A Moontouched Druid with a Badass Bird
Leilania is a blonde-haired, fair-skinned elf with piercing blue eyes and a captivating smile. She usually wears forest greens and regal blues when in the wilds, but in more civilized settings prefers pale lavender or pearl white. Physically, Leilania is tall and thin, with narrow hips and shoulders. She keeps her hair long and loose when she can afford to, and ties it back in a braid or tail when she can not. Leilania is used to looking out of place among others — particularly human others — and so it doesn’t bother her to dress differently or stand out in a crowd.
Leilania is still not used to what most people would call ‘civilization’. As a child of the forest, Leilania has lived most her life roaming the wilds and outlying communities of both elven and human societies. After so much time alone, Leilania’s internal thoughts have become deep and complex, disconnecting her with the more down-to-earth folk of the ‘ordinary’ world. A casual acquaintance might describe her as ‘spacey’, but the reality of the situation is that much of Leilania’s world is invisible to others. The world Leilania sees is a tapestry of spirits, magic, and fate beyond the sight of normal men.
The depths of Leilania’s thoughts sometimes make her seem confused or disoriented, or leads her to strange leaps of logic in the midst of conversation. When interacting with new people, Leilania also has a tendency to jump to conclusions about what they intend to say, and is often quite blunt in her appraisals of their worth or skill. Leilania does not mean to be rude, and will show embarrassment in the color of her cheeks if scolded for acting out of line. Her friends come to accept such strangeness with time, and even learn to expect and appreciate her quirks. To these few, Leilania is extremely trusting and deeply loyal, maybe even to the point of fault.
Leilania is joined in her travels by a mature axe-beak she calls ‘Nibbs’. This enormous flightless bird is aqua in coloration, with streaks of darker blue behind his head and down his flanks. Leilania has trained Nibbs to wear a vest of chain mail and a specially-molded saddle that allows her to ride him into battle if needed. Nibbs carries the majority of the pair’s supplies on his back, supporting the weight easily on his thickly-corded legs. Nibbs doesn’t like to be separated from Leilania for any length of time, and will follow her into buildings and rooms if allowed. Nibbs is usually quiet, but when angered he will fluff the feathers on his head and shriek loud, sharp barks to make his displeasure known. When happy, Nibbs acts quite the opposite, laying his head sideways and cooing long, low notes from the bottom of his throat.
Leilania was born under a full moon on the vernal equinox, an omen missed at the time by her elven parents.
As she grew up, Leilania seemed in many ways to be a normal girl, full of dreams and prone flights of fancy. At the time, the woods of Mirenai were a peaceful place, and Leilania was free to learn and grow without threat of violence or war. Leilania showed an aptitude for magic early on, and was fostered to develop the talent into a craft that would sustain her as an adult.
But something else was happening inside of Leilania. When she played in the woods, she would often drift off in one direction or another, as if pulled by an unseen force. She described the feeling to her mother once ‘like a rope around my tummy.’ With time, her family found that the draw of these impulses came on most keenly when the moon was visible, and pulled strongest in the dead of night. Somehow Leilania seemed to know that there was no danger in following where the pull lead, and so she began stealing out in the middle of the night to wander off into the forests.
It wasn’t until she began disappearing for several nights at a time that her parents became truly concerned. When they consulted with their village’s mystic, a reading of Leilania’s aura revealed an ancient magic growing inside of her. “Her light is the pale face of the moon,” the mystic explained, “She is moontouched.”
The mystic arranged for Leilania’s nature to be passed among the people of the wood, and in time a druid arrived to teach Leilania the way of the moontouched’s power. The druid was a short, wild-haired gnome named Selene who traveled with an enormous white wolf that she rode like a steed. With her parents’ blessing, Selene took Leilania on a long journey into the wilderness, during which she explained the power and prophecy borne by the moon. “The sun is the world’s father,” Selene explained, “But the moon is it’s mother. The sun has power, but the moon has strength. The sun burns brighter than all, but the moon brings light to darkness. Understand?”
Leilania shook her head, “No.”
Selene laughed, “Neither do I.”
Leilania cocked her head curiously.
“Understanding,” Selene explained, “Is not what we moontouched are about. Worshippers of the sun, they work in absolutes and by rigid standards. Their god is the same everyday, moving only slightly in the sky to accommodate the passing seasons. He may be eternal, but he is also rigid and unchanging.”
Selene pointed up through the forest canopy to a slightly grinning moon, “Our god has moods. She moves where she wants in the sky, coming and going in a far more complex dance. There are patterns to her movement, yes, but even in her predictability she is always different. If you watch her as I have, you’ll notice that she’s never quite the same, never quite understandable. But that’s good, I would not want her to be like the sun.”
The gnome moved her hands as if juggling the sun and the moon in either palm, “The sun’s brilliance is so bright that it will burn your eyes to look upon him. But our god is pleasant to look at, calming, soothing in her light. She wants you to see her. And when you’ve spent enough time beneath her moonlight you’ll find a magic in it, something others can’t see.”
“So you worship the moon?” Leilania asked.
Selene folded her hands in front of her, “No…I follow the Green Faith—the wisdom that was before even the gods. In the knowledge of the green you will find the secrets that underlie all creation. Everything our world is, from the smallest beetle to the mightiest dragon, builds their life on the power the green unlocked. Both the sun and the moon were put there by the green, that is why all forms of life pay tribute to them in the cycles of their lives. Do not be deceived, the gods that have come since to lay claim to the symbols of the sun and moon are not the ones who birthed them. They simply draw on the power that has always been there, as you will…with training.”
For next ten years Leilania followed Selene in her journeys in the wilds, journeying to places far off the maps used by men. They communed together with nature, and Leilania learned to find the magic spinning the world around her—the secrets of life’s intricate balance with itself. With training she began to see as Selene did, and was awed at the latent power waiting all around her.
Then one night, beneath a full moon, Leilania was led by her heart to a shaft of moonlight streaking down into deepest forest. There, at the point of the ray, was a large bird’s nest surrounded by giant three-toed tracks in the dirt. Fragments of shell showed that two eggs had already hatched, but there, in the moonlight, was a third, gleaming like a pearl in the kind white light. Leilania picked up the egg and held it to her breast. It was warm.
“It is meant for you,” Selene explained from behind her, “As a symbol. The green are showing you that they think you’re ready.”
The egg hatched as Leilania held it, and emerging from within was a fluffy gray chick with a beak like gardner’s shears. Many would have seen the beast as hideous, but to Leilania it was the most adorable thing she had ever seen. As it chirped and cooed, Leilania pulled the chick tight and laughed with delight.
Leilania named the chick ‘Nibbs’ for his tendency to nibble at her fingers while she was feeding him. Nibbs grew fast, and by the end of his first year he was tall enough to look Leilania square in the eye. With his height came speed and strength—speed enough to outrun Selene’s wolf and strength enough to snap bones with his razor beak. Under constant supervision by Leilania, the bird kept his genial disposition, though with Selene’s help Leilania was able to train Nibbs to watch, guard, and fight if need be.
As Leilania was was mastering riding Nibbs, Selene began to seem distracted. The gnome’s gaze would often go to the horizon and linger there for minutes at a time. When Leilania asked her about it, Selene admitted, “There’s come to be a pull on me…like the moon at high tide. Have you felt something like that my dear?”
Leilania shook her head, “No…I mean, I don’t think so.”
Selene looked back to the west, over swaying expanses of trees colored by the amber light of sunset, “There’s something to the west that needs me to see it. I have to go.”
“We’ll go together,” Leilania replied happily, “I’ve always wanted to see the ocean.”
“And you should,” Selene said as she met her eyes, “But not with me. I think the moon is calling you elsewhere.”
Leilania looked perplexed, “Why do you think that?”
“Because it feels that way.”
Selene seemed somehow pleased by Leilania’s confusion. The gnome said kindly, “My dear, I’ve had a wonderful time teaching you these last many years. But there’s one thing I can’t teach you, something that you have to learn for yourself. You knew it once, but have forgotten.”
Selene answered with a sanguine smile, “How to follow the moon.”
With this, Selene pointed out over the treetops to where a half-face moon hung in the saddleback between two mountains. She said, “The reason I was called to help you was because the moon pulls on you in the same way that it moves the wind and the waves. For a while I’ve distracted you from this pull by teaching you the way of the woods and the mastery of your inner talents. But now is the time for you to remember why we met. Stay here, and wait for the moon to lead you to where you are needed. It may take a while for the pull to come, but I know you are ready to follow when it does.”
Leilania protested, “I don’t understand.”
Selene shrugged, “Neither do I.”
The gnome embraced Leilania and held her for some time. Then Selene mounted her wolf and turned to the west. She rode into the dusk with the wind scattering rustling leaves at her back. Leilania and Nibbs were left with each other and the moon’s pale light.
Leilania waited there for three weeks, meditating and fasting, waiting for the pull to come. She watched every moonrise with rapt attention, and told herself not to despair to see it set again without finding the guidance that she sought. Nibbs curled up with her as the winter winds approached and watched with her as the moon orbited overhead. The bird seemed perplexed by his master’s mood, but happy enough to keep her company.
As the phase of the moon cycled into full darkness, Leilania decided that something else was needed. After so many nights of disappointment, she figured the best way through her frustration was to move on and try again. She decided to visit home, and set out again once her mind had cleared. Leilania headed off in the direction she thought was northwest.
But that was not the direction she went. After hours walking in darkness, she found herself angling off to the east, toward the high mountains above the Storval plateau. Righting herself by the light of the stars, she set out again to the west, only to find herself turned again to the east. She didn’t understand. And then it made sense.
Hanging above the mountains was a dark, spherical shape. The moon’s face was hidden, but she was still there. She was calling Leilania to her.
It was in this way that Leilania learned to let go of control, and let the forces within be her guide. In this way she was able to allow the moon’s influence move her, subtly at times, but other times with such force that she had to run to keep up with its urgency. The pull guided her north of the Kodar mountains, over the continental divide, and down through the River Kingdoms and into Brevoy. There she found herself in a new wilderness, surrounded by humans with strange accents and dour expressions. She kept clear of them as much as she could, finding far more comfort in the dark forests that hemmed in their settlements.
She was racing with Nibbs during an early morning hunt when she felt a sudden shift within her, and found herself looking toward a full moon in the eastern sky. She followed the pull down into a narrow valley, where she heard the roars of an angered bear. Riding up on the sounds, Leilania found a mature gray bear clawing angrily at the trunk of a spindly tree. In the boughs above, a child wailed and cried as he clung desperately to the trunk.
Leilania knew what had angered the bear immediately, for she saw three young cubs just out of the clearing, staring anxiously out onto the scene. Leilania jumped down from Nibbs and approached cautiously, raising her hands in front of her to show she meant to harm. She called out in the druidic tongue, “Look here mother! Look to me!”
The bear turned and reared to its full eight foot height. Leilania held Nibbs back with a hand as she approached on slow footsteps, “There’s nothing to fear mother. I am a friend. Your cubs are safe.”
The mother bear charged suddenly, baring her canines and ripping the dirt with her claws. Leilania stood firm, averting her eyes and bowing her head in respect.
The bear stopped just inches from her, confused by the elf’s refusal to flee. The bear roared again in challenge.
Leilania reached out and offered the bear her hand, “I am like you mother, I am a child of the forest. I mean you no harm, and will let no harm come to you.”
The bear sniffed her hand, puckered its nose, then looked back to her cubs. Leilania took the opportunity to step forward and touch the animal behind the ear. The bear did not pull away.
“Your litter is safe with me,” Leilania told the animal in the ancient tongue, “I will not let the human hurt them. Please, call out your cubs so I can share in your joy.”
The mother bear stared a moment, then sat back on its haunches. It looked to its cubs again, and slowly the little bears inched out of the underbrush. They came up to Leilania and sniffed at her hands with little black noses. When they found no ill intent, they moved closer, allowing her to scratch behind their ears and between their shoulder blades.
She told the mother bear, “You cubs are beautiful and strong. You are a good mother to protect them so well.”
The mother bear cocked her head to one side, then seemed to nod knowingly. Leilania smiled.
Leilania played with the bear cubs for a few minutes, then thanked the mother bear again and wished her well for the summer to come. As the bear led her cubs out of the clearing, Leilania moved on to the boy in the tree.
She asked him in the common tongue, “What are you doing up there?”
The boy clung to the tree with clenched knots at both his hands and legs. He cried desperately, “I can’t get down!”
“But you got up,” Leilania replied, “Surely down is easier.”
“But I’ll fall!” he screamed.
“I’ll catch you.”
Leilania gestured helplessly, “Well you can fall now while I’m here or fall later while I’m not. I think it’d be smarter to fall now.”
“I can’t!” he repeated.
Leilania started to turn away, “Well good luck.”
“Wait!” he protested, “Don’t go!”
Leilania turned back and stared.
“I’ll let go,” he said sheepishly, “But you have to catch me. You have to.”
Leilania folded her arms across her chest, “I don’t make promises to strangers.”
“I am Alek Medvyed, of House Medvyed. My family owns these woods!”
“That’s not what the bear told me.”
“I am not a stranger!” Alek yelled, “So promise you’ll catch me! Promise!”
Leilania considered this with a gentle stroking of her chin. Then, thoughtfully, she said, “Okay…I promise I’ll catch you.”
“Alright,” the boy said cautiously, “I’m going to climb down. Catch me if I fall. Catch me…”
As he began backing down the tree trunk, Leilania said a few words in druidic to cast a spell of strength on herself. She considered turning herself into an animal more suited to the task, but rationalized that this would probably just scare the boy more. That, and she wanted to leave her options open for dealing with the child.
Alek was slow with his movements, trying his best to stay suctioned to the tree with three of his four limbs at all times. Leilania got bored after a couple minutes of watching him inch backwards. She considered shaking him down.
And then, luckily, he lost his footing. The boy’s feet slipped and his hands let go. Alek shrieked for an instant, and then was in Leilania’s arms. She let him down to the ground with a reproachful gaze.
Standing before her, Alek was a ruddy-faced boy with loose blond hair that fell almost to his eyes. He was maybe ten or twelve years of age and gangly in his build, though obviously not undernourished. He was dressed in what Leilania thought had been noble finery, but was now torn and stained into mud-colored rags. His eyes were wide and still rimmed with tears as he considered Leilania. He didn’t seem to know what to say.
She asked curiously, “What were you doing to the bears?”
Alek looked away, “Nothing.”
Leilania used her height to cast a shadow over him. She warned, “You shouldn’t lie to a druid.”
The boy shuffled his feet, “I wanted one of the cubs.”
“Why?” Leilania asked.
“For a pet,” he admitted.
Leilania made a face, “Well that was very stupid of you.”
Alek looked up, a little bit confused. Seeing the sternness in Leilania’s expression, he quickly looked away again, “I’m sorry.”
She looked him up and down, and noted the blood oozing from cuts on his palms and knees. She said, “Stand still,” and whispered a prayer of healing. With a touch the wounds sealed themselves up.
The boy looked disbelievingly at his hands. He gasped, “That’s amazing.”
“Go home,” Leilania ordered, “And do not bother these animals again.”
He nodded, “I promise.”
She patted him on the head, “Good.”
Alek followed quickly, “Will you come with me?”
Leilania instincts screamed caution, but before she could say no she again felt the pull of the moon’s guiding influence. It seemed to hold her eyes on the child, as if asking her to see him anew.
After several moments of thought, Leilania said, “Sure, let’s go.”
Alek led her out of the woods and down a dirt road to a surprisingly large settlement nestled at the bottom of a mountain crowded with fir trees. At the city gates the guards closed ranks for a moment, only to step back when they caught Alek’s eyes. One of the guards asked, “Master Medvyed, what happened?”
The boy was dismissive, “Nothing.”
The lead guard turned his attention to Leilania and her axe beak. Tightening his grip on his spear, the guard asked, “Who’s this?”
Alek looked back to Leilania, “I forgot to ask your name.”
She straightened, “It’s Leilania Syphaisoma…Lani.”
Alek nodded, then turned to the guard, “I want you to arrange a place to stay for Lady Syphaisoma. Make sure that it can accommodate her mount. She’s an important guest, so see that she’s well taken care of.”
The guard bowed, “Of course sir.”
“We’re going to the castle,” Alek announced, “Please arrange an honor guard for our guest.”
The guard bowed again hurriedly, then snapped his fingers to the other guards to put them in motion. As Alek and Leilania proceeded up the hill from the gate, a half dozen guards fell into formation behind them.
As their boots crunched against worn cobblestones, Leilania considered the stoutly-built homes on either side of the street with a vague sense of appreciation. She asked Alek, “This is your city?”
“My father’s,” Alek answered.
“You’re pretty lucky.”
“I’m privileged,” Alek replied, “There’s a difference.”
The city’s castle was a squat, thick-walled fortress built into the side of the mountain. Leilania and Nibbs were led past a pair of double stone gates and up into the keep, where bent torches burned with tar-soaked rags. The inner walls of the keep seemed nearly as weathered as the ones outside, and carried a chill out of the depths of the mountain. Leilania found herself pulling her cloak tighter as Nibbs fluffed his feathers for extra warmth.
A guard pushed aside the door for Alek as he strode into the central chamber. Inside a doorman bellowed, “Lord Alek Medyved has returned!”
Two faces looked up from the thrones on either side of the central dais. The first face was that of a heavily-lined man with a gray beard that reached nearly to his waist. The other was a much younger woman with bright yellow hair and worried-strained eyes. The woman stood suddenly, then rushed down to greet her son. She embraced him tightly for several seconds, then pulled back to ask, “Where have you been? Are you hurt? What happened? What did you do to your clothes?”
“I’m fine mother,” Alek replied reassuringly. He gestured back to Leilania, “My friend saved me from a bear attack and then healed my wounds.”
Alek’s mother stood, then bowed deeply to Leilania. She said, “My lady, I owe you everything.”
Leilania raised her pointed eyebrows, “I was only trying to protect the bear.”
The lord of the house then stood from his throne and demanded in a resonating voice, “Who are you elf? And how have you come to be here?”
Leilania repeated her name, then explained, “I was just passing through.”
“She is a friend father,” Alek followed, “And a powerful druid. I want her to stay here and teach me about the woods.”
Both Leilania and Alek’s father seemed surprised by this request. The regent asked his son, “Teach you what?”
The old man looked to Leilania, then back to Alek. He said, “This is an odd request.”
Leilania shifted back onto the heels of her boots. She asked Alek, “Do I get a say in this?”
Alek shook his head, “I knew you’d say ‘yes’.”
Leilania considered this with a befuddled grin.
Alek’s mother put a hand over her son’s shoulder and suggested politely, “Perhaps we should get our guest some dinner. I feel like I have a lot to explain for.”
Alek’s parents brought Leilania to a well-appointed banquet room and began to bring her dishes of cold meat and bread. Alek was led away to change his clothes, leaving his parents and Leilania to sit awkwardly at the oversized table. As the food started coming out, Nibbs eyed sides of basted steer ribs with obvious hunger. Leilania ended up tossing him a rack, which was quickly gulped down, bones and all.
“You have an interesting umm…” Alek’s mother began to say, then seemed to lose her words. She settled on, “… bird.”
“He’s from the Eastern forests,” Leilania explained as she scratched Nibbs under the beak.
“And he tolerates the weather in Brevoy?”
“We do okay,” Leilania answered nonchalantly. Nibbs made a deep clucking sound to signal agreement.
Alek’s father, bent and dour-faced, seemed to have little use for his food. He pushed the plate away and said, “I owe you for saving my son today, and we will repay you, with whatever you desire. Alek is my only living male heir. The others have been cut down by war, duels, or simple ill-fortune. Our people are strong, but fate has conspired against my hold. Someday, Gods willing, Alek will sit in my seat and carry on my family’s traditions. But for now he is young and rebellious, and needs someone to look after him.”
“You don’t know how?” Leilania asked him.
“I know how,” Alek’s father answered grimly, “But the regent has other duties than the rearing of children.”
Alek’s mother spoke now, her tone soft and apologetic, “Alek only wants what the other boys have. Our people have always had a strong connection to the forests and the creatures that live there, including your relatives, the fey. The other boys explore, hunt, and fish everyday, but Alek is stuck here in the castle. We daren’t let him go out with them for fear of what might happen to him. And so he sneaks out and finds adventure where he can. We’ve tried scolding him and punishment, but there’s only so much we can do without making the situation worse.”
Leilania decided to let the comment about the fey slip, saying instead, “I’m not a babysitter.”
“We need a teacher, not a sitter,” his father commented grumpily.
“He likes you,” his mother interjected, “I can tell. He’ll listen to you. And if you do us this favor we’ll pay you, whatever you want.”
Leilania considered the offer as she nibbled delicately at a crust of honey bread. While she chewed, Alek came out from one of the back rooms, dressed in an outfit of noble purple and courtly black.
He chose to sit next to Leilania, asking, “Is it all settled then?”
Leilania considered Alek with a wry smile, “I’m not sure I like you.”
“I’ll grow on you,” Alek assured her.
Alek did grow on her, but slowly, with qualifications.
She found that, despite a few frustrations, training with Alek was not so bad. Away from the castle he was a totally different person. On his own, he lost the aire of pretensiousness that kept the castle staff at bay, and opened himself up to honest feelings and earnest effort. Leilania was not gentle with him, but he never seemed to resent her for it, in fact, he seemed almost to crave her discipline, such as it was. What Leilania taught were simple things—how to ride, how to track, and how to know the difference between bravery and stupidity…but they were lessons that Alek could not seem to get enough of.
In return for these lessons, the Medvyed family lavished attention and gifts on Leilania and Nibbs. Alek’s mother opened up the royal treasury for her outfitting, and managed to find her several nice pieces of magical armor to supplement her gear. They also commissioned the royal smith to craft a chainmail vest for Nibbs, under which the bird protested at first, but soon learned to accept.
But these gifts paled in comparison to the adoration Leilania received from the Medvyed family. As the story of Alek’s rescue spread through the territory, it became embellished with greater and greater deeds of herosim, until the tale included a small army of dire bears launching an assault against Leilania’s valiant defense. Leilania tried to correct these misconceptions at first, but after the first few times just went with the flow and accepted the praise her fictional exploits brought her. Through these accounts and Leilania’s stewardship of Alek’s training, the court came to count Leilania as one of their own, going so far as to bestow an official title on her to include her in the noble family. Leilania found the whole thing rather curious, but let it happen rather than offend her human hosts’ sensibilities.
There were of course frustrations and setbacks, and many times in the next few months Leilania was tempted to slip away into the night and leave Alek to his fate. What kept her from going was something hard to explain. It was like a weight had settled low in her stomach to root her in place. Leilania knew that it was the moon’s influence on her, that it wanted her to stay with the boy. She didn’t understand why, but by that point she had given up trying to understand.
Weeks turned into months, and months into years. As Leilania trained Alek the boy grew like a weed, and before she knew it he rode taller than her in the saddle. Alek’s father continued a slow descent into ill health, but Alek thrived, becoming braver and handsomer with each passing season. As Alek approached his seventeenth birthday, part of Leilania’s duties became shooing away the flocks of young maidens that would try to intercept him during his training. Most annoying were those that would purposely put themselves in harm’s way to try and catch his eye. She might have left some to their fates if not for Alek’s rapidly evolving sense of chivalry.
Alek and Leilania’s relationship evolved as well with the years, going from that teacher/student, to something more like a big sister/little brother. As he grew older still, Leilania sensed something else in the way he looked at her, and the weight in her stomach began to twist with worry. When he started bringing her flowers and writing long-winded letters to her, she knew that she had a problem. It wasn’t that she didn’t like Alek, it was just that she knew she was a long way from loving him.
In a way it was a relief then when the moon began calling to her again. On clear nights, she found that it’s light was always turning her attention south, out beyond the borders of the Gronzi forest. She had heard that there was a new nation there that called itself Ursandova. It was a young country, and obviously desperate for help judging by the stories told along the road. But there was a hopefulness among the people she met who had been there, something she hadn’t seen so far in the lands of Brevoy.
Then one evening, a pair of travellers came from the South wearing green and brown cloaks and calling themselves ‘Waywatchers’. When the Waywatchers refused to state their house allegiance at the city gates, they were surrounded by guards, and brought inside at spearpoint. They were fortunate that Leilania was passing through the palace when they were brought before the regent.
Despite his failing health, Alek’s father was still quite an imposing presence on the throne. He demanded of the Waywatchers, “Who are you that you dare come into my city bearing arms and dressed as cutthroats?! What is your purpose here?!”
The leader of the two, a woman named Merrill, bowed as deeply as she could, “Apologies sir, we meant no offense. We’re simply here to serve the people as we can, and to recruit others to join our ranks.”
“Recruiting?” the regent repeated skeptically, “You would seek to fill your army with my people?”
“No sir,” Merrill replied, “The Waywatchers are no army. We are masters of the wild, seekers of adventure, and destroyers of evil. We wish only to help your people against those who would oppress them.”
“You’ll find no oppression here,” the regent sneered, “And no fools for your lies to deceive.” He struck his scepter on the dais and ordered loudly, “Guard, find them a place in the dungeon.”
The Waywatchers responded with ashen-faced shock. They closed back to back as guards circled in to subdue them.
“Wait a moment,” Leilania called out.
The guards held. Alek’s father shot Leilania a threatening glare.
She ignored his judgment. Leilania asked Merrill, “Who sent you here?”
“No one m’lady, the Waywatchers go where we wish.”
“Then who told you that you wished to go here?”
The Waywatchers exchanged glances. Merrill swallowed, then said cautiously, “Our leader is Lord Marshall Lem Berrybrook of the Baronry of Ursandova. Lem…I mean, Master Berrybrook is the founder of the Waywatchers.”
“And for what purpose did he send you here…I mean, other than recruiting?”
“To do…ummm… good?” Merrill said the last word as if asking permission.
“Okay. How do you going to do that?”
Again the two Waywatchers traded looks. Neither seemed to know the answer.
Leilania sighed, then looked to the throne, “Lord Medvyed, these two are no threat to you. To lock them up would be a waste of good gruel and water.”
“I can not just let them go,” the regent replied, “Fools like this bring anarchy with them.”
“Then let me take them back to Ursandova,” Leilania suggested gently, “I will go and meet with this Berrybrook fellow and see that his minions don’t come back. There’s no need to punish good intentions with a dungeon cell.”
Alek’s father scowled for several seconds, then relented grudgingly, “Very well. Take them home and see that they stay there.”
As Leilania bowed, she caught Alek’s eyes across the room. He was worried, and she knew why.
That night on the castle battlements, under the light of a quarter moon, Alek found Leilania as she readied her gear for travel. He walked up, leaned over the wall, and said, “I take it that I’m not going with you to Ursandova.”
“Probably not,” Leilania answered.
“And how long will it be before you come back?”
Leilania was quiet for a time. Then, wistfully, she said, “I’m not sure I am.”
Alek didn’t respond. His eyes stayed out, over the city, where a few guards moved with torches through the silent streets.
Leilania said into the silence, “I’m sorry Alek.”
“It’s okay,” Alek replied without turning, “I thought this might be coming.”
She smiled a little, “You’re smart like that.”
Alek shuffled his feet, shook his head, then asked quickly, “Is this because I came on too strong?”
Leilania’s voice was kind, “No.”
“Then is it because I’m too young? Because I’m human? Something like that?”
“You’re young and you’re human, but those are not the reasons I’m going.”
“Then why?” he demanded.
“I’m going because the moon’s told me to. That’s all I know.”
Alek squared himself to face her, “I like you Leilania…I like you a lot. I don’t want you to go.”
“I know Alek.”
“You can stay here in the city and I’ll stop bothering you. We’ll go back to the way it was, you can go back to teaching me. There’s so much I still don’t know.”
“You’ve learned what I know. I’ve done what I was brought here to do.”
“Brought?” he wondered, “Brought by who?”
Leilania shrugged, “Fate? Karma?” She pointed upwards, “The moon?”
Alek took a breath, “I didn’t think you were controlled by anything.”
A smile dawned on her face, “I’m not controlled Alek. But I know that there are forces that work on us, all of us, that would guide us through our lives. The force that guides my life has given me everything I know and love in my life, including my time with you. I will not fight it now. The pull takes me away from here. Don’t hate me for that.”
He looked quickly away, “I could never hate you.”
“Nor I you.”
His hands tightened at his sides, “I just don’t understand why you have to go.”
Leilania stood and crossed the battlement to him. She took his head in both hands and leaned forward to plant a gentle kiss on his forehead. As she drew back, Alek’s eyes were wide and fragile.
She said, “Neither do I.”
And with that, she left him.
The journey south to Ursandova took nearly a month, during which Leilania had time to talk with the Waywatchers about their new country and its leaders. Some of the stories they told were difficult to believe. Most were even less believable.
What they found as they crossed the border was a nation in disarray. They learned from traders at ‘Fort Oleg’ that the baron had fallen in battle, and that with his death the baronry’s leadership had transferred to the High Priestess. At the transition, some of the outlying ridings of the nation had broken away from the central leadership. Leilania frowned at the developments.
A week later they were in the Capital Tuskendale, and Leilania and Nibbs were escorted into the city’s castle by a trio of guards in mismatched suits of armor. The name ‘Berrybrook’ led them to a small room beneath a set of stairs that smelled heavily of lamp oil and wine.
The guards knocked and announced themselves, and after nearly a minute of waiting a brown-haired, bleary-eyed man cracked the door. Lem looked past the guards to Leilania, commenting drowsily, “I like your bird.”
“I’m here for to join the Waywatchers.”
Lem perked up at the suggestion. He asked, “You’re here for the best job in the world?”
Leilania smiled, “I’m here to lead them.”