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The Isle of Gaelan, and particularly the Gateway Valley where many of my Dungeons and Dragons characters reside is one of the few places in the universe where humans and Sidhe get along openly. Which is not to say that they hang out together more than they can help it. There are reasons...
by Kay Shapero
(copyright Kay Shapero, 1997)
Well of course I know about High King Bram and the Greyling, and the forming of the Alliance of Men and Sidhe of Gaelan. Did I not tell you those stories myself? But even so, friendly relations don't change the fact that men and Sidhe aren't... well aren't very good for each other. The Sidhe say that a few ill chosen words or acts on the parts of men have caused the collapse of decades of carefully and delicately built social structures, while carelessness by the Sidhe.. well, perhaps I should simply tell you the story.
A time and time and times ago, near the Gateway Valley, when most of the land was wild, a man and wife and their five children lived all by themselves out next to Hogback mountain. They had a kitchen garden for vegetables, and kept a few birds for their eggs, but lived for the most part on what they could hunt or gather from the forest. The oldest son, Robert, loved the wild lands and preferred to travel them in company with his father, from earliest childhood. When he came of age to hunt by himself, his father took him aside, and spoke to him privately. "You may range as far as you please so that you are never away for more than a day or two at a time without first telling me for we love you and would be sure that you have not come to harm. And be sure to bring your brother along when you climb the cliffs to seek the high nesting birds, for what is for two a trivial mishap, may be for one be death itself. But wherever you range, never approach within two hours walk of Silk Cliff, for that is where the gates to the lands of the Sidhe can be found, where no man should venture without direst need."
And so he wandered, from the bluepine woods to Splitrock pass; from the Serpentine River to the hanging meadows of Grey Scarp, learning the ways of the creatures great and small, the best places to fish, the nesting grounds of the birds, becoming a superlative tracker. Always remembering his father's warning and staying well clear of Silk Cliff. Though to be sure he would sometimes stand back, at a safe distance, to admire the play of the sunrise against the face of the cliff, like a tapestry of rainbows. Came a day when he had hunted clear to the source of the Serpentine without finding anything more than a pair of small rabbits. He had nearly decided to return home with his meager catch, when he came upon a magnificent tawny stag feeding in the meadow. Something alerted it; as he brought his bow up it turned and bounded away down river out of sight.
Robert chased it down the river, past Green Knob and over the valley through morning and noontime losing track of all time or place until at last he stopped to recover his breath. He looked around to see where he was, and suddenly lost all thought of the stag for through a gap in the trees he could see, far too close for comfort, the glittering surface of..
Yes, of course it was Silk Cliff. Are you telling this story or am I?
As he started in shock, a voice to match the beauty of the cliff came to his ears, singing in an unfamiliar language. He turned to go, but found himself tracking the voice instead, moving deeper into the woods towards the cliff. The westering sun turned the very air about him golden, as it cast rainbows from Silk Cliff. And then, through the atmosphere of growing enchantment he found the glade.
She was small by human standards; perhaps the size of a ten year old child though she was plainly adult in form. Her long silver-grey hair hung to her ankles in an elaborate skein of braids, forming a counterpoint to her flower-hung dress of closely meshed green cords.. or possibly live flowering vines. Her face was roughly triangular, broad at the top narrowing almost to a point at her chin; her eyes large and golden-green, and she was singing to a large blue-green beetle perched on her finger.
Robert was fascinated. He gazed in awe and fascination as the Sidhe maiden (for what else could she be?) sang. He still recognized none of the words, yet at the same time it seemed that the song held the whole world in it's scope; that if he could but listen just a few minutes more he would understand it all. And then she stopped with a laugh, waved her hand so that the beetle fluttered free, and turned to exit the glade.
Robert burst from the underbrush. "Please!" he called out, "Please wait just a minute."
The Sidhe maiden turned, startled, and threw out one hand towards him, as though blocking out the setting sun behind him from view. Robert stumbled as though he'd stepped into a hole, and fell to the ground in a daze that soon deepened into sleep. Behind him, the sun set.
Robert awoke to the light of morning and the sound of a flock of small, intensely noisy sparrows that fluttered by overhead. He sat up slowly, puzzling over his unfamiliar surroundings until he suddenly remembered. The singer.. he remembered her, remembered calling out to her... He remembered with a shock that he was perilously close to Silk Cliff. What a foolish thing to do - he could count himself lucky he'd got no worse from his act. Better get out of here and go...
Go where? Home, presumably, but where was that? He couldn't quite remember how to find it, even with the cliff as a guide. Oh well, there were certainly his own tracks; he'd just follow them back until the territory looked familiar. Then see about breakfast; he was hungry, but not hungry enough to stay here any longer than he had to! He leaped up, and began to backtrack.
It was straightforward enough at first; last night he seemed to have headed straight for the cliff, for his trail led straight away as nearly as possible given the terrain. It wasn't long before he reached the place he remembered having heard the singer. A bit more, and then a bit more...
Hunger finally drove Robert to stop a few miles further, even though he still did not recognize his surroundings. He checked his pack, and was relieved to find he still had some of the dried fruit, waybread and cheese he'd brought with him on the hunt, and ate it, with sips from his water bottle, before continuing.
Mile after mile, and still no familiarity to the terrain. At length, he came to a river and followed the trail up it. This was very strange - he remembered clearly following the stag, yet the only river he could recall was the Serpentine, and this didn't seem to be it. He could even see the stag's prints here and there; surely this was the right trail. And yet... maybe something had happened to it all the same. All the stories he'd heard about the inhabitants of Silk Cliff came back to mind.
Still he wasn't personally confused; the trail was clear enough and nothing seemed amiss save the unfamiliarity of it all. He shrugged - might as well continue for now. Even if he didn't find familiar territory, people did tend to settle fairly near watercourses; he might find someone of whom to ask directions.
Up the river he went, past the various tributaries watching the river shrink to a creek, a trickle, and at last a spring. His trail.. or at least the trail, for he was far from certain that it was his own now, went around the spring and back down the other side of the river. The sun was nearly set; manifestly there was nothing to do but camp for the night.
He checked the inside of his game bag. Not much there - a couple of rabbits. Which, even dressed out, wouldn't keep that much longer. He built a fire and cooked them, eating part and saving the rest, then spread out his bedroll and went to sleep.
Next morning found him on the trail downriver. Even if this wasn't his own trail, it was as good a direction as any. By midday, the trail left the river, heading up one of the tributaries. Even better, it broadened into a track repeatedly traveled, as though at least one person used it regularly, and his speed increased. He even felt secure enough to try a bit of hunting, and brought down more rabbits and a groundfowl. A startled deer crossed his path, but he decided not to pursue it Even if his last essay in that direction hadn't brought about trouble, he had enough to carry already. Besides, there was the risk of running afoul of whoever lived here. He thought wistfully of home, and increased his pace.
Another day, and the route broadened into an honest to goodness path, down which he could hear human voices. He hurried along it until he came to a small wooden cottage and garden, with a pair of dogs in the front yard. He stood back, warily, as the dogs approached him at a run, but all they did was jump up and down around him, barking, tails wagging in greeting. A child ran out of the house, looked, and called back "He's back!", then charged out to greet him with a big hug and a "Didja get anything for me?". Robert just stood there, bewildered, as another child, a man and a woman came out of the house and greeted him. "I..." he finally stammered," who... I don't understand. Who are you?"
The woman looked astonished. "We're your family, of course. Robert? What's wrong?"
Furthermore, they were. He could even remember that he had two parents, a brother, and a sister... even if pressed for a description they'd match the people he met at the house and yet the feelings just weren't there. They might as well be another family superficially similar, except that they remembered everything about him that you'd expect your family to, including a number of things nobody else could have known.
Which naturally left magic as an explanation; most likely whatever the Sidhe maiden had done as she fled. So it was that next time his father went to Bluerock for supplies, Robert went with him, to the town magus.
Despite the image the name implies, the magus was young, not that much older than Robert himself, though with a self assurance appropriate to a much older man. His name was Duncan (no, not THAT one; that tale comes many centuries later), and he spoke soothingly to the confused lad. "Well, I don't have much to do with Sidhe magic, but a simple analysis ought to help. Just sit down a minute..." He mumbled a few words and touched Robert's forehead. "There. Yep, you're under a spell all right. Some form of forgetfulness. Never seen that one before."
"Never mind that - can you remove it?"
"That may be tricky. Just relax and I'll check my books." Several books, five mystic passes, and a sip out of a cauldron filled with something probably best not looked at directly, later...
Robert considered his family again. "I'm afraid not."
"And I'm afraid that's about all I can do. You might be best off just living with it until new experience with your family regrows the link."
Robert looked distressed, and Duncan hastened to add "But if not, you might check with the Wizard's Guild. There are plenty of other magi out there with skills I don't have. Good luck."
"Thanks," mumbled Robert, "What do I owe you."
"A couple of rabbit pelts for the spell analysis; wait a second and I'll write it up so you can show it to whoever you consult." He suited action to word, handing Robert a small paper scroll. "Nothing for the rest - chalk it up to research."
He ushered Robert to the door.
The nearest Wizard's Guild hall was further away, in the town of Fire Ridge, so it was early fall before Robert was able to go. In the meantime he busied himself at home and out hunting, learning the paths anew. There was little point in trapping, it being summertime when pelts are at their least valuable, but with his mother's help he gathered a number of useful and tradable herbs to dry, so that at length when he set out for Fire Ridge he had something with which to pay for more consultation.
Which, I'm afraid, gave little return, for after all five magi at the guild hall finished their work, the spell still endured. "We're very sorry, but I'm afraid this is out of all experience," they explained. "You may just want to live with it and simply grow to love them anew." Robert paid them and thanked them for their advice, then returned. Indeed he did find that he missed them, and was happy to return to them. Still.. still he was not ready to give up.
And so things settled into a pattern over the next five years; winters spent trapping both for food and pelts to trade, things gathered for use and for sale, and trips made to further and further towns, then cities to consult magi. Shared experience and shared love bound him more and more to his family; and simultaneously pushed him into wishing that much more for removal of the curse and restoration of what was lost. For he did love them.
Until at last, five years later, he came to Brighthaven itself, place of the first landfall and even then capital city of all Gaelan, and spoke to the chief wizard of the entire guild, Serinna (yes, THAT one). "Your story is not unfamiliar to me," she told the young man. "I doubt I can do anything for you either, and it would be extremely expensive for you to try."
"I'll find a way." replied Robert, determined.
The wizard sighed. "The guild does not allow reduction of prices below a certain bare minimum, which would probably be beyond your reach for something like this, but it does allow members to do some things at no charge. Especially since I'm currently researching some of the interactions between different classes of magic. If you're willing to let me test you to see if this is what's causing the problem, maybe I can help both of us."
No potions, passes or the like this time - Serinna simply smiled at him, and for a moment, the air felt like it had gelled... then things resumed their normal flow.
"That's it." she said, "It's probably a simple spell, but it's of an entirely different class of magic than we humans use. It's like.." she paused, seeking an appropriate simile, "like trying to skin a rabbit with a cooking pot. It might be the best cooking pot in all Gaelan, such that housewives travel for miles just to look at it, but it's simply not suited to the task."
"Then nobody can help?"
"I didn't say that... but you're going to have to stop dealing with human magi. You've got to talk to the Sidhe themselves about this one. And.. in all honesty I would advise against it. You still have your family, your home, your health... you could lose far more dealing with them. Indeed, there have been those who ventured into their realm who never returned, or returned years later from what seemed only a night."
Robert sat and thought. It was true, he missed them now and could hardly wait to return to the little cottage near Hogback Mountain and yet... and yet even with them around he occasionally missed them even now. "Thank you", he replied, and left the room. Serenna watched him go with concern, then shrugged. To each their own lives.
Robert returned home, thinking furiously the entire way and after arrival. One day home, two, three... and he could stand it no longer. Not quite daring to explain, he wrote a small letter and left it under his pillow where it would be found later, then set out on another hunting trip.
Only instead of hunting game, he made straight for Silk Cliff. The track he had left was long gone by now, and he had to make his own path through unfamiliar ground full of rocks, fallen trees, unexpected gullies and the like, but at last he reached the cliff face. He followed it for awhile until he came upon an archway, and recessed in the archway a small wooden door and a chair. Seated in the chair was a man, taller but for all that strongly resembling the Sidhe maiden glimpsed so many years ago, dressed much like Robert himself. He stood, and smiled. "Greetings. Few there are of your kind who come our way these days. What seek you here?"
"Greetings", Robert replied. "I seek aid from one of your kindred."
He proceeded to tell the tale, half excited, half frightened, but the other's only reaction was to nod. "I see." He looked at Robert. "Yes, I do see. One of Yissal's spells. I recognize her touch. And it is she who must remove it; we do not unduly meddle in the workings of others lest our own suffer."
"And where can I find her?"
"Oh anybody can direct you to her. Or you could wait here; she doesn't much care for this realm but betimes all must guard this door. Her next turn is but a century or so from now."
"A century? Er.. I'm afraid my kind don't last that long."
"Sorry, I was forgetting. You would go inside then?" The door ward gazed at him searchingly. "You may enter."
"I... yes." said Robert firmly.
The door ward nodded, and opened the wooden door. Robert swallowed once, ducked his head, and passed through.
Inside... wasn't at all inside; Robert found himself standing in a glade much like the one he'd just left. He turned, saw the door just behind him opening from the trunk of a massive tree. He shrugged and looked around.
Four.. children? Beings half the size of the doorward swarmed out of the underbrush, dashed around him giggling, and vanished again. From behind them came a voice, calling in an unfamiliar language to them. The speaker emerged; another Sidhe man so like the doorward that the only way he could have told them apart was by dress, for this one was wearing a red and gold tunic and tights. "Excuse me", said Robert, "But could you direct me to the lady Yissal?"
The other stopped "Yissal? Why?" he paused and looked gazed at Robert in much the same way the doorward had. "Oh, Yusf sent you. I see. She's over that way by the lake." another pause. "She'll wait for you." He dashed off after the children.
Robert followed the path past massive tree ferns, tall slender trees with broad hard leaves and fleshy white flowers, and small bushes hung with tiny golden bells for flowers; bells which rang faintly in the breeze of his passing. Ahead he saw glimpses of blue that gradually came together in the promised lake, and beside it, a grey-barked tree bent sideways from the base for about six feet, then up again to form a sort of bench in which was seated a Sidhe woman.
He approached. "My lady Yissal?" he asked, tentatively.
"Why yes." she replied. Today her silver-grey hair hung loose instead of in braids, confined only by a headband and some strange force that seemed to hold the ends off of the ground regardless of how she stood or sat. Her dress was pale blue, ornamented with large golden leaves.
"I... I want to apologize for startling you five years ago, when I saw you in the clearing outside. I truly meant no harm."
"You what..." she looked puzzled, then laughed. "Oh! I had forgotten. But I thank you anyway for the apology. Sit with me?" she indicated the other end of the tree-bench.
"Thank you." he sat down, gingerly. "I fear I must also ask help. I'm told you alone may remove the spell you cast at me."
"Spell.." she looked at him with the searching gaze of the two Sidhe men before. "That should have worn off long ago. I don't understand... but I do see it now. I'm exceedingly sorry - here, let me take it off at once." She reached out and touched him lightly on the forehead.
Robert fell off the back of the bench as though he had been struck. Which in a sense he had, by a tidal wave of emotion long held back. He remembered indeed - remembered his home, his family, how he felt when he got lost in the forest at age two and how his mother had held him so tightly when he was found and... on and on. He was vaguely aware of Yissal's dismay but as he picked himself up off of the moss, his one real thought was "home". He stammered out a farewell, and set off for the door at a dead run.
Outside, he noticed the Sidhe man he'd earlier encountered following the children seated in the doorway. "I see you found her all right." he said, to Robert's unhearing back. "I hope it was enough." he added, to himself.
Not pausing to seek out his return track, Robert set out directly away from Silk Cliff, guiding himself by memories of the terrain first to the gravel ford across the Serpentine, and on up the pathway to his house. Here the first place he'd ever caught his own rabbit, there the tree that once marked the boundary of his free ranging as a child, at every step now another memory, around the corner...
The forest does not leave much of a wooden house long abandoned. Before him was the clearing, overgrown with the remnants of the kitchen garden, and a scattering of trees. He stumbled forward, and found the boulder that had marked the edge of the field nearest the road, now overgrown by the roots of a fifteen foot bluepine. One surface had been planed off - it must have been many, many years ago, and words carved inexpertly into it. "Robert - found note. Sorry. Can't wait longer. If you see this, know we loved you. Mom & Dad"
He sank to the ground and wept.
Yes, that is too the end for now. Off to bed with you all; no more stories tonight!