User:Michael Bard/Beornwyn's Love
|Tales of the World story universe|
The Caldayan pushed open the door to the tavern in Dragonscar, grabbing it to keep the wind from slamming it against the wall inside. He managed to stagger in and pushed against the door, struggling against the wind. It wasn't until he leaned his full weight against it that the door finally thudded shut. After making sure the latch had caught, he collapsed on the floor, too tired even to shake the snow and ice out of his mane.
"What happened?" one of the miners huddling in the warmth asked. "How'd you manage ta find your way through the storm? For a moment we thought ya Beornwyn's ghost."
"I'm no ghost, thank the Gods. But there was something..."
"Something..." The Caldayan heaved himself up slowly walked his body and its four legs over to the roaring fire, the snow melting off his fur and furred robes cloaking him in steam. "It was a human who led me here."
Chairs squeaked on the wooden floor as many of the patrons hunched around the fire got up.
"Where is he then?!" one asked. "Ya didn't live him outside in this fey storm to die?!" another growled.
The Caldayan plopped himself down on his lower chest in front of the fire and sighed. "I don't know and wished I did. I'll tell you what happened -- see if you can make any sense of it. But first some hot ale. My outsides almost warm and my inside's cold!"
A chuckle greeted that and it wasn't long until the barkeep walked over with a steaming mug of ale and handed it to the Caldayan after taking a copper for it.
After taking a long sip and purring in pleasure, the Caldayan closed his eyes to remember...
I was on my way here to Dragonscar, up the path from the Silver River, when this blizzard blew in. One instant the air was calm; the next it was a white sheet. Crouching down, and with my eyes nearly closed, I tried to find the path but I couldn't see the whiskers on my face. I started walking in what I thought was the right direction as I knew I couldn't just stand there, and wandered somewhere off the path into the ceaseless white. I don't know how long I walked until the storm seemed to pause. The wind and snow still howled, but the sound was distant, the biting cold an almost forgotten memory. Only the sudden silence let me hear the call from behind.
Half numb, I dutifully stopped and looked towards the sound but couldn't see a thing. The storm cloaked the world in white. Without warning, the air around me calmed, and I could see a man walking towards me. He was wearing worn and tattered furs made in a style I'd never seen and I've travelled as far as the Holy City of Gandala. His eyes were huge and white and had no pupil. Most of his face was hidden by masses of unkempt white hair and beard which blew about his face in the wind. The only thing he carried was a wooden staff.
"Have you seen her?" he asked.
He ran up to me, his staff slamming into the ground without a sound. Then he stopped and looked down into my face. "My wife, my poor lost wife..."
"I haven't seen a soul," I told him. "And if this storm doesn't stop soon neither of us well again. Can you get us to Dragonscar?"
"Dragonscar? Certainly. Can't you see it, just up there?" He pointed off into the storm with his staff.
He started walking and I followed. "Where'd your wife go?" I didn't want to say anything else because in this storm she was already dead.
"Kithmala, my poor, poor Kithmala. She ran away from me just yesterday. Probably flew right away home."
Flew? I began to be afraid my guide had lost his mind and I started to watch my steps more carefully in case this madman only thought he knew where he was going. In the eerie calm I prepare my soul for Vashigan's judgement.
"Kithmala!" he suddenly called out. "Why did you leave me?!"
As suddenly as the wind had faded, it rose back up, howling like the faerie being judged before the Gods. Grabbing the human's cloak I shouted at him, "Its too late for her! Dragonscar! We have to get there!"
He ran off and, dredging the last of my strength, I hurried off after him but he vanished into the blowing snow. Then, even over the howling of the wind, I heard him whisper: "Poor little Cunmar. Taken off too." He started shouting again. "Why couldn't you wait?! Id have gone with you!" Suddenly he was in front of me again. "My wife? Have you seen her?"
"I haven't. We have to get to Dragonscar!"
"Dragonscar? Kithmala wouldn't have gone there..."
"We have to get there before the storm kills us!"
"Its right there! Can't you see it?" He pointed off into the snow with his staff and I stared where it pointed. At first all I could see was the snow. Then a glimpse, faint, possibly, hopefully, a glow of light.
"A light!" I shouted.
The old man shouted, "Kithmala!" before vanishing for the last time.
"The instant he vanished, the storm rose to a new level of violence. I couldn't even see my mane in front of my face. Trying to remember where he'd pointed, I began to walk. I still almost missed this tavern but, finally, I made out a glimmer of light from off to my right and forced my way through the storm here."
"That's Beornwyn ya saw," one of the humans said.
The Caldayan turned and looked at him. The one who spoke was probably the oldest man there.
"Beornwyn? I've heard of him. Didn't he live near the end of the Second Age and die in these mountains?"
"Oh that he did. Those mountains are called tha Weeping Mountains 'cause him and his lovely fey lover."
"I've never heard that legend."
"T'is not a legend! It's tha unvarnished truth!" A few of the others snickered at this, but the oldster continues. "Ya saw it, ya know I'm right. Well, t'is a good night for tales so let me tell ya the sotry of Beornwyn and his love."
Some 400 years ago, after Luani had gifted the world with magic and before the other Gods had found out, Beornwyn wandered The World. He journeyed up the Simbrani River and visited Gandala and sacrificed to the Gods there. In his journeys he killed thousands of wild Caldaya, no offence to you, and rescued many humans from their camps. Through all this he was companied by his battle brother Ealdwulf, who, it's whispered, was also his lover. Ealdwulf was wounded, almost killed, and as Ealdwulf was recovering in Mandalor, Beornwyn heard rumours of an evil dragon living in these mountains, likely the same as the one who's scarring of the earth as it was slain gave Dragonscar its name.
Beornwyn didn't want to leave Ealdwulf, but Ealdwulf insisted, knowing that Beornwyn would come back to him. So Beornwyn took his bronze blade Kalibathas, also known as the Sword of Fate because of Beornwyn's fate, and clothed himself in his bronze armour and took up his great bronze shield and heavy oaken spear. Then he mounted his horse Ulanth and, with many looks back, rode off into the mountains in search of the dragon.
It probably would have been better if he had found he'd found the dragon, but his life was fated and the Gods'll have their way.
One evening, after another fruitless day of searching, Ulanth smelt water nearby and Beornwyn gave her her head. A short walk and they reached a small pool hidden behind rock outcroppings.
To Beornwyn's amazement, the pool was not empty.
In the middle of the pool a woman was bathing. And such a woman! Us mortals cannot imagine the vision she presented as she bathed, her golden hair hiding her skin from Beornwyn's sight. He fell in love the instant he saw her. Beornwyn dropped his spear and slipped off his horse and crept towards the pool.
How could a woman's beauty be so powerful you ask? It's because she wasn't human. She was one of the Faerie. A small, unimportant fey who'd been forgotten when the Gods drove the Faerie beyond the World. Her beauty wasn't a human beauty, but a foreign, fey beauty. We may not have fallen instantly in love, but Beornwyn had no choice. This love was Beornwyn's fate. He knew of the faerie, he recognized the strangeness of her beauty, but he still had to possess her.
Slipping the strap of his bronze shield off his shoulder, he quietly placed the shield on the ground. How could he possess her? He looked around for some way to keep her and that was when he saw her skin.
Not her actual skin of course, but the skin that faerie used to change its shape to fly to its home and family. Beornwyn recognised it for what it was when he saw it piled at the base of a rock, the sun reflecting rainbows from its golden scales. Creeping along the rocks, he made his way closer and closer until he could grab the skin. It's said that the faerie shivered for an instant before she continued bathing.
Beornwyn carefully crept away, holding the skin tight against him. The shoulder belt that held his sword Kalibathas and its scabbard caught on bush and he threw them away, completely oblivious to what he was doing in his eagerness to keep the skin. He finally reached a crevice and crept inside and hid, waiting and watching the faerie as she bathed.
She continued her bath for the rest of the afternoon, what was left of it, and then calmly walked out of the pool to where her skin had lain. Her face darkened, reddened. Panic swept across it. She searched, at first slow but then more and more quickly and panicky. As the sun set she finally knew that it was gone. She collapsed fell to her knees and then her stomach, weeping.
Beornwyn had watched all this and had fallen deeper in love. He'd buried the skin in the crevice he was hiding in, marking its grave with his dagger. He ended up watching her weeping, powerless to approach her, or even to leave her. It wasn't until Vashigan had left his thrown and Luani's silver light fell across The World that Beornwyn could finally creep out of his hiding place towards the faerie where she lay sobbing and weeping.
In her sorrow the faerie didn't notice him until he touched her smooth skin. She jerked from the touch, scrabbled away, and then saw what had happened. Her eyes glistened in the silvery light and she forced back sobs as a distant hope poured into her face. Whispering, she asked, "Have you seen my skin?"
Beornwyn's heart skipped a beat as the loveliness of that voice penetrated his very soul. Her voice was so sweet he almost told her that he had her skin, but at the last moment decided to keep silent. He just shook his head.
"You must have it," she said. "There's no one else around. Why did you take it?"
Beornwyn was silent as the faerie looked up at him, her naked form pulling his eyes along it to linger over its inhuman perfection. His only answer was three words: "I love you."
The faerie began to weep again. Crouching on the ground she wept, the sobs wracking her body. Beornwyn felt tears form in his eyes. He knelt down and held her close to him, trying to comfort her. Her pain almost broke his heart, but the feel of her body against him hardened his will.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Kithmala. Will you give me my freedom?"
Beornwyn only shook his head. "If I did, then you'd fly away and I'd never see you again. It would break my heart. You'd take my freedom with you."
Kithmala swallowed and her sobbing stopped as she looked up at Beornwyn. Her eyes now dry and clear, she saw that his eyes were tender. She saw that he had stolen her skin only because of his love for her. The pain was still too much, she couldn't smile, but she managed to whisper, "I'll stay."
Joy burst through Beornwyn. He hugged her and kissed her and soon she was kissing him back. In Luani's silver glow they made love for the first time and Beornwyn's heart was filled with joy. So, he thought, was Kithmala's.
After that Beornwyn stayed with Kithmala. He'dd never leave her side. He forgot his sword Kalibathas and legend says it still lies by that very pool. His poor horse, Ulanth, was abandoned and made her way home to Mandalor months later. Beornwyn, though, cared not for he was happy.
He was in love.
Time passed. Beornwyn made a small cabin for Kithmala and himself, and a cradle for their child for Kithmala was soon blessed with Beornwyn's seed. He gathered wild berries from the mountainsides and captured a wild goat for milk. Kithmala began to sew and made herself a dress that matched her loveliness; where she got the materials, no one knows.
Time passed and eventually Ealdwulf went into the mountains in search of Beornwyn. Months passed before he found Beornwyn, a Beornwyn so consumed by love, that he barely remembered his friend's name. Ealdwulf thought Beornwyn's forgetfulness was a joke at first, but had just begun to fear otherwise when Beornwyn finally remembered. They hugged like long lost brothers and then Beornwyn invited Ealdwulf into his cabin where Ealdwulf met Kithmala.
Ealdwulf's first reaction was shock which quickly burned into hatred. Drawing his sword he'd have slain Kithmala right then except that Beornwyn grabbed him and wrestled him down. Kithmala fled into the back of the cabin. In a mighty struggle the two friends fought, though Ealdwulf's heart wasn't in it. Finally Beornwyn wrestled Ealdwulf's sword into the dirt. Only then did he release Ealdwulf and crouch, watching him.
"Why?" Ealdwulf finally managed to gasp out.
"I love her."
"But she's fey. She's the cursed. What has the fey done to you?!"
Ealdwulf tried to get to his feet, but Beornwyn tackled him back to the floor. Then he sighed and stood. Ealdwulf pushed himself up until he was sitting and just watched his friend.
Beornwyn turned and walked over to the window and looked out. "I know what she is."
"Because I love her. I really really do. It's not magic, it's better than magic. It's amazing, beyond wondrous, beyond the excitement of battle." He turned around. "I loved her from the moment I saw her. I'm happy no Ealdwulf. Each day I wake up and turn to watch her sleeping and I never want to get out of bed. Each morning I kiss her and watch her eyes flicker open and light up and that is the most wondrous view upon the World!"
Stepping over, he grabbed Ealdwulf's arms.
"I've never felt like this. So much at peace and so full of joy!"
Ealdwulf stared at his friend. "Is she better than the times we had? The joys, the battles, the triumphs?" He jerked himself free of Beornwyn's grip. "Is it better than what we had?!"
"Then bring her with you. We can all return to Mandalor! Settle there."
"No! You saw your reaction to her. What do you think others would do?"
"Then leave her. She can't be that important!"
"She is -- more important than anything!"
"She's possessed you."
"Then come with me, free yourself. I know a priestess of Luani who can help..."
"No! You don't understand. It's not magic, and I don't want to be free." Beornwyn turned away and stalked over to the door and ripped it open. "Accept her or go."
"I'll be back. I'll save you from her ensorcelment."
"There is no spell! Go away - I don't want to see you ever again!"
Some legends say that Ealdwulf's lip trembled as he choked back tears. "Fine." He turned and left, and Beornwyn went to comfort his love.
Time passed. Kithmala grew large and Beornwyn was happy. Yet, as she slept, more and more often Kithmala would cry and beg for her skin, though she'd deny it in the morning. And each time this happened Beornwyn would grow sad for it was he who kept her skin from her. One day he tried to destroy it, hoping that if it was gone Kithmala would be happy. He couldn't tear it or cut it, and when he threw it on the fire Kithmala screamed in pain. Beornwyn ripped it out of the flames. The skin was undamaged though Kithmala was burned where the flames had touched the skin. After that he hid it away in a locked chest and kept the key always around his neck. And tried to ignore Kithmala's cries in her sleep.
More time passed. Kithmala grew large and finally birthed a child, a son, and both parents were overjoyed. The next evening they went back to the pool where they'd met. There they presented their child to The Gods and named him Cunmar.
The child grew rapidly but Beornwyn grew more and more troubled as every night Kithmala sobbed ceaselessly. Every morning she denied it, but Beornwyn could see the truth in her eyes. His guilt grew day after day. When Cunmar was weaned Beornwyn knew that the time had come to return what he'd stolen. It is said that he knew his fate was upon him.
Beornwyn couldn't sleep that night. While Kithmala lay sleeping, sobbing, he walked over and looked in Cunmar's face as he slept in his cradle. So young, yet so like his father. Beornwyn slipped across the room and looked at the locked chest. Through the night as Luani glowed in the heavens he stared at it. When Vashigan began to gleam in the sky, he walked to the chest and unlocked it with the key.
The chest opened silently.
Beornwyn looked at Kithmala's skin. He stared at the rainbow patterns Vashigan's light made on its scales. He grasped it and pulled it out. He held it before him and stared at its golden length. Grasping it close, he remembered all the good times.
Beornwyn began to weep.
If it wasn't for Cunmar he probably would have locked the skin away. When Kithmala left, he'd at least have Cunmar to remember her by. It's possible that he knew he should put the skin back, but his fate was upon him. Slowly he walked over to where Kithmala was sleeping and lay the skin upon her.
Slowly Kithmala opened her eyes and looked at Beornwyn. Her eyes flickered to the skin but then turned to look at Beornwyn. Tears formed in her eyes as she stared into his. She tried to hand the skin back but Beornwyn wouldn't take it.
"Do you know what you're doing?" Kithmala asked.
"Please take it," she whispered. "I don't want to leave, but if I have it, I'll have no choice."
Slowly Beornwyn shook his head. Turning, he walked away, leaving Kithmala's skin in her hands.
He walked far away from the cabin he'd built. Beornwyn couldn't watch Kithmala leave, he knew it'd destroy him. Even worse, he feared he might rip the skin back away from her, imprison her again. Leaving Cunmar behind, didn't worry him as he knew Kithmala would never hurt him.
About midday Beornwyn reached the pool where he'd first seen Kithmala. Kalibathas was still lying on the ground, bright and shiny as the day it had been forged as the leather had rotted away around it. Beornwyn ignored it. He just walked up to the pool and stared into its depths. He thought over the joy with which he'd been blessed and he thanked the Gods for that joy.
He turned and began to walk back to the cabin.
He walked slowly, not wanting to return and see the finality of the cabin's emptiness. Were it not for Cunmar he would never have returned. He'd done the right thing. Kithmala might not want to leave now, but she would go home, as her nature dictated. And soon her memory of him would fade and she'd enjoy her immortal existence once more.
He reached the top of a hill and looked down at the cabin. The chimney gave off no smoke.
Beornwyn knew that she was gone.
He sighed and kept walking. It had been done.
As he approached the cabin, Beornwyn noticed that the door was hanging open. Why would Kithmala have left it that way? A could chill fled down his back. He ran to the cabin. Cunmar was there. Cunmar had to be there!
Reaching the cabin he ran in. The cradle was still there and Cunmar was within in, not moving. She wouldn't have killed him! She couldn't have! Almost blind with panic, Beornwyn reached the cradle, reached into it to pick up the child.
When he touched Cunmar, he knew. He knew that only Cunmar's skin remained.
He knew that Kithmala had taken Cunmar away with her.
It's said Beornwyn's scream echoed through the mountains. It's said that it was heard by Ealdwulf who was on his way to Beornwyn with a priestess. Ealdwulf raced to the cabin and grabbed his friend. He listened as Beornwyn told him what had happened. And when Beornwyn reached the point where he knew his son was gone, he screamed again. An agonized scream. A soul destroying scream.
Beornwyn turned, shoved past Ealdwulf, and ran into the mountains, calling Kithmala's name.
Ealdwulf turned to pursue, but Beornwyn ran far faster than any mortal and Ealdwulf lost him in the distance.
That was the last Ealdwulf saw of Beornwyn. Occasionally others would see him. They'd see an ancient man wreathed in silver hair and beard and carrying only a staff and wearing only some rough furs. He'd ask them if they'd seen his wife or child. And when he found out they hadn't, he'd run away, sobbing, back into the mountains calling their names.
A long silence followed the end of the tale until the Caldayan asked, "And he searches still?"
"So t'is said."
The Caldayan just shook his head. Walking over to one of the windows he pushed open the shutters. The storm had stopped and the World was a brilliant crystal white, lit only by Luani's silvery light.
He thought he heard Beornwyn weeping for his lost love.