A Difficult Journey

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Title: A Difficult Journey
Author: Rohese Bayvel-Timsh'l

First published on the 3rd day of Imaerasta in the year 5117

During an audience with the Argent Mirror in Koaratos 5117, Rohese was tasked with seeing if Ta'Illistim should consider extending further aid to those displaced in the west. This followed the Swan Song storyline based out of Solhaven in the wake of the destruction of Talador at the end of the Eyes of the Dawn storyline.

Departure

Rohese turned the iron key in Lily Manor's front door and gave it a gentle tug to check it was locked. She dropped the key into the pocket of her pelisse and glanced around to ensure she was alone.

The birds were in full song, filling the courtyard with their melodic trills and heralding the start of a new day. The sun was just breaking over the horizon and she turned to watch its golden glow seep across the sky. She welcomed its warmth on her pale face. It had been a stressful few weeks and sleep had eluded her recently. The dark circles beneath her eyes were testament to how tired she felt. She had foregone rest again that night in order to write several letters, which now sat on her desk awaiting collection and despatch by her chambermaid.

With a deep breath, she firmed her resolve; the fresh morning air had invigorated her a little. The Mirror had asked this of her and she would not fail her sovereign. Pulling her hood up to conceal her face - she would rather not be noticed and distracted from the task in hand - she made her way out of the gate and onto the road leading through the wooded Lower Trollfang. Following the course of the Locksmehr River and the high exterior walls of Wehnimer's Landing, she slipped through the West Gate with a cursory nod to the sleepy guard and into the early morning bustle on the streets.

Reaching the southeast corner of the Town Square, she was relieved to see that a wagon was already waiting and she boarded it quickly. Apart from a couple of bruises, the journey to Bloodriven Village was without incident and she stepped out onto the muddy riverbank with the sun now high in the sky.

Lifting her skirts to avoid trailing them in the mud, she made her way carefully up and through the black iron gate. She weaved her way through the mid-morning crowds in Lyswe Court and past the buildings lining the cobbled streets. She was more determined than ever to escape notice today so she headed directly to her goal on Gloam Pike. The slipshod building was difficult to miss, it being painted in garish colours, and Rohese glanced warily around her before she entered.

A few minutes later, having acquired her purchase, she hung it around her neck and, with a nervous push, she activated it. It took all of her willpower not to scream out loud as the tiny hollow needles stabbed into her, suffusing her body with their noxious elixir. The pain was almost unbearable but it was soon over and she cautiously peered into her mirror.

You see Lady Rohese Bayvel-Timsh'l the Gentlewoman.
She appears to be a Human from Hendor.
She is taller than average with a slender willowy form. She appears to be youthful. She has silver-lashed misty grey eyes and silky smooth, fair skin. She has lustrous, hip-length pale silver hair neatly collected within an umber alum-beaded snood. She has naturally glossy, rose-pink tinted lips. Peeking through her hair are dainty upswept ears tapering to fine points which enhance her fey-like countenance.
She has an inking of a faint star constellation on her neck, and a cascade of tiny silver stars tattooed over her right eyebrow that fades into her hairline.
She is in good shape.
She is holding a silver-backed mirror etched with orbital moons in her right hand.
She is wearing a metalworked withered tree talisman, a sleeveless pelisse of dove grey chamois collared in soft rabbit fur, a platinum wedding ring, a tall-collared onyx velvet bliaut with fur-lined hanging sleeves, and some tall cognac leather boots with perforated suede panels.

She was very aware that she was venturing into a troubled area of the Empire and was keen to avoid any issues. Despite recent developments, there were still those that upheld Chaston's Edict and wished ill on her kind. I will have to keep my hood up to avoid anyone seeing my ears but this illusion should help.

Melting into the crowd, she made her way back down to the riverbank and the half-circle of wagons waiting there. Now to find a wagon to take me south.

Determination

The wagon came to a halt in a sun-dappled clearing and the wagoner helped Rohese down. She was stiff from having spent the entire journey squashed between a rather stout, gruff-looking dwarf and a stack of awkwardly shaped crates filled with live poultry. She welcomed the chance to stretch her legs and breathe freely.

This was the first camp she had encountered. It was only a few hours ride from Bloodriven Village and was fairly small. It appeared to be a recent addition to the wooded area with only twenty or so tents erected around a crudely built, squat wooden building and a couple of fishing boats tied up at a makeshift dock on the nearby riverbank.

It was late afternoon and Rohese didn’t relish the prospect of another uncomfortable journey that day so she made her way over to the building to make enquiries about a place to sleep.

The timber-framed structure was simple in construction having only two storeys and a couple of partitioned rooms. It seemed to serve as a communal hall and inn of sorts. Rohese was pleasantly surprised at the comforts it afforded though; her room was basic but clean and the meal of freshly caught fish served that evening was delicious. She spent a pleasant hour conversing with some of the tent dwellers and learned that they were effectively the overspill from a much larger camp further along the river. They had decided to venture north and set up a quieter community of their own.

The stories they told of their loss were heartbreaking but Rohese’s spirits were uplifted a little by their optimism and desire to make the best of their circumstances. She listened to them share their recollection of the events that had unfolded in Talador: how they were forced to leave their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs during the conflict and the countless thousands that had died in the blast that destroyed the Barony.

Some recounted the difficulties of the cold winter months they had endured in the early settlements with little to eat until the supply wagons started to arrive. Others spoke of the kindness they had personally received from the Lady Kasendra Chandrennin. They were keen to add that their dearest wish was to return home, even if that meant starting all over again in the Bleaklands. Rohese felt powerless to help them; all she could do was reassure them that, one day, it might be possible.

She cried herself to sleep that night but at least she slept; exhaustion had finally caught up with her.

The following morning, she reluctantly boarded the wagon again, this time accompanied by a mother and her two young children. The forlorn looking woman had spent the last six months travelling from camp to camp in the hope that her soldier husband had somehow escaped the atrocities and made his way to safety. As they made their way along the Locksmehr River trail, Rohese took the elder child and sat him in her lap whilst the mother nursed the baby. At last, something practical that I can do to help.

Decision

It hadn’t stopped raining for three days but Rohese was relieved to see that it had at least reduced to a drizzle when she awoke that morning. Somewhat refreshed from her sleep and with her features still masked beneath the illusion, she ventured outside into the crowded camp.

There was a definite autumnal feeling in the air with the smell of loam and wood smoke filling her nostrils. The rain had made the ground muddy and treacherous underfoot but she picked her way carefully around the worst of the puddles and wheel ruts.

Lately she had been struck by the contrast of her time in the refugee camps and the glamour of recent weeks. Fashion Week had been a wonderful interlude but there was no escaping the harsh realities of life outside of cocktail parties and elegant balls. This brief sojourn into the imperial wilderness was a stark reminder that there was no place for silk gowns here.

At first glance the encampment seemed to be a bleak and dreary place but as the sun finally broke through the clouds and hoods were removed, Rohese could see the genuine smiles on people’s faces as they went about their business. The sound of nearby laughter caught her attention and she stepped aside just in time to see a gaggle of geese cross her path, honking and hinking as they tried to elude their keeper.

Her momentary pause was all the more fortuitous because just as Rohese was about to turn away, she overheard a snippet of conversation in which a familiar name was mentioned.

“See that they reach Puptilian, he has been waiting for these supplies.” Two guards walked past, paying no attention to Rohese standing in the doorway. “There’s another shipment on its way from the Free Port but the recent bad weather has delayed it.”

Rohese’s hand instinctively went to the talisman around her neck. She felt her illusion falter for a moment but with a gentle tug, it settled back into its genteel human countenance. Wrapping the fingers of her other hand around the soft leather pouch in her pocket, she smiled. Puptilian would understand why I need to do this.

The guards continued their conversation as they headed towards the nearby watch tower. Once they were out of earshot, Rohese stepped into the Keep and up the narrow staircase to a small chamber on the first floor. She was due to meet with the Green Sisters and finalise arrangements for her journey into the Bleaklands.

Despair

The landscape had changed markedly in the last hour. The air was no longer filled with the sound of birdsong or the whisper of wind through the trees. A gloomy silence now hung around them, along with the lingering smell of acrid smoke.

Earlier that morning, Rohese had passed fields filled with crops ready for harvesting and orchards of trees laden with fruit ripe for picking. Her spirits had been lifted by a feeling of hope for the future. But this? This was too much to bear: a wasteland as far as the eye could see. An occasional breeze stirred the dust covering the scorched black earth, causing eddies of choking grey ash to rise and fall around them.

Kasendra’s encampment felt like a lifetime away from the devastation now laid out before her. The thousands of displaced people who had fled the horror had found refuge in the many camps scattered throughout the war-ravaged provinces east of Vornavis. They had made a start on rebuilding their lives but Talador was still their home. With the help of the Green Sisters, perhaps it would one day be possible to return but, faced with this reality, it seemed like a distant dream.

One of the Sisters reached over and gently squeezed Rohese’s hand. Her eyes spoke volumes and it alleviated Rohese’s despair a little. Despite her youth, the young girl that had befriended Rohese back in the camp was both kind and astute. They had talked a lot over the last couple of days and Rohese had confided in her about her true identity. Her name was Tyrie and she had spent the last six months travelling back and forth between the camps and the Bleaklands, in an attempt to restore some life to the once lush Barony. Talador had been her childhood home and, despite her perpetual smile, it was clear that she was still moved by the events of last year.

The wagon eventually came to a halt at the bottom of a shallow valley just as drops of rain started to fall from the dark clouds overhead. Remnants of an ancient oak wood were visible through the undulating piles of ash with skeletal arm-like boughs of fallen trees reaching upwards. A sepulchral silence pervaded the area where the trees no longer stood. Nothing stirred, nothing sang, and nothing shone.

Rohese climbed down and joined the Sisters as they began to clear an area of ground. They worked steadily for a few hours to lift away the debris, not letting the sporadic rain showers hinder their progress. Beneath a pile of charred and broken wood, they found a small patch of sickly yellow grass. Turning their attention to the only sign of life in that whole area, they tended it with water and herbal nutrients. Rohese knew this was the spot she had been looking for.

Taking care not to damage the grass, she knelt on the ground and reached inside her pelisse for the soft leather pouch. She loosened the drawstring to reveal a handful of wrinkled brown acorns. Prior to embarking on this journey, Rohese had made a point of collecting acorns from both the Sylvanfair tree in Wehnimer's Landing and the Oak Grove surrounding the Ta'Illistim Manse. It seemed only fitting to plant them here.

Bringing them to her lips, she reverently kissed each in turn before gently pushing them into the damp, grassy earth. Sister Tyrie joined her and together they said a prayer over the planted seeds. A single tear tracked down Rohese’s dirt-smudged cheek and landed on the hallowed ground. The clouds parted for the first time that day and a pale yellow sun could be seen hanging low in the sky. Perhaps Lumnis and Imaera had heard their prayer and would bless this ground with a new woodland in the years to come.

Tyrie and Rohese rose to their feet and wordlessly hugged each other. Tyrie was still smiling and it was Rohese’s turn to do the same.

Dawning

Dawn had always been her favourite time of day; it heralded new beginnings. Rohese sat on the grassy hillside to watch the sun rise and allowed her thoughts to wander. The golden wash of sunshine broke over the misty horizon and flooded the meadow below with its nourishing warmth. As the burgeoning light crept towards her, she felt refreshed and invigorated. I wonder what joys and sorrows today has in store for me?

Rising to her feet, Rohese straightened her gown. She barely noticed the creases, grass stains, and damp patches anymore. A couple of weeks ago, she would have been horrified at the thought of such shabby attire but it didn’t seem to matter somehow. With a beatific smile, she walked back into the encampment and acknowledged the kind greeting of the gate guards. She had become a familiar face now and, whilst she still missed home, she no longer felt bereft of friends.

She hadn't taken more than a dozen steps through the gate when she was met by a courier. Handing over a folded sheet of matte black paper, he darted away to make another delivery. Rohese opened the letter and wrinkled her nose as a faint scent of manure wafted up from its surface.

Holding the offending sheet as far away from her nose as possible, she quickly scanned the neat lines of text and smiled to herself. Heartfire had clearly found someone to read her letter and duly scribe a response for him. Naamit had cleverly squeezed his rather long dictated reply into every available space and had even managed to capture his little endearing nuances. Pick up some kitten pie from the Pie Shop, indeed.

Just as she folded the letter and tucked it into her pocket, she felt a gentle tug at her skirts and looked down into a pair of familiar brown eyes. It was the little boy she had held on her lap during the initial wagon journey to the camp. A grubby hand reached up to take hers and led her over to a nearby cluster of tents. Following the child with amused curiosity, she discovered his mother seated on a low stool, in the process of milking a goat. Standing next to her was a dark-complected man with the same brown eyes and a baby in his arms.

“Da-da!” The little boy beamed brightly at Rohese, and pointed towards the man who chuckled and nodded. “Yes, son, “I’m your da-da,” he replied, ruffling the little boy’s hair.

Rohese was invited to break bread with the family but politely declined. Despite everything she had experienced lately, she still kept to her daytime fasting regime. She did, however, accept a cup of the freshly drawn goat’s milk and sat with them whilst they joyfully recounted the story of their long-awaited reunion.

Amid all of the joviality, however, Rohese noticed that the little boy kept tugging roughly at the slightly pointed tip of his ear. Pulling him into her lap, she asked him why he was deliberately hurting himself. As the tears welled up in the little boy’s eyes, his father pushed back his black hair, tucking it behind a sharply pointed ear, and Rohese understood.

“Are you teased because of your ears?” she gently asked the little boy, who nodded and tugged angrily at them once more.

“Shall I let you into a secret?” she whispered quietly to him and he nodded again.

Rohese pulled at her talisman, causing the illusion around her to drop, and pushed back the hood of her pelisse to reveal the fine points of her own ears peeking through her pale silver hair. The little boys eyes widened and he reached up to touch them. Flinging his arms around her neck, he kissed her cheek and, with a wide grin, he squirmed out of her lap to join a group of boys who were chasing a plump of ducks. Both parents simply smiled at her and poured more milk into her cup. This humble gesture was enough to reassure Rohese that, no matter what, she was welcome amongst them.

Sipping her milk, she watched the merriment of the children at play and thought about Heartfire having to seek help to read and write. It suddenly dawned on her. Now she knew how she could make a difference. The children were the future and the one thing she understood, more than anything else, was the importance of education; as did her beloved Argent Mirror. She was suddenly excited about all of the opportunities that were now before her. She had so many ideas tumbling around in her head about how she could take this forward. It would be asking a lot of people at home but she had faith in their desire to help too. Today was a joyous day.

Daughter

The light sound of knocking at the door broke Rohese’s meditation. She rose to her feet to open it and was greeted by Tyrie who was smiling widely even as she apologised profusely for having disturbed her.

“Come with me! There’s someone I’d like you to meet,” she announced, leading Rohese eagerly down the narrow stairs.

Wending their way past the clusters of tents, wagons, and animal pens, Tyrie guided her towards a large cream pavilion on the outskirts of the encampment and ducked through the flap.

Despite it being mid-morning, the interior was illuminated by an array of beeswax candles and the air carried the scent of honey and chamomile. Rohese breathed deeply of the familiar aroma and immediately felt calmed; it reminded her of the Library Aies back in Ta'Illistim with its dimly-lit hallways and beeswax polished wood panelling.

Standing at a nearby table, with her back to them both, was a strikingly tall woman dressed in a hooded cloak of vibrantly coloured feathers. Hearing Tyrie and Rohese enter, she turned and walked towards them. Taking both of Rohese’s hands in her own, she bent to rest her forehead on them by way of a greeting.

“I am so pleased to meet you,” she remarked quietly, pushing her hood back to reveal a shock of white hair cut close to her head. “Tyrie has told me so much about you.” The lower portion of her face was concealed by a swathe of white silk but her blue eyes reflected a warm smile and a friendly disposition.

Rohese was rather taken aback but Tyrie was quick to explain that Inula was one of the Daughters of Lumnis. On hearing about Rohese and her plans, she had requested to meet with her.

“You two have a lot to talk about, I’m sure!” Tyrie declared, kissing both women on the cheek and disappearing back through the flap. Inula laughed lightly and gestured to Rohese to sit.

It was dusk by the time Tyrie returned to find the two women still engaged in conversation and surrounded by a pile of open books and empty teacups.

“I’ve arranged for the wagon to take you to Vornavis in the morning, as requested,” Tyrie said to Rohese, who rose to her feet and nodded in appreciation.

With no word of explanation, Inula offered Rohese a length of airy white silk, similar to her own, and pressed it affectionately into her hands. Rohese closed her eyes for a moment and, making a silent vow to Lumnis, she fixed the veil across the lower part of her face. It was time to get to work. It was time to go home.

Devotion

Rohese stepped through the door of the Lumnis’ Temple and into the comforting glow of the sconces lining the walls of the Hall of Light. Breathing a sigh of relief, she pushed back her hood and removed the white silk veil from her face. Her measured footfall was muffled by the plush woven rugs covering the marble floor as she made her way purposefully towards the gilded spiral staircase and ascended it.

Continuing past the Pool of Thought, Rohese avoided the temptation to admire the artistry of the ceiling and entered the rotunda at the far end. The Sanctuary of the Journey was one of the most beautiful chambers in the Temple so this time she allowed herself a moment to pause and appreciate the frieze on the entablature overhead. It depicted a journey of trials, sorrows and victories; all the more poignant since her own recent difficult journey.

As well as the impressive architectural sculptures, the chamber also housed a stone altar. Rohese slowly climbed the blue marble steps, mouthing a prayer of blessing for the displaced people of Talador with each footstep. Reaching the Altar of Illumination, she lit a pale ivory chamomile candle and placed it reverently among the votives. The flame flickered slightly on a small draft but steadied to illuminate the shadows with its soft golden glow. To the side, a shallow granite bowl, filled with smoldering sandalwood embers, emitted curling tendrils of perfumed smoke into the air.

Rohese inhaled deeply and felt at peace for the first time in weeks. The combination of a good night’s sleep in her Ebondrift marital bed and the bracing sea air of the Free Port had helped but, most of all, she was just happy to be back in the hallowed halls of her Lady’s Temple.

Help me to walk in your light and live my life with wisdom and understanding. With a final benediction, Rohese clasped her hands in a reverent gesture and headed back down the stairs. Stepping into the Solhaven sunlight, she fixed the white silk veil back across her mouth and began the last stage of her journey; the one that would finally take her home to Ta'Illistim.

Deliberation

Inside a stiff white envelope are two sheets of faintly watermarked vellum, each bearing the Bayvel family crest.

Lord Aeriadrn Ghaeriden Illistim
Office of the Seneschal
Ta'Illistim Keep
25th day of Imaerasta, in the year 5117

Seneschal,

I was charged by our illustrious Argent Mirror to look into the possibility of extending further aid to those still displaced in the west.  I have therefore spent the last few weeks visiting encampments and trading posts established around the northern regions of the Turamzzyrian Empire.

I took the opportunity to live among the camp communities and spoke with members of the religious organizations endeavoring to restore life to the former Barony of Talador.  I am relieved to report that, due to the generosity of many benefactors and fortitude of the refugees, most of their needs are being met.  Preparations are well underway for the winter: supplies continue to be forthcoming from the imperial provinces and this year’s harvest looks to be bountiful.

I also visited the haunting wasteland, referred to as the Bleaklands, and witnessed for myself the devastation unleashed upon the territory.  Words cannot begin to explain what I saw but work is underway to heal the land; optimism prevails and I believe it will endure.

Whilst I do not deem further aid in terms of provisions to be necessary at this time, I do have a proposal for the Council of Thrones to consider.  It is my belief that the children are the ones who suffer most from the deeds of their ancestors; they are the future of the Empire and one thing they are lacking at the moment, because of their displacement, is a structured education.  It is through education that we can hopefully prevent a repeat of this regretful situation.

With the Argent Mirror’s permission, I would like to propose a collaborative effort whereby we ask the Shining City’s citizens and residents to assist us in gathering appropriate supplies (books, writing materials, scientific instruments, maps etc.) and possibly even the necessary scholars and teachers.  I would also suggest that, due to their proximity, we reach out to the Head teachers of both the Landing’s Wellington Home and Solhaven’s Triton Day School to assist us with the provision of these resources.  I willingly offer my services to the Council in that regard.

I await the Mirror’s deliberation and have the honor to be her most humble and obedient servant.

High Lady Rohese Bayvel-Timsh'l
Scrivener of Ta'Illistim and Patron of the Displaced

Pulling her brush through her pale silver hair one last time, Rohese turned her attention to the outfit laid out on her bed. Her chambermaid had chosen a rather ostentatious gown, which might have been appropriate under different circumstances but today was not about making an impression; it was about making a difference.

The discussions over tea with the Argent Mirror this morning had the potential to change a lot of young lives. Her thoughts turned a little melancholy as she was reminded yet again of her inability to have children of her own but it made her all the more determined to see that others were cared for.

Returning the gown to the linen press, Rohese pulled out a plain white cotehardie and a modest surcote. Something less glamorous, I think. Once dressed, she deftly gathered her hair into a loose top knot, skewering it with a pair of pearl-tipped driftwood hairsticks to keep it tidy, and draped a silk veil across her face. She had become accustomed to wearing the veil and smiled beneath it as she was reminded of her meeting last month with the Daughters of Lumnis.

Stepping into the Solar, she picked up her journal from the desk but paused for a moment. No. It must come from the heart today and not my notes. She replaced the journal and picked up the envelope containing several promissory notes instead. The generosity of the Vaalorian people had moved her. Lady Nihrvanah had worked tirelessly over the last few weeks to raise awareness in the fortress. Rohese would see that the funds raised during the Autumnal Glory Festival, along with the personal donation of Mayor Cruxophim, were forwarded the Loremasters to aid in their efforts. Word had also reached Rohese that educational resources were already being boxed and shipped west, which pleased her enormously.

She made her way downstairs to see a pile of book-filled boxes stacked by the door – along with a selection of rather dubious looking pies.

“I see Heartfire stopped by in the night,” she remarked to the maid clearing out the fireplace who simply laughed and nodded.

Rohese stepped outside into the autumn sunlight and breathed in the crisp clean air. With a final glance over her outfit, she headed out of the manse gate and made her way towards the Ta'Illistim Keep. Our work is just beginning.

Roundtable Discussions

With a second winter looming, Rohese’s thoughts had turned once more to the northern Baronies of the Turamzzyrian Empire and the refugee encampments she had recently visited. Despite the reassurances of the camp leaders that their basic needs were being met, she was concerned about the continuity of much-needed supply runs during the coldest months. Once the snows came, there was no guarantee that the wagons could get even through.

Yesterday's round table discussion with the Argent Mirror and many other concerned parties had settled her mind somewhat. The Council of Thrones had finally agreed it was time to extend significant aid to the west. It was long overdue, in Rohese's opinion, but she also understood about the complexity of court politics, especially where the Empire was involved.

Myasara's determination to be the advocate for change was encouraging but it was likely to cause ripples of dissent throughout the Nations. Her declaration about reaching out to the rulers of all the elven noble houses with a view to engaging with the Emperor was radical but necessary if a concerted effort was to be made to bring relief and support to the displaced.

Rohese ran through the salient points of the meeting in her mind to try and prioritise them. It was more important than ever now to ensure everything was being done as expeditiously as possible.

  • At the Argent Mirror's request, she had agreed to serve as ambassador and lead a small party of representatives to meet with the Baron Dunrith Malwind. She had managed to convince her good friend Siierra to accompany her as her knowledge of herbal lore would be vital; not to mention her possible connection with the Green Sisters and their work in the Talador Bleaklands. Renowned for her steadfast demeanor and professionalism, Esana, High Priestess of House Vaalor, had been persuaded to join them. In addition, Maiden Tyrrah had also offered to come along. Her experience with the Wellington Home orphans would be invaluable.
  • The Argent Mirror would write to the Baron to inform him of her plans and set up the meeting.
  • As a matter of courtesy and diplomacy, the Lady Riend had offered to write to members of both the Order of the Azure Sun and Order of the Silver Gryphon to keep them abreast of the situation and to serve as a formal introduction of the Argent Mirror's representatives. Both Sir Bristenn and Sir Cryheart would make ideal advocates in the Imperial Court and Rohese looked forward to renewing their acquaintance.
  • As part of an extensive re-building programme, the Argent Mirror had instructed Commander Murstyr Javilerre of the Sapphire Guard to organize the gathering of timber from the surrounding woodlands and forests, as well as its shipment across the Dragonspine Mountains. In addition, stone was being collected and transported by the giant clans in the North. The Artificers were on standby.
  • The crates in both Briarstone Court and Hanging Gardens would be regularly emptied to allow for the continued donation of education supplies such as books, quills, and scientific apparatus. Larger scale donation drives were to be considered as Archales was concerned about the possible overflow from the crates. Shipments would be sent as soon as agreements had been made with the Baron.
  • Ceyrin had offered to renew his correspondence with the Right Honorable Her Ladyship Baroness Delphinuria Hochstib in the hope of smoothing any ruffled imperial feathers. He was also persuaded, albeit reluctantly, to accompany the ladies west.

Rohese sighed heavily and reached for her quill and parchment. There was much to do in preparation with the added distraction of both the Ta'Illistim Art Gala this weekend and the Elanthian Conclave at the end of the month.

Tensions in the Bayvel-Timsh’l Household

"I’m not happy about this, Rohese." Sighisoara furrowed his brow and leaned back in his chair with a heavy sigh.

Seeing how upset she had become, he rose and took both of her hands in his. In an attempt to reason with her, he adopted a more conciliatory tone.

"I appreciate why you have agreed to lead the delegation but you must surely understand my concern? You know that I am at a crucial stage in my research and cannot leave Ta'Illistim to accompany you."

Rohese nodded and regarded him with deep affection.

"I have to do this. Even if the Argent Mirror hadn’t requested it of me, I would have gone on my own volition. If you’d only seen those encampments for yourself ... and the children ..."

Her voice caught and she averted her gaze to avoid him seeing the tears welling in her eyes. Sensing defeat, Sighisoara exhaled. Lifting her chin with his finger, he stared pointedly at her.

"I will let you go on one condition," he reluctantly conceded. "You must stay with Lady Esana Lartuen-Ilynov at all times and send regular letters to let me know you are safe. The slightest hint of any hostility from those imperials and I will insist you return home immediately."

Rohese was somewhat taken aback by the seriousness of his manner; he had never raised any objections to her philanthropic work in the past but his stance on this matter had put her on edge. Perhaps it was folly. Was she being naïve in believing they could make a difference?

"I will instruct the staff to prepare the Ebondrift house for you." Sighisoara continued, turning to sit back at his desk. Rohese rested her hand on his arm.

"No need, my love. Do not trouble them as Hospitallier Dirra has already sent word that she has secured chambers in the Solhaven Inn for us all.” In an effort to appease him, she quickly added, “I think it would be safer if we stayed together and under the protection of the Order of the Azure Sun."

Leaning in close to him, she kissed him tenderly on the cheek.

"I promise to be mindful and do nothing to put myself or members of my party in danger.” She sighed wistfully. “I wish you could come with us but I do understand."

In an effort to lighten the mood, Rohese added casually, "I would like to purchase a new piece of art before I leave though." Wrinkling her nose, she inwardly breathed a sigh of relief as she saw a grin break across her husband’s face.

"Whatever you wish, pixie," he chuckled, kissing her in return and seating himself back at his desk.

Rohese's thoughts turned to other more frivolous matters while she had the chance. Now to decide what to wear to the art exhibition!

One Step Forward

The window seat afforded a perfect view of the Manse courtyard and Glydemar Forest beyond. Rohese read Puptilian's letter again and gazed out of the window at the oak trees. The blaze of autumnal color had now faded to a muted palette of brown and yellow as the remaining leaves clung tenaciously to the spindly boughs of the trees. Fall was surrendering to winter’s gentle incursion in the Elven Nations and her thoughts drifted to the encampments across the mountains.

Puptilian’s plea reminded her of the difficult journey she had undertaken through the northern baronies of the Turamzzyrian Empire and the privations she had witnessed for herself. That was earlier in the year though and winter was not usually so forgiving in the west. Harsh snows and freezing temperatures were likely to cause difficulties with supply runs. If the rumors of unnatural fog at sea and the looming threat of war in Wehnimer's Landing were also true, it would be the refugees that would suffer the most.

Rohese sighed. One step forward, two steps back. Plans for the diplomatic visit to the Barony of Vornavis were well underway and, while she understood the need for protocol, she was eager to make a start. They need our help now, more than ever!

Lady Riend Ar'Fiernel had made contact with Sir Cryheart Thaxin and Sir Bristenn Mires to serve as advocates in the Imperial Court. Rohese had since received word from Hospitallier Dirra Crawfinn that suites had been reserved for the party in the Solhaven Inn. First Legionnaire Esana Lartuen-Ilynov Vaalor had gained the Crown’s approval to represent House Vaalor and duly undertaken to commission training weapons. Crates around Ta'Illistim were being filled with donations of educational resources and other supplies. Wood was being gathered from nearby sources to be shipped west as soon as possible.

Turning her attention back to Puptilian’s letter, Rohese pondered his request. I will see that this is raised at the next roundtable with the Argent Mirror. In the meantime, I will speak to Siierra, she will know what to do.

Leaving the comfort of the cushioned seat, she rose to her feet and placed the letter on the growing pile to be answered. The household was stirring and there were other chores to be done first.

Poetry is the Raising of Consciousness

Rohese ran her finger lovingly across the collection of books stacked neatly on the high shelf. Some were so old that the flimsy spines and covers were scarcely able to contain their precious contents and the titles were faded beyond recognition. It's here somewhere, I know it is. She paused and pulled out a slim doeskin-covered grimoire entitled "Green Witchcraft". Quickly scanning the beautifully illustrated pages within, she smiled to herself. This might be of interest to Siierra and Puptilian. Slipping the book into her pocket, she resumed her search.

Climbing higher on the stepladder, she reached up to the topmost shelf and retrieved a small silk-wrapped bundle. She gazed fondly at the small volume nestled in the palm of her hand and carefully opened it. It was one of her most prized possessions but she knew it would probably help with their cause. Stepping down, she sat on a nearby chair and took a moment to peruse a few passages of the ancient elvish prose. Time had certainly taken its toll on the book; the pale silvery text filling the tissue-thin pages within was barely legible but she couldn’t fail to be moved by the poetry of one of her most beloved Illistimi sister-elves.

Grand-daughter of Linsandrych Illistim, Adonethwen Illistim was fourth in the dynastic line of Argent Mirrors and the reason Rohese had joined the Order of Lorekeepers. She was renowned for her poetry; most notably the sestina. Surely the Baron would appreciate the significance of this gift and the message it conveys?

Closing the book, Rohese rose to her feet and glanced about her. She would miss the tranquility of her library but she couldn’t delay her journey any longer. Baron Dunrith Malwind had been made aware of their coming and, with the new year on the horizon, it was time to get back to work.

A few hours later ...

Rohese tucked the books into the folds of a velvet gown and closed the lid of her small trunk. Securing the buckles, she called for her chambermaid and gave her some last-minute instructions. Then, donning her longcoat, she stepped outside into the chilly, early morning air and headed west.

Diplomacy

Rohese climbed down from the wagon and handed over the last few silvers in her pocket as a thank you. With her hood up, she weaved her way through the crowds in the North Market and slipped unnoticed into the Solhaven Inn. She was weary and muddy from travelling but determined to do a few things before she could allow herself the luxury of taking a bath.

Closing the door on her well-appointed chambers with a sigh of relief, she shrugged her way out of her cloak and hung it on a nearby hook, noting that it was in need of a few repairs. I must seek out a reputable seamstress if I am to stay warm and dry this winter. She closed her eyes and shivered as she was reminded of the relentless rain and sleet she had encountered in the wilds over the last few days.

Despite the bad weather, the Lady Elviel had made her stay at the north Talador outpost very comfortable and she had enjoyed her company. Although slight in appearance, it was clear that the Sylvan leader of the settlement had an inner strength and was steadfast in her resolve to make a difference. Rohese was keen to do all she could to help too. They spoke at length about the problems faced on a daily basis in the area and Rohese shared her thoughts about the recent audience with the Baron. Before leaving at dawn that morning, Rohese embraced her warmly and reassured Elviel that the Argent Mirror was equally determined to lend her support. She promised to return soon – and hopefully not empty handed.

Seating herself at the small table in her room, Rohese reached for her much-loved stationery box and began writing a few brief letters. Applying her wax seal to the final envelope, she scanned the familiar names on them and hurried downstairs to catch the evening courier. She mulled over the content of the missives and hoped they would reach their respective destinations in time.

Content in the knowledge that she had done all she could for now, her thoughts finally turned to a bath, a bowl of broth, and perhaps some tea with Esana before bedtime.

Dreaming

(Silent Tears)

Thick snowflakes swirled around her, obscuring her vision. Rohese pulled her fur-mantled coat tightly around her and pressed forward through the blizzard. She had no idea where she was going or who she was looking for but there was a sense of urgency in her search. It was bitterly cold and she was lost. She called out in the vain hope that someone would hear her cry for help but, whether it was a silent plea or her words were simply lost on the wind, she went unheard. Her desperate tears froze on her cheeks.

Surrounded by stacks of boxes and crates, Rohese felt overwhelmed by the generosity of the Elven Nations. She watched as each was opened by a group of Solhaven volunteers only to reveal that they were all empty. She stood in shock as they turned to face her, pointing accusatory fingers and making disparaging remarks. She opened her mouth to try and explain but no words were forthcoming. Feeling the walls close in on her, she did her best to hold back tears of humiliation.

Standing in the bottom of a shallow valley on the outskirts of the Talador Bleaklands, Rohese was surrounded by undulated piles of grey ash and skeletal arm-like boughs of fallen trees. Bathed in a shaft of golden sunlight, a lone tree stood in middle of the devastation, its low hanging branches laden with ripe fruit. Plucking a rosy red apple, Rohese bit into it but watched in horror as the apple turned black in her hand and her mouth filled with the metallic taste of blood. She screamed but no sound could be heard.

A barrage of images continued to assault her senses as if her memories were fighting for attention: the lifeless body of a little boy with dark brown eyes cradled in the arms of his grieving father faded to reveal her friend, Inula, standing in a room filled with candles. Reaching out to hug her, she disintegrated into a cloud of brightly colored feathers.

Rohese whimpered and stirred in her sleep. Sighisoara pulled her into his embrace and murmured, “Another bad dream, pixie?”

Rohese woke with a start and reached out for her husband, only to find the other side of her bed was cold and unoccupied.

She wept silent tears.

Disappearance

a minimalist matte grey landscape ~ Grey, the epitome of non-statement, covers the entire canvas in a lusterless finish.  The careful application of darker toned paint and feathered brushstrokes add shadow and texture, defining depth and distance in the landscape.  In isolated contrast to the non-descript background, and central to the minimalist composition, is a tiny whorl of vivid green, the sapling seeming to unfurl through undulations of ash.  Closer inspection of the light and shade beneath the seedling reveals a pair of cupped hands.
“Hope, 5118” by Rohese Bayvel-Timsh’l

Rohese put the finishing touches to her painting and stepped back to scrutinize her work. She contemplated the bleak landscape portrayed on the canvas in grey oils and sighed. I wish Puptilian could see it, I think he would approve. Reaching for the rag hanging on the side of her easel, she wiped her brush clean and placed it alongside the others in her paintbox. She was conscious of the time, knowing that she only had a few hours before dawn and her departure. No matter, I will see him soon enough anyway and I can tell him all about it. Stifling a yawn, she carefully wrapped the canvas in linen and propped it against the small trunk at the foot of her bed.

Turning her attention to the trunk itself, she added the last few items she would need for her journey. It was still cold in the outlying regions of Talador and Rohese knew from experience that the camps had few of the home comforts she was used to. Laying her gown out ready for the morning, she climbed into bed and finally succumbed to her exhaustion.

It seemed like she was only asleep for a moment when the seagull squarks heralded a new day and pulled her from her reverie. Dawn had brought a sea mist with it, shrouding the buildings of the freeport in a damp silvery glow.

Dressed in a simple woollen cotehardie and fur-mantled coat, Rohese descended the staircase to the Inn’s main hall. She approached the front desk and greeted the Innkeeper politely before handing over the linen-wrapped canvas and several pristine white envelopes.

“Please see that these are delivered as soon as possible,” she said, followed by the brightest smile she could manage so early in the morning. “Especially the canvas,” she urged, “that needs to reach Cairnfang Manor for their Art Exhibit as a matter of urgency.”

The Innkeeper nodded and managed a half-hearted grin. He glanced down, noting that the three envelopes were addressed to Ta'Illistim and mentally counted the courier costs.

“This should cover the expense,” Rohese added, placing a pouch of coins into his hand, “and please keep my room for me as I hope to be back in a week or so.”

His grin widened somewhat when he felt its weight and quickly pocketed it with an agreeable nod.

A few hours later …

The wagon was making good time as it trundled northeastwards along the muddy trail. The snow had melted in exposed areas leaving water-filled ruts that caused it to lurch from side-to-side. A particularly deep pothole jolted Rohese from her daydream, almost causing her to drop the picture locket in her hand. She had been feeling homesick lately, despite her recent tea engagement with the Lady Sayilla Javilerre and brief visit to Ta'Vaalor for their spring festival.

Rohese had warmed to Sayilla from the outset and enjoyed her company. With Esana having returned east for a while, it was good to have other elven companionship but she was a reminder of the stark contrast between her life back in Ta'Illistim and her current destination.

With a sigh of resignation, Rohese glanced around and noticed that the young man sitting opposite was looking at her. She adjusted her hood to ensure her ears were covered and cautiously smiled at him. Quickly averting his eyes, he stared sheepishly at the trees lining their route. Then, with a furrowed brow, he leaned forward to peer into the dark forest beyond. Barely any light permeated the dense evergreen canopy. Rohese watched with trepidation as his hand moved slowly to rest on the dagger sheath at his belt.

With a loud yell, Rohese’s fellow passenger tried to warn the wagoneer as a group of bandits burst from the shadows with crossbows in hand. Realising they were in imminent danger, the young man grabbed Rohese and unceremoniously pulled her from her seat and the wagon. Without explanation, he dragged her away from the ambush and into the relative safety of the trees. In the confusion, she dropped her locket but continued to run as fast as she could; the ground was uneven and she was afraid of losing her footing.

A sharp pain suddenly bit deep into her shoulder causing her to cry out and stumble forward. Her landing was softened by the snow-covered loam of the forest floor but the weight of her savior falling on top of her was too much to bear. Rohese’s last recollection was a warm red stain seeping into the cold white carpet around her before everything went black.

Disquiet

A light footfall entered the room and the wolf lifted a pale muzzle from its paws to watch the interlopers intently as they approached the bed. The window was open and a cool spring breeze fragranced the air with hints of petrichor and sweet-smelling herbs. Rohese's pale silver hair stirred slightly against the white linen pillow but her eyes remained closed despite the intrusion.

Is she going to be alright?

Only time will tell. It was quite a few days before she was found and brought here. We’ve done all we can but, with no skilled healer, it’s not likely to be enough.

How is he doing?

He woke briefly last night but hasn’t spoken yet.

No one else survived the bandit attack then?

No, we found several bodies.

Who are they?

We have no idea! The wagon had been looted so we have no way of identifying anyone, although, we did find this in the snow nearby.

One of the men held up a cracked driftwood locket. The voices faded as they continued their discussion in hushed tones and exited the room. The wolf resumed his sleepy vigil.

Duty

Letter to Puptilian from Tyrie of the Green Sisters, friend to Rohese.

Sir,

Forgive me for writing to you directly but I understand we have a mutual friend in the Lady Rohese Bayvel Timsh’l. She spent some time with the Green Sisters in the refugee camps last year and accompanied us to the Bleaklands on a number of occasions. She and I became quite close and she spoke fondly of you and your tireless work in Talador. I am reaching out to you because I am concerned for her well-being and I was hoping you might be able to help. We were expecting her to visit us again some months back but there has been no sign of her or word of her delay; this is unlike her and I fear the worst. If you know of her whereabouts or intentions, please could you let us know.

In the meantime, I have also had word from Inula, another friend of ours and a Daughter of Lumnis. She too was expecting a visit and has asked if you would do her the kindness of picking up on a promise Rohese made some time ago: would you be willing to attend the Ta’Illistim court on our behalf and continue to press the Argent Mirror and Council of Thrones into assisting the Empire's refugees and aiding in the recovery of Talador.

I shall not lose hope for the good Lady’s return but, in the meantime, I will endeavour to continue my work here in Talador.

Yours, in faith
Sister Tyrie 

Meanwhile, somewhere in the northern territories ...

He sat next to her bed and tentatively placed his hand over hers; it felt so fragile in his grasp. The wolf padded over to join him in his vigil. Laying his muzzle dutifully on the young man’s lap, he too stared at the pale, silver-haired elf in the hope she would stir but to no avail.

“I know, I’m worried for her too.” The man spoke quietly to his lupine companion, patting him gently on the head.

Two voices in the corridor grew louder as they approached the room and paused to continue their conversation in hushed tones outside the door.

“We’re sending her to the Graces in the hope they can help. I’ve tended her wounds to the best of my ability but there is an evil at work here and it’s beyond my knowledge.”

“The ship leaves tomorrow. We should see about getting her ready to travel.”

The guardian by her bedside leaned over to inspect the faint silvery scar at the base of her throat and narrowed his eyes. Rising swiftly to his feet, he headed towards the door and gestured for the wolf to stay vigilant.

“I’ll be back shortly,” he said abruptly. “I need to pack a few things so that we can go with her.”

Delegation

The Argent Mirror held a Meeting on Day 9 Phoenatos, 5118 to discuss Rohese's disappearance and the continuance of the original Delegation's goals.