A Heart in Exile – The Song of the Dead Past – Part 1
The fire was cracking merrily in the middle of the small camp. A human woman dressed in leather armour, blue-green tunic and pants and dark brown riding boots was sleeping next to it, her head resting on a cloth over a round wooden shield. A tall, slim, blond elf was looking at her, sitting on the other side of the fire, his hands resting on his knees.
Theodas Loracaryn was keeping a careful watch of the surrounding area. They had made camp in the clearing of the small forest near the mountains. A river was chanting nearby, and the sound of birds taking wing surrounded him. His bow and quiver full of arrows were laid next to him, and his scimitar was set across his lap, ready for use.
Theodas knew that the woman, Jehan Isemberd, was a light sleeper and would wake at the first sound of an alarm. He had discovered that only a fortnight passed when he accidentally fell asleep during his watch, and a hungry wolf had approached their camp, hoping for food. Jehan had sprung out of her bedroll, holding a dagger in hand and attacked the wolf head-on. The poor beast had been terrified and fled the scene without a second thought for its potential dinner. Theodas did not have time to grab his scimitar before it was already over.
Gods, she had screamed at him for that… She was right, of course. He had been his fault, and it could have ended way worse than it did. He should not have fallen asleep on the watch like this, and he admitted to his mistake. Jehan was rough and demanding, but she was very just and never held a grudge beyond the next morning. In that regard, she reminded Theodas of his eldest sister, Althaea. She had the same passion and fury in her, the same drive and willpower that was admirable to his eyes.
Three months had passed since their meeting back at Mirktongue’s cottage, and their adventure together had gotten more and more dangerous every day that passed. They had crossed path with a pack of goblins and orcs who had attacked a merchant’s caravan. The people of the caravan had been slaughtered, and the goblins and orcs were now arguing over the spoils of the fight. Jehan and Theodas had fallen upon them like a storm. Theodas arrows missed a few targets, but overall he did a pretty good job. Jehan, however, had been remarkable, taking on four enemies at the same time, hacking and slashing left and right with her sword and bashing her foes away with her shield. The fight had lasted over half an hour before the remaining orcs and goblins decided to fall back. Theodas had meant to give chase and ride them down, but Jehan was firmly against it.
“They’re cutting through the forest to lose us. The shade of the trees will hide the light of the sun. Forest ground is treacherous, and we could break one of the horses’ legs on a wrong move, tripping over a rock or a root, or get smacked in the face by a branch.” she had argued. “Too risky, and they are still too many. I counted at least ten of them fleeing.”
“You killed almost as many. And I killed at least half that number. We could easily take them on.” Theodas replied.
“We had the advantage of surprise, and there was no chance for us to make a bad fall due to the terrain. Going through there is unsafe, trust me, Theo.” she answered back.
Theodas had sighed and conceded. He could see her point, of course, but his heart was telling him to give chase and make sure these scums would never harm another living being again.
They had gathered up the slain and took what little they had left behind. A few coins of silver and gold, a small sack of grains, a small wooden flute and a bottle of dwarven ale. The rest of the wagon had either been smashed in the fightings or taken by the survivors.
Jehan had walked towards the pile of bodies and was looking around them with care.
“You lost something?” asked Theodas.
“We have to bury them. Give them a proper send-off. It’s not right to leave them for the wolves or the crows…” Jehan had replied.
Theodas joined her next to the pile of bodies and shrugged at her worry.
“Crows and wolves got to eat too, you know? Life is harsh for everyone, and the dead won’t mind.”, he had answered.
Jehan had turned to him with a shocked expression on her face.
“Theo! Those were living people! That man had been a small boy at some point. He had dreams, wishes, hopes, worries… Like you and me!”, she has lashed out at him.
“You want to bury them? Where do you see the good ground for that?” Theodas had said back at her, irritated. He kicked the ground with his foot making a small thump noise. “And the ground’s too hard for digging anyway!”
“So you want to leave them to be eaten?”
“If these people wanted a decent burial. They should not have gotten themselves killed in winter.”, Theodas said a bit louder. “You were against going into the woods because that would be illogical. I know woods, I know seasons, I know grounds… This one here… is too hard for digging.”
“Right, then. You seem to know your stuff; you’re probably right. We’ll burn them.”, Jehan replied with a gentle smile.
Theodas sighed again.
“I only wish that if we die on this gods forsaken road, we get someone like you who’s determined to see us properly sent off… They’re not many like you.”, he had said with an amused chuckle.
“Thanks, sweetheart. I’ll take it as a compliment.”, Jehan had said with a smile as she headed to the wagon to gather wood for a pyre.
Theodas had smiled then, but now he was thinking back on that conversation… Something odd was happening within him, he knew.
He had felt it slowly rising in his mind and soul. He knew what it was, of course, even if he could not admit to it… ever. He was attracted to her. Jehan was not the most beautiful woman you could lay eyes upon, but she was pretty indeed. She had a slender and athletic body that moved with grace when she walked or fought and a charming smile that she would reveal several times a day.
Theodas was sitting near the fire, his gaze dropping in the flames, his thoughts fixed on Jehan… and on Ranala… He could still feel the warmth of her lips and the delicate perfume her hair left behind her when she left a room. He could remember her face, almost as perfectly as if he had just seen her the day before… But he had noticed the change… The hand of time that had started to take its course over his memories… A curl, the line of her ears… some parts of her were beginning to fade, and Theodas feared that one day, time would take the sound of her voice, the colour of her skin and the warmth of her eyes away from him.
A cry in the night startled him. It was far away in the distance, far beyond the forest itself, yet it had come clearly to his ears. A woman screams… He had sensed the fear and distress in her voice… Whoever she was, she needed help.
Jehan awoke at the sound of the cry, rising swiftly, sword in hand. She was looking in every direction to locate the sound of the scream. But Theodas knew with certainty… It came from the south-east… Further along the path, they were taking.
A part of him wanted to mount up his horse and ride on to save her, but another, more powerful and reasonable urged him to stay put, for caution and thoughtful actions. Whatever had attacked that woman would have probably killed her by now. The forest at night is an unforgiving place, and as the seconds passed, Theodas could not hear another sound coming from the darkness of the trees…
“What was that?!!”, asked Jehan.
“A woman. She was screaming…”, replied Theodas with a distant voice.
Jehan looked at him.
“Do you know from where?”
“I do. But it is too late now. She must be dead already”, Theodas answered as he turned his gaze to her. “Whatever attacked her, it had time to finish the job by now.”
Jehan nodded and sat back down next to the fire, her sword resting on her lap. Theodas turned to the fire and added a few sticks of wood into it. The flames engulfed them, and the fire cracked merrily at the prospect of more food.
“You should get some sleep Theo…”, said Jehan in a soft voice. “I can take this watch.”
“I’m fine.”, answered Theodas, avoiding her gaze.
“No, you are not! I can see it in your eyes! You barely sleep, even for an elf! You eat only when I force you to…”, she replied. “I am worried about you, Theo.”
Theodas turned his gaze to her and looked straight into her eyes through the flames.
“We’ve been travelling together for weeks now… And still, you don’t open to me.”, Jehan continued in the same soft tone. “Your adventure has become mine as well, Theo… Don’t you understand? I will go to the end of the world with you if that’s what it took to find your wife…”
“Why?” Theodas interrupted.
“What do you mean?”
Theodas fed another stick into the fire, keeping his gaze locked into hers.
“Why do you help me? You have nothing to gain of it…”, Theodas said.
Jehan smiled slightly at that.
“I don’t do adventures to gain anything from them…”, she replied.
“Then why do you do them? Don’t you have a family, a house, a life somewhere else?”
Jehan’s face darkened at those words as she dropped her gaze into the fire.
“I did once. It was a long time ago…”, Jehan replied.
Theodas sat in front of the fire and crossed his legs. He poured a cup of dwarven ale for himself and another for Jehan that he passed to her.
“If you are so intrigued to know more about me, Jehan… Let’s make a deal. I get to ask one thing about your past, and you get to do the same with me afterwards. Do we have a deal?”
Jehan took a sip of the ale before answering, taking her time to gather her thoughts on the matter.
“Very well… Ask what you wish to ask.”
“Did you have a family?”
“I lived with my mother and my younger brother. My father had left for another woman when I was very young, and my mother never remarried. So it was the three of us at home.”, she answered promptly.
Theodas nodded, took a sip of ale and gestured in Jehan’s direction for her to ask her question.
“How long have you been married?”
“Nine years, four months, three weeks and two days. We married in Waterdeep a few months after I arrived in Faerun.”, Theodas said. “I remember how warm the weather had been… Way warmer than you would expect for a day of Autumn.”
“Where did you live?”
Theodas raised an eyebrow to the question but did not flinch. Instead, he smirked softly.
“We built a small house, half an hour ride away from Waterdeep. It was not much, but it was home.”, he answered. “However… You asked two questions instead of one, so it is my turn to ask, and you owe me two answers.”
Jehan smiled at that and drank another sip of ale.
“When did you leave the farm?” Theodas asked after a moment of silence.
“I was twelve. I left with a bag of food, my mother’s horse and a scimitar”, she answered.
“A scimitar? Where on Earth would you get a scimitar at that age?!”
Jehan took a long sip of ale and looked right into Theodas’ eyes.
“When I was twelve, a band of Kobolds came rushing onto the village where I lived. They came to steal food and supplies. They settled in small caves, a few miles downstream from our village. At first, they were just a small nuisance but then as they grew in numbers, they became bolder and bolder…”, Jehan said, her voice thick with anger. “They started snatching babies away… Taking them back to their caves, probably to eat them. The villagers tried to put up a fight, but they were outnumbered. The party they had sent to retrieve the kidnapped children had been slain before they even reached the caves.”
Jehan paused in her story to take another sip of ale. Her hand was trembling slightly.
“The village folks had begged my mother to come to the village. Our farm was away from it, and they could not protect us; they kept saying… My mother wouldn’t hear about it. It was her land, her house, her life. And the villagers could not defend themselves against the Kobolds anyway so what the difference was? So we stayed.”
Jehan stopped in her speech and looked down at her sword. Theodas held himself from talking. He knew it was hard on her to say these words, but the door of memories was opening, and the waters were rushing out of it now.
“My brother was four when they took him. They came into our house one night and snatched him from his room. My mother tried to stop them. She took her bow and arrows and shot at them. So they killed her… They opened her belly and throat and let her bleed out on the kitchen floor. While all that was happening, I hid under the bed, crying…”, Jehan continued, her voice cracking and tears appearing in her eyes. “When they left, I came out from under my bed, and I found my mother. She was already long dead… Her blood had turned black, and her skin was grey and cold when I touched it. Her bow was broken near her. They also had killed the dog. I found him on the front porch in a puddle of his blood… There was just one Kobold there. Dead, shot through the chest by mom… They had left him in their hurry to get away… And so I managed to grab the scimitar…”
Jehan drank a long sip of her ale in one go. Theodas looked at her; jaw clenched, fighting tears. She turned to him after emptying her cup.
“I think I wouldn’t mind a second one, after all…”, she said.
Theodas grabbed the cup and poured a generous amount of ale into it. As he gave the cup back to her, Jehan looked as pale as a ghost.
She took the cup from Theodas’ hands and gulped a long sip of ale. She almost choked on it and streams of ale came running down her chin. She wiped it with the back of her sleeves before turning to Theodas.
“I left the village, but they would not have me. They were too scared. They cast me away, cursing my family and me and threatening to kill me if I ever returned.”, she said, anger flashing in her eyes.
“And did you?”, asked Theodas after a small pause.
“Not your turn to ask a question. Rules are rules. What do you hope will happen when you find your wife again?” she replied.
Theodas looked into the fire and took his time before finally answering.
“I don’t know. I want to find her… And come home.”, he answered.
“To Waterdeep?” she asked.
Theodas shook his head and swallowed a sip of his drink.
“Waterdeep is where I settled in Faerun. But home is in Evermeet. Where I met Ranala for the first time… Where I used to be with my brothers and sisters.” he replied after a moment of thinking.
“How was your life in Waterdeep?” Jehan asked.
Theodas looked at Jehan with a particular amusement. Rules were rules, she said, yet she was not applying them at all.
“It was a good life. Good ground, a good place to tend to your crops and herbs. I would make my living by selling medicinal herbs to the town. She would help me in tending to them. We weren’t extremely rich, but we had a good hearth, good food and we loved each other.”, Theodas said with a smile.
Jehan smiled gently.
“It does seem nice. Just missing the children to complete the picture.”
Theodas face must have shown the change in his heart at these words for Jehan smile vanished utterly. The elf felt his heart squeezing in his chest, and his fingers go numb. It was as if years of grief he had tried so hard to bury in his mind had suddenly resurfaced from the dead.
“Yes… just missing the children.”, said Theodas.
Jehan put her cup down and sat next to Theodas, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“What’s going on?” she asked softly.
Theodas looked at her, right into her eyes. He didn’t know if he could trust her. After all, they knew each other for just a few weeks, and she could still betray him. Yet, something in her eyes convinced him. A gentle kindness that comes from a love that is not only care but loyalty. At that instant, Theodas knew that Jehan meant her words every time she proclaimed her devotion to him. Without a shred of doubt, she would jump into the fires of hell to save him… even at the risk of her demise.
“I… Let’s not talk about it now… You should get some sleep… Dawn won’t be long now.”, Theodas replied with a voice thick with grief.
Theodas managed to bring a weak smile on his face, but Jehan was not fooled. She knew, deep down, yet respected her friend’s wish to not talk any longer about it.
She turned back to her sleeping bag and sat on it once more. She took her cup and drank the whole fill before lying down and resting her head on the wooden shield.
Theodas listened to the murmurs of the woods and the whistling of the burning wood. His heart ached. Yet, he knew it had been so for years and would continue to be so probably forever.
Some wounds never heal…