Welcome one and all...to 'Child of Light', my fanfiction of rather generous proportions. My goal here is not to be snappy or sharp, oh no...I'm going for the whole slow, gentle character development, floating, delicate descriptions, aching extremes of emotion, in fact my ultimate aim is to write the entire NWN2 story arc as a fanfiction starting from now (Don't worry I do leave out some non-essential stuff) If that's your cup of tea, read on! If not, why not give it a try anyway. You can always stop later!
It had gone by many names, the great marshland which enveloped the southern reaches of the Sword Coast, through as many ages as it had grown here, seeding the ground thick with seething life. Amidst the shadows, beneath the stunted trees, hanging low and gnarled over still, stagnant pools, across the expanse of reeds and rushes, ferns, weeds, dense and nearly impenetrable, these names had been whispered…against the face of the force of the place's endless, unspeakable stillness, the sheer weight of its ancient silence. Merdelain, the Slow Marching Court, it had once been known…and there was yet something of this majesty within the title lived on even though the word had passed long from living tongues, and the slow expanse of the Mere, its marching, as it were, continued; since then it had been prosaically styled the Mere of Dead Men, and this too was true, for many had died here, the bleached bones of villages, and those who had fallen with them, felled by the orc, by demon, by time and decay, swallowed by its inexorable advance, the Mere endured beyond all of them.
Yet still there were some who chose to make a life here while they could…villages perched here and there amidst the patchwork of thick green life and still dark pools upon the swamp's expanse, harvesting the fruits of the Mere's fertility, though there were not so many as there had been once. There was one such place, set amidst the tides of voracious life, rising from the misty deeps of the Mere, though far from its choking heart, a place long known as West Harbour…
West Harbour seemed little more and little less than a farming settlement, set amidst fields of thick, black and wet soil, fertile and teeming with the germs of cultivation, but one step beyond the farmlands and the Mere enveloped everything, the chaos of its thick, green growths ever reaching forth for the tamed fields. From there on the Mere held fast to the ground for many leagues hence…sealing West Harbour in its stubborn isolation, even the rough, dirt road, thick with churned dark earth, that led onwards out of the village and to other, more civilised climes, was choked with weeds that seized upon each opportunity to colonise the footsteps of travellers. A squat, short wall, more of a fence really, surrounded the village, a palisade of sorts, stakes of wood sunk deep into the soft soil of the Mere, with the farmland just beyond them, the wet wood was enveloped in a thick growth of moss that sank into each crack. There was water here, a river, fast flowing and clear, emerging from deep within the swamps…tumbling over foundations of rock which its passage had dug from deep beneath the thick earth, it bore through a gap in the walls, dividing the village in two, churning the earth, and bringing water for crops, a gift of the Mere few recognised or appreciated within the village itself, and without which it would have no doubt gone the same way as many of the other villages which had once ploughed the Mere's rich earth. But there was more to West Harbour than there seemed more than the long struggle for survival, the stubborn hardiness of its people…
"Lass" At once there was movement in the outskirts of the village, amidst the thick crops, stirring the grain aside. A voice touched the cool winds, floating momentarily in the air, it was calm, flat, almost emotionless… "Be calm, there is no need to worry yourself on my account"
"Father…" the rich, gold wheat, on the cusp of opening, parted beneath the passage of a figure, a thin, white hand gripped a single stalk, turning it aside, revealing a young woman, her gaze, trembling with agitation, fixed ahead of her, towards the Mere, and the heart of its dominion, beneath the shadowed hollows. She was only around sixteen…her figure slight and slender, with a sense of such delicacy that her presence seemed to scarcely stir the cool air, or imprint on the ground beneath her feet. Her skin was smooth, so fair it was almost radiant, the set of her features narrow, delicate and finely chiselled like porcelain. Her hair was long, rippling down her back, flowing past her narrow shoulders, golden, smooth and silken…but when the dappled sunlight touched it, it gleamed copper, a sheen of deep red running through it, each strand alive with its own inner glow, as though sunset were caught within a mesh, it was drawn back behind her ears, which were thin and tapered, the truest sign of the source of her aching beauty and elegance, for they marked her as a half-elf, the child of the union between human and elf. So too did her startlingly green eyes, they gleamed from behind long curling lashes, soft and radiant, with a light at their heart like a single drop of dew captured within a curling leaf. She seemed worried, her hand anxiously working the fabric of her simple, almost severe, grey dress, but…even so there was a deeper sense of inward strength which bore up her upright bearing…subtle, but unmistakeable.
"Daeghun are you sure you have to go alone? One of the other villagers, the militia…" She spoke again, her voice was lilting, soft, but clear, even as it quavered hesitantly
"Yes, my daughter, I am sure" A second figure, turning round to face her, the movement enough to cast him into the uneven light where before he had been almost hidden in the dark beneath the Mere's gnarled trees. A man, though he was slighter and slimmer than even the girl who stood before him. His angular features were cold, the lines of his face harshly crafted, as though sculpted by sorrow, his eyes, a deeper and darker green than her own, and hard, almost gem-like, without the life which animated his daughter's. Indeed there seemed scarcely any similarity between them, except the inevitable marks of the elven kindred. His lips were thin, permanently down-turned…his skin coppery and stained by the weather, though unlined, untouched, indeed, by any trace of age. He had thick black hair, tamed simply back behind his ears in an austere style, these were long and tapered, longer than her own, and more prominent, this was clearly a true elf, of pure blood, in his case, it seemed, one of the Wood Elves by his darker complexion and hair. He wore leather armour, carefully cared for and cleaned, what inevitable damage there was to its surface had been repaired fastidiously and with a skilled hand, he bore a bow across his back, almost as tall as he was himself, and arcing heavily, carved in dark willow "Any others would only slow me down" He continued evenly "Harvest is this night, and we shall have need of a boar for the feast"
"But, you've been out every day this week and" His daughter shook her head "No one's been able to find anything"
"Ye" The elf, Daeghun, it seemed, nodded distantly "And thus if I am to find a boar in time I shall need to travel far, I do not have time for unfounded delays"
"Father" She pressed forward, stepping gingerly out into the black earth of the Mere, closer to him "Please, something's wrong in the Mere, you feel it too, you must"
"Phaedra…" Daeghun admonished, raising a hand for silence
"The animals have vanished, you haven't found anything for months" She continued regardless "No one has, and there are rumours about bandits, Georg spoke of a lizardling migration…"
"Enough, Phaedra" Instantly she fell silent, though he had not raised his voice in the slightest, but there was such hard authority in it "I am sure you know better than to trust Georg's wild stories, as for the rest, you do me a disservice if you believe I could be at threat in the Mere, my daughter. I know it far too well for that"
"Father" She whispered, lowering her gaze, her eyes glimmered with concern, and longing to get through to him, somehow
"No" He replied adamently "Every year money from the Harvest is what supports us through the winter, with things already so hard we need this more than ever." He paused, adjusted the longbow across his back in readiness to depart "Give it no more thought, nothing will come of any of this, I assure you. Now, unless there was something else" He glanced up, but she shook her head mutely "Good, I shall be back for the Festival" That was all, he turned, and his light steps upon the Mere's trackless surface spoke of deep familiarity, he passed beyond the veil of shadows beneath the thick, grasping trees with their great gnarled branches spreading greedily outward to envelop the light, and at once he was gone
For a moment the girl, his daughter, Phaedra, simply stared out into the Mere after him, frozen in place, stricken by the abruptness of his dismissal. Alone, she suddenly let her concern flash across her face, clear, stark and vulnerable, her eyes gleamed for a moment with a yearning for comfort, for acknowledgement, she bit down on her lip, choking back what might have been a harsh sob. It was a moment's defencelessness it was clear that she wished only the aloneness of the place to witness. But there was another, gazing through the skein of interwoven branches, between the cavities of the gnarled, grey trees, the still, murky pools, thick and dark, there was another. Amidst the Mere's inhuman stillness, watching her, the body arced towards her as though drawn by a force beyond its control, there was no malice, no sense of threat, no danger, but the intensity of the gaze hinted at some deep connection between them. Even had Phaedra glanced up, discerned the form amidst the trees, she would have been able to see little, a single beam of light touched the rustle of rough brown fabric, stirring in the wind yet without sound, the rest was cast deep in the the shadows cast by the skeletons of branches overhead. Not even Daeghun, gliding past with the quiet, hard grace of a wildcat, had sensed the presence, his foster-daughter was far less accomplished. Then footsteps back along the path, back toward West Harbour, and a voice raised, calling, instantly Phaedra glanced up, scattering an incipient glimmer of tears from her eyes and in that same instant, the figure watching turned, the single fluid motion yielded no sound, neither did the quick, light steps upon the Mere's surface, grace even Daeghun could have envied…faint, soft light gleamed over long, coppery hair, glinting in green eyes astir with disquiet, then the moment passed and suddenly, inexplicably the figure was gone…
Perhaps Phaedra heard the last faint rustle in the undergrowth. If she did she scarcely paid it any heed. After all, the Mere, despite its fearsome appearance, harsh, choked with plant life, and with the vaporous mists that hovered over the dank pools, nonetheless was the home of many different animals. The boars Daeghun hunted were only one such creature, there were others, even the fearsome, and fiercely intelligent Lizardlings. The instant's thought she gave the slight sound decided instantly that it was one such creature, not a Lizardling, for they never ventured near the village, it was most likely something small, probably scarcely worth the notice. Indeed she had other things to concern herself with now, her two best friends, Amie Fern and Bevil Starling were moving down the thin path between the fields with their neat rows of ripe, golden wheat stirring in the gentle wind, both had come looking for her, seeing them she quickly buried the bitter grief of Daeghun's swift, brutal dismissal. She had lived with her guardian's hard neglect all her life, Daeghun was a man to whom affection did not come easily, but he had raised her, done the best he could, she had to be thankful for that and yet it was always so hard. No…she didn't need to think about that now. Daeghun would be fine out in the Mere, no one knew it better than he did, and her friends shouldn't see her in this state, she quickly brushed away the last tears clinging to her lashes, smiling brightly as Bevil and Amie stepped over the freshly ploughed earth, up to where she stood…
"Phaedra" Bevil hailed, his honest, open face, lighting up with relief as he grinned widely "Finally we found you" He glanced around him, his brow furrowing with unease as he took in the expanse of the Mere, grey, sallow in the morning light, even though they lived close to it every day, and indeed relied on it for their livelihoods, there were few Harbourmen who did not regard the Mere with such discomfort… "What were you doing out here anyway?" He asked, with a small tension in his voice
"I was just seeing Daeghun off" Phaedra answered, glancing to her friend, in many ways Bevil was the image of the typical young Harbourman, fiercely loyal, hardy, after all his family had lived here for generations, quite unlike Phaedra with her odd heritage and aloof guardian, as most of the village saw it. Bevil, thankfully saw easily through their differences, her own age, sixteen, a stocky young man with the build of a farmer, his brown hair was light and quite untidy, his blue eyes calm and cautious. He wore a suit of mail armour, a treasured heirloom of the Starling family and a rarity out here in the Mere, it was battered and somewhat aged, but he wore it with pride, even when not training with the West Harbour Militia, the village's defence force. Despite the effort he put into the training, and his heavy duties as the head of the Starling household since the death of his father and the mysterious departure of his elder brother Lorne from the village, he could always be relied on to be there for his friends.
"He went into the Mere after all?" Bevil turned to her, surprised, but she looked away, lowering her eyes, unable to meet his gaze…
"Yes…" Her voice sounded weak, hesitant from her own throat, no…she didn't want to seem so troubled by what was after all, something Daeghun did almost every day, it was just, she couldn't get the stories out of her head…
"Phaedra, there's no need to worry…" Amie added reassuringly "Daeghun, your father, he won't be in any danger out there, I mean, how bad can it be?" Phaedra nodded, and looked up again, meeting Amie's dark eyes, sparkling with vivacity and assurance. Where Bevil and Phaedra were friends, and strong friends, despite their differences, she and Amie shared much. Both orphans, both raised by somewhat difficult foster-fathers, and they both were both able to wield the forces of magic, though Phaedra was a sorcerer, with a gift inborn and honed by practice, where Amie was a wizard, who learnt the same craft by arduous study, but nonetheless they had learned side by side for a long time now. Amie was tall, almost as tall as Bevil, slight older than he and Phaedra, and quite thin, her honey-blonde hair tied tight behind her ears in a practical style. Her pointed features accentuated the softness of her eyes, deep brown, they gleamed with keen intelligence, Amie missed very little. "You know things have been tough before" She continued, encouraged "We've always pulled through, right Bevil?"
"Right" Bevil added earnestly
"And it's Harvest, remember?" Amie beamed, her exuberance, as ever, was infectious "There's no time for moping around, Daeghun's going to be fine, its not like he ever stays around for the Dance, but what about you?"
"What…do you mean?" Phaedra felt her lips tremble with the beginnings of a smile. Amie could always divert her, worry, sorrow never seemed to touch the older girl. She took everything in its stride, and something about her always encouraged Phaedra to do the same. The Harvest Festival, it was just what she should be thinking about to take her mind off Daeghun wandering through the misty depths of the Mere, alone, unguarded. No, the festival, it would be, as always, a night to remember, the highlight of the year, dancing, music, contests, a feast, the reason Daeghun was so set on catching a boar. Despite this year's troubles, with the soil yielding little of its customary bounty, and the difficulty everyone was having hunting, or perhaps to take the villagers' minds off these brutal facts, this year's festival looked to be something spectacular, and, as the first Harvest since she had come of age, it had a special meaning for Phaedra herself.
"Well, you aren't planning to go to the Dance as you are, mud and all?" Amie spoke without malice, though her critical eye fell upon Phaedra's simple, homespun dress, stained at its hem with thick, dark mud, well, she had to admit, she had been in a hurry when she had left the house, but…not everyone had to look like Amie did, in her elegant gowns of cream and brown, immaculate at all times "Please say you have something else"
"Actually I was thinking of the dress Retta made…from last year" Phaedra flushed, really, she wasn't quite as hopeless as Amie sometimes made out…
"What, again?" Amie sighed with exasperation
"She looked perfect in that dress last year" Bevil instantly and loyally sprang to Phaedra's defence, and that of his mother Retta Starling…who had indeed made the dress, but upon both girls glancing at him, surprised, he flushed and lowered his head with what might have been his obvious natural shyness, but had the troubling intensity of perhaps, something more "That is, I meant…she could…wear it again, my mother would be pleased…" As he floundered, Phaedra and Amie stared at him, though he was often this awkward around strangers; rarely did he lose himself so obviously in front of his two closest friends…
"We all love Retta, but in this case she's a little out of touch" Amie recovered first, speaking brightly as though nothing had happened "I mean, it's been a long time since she left Neverwinter"
"Amie, you've never been to Neverwinter" Phaedra shook her head smiling with amusement, how often did she remind Amie of that, she could hardly say, it was who her friend was. West Harbour was in fact tremendously isolated and Harvest was one of few occasions where any contact with the outside world was established, but this had never stopped Amie from acting the urbane young woman. Her guardian, and Phaedra's mentor, the wizard Tarmas, had originally come from the great city of Neverwinter itself, and to hear Amie talk of it, you might have thought she'd absorbed the sophistication of city life from his stories, and the books stacked high in the cluttered home the two of them shared. "You realise that Retta probably knows a lot more than you do?"
"Maybe" Amie laughed softly "But I know what's important" She raised her head, smiling mischievously "Speaking of which, did either of you hear that the merchant Galen arrived late last night?" Phaedra and Bevil exchanged a glance, then shook their heads in unison… "Well, he brought two guards with him, you know, like real adventurers?" Oh no,not this again "Every girl in the village will want to dance with them tonight, but if I'm lucky I might be able to catch one of them out right now, get him interested"
"Amie!" Bevil stepped back unsure, perhaps, if she was joking or not "What will everyone think?"
"What?" Amie shrugged, tossing her ponytail "There's no need to be so proper, I know what they'll think and I don't care. I need to talk to men like this, learn everything I can. When I finally get out of here, I'm going to need any information I can get about the adventuring life"
"Amie…" Phaedra bit her lip, as Bevil coughed uneasily, West Harbour, it was home, the only place any of them had ever known, though there were plenty here who dreamed of sometime leaving it, of making something of themselves in the world outside, that was all it came to. Amie, though, had always spoken as though she intended to leave the village behind for as long as Phaedra could remember. Of late she had spoken of it so often that Phaedra had begun to fear she would actually do it one day perhaps even soon, losing one of her best friends; remaining here to whatever end, while Amie travelled the world, she couldn't imagine it…
"Don't be like that" Amie sighed, glancing between her two friends "I'm sticking around here for a while longer at least…" She stopped, and stepped delicately back onto the path, glancing back, and smiling brightly "Are you coming Phaedra?" She said lightly "Maybe if I'm lucky those guards will see the two of us together, by this evening they'll be begging me to introduce you…I doubt they'll have seen anyone half as pretty even back in Neverwinter"
"Don't Amie" Phaedra begged, flushing hotly and lowering her head "I don't think…"
"Come on Phaedra…" Amie beamed "It's true, if I weren't your friend I'd be half-mad with jealousy…" She laughed, a peal of bright laughter following her, as she made her way back along the path toward the village, her spotless dress fluttering about her as though it disdained to touch the earth at her feet.
"Bevil…" Phaedra turned to him, ready to follow, only to have her smile fade as she saw how uneasy he suddenly seemed…shifting from one foot to another uncomfortably, looking down to the ground as though he didn't want to meet her gaze. "What is it?" Phaedra asked, concerned, as she stepped closer to him…
"Adventurers, we're better off without them…" He said quietly "Galen, his guards, they're the kind of people who make her talk like that, but, she doesn't really know what it's like, for them, or the people they leave behind" He raised his head, frowning darkly, and Phaedra suddenly remembered. Lorne, his elder brother, she had been seven when she had last seen him, a large man, and to her, he had seemed impossibly strong. At first glance he hadn't seemed much like his brother, gruff and surly, with little patience. People hadn't liked Lorne, but deep beneath this hard exterior, even the young Phaedra had sensed deep loneliness, a yearning for acceptance, and a storm of confusion, and she had always pitied the young man, even as he had fought bitterly with the others his age. Constantly outshone and overlooked, one day he had left, just left West Harbour, and his life behind, his family, his mother Retta and his siblings, including Bevil, the next oldest. The young Bevil had idolised Lorne, and he had taken his departure very hard, all of Lorne's responsibilities had been passed to him, forcing him to grow up fast…Phaedra had done her best to help, but the core of the betrayal Bevil had felt lay beyond even her, his best friend's, reach except on rare moments like this one, where something else roused all the bitter feelings…
"Bevil, Amie doesn't mean…" Phaedra began gently
"No, she doesn't" Bevil sighed, shaking his shoulders, as though to discard a great weight, but…Phaedra could see it hadn't left him at all "It didn't matter…anyway"
"Tell me" Phaedra said softly, holding his gaze, his blue eyes were deep, stained with a darker shade, almost black, around the pupils, the most distinctive thing about him. His eyelids fluttered, he didn't want to look away, but he was still reluctant to share this, it was the Harbouman way to weather what sorrows came, simply pick up the pieces after the disaster, never complain, never let on what was troubling you, but Phaedra knew well that sorrow could never be buried so easily. It was better to share it, find comfort in others, even if she had to make Bevil understand that herself.
"Phaedra" He hesitated, swallowed heavily "You know, this…isn't…really about Amie at all…" Phaedra lowered her head, leaning in towards him, as his voice grew quieter, she didn't know what this was about, if not Amie, or Lorne, but something told her it would be important, something that would touch her deeply. She had never told Bevil something herself, or anyone really, not even Amie, who of anyone would have understood. It was that West Harbour, had always seemed, though home in so many ways, not enough. She enjoyed life here, most of the time, but it was always the same. If she ever tried to see herself still going through the same motions in ten, even five years, nothing would come. It was more than Amie's fascination with the exotic, with adventure, perhaps it was a legacy of her elven blood, or the song of the power within her, but sometimes she would look upon that one, lonely road leading from West Harbour out into the Mere, into the world, and know deep within her that her true path lay down that way, though knowing what might take place on it was beyond her. She could scarcely imagine the world she had read about so many times. Gods forbid…could Bevil have guessed it, if he knew…she and Amie…it would break his heart…
"Hey!" Amie's voice, rippling with silvery laughter, suddenly floated over the carpet of golden wheat…to reach them, where they stood, cutting between them like the scythe which would harvest these crops when the time came. "Were you two coming, or not?" Bevil looked away up towards her, quickly, and it was over, Phaedra knew that at once. It was hard enough to get him to open up to her, now…it would be almost impossible to revisit this, whatever it had been. Something flashed across his face, a strange mixture of relief and frustration, something she couldn't quite put her finger on, as Amie waved brightly from where she stood up on the crest of the ridge just above where the path curved down toward the village. Phaedra took a step toward her, forcing a bright smile to her features as she Bevil glanced tentatively back to her.
"We'll talk again later" She promised, with no sense of the disquiet she felt at the interruption in her voice, poor Bevil looked quite uncomfortable enough. "I wanted to speak to Brother Merring…you…could come with me if you like"
"That's alright" Bevil looked down quickly "Georg wanted us to go over the drills before the Festival started anyway…"
"What…on Harvest Day?" Phaedra smiled sympathetically, hoping to return some levity to the atmosphere, she didn't like this…awkwardness, it made her feel nervous, there was something here, she didn't quite understand yet, though she had known Bevil all her life.
"Hurry up!" Amie crowed impatiently, and together Bevil and Phaedra walked up the rough path, through the fields of grain, back towards West Harbour, and home.