Sabledrake Magazine

November, 2004

 

 

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Ranala's Story

Copyright 2004 Christine Morgan


I do not know if this writing of mine might ever be found, or if found, then done so by those able to decipher it. My people, in other words. My fellow survivors or their scattered descendants who may yet live to carry on our ways. Perhaps I write this more for myself than for them. Perhaps none shall ever come here and my work as well as my words shall be forever lost, forever forgotten, as the wheel of the world rolls ever on.

If that is so, then so may it be. Such is in the hands of the gods. Yet as I move on from this place, I must leave some record for those who may follow. Whether it means much to them or little, whether the aeons pass and my poor words are but a moldering curiosity for scholars of some distant age or whether they might yet have wisdom and value, I still must let this portion of my tale be told.

But where to begin? An accounting of my youth would be a futile vanity, for the Ranala who lived in the golden city is a memory almost foreign to the woman I have become. Oh, I could fill pages and pages with the glory of Govannisan, but to what avail? What would be the use of recalling its bright walls, its gardens and orchards, its fountains? That place is no more. It is perhaps better that it fade into legend.

And yet I remember it. Even now, it is fresh in my mind despite the passage of years. I grieve for that city as I grieve for my Rathel. My heart knows the truth and has always known it, much as that ever-hopeful corner of my mind may dare to dream that it was not so complete a destruction. It is folly to think that those who stayed were victorious, that they dwell still in Govannisan and wait for our return.

Folly, because he would have come for me. He swore it to me, and had he been able, I know that not seas nor mountains nor trackless desert should have kept him from his oath. Only death could have done that.

Rathel, my love, song of my soul. How magnificent he was on that final day, and yet how tender. If I am to write any memory of the city it must be that one. Of our parting. It pierces me as thought it had been only yesterday. Rathel so fierce in his armor of scarlet and black, his snowy hair blowing on the smoke-scented wind and the set of his jaw so very grim.

Yet his eyes his eyes were gentle. And his words, and his touch. As he held me to him and kissed my brow, my cheek, my lips. As he pressed a hand to where our child slumbered, so tiny and new that not even the hint of a curve had begun to swell my waist. "If I live," he told me, "I will find you. This by sword and shield I vow."

He slipped from his finger to my own the ring of his order, and closed my hand around it for it was too large. I held to it so tightly that the sigil upon it impressed into my palm and let him lift me into the basket. And then the gentleness was gone from him as he donned his helm and took up his weapons and rallied his soldiers with a great cry.

Did they all die, I wonder? Those brave men and women whose unflinching duty it was to remain behind, not so much in defense of a city that was already doomed but to allow the rest of us a chance at flight, escape, life? How many others made promises such as my husband made unto me, and how many of them fulfilled those promises?

And how many, like myself, waited and hoped for a day that would never come?

I had a portion of him still, in our son. That was more consolation than many might have known, for I at least could look on my boychild and see the mirror of his father in his hair, in his eyes, and to a lesser extent in his face. For he never in all his young life had a look so grim. He never took up a sword or armor or went to war.

Oh, as painful as it is to think and write of Rathel, it is a thousand times moreso to think and write of Elgovan. A warrior's mate knows what is at risk, and must accept that near surety of fate. A parent cannot. Even should one's child become a warrior as well, somehow we feel and believe that our very love will grant a protection more powerful than the divine. That an exception will and must be made.

Elgovan, my darling son. No warrior, not in the way his father would have reckoned, but neither was he weak, nor helpless. He had his training by running with the gazelle, swimming with the river-dolphin, climbing with the lemur, hunting with the leopard. Too, he trained with Seema herself, and made of his body a weapon so refined that he needed no other. I believe that Rathel would have been proud to behold him, proud to call him a child of his blood.

Idos murdered him.

Idos the Starver. So the Rumeli called him, and Idos loathed me with a terrible fury. It was my work that so displeased him. He liked nothing better than to bring plagues of blight and withering, so that the people were thin as sticks with the bloated bellies of those near to dying. Their suffering amused him and he liked nothing better than to see them fighting for scraps of rotted fish or chewing hard stalks of blister-grass for sustenance even as it killed them.

My work cost me my son. Had I not come among the people and shown them how to plant and tend, harvest and store, Idos would not have marked me enemy. He would not have brought forth the snakes.

The bite of them filled the veins of the Rumeli with a venom that struck them a hideous ailment. No more could they take sustenance from the fruits of the earth, which only passed through them undigested. No more could the meat of animals assuage their hunger. A different hunger ruled them then.

Idos of the Cannibal-Bite, he became, for unless they ate of their own kind, the people became raving and emaciated, skeletons with skin, before dying in agony. And Idos set his snakes upon me as well. He may have wanted to inflict me with this curse, knowing that I would have slain myself first. But Elgovan put himself between us, and the fangs struck him instead even as he wrung their necks and stamped the life from them.

The venom to this day, I do not know if it was better that way. It did not affect us as it affected the Rumeli. To us, it proved to be a poison so swift and so lethal that Elgovan was dead perhaps before he felt the pain of the bite.

He was spared the curse of the cannibal-hunger, and he was spared the knowledge of his death. In that, I suppose I must take what cold comfort is offered. It was quick, and he did not suffer.

And Idos? As he stood amid his snakes? I shot forth thorns from my hands, sure and sharp as any arrows. Never had I done such a thing and never would I again, but in that moment my loss was too great for any thought of mercy. The thorns tore him and his screams pleased me more than any music. He fell apart into a wriggling multitude of snakes and sought frantically to escape.

By then Terlion had come with his birds, and the sky was darkened with them and the air filled with their shrieks as they dove and snatched up the snakes, and with their talons rent them until a ghastly rain of their blood fell. And in each place where their blood struck the soil, I felt it burn and spread like a fire. I reached out to counter it else all the land be made bare.

Flowers sprang up in a scattering. Petals red as blood, leaves as banded in shades of brown and gold as had been the scales of the snakes themselves. I had somehow so undone the power of Idos that the flowers themselves became a cure to the cannibal-hunger. The Rumeli the Ran'ta, as they came to call themselves in an honor of which I deem myself undeserving were spared. They from that very day eschewed all meat and devoted themselves to the farming of crops.

The flowers could not save Elgovan. Nor could I, not with all the mother's love that I possessed. Terlion would have had me send him away, to the place where in the end we were all agreed to lie in death, but I could not bear to do so. Elgovan had never known of that place, and I had never seen it. Was I to send my son ahead of me, away from his home and the land he had loved, while I remained with my work unfinished?

I refused to let his death be in vain. I would see the land bloom and be bountiful, that the Rumeli would never know starvation again. To have abandoned my work in my grief would have been to surrender a victory to Idos.

Not all of the snakes had perished. Not all had fallen prey to the beaks and claws. I could not chance that the core of Idos might be among them, that he might return to strength.

And so I remained, keeping Elgovan near to me. I did not inter him as was custom, for the thought of his fair and youthful body succumbing to decay was beyond bearing. At that time I yet hoped for Rathel to come, and would have wished him to look upon the face of his son.

I brought Elgovan to the tree that had been his very first to plant, when he was no more than a toddler with his little spade and his wish to be a help to his Vali. How proud he'd been of that crooked sapling! It became his tomb, to preserve him as he had been in the very hour of his death.

As the years have gone by, I have come to wonder if this was right or wrong of me. Was it selfishness that I could not let my only child be taken so far away? Defiance against Idos, against fate? A hope so fleeting I could not even admit it to myself that someday the gifts of our people might become so great that the songhealers could bring him back from beyond the edge of death?

None of that matters now. The loss of him is still an ache in my soul but I can no longer remain here. My work is done. The land is lush and the Rumeli have learned what I offered. My spell-weavings to forestall famine have been completed and the crown with its message has been sent.

There comes a time when any parent, patron, or tutor must step back and know that enough has been done. As Terlion knew when the fledglings were ready to fly or fail on their own, so too is it that time for the Rumeli. Most of our people have already left them to their own devices. We have accomplished what we set out do to and helped them to become free of their savagery.

We, like Govannisan, would perhaps do better to pass into legend. Only a few of us lingered this long. Kelev and I are the last, I believe. He sought me out, and seeing him grown not just to manhood but to greying maturity made it clear to me how many years had passed. I knew from the seasons, but that number meant nothing to me until I saw the lined face of one I best remembered as a boy playing at blocks with the Karzi children.

Perhaps it is because we did linger the longest, but Kelev and I are reluctant to do as our companions have long since done. We have decided together that we will not go to the meeting-place. We were young, and now are old, and those who were our elders will have died. Their children may know of us from stories but will have no need of us. Instead, we intend to go wherever our paths take us. The Rumeli have prospered and spread over the lands. Perhaps somewhere, there are tribes who might benefit from our wisdom and skills.

With this, I therefore leave the last of my former life behind. Rathel, Elgovan, my love for you as wife and mother has never dimmed. When my weary years are over, may the gods bring us together.

 

Ralana

 

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