Monday, June 6

A Light Supper

Apparently, the Halfling concept of a “light supper” lasts two hours and is five courses. I like it here! Best of all, Dad didn't say one word about me watching what I eat! I tried to be polite, of course, but the dinner table was a battlefield. This is definitely the kind of cultural expirience I can enjoy. Momma is always yelling at me to eat more like a lady, which I think to her mind means not at all. I've always been able to eat a lot without gaining weight, but she constantly chides me. I'm really full.
Anyway, we brought the cart into the stable, and Dad was really, really careful with our stuff, like he didn't trust the stable hand at all. After that, we went in, through the human-sized door, and found Mr. Boflin behind the counter. After a brief reunion, Mr. Boflin called for a pair of porters to take our bags, and he took us up to our rooms. The Mountain Ash is the only human sized building, well multi-sized building in the town. It actually survived whatever disaster happened here a century ago, but nobody is alive who witnessed it. The King at that time had bigger problems. The first signs of the upcoming war were upon him, and it was draining his coffers to fight those battles. So he just had a team of priests bless the ruins, declared it a war grave, and let the Halflings take care of the mess. This building was rebuilt rather than torn down. And it is pretty amazing. I feel kind of odd when I'm in here. There are some spells built into the walls. I think that is how it managed to stay intact. It was a luxury in in the old city. There are even magic wells in the kitchen and baths for running water. Mr. Boflin said that the place was haunted, that there were strange lights and ghosts who walk the halls. He's considered having the clerics on top of the hill do an exorcism, but for the most part they are benign, and he says it “adds charm” to have a ghost at an inn like this.
The average-sized section of the inn was really quiet. He said that there was only one other guest, a merchant from Managan Town who delivered the fireworks for tomorrow's celebration. When I asked about it, he just laughed and said that I would see soon. Dad was watching the porters carefully. I don't think he was really listening. Since the human section was so empty, we were able to get really good rooms. Dad is next door, and the Merchant, Mr. Cobble, is on the far side of him. Down the hall is the toilet and next to me is the bath. Mr. Boflin left us to get settled and said that supper would be served soon. He said we should join him with the family in the kitchen, and Dad immediately accented. After Mr. Boflin left, I took a quick bath to get the road dust off of me. The bath is segregated into men's and women's sectcions, and is small, but really nice. The water comes from hot and cold fountains, and there is a big mercury mirror on one wall. I think it must be a lot of trouble for only three guests. After that, I got changed, and then wrote my last note. Gloria came and got me for dinner. She is the Bolfins' daughter. She's a few years older than me, but I guess because Halflings live longer, and age slower, she's about the same as me mentally. She watched me shut and lock the journal with a weird look on her face. On the way down to supper she asked me if the book was magic.
“It is, but it's just a simple spell, I think. Not like the ones in the bath. I can lock it so no one else can see what I write. My grandmother gave it too me. She said my grandfather bought it when I was born, and she'd been waiting to give it too me.” I said. We headed through the central lobby and into the restaurant.
“Is your grandmother well?” She asked as she passed through the middle door. She looked so tiny passing through the swinging door, which had no handle, that it was hard to think of her as Twenty.
I told her that she was, but the restaurant was filled with guests, either enjoying the last of their meals, or getting started on the first round of drinks for the evening. I don't know if she heard me over the din. I followed her through the crowd, feeling akwardly gigantic; something I've never felt before. At four and a half feet, I'm more than on the short side. Things were quieter in the kitchen, but not by much. The one team of cooks was finishing up with deserts and such, and the others were starting on a massive pile of dishes. There was a massive, low table at one side of the room. It was surrounded by Halflng-sized chairs. At one end, The other Boflins were in deep conversation with my father, and Tarry, Gloria's younger brother, was starring at covered dishes in anticipation. At the other end, employees that weren't busy were engaged in their own dinner conversations. Gloria took a seat next to her brother, chiding him to be on his manners, and I sat cross legged on a cushon net to my father, since the table was far to low for me to sit at a chair. The arrangement worked better than I had expected, and soon dinner was well underway.
We were almost finished when I suddenly realized something. I asked Gloria how she could tell that my journal was a magic item, and I got a big surprise.
“I studied a bit under Nanna when she was still with us, so I can cast a few simple spells like that.” She said simply. Dad and Mr. Boflin turned back to us.
“Gloria's being modest. She'll be starting at apprentice level when the two of you get to Carabos.” I felt a surge of excitement. I was worried I would be feeling homesick and alone, in a far away city. I'm glad I won't be doing this on my own. Gloria said she would look out for me at school, but she could already tell that I had lots of potential. I felt a little panic at that, but I can't say why. It was just a bad feeling. Does she know that I've done magic without any control?


This is just a quick note before I head down to supper. Dad surprised me by stopping for the night in Shadyborough. I thought the plan was to continue on the Lyssander-Paladine road. From once we were across the border, I was going to catch a ship to Carabos, and Dad was going to go on down to Tungahl Hill and visit Lydia and Gavin. I was napping in the back of the cart when I felt us change direction, and the ground underneath us changed from the heavy thud of packed earth to the quick, sharp sound of paved stone.
The road was narrower, and the hedges that grew along each side, like a green wall, were small and well kept. We were entering a shire. Dad said we were taking a detour, and staying with old friends. I guessed then that we were going to visit the Bolfins.
The Bolfins are old family friends, and they own an inn in Shadyborough, the Mountain Ash. They did a lot of business with my father during the lean years, when my father had just started up the shop in Lyssander and we were struggling under the label of an "ethnic" store. We owe them a lot.
The Boflins have visited us before in Lyssander, but I've never been out to visit them. I'm really excited to be here. The town was a lot different than I expected, though. For the most part, Litihia is a human kingdom. Lyssander, for example, is almost completely a human city, although there are a few Dwarven and Gnomish craftsmen in the city. There aren't any communities of the other peoples here. Except in Shadyborough. The town is almost totally a halfling shire. It's a neat place, so far. Almost every available surface is given over to farming. I even saw a few houses with corn growing on the roof! The other strange thing, to me, is that most buildings are built on half scale, although mostly they are the same sort of style as a human city. Dad said that Humans and Halflings are probably the most closely related of the five peoples. It was a strange feeling for me, though. It was the first time I've ever really felt tall.
Once we got to the town walls, which couldn't have been five feet, we had to wait while the guards asked us questions. Through the little towers, I could see a great big, grassy hill, dotted with oak trees. Dad told me that it was fake, that the Halflings had raised it on the spot when they settled here. There were lots of other carts waiting outside the gate, as well. At first, I thought this was just because it was getting dark. Most towns are shut at sundown to keep marauders, goblins, or other night-dwelling monsters out. Not that there's much of that around here, though. When we got through the gate, I saw it was because they were setting up some sort of festival! Along each side of the road, little tents were being raised, and tables were being set up on the lawn of the village green.
Inside, I could see that Dad was right about the hill. It was actually the central structure of the town. The road wound around it, and it was covered in doors and windows. What I had taken in the fading sunset to be retaining walls for the road were actually the walls to people's houses. Eventually, we got to the inn, a free standing stone building on the other side of the hill. It really didn't match the other buildings. It had three doors of different sizes, and the the windows didin't match. Dad said that the Inn was older than the current town, and that it was built for lots of different sized people. Oh, that's the call for supper. More later.

Travel Musings

I'm still on the cart. I'm here in the back with my luggage and the itchy, itchy hay. I don't even know why we have all this hay. I guess it is to feed the horses, but we gave them oats when we stopped for lunch. I don't even know the name of the town, if it had one. It wasn't much to look at. There was just a general store, a tavern, and a little church at a crossroad. We ate at the tavern, again, without a name. It seemed like it was the only place around for miles. It was dark, dirty and the other eaters, locals, I guess, stared at us the whole time. Dad watched the cart through the dusty little window. I mostly stared at my plate. We're still in Lithia, and we will be until tomorrow night, at least. Our red hair marks us as Hydian, so maybe that was why they stared. Or we could have simply been "outsiders." I don't know. It seems strange to me that there could be a place like this less than seven hours ride from home.
It is starting to sink in that I'm not going to see Lyssander again for a long time. Probably a year at least. Of course, I might wash out. I don't even want to think about that, though. I didn't really understand what was happening when we left our home in Hydria. It felt like a grand adventure, rafting down the river with danger at our backs, like in the stories my grandfather used to tell in front of the fire. He had been somewhat of a hero in his day, and had fought orcs and goblins in the mountains. He came back having lost his left arm, but with enough treasure to keep our family comfortable and to start his own business. I think he was glad when that Dad chose to follow him as a merchant and not a warrior, but he never stopped looking out at the mountains. His shield and spear hung over the fireplace when I was a child, but when he died, we buried them with him. He passed away when I was eight. I was really sad, but everyone said that it was a goodness that he didn't have to evacuate. I sometimes think that he would have strapped on that old shield, and ran the other way, towards the army that he had fought time and again in his youth.
But it's a different world, now. No one quite knows how different, yet. The War left a big mess, but a lot of opportunity as well. At the Battle of World Spine mountains, the The Destroyer fought the Dwarf god, the Defender. They wrestled without weapons, and the result of their hand-to-hand combat carved out giant new passes and deep ravines. Explorers went through and discovered a whole continent of undiscovered civilizations! It was the first sign of the new age, so the third-age calendar is usually started from the year of that battle, which is, actually, the year I was born. I don't know if this new world is one where there can still be adventurers like my grandfather, but I hope so.

Sixteenth Birthday

My name is Lizzeth Vernes, and today is my sixteenth birthday. When I was a little girl, I always thought about what today would be like. When Lydia turned sixteen, Daddy threw her a big party, with fancy clothes and food and all that. I was seven, and I was allowed to stay up and watch the fireworks he had arranged. Seeing those magic fires scorch the sky is one of my happiest childhood memories. Sometimes I think I spent my whole life waiting for a party like that for me.
Of course, that was in the good times, when we still lived in Hydraaltowne. It was back in the "Second Age," when we could still ignore the troubles of the world, for the troubles of the world hadn't reached us then. When things got bad, when the orcish hordes breached the northern walls, we fled in our boats, down the hydra tail river. That was when I was nine.
Things were more difficult when we finally dropped anchor in the port city of Lyssander. The Lithians were cold to us, and the journey had left us penniless. But Dad dug in, and we all helped. He used to say that a merchant makes profit, not excuses. I thought he was a wizard, that he could pull gold form the air. And it seemed like he could. Things were hard, but they got better. We opened a new shop, and if it wasn't quite as successful as the one in Hydraal, then we still lived comfortably enough. The news in those times was dark, though.
The Orcish army seemed unstoppable, led by the Destroyer, their dark god, himself! There was a hasty alliance of the Five Peoples against him, but mistrust ran deep between them all. The Lithian Army called for soldiers, and they sent for the Hydrians first. Dad was too old to fight, but they took him anyway, at the point of a spear. I remember running crying after the conscript wagon. I was shouting and crying. I hated the Lithians then. I hoped something horrible would happen to them. It was then that the first strange thing happened. Something bit one of the oxen, I think, and it went wild. the cart crashed and one of the drivers was killed. He was flung off and broke his neck. Dad's leg got broken, and so he was forced to stay behind. I was twelve. Everyone said what a strange event it was. I didn't say a thing. But I'll write it here, what I've never said to anyone. Somehow, I did it. I wanted it to happen, and it did. It felt like, I don't know, reaching out with a hand I don't have. It's hard to explain. But I was sure, and I still am, that I was responsible for that man's death.
Dad's leg didn't completely heal well, so he still walks with a limp. He stayed home through the war. I remember that our house was strained then, always fearing the dark influences that came from the gods walking in the world. Eventually they all fought together, and the Halfling Goddess did cut out at his right eye, and the Human God smote him upon the left leg, and the other Gods took him home to the world beyond worlds, and left us mortals to clean up after their messes.
But as I was saying, at home, there were strange lights, and strains of music, and sometimes the plates would jump, or the doors would slam in empty rooms on still days. Momma thought the house was haunted, and called in a priest. When he finally came, a pale man in dark robes who looked more at his own nose than at us, he said he could find no presence here, and a few other things about Hydrians that I won't repeat here. We thanked the cleric coldly and watched him go. But Grandmother watched me instead. I think that even then she knew.
I don't know how she convinced my father, but it was a long argument. It must have been months, but in the end, she had her way. I was to be sent away to school. Up to now, I had been taught in the local schools, or by my mother and grandmother when we traveled down the river. I was perfectly happy with my education, and I said so.
"Ah," but my grandmother had said. "This is a different education. You'll be going to wizardry school." This took me by surprise. Lithians don't like mages, and ones found are considered witches here. Needless to say, I took to the idea immediately. So my sixteenth birthday party was a going away party. They made some secret of where I was really going, of course. They said I was going to live with my Sister and her husband.
Today I'm sixteen, and I'm sitting on the back of a cart filled with hay, headed for the Mage's city of Carabein, in far distant Carbos.