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Shackles of the Past
*****NB: This takes place after our first foray into the barrow, when we withdrew (always strategically) to St. Rufinus to regroup.*****

The Wayward Gull was almost empty at this hour of the morning, but I still felt as if I was the object of a million and one eyes. (The guy seated at the corner of the bar gumming his own wrist had only one eye, hence the odd number.) It was not so-late-it's-early, but actually early; I awoke early that morning, well before the dawn broke, and I came down to the bar to be alone with my thoughts. And to escape Grünthok's snoring. I felt a certain camaraderie with the man, though, seeing as we were most often holding the front lines, allowing the spell casters to wave their hands in the air like goons. But I'm not grumbling. Anyhow, maybe he had a deviated septum or something; I'm not judging, I'm just discreetly removing myself from the immediate vicinity. However, I did thank all divinities I could conjure at the moment he didn't smell like he sounded; those porcine beasts my father and I encountered on one of our infrequent forays to an outlying hamlet in the lowlands were foul.

That thought, of course, naturally led me to thoughts of my father. I love my father, because do we ever stop loving, even when those we love are gone? My father was a handsome man, as befits the local lord, but kind, which is not always the case with men in his position. We lived in the manor of a little hamlet called Tyrnen Tarwyll, of course named after our family, for we had been the nobility in the area for many centuries. Ostensibly we "ruled" the town and surrounding areas, but my father taught me and my brothers that no one could rule another person. Those were his words, anyway; in actuality we did rule, because centuries had taught the men in my family that if they swaggered a lot and wore fine clothing they could do almost whatever they pleased. In consequence, although my father was a fair man, our family's history with the townsfolk was... spotted, at best. For the most part, though, the townsfolk recognized my father as a kind and just lord, so there were few problems (our town had the requisite ruffians that had to be thrown in the gaol from time to time, for instance, but they were fairly harmless).

Thoughts of my father unleashed an unwelcome torrent of the past, and I struggled to keep my head above water as memories of my mother, my brothers, and our little province in the mountains threatened to drown my heart in sorrow.

This fringed on brooding and even though I had started to scratch a solitary word game in the viscous remains of some spilt beer--the Gull was a cleaner, quieter, and overall nicer establishment than the Dancing Goat, but the trappings of a bar in business (such as the occasional spilt beer) pervaded, as spilt beer is wont to do--I was still drowning in my sorrow. I decided to take a walk through town, to breathe some fresh air, or whatever air there chanced to be; the Gull was stifling to my lungs, my body still--even after five years--longing for the clean mountain breezes of my home. I made my way around jumbled tables and out into the street, which was blessedly quiet at this hour. I've always liked being up and about early; the world has a different nature when most of it is asleep. Along with the diminished chance of actually having to talk to anyone, the atmosphere has an almost magical quality, like you're looking at everything through the turquoise-shaded sensibilities of a dream, and all with soothing distance but the clarity of potential immediacy. I walked past sleepy shops with curtains hiding their wares and other establishments--bakers and butchers, mostly--already bustling with the day's work. As I turned a corner, I was abruptly confronted with a large glass mirror in a store window, shining with pre-dawn anticipation of the sunlight that would soon flood the street. It startled me, because of its similarity to the woman-high looking-glass that had hung in my dressing room at home. It was shaped in a tall rectangle with gently rounded corners, and the glass was framed with sumptuous maple, carved to resemble filigreed lace, with bright painted accents. The thought skimmed my mind that the mirror in my house had not burned, but had in fact been stolen and was now here, in this shopkeep's window, but I quickly dismissed this idea. I had picked through the ashes of my raped and ruined childhood home, and I had found the remains of that mirror broken over the body of Namae, the now-ancient woman who had cared first for me, then for my brothers. She had been crouched over eight-year-old Duynan and eleven-year-old Gaerun; her last act had been to try to shield my brothers from our attackers. It was unclear who had died first.

With a start I shook the memory away, but was caught now by my reflection. If this mirror was the complement of my own, my appearance had changed since last I'd looked into its depths. Where before, as the cherished daughter of nobility, I had kept my hair long, to the middle of my back, I now had it clipped in a shaggy cap that barely passed my earlobes. No longer bright as a raven's feather, now it more resembled ruffled ebony suede with blood-red highlights in the sun. My face was bonier, thinner than it had been, when I'd known that I'd eat heartily at every meal, and even that I'd eat at all. My skin was still clear, but it was now instead of porcelain it was a pale rosy-brown, and the sun had painted thick freckles on the bridge of my nose and my cheekbones. My lips were still full, but now a deeper russet from days spent in the elements. After the bandits had decimated my town and left me without a scrap of clothing to my name, I had purchased chainmail with the gold my father (always a practical man) had secreted around our estate. I belted it at my waist with a strip of purple brocade I had torn from the edge of a singed tapestry that had hung in the atrium of my house. I wore sturdy leather boots that just brushed the bottoms of my kneecaps, stained almost sable and creased from long wear. Tucked into the boots I wore tight breeches, ostensibly because I could never stand loose breeches, but actually because my mother would never let me go out in such “scandalous” clothing. It occurred to me how sad it was that even when she was gone, I had to oppose my mother, but it was the only way I could think to keep her with me, and that was the real sadness. When I bought the armor I had also bought a long sword and a short sword; I wanted not only to weather blows but to deal some of my own. Soon after purchasing the chainmail, I had bought a little pot of red paint and embellished the left breast of my armor, over my heart, with a simple representation of my family’s crest, a raven above three peaks. My version was just a pair of stylized wings above three triangles, but it sufficed. No one would know what the original had looked like anyway; my family was over. A week later I had opened my palm and traced the lines over in my own blood. My only ties to the past were my blood on my family crest and my pale, almost spectral green-grey eyes, a striking feature shared by most of the members of my mother’s family.

I waved away the tattered shrouds of history and made my way back to the Gull, slipping through the waking streets. I tried again to loose the chains of memory shackling my bones, but as for the past half decade, they were solid against my struggles.
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Epic!