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Paul S. Kemp

The Godborn

When the trials begin,

in soul-torn solitude despairing,

the hunter waits alone.

The companions emerge

from fast-bound ties of fate

uniting against a common foe.

When the shadows descend,

in Hell-sworn covenant unswerving

the blighted brothers hunt,

and the godborn appears,

in rose-blessed abbey reared,

arising to loose the godly spark.

When the harvest time comes,

in hate-fueled mission grim unbending,

the shadowed reapers search.

The adversary vies

with fiend-wrought enemies,

opposing the twisting schemes of Hell.

When the tempest is born,

as storm-tossed waters rise uncaring,

the promised hope still shines.

And the reaver beholds

the dawn-born chosen’s gaze,

transforming the darkness into light.

When the battle is lost,

through quake-tossed battlefields unwitting

the seasoned legions march,

but the sentinel flees

with once-proud royalty,

protecting devotion’s fragile heart.

When the ending draws near,

with ice-locked stars unmoving,

the threefold threats await,

and the herald proclaims,

in war-wrecked misery,

announcing the dying of an age.

— As written by Elliandreth of Orishaar, c. -17,600 DR

Prologue

Marpenoth, the Year of Holy Thunder (1450 DR)

Pain wracked Varra, knife stabs of agony that kept time with her contractions. She lay on her back in a straw-filled birthing bed in the abbey-the Abbey of the Rose, Derreg had called it-her knees bent, the sheets damp and sticky with sweat and blood. Her blood.

Too much of it, she knew.

She saw her fate reflected in the worried eyes of the homely, middle-aged midwife who patted her hand and mouthed soft encouragement, saw it in the furrowed brow and filmy but intense gaze of the balding, elderly priest with blood-slicked hands who reached into Varra time and again to no avail.

Varra searched her memory but could not remember their names. The previous hours-had it been just hours? — had passed in a blur. She remembered traveling in a caravan across Sembia, fleeing before a storm of shadows, an ever-growing tenebrous thunderhead that threatened to blanket all of Sembia with its pall. Undead had attacked the caravan, unliving shadows, their keening voices announcing their hunger for souls, and, in a moment of thoughtless bravery, she had led them off into the forest to save the others.

There, terrified and stumbling through the underbrush, she’d happened upon a man, a dark man who had reminded her of Erevis, her child’s father. The howls of the undead had filled the woods behind her, all around her, their keens a promise of cold and death and oblivion.

“Who are you?” she’d asked the dark man, panting, her voice tense with growing panic.

“I’m just fiddling around the edges,” the man had said, and his narrow, sharply angled face had creased in a mirthless smile. He had touched her pregnant belly-then not yet bulging-and sent a knife stab of pain through her abdomen.

The memory of his touch caused her to squirm on the birthing bed. She moaned with pain. Bloody straw poked into her back. The light from the lanterns put a dancing patchwork of shadows on the vaulted stone ceiling, and she swore she heard the dark man chuckle.

“Be still, woman,” the priest said sharply. Sweat greased his pate. Blood spattered his yellow robe.

“He did something to the child!”

“Who?” the midwife asked, her double chins bouncing with the question. “What do you mean?”

“The dark man!” Varra said, screaming as another contraction twisted her guts. “The man in the forest!”

The midwife glanced at the priest knowingly and patted Varra’s hand. “It’ll be all right,” she said, mouthing words they all knew were a lie. “It’s fine. You’re not in a forest and there’s no dark man here.”

The priest mopped his brow, smearing blood across his pate, and reached into Varra again. Pain ripped through her, a wave of agony that ran from pelvis to chest. She gasped and the priest pulled his hands back, looked up, and shared a glance with the midwife. Varra read in their faces the words they didn’t say aloud.

“What’s wrong with my child?” she said, and tried to sit up. The bloody sheets clung to her back. The effort caused her more pain, agonizing pulses. The room spun. She feared she would vomit.

“Please be still,” the priest said, and the midwife gently pressed her back down on the birthing bed.

Pain and exhaustion caused Varra’s vision to blur. Her mind floated backward into memory, to the forest.

“Run,” the dark man had said to her, and she had, tripping, stumbling, and cursing her way through the brush. The unliving shadows had pursued her, closing, their wails loud in her ears, coming at her from all directions. She had stumbled into a meadow and fallen. She recalled the sweet smell of the purple flowers, the dusting of silver pollen that fogged the night air and glittered in Selune’s light. She remembered curling up among the blooms as the shadows closed in, like a child herself, wrapped in the meadow’s womb. She’d put her arms around her belly, around her unborn child, knowing they were both about to die, and wishing and praying that she were somewhere else, somewhere safe, anywhere.

And then, as if in answer to her wish, the motes of pollen had flared bright silver and she recalled a sudden, disconcerting lurch of motion.

“He saved me,” she murmured to the midwife, knowing she wasn’t making sense to anyone but herself. “The dark man. He saved me.”

“Of course he did, dear,” the midwife said, caressing her hand, obviously not listening.

And he’d also saved Varra’s child, from the undead if not the perils of childbirth.

She came back fully to the current moment, to the pain.

“Derreg?” she said, blinking tears and sweat from her eyes.

“I’m here,” he said from behind her, and she drifted again.

The magic of the meadow’s flowers had. . moved her, and Varra had found herself elsewhere, disconcerted, nauseated. A soft rain that smelled faintly of ash fell out of a black sky. She’d felt drowsy, as if she’d been sleepwalking and had only just awakened.

Sitting low on the horizon, the setting sun tried to poke through a roof of dense dark clouds, but only a few stray rays penetrated the shroud. It was almost night.

The sheer, cracked face of towering mountains hemmed her in. She was in a pass.

Her mind tried to make sense of events. How had she arrived here? Some magic, some miracle of the meadow. .

Her child moved within her. She gasped, her knees went weak, and she nearly fell when she saw the growth of her belly.

“How?” she whispered, and ran her hands over the now-swollen mound of her abdomen. The swell of her stomach seemed more miraculous than her inexplicable translocation. Moments ago, she had been little more than a month pregnant.

Then she remembered. The dark man had touched her belly. He’d done something to the baby; he must have.

Even as the thought registered, the contractions began, like a hand squeezing her womb. Her wonder turned in an instant to fear, and fear to terror.

She was alone in an unknown place, and somehow soon to give birth. Her heart beat so fast she grew lightheaded. She tried to calm herself with long, deep breaths. The rain and the breeze summoned shivers. She had to find shelter, help. Gods, she needed help.

She stumbled through the rocks, picking her way through the boulders, the stands of trees, calling out over the patter of the rain. The unliving shadows appeared to be gone. Perhaps the caravan was nearby? Or perhaps there was a village in the vicinity, a cottage, something, anything. She had to risk a shout.

     

 

2011 - 2018