a play on the shortened form of her name that she used. Ychydig’dryw meant Little Wren in the Old Tongue of the Cymry.
Turning to Gero, the Wyr received the same warm hug as Mikhael greeted the man affectionately, "Ewythr hen gath, Uncle Old Cat," he added the Saesneg translation from the Heniaith, the Old Tongue of the Cymry, for Renestrae's benefit.
"Please," Mikhael said and gestured to the smooth rock, "join me." He dropped back down and took up his fishing pole. Turning his silver-blue eyes on Renestrae, "I am afraid, little cousin, that there is little anyone can do. The organizers of the attack are being sought by those who are experts in such things. But, as is y'Carthu's usual method of attack, those involved were very compartmentalized." The High Lord shook his head. "Most of the injured were moved to the hospital at Harkanus Gaer. Those that were too badly injured to be moved are being tended at Felonwood Hall. The Chief Battle Surgeon left some of his staff to aid the Lord and Lady of the Hearth. The captured y'Carthu apostates have all died."
Renestrae felt strange, being enveloped in the hug. Not strange by what she felt when her cousin drew her close, but strange by the comfort she felt, the safety, the affection for a man who had become kin in such a short amount of time. Brotherly. He had strength, tempered by the love he harboured for those whom he felt dear, women and men both. Little wonder he led as well as he did. As he set her down, she took him into her gaze and wondered at how terribly she had judged him. The point was punctuated by his description of the y'Carthu attack. If she could be changed, then so could they be, surely? She did not have sympathy for them, but pity. Shame.
"They never spoke of attacks," she said quietly, sinking down on the rock beside him. She bowed her head, staring off at the waters, eyes hooded by her thick eyelashes. "Not like this." It was barely a whisper. She did not mention the Mar'kathi specifically, but the implication was strongly there. She had, unknowingly, omitted my people when she referenced them aloud, and in her heart. No longer her people. No longer family. No, that was not right. They had raised her, showed her kindness, but only because they did know of the latent magic in her very being. They had been good to her, but only because they did not know what she was. She found difficulty in reconciling with the notion that good people could also be terrible.
Renestrae looked at Mikhael suddenly.
"My heart is weighty for what has transpired," she told him. "I want to be useful. Tell me what I am able to do, how I may help." There was a quiet ferocity in the way she said it, that she would move the very mountains if she were told to do so.
"There is nothing to be done, Little Wren. I will not mount a campaign to eradicate all of y'Carthu simply because of their beliefs. That is no more right than what they have done," Mikhael said, his deep voice rumbling pleasantly. "All we can do is route out those that perpetrate such atrocities and put an end to those people. I will not start a civil war on my own people. y'Carthu needs to learn, however, that such physical assaults will not be tolerated."
Mika gestured at the peaceful beauty of the valley, encompassing the two boys where they played in the sand, "I want this land to be a safe-haven for all of my people, most especially for the children who will grow to adulthood here. Where my father and I disagreed on the restoration of the Old Ways, we agreed that war should always be a last resort."
The High Lord sighed and reached for his fishing pole, suspecting that the bait had escaped. Sure enough, the hook was empty. He reached into the jar next to him and secured another fat, red wriggling worm. Without thought, he winced slightly as he impaled the tiny creature on the hook before casting the line back into the water. With that task done, he returned his thoughts to the matter at hand, "There are other complications as well. Twice now, I have witnessed the murder of innocents on a massive scale by y'Carthu. Both times, magic was involved. Either they have an archadept in their employ, or an archadept has corrupted them to his or her service."
Gero watched the two speak, he could see how much Renestrae was impacted by the news and how much she might fear that her mother's people might be more involved than just agreeing with the murderers. There had been reasons why Lorcan had been sent there all those years ago. Mikhael's mention of the Archadept was a question that was certainly worrying, and after the events in D'hassa Gero wondered how deep the y'Carthu's ties with other groups, like the Dark Templars might run. Not that it fits entirely, at least according to what the High Lord Commander had claimed, but he was not exactly someone Gero would call trustworthy. The only good thing coming out of all these events certainly was that they brought Renestrae and her family closer together.
"What is an archadept?" The bard asked, in a small voice. It had come from a place of reflection, of taking her cousin's words and carefully absorbing each one. How could it be that they were allowed to think in such a terrible way, poisoning the minds of children? What of her own awakening, only prompted with the manifestation of her magical inclinations? She looked to Mikhael over bent knees, arms folded over them, the act of doing so making her stature all the smaller.
Mikhael breathed out, trying to think of how to explain something that was very esoteric in nature. He felt the vast history of the Cymry weighing on him and the knowledge that if his people were going to return to the Old Ways, it had to be done with care. Mikhael had a chance with Renestrae to teach a young Cymry the ethics of powers, but what if he were not up to the task? These were things he would face as Vasily aged too. His arctic blue eyes strayed to where his son played and then he turned them on Renestrae.
"In ancient times there were Cymry who knew how to connect with the great Ley Lines of power, magic, that envelops Gaia. Those at the highest level of training were called Derwydd. In colloquial Saesneg, these are archadepts." Mikhael looked deep into his young cousin's eyes, "Most Derwydd come from bloodlines so ancient, their lineage has been lost in the mists of time. Like this House and House Azarov before it, they trod the lands of ancient Atlantis and fought yr Un Cysgodi, the Shadowed One. With great power comes great responsibility and our kind sometimes forgot that."
Holding his hand out, Mikhael summoned a small ball of coldfire. It flickered and danced in the palm of his hand, shimmering with tiny blue and gold flames. "Handfire can beneficial or," Mikhael abruptly extended his hand in a throwing motion and the handfire shot forward to splatter in a rain of sparks against a nearby tree, "dangerous." Again the handfire appeared on his outstretched palm, shimmering in multiple shades of blue. He held his hand toward Renestrae, his eyes encouraging her to learn.
Fascinated and uneasy, the raven-haired woman studied the writhing ethereal sphere of azure and gold. She stretched her fingers tentatively to it, withdrawing it sharply, as though afraid of being burned. They were descendants of the Derwydd? Her eyes had rounded at the very prospect. The entire history of the world was being rewritten for her. In the private theatre of her head, words were being altered, legends changed.
"The y'Carthu find magic deplorable," she thought aloud, as her trembling fingers approached the coldfire. "How could they bid one to their purpose, when they loathe magic so?" Concentrating, she lowered her hand, so her palm was facing upward. She might as well have gone cross-eyed. The coldfire spectacularly failed to appear. "How?" She groused. "I-- it does not come when I call it. The wind answers sometimes, but I'm usually--" She couldn't meet his gaze for embarrassment, and didn't dare look at Gero. "It responds to me when I'm foolishly rife with emotion, but 'tis never controlled."
"Many people have lain with the enemy to achieve their end goals," Mikhael told her in response to her speculation regarding y'Carthu and their suspected use of magic. He closed his hand into a fist and opened it. The small ball of fire was gone.
Mikhael laughed lightly, casting a look and smile in Gero's direction as well. He assumed that Renestrae's efforts to create the handfire was tacit permission for a lesson, "Cymry magic cannot be controlled without training, Young Wren."
Placing his hand beneath hers, Mikhael, "Feel the wind, allow yourself to connect with it. You are also a Child of Storms, so now reach for the power in the air around you." As he spoke, he also called his elements to him to augment Renestrae's efforts. In a flash, a small ball of fire coalesced to dance in her upraised palm. It was not as cohesive as the one Mikhael had formed earlier, but it was there, cold and beautiful.
"Why does it not burn me?" Renestrae's voice was a hollow breath, enchanted. Her gaze was fixed on the flickering orb. She flashed Mikhael a look, and with her attention having returned to the coldfire, she sought a thread of focus within herself. She shivered involuntarily as she reshaped his words in her head. She found strength in words, in music, and so she fashioned his words in her mind, made them a point of focus, and willed her being through them.
_Child of the Storms._
Indeed, was she not? When her fury rose, the wind called back. She tried to imagine how it felt when the wind moved with her.
There was nothing still. She huffed with exasperation, growing annoyed with herself.
"Patience," Mikhael counseled softly. "Think of how the wind feels on your skin, now try to feel that within yourself."
The bard took an even breath, closing her eyes. She summoned to mind how she felt the first time she heard the strings plucked from a cittern. Folk could believe in terrible things, but produce something beautiful as well. The wind had stirred even then, just a breath, but it responded to the strength of feeling she had for the sound. She concentrated on it, and no sooner than she recognized the thready wisp for what it was, she grasped it within herself. She imagined plucking it, drawing it forth, so it felt as though there was a stream funneled through her being. She coaxed it with the very rhythm of her heart, which was the drum by which her life was measured. She almost felt the nudge from her core into her arm, and into her hand.
She opened her eyes. The ball was now a tiny, writhing torrent, twisting and turning about itself, looking for all the world like an ethereal, dragon-like ribbon. It was but a few moments before it diminished into nothing, leaving a tingle on the palm of its hand, and a strange, cool sensation within herself.
She had no words, her mouth opened and shut with no sound. She was equal parts overwhelmed, elated, and startled. Little wonder some sought such power! It was a terrifying and beautiful thing, as much as it was a burden. It would be easy to grow drunk upon it, as one might imbibe ale. She promised herself, then and there, that she would not allow herself to become so careless.