“So when did you meet mom?” Aranel asked, interestedly. “She didn’t live in the capitol, did she?”
“What about our mom?” Elirand piped up, “She came from a desert, how did you manage to meet her?”
“One at a time,” Eluisa reproved him mildly, “It was actually a little while before I met Viridia. I had decided to take a tour of the kingdom, and see all the sights…
I spent much of my time going between small towns in the east. Most of them, closer to the trade routes, were wealthier than the village in which I had spend my childhood, but many of them were nearly empty. The war had arrived here, and there were still places in which the ground had been burned black and nothing grew. In many more places, the people had simply fled, leaving their homes as echoing shells behind.
One such empty town was Aesolus, populated almost entirely by the young and the very old. The thatch roofs of abandoned houses were beginning to cave on the outskirts of town: fields lay fallow, greened only by weeds.
However, towards the northern end of the town, the homes were better kept and the sound of voices floated towards me.
The voices came from a small group of teenagers clustered around the local pond. I couldn’t tell what they were doing, but I noticed immediately that there were no adults or younger children present. They could all have been inside, of course, but I knew from the other towns I had seen that it wasn’t the case.
Those children had been even younger than me when the war began.
The town was very different than the one that I grew up in. Larger, for one thing, and from the fountains and the quality of the architecture, I guessed that it had once been far more prosperous as well.
It seemed that it was no longer so.
Upon approaching the group of children by the pond, I learned the name of the town – and everything else that they considered to be important about it. I also learned that my conclusions, unfortunately, had been right. When I asked if I could speak to their elders, I was informed that they had few elders of any description.
“Granddad’s out in the fields,” one girl informed me, “And there’s not really too many other people in town, just my cousins and me and a couple great-aunts.”
I had little desire to stay in such a deserted town for the night, but neither did I want to spend another night in the forest. In the end, the sinking of the sun decided me.
“Do you know of anywhere where I could stay the night?” I asked.
She considered it for a moment. “You could go to the Fairfields,” she eventually offered.
The home of the Fairfields was far finer than any in the village where I had grown up, but there was an unsettling quiet about it nonetheless. It was with some hesitation that I walked the length of the village green and entered the open archway that was the door.
Almost immediately after entering, I was greeted by a red-headed elven woman.”
“Hey, Achenar,” Elirand whispered loudly, “That’s your mom.”
Calanthe rolled her eyes at them, but Eluisa continued on as if she hadn’t heard.
“Viridia and her sister immediately welcomed me into their home.”
Now it was Achenar’s turn to interrupt, much louder than Elirand had.
“Wait, go back,” he said, “You said that wrong. Mom didn’t have a sister.”
“Maybe she didn’t tell you,” Elirand put in, earning him a glare from Aranel.
“And what makes you think she wouldn’t tell us, runt?” she accused, “This is our mom we’re talking about, not yours.”
“But if -”
“Do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?” Eluisa’s voice was level, yet it cut through the fight threatening to break out like a knife through butter. No one responded for a long minute, in which the chirping of the orchestra of crickets became painfully loud. Eluisa glanced once about the now-quiet circle, then smiled slightly.
Aranel thought that the smile did not quite reach her eyes, however, which seemed secretive and mysterious in the firelight. There was almost something sad about it, and for a moment, Eluisa, who she was used to thinking of as young compared to her own parents, suddenly looked much older than them all.
“Everyone has reasons for what they do,” Eluisa said simply, “But I was there, and I will tell you what I saw – if you want.”
Everyone was still, trying their very best to show her that they were behaving once more.
“Very well,” she continued, “Where was I? Oh yes…”
“Viridia welcomed me in, on both her own behalf and that of her sister, and began to question me about where I had come from and where I was going. I was surprised to find a person so close to my own age – I had imagined the “Miss Fairfield” that the teenagers in the town square spoke of to be well into her twenties, at least. I soon learned that instead, she was some months younger than me, and that her sister, Ryelle, had just turned eighteen.
The younger sister, Ryelle, listened to our conversation from a distance, nodding occasionally, but didn’t seem as if she really wanted to speak, preferring to let Viridia do the talking for her. Viridia explained that, ever since they had been children, Ryelle had been painfully shy, and that she’d eventually speak once she’d warmed up to me.
Of course, talk turned quickly to other topics, and soon enough I found myself relating a brief version of my travels to Viridia, while her sister looked on.
When I mentioned that I wanted to see the rest of the kingdom, and eventually reach places untouched by the war, she turned and smiled at her sister.
“We’ve always wondered what it would be like to escape the war,” she told me wistfully.
I told her that I had been traveling for a long time without ever finding a place besides the capitol that did not bear the marks of the war, even in the most remote valleys. The forest and the mountains themselves were the only things that appeared to have withstood it.
It was strange that, after having gone so long without friends of my own age who were not somehow related to me, I felt as if I knew Viridia by the time the three of us had dinner. We talked a lot about our earliest childhoods, the golden days before the war began, but the conversation always returned to my travels. In the end, through bits and pieces, I told her everything: growing up in the cottage with my mother, her archery and history lessons, the war, the bandits attacking, and her death. I told her about living with my grandmother and youngest aunt, who had lost her husband as well, and about the restlessness of knowing that there was no future for me in the village where I had grown up.
In the end, Viridia confessed that she had often felt the same way. Ever since she was a child, she had known that she wanted to find true love when she grew up, and have a perfect family. From the tales she told of her father and mother, she had a good example from which to draw on. She and Ryelle had lived an idyllic childhood, free to roam the town and always return to their loving parents whose prosperity and generosity had been well known to the rest of the townsfolk. Even those who couldn’t remember those days, such as the teenagers in the town square, followed the example of their elders in addressing Viridia and her sister with inherited respect.
But when the men of her village had marched off to join the army, most of them had never come back, and her father was one of them. Her mother held out hope for years that he was still alive, but in the end illness had overtaken her, leaving Viridia and Ryelle to fend for each other.
Perhaps, she finally suggested, she could find what she was looking for if she, too, followed my example and left her childhood home.
“I always wondered,” she told me with a smile, “What it would be like to see other villages, climb into the mountains, or walk along the edge of the sea. I just never would have thought of going on my own – our mother did not teach us to fight like yours did.”
It was clear what she wanted to ask. “You could come with me, if you like,” I told her, “Both of you.”
Ryelle smiled but did not say a word.
It was soon settled that I would stay for a few days, while Viridia and Ryelle made up their minds, and that I needn’t pay them anything. The sisters claimed to have more gardening and housework than usual, though the entire place was as neat as a pin.
It was the heavy, outdoor labor that they really needed help with, and that was also the work that I was most comfortable with. In fact, I helped out around the entire village during the days that I stayed with the Fairfield sisters – grooming horses, digging holes for fence posts, helping in the fields, and carrying firewood.
My intent was to give the sisters some privacy, since leaving their home might just be the biggest decision that they ever made.
However, my curiosity got the better of me one day, and I happened to overhear their discussion.
“I think we should leave,” Viridia told her sister quietly, “We’re not going to get another chance like this, and it would be too dangerous to go alone. We’d be safe with someone who knows the roads.”
Ryelle didn’t say a word, but she smiled and shook her head.
“Why not?” Viridia asked reasonably. “We’ve talked about leaving for ages and ages, ever since we were barely teenagers. We’re some of the last people living in a ruined town – there’s no future for us here. How are we ever going to get married and have families of our own when there’s no one else for miles and miles? How are we supposed to live our lives alone, always?” her voice rose unsteadily as she watched her younger sister shake her head slowly back and forth. “Don’t you want a normal life, Ryelle? Don’t you want what mom and dad had – love, and children, and -”
“I just can’t!” Ryelle burst out. “I just – I can’t leave, can’t just forget everything… It’s too dangerous out there, Viridia. I’m not brave enough.” The last words were said in a whisper.
“But you always said you wanted to go before…” Viridia replied in some confusion.
Ryelle shook her head again. “You know we never really would have left.”
“I don’t understand why you don’t want to do this… It’s the opportunity we’ve been waiting for all this time…” Viridia fretted.
“I never really wanted to leave,” Ryelle said in a small voice, “But I didn’t want you to leave on your own either.”
“I’ll stay -”
Though it was quiet, it was enough to make Viridia stop speaking.
“No,” Ryelle replied with a sad smile, “I can’t let you do that for me, Viri.”
“You said yourself that wouldn’t get another chance,” Ryelle replied, “Unless you go now, you’ll never find what you’re looking for. You wouldn’t be happy, growing old here alone.”
“But if I go, you’ll be alone,” Viridia protested.
“It doesn’t matter so much, for me,” Ryelle smiled at her sister bravely, “I don’t want these things the same way you do.”
“But what will you do?”
“I’ll figure something out.”
I wasn’t at all surprised when Viridia approached me with her eyes downcast and her face pensive to tell me that she would be coming with me alone.
There were very few goodbyes to be said, but still the leaving dragged on. I mentioned several times to Viridia that she didn’t have to come if she truly didn’t want to, but she was resolved that she couldn’t stay any longer.
From the long looks she continued to give her sister and the town surrounding us, I knew that it was the bravest thing she had ever done, leaving it all behind.
“Auntie Elu, why didn’t my real auntie come with?” Ana demanded, distraught, “Mommy couldn’t just have left her like that, could she? Or Mommy could have stayed behind so her little sister wouldn’t be alone -”
“Don’t be stupid,” Aranel cut in “If mom hadn’t left, she wouldn’t have met Dad, and none of us would have been born.”
“That doesn’t mean that just leaving people alone is all right…” Anariel pouted.
“Sweetheart, your mom had to make a choice,” Eluisa said. “And sometimes, when that happens, there’s no way that you can have everything. Sometimes you have to give up on one thing in order to have another. But I think that, in the end, your mom made the choice that was right for her, and your Aunt made a different choice.”
“People shouldn’t just give up and leave other people behind,” Ana muttered into her lap, but no one but Lydia heard.
“In any case,” Eluisa continued, “Viridia and I continued on through the mountains, stopping at small villiages when we could, but just as often camping out beneath the stars. In this manner, we eventually made our way to the sea. We had no final destination, but as we drew ever closer to the sea without escaping the shadow of the war, we agreed that perhaps the best way to escape the past would be to sail to the southern elven kingdoms.”
“There were few villages of elves upon the coast: ours was not a seafaring country. In the end, however, we managed to find a port of a decent size, though it, like most other villages that we encountered, was mostly empty. There was a ship headed towards the southern kingdoms in port, soon to leave, however, and it was a chance which we could not afford to miss. Between the two of us, we had just enough money for our passage.
Despite this, we both knew that, should we set foot on this ship, we would never return.
For myself, I was unconcerned. But I did wonder if Viridia knew what we were getting ourselves into. She was adamant, however, that she wanted to continue onwards with me.
“We’ve come this far and each village is as bad as the next,” she said to me, “If sailing to the southern countries is how we can find something better, then what’s stopping us from doing it?”
And because the alternative was defeat – to have left, to have seen the sea, and to have come back with nothing fixed and nothing changed, empty-handed save for our memories – I agreed.
So we boarded the ship with our few belongings and set sail for a land we had only heard of. It was not long before we discovered that we had a cabin mate, another young elven woman, though slightly older than ourselves -”
“Was it mom?” Elirand interrupted, “It has to be mom.”
Calla rolled her eyes at him. “If you’d stop interrupting, maybe you’d find out,” she said.
When the grumbling from Elirand had died down, Eluisa continued.
“The sailors were not fond of having us underfoot, so the better part of the beginning of our voyage was spent in our cabin with Chalimyra.”
“See, I told you!” Elirand burst out triumphantly.
“Fine, fine, you were right,” Calla replied, “Now will you shut up so we can hear the story?”
Once again, Eluisa continued on as if she didn’t hear their bickering. “Soon enough, Viridia and I had told our new cabin mate our stories – and the day came when she finally told us hers.
It all started when I asked her where she was sailing towards, and where she had come from.
“Originally, I come from the state of Arvis,” she replied seriously, “however, I do not expect I shall ever be able to go back, so I intend to seek my fortune on this side of the sea.”
“Why did you have to leave?” Viridia piped up, curiously. At first, I thought that our mysterious new friend would be offended, and not answer her, but when she finally began to speak we both realized that she had been pondering how best to tell her tale.
“I grew up in Arvis,” she began, “spending my winters in the family townhouse, and my summers in our villa on the beach. My parents were prosperous patricians, so it was only natural to them that I, as well as my brothers and younger sister, should be given the highest of education, and, when we were old enough, given positions in the city governance.
My position, luckily enough, was as an assistant to the under-consul. I did everything – checking accounts, looking up laws, and organizing our files, in the company of a handful of others – young patricians, mostly, who were likely to move up the ranks of the government along with me. It was there that I met Sayamar, who intended to be elected a magistrate within a few years, and from there proceed, with few interruptions, to the seat of consul. Both of us excelled at our work, so we soon were given increasingly difficult tasks.
Nevertheless, we two found ample time to enjoy all the delights that the city and surrounding countryside could provide to the young and wealthy. Young as we were, we were certain that, quite shortly, we would have infinitely more prestige and wealth.
Despite our distractions, we continued to gain prestige, and attracted the intention of one of our superiors. Soon, we were working more or less directly under our local senator. Sayamar, a born orator, was to devise speeches – I was to look over legal and monetary records. It wasn’t long before I found that the records I was required to file had huge gaps in them.
It was not very long after I began to make discreet inquiries that I discovered where that money was going.
Certain of my own cleverness, it never occurred to me to question whether I might be watched just as intently as I was examining these frauds. Nor did it ever cross my mind that my investigations lead directly into danger.
It was Sayamar who warned me in time. He said that he had overheard a conversation in which it was mentioned that a consulate had instructed one of their aides to begin investigations into the mysterious disappearance of funds belonging to the senator who we worked for. The Senator welcomed the investigator, pretending innocence, and mentioned that he had suspicions concerning the newest members of his staff, particularly those assigned to record his expenses.
I knew immediately that my investigations had not gone unremarked. I also knew that, no matter who knew that the senator had been involved in any sort of illegal activity, no charges would ever be brought against him. At his word against my own, the word of a senator of the empire would most surely win.
The only choice for me was to flee, and go into exile to save my family from the disgrace that my trial would burden them with.
I knew that I must flee at once, yet I was reluctant to leave without saying goodbye. Yet to leave without further word from my family would be considered both a confession of my guilt, and proof of their innocence – for a law-abiding family would not aid one of their own in escaping from Imperial Justice.
But all the same, I had to know whether or not I would be escaping alone.
“Leave as quickly as you can,” he advised me, “and don’t tell anyone. If you’re caught, don’t tell anyone that I told you.”
“Aren’t you coming with me?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No.” I gaped at him for a moment before he continued, “To flee with you would be to admit to the same crime – a crime that no one has ever even accused me of. I intend to remain. Why should I throw away my political career?”
So, with the stars above the desert as my witness, I fled across the sands towards a ship that would carry me far from the empire, alone.”
“Well, if you ask me, this Sayamar person was a major butt-wipe - I mean, jerk,” Elirand rephrased himself hastily when he got a pointed look from Eluisa for using such language in front of the little girls. “I’m glad mom left and married dad.”
There were nods of agreement from all around the fire.
“If the politicians were corrupt, why didn’t she just go to the newspaper and tip them off?” Aranel wanted to know. “Once everyone knew, what could they have done?”
Eluisa sighed, “Not all governments are like ours, Aranel. There were places in Elphemerea where a person could be executed should they speak out against their rulers. Arvis may have been a republic in name, but politics was a dangerous job there.”
There was silence for a while, broken only by the popping and snapping of the campfire.
“So that’s why mom wants to be a judge,” Calla finally mused, “Because, in the end, it’s the judges who have the power to keep politicians from breaking their own laws.”
After a long moment, Eluisa rose from her place by the fire. “The story isn’t over yet,” she told the children, who were waiting for her expectantly, “But we’ve been here for a long time, and I don’t know about all of you, but I’m getting hungry. Who wants to roast some marshmallows?”
Memoria Part 3
The next, and hopefully last, part of this chapter is a doozy, so it won't be out a month from now (yay for finals) but once I'm out of school I'll try very hard to make it come out before two months are up.