The Legacy of Camnor
By T. L. Veselka
Samis and the Gray Man
Sign of the Birth
The continent of Anslon was large. It stretched its bulk from below the equator to near the icy northern cap of the world. Across this vast and versatile landscape stretched a mighty unbroken chain of mountains and an expansive plain that traversed its entire length. To the south lay the strange jungles of Melhoran, full of creatures and plants too strange for anyone who didn't live there to believe in their existence. In the northwest part of the continent was the highest range of mountains found on Anslon, their craggy peaks reaching up to pierce the sky like great stone daggers intent on reaching their impossible target.
Life on Anslon was much like life anywhere in the universe. People milled about the planet like ants thinking that somehow they were special, that they were different. Yet, so few of those people cared enough to sacrifice what was needed to make any real difference or to become someone special. Life itself ebbed and flowed just like the currents of the great oceans that truly held sway on the planet, separating the continents like children who couldn't get along, out of sight and out of mind. So it was that their thoughts and lives turned inward.
On the western side of the continent were many kingdoms, each one vying for the others' lands and power. Some of the smaller nations struggled to survive without being swallowed whole by a larger neighboring kingdom. Of all these western kingdoms Feldor was the largest. It alone was thriving amidst all the intrigue and war surrounding it. Not that it was without its own intrigues, but most of them were kept within the court of the king, Rorak.
Feldor had several large cities, but most of the population didn't reside in the large cities. Therein lay Feldor's secret, its large number of common people and serfs attending to its natural resources. Most of the people lived in villages that were strategically set near rich lands or deep mines. Feldor dug deep mines into the mineral and gold rich mountains that covered its northeastern half, and close by were villages controlled and maintained by farmers and shepherds. One of many such mountain villages was Hanthur.
Hanthur was more of a large village than a town. The few shops that existed were crowded onto two narrow, dusty streets next to the Mayor's offices. The shops' stalls were all nearly identical in make, unvarnished and rough, but built from dark, common solid thornwood. The stalls had the uncanny but frustrating ability to collect dust, even in the late stages of winter. As the sun rose above the snow dusted hills that surrounded the village, the stalls remained empty of both keepers and wares. It was still too cold to be hawking goods of any sort, or buying them for that matter. There was only a vagrant on the streets this early in the morning.
The villagers of Hanthur got up with the rising sun, groaning and walking with slow paces. Thanks to the unusual weather and the continual wars ravaging the other kingdoms, times were hard in all of the outcropping villages like Hanthur. Rushing about daily errands wouldn't fix that. This winter had been a harder one than usual, and it showed on the pale faces of the gaunt villagers as they entered the streets to start the day. Even the small children who were being hauled about in blankets and overly large coats by their mothers had dark circles under their eyes. Hungry stomachs made for a hard night's sleep.
The folk of the village and its surrounding ranches were hardy and used to extreme weather, but this winter had worn them down, like wheat under a millstone, grinding at them until there was little left. It had grown so cold that one of the few stray dogs that belonged to the village had been found one morning frozen, its right leg held up and its eyes still open. It had been frozen solid in a storm while urinating on one of the buildings.
Hanthur squatted in a wide and shallow valley, surrounded by rolling brown hills long ago tamed by shepherds and farmers of decades long past. There was only one well traveled road that led to and from the large village, and it ran north and south, meandering through the hills, north to the high, craggy peaked mountains and south to the small city of Devlin and the expansive plains beyond. The soldiers and lowly politicians who came to retrieve the king's gold and other riches from the mines used the road once a year for their long wagon train of goods that they collected on their lengthy, exhausting trip from the capitol.
It would be a long time before they would be sent out here for their yearly collection. Even the king wasn't so cruel to send his lackeys this far to the north during the winter. Hanthur and all the surrounding areas were known throughout several kingdoms for their cold winters. As if to support the rumors a cold gray mist splayed itself over the area, blurring the villagers' view of the singular high road. It had sat, splayed fatly across the land, for almost a week now, never quite burning away in the sun and returning at night with a howling vengeance.
When the yearly procession came they would stop in Hanthur before continuing on their journey, they knew that after the village there were no stops with even a semblance of comfort until they reached the Rorak's mines deep in the stone mountains. From Hanthur the road quickly narrowed and slowly degraded into something that could more accurately be described as a glorified foot trail.
Up the road lie little more than farms and ranches scraping out a living as hard and cold as the surrounding landscape. During the winter even these hard farmers and shepherds weren't up before dawn as they had blockaded their animals away from the ravenous beasts that came to feast on them in the dead of winter. Their barns were filled with straw and down to keep out the cold that was just as hungry as the wolves that howled in the night.
The farms that checkered along the Hanthur road to the King's Mines were all silent and dark at this early hour. Even the weak sun had yet to peek over the high sharp peaks to beg them to open their eyes. The dense fog that had encroached overnight like an invading army had stilled the harsh wind that the night had brought with it.
One farm sat unusually bright and awake for the cemetery stillness that surrounded it. A white plume of smoke drifted up through the chimney slowly curving a welcoming message into the pale winter sky. The sparse windows were aglow with candle and lamp light streaming through their ice glazed panes.
Inside was chaotic enough to dispel any early morning stillness that may have remained from sleep. An aging man bustled about with thick leathery skin already glistening in sweat. He placed a kettle upon the black potbelly stove that sat in the middle of their living room. He spun about to quickly rip open a closet to reveal blankets and towels tucked neatly away with cleaning items and a few unused lamps.
"I need that hot water now!" a voice calm but commanding came from a cracked open door.
"It's not hot yet!" the man called back, his voice was filled with more worry and panic than the other.
"Earth bless it, I don't care if you have to summon the chaos heat from the Father's bowels themselves make that water hot!"
"Yes, dear," the man quickly trotted over to the open door and nudged it further open with a foot as he scooped up more blankets. He came stumbling in with a handful and plopped them down on the bed.
In the bad lay his daughter, Saru, her dark hair damp with sweat as she whimpered into the piece of wood between her teeth. He spared a small moment to look at her and give her a look of pity. Thank the Father Earth that he hadn't been born a woman, he had witnessed a great many births, and none of them easy. A man's place was easy in life, create life and then provide for it the best he could. A woman had to carry that life until it was ready to see the world then she was tasked to giving it birth and teaching it all she knew. He quickly broke his worried eyes from his daughter and tromped back out to the kitchen and living room to check on the kettle of water.
Just as he placed his hand over the spout to feel for the hot steam that should be coming shortly the front door blasted open. Cold air rushed in, closing the door where his daughter lay in painful labor, along with the air came a young man only a couple years older than his daughter and behind him was a stout woman with a large bundle strapped to her back and a young girl not quite a year past eight in her hand.
"I brought midwife Edda!" the young man, his daughter's husband Calet, was breathing heavily as if he had raced to hell itself and back to bring the middle-aged woman. From her frown and tired eyes the aging man guessed his son-in-law had endured hell to bring the woman back with him.
"Of course I landed in the middle of a nest of useless farm boys!" Edda grumped as she swiftly deposited her large bundle onto their dining table. She eyed the older of the two men meaningfully, Edda had been at Saru's birth as the assistant midwife. "Gurdena, get out my leather mouth piece and a pouch of my herbs."
The young girl quickly set on the bag without a word and before Calet had time to catch his breath and stumble to his room she had both items in her wiry little hands. Edda simply nodded when the girl brought them over to her. The girl placed the large piece of cured leather in the woman's hand and then scampered over to the stove. The little waif stole the kettle from under the aged man's protective hand and produced a clay mug from Earth only knew where. She plopped a small cheesecloth pouch that she had taken from her mistress' bag into the mug and poured boiling water into it.
A sharp pungent aroma steamed into the man's nostrils and he sneezed. There was an almost metallic smell to it that made his stomach turn, but he was sure it was for the best. He remembered that smell from his daughter's birth. The little one quickly placed the kettle back on the fire and slipped into the birthing room. Edda ignored him as she returned to her bag and began to rummage through the contents.
"I'm supposing you don't know how her rhythm is progressing?" Edda asked as she pulled out a large thickly woven towel and a few small vials containing some clear liquids. She stuffed some things back into the heavy bundle as the middle-aged man tried to decipher what she was asking.
"I'm afraid they'll be as useless as a fish on land!" came his wife's voice from their room. "You'd better just come on in here, Edda dear."
With one look at the man and his son-in-law she said, "Truer words have never been spoken." Edda grabbed her bundle and waddled into Calet and Saru's room where his daughter was in the beginning throws of labor. The door behind her shut rather loudly, as if to tell them not to interfere.
The two men walked over to the door and listened for any sound from beyond it that might give them a hint as to what was happening. They stood there in silence, occasionally hearing a whimper from Saru or a sharp unintelligible command from Edda, until the sound of the steam escaping the kettle startled them out of their silent reverie.
"Let me," the aging man grabbed the kettle off the wood stove before the younger Calet could get to it first. He removed the water and considered bringing it into the room for the women but instead placed it onto their well lacquered table. If the women needed it they would let him know.
"How did you do it, Samel?" Calet blurted out.
Samel smiled ever so slightly. Had he really been as young as Calet when he and Ruba had welcomed Saru into the world. All at once it seemed so long ago and yet he remembered the day with the clarity of yesterday. He remembered the feelings as he had held Saru in his arms for the first time tiny body weighing less than their cat.
"I stayed the hell out of the way and kept myself busy with meaningless chores," Samel admitted honestly. "There is nothing that you or I can do now, but wait. The question is what will make the wait bearable?"
Samel watched Calet turn and begin to put the layers of winter clothing back onto his thin frame. "Where are you going?"
"The sheep need feeding," Calet answered with a tight smile. "Call me if there is any change."
Samel smiled nodded and smiled at his son-in-law, the boys was quick to pick up on the suggestion. This was his forty-second winter and in some ways he was still learning from the young. He wished he had Calet's cooler head at his age, things perhaps would have been better for he and his wife. It was too late to be thinking of such things now, he may have not been elderly but he was no longer in his prime, it was his duty to make sure that his daughter didn't live his own mistakes.
When his daughter had begun to fall in love with a simple shepherd's son Samel had been less than pleased. Merchants such as he and his wife had little need or want to associate with the shepherds and ranchers, they were merely channels of new income. However when they were ruined, bandits having taken their two largest caravans, it was Calet after years of disapproval from them, that took them in.
Adjusting to the shepherds' life was difficult for they had never done anything so physically exhausting. Calet had been patient, carefully explaining each new tool, showing him how to operate the seemingly simplistic shears, and even letting them sleep in while he worked alone for the four of them. Samel had felt ashamed at first, letting someone half his age carry his burdens for him, but instead of letting himself wallow in his own disappointment he had picked himself up and learned.
Months of aching muscles and blistered hands and feet slowly turned into months of growth as Samel learned the ropes. He soon found himself almost able to keep up with Calet as the small family had grown closer. Then in the summer Saru discovered that she was with child and the family left behind any of their remaining ego and became one.
When Calet returned about a mark later Samel had made hot tea from the dried herbs that Saru had learned to gather from the neighbors half a kem down the road. Samel handed a mug of it to Calet as the younger man gave a worried look at the his bedroom door. Behind the door he could hear his wife cry out weakly and the encouraging voices of Edda and Ruba. Samel noted how Calet's knuckles turned white as he squeezed the clay mug every time his wife cried out anew.
He remembered the feeling all too well, standing by helplessly as his wife cried in agony giving birth to their child. He had been in the room nearly the entire time, it was a messy bloody affair that he'd rather not relive, at least until he held his daughter in his arms he could live in that moment forever. He tried to set a good example for Calet and sat back in his wooden chair as relaxed as he could manage. He took a sip of the tea, it had a slight bite to it from the canora bark. Some people used it to cook, but Ruba thought it much too spicy for people such as themselves. Calet's eyes constantly flickered to his whitewashed wooden bedroom door as he leaned forward and sipped his tea as well.
A scream like no other tore through the house. Calet leaped to his feet and began to stalk toward his room. Samel stood up and grabbed his son-in-law by the shoulder and held him back. Calet pulled but Samel held his grip.
"Believe me," Samel said quiet but intently. "You don't want to go in there before you are wanted."
As if to defy him another loud scream issued from the room. Calet jerked away from him and shoved the door open. Samel followed closely on his heels, he'd be damned if he was the only one left out waiting to see his first grandchild. The copper smell of blood and other aromas assaulted his nostrils before he could even enter. His stomach churned at the smell, but he shoved down his bile and stood by Calet's side.
Saru lay on their bed, large smears of blood stained their white sheets. Her forehead was covered in sweat, her skin pale as she screamed through the large piece of leather that was stuffed in her mouth. Calet edged to her side, but Ruba was quick to brush him aside as she soaked up the sweat from her daughter's brow. Edda meanwhile was at the foot of the bed her hands grabbing onto something.
"By the Father," Calet whispered in horror. The blood drained from his face as he stared at the large bloodstains that continued to grow on his bed. His complexion varied from white to green and every shade in between.
"I've seen much worse," Samel tried to reassure him, though to be honest he wasn't so sure of himself.
Suddenly Saru grabbed Calet's arm and sunk her nails into his flesh. Instead of jerking away Calet used his other hand to hold hers as his own blood slowly seeped from his arm. Saru screamed again, the piece of leather expelled from her mouth. Her body convulsed and then a piercing shrieking cry joined hers.
Samel looked up and saw Edda holding a slimy screaming bundle of flesh in her hands and quickly wrap it in a small soft towel. "A boy!" the midwife called out as she quickly snipped the umbilical cord and began washing the baby down with a warm moist towel. "Congratulations, Saru, you have a beautiful baby boy."
Samel looked back at his daughter. Though she was glowing with joy her complexion was pale and her ebony tresses were soaked in her own sweat. Her grip loosened on Calet's arm, revealing the deep gouges she had left. Blood still oozed down Calet's arm but he hadn't spared it a glance, his intense gray eyes instead on his wife.
Edda came over with the wrapped bundle still in her arms. It was still screaming, but was slowly calming itself. Edda delicately handed the bundle over to the exhausted Saru. The new mother took the bundle and with tears in her eyes she kissed it. The moment her lips touched his forehead the infant ceased his cries.
Samel looked at his wife, he didn't ever remember a child doing that, but Ruba was staring adoringly at her daughter and the baby in her arms. He looked at Edda and her expression told him she had never seen such a thing either. Saru cried silently as she held the baby boy close, not taking her eyes from him.
"Cal, come meet your son," Saru whispered, her voice hoarse from her screaming. Calet delicately kneeled next to his bed. His wife lifted her little baby and handed him over to her lover. Calet looked as nervous as a wolf caught in the barn as he took the little on his arms. Samel watched as the shepherd looked down on his son for the first time. Tears formed in Calet's eyes but a unique fire, never lit until this moment, burned underneath. Samel knew the feeling well and could feel his own throat constrict with the memory of that moment. Calet pulled his son in closer and closed his eyes. Two small rivulets formed down his cheeks as tears of joy spilled from his eyes.
Samel was so caught up in the emotion of the moment that at first he didn't notice the strange tapping sound that began. The tapping slowly grew louder until it shook him from his dream-like state. He glanced around to try and find the source, and quickly found it. The hairs on the back of his neck felt electric and stood up on end.
In the single window that lit the room a small bright green bird stood peering in at them from outside. It was a mosswing bird, they traveled south every autumn. What was this one doing here? It began tapping on the glass window again with its little gray beak. Before he could react to the strange scene another mosswing flitted into their window sill and began tapping on the glass.
He glanced at Ruba and Edda, the color had drained from both of their faces. A frightened looking Gurdena stumbled as she tried to reach the window. Another bird flew down and joined the first two. Samel wanted to shout at the girl to hurry and scatter the birds, to scream to frighten them away, anything, but instead his throat constricted in fear and he was left speechless.
The girl recovered her footing and by the time she reached the window yet another of the small green birds had joined the others in pecking the glass. The girl flung the window open, letting in freezing cold air but sending the small flock of birds scattering into the air with a few last peeps. She closed the window and latched it shut. Everyone stared at each other in fear, what unnatural occurrence had they just witnessed?
Calet clutched his baby closer and looked down at the infant's face. The baby boy stared back at him, almost as if it understood, and giggled. Calet stared at the boy in surprise, Ruba gasped at the newborn infant's reaction. No one said a word as Calet returned the boy to Saru and quietly closed the curtains of the window.