I hate magic. Magic has taken everything from me. My parents, my uncle, what was to be my short but painless life. Everyone I loved, and everyone who loved me. Still, I go on, what other choice do I have?
My story actually starts many years before I was born. While the story changes, depending on which relative tells it, several generations ago, one of my great-great grandmothers petitioned a fertility goddess to give her a child, as she had always been barren. Apparently, the goddess was impressed with her plea, as she soon found herself pregnant. She gave birth to identical twins. These children both had identical twins also, as has every generation in our family since.
Then some 15 summers before I was born, my father, Gerbald, and his identical twin brother, Joben, ran away together from their boring family farm to the Oracle of Felsooth. They petitioned the Oracle as to their future. The Oracle told them that they would become great warriors, and would found a great family of the realms. Based upon this divination, and with determination born of their certainty in the Oracle's unerring portents, the boys immediately joined the Felsooth martial academy. Here, they both excelled in their physical and martial training, but for the first time in their young lives, their differences also began to show. While Joben was able to excel at almost everything he learned, no one, not even the masters could match Gerbald's skill with the bastard sword. Yet, his skill with other weapons and techniques suffered as compared to Joben. While this difference dictated that Gerbald would focus on becoming a Weapon Master, while Joben continued on in his training as a Man-at-arms, this was the only separation that came between them, (though apparently they argued incessantly as to which fighting style was superior).
After serving their required terms of service in the Felsooth Army, Gerbald and Joben worked their way together around the realms as guards and mercenaries. Through their many adventures and travels, they did become great warriors as the Oracle had predicted. One of their most dangerous adventures, was rescuing a noble's daughter from a band of kidnappers. While bloodied and bruised, they were successful. Unlike most story tales, however, it was not the noble's daughter that caught my father's eye, it was her hand-maiden, Sarah.
While I never really understood this part, apparently, Sarah was so fair and beautiful, that the Noble's daughter forbade her from going without a veil. Joben said it was hard to determine what was more enchanting, her smile or her beauty, (though he also commented on the overwhelming fear she could cause in a household when things were not up to her standards). He described her as being "breathtaking" to behold, yet the fairest and kindest hearted woman you could ever know. He once admitted to me, while drunk on fine wine, that he too fell in love with her at first sight, yet, without reproach, she made it clear to him that while they would be the closest of family, that Gerbald was the man foretold in her dreams.
Yes dreams, my mother apparently had lots of dreams. She could predict the weather, my father's luck on hunting excursions, and when the villager's they encountered needed medical attention. Unfortunately, such dreams, and her ability to heal the sick, and cure their animals, once known among simple townsfolk, also become the blame for a cow's milk going sour and other tragedies, both real and imagined that befell the locals. It would not take long for rumors of witchcraft to start being whispered. So it was that the three of them slowly made their way yet again across the realms, in search of a place where they could settle down in peace. Sarah kept telling them that she would know when they reached the right place, as she dreamed of it almost every night. As they had always done, the brothers would sign on as mercenaries and guards to earn their keep, and to move safely cross the frontiers they came across. Now, they had Sarah to accompany them, who made their travels and battle wounds all the better with her fine cooking, soothing herbs and poultices.
Finally, they came upon a small valley, with good soil and few neighbors, that they helped a local lord "cut" from the wilderness. During some of the fighting, the lord received a small wound that became infected. Being as remote as this area was, Sarah was the best healer available, and she successfully treated the wounds and nursed the lord back to health. In thanks, both for her kindness and wanting to keep a strong militia in place to protect his gains, the lord offered them the first choice of lands and a title for Sarah as the Lord's personal healer. Upon seeing the valley for the first time, Sarah exclaimed that it was as she had seen in her visions. She marched both Gerbald and Joben to the far end of the valley, where the cold and fast moving stream left the forest and entered the valley and said that is where they would build their farms, as it had the purest water, the richest soil and the best hunting.
So the brothers settled down to a life of farming and hunting. Gerbald and Joben built two large homes, (one on each side of the creek), each with 4 bedrooms, (which they said was going to be needed for their children. It did not take long before Sarah announced that she was pregnant, and that she was carrying identical twin boys. Apparently she dreamt about us a lot while she was pregnant. She described to my father and uncle how we would both combine my father's physical prowess with her beauty and presence to make two of the most handsome and charming boys ever born. She also described for them how my brother and I would follow very different paths in spirit. One was to be a strong and capable warrior who would combine the strength of both body and mind to make a most formidable foe, (I presume that was me), while the other would inherit her family's gift of the arcane, and become a strong manipulator of energy and magic.
In the weeks leading up to our birth, my uncle would tell me that once in a while he would catch Sarah staring off into space, with a sad look on her face. When asked, she would immediately dismiss any concern, but to him she appeared to be somewhat melancholy. Given the events that followed, Joben thereafter felt that Sarah had probably seen some of what was to transpire in her dreams, but as she always said, "The future is what it is, you best get prepared for it", and knew that there was little she could do to prevent it. Besides which, even if she had said anything, all it would have done is increase the grief and pain that my family was about to suffer.
So finally it was time for us to be born. As with everything else in my life, it appears that portents were abounding. It was the night of the Summer Solstice with a very full moon turning night into twilight. Mother, being the midwife and healer of the area, told the few women about to stay home. She told father to stay at Joben's house, across the stream, until he heard the cries of his new baby boys. She made him swear that he would not come before he heard their cries, and Joben to restrain him with physical force if necessary.
Later that night, (most likely at the Witching hour of 3 am), my brother and I were born. Thankfully, I have no memory of that process. From what Joben told me, it was not a sight for man or beast. Upon hearing our first cries, Gerbald sprang across the wooden bridge separating the two farms and burst in to find Sarah's dead body cradling the two of us in her bloodstained arms. Gerbald immediately went into shock and revulsion. Then when he pulled back the blanket to see his crying boys, he fainted.
Joben said that he had never seen such a thing happen to his brother before, but I guess the sight of your dead and bloody wife, having obviously cut her children out of her own womb, and then seeing your "two" sons that, are actually conjoined twins, that are connected from hip to shoulder with each other, was more than his mind could take. It was Joben that first picked us up, wiping the blood and gore from our bodies. From the top of our butts, to the tip of the shoulder blade, we were connected, my right side, his left. No woman could have given birth to such a monster. Nor should she have. Such births are very rare, and always of evil portents. We were not meant to survive.
My uncle, after wiping us down and placing us in a warm blanket, saw to cleaning up Sarah before his brother awoke. While doing so, he found a note that Sarah had written.
I am so sorry for having to leave you, but it was the only way to save our precious boys. I know you will not understand this, but it was a price I was glad to pay.
Ger, brace yourself, there is more to be done this night. Our boys are precious, and they can be saved. You need to saddle the horse and take our boys through the forest to the ancient standing stone I showed you several weeks ago. It must be done tonight, before first light. Trust me in this Ger. Please, I beg of you.
All of my love, I will be waiting for you on the other side,
Father started to come around, but was overcome with grief. It took Joben quite a while to settle him down enough to get him to read the note. When he could finally understand it, Father apparently screamed in pain and agony about what was left to save, and cursed my brother and I. Slowly, over the next couple of hours, Father came back into reason, but could not figure out how my brother and I could be "saved", given that such births were never allowed to survive.
He finally told Joben, "I don't know what good it can do, but at this point I don't know what harm. So he saddled the horse, and taking us from Joben, carried us out into the forest.
Later that morning, just before the sun rose, Joben preparing Sarah's body for burial, felt a sharp pain in his chest. It was unlike any wound or injury he had ever received. It knocked him to the ground in pain and loathing. Then he suddenly understood, some great injury had befallen his beloved brother, and if he did not reach him in time, his brother would die. So grabbing his horse and jumping up bare back, he charged off into the forest. Somehow he knew the direction his brother lay, and he rode at a full gallop through the twilight forest.
He finally came upon a quiet clearing, with a carved standing stone in the center. Sprawled over the stone, was the form of his brother. Quickly leaping off his horse, Joben ran to his brother to find him still alive but in great pain. Joben carefully rolled him over, expecting to see blood coming from his chest. Instead, he found me, cradled in my father's arms, but my brother was no where to be seen. Examining both his brother, and then me, Joben was not able to find any wound on Gerbald, but did find a large stripe of thick and charred scar tissue where I had been joined to my brother. Upon touching this wound, I came awake and started crying in pain.
My cries roused my father enough to have him try and comfort me. Joben was trying to make my father comfortable, as he also was in extreme pain. My father finally got me calmed down, and then told Joben to stop fussing, and to listen to him. My father then told Joben:
I came into the glen to find the standing stone almost glowing. I thought at first, it was the full moon, but I realized it was something different. Not knowing what else to do, I laid the boys on the top of the stone, hoping for something to happen. Then suddenly there was a flash of light that blinded me for a second. When my eyes readjusted, I was looking across the alter at a beautiful yet terrifying woman who told me, "You took a long time in getting here. Did not their mother tell you to hurry"?
I could not even answer her, stunned as I was by her presence. She moved forward and lifted my sons off the alter, examining them. Holding them up, turning them around, and closely looking at where they joined, she asked me, "Has their mother explained to you the bargain that she has made?"
I was still in shock, not sure I understood her. I think I said, Bargain, what bargain?"
The woman then said, "ah, as I had thought, she did not think you capable of understanding such. You have a choice. You can keep your son, and allow me to take your wife's, or you can watch them both die.
I told her that I did not understand, that Sarah had said that they both might be saved if I brought them here.
She replied, "Yes, they both may be able to be saved, I have that within my power, though time grows very short. You must make a decision, attempt to save them both, or allow them both to die, which is your choice?"
I do not know if it was a good choice, but I know what Sarah wanted, so I said "Yes, please save them both".
With that, the woman put the children back on the stone and started chanting and making gestures in the air. A glowing cloud appeared above her head, and out of it, lightning flashed. Only it was not just a bolt of lightning, it was like a flaming sword. It came out of the cloud, and cut through the skin and bone that was holding my two sons together. I realized as I was watching this happen, that my boys were screaming in fright and pain, but that I was rooted to the spot, and could not move.
Then the woman stopped chanting, and started comforting the babies, who were now separated, and the area that had joined them was glowing as if it were hot metal. As she continued to examine my boys, I noticed that she now looked much less powerful then before, almost tired. Then I realized that she looked vaguely familiar, and I realized that she could be Sarah's twin. I started to move forward, to hold my babies, but with a glance, she stopped me.
She said, "There is a problem. You took too long getting here, and their bodies began to depend on each other too much. Separating them has now caused more damage to them than I can repair on my own".
So what do we do now? If you can't do it on your own, who can?
She replied, I do not have the power left to repair the damage and make them healthy. If you wish to make a sacrifice of your essence, to give me additional power, then I may yet be able to save them both.
Not knowing what else to do, and knowing the sacrifice Sarah had already made, I told her that I was willing to sacrifice everything to save my children.
She told me to come forward, and she placed her hand on my chest. She then started chanting again. Suddenly, it felt like my heart was being cut out of my chest. I screamed in pain and surprise, but kept my eyes on my sons, who I could see were growing stronger. Soon it was over, but I was so weak, all I could do was lie down on the stone with my sons and hold them.
The next thing I remember, the woman was lifting one of my sons out of my arms. I tried to protest, but she told me that I had "my son", and that she was taking "hers", by right of the bargain we had entered into. She lifted him up, and looking into his eyes, said that, by virtue of your bloodlines, you shall be known as Romine.
Then she, along with my son disappeared into the forest. I tried to get up to follow, but could not make my limbs work. The next thing I knew, my son was crying, and you were here. Oh god, what have I done?
According to Joben, that was about the last coherent statement he got out of my father.
Given how weak my father was, and needing to transport me also, Joben made a quick travois and used his horse to get us back to our home.
In between milking the cow to feed me, and taking care of my father, Joben buried my mother. Several days later, my father awoke somewhat from his stupor, and told Joben to raise me as his own, and to give me his sword when I came of age, as he was not going to make it. My father had never been the prophetic type, but apparently he was right on this account, as he died a couple of days later. Joben then buried him besides my mother.
Having lost his lifelong companion and brother, sister in law, and nephew all in one night could not have been easy on Joben. Especially then being left to raise a small infant on his own. Given these hardships, Joben sought assistance from our neighbors. Extra cow's milk, a wet nurse, someone to watch over me while he hunted worked in the field. Unfortunately, the scar on my back was hard to explain, as was the death of my mother, father and "brother", (According to Joben, he never tried to explain about my brother being missing, as it would surely make matters even worse). Again, questions led to whispers, which led to rumors, which ultimately made it very difficult for Joben to get any help. Finally, after I was able to eat some solid foods, Joben had enough with the neighbors, and the memories of that night, and packed up our animals and left the area.
What I remember of my early years was always traveling, hunting and taking care of our animals. We never seemed to stay in one place for long. We also always had a cow tied to our wagon or horse, as Joben wanted me to drink lots of milk to grow big and strong. For many years, I believed Joben's story that he retold to anyone we traveled with that I had been burned badly in an accident that took the lives of both my mother and father, which is why I had such scars on my back. He never even mentioned my brother.
Having given up farming, Joben returned to soldiering. While he was considered "old" by this time, anyone seeing him fight or practice, immediately changed their mind about his capabilities. Normally when he would be gone, I would be left with the women folk of his fellow soldiers. These times allowed me some freedom. Joben was gone, and most times, any men left around, were only concerned if I did the chores they set out for me. It was my chance to explore around the camps, in the forests, and wherever else we might be at. I learned to hunt, fish and gather edible plants from some of the people I stayed with. Such successes guaranteed that I would eat that day. It also made my "caretakers" a little more friendly, when I could help supplement the dinner pot.
I also learned that life during these times was much easier if I sought "comfort" from the women I stayed with. Apparently, between their pity for my sad start in life, and my "angelic" face that they always commented about, meant that I got treated even better than their own children. Not that this did not also cause its own problems, since as soon as the adults were out of sight, the other children would try to take revenge for their jealousy. I have to admit, there were times I got beat up pretty good, but as I grew older, I learned to hold my own. It only generally took one or two times for the other kids to learn who was in charge. Even if they were able to beat me up, when I "bravely" refused to "name the culprits" who attacked me because I did not want to be a tattle tail, (but would finally tell the adults in the end). Then the other kids suffered far more that I did. These episodes always led to the affected parents berating and beating their children for not even living up to the standards of a poor orphan. It was even worse when the other children would claim that I had beat them, as of coarse, the adults by this time "knew" who to believe. Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately), these tricks never worked on Joben. He would cuff me up side the head if I tried to "work him", as he called it. His basic philosophy was that "life is tough, so be tougher".
When I was perhaps ten or eleven summers, a major change came into our lives. Joben was hired by the mayor of a fledgling town to train the town guard into a proper fighting force. While the job did not pay a lot of gold, it did come with a roof over our head, steady food, and a chance for me to experience life in a town. While Joben had always insisted that I learn my alphabet and numbers, this was also my first opportunity to go to a real school. I quickly became the "teacher's pet". This was really unintentional on my part. I was just so excited to be able to learn about things I had never thought of before. History, geography, etiquette and having someone actually praise me for my efforts. As you can imagine, this situation caused me more problems with my classmates. However, I found that for some reason, most of them were almost afraid of me. I learned that just by glaring at them meanly when they were in front of the class, that they would often stutter and otherwise make fools of themselves. It was a way to "punish" them for their treatment of me, and one I would not be punished for. While I did not recognize what was happening at the time, having the older girls "fawning" over me, also did not endear me to the older boys. Consequently, I started getting "beat up" a lot more. Unlike before, however, Joben was around to see my bloody noises and black eyes each night at the dinner table. This set in motion the next big change in my life. Joben said, "It's high time you learned how to defend yourself boy. You come round to the guard quarters after you get out of school tomorrow."
So the next day, I shot out of the school house just as fast as my legs would take me, with 3 older boys hot on my tail wanting to resume the beating I had taken the day before. Luckily I ran into the guard area just ahead of them, and when Joben saw them chasing me he yelled to the guardsman standing about, "Well maybe I was wrong, if it takes all three of them to knock you down Gurney, maybe I should start training them how to fight". This stopped the other boys in their tracks, as all of the guardsmen laughed at them and Joben's joke. I think they ran back out of the yard even faster than they had run in, bright red in embarrassment. Boy did I have a laugh at their expense, then Joben said just as loudly, "Boy, I don't see anything for you to be laughing about, they had you on the run like a frightened rabbit". Which caused the guards to laugh all the more, and me to stop in my own embarrassment.
From that day on, I became Joben's "squire", (his term, not mine). Which really meant that I did all of the crap he did not want to do. Every day after school I had to clean the weapons, haul them around from one training area to another, fetch weapons and shields, and other various items, whenever it struck Joben's fancy. Unlike almost everyone else, Joben did not cut me any slack. No matter how much I tried to placate him, he never gave me any slack. If I told him I could not lift the items I was to carry, he would tell me "so drag them". If I told him there were too many weapons to clean, then he would tell me I could stay up late to finish. I soon learned that with Joben, excuses only brought me more problems, never an easier solution.
After months of back breaking work, I finally built up the strength and conditioning to be able to carry out all of my daily chores. Then one day, while passing out water to the troops Joben was training, he proclaimed that it was time for me to receive my first weapon. I was so excited. Joben went on about how he had specially ordered it from a craftsman of the highest regard, and that it was sized to fit me perfectly. Beaming, and filled with excitement, I put out my hands and closed my eyes as he bade me to do. Then he placed the weapon in my hands, and had me open my eyes. There, gleaming in fresh oil, was a small wooden training sword. I was crushed, and then the laughter started amongst the gathered troops.
All I wanted to do at that moment was run away, but I knew that would be even worse, so I tried to stand there without showing any outward signs of emotion. I almost did it too, except for the lone tear that ran down my cheek. Joben, knowing what was going through my mind said, "What you don't like your new sword?"
I could not keep my voice from cracking as I responded, "Well, its just that I was hoping for a real sword". Joben, taking the training sword out of my hands said, "But this is a real sword. Just because it is made of wood, does not mean it is not a real weapon".
Then he called out to one of the guards who had laughed the most and told him to be on guard with his real sword. Joben then set upon showing everyone just how real the wooden sword was, as he kept smacking the young man about with the blade. The final insult was smacking the young man on the butt, with the flat of the blade, sending him sprawling into the dirt. No one laughed at that point, including me.
So thereupon I started my warrior training. Little did I realize at the time, that Joben was being so hard on me, because he knew how easy I had it with other adults. He did not want me to grow lazy, or feel that I could "slide by" without giving my maximum effort, especially when it came to the life and death game of battle. Joben's determination was that I would follow in his footsteps as a Man-at-arms. He set about making sure that I learned every weapon that he had in his and the town's arsenal. After several years, we moved on to a bigger town, where again, Joben had been hired to be a weapons trainer for the local militia, and my training continued. While I continued to try and attend school where and when I could, my training continued to take more and more of my time.
One of the few friends that I saw Joben make through the years was an ex-soldier who had lost his leg in battle. Godfrey was a bear of a man, and when his soldiering career ended, he turned to his other talent, music. I loved sitting back as he strummed his baliset and told stories and sang songs about old battles, brave adventurers and lost loves. Every night he would limp his way into a bar or inn, and play his music, tell stories and sing to entertain his audience. He never seemed to run out of stories or new songs. He was always welcome in such establishments, as people stayed to hear him perform and both his hat and the till of the establishment were well rewarded. I got him to show me how to play his instrument, and he helped me learn how to sing and tell stories.
To my surprise, Joben was not entirely against my learning these things. His sole comment on the matter was, "Having a soldier that can entertain the troops and keep their minds off the coming battle can be a good thing, besides, your mother would have wanted you to carry on her musical talent".
On rare occasions as I grew older, I would suffer through "phantom" pains, dizzy spells, and other stomach churning sensations. There was no rhyme or reason to them, and they generally went away after a few minutes. The local healers had no explanation. On such occasions, Joben would get particularly worried and try to convince me that everything would be ok, though he looked worse at such times than I did.
As I grew older, Joben finally started opening up to me about my parents, and their lives together. While he kept the details of their death, (and my birth), secret for a long time, I finally did start to feel like I at least partially knew who my parents had been. I began to suspect that he was holding something back, as he would get this strange look on his face, and refuse to talk about the day I was born. But this was Joben, no amount of pleading or prodding was going to give me the answers I wanted, until he was ready to tell me.