After a day of shopping for new gear and supplies in the town of Hartwick, over the western bridge, the party had taken the ferry over the Clear Whirl (avoiding the floes of ice) and trekked back over Coggin's Rise to Stagwick, where they were now staying once again at the Weary Giant Inn. They had thought it best to wait around in Stagwick, having asked that Livia, the keeper of the inn, might send a message to her friend Tavis, the queen's husband, that they might speak with him. She was willing to introduce them to Tavis, but she did not know how she, a simple peasant, might get a message through to the royal castle. She had suggested that Tavis might visit sometime, as he was fond of doing so. Without any other options, the group stayed at the inn and helped with the chores.
Belvin, for his part, had not been satisfied with the stories that they were being told by those such as the queen or Basil the runecaster, or rather, he was not satisfied with what they seemed to be neglecting to tell. "When we were on Mount Woe, I spoke with the birds," he had told his companions. "They told me that three migrations ago, the birds went with the giants when the biggest giant of all called them. There was a baby in a tower with its mother. There was a great battle, and many birds died when they flew in the faces of the bad people who were trying to kill the giants and were struck down. Three of the giants died also. The giants, who were always sad, were even more sad. The old giant leader was the saddest of all the giants. Not even the birds could bring him comfort any more. He stayed in the garden and played sad music. Sometimes the birds sang along with him."
"Was this the giant we passed in the garden?" they had asked him. "Why did you not tell us?"
"I did not need to tell you! I went and spoke to him myself. He was Anastes, the former paramount. He spoke with Hartkiller’s descendant, the human queen. He was the only one of the six summoned giants who saw her child. He said that the child was ugly, even for a human, and hideously deformed, looking like an ettin or ogre."
They had discussed what this might mean. Had Brianna been raped by an ogre when she had been taken? Was Galgadayle's prophecy indeed true? Had the High Priest Simon lied? Had the queen really had twins? Was the ugly one protected in the castle? Was the other twin in hiding elsewhere? Perhaps within this very orphanage? Or did the prince have a dual nature? Was Camden, in fact, the true heir of Ottar?
So Belvin had used fire to melt himself a pool of water. After calling upon the power of his dwarven jungle god in an hour of rhythmic chanting, he commanded the pool to show him Camden. It the rippling water, he saw the image of an old man, dressed in rags, with a mug in his hands, and hunched over. He watched the man for a long time, but he only ever got up to acquire more ale from a barkeep. He spoke with no one. Wherever King Camden now was, he was reduced to a lonely drunk. Belvin invested another hour to prayer and also tried scrying on the queen's son, but the pool remained empty.
It was the very next morning, the last day of the second tenday of Uktar. Solisar had been the first to rise, as was typical, since his magic ring required even less rest than a typical elf. He spent the early morning studying an assortment of new scrolls he had purchased and deciding in which order he might add them to his spell book. Then he decided to head downstairs for breakfast to see if anyone else was awake.
The dining area was mostly empty, except for a few of the older children sweeping and a single figure sitting at one of the tables. He was a burly giant of a man, broad-shouldered and taller than Solisar while sitting. His bare arms were almost bursting with muscles. He looked middle-aged, but his hair was completely gray. It was swept back and wavy and hung to just above his shoulders. He had a full beard of medium thickness. A large, bronze medallion with a knotted design was hanging from his thick neck and a heavy, warm cloak hung over his shoulders.
The man was looking directly at Solisar as he approached, from head to toe. He seemed to spot Solisar's magic boots, and commented to himself, "Ah, Boots of the Winterlands! That explains why I never saw the tracks of a gold elf among them."
"I am Solisar Keryth," said the elf. "Is it correct to assume that you are Tavis Burdun? Well met."
"Alae," said the firbolg. "Indeed, I am! Equally well met. I suspect that we have much about which to talk."
"I agree," said Solisar, "but I think it may be best that I be joined by my companions first."
"Make sure to call in the wild-looking one who is sleeping in the stable with the desert mounts — strange prints those beasts leave!"
"I shall do so," said Solisar, and he turned to go back up the stairs to the rooms.
"There is no rush," said Tavis, standing up to his full height and banging his head on the ceiling, which he simply ignored. "Let them wake to the smell of breakfast! I miss the mornings when I fried eggs here in the kitchen for the children. Would you and your friends want venison with your eggs?"
"That sounds delightful," said the sun elf, "but one of us does not eat meat."
"That is his loss then!" said Tavis.
"Tavis!" squealed a little orphan girl with glee, having just come down the stairs.
"Ami!" said Tavis.
She ran over to him and jumped onto his forearm, which was thick enough and strong enough to support her tiny frame. He lifted her into the air as one might raise a parrot or falcon, and he rubbed noses with her affectionately.
As the smells of breakfast spread through the inn, more and more of the children — and the adventurers too — entered the main room and greeted the firbolg. He was soon surrounded by the children and took care to greet and to speak with each one. So it was that the adventurers were not able to ask him any questions until an hour later, after a hearty breakfast and jolly discussion about happenings in Stagwick with all of the children, young and old.
Finally, Tavis politely dismissed the orphans, with the exception of Livia, who cleared their plates. "I have heard of you adventurers from my wife," he said, as the last little feet ran up the stairs. "I shall be honest and tell you that she has no trust of you, but she is quicker to make judgments than I. I have come to find that covers do not always reveal what is within a book. (Take Basil, for example!) She is, understandably, nervous about matters related to our son. I, however, cannot deny the strange manner of his birth, and while I know that Annam had no part in Lanaxis' schemes, this does not mean that Annam has no plans at all for the boy.
"Before I continue, though, I want to hear your tale with my own ears. Why should we trust your story? I caution you that, though I cannot lie myself, it does not mean that I cannot recognize lies in others!"
So the party told Tavis the story of how they had been exiled by a powerful magic user and how, in their quest to get back to their homes, had fallen into service with a powerful genie from ancient Jhothûn. They kept no secrets from him in regards to the genie's quest, but they did not explicitly tell him the location of the portal in the High Ice. (Had any of them tried, Leokas would not have allowed it, being still bound by the power of the genie's magic to protect it.)
"There is a magic throne in the main citadel," said Hakam. "It recognizes only the rightful heir of Ottar Annamson. All we ask is for the queen or her son to sit upon it. Indeed, we are asking a great commitment of you, but certainly, the power and riches that could await your son — is it not worth it to try? Please pardon any offense, but your country is isolated and poor, compared to the countries of the south. With also a genie at his command, think what Hartsvale could become."
"The boy is not even four years old!" said Tavis, "but I admit that I am both fascinated and satisfied by your words. Basil knows far more about the history of the giant races than do I, but it is hard to deny that the Celestial Children of Annam are at work in this. Take another swig of your elderberry wine. What I am about to tell you may be hard to believe — I am baffled by it myself — but I am sure you have heard how hard it is for a firbolg to lie."
"Yes, you yourself told us so, a minute ago," said Belvin.
"Ignore him," said Hakam. "His people skills are somewhat lacking."
Tavis did not seem phased by the interruption. "By some miracle, Kaedlaw, my son, has two fathers." He let the statement hang in the air for a moment before continuing. "You have spoken to Basil, I know. I expect that he was happy to share the story of our victory over the Twilight Spirit but reluctant to speak of the birth of the boy, or else he sneakily avoided the topic altogether and talked of other things. My wife rarely speaks of it, for she feels guilt in the matter, but she was a victim and is without fault in my eyes.
"After Basil, Avner, and I first retrieved Brianna — mind you, it was she who decapitated Goboka, not we — we returned together and deposed King Camden. Brianna was now queen, and custom demanded that she take a husband from among the noble humans of the land. We were in love, but a queen sometimes must choose honor over love, or so we believed. As painful as this was to both of us, I understood that I could never marry her. She had accepted that she would take a political marriage without love for the good of the kingdom.
"So she did not waste time in beginning to see suitors, some from among the nobles of our own land, and some from foreign lands. An attractive man arrived, Prince Arlien. I do not even remember from where he claimed to hail. I had accepted that Brianna would have to marry another, but I also believed that she would not love him. To my horror, she began to show obvious signs of attraction to this man, and it quickly appeared that she would choose him as her husband and consort.
"In reality, Arlien was Arno and Julien, the two beings in one body of the first ettin, a direct son of Annam and the youngest of his terrestrial children besides Hartkiller. The Twilight Spirit had not given up; having failed at breeding Brianna the first time, he now tried a more subtle approach. He used his magical arts to disguise the ettin, and beyond this, Arlien drugged Brianna and took her to bed.
"I was too late to discover the treachery and stop it. Brianna, having been freed of the spell, and I did together slay each head of the giant, but the deed was done.
"Brianna decided then that 'tradition be damned;' she was queen and she would 'marry whomever the Hells she wanted to.' We were married before a tenday had passed. Because our marriage was consummated so quickly after she was raped, I did not know who the father was when she announced a month later that she was pregnant. She, however, had convinced herself that I was the father and would hear nothing to the contrary.
"It was not long before the seer of the Meadowhome clan of firbolgs, Galgadayle, arrived with his portent that Brianna would bear twins, one fair and one ugly, and that the ugly one would bring the downfall of the races of the valley. Brianna immediately sought the High Priest of Stronmaus, Simon, who assured her by his prayers and magic that only one child was in her womb. Again, she believed Simon, but I was hesitant. First, Galgadayle had never been wrong before, and second, I trusted a firbolg's word over that of a human's, especially one as arrogant as Simon.
"Firbolg pregnancies are much longer than human ones, so I was not surprised when Brianna remained with child for first one and then two years, but as each month of the third year passed, my anxiety grew stronger. No, firbolg or human child grew for so long in the womb, and never have a seen so large a belly on a human woman. Brianna could barely walk lest she fall over!
"In the Year of the Gauntlet, the queen was at one of Earl Wynn's new mines in the Gorge of the Silver Wyrm to dedicate and bless it, when fire giants attacked us. We were separated in the fighting, and while my wife was hiding within one of the mines, Avner, who was like a son to us, helped her deliver the child. So big he was, that Avner had to cut him out of her belly. (Thankfully, my wife is also a priest of a goddess of healing!) As she nursed her son, she saw a handsome, although enormous, boy that looked like me, and she even named him 'Handsome' in the firbolg tongue. But Avner saw a hideous monster of a child, deformed, ugly,... and ettin-like, like Arno, the uglier of the ettin's two heads.
"When I found them again, I too saw an impressively ugly face. It soon became apparent that the child appeared at first as one expected him to look. To the firbolgs he appeared as a monster; only to Brianna and Avner did the boy appear handsome — and for Avner only after he tried hard to see him that way.
"Basil suspected that Galgadayle's prophecy was in one sense true — as an ettin was two beings in one body, so Brianna's son was two beings in one body, my son and the ettin's son.
"Lanaxis' arrival spared us deciding how to respond to this. Instead, we found ourselves in pursuit of the great titan. Surely, Basil shared this part of the story with you?
"Basil talked me into trying to obtain the Sky Cleaver, and his brilliant scholarship led us to it. I did not expect how heavy a burden the axe would be to carry. It drained me of my moratlity while at the same time granting me invulnerability, yet I see no other way that we could have bested Lanaxis.
"Best him we did, and when I at last was reunited with my wife and the child, I had to decide what to do. The Sky Cleaver, we had been discovering, could cleave more than just physical things. It could 'cut to the heart' of any matter. I thus used its power to 'cleave' Kaedlaw's enchantment. There, in Brianna's arms, was now a boy neither overly handsome nor exceptionally ugly, just rather normal-looking, with clear features both from me and from the ettin. Basil saw this as a sign that his destiny would depend on how he was raised.
"So that is my strange tale. As hard as it is to fathom, Basil and I believe that Kaedlaw carries the blood of Annam through Hartkiller and Brianna and through the ettin and carries the blood of Othea through the same and through me, a firbolg. After so many millennia of rejection from the All-Father, I wonder if this supernatural conception is a sign of his adoption, as it were, of the giant-kin races. Is it a show of forgiveness to his now-dead spouse?"
"What can you tell us of your own lineage?" one of them asked him.
"I was an orphan," said Tavis, "born under a red moon, as my people say, which is to mean that my mother died giving me birth. My people are very sensitive to omens and signs, and to be born under a red moon is to be cursed. I was expelled from my clan and raised among humans by the kindest woman I have ever met, Isa Wirr, here at this very orphanage. She was a mother to me, and she passed this place onto me at her death. I do not even know my father or my mother's names."
Then Solisar spoke up. "Having heard your story, I am now convinced that your child will be able to sit on the throne of Jhothûn. Yet we are not the ones in need of convincing. Is there anything else that we can do to prove ourselves and our purpose to the queen, your wife?"
"Let me return to the castle and try to reason with her," said Tavis. "Wait here until I return again. Brianna wants our son to grow up as a normal boy, but even after he was freed of his 'condition', he cannot be called 'normal'. At three-years-old, Kaedlaw is almost as tall as some of you! If Annam has chosen him, if Stronmaus has led you here, why should we fight against their will? If Kaedlaw is to go with you, I would accompany you. While I trust you more than does my wife, I still care about my son's safety. He is my boy too, after all! How far is this throne?"
"We would travel there by a hidden portal," said Solisar.
"We cannot tell you its location," said Leokas, "but I estimate that the portal is 300 or 400 miles from here, as the crow flies."
"Yet we are not crows," said Tavis, "and winter is here...."
"You said that the Sky Cleaver can cleave non-physical things," said Belvin. "Can it cleave distances, make our journey shorter?"
"I suspect that it could," said Tavis, "but I no longer have it. I gave it back."
"Gave it back?" asked Cassiera. "To whom?"
"To Annam," said Tavis. "The blade was never meant for mortals. Look what it did to Basil, who only held it for a few minutes.
I was able to wield the blade for a time, yes; however, Lanaxis had more of a right to the axe than I, being a direct son of the All-Father, and he tried to recite the words of binding to take it from me by the strength of his will and rage. Knowing that I had no hope to resist his power, I took a chance that the power of mercy might outweigh the power of hate. With my final swing before he completed the ritual words to draw the weapon from my hands, I used Sky Cleaver to reveal the truth to Lanaxis rather than strike him down. Instantly, we were both transported — whether in our bodies or just within a vision, I do not know — to Annam's presence. Lanaxis pleaded with his father, but the god expelled him a last time from his presence, claiming that Lanaxis' plans were never a part of a his will, that the voices in the titan's head were those of madness, not of divine guidance. Lanaxis was cursed to be a mortal, and the last I saw of him, he flew far to the west in his shadow roc form. I then offered the axe back to Annam, who took it from me. The next thing I know, I woke up on the ground with Basil, Brianna, and Galgadayle around me. When I had finally faced Lanaxis, I had looked worse off than Basil does now — nearly transparent I was — but after I gave the axe back to Annam, he restored my flesh. Only my gray hair still shows sign that I once carried the weapon."
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Posted on April 02, 2017 21:15