“So… this is what you do with your free time?”
Farrin was standing at a respectful distance behind his son, watching. Out of cautious deference for an act he did not fully comprehend, as well as out of prim fear of being tainted by the humors that occasionally splattered over his son’s workstation.
Workstation. What he was doing could be described as “work”, the older norn assumed.
Fiel was leaning over a mass of pink, glistening flesh. Yellowish spikes and ivory teeth were protruding from it like a pincushion, like a bag of mismatched carcasses, peeled of their skins, and rolled and compressed together. A wretched abomination of meat and bones was how Farrin saw his son’s favorite creation, a flesh golem known by his entourage as “Waffles”.
Waffles was lying dead on the table, his mantis-like arms dangling from each sides, the flesh on his back pulled apart and held in place by hooks and spreader tools, revealing the frame of bones underneath.
Dead. The golem had never been “alive” to begin with. It was only a construct, a servant made out of animated meat, without true sentience, without soul. That last point was a blessing, all things considered. How torturous of an existence would it be, to be conscious of one’s life shackled to a deformed shell that is unable to eat, sleep, or act beyond the will of its master?
Fiel would not be that cruel.
Besides. Waffles was not dead, only dormant. The enchanted incense that wafted from the nearby burner was putting him in a catatonic state while his creator affixed new parts to his grotesque anatomy, replacing old and damaged organs which the precision of a surgeon and the gentleness of a butcher.
Fiel looked over his shoulder, before turning his attention back to the gelatinous mass in his hands.
“I sense disapproval in your voice, Father.”
Farrin pouted, clutching the griffon in his arms –Mer was beginning to get too big to be picked up and carried around like a lap dog, but the griffon didn’t care, and neither did Farrin, evidently.
“Well… I mean… this is really not something I would do, but…” he shrugged. “Ah well. This is the path you chose for yourself, I can only respect it.”
‘Or try to’, he added under his breath.
Fiel sighed, wiping his hands on a rag before picking up a wide jar filled with stringy strips of grayish matter floating in a golden liquid, and labelled “fleshreaver sinew”.
“Do not feel obligated to stay if this disgusts you,” he says as he grabbed a pair of pincers and collected one of the long tendon and carefully placed it between two large bones of his minion’s bared skeleton.
“It does disgust me, but…” Farrin’s nose wrinkled at the noise the tiny silver nails made when Fiel gently hammered them through the demonic sinews and into the bones of whatever creature they were collected from. The melody of the delicate metal was not enough to offset the disturbing hollow crunch. “When would I ever get the chance to spend time with my son?”
The hammering paused. When it resumed ringing Fiel replied: “We did spend time together. We have been spending time together in the Gilded Hollow since Mother kicked you out to brood in peace.”
“You know what I mean by that, Fiel.” Some frustration in his father’s voice. An unexpected tone from someone who is usually so jovial. It caused the necromancer to pause again. When he turned to face him, he found the visage of a stern, pained man. He had seen that face a few times since his father moved in with him.
He didn’t like that face so much.
“You disappeared for a decade.”
The necromancer inhaled deeply. There it was.
Farrin continued. “For years, no words from you. Your mother and I… we knew it was only natural for our son to go off on an adventure of his own, that you might travel to far-off lands, find glory, never return. We knew you might die, and we might have never known. That is the fate of many norn sons and daughters. But the way you left…”
The older norn went to sit on Fiel’s ornate bed –a new addition, imported straight from Elona– draping the cuddly griffon over his lap. His large, once-smooth hand gently stroking the lapis lazuli feathers on the cat-bird’s back.
“No warning. No goodbyes. You snuck out one night like a thief. Like you were running from something.” He raised his eyes to meet his son’s. There was something else in there now, something more frightening than sadness: accusation. “Like you had something to hide.”
Fiel couldn’t look. He had to turn away.
For a moment there was silence. Nothing, but the crackling of the fire, the hush of the waterfalls, and the gentle trills of Mer’s purrs. He heard his father let out a long, knowing sigh in his back.
“When you left,” Farrin Ravenquill resumed, “We were mourning. And at first your mother believed this was the reason why you left: to mourn alone, in your own way. She still does. But I knew better. I know you, Fiel. You wouldn’t have left without saying something.”
“Afterwards things were left… unanswered. This pain remained, stagnant. Like a wound that refuses to heal. After a while life continued as usual: your mother forged weapons and armors, I sculpted and painted and sang. But something had died between the two of us. Something had died in me. Ylva needed my love, my support and understanding, in ways she would probably never be able to express, but I was unable to give it to her. I sang, but the words were hollow. I painted, but the images were dead. I sculpted, but no matter the subject, I only saw lifeless pieces of wood.”
“A cold, silent rift grew between the both of us. When we joined the Vigil, we did it because it was a way to pay the Svaniir back for what they did to them, because we thought that it would give our lives new meaning. And for a while, it did. It gave us something to fight for, a reason to rise in the morning, something to distract us. But even that didn’t last long.”
“We were like phantoms of our former selves. You were like a phantom yourself, Fiel… rumors of you, coming and going in Hoelbrak over the past few years, fleeting glimpses of you, related by friends and family at the lodge… Where were you all that time?!”
Fiel did not respond. His head was low, his hands grasping at the edge of the table.
“What have you done that you are so ashamed of, that you would rather flee to the farthest corners of the world,” –Farrin gestured widely at the gilded temple all around them, deep into the Maguuma jungle, quite on the opposite side if the planet. He moved suddenly and Mer was startled, squawking indignantly– “rather than staying with us?”
Fiel’s nails were digging into the wood of the table. He felt bile crawling up his throat. A lingering, subconscious side-effect of Kendrall’s loving “care”.
Farrin stood up. He gently put the griffon down on the cover of the bed. He approached slowly, until he was close enough to reach out and put a hand on his son’s shoulder. But he didn’t. His voice was soft, measured. But Fiel could feel the wrath and pain in it.
“Fiel. Talk to me. Tell me what happened.”
The necromancer willed himself to turn and face the skaald, his back pressed again the edge of the table and the protruding horn of his catatonic minion. He was trapped now, in more ways than one. Trapped between his past and his father’s sorrowful, accusatory blue stare. Trapped between Farrin’s stocky frame and the cold, uncaring bones.
And so, Fiel resigned himself.
He took a deep, shaky breath, and talked.
He talked about that day over the snow near the Bitterfrost frontier, when he, his uncle, his cousins, and dozens of other norn, emboldened by Destiny’s Edge victory over Jormag’s champion, set out to claim one of the dragon’s lieutenant’s head for themselves. A foolish attempt born out of an entire race’s frustration and bruised ego. He told him how they failed, how they were all slaughtered in a matter of minutes, how he hid and cowered while his family called for him, called for his help. He told him how he hid for days in a snowy crevasse, until cold and hunger pushed him to dig his way out. He had told the people of Hoelbrak that he had fought and had been knocked unconscious, surviving only by pure luck. Well, luck did have a pretty big part in his survival, but he still lied. He did not fight. He did not stand his ground. He did not remain by his cousins’ side to die together, as heroes. He hid and cowered and shut his eyes and covered his ears to not hear their screams and their desperate pleas.
Fiel took another deep breath, and continued his tale. He told Farrin about how he fled Hoelbrak and the snow, because he could no longer stand to see his home. His people. All reminders of his failure and his lie. So he ran to warmer pastures, alone and aimless. Taking odd jobs in the human farms of Gendarran Fields to survive, sleeping in the underbrush, living off ale and beer and cheap whisky.
He told him about the day he died, after a drunken outburst in the monastery near the Godslost swamp. He had slipped and bashed his head on a rock. A fitting end for a coward such as himself. Although he obviously did not meet his doom there, for a necromancer found his ghost, and managed to coax him into returning to his mortal shell. The necromancer was a norn like himself, with other goals in life than the eternal feud with the Ice Dragon and its minions.
The experience changed him, as a brush with Death ought to, and Fiel vowed to become a necromancer himself, and, like his savior, help put to rest those who, like him at this part of his life, can never find peace.
Fiel did not stop there. He told his father how, after his mentor disappeared into the Mists, leaving him his possessions, he set out to the Durmand Priory to learn there what the norn could no longer teach him.
He told him about Willhem Silas Kendrall, and Fiel had to pause, to stifle the nausea that choked him when he recounted what had been done to him during that encounter.
Then came the tales of his adventures in Orr, the wanderings, the bounty-hunting, his fateful encounter with the guild, and his subsequent relocation. And, finally, the revenge upon Kendrall.
Fiel was with the guild now, for better or for worse.
When he was finished the necromancer flopped down into the nearby seat, light-headed and –admittedly– quite afraid. Farrin had wandered off during his retelling, turning his back to him and listening solemnly, and Fiel feared he would explode at any moment, giving him the anger, the shaming and scorn he had expected to receive, that he knew he would receive if he ever revealed the truth.
For a long moment there was only silence, and the distant rumble of the crashing water. Then his father nodded, slowly.
“You thought I would hate you if I knew what happened,” he finally said, matter-of-factly.
“… Do you?” Fiel replied, his voice nearly drowned in the crushing silence.
Farrin said nothing. He crossed the distance between him and his son, and threw his arms around him. Disgusting undead humors be damned.
Within the golden columns of the ancient temple, between waterfalls and blooming vines, Fiel felt a sudden and unexpected sense of peace. There had been a weight upon his soul, an unspoken burden that he had carried along in his heart for a decade. A load he was now feeling crumbling away through his father’s embrace.
No other words was spoken between the two of them that day. They parted in silence, but that silence was warm with smiles and comforting glances. Farrin went back to the bar, probably off to share a few more tales with Marek, while Fiel went back to restoring his minion.
Under the golden light of the Hollow, everything seemed suddenly a lot lighter, and it made the necromancer smile.