Cleric Journal: Day Two Hundred and Seventy
“I was nine when we found you,” she said to me, her eyes tearing up for the first time in our hours long conversation. “We were running, my village had just been burned out by raiders and we were making our way through the swamp. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and hearing you crying. It was the most mournful sound I’d ever heard in my life.”
She poured another mug of mead from the bottle on the desk in front of us and took a long swallow. She’d had Braids and Stumpy get us some food and we began to share stories. I ate another slice of fresh bread with butter and honey, but the flavor was nothing compared to Kithri’s. I guess fresh bread had been ruined for me. Of course, it could be the bitter taste of disappointment that did this bread no favors.
“Our village was on the western sea, south of Skyfell, and about three days from the monastery where we left you. You have to realized we were being hounded by raiders and we were starving. If I’d been any younger, I believe my parents may have tried to leave me at the monastery as well. As it was we were all nearly killed just three days later. I never understood why the priests there wouldn’t let us stay. There was a thriving village surrounding the keep, they could’ve taken us in, given us shelter.”
The bitterness in her voice was tainted with more than two decades of compounded anger. “When we left the village there were thirty seven of us,” she continued. When we found you, we were twenty nine. By the time we reached the monastery, we were sixteen. ”
She fiddled with the knife she’d used to cut the bread, lost in the memories of time. “I lost three siblings in that flight, and of course, in the end it took my mother and father.” She sighed, looking up. “Back to you,” she said with a small smile. “I woke easily enough since we hadn’t had anything to eat for a few days. People who were wounded began to die and things were getting desperate. My father was one of the few who had a weapon, though we were almost all farmers. Father had been in the local militia when he was young, mainly defending us from raiding goblins and the like.”
“I bet that was a scary time,” I said, feeling like I had to say something here.
“Terrifying,” she said, patting my hand. “But as I was saying, I was having a hard time sleeping, I was so hungry. I thought maybe I’d go in search for berries or something that would make the pain in my stomach go away.” She looked up at me, sudden panic on her face. “Have you ever been that hungry?”
I nodded, recalling nearly starving to death in the swamp, back before I met Kithri.
Kershaw cut another slice of bread and handed it to me, pushing the butter and honey jars toward me. “Eat,” she said. “For me.”
I obliged, though it would be my fifth slice.
“I didn’t know if we had sentries posted or not,” she went on. “But that night, the hunger drove me into the swamp. I walked for an hour, following the sound of your cries. I was more tired than scared, but your cries were not hard to follow. I climbed the lip of a large bowl-shaped hallow and looked down into a mass of webs and scattered bones. There in the heart of the bowl, surrounded by giant spiders stood an old lizard folk crone. The spiders were huge, the size of ponies. Here was this old woman with you in a sling across her chest, holding a wand in one hand. On her belt were three shrunken heads which talk in three different languages.” She grinned at that memory. “Here I was terrified that one of those monstrous spiders would notice me and all I could think of was the fact those damned heads would not stop talking.”
I knew those heads. The coincidence was uncanny.
‘Come here, Madeline,’ the crone said to me, beckoning me forward with the crook of one clawed hand. In the same moment, she snapped the wand to the left and a bolt of fire engulfed a spider who had dared to approach too closely.
‘Hurry, child,’ she snapped, sending fire upward to engulf another spider. “Come to me and take this babe.’
Of course I had no desire to walk into that spider’s nest. I mean, my mind was running at a break-neck pace and I couldn’t understand why she was there or how she had known my name. Turns out she had come to retrieve you at the behest of the talking heads, but she couldn’t leave. She told me that was the price that must be paid, which made no logical sense to me at the time. She was obviously a powerful wizard. She could have burned all the spiders if she had wanted to. Instead she had waited for me to arrive.”
“To fulfill some mad prophecy that the heads kept reciting in their languages of ice and fire.”
I absent-mindedly took a bite of the bread and realized it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought for the first four slices.
“I stood there terrified with my hands over my ears, trying to block out the talking heads. It was madding. So I did the only thing I could think of. I walked into the nest and the old woman gave you to me. Then she bade me flee back to my family. She said I was to take you to the Keeper’s Monastery and told me where to find the keep. It had so many warding spells on it that no one could find it without direct knowledge, or divine intervention. Or so she claimed.
Once I had you in my arms, I turned to go and she called me back. When I turned, she thrust that amulet into your tiny hands,” she stopped again, interrupting the story to point to my talisman of Semaunzilla (may she burn all giant spiders).
“Then she told me to run, and I did. I only glanced back once to see the spiders swarming toward her. As they attacked, I heard her cackling laughter mixing with the shouting of the three shrunken skulls. I ran like I was on fire, which turned out to be just about the truth. Once I had cleared the hollow the entire place erupted in green flames.”
She took another drink of mead and shrugged her shoulders, releasing the tension that she had held.
“What happened next?” I asked, totally enthralled by the tale.
But in that moment the door flew open and a tall man in white armor not unlike my own, burst in the room with Braids and Stumpy following in his wake.
“I want his head,” the newcomer shouted, pointing a bony finger at me.