As the rest went about their recovery, I contemplated the events that had occurred. I would confer with the others when we were alone once more, but this is how I think things went down.
The basket twins were an all but forgotten pair of deities, forgotten because the proto-elves had died out to the last. Elves as we know them had evolved or been altered by great magic and somehow the affinity for the Basket Twins was lost.
But not all forgot the deities. The lizard folk knew of them, and this temple. It was they who set up here in this valley before the fall of the Nine and Sixty. When Merric god-slayer and his merry band of martyrs set about bringing the downfall of the entire world, these lizard folk and their elvish child gods took it upon themselves to raise the walls of the valley, raise the cliffs above the sea and give this place a safety that protected it from the worst of the destruction.
In doing so they had grown very weak. When I came into the world, the Basket Twins had already been corrupted by Jared. He had already absorbed the power of the girl child, giving him his great longevity, but anchoring him to this life. The second child he corrupted and bound, using his great power in necromantic rituals, entwining hand-picked priests in the valley and even one to lead the monsters. Eronel had been the latest in a long string of villains over the centuries, but she had proven the wiliest.
I cannot begin to imagine how Ingrid came to be conceived, and frankly that level if detail is not needed here, but the fact she existed proved to be the undoing of Jared and the saving grace for the Basket Twins.
The rest of the details are irrelevant. We are where we are and history can be made up by the survivors. In that moment I wanted nothing more than a bit of solitude. I had likely angered the gods, at least shamed them publicly, and for that I’m sure there would be repercussions.
Not that I had a clue, in any case. While the celebration ran deep into the night, I slipped away. Lilith was busy with the babes with Brindle watching them like his very life depended on it. Liz was in deep conversation with Aoibhell which felt both intimate and personal. So as I wandered about at lost ends, I found my feet taking me back down through the temple to the great hall far below.
The room was different from when we first made our way into the battle. The six altars had been purged of the taint that Jared had perpetrated and the dais held a crib of pine boughs and lined with down. As I walked down the main aisle toward the dais I realized the temple was not as empty as I had first assumed.
Beyond the dais rose another stair, this one to a balcony which looked over the great hall and upward into a far archway. A solitary figure stood on the balcony, covered from head to toe in a robe of purest white. The cowl was pulled forward so the face was buried deep in shadows. I paused when I saw this figure and started to turn back, but they raised a hand, beckoning me forward. I hesitated. I had had my fill of quests and prophecies, secret guardians and ancient pacts.
I could discern no other reason for a figure in white to be waiting upon a balcony we had not seen in our previous excursion here, so I found myself wary, if not a tad paranoid.
At my hesitation, the figure held up a hand and began walking down the long stair toward me. Meeting me half way seemed a fair enough compromise, so I waited. Near the bottom of the stair, I saw the figure gracefully hop over the third step and come striding toward the dais.
“Hello,” I said, opting for politeness until I was given reason to go to the mace.
The person studied me, their head cocking from one side to the other as if to see me from different angles.
Then she pushed her hood back and I stumbled.
I knew that face. It was Kaira, my mother.
She was older than the picture young Blunt had drawn for me, but I could not misidentify those eyes.
“What are you called, child?” she asked. There was pain in that voice, loss and shame.
I stood as tall as I could in my armor and smiled. “Those who raised me named me Useless Lump.”
She flinched at those words, but did not speak.
“Those who love me call me Merric.”
“And strangers?” she asked, trepidation plain on her face.
I shrugged. “Cleric most often, or curses if they are among my enemies.” I was deliberately avoiding answering her query. I did not know what to tell her.
“Forgive me,” she said, her voice now a whisper. “I do not deserve it, but I beg it of you all the same.”
“Are you my mother then, truly?” I asked and this caused her to reel back as if I had struck her.
She recovered her composure, but tears trailed down her cheeks.
“He whom you defeated killed my crew,” she said, anger giving her voice a bit of resolve. “His rage at the loss of the artifacts was so great he cursed this whole valley. Every child born in that year would wither and die. Every one. But not you.”
I did not interrupt her and she continued.
“The wizard, she took you in exchange for the book,” she breathed a heavy sigh. “So many died for that book, and I looked for it for years. But I do not regret the choice.” She looked me square in the eyes and a smile crept to the edges of her lips. “You are tall, like your father.”
A wave of dizziness swept over me and I stumbled, finding the strength had left my legs and I sat heavily on the dais beside the crib.
She moved toward me, one hand out as if to touch me, but she did not take that final step. “You slept in this crib your first nights,” she said. “Hidden here in this place that had been so corrupted. He never thought to return here in those days, so we were safe after a fashion.” She paused, remembering troubled times. “But the nightmares were overwhelming.”
I thought of the vivid dreams I had had my entire life, the quest that had driven me.
“I am sorry, my son. I wish I could have raised you myself, but I knew that my needs were nothing compared to yours.” She straightened, glanced upward to the balcony and her shoulders sagged. “I have little time, my pride, I must return before I am discovered gone. Ask me what you must, then I needs flee.”
I didn’t move exactly, just rocked a bit as my head swam. Images of a mother who sang a song. Not the lullaby that Captain Madeline Kershaw had sung to quiet me as they made their way to you, Father Mulcahy. Rather a ditty about rolling seas and drowned dreams.
In the end, two questions warred in my mind. One affected the fate of the world and one affected no one but myself. They roared back and forth in my psyche, great goliaths of want and need. Until with a sigh, I settled on what I knew was best for most.