Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Curious Tale of Sariel

Lotheryn, Anca, and I found our way to a nearby city. I told Lotheryn that before we began our crusade, I had a little shopping to do. Having lost my flail some months ago, my skill with a bow had increased substantially. However, if you are someone who can feel comfortable without a large spiky ball on a chain nestled at your side, well, you are a better half-elf than I. I needed that cold, heavy steel.

So I found a good blacksmith and talked to him about obtaining a new flail. Luckily, he had just made one for a half-orc who was not going to be able to use it (according to the blacksmith's story, it is advisable not to cheat at card games with mountain trolls; apparently you wind up with two less hands than when you started). I asked him if he could modify the weapon for me, and the smith agreed. He could get it to me by later in the afternoon.

In the meantime, we sat in a nice grassy area in the middle of city, munching on some local fare and really letting our minds wander for the first time in months. I was just about to doze off when I saw someone approaching purposefully. It was a tall slender woman with pale blonde hair. She was similar in appearance to an elf, although she had pointier ears and a longer face. She wore bright-colored robes, light clothing and had a mirthful smile on her face, but I was still rather wary, seeing the large sword strapped to her back.

It turned out that my caution was unnecessary. There was no sense of malice or deception in her voice as she spoke. We had dealt with so many shady characters over the last few years, that it was refreshing to converse someone so openly friendly.

"Hello, travellers! I am Sariel. I was told I could find you here. We have many adventures before us," she said, still smiling genuinely.

I looked at Lotheryn with confusion. She looked just as surprised by the introduction as I was. The only thing that kept me from becoming suspicious again was the calmness of Anca. Anca could sense danger better than any of us, and the shifter was as relaxed as I'd seen him. So I turned back to the woman and made the obvious reply, "Huh?"

She laughed and sat down next to us on the grass. "My god, Garl Glittergold, gave me a vision while I was entranced. I saw representations of the three of you, and felt called to join you on your journey, whatever that may be."

That name sounded familiar. I said, "Wait, Gary Glitter? Isn't that the guy who..."

Sariel rolled her eyes as she cut me off. "No, there is no relation. Garl is the patron god of the gnomes, the god of laughter and jokes, the god of community, and a lover of justice."

This was getting more confusing as we went along. "But you're not..."

"A gnome? I know," she said, as if she expected the question. "I will explain it to you as we wait for our fifth companion."

This time Lotheryn was the one who spoke up. "Our fifth companion?" she inquired.

"Yes, we must wait for her here. Garl revealed a fifth to me, and, unless I am mistaken in my vision, this is where she will meet us. This is where our quest will also be revealed." A quest now, too? Sariel spoke with such confidence that I didn't feel it was my place to question her. Ehlonna had never given me those kinds of visions, that's for certain. Maybe she was crazy (the woman, not Ehlonna; although with the things I'd been through...). But she seemed nice enough, and we had to wait here anyway. Lotheryn didn't seem to mind, so I saw no harm in letting this play its course.

As we lounged, Sariel told us her story. It was a bit odd to hear the entire life story of someone I had known for mere minutes, but she was convinced that joining us on a quest was the will of her god. It was clear from the beginning that her somewhat checkered past and passion for justice would fit in well with Lotheryn and I. Here's her tale, as I recall it.

She was actually a princess of a very wealthy and powerful Eladrin household. Lotheryn was somewhat familiar with Eladrin, being related through ancestral blood (Eladrin represent the modern day manifestation of the Fey creatures that elves evolved from). I, however, had no clue about the people. Sariel explained to me that Eladrin lived in a place called the Feywild, a realm where faerie creatures and creatures descended from faerie still thrive. This realm "floated" on a separate plane of existence that was loosely connected to our world, allowing Eladrin to travel back and forth. The city that her family ruled straddled the very edge of the Feywild and would appear and disappear in this world at various times. None of that made a bit of sense to me, but I went along with it.

The reason for her family's close ties with the "real" world was because a lot of the wealth and power her family had earned had come from their provision of military aid and resources to other good races (notably Elves, Humans, and Halflings) in their struggles against orcs and whatnot. Sariel explained that this wasn't exactly typical of an Eladrin society, but that despite their involvement with other races, they still maintained a sense of superiority and detachment from this world.

She had grown up in the palace, living a life of comfort. She was kind of spoiled throughout much of her childhood, although she never took herself or her family as seriously as her formal training in grace and manners seemed to suggest she should.

One day, a group of gnomes showed up while her city was present in the non-Feywild world (this was getting confusing, and also reminding me of Cat Stevens songs). The gnomes asked for assistance in dealing with an encroachment of giants and ogres onto the lands adjacent to theirs. The Eladrin were generally friendly with gnomes, having shared a descendancy from creatures in the Feywild. However, Sariel's father, the magistrate, was becoming increasingly wary of involvement outside of the Feywild. The last venture he had taken had turned out poorly for the Eladrin, and he wanted to be more cautious. He told the gnomes that he needed time to consult with his council. He would send word in a week.

Meanwhile, Sariel had been given the task of making sure the gnomes were taken care of properly during their stay at her palace. This gave her the opportunity to get to know them, having never seen gnomes before. Sariel found she liked their sense of humor and quirkiness, and appreciated their love of beautiful objects. She quickly took a liking to one of the clerics who was with the gnomes, fascinated by his stories of exploits in the service of his god, Garl Glittergold.

Sariel began to ruminate on how unsatisfied she was with her current lifestyle. Her parents were pressuring her to train in wizardry, claiming that the arcane arts were suitable for someone of her upbringing. Sariel was much more interested in close combat and swordplay, even taking secret lessons from a schoolfriend who had joined the palace guard. It seemed that even her god, Corellon, wasn't nearly as much fun as this god the gnomes spoke of. Sariel, being trusting and open with her thoughts, shared her unhappiness with the cleric.

The morning that the gnomes were set to leave, disappointed in not yet getting an answer from the magistrate, the cleric approached Sariel in secret and asked her to leave with them and join his order. He recognized that her sense of humor and lightheartedness would mesh well in their community. He offered to take her to his monastery and train her in the martial arts, while also showing her the ways of Garl, who would appreciate her personality and bless her for her devotion. Being a tad naïve as to what this all would entail, she eagerly accepted and snuck away with the gnomes when they left.

Sariel was unaware of the backlash this would cause. Her parents were greatly angered and sent guards to bring her back, but she refused. The gnomes were supportive of her position and encouraged her to remain with them, even though the eladrin had decided not to lend support to their cause against the invaders. Sariel's parents soon cut off all contact with her. In the meantime, her training commenced and she was subjected to the most rigorous discipline she had ever experienced; it was not quite what she had expected and certainly presented a harder lifestyle than she had previously endured. But the gnomes were fun people, and Sariel enjoyed their sense of community and curiosity. Despite her homesickness and exhaustion, she stuck with it. After several years, she was initiated as an avenger of Garl Glittergold, the first ever member of another race to earn that distinction.

Unfortunately, shortly after that joyous occasion, the gnome settlement near Sariel's monastery was attacked by a large band of ogres. The ogres were eventually repelled, but there were heavy losses on the gnomes' side. Sariel fought bravely in the battle, but despite her prowess, the cleric who had recruited her (and who had since become high priest of the monastery) was killed in battle. In short order, a new high priest was chosen by the local leadership, but this priest was mistrustful of her. Sariel was an outsider, he claimed, and her family had rejected their plea for help. She would no longer be welcome in their community. Many gnomes that trained beside her at the monastery were angered by this decision, and stood by her side. Their support was to no avail. Ultimately, the new high priest’s edict was set down, and she was exiled.

While this hurt Sariel deeply, she maintained a deep kinship with the gnomish race and their ways, understanding that it wasn’t the entire people that had forced her out, but one paranoid individual. She also still had the favor of Garl Glittergold and felt her work as an avenger in his service had just begun. Still, not knowing where to turn, Sariel looked first to her old eladrin family. She hoped that there was some way she could use her training for the service of her own people. Upon arriving at the city, she was not even allowed through the gate. Apparently her family had felt too betrayed by her defection to forgive her.

So Sariel wandered. It was tough to make a living, as Sariel's only formal training had been in religion and swordsmanship. Fortunately for her survival, the gnomes had also taught her to be quick with her hands and lithe on her feet. She moved from city to city, finding work when she could, but often stealing when there was no other choice (but, she emphasized at this part of the story, only from wicked, wealthy lords who used their power to support injustice). This went on for several years.

Finally, Sariel found a somewhat honest living by offering her services as a swordsman to a large troupe of travelling comedians and circus-folk. Not glamorous, to be sure, and many of the troupe were morally questionable individuals with checkered pasts. In general, though, they were fun people who liked to laugh. Plus, this position had the added bonus of decent pay, eliminating the need for thieving - an activity Sariel was skilled at, but not something she enjoyed.

She travelled with this group for some time, keeping them safe from bandits and wandering monsters. Sariel related to us the first time she encountered trouble, when two local bandits tried to strong arm the troupe into paying them for passage through the area. When Sariel refused to pay, the bandits simply laughed at her and tried to take the cash box by force. Twenty seconds later, when both were lying dead on the ground, Sariel fully understood just how much power Garl Glittergold had bestowed on her.

After a year, she began to realize that Garl had something more for her than simply scaring petty thieves away from a minstrel troupe. It was fine that she was protecting these people in the name of humor and laughter, but Sariel knew that there was a greater good that her god wanted her to fight for. She wasn’t yet sure what that was, but her soul felt a distinct calling. Sariel resolved that she would leave the group at the next decent-sized town they entered in order to seek the new purpose that Garl had for her life.

After sneaking away from the company and finding a quiet place to enter into a trance, Sariel was led to us. And here we were. Waiting for some other mysterious adventurer. This day had gotten strange in a hurry.

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