Rise of the Runelords

A campaign for the Pathfinder roleplaying game.


Deadeye's Gift

Toilday, 11th Neth — Deadeye Lodge, Magnimar

Thia stood quietly in Seerspring Garden, the splash of green that marked the point where the four districts of Magnimar's lower level came together. She had risen early, restless, and had come here for the grass and the trees, and the hope of a moment of peace and stillness amidst the noise and bustle of the rest of the city. She'd listened to the calming babbling waters of the spring, and admired the lines of the bronze statue that stood at its centre, depicting the water spirit that supposedly once dwelt here. She'd felt tense and on-edge since arriving in Magnimar, the sprawling densely-packed streets providing an unwelcome reminder of Riddleport, the city she'd fled. The gardens had offered a welcome distraction from those memories, a chance to feel grass under her feet and run her fingers through leafy branches, and to briefly forget the thousands upon thousands of people living their noisy lives around her.

Now, Thia's thoughts were again elsewhere. Whereas much of the rest of the city had provided uncomfortable reminders of Riddleport, the building now in front of her, at the eastern edge of the garden, was another matter entirely. The wooden lodge, humble and rustic, would have been perfectly at home in Roderic's Cove, the town she'd reluctantly left behind her just a few months ago. Here, the lodge was an anachronism against the backdrop of the buildings visible behind it - taller, stone-built, and far more imposing than the simple wooden lodge they loomed over.

Thia needed no helpful passer-by to point out the nature of the lodge. The bow-shaped sigil carved into its door made that clear to her, and even without it Thia would have been willing to hazard a guess as to the building's purpose. This was a church of Erastil, the ancient god of families, of farming, and of hunting.

Thia would not have expected to find a church of Erastil here, had the thought even occurred to her to look. In the midst of a city as large as Magnimar, Erastil seemed just as rustic as the lodge, and just as out-of-place. Abadar, god of cities, was obviously at home here; but Erastil was a rural god, of towns and villages, of places that bordered on fields and forests, of people that still sowed their own seed and hunted their own game. Thia was surprised that the city held enough worshippers to warrant even a shrine, let alone a church.

The timing of this discovery was not lost on Thia. Standing here, now, on this early Toilday morning, she knew precisely where she would have been at this exact moment had she not left Roderic's Cove. The first time Elias had invited her to accompany him to the thrice-a-week sermons he attended, Thia had initially been reluctant. Although enough time had passed that her earlier anger and bitterness had faded, she had remained unwilling to pay any worship to gods that had seemingly done nothing but stand by and watch as the griffon took her mother from her. Elias had been insistent, though, and besides, Thia had felt indebted to the gruff old man who had given her both work and a place to stay when she had arrived in the Cove with neither. Thia had quickly relented and agreed to go, but more for Elias's sake than anything else.

Thia shook herself out of her reverie, and walked towards the lodge. She had fallen out of the habit of regular worship since leaving the Cove, but Thia missed the old man, and figured that being inside the Lodge would make him feel a little less far away.

Reaching the Lodge, Thia paused a moment to examine Erastil's sigil carved into the thick oaken door, before pushing it open with a creak. Stepping inside, Thia immediately felt more at home than she had since first arriving in Magnimar - an effect that only increased when the thick door swung closed behind her, cutting off the noise of the bustle of the city. The simple trappings of the Lodge were more reminiscent of Roderic's Cove or Sandpoint than of any other building interiors she had seen in Magnimar.

Stepping from the entrance chamber into the main hall, Thia found the sermon was already in progress. The wooden pews were filled with two or three dozen attentive townsfolk - most humans with perhaps some half-elves among them, several halflings, and a single dwarf. Thia quietly slid into into the nearest pew and sat down, nodding silent thanks to the simply-dressed man with the salt-and-pepper beard who had promptly shifted along to make space. Thia glanced around, taking in the room, noting the items sparsely decorating the walls - furs, a bow hung on each of the left and right walls, and at the far end of the room a stag's head, directly behind the priest currently giving his sermon.

Thia turned her attention more fully to the sermon, and listened as the familiar themes developed - the importance of tradition and family, the benefits of the simpler life, and an emphasis on the community working together. The priest's voice was clear, comforting, and welcoming. He wore simple leathers and a fur cloak, devoid of ornamentation save for the sigil of Erastil burned into the leather upon his chest. The overall effect was to remind Thia even more strongly of her morning attendances with Elias at the Cove's lodge.

The sermon drew to a close, and Thia stood with the rest of the congregation as a number of quiet conversations broke out. Thia turned towards the exit behind her, but then changed her mind, realising that she wasn't quite ready to face a return to the bustle of the city just yet. She stepped to one side, allowing others to pass through to leave as she stood slightly awkwardly next to the door.

As the room emptied, the priest glanced over and noticed Thia's presence. He moved towards her, pausing briefly to pick up a slim volume - a copy of the local variant of the Parables, Thia presumed.

"Welcome, child," he began, his voice warm. "I don't believe I've seen you here before - are you new to the teachings of Erastil, or are you already counted among his followers? My name is Father Lorgell Fendus, by the way."

"Mine's Thia. And neither, to be truthful. This is far from my first sermons, although I wouldn't claim to be devout," admitted Thia. "My relationship with the gods in general hasn't been a close one for quite some time," she explained, before immediately wondering why she was being so open. The combination of the surroundings and the priest's comforting presence seemed to invite honesty.

"Ah, I sense a tale there," mused Lorgell. "One that needs telling, perhaps? Please," he said, gesturing to the pews behind him. He moved to sit down, and Thia followed, taking a seat at the pew behind that chosen by the priest. She paused, not sure how to begin or even whether she should; she hadn't come here intending to share her troubles and doubts.

The priest broke the expanding silence. "Do not be troubled, Thia. My view is that there are two things one can do with a burden - hand it to the ox, or share it someone. I can't claim to make much of an ox, but I would like to think I make a good listener."

Thia breathed in deeply, considering, then slowly breathed out.

"My mother was a firm believer," she began, "although she followed the elven gods. When I was young I followed her example, and was no more or less devout than the average child. I listened to her explanations and teachings, and accepted her assurances that the gods watched over us and protected us."

Thia paused for a moment, reflecting on what was left unsaid — that her mother also believed that forsaking the gods was what led to the fall of the first drow, the dark and corrupted elven kin that she had dedicated her life to destroy, becoming a Lantern Bearer. With the elves keeping the very existence of the drow a closely-guarded secret, Thia was not about to share any of this with Lorgell - his comforting presence and their tranquil surroundings notwithstanding.

This time, Lorgell didn't break the silence, instead just waiting for Thia to continue.

"I believed her, and I believed in the gods - until my mother died. She was snatched away from both life and her daughter, and as far as I can tell the gods did nothing," said Thia, the pain of her memories creeping into her voice. "If they were indeed watching over her, that was the limit of their involvement - intervening was something they were either unwilling or unable to do."

Lorgell sat silently for a couple more seconds, absorbing, before beginning to speak.

"I cannot claim to have much knowledge of the elven gods," he said, "and would certainly not be able to make any assertions regarding their willingness or ability to act. I can tell you that I am truly sorry for your loss and your pain, and that Erastil would feel similarly - I am in no doubt of that. The bonds of family and community are the very foundation of his creed, and any act that breaks such a bond would cause him great sorrow."

Thia nodded, but more out of politeness than of any belief that Erastil's sorrow offered any real solace. Lorgell seemed to sense her doubt, and lifted the book that he had picked up when approaching Thia.

"Are you familiar with the Parables of Erastil?" he asked, continuing when Thia nodded. "The gods have their own battles and struggles, played out constantly beyond the realm of our knowledge or understanding. Amidst those battles, Erastil watches over us, although even his attention must sometimes lie elsewhere, lest the evils of Urgathoa or Lamashtu win out. The Parables explain that it is for that reason that Erastil crafted the first bow and gifted it to us, that we may feed ourselves and protect ourselves."

Lorgell paused for a moment, and gestured at Thia's bow with his free hand.

"You carry Erastil's weapon, and I sense that you share his protector's spirit. Your faith has been shaken by your loss, and neither I nor anyone else can blame you for that. Even with your faith weakened, though, you carry out Erastil's teachings each time your lift that bow in defence of your community. He protects us through you and others like you, Thia. I am sorry for your loss, and I am sorry for your pain, but if I can offer you anything it is this: you have the means and the ability to be the protector of those in need. That is Erastil's will, and fostering that within you is his involvement in the world around you."

Thia nodded again, fighting back tears. While her faith could not be restored instantly, Lorgell's words gave her something to build from - a sense of purpose.

"Thank you, Father," said Thia, rising. She had by now lingered much longer than she had originally intended, and was sure her friends would by now be emerging for breakfast and wondering where she was.

"You are very welcome, Thia," said Lorgell. "Here," he continued, "please take this," and offered the copy of the Parables. Thia paused momentarily, still a little doubtful, but then accepted the book with a nod of gratitude before leaving.