Church Record, St. Martindale-by-Hollow in the Realm of Caritus, Worldly Angel of Mercy
Gibbous Moon, Culling Season
Though it’s only a word, ‘gibbous’ has always sounded ominous to me. It’s turned out to be portentous enough, these last days have been full of signs of change to come. Rumors of the Earth Temple restored, rumblings of a new Queen Under the Mountain, strangers on the roads— all things in order. Let me start with the market.
The town center is always full of friends and neighbors when we’re due for another market; even Wolfe and Irena come down from the hills, but this time we were missing a friend and a few were behaving… less than neighborly. The vintner Desjardins and his daughter had a rather sharp spat over something Catherine said she saw. She’s blessed with an imagination, certainly, but what she saw, what he thought she’d invented, was troubling. A man walking up the old road near the crooked tree, she said, with something reflective on his chest. Jean-Michel struck her in his anger, though that anger sprang from fear. Some forty years back, it was his brothers who caught and were sorely hurt by the last man who walked out from the Strawfield. The church record says the madman ranted and raved and fought them, and they left him chained in their barn to pass the night. They found him in the morning, dead, with his stomach full of straw. The record holds that he’s buried near the crossroads.
There’s some investigation to be done there, and quickly. Some of Desjardin’s cattle have taken ill or died, and he’s grown worried. He’s asked that Irena, Zabine and I investigate, which, of course, we will. Something else drew our attention first, though.
Lady Jocasta wasn’t at the market, and it’s rare for her to miss it. Her father and Isselmeer were quite concerned. They explained that she’s been behaving strangely and asked for our help. Late night rides, lost memory, and no concern for either, they said. Mikkel saw her recently, and when I pressed, he mentioned a list of strange materials she’s been buying from him. Supplies. A mushroom Zabine knows, for inducing trances, and herbs and candles. Irena mentioned a locket that Pontus had her retrieve a year ago— starmetal, bearing the crest of House mac Mordaigh and with Jocasta’s name inside. She and Zabine bought it back from him, and a mercy it is he let them take it. We’d not have gotten her back without it.
Lady Jo, as it turns out, is a changeling. A foundling, rescued from what may have been a terrible fate at the hands of the soulless fey by our own Squire. She was bound to wonder where she came from eventually. We’d have never known if Zabine hadn’t managed to get the Squire to tell her the story. We’d have never found her, either, if it weren’t for Irena’s skill in tracking. We ended up pursuing her into the swamp to find her speaking with a man with the head of an owl. Fey, and tricky as any— he fled with her and we chased them to the ruins to find them with another owl-fey, arguing. A slip of my own unlucky feet gave us away and we had to jump into the fray at once. It was only through an exchange of sorts, the name of the mother in place of Jo’s, that we broke their hold on her with the starmetal pendant. We left it up to her to choose whether to go or stay, as was only right. Mercifully, her better sense won out and she returned with us.
I was surprised the fey man let us go with only a few dire predictions. More straw, he says. I’m a priestess, not a prophet, but I feared as much.
Humanitas, Lady of Kindness, keep our hearts with our friends and neighbors that we may face the coming days together. Industria, Lady of Diligence, move our hands to help, for we can bring no mercy nor show kindness without work. Caritus, Angel of Mercy, lead our minds to know in these coming days that change can be a mercy, too, for these are fearsome signs of an impending storm.
Ah, I’ve left something out. When I sought out Jocasta’s baptism in our record, her mother’s name wasn’t listed. I had expected as much. But when I returned to the church before we tracked Jo to the swamp, there was a light in the annex. It can be assumed, but I’ll mention it here anyway: I never leave candles burning.
I had closed the book, but it lay open to the page with her record on it. An addition had been made. There, in familiar hand, was a name in ancient elven script. It would have been a much fiercer fight to bring home our young lady without it.
Thank you, Brother Solomon. I don’t know how you knew that bit of information, or that we needed it, or how you lit a candle and left a message… I’m not sure I want to know, come to think of it. You’re supposed to be keeping vigil at the Strawfield now, at rest from worldly tasks. I’ll leave the last of the late-blooming flowers in the chapel in your honor tomorrow.