Timeline: Sixth Age, 46th Year, Autumn
As most of Monthaven prepared for another gloomy winter, Emcorae Azop sat on the porch of his parents’ house, feeling a sense of nostalgia.
How many times have I played in this yard?
He recalled countless hours playing ball by himself or wrestling with his father while his mother and sister laughed and cheered them on. He also remembered the many times when he and Curk chased each other around the Azop’s little wooden cottage or raced off into the woods, inevitably with Emcorae in the lead and the bigger boy threatening to pin him to the ground when he caught him. Even though it was all in good fun, it didn’t take many times for Curk to sit on Emcorae’s tiny chest before the latter developed an outstanding ability to run like the wind to avoid letting Curk catch him.
Good times, Emcorae sighed. And now it’s over. Is this really happening to me? I’m going to become an Azora?!?
The young Azop smiled ruefully – on one hand he relished in the excitement of thinking of himself as such a mighty warrior, yet at the same time he realized the absurdity of such a proposition.
Me, little Emcorae Azop, a big, bad Azora? How am I supposed to be a great warrior when I probably can’t even lift one of their swords?
It was the smell of supper wafting out from the kitchen that interrupted the boy’s musings. Mmmm, galunkis. Emcorae moved towards the door, eager to secure his place at the dinner table.
“Yip, yip, yip” The family dog Chich ran to the door , confronting to the intruder of her domain with a high pitched bark. “Yap, yap, yap.” When she saw who it was the dog stopped barking and laboriously executed a roll onto her back, exposing her chubby stomach; whence she proceeded to whine piteously until the boy knelt down to pet her.
Emcorea softly stroked the little tan dog’s midsection, as he cooed to her. “Oh you’re so cute.” As usual Chich’s stomach was rounded outwards; that coupled with the fact that she had just come padding out from the kitchen led the boy to the conclude that Chich had been partaking in her favorite past-time: begging for scraps of food while his mother and gram prepared a meal.
Like the rest of the family, Emcorae loved the fat little dog. It had been years since his father Alboris had brought her home. At the time, Emcorae’s father had been away chopping wood for a new altar that Pastor Kastelli had commissioned of him. Since the priest had insisted on only the finest cherry wood for the alter, Alboris had to travel about twenty miles south of town to collect it. When he returned the trip, he not only had a cart full of the sought after wood, but also their new family pet – Chich.
Alboris said he found the pooch on the roadway a day after a traveling circus from Mersia had passed by his campsite. He claimed he woke up early to the sound of incessant barking coming from the nearby road and when he went to see who or what was making all the noise he found Chich. Thinking she must have fallen from one of the circus wagons – all of which were now long gone – Alboris said he felt sorry for the dog and couldn’t bear to leave the tiny creature alone, fearing she’d be quickly scooped up by a hawk or similar bird of prey. Thus Emcorae’s father said he had ‘no choice’ but to bring Chich home with him.
Now this story was all well and fine, but not even Emcorae ever really believed it. Like the rest of the family, the boy knew his father well: it didn’t take a fortnight to travel just twenty miles, chop some wood and return home. Obviously Alboris had been to Primcitta to visit the taverns, and since one can buy just about anything there –if the rumors were correct — Emcorae and his family guessed that Alboris had picked up Chich at one of the numerous market stands.
“Honey did you get finished stacking the firewood?” Emcorae’s mother Beckali called from the kitchen. “Can you please go to the garden and get us more lettuce?”
“Yes, mama. But then can I go see Curk? He and I are supposed to go hunting tomorr-“
“Oh Em,” his mother interrupted as she emerged from the kitchen, “I don’t know if I like the idea of you going hunting tomorrow. You’re not even packed and that man will be here any day now.”
“He’s not a man, mom. He’s an Amorosi elf.” The boy corrected. “And I don’t have much to pack. This might be the last time I get to see Curk for a long time, gee whiz, lemme live a little.”
Beckali didn’t object and instead hugged her son – Emcorae had seen twelve summers, yet he was still small for his age and Beckali couldn’t begin to imagine the trials the boy was about to undertake. Although she was still young herself (just thirty-one years old), her brown hair was already showing sings of gray — for Beckali had lived the hard life that was typical of village women of her day. Her brown eyes couldn’t hide the fact that she’d silently suffered through times of sadness. And yet her path had been chosen long ago and she knew there was naught she could do to change it.
Still holding her son, she wondered where his life’s journey would take him. At last she said, “Em, you know that it’s OUR last days with you too, right? We need our time too. Here now, why don’t you go get your dad and granddad from Brandonale. Tell those two rascals that it’s time for dinner. They’ve had enough to drink for today.” Beckali smiled as she added, “how fast do you think you could run over there and back? I’ll give you an extra cherry tart if you can make it back before gram and I set the table.”
“You’re on!” Emcorae accepted the challenged. In a flash he was out of her arms and through the door.
“But Em,” Beckali tried to stop her son, “don’t forget that…lettuce.”
With Emcorae a blur running down the path, Beckali sighed, “Oh, bother. I suppose I’ll have to get it myself. As if we women don’t do enough around here!”
Yet as the woman began walking towards the garden, the same wave of emotions that had been plaguing her for months rushed back and she fell to her knees on the dirt.
What’s going to happen to my beloved son?!? Her mind wailed, as tears streamed down her face. In a few days her little boy was about to go off with a stranger and Alfranco said Emcorae would not be returning for at least five years. If he ever comes back at all! And it wasn’t even a human who would be escorting him away; it was someone from another race completely: an elf! Beckali definitely didn’t like that idea; even though elves were said to be good-hearted people and even though her father-in-law said he knew this particular elf, none of these facts did anything to ease the mother’s doubts.
My son was saved from a demon this past summer and now I have to let him go again? Can an elf protect Em from a gargoyle? Beckali searched for reasons to keep her boy home. Em has been so unhappy since that terrible ordeal. All his friends have deserted him but Curk and I feel like our neighbors blame us for everything that goes wrong in town. Pastor tells the people God saved Emcorae but I don’t think anyone believes him. I’m not sure I do either – surely we Azops are cursed! How else can it be that a mother should let go of her firstborn son?
I wish that elf man never came to us last summer. Beckali remembered the strange visitor who brought a letter to her father in law Alfranco. Yet the missive wasn’t for the old gaffer, but instead offered her son Emcorae the opportunity to train with the warrior elves of Arbola! If I lived 1,000 lives I’d never have expected such a surprise. It don’t make sense.
Confronted with a once-in-a-lifetime chance for their child, the Azops hesitated. Beckali recalled the many arguments the family had about whether sending Emcorae to Arbola was a blessing or a curse. She and Pallina were dead set against it. Teree too. Even Alboris didn’t want Emcorae to go. Only Alfranco seemed to be in favor, yet even he seemed unable to mount a convincing case for sending Emcorae off to live with the elves.
In the end, however, the Azops knew they didn’t have much of a choice – they knew the townsfolks would never let Emcorae stay in Monthaven and while the Azops were fine with starting a new life elsewhere in order to remain together, it was clear that Emcorae had already made up his mind — for he seemed drawn to Arbola as if it was his destiny. Furthermore everyone in the family could see that Emcorae was wilting under the negativity of the town and that the only time he seemed happy was when he talked of leaving – for his face light up whenever he spoke about his new life. By the end of the summer, Arbola was all Emcorae ever talked about.
And so it must be. Beckali used her apron to wipe away her tears, yet then it was that her thoughts were interrupted by the sudden chirping of a small jay bird.
The little warbler had a wonderful blue plumage and its white underbelly bespoke the picture of good health. It was perched on the overhang of the porch roof just above her, and — based on the continued bobbing of its crested head — it seemed to be trying to get her attention.
How odd. Thought Beckali. Imagine that, a bird talking to me?!?
The little jay continued it’s banter and as it sang its songs, Beckali experienced a déjà vu – remembering a similar encounter with a similar bird many years past – thinking back to the time when she herself had been a young girl about the same age as Emcorae was now and realizing that she had no choice but to let her child go, in search of his own fate in life….one that she hoped would lead to a destiny more fulfilling than her own.
Emcorae is in the bloom of his life. We have to let him flourish. Beckali tried to force herself to smile. Even now, as she approached middle age, Beckali was a fine looking woman – although her face showed a wrinkle or two, her long brown hair was still soft and wavy, her eyes still held their brightness, and her smile was a joy to behold.
And yet, in exchange for the innocence of her youth, all too often had Beckali received sadness in return. It was not that her life had been extremely hard, nor even that she was terribly sad now, it was simply that the woman had never become truly content, and she doubted she ever would. Her days were filled with chores: taking care of children, tending the garden, cleaning the house, cooking with her mother-in-law Pallina. These tasks helped her to pass the time, but they couldn’t stop her mind from tormenting about her unfulfilling marriage, her lack of the finer things in life, and her seemingly insignificant place in the world.
Yet there was once a time when Beckali was THE most beautiful girl in the Monthaven.
Before she married Alboris, Beckali grew up as one of seven children of a nearby farmer named Mo Grenger. No longer now was the farm still standing, and no longer could she easily visit with her brothers or sisters even if she wanted to because Beckali’s family had all long since died or moved away — for Monthaven only held bitter memories for the Grengers.
And yet, before all the terrible memories were made, there was once a time when Beckali had been happy and her father’s farm was one of the best in the area – well known for the quality of his ripe vegetables and deliciously creamy milk.
As the little blue jay continued its song, Beckali remembered the day that changed her life…