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

Part 1: Departure

Rohese turned the iron key in the 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 alluded 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.

Part 2: 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 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 she could do to help.

Part 3: 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.

Part 4: 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 to collect 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.

More to follow