Spring Planting, Mother’s Day 7, Year of the Lion number 428; February 18, 1739 Agathon; Linne 182
Work is progressing. Tomorrow, the wall will be finished except for the final, artistic touches. The merchants and shopkeepers have started rebuilding as well. Most of their wares were lost in the flood, so many are starting over from scratch. Several left Hiltmar altogether, including the owner of the café I was at when the disaster happened.
Today was a local holiday, so the foreman released everyone early. I invited Syreni to join me for dinner and she accepted. We had quite a long conversation, which started when I showed her my dragon card and I asked her what she knew about it.
“Yes, I have seen this card before. There was a time that I had all seventy of them. A brief time. It was a long time ago, and I was just the young wife of a fisherman. We lived on the southern shore of the Innerrim sea in what is now Rodanche, just east of Goadisa. It was before the death of Monraysa, the elf witch that terrorized that region a few centuries later.”
“Just how old are you?” I asked.
“I was born in 460 Agathon. I am one thousand, two hundred seventy-nine years old.”
“I haven’t aged since I was 31. When this happened.” She waved her hands over herself. “Before that, I was just as human as anyone in this town. My appearance is a manifestation of my curse.”
“You were cursed?”
“My husband was the captain of a fishing vessel. Most of the time they stayed near the shore, but in mid-year, they sailed further north, following the schools of fish to the warmer waters. They would be away for two or three months at a time, but they’d always return with a big haul – enough to sell and keep us living like nobles for two or three years if we wanted. But he was ambitious. He always wanted more.
“During his time at sea, I would spend my time tending our flower garden and studying at the Goadisa library. I was not a witch then. I had no powers like I do now. I read many books and learned history. I learned about how Cithara’s sons fought and how one became ruler of the northwestern realms while the other became ruler of hell. I read about how the elves became cursed, how none can have pure-blood elf children. I read about the dragon wars, but at the time, how it ended was still a mystery. It was my husband who, unintentionally, solved that mystery.
“During their voyage, as they sailed north near the Marblefall Reef, east of Treyark Island, they came upon a derelict ship bobbing in the waves. It was anchored, but it was old – easily over a hundred years old. My husband and some of his crew crossed over to the old ship. On it they found a silver wand with a green bauble and seventy plaques. One of them is this very card. White Number Four.”
The card was on the table between us. “I understand that there is actually a dragon trapped in this card.”
Syreni continued, “Yes. Seven adventurers ended the war by trapping the dragons into these cards. Oubliettes. Prisons. Call them what you will. All seventy of them were on the deck of this ship. My husband brought them home, along with the wand, thinking he could sell them and he’d never go back to sea again. But he didn’t know what it was he found.
“When he returned to our village and showed these things to me, I recognized them immediately. Especially the wand. I showed him a picture from one of the history books – the one that told the tale of the elves. There was no doubt! This was the cursing wand, which had been missing and unaccounted for, for over a hundred years. And then I made the worst decision I have ever made in my entire life. Here it is, almost 1300 years later, and I still regret it. I told him to take the cursed things back to sea, and if he can’t find that ship, throw them overboard in the middle of the Innerrim, where they cannot harm anyone.
“My husband did as he was told. I didn’t learn until later that his first mate had recorded and copied all the cards in his journal. It was from this journal that the Three-Dragon Ante deck was created. But not only was my husband cursed by the wand, so was the entire crew of his ship. As was I. The next morning, they set sail. The first mate, while boarding the ship, tripped on the gangplank and broke his spine. After they carried him home, he lived the rest of his life confined and paralyzed. No cleric who tried could heal him.
“The ship left the dock and sailed northward. What happened at sea I didn’t learn about until several months later when the surviving crewmen were rescued and returned. The second mate told me what had happened. It was near the end of October, late one evening, when a storm raged, seemingly out of nowhere. The ship was battered as the crew fought against the surge. But my husband realized something, and it wasn’t until I heard the tale from the second mate that it made sense. My husband’s greatest desire wasn’t to come home to me, but for his ship and crew to survive. He realized that while he lived, his crew would most certainly die. After making sure the entire crew was in the water, either in longboats or whatever, he drove the ship into the storm and went down with it. With it he took the wand and the cards.
“By then, however, my own curse had begun to manifest. I started changing – my skin turned blue and scaly. I became able to breath as easily in the water as I do in air. And I began to wield magic. From my studies, I already knew the basics of how to control magic, but now I had real power.”
“This doesn’t seem like a curse to me,” I said.
“No, perhaps it doesn’t. But my curse, while not as bad as Regina’s or Cithara’s, or some of the other witches, still affects me greatly. Think about the disaster that happened. Had I arrived just five minutes sooner, I would have been able to prevent it. I know a spell that would have sealed the breech in the dyke before it broke through.”
“I don’t understand.”
Syreni reached out and touched me gently on the shoulder. “I can prevent disasters. However, I always gain the knowledge and ability too late. I can swim like a fish in the sea, and I have these wondrous magical powers. I gained them the day after my husband died at sea. Exactly the day after. A day sooner I would have been able to swim out to sea and save my husband.”
“When Isabel slew Cylnar Parkanius, the famed Elf Knight. She would have been his eighth victim. I learned about his reign of terror before his seventh victim, the seventh princess, was slain. I learned how to defeat him, but it was too late for her. It would have been too late for Isabel, except that Regina stepped in and helped. Regina created the charm that puts elves to sleep and gave it to Isabel.”
“You gain the ability to help someone or prevent a disaster, but it’s always too late.” I summarized.
“It is interesting that you were directed to bring the Linne vault key to me. I know Saxton Baird, but even though I’m prepared, I fear that my help will come too late. Only through the intervention of someone else will he succeed.”
“Perhaps I am that intervention, Syreni. Perhaps that’s my role in his tale.”
“No, Kabize. Well. Yes, in a way. But I know that there’s more for you. I know that you are destined for something even more important than saving the heir of Linne. I don’t know what it is, when it will happen, or how. I just know.”
“You’re beginning to sound like Propheta,” I laughed.
“A strange bird she is. Most of what she says is gibberish, but I listen to every word. You should, too.”
From there, our conversation drifted to other topics. As I write these words, I realize I’ve made my decision. It’s time to move on. After the wall is finished, I will cross the bridge and head south to the dwarven city of Shrinehall. I have more gold in my pocket than I need, and it’s been a while since I’ve added to my other journal.
Previous: Through a Cat’s Eyes – 14.2
Syreni’s tale is inspired by three songs, one of which has two versions:
Let Her Go Down first appeared on Sails of Silver, © 1980. The song was re-recorded on Present, © 2002 using the alternate last verse. It’s worth looking up the song and noting the differences.
Fisherman’s Wife was written by Ewan MacColl in 1959, recorded on Steeleye Span’s first album, Hark! The Village Wait in 1970.
Elf Knight is taken from a classic ballad (Child #4), and was recorded on their Time album, released in 1996. (Technically, this is Lady Isabel’s origin song, but Syreni was instrumental in her training.)