"Eleanor suppers ready, come down from there."
Her mothers voice rang across the field as resounding as the ringing of a supper bell in the afternoon.
The young girl sitting beneath her favorite maple tree, packed up her books and woolen blanket she had been sitting on.
"Come darling, it'll be getting cold for sure if you don't eat now." Her mother waved her in. As she did so she looked out at the tree with solemn eyes before closing the door.
Another door opens, and out springs a man thrown to the streets.
"Uhh.." He moans as he makes to rise. His hat follows him and lands in a puddle nearby.
"Keep away you ere'..." One of the men who had muscled him out of the tavern yelled out before returning indoors.
"It seems the famed hospitality of Lerran pubs hold no ground do they!"
Joshua yelled back to them, but he was aptly ignored. Reaching into his lapel he pulled out an envelope sealed with orange wax. At least he still had this to his name.
Darling I hope you are well,
The family misses you so. We have not heard from you in many days. Your last letter was half a year ago. Please tell me you are doing well. Everyone is worried.
Love you always,
In the envelope was a dried maple leaf. It had been Autumn when she written this letter. Now it was spring. Nearly a year with not a penny to show for it.
Embarrassment and anger wash over him. What a fool he had been to believe he could make it big in the city. He thought himself a skilled bard and unrivalled at the lute and flute. But here in the city, his type came in droves. Every bar, tavern and inn had someone playing to entertain patrons. And he held not a candle to these performers.
"Goddess, please give me a chance. I wish to come home with my head held high."
He knew not what to do but pity himself here. And so, he knelt down in defeat, whispering silent prayers as rain fell from above upon his weary head.
His hat loosely held in his hand.
An old man holds to winged seedlings in a hat. As he pours them down into a small hole dug at the top of a hill outside his home. Here he begins to pour ashes from an urn onto the seedlings before covering it with dirt.
"Dear beloved, I hope you can hear me. You meant the world to me and without you... It feels so empty. But I know in my heart, you are still here watching over me. And if the god's are willing, they will grant you your wish so that you may watch this land as you had watched over me."
Tears began to fall freely from his eyes as he knelt upon the ground. The only sound from leagues around was his weeping.
"Waaah..." Cried out a baby boy who had cake smothered around his mouth.
"Toby be quiet." Rodger had taken the rest of the cake away from the babe and wiped his face. He only meant to give him a small treat but now he wanted more. Rodger would be getting the full of it if mother found out he had raided the pantry.
But there was no where to hide as his mother walked into the room followed by his sister Eleanor. He hid the cake behind his back. Mother didn't notice him at first as she tended to the teething Toby.
"Rodger what happened here?" His mother asked.
Panicking now, he felt sweat bead down his face and he was still holding to the small plate of cake behind his back. Without thinking he spat out the first idea that came to mind.
"Toby ate a spider." His mother looked at him a bit skeptically. "And it bit him. Insides his mouth."
"Really?" She asked looking to Toby. "Open your mouth little one lets see."
As she inspected Rodger slowly sidestepped to the counter and quietly placed the cake behind some bread. But before he could.
"I don't see anything." His mother said looking back at him, catching him in the act.
Eleanor tugged at her mother's skirt.
"Is that for my birthday."
Oh, dear Goddess. I'm in for it now... Rodger looked back at his mother's angry eyes. He knelt swiftly and pleaded for his life. Hoping without hope, that he wouldn't get beaten to a pulp.
"I didn't know, I swear, I didn't know."
"It seems like you could use some help young man."
The voice brought him out of his self drudgery. Joshua looked up to see a priest standing before him in blue and white robes. Garments of the Church of Lerra.
"You could say that. But it would be a bit of an understatement." He said turning away, wiping away at his tears.
"Well how bout we get you outa the rain first before you fall ill and see if something can be done for you, my friend."
The two of them walked to the temple. The priest not breaking the silence, for which Joshua was slightly thankful for. He didn't want such a man to be looking at him in pity. He did that enough for himself without having to place his worries on others.
The priest opened the door to the temple. Within was a great alcove with pews on either side. The Goddess was standing beautifully centered and carved out of marble. While Murals were painted on all the walls. He was lead down a hallway were rooms were kept. Inside were down trodden men and women, resting in bunk beds and talking jovially amongst each other.
"I never thought to go to the temple for lodging. I've wasted all my coin at the tavern Gilders Green just a stones throw away from here." Regret ringing with every word.
"Our doors are always open. Now tell me, what has been troubling you."
"Well a lot of things really. I'm from Eraphene it's a small town in the east. I have family there. A grandfather and a wife. I was a farmer, but several droughts in a row had ruined my crops. I had to turn to peddling and later I picked up the lute and began playing."
"That sounds splendid. I've no experience with instruments myself, but pray tell what has happened since then."
"Well the coin wasn't enough to feed my family. I thought out here there'd be more to be made that I could send back. Maybe even amass a small fortune so I could pick up farming again. But times were tough and competition fierce. Not much luck was on my side."
"Ah I see," The priest waved Joshua into the mess hall where they each fetched a meal. "Perhaps your error is in trying so adamantly. I have found that the more difficult path can be rewarding, but not necessarily the one you'd want to walk down."
"I think I'm starting to see that now. But I know not what else to do."
"Well perhaps this is were the Goddess plays her role. For here we have several skilled musicians from whom you can work with. In exchange you could help out here in the temple. Cleaning, Cooking, Gardening... and such."
Joshua's face lighted up for the first time in awhile. "Honestly, you'll allow me to do that."
"Why, I donned these robes to aid others. For the goddess gifts are always there for those with the eyes to see them."
"I feel ridiculous in this" Complained the young chaplain.
"You have to look the part, can't have my lover masquerading as a backwater hooligan. In front of my childhood friends. Anyways that was a gift from them, you should be thankful."
He tugged at his collar. As he did so, she looked at him disdainfully.
"It's too tight."
"You're one to complain." She jested as she readjusted her corset.
The two of them were preparing to meet her friends. Lizah was a Lady of the Court and he was just a humble chaplain who had fallen in love with her. More her doing than his of course.
"Zachariah. If you don't stop acting like a child, I'll have to start treating you as one."
"And how would that be," He asked as he kicked out with one leg trying to loosen up some space in his pantaloons. "Make me play dress up, because I have to warn you. I think you've done quite a bit of that today."
"No!" Lizah responded. "I'd make you wear that everyday until you realize that it isn't so bad."
"Oh dear Goddess, that would be worse than torture."
She sighed heavily and refuse to give in to his continued tirade.
The two them were then promptly dressed with enough time to prepare for her friends' arrival.
"Lady Acquitaine and Lord Covington from the Capital have arrived Lady Lizah and Master Zachariah" Announced her servant Dimitri.
"My thanks, Dimitri." Lizah said smiling widely as she made to greet her guests.
The Lady Acquitaine was dressed in a gown of silver sapphire and Covington wore simple greys, whites and blacks.
"Darling it is good to see you." Covington bowed and kissed her outreached hand. Nearly making Zach want to puke at the formalities.
"Nearly three years now, we hardly believed you when you said that you were to be engaged." Added Lady Acquitaine.
A silent question hung in the air. Why, the chaplain?
"Yes, well. This is Zachariah. He has been my confidant since I was a child. And well as time passed. I grew quite affectionate towards him."
"Oh dear, and pray tell. Which house are you from? Dear chaplain."
Zach smiled at the question. The house of the heavens, is what he wished to respond with, but it sounded far more pompous than what he meant to get across. Instead he settled on a more tame answer.
"My house is now Lizah's. And one day I hope to make it a home here in Eraphene."
"An odd place to settle down, if I may say so." Lord Covington pointed out as he walked with them to the dining hall. A full course was being prepared for the four of them. They each took their seats as he continued. "Eraphene is so far from the capital. It took us quite some time to get out here to see you. It'd be remiss if you decided to stay."
"Eraphene is my home now. Zach and I decided it'd be best to raise our children away from the bustling of city. There's a small school here plenty of space for them to play. There's even this large hill towards the south that overlooks all of the land. If you have the time, you must see it."
Zach could sense the disinterest in their eyes, but Lizah was blind to it.
"Oh of course, we wouldn't miss it for the world." Lady Acquitaine courtesly replied before taking a sip from her wine glass. The rest of them began to eat and talk in between bites.
Meanwhile Lizah's mind was on showing them the view of the hilltop. Nursing her wine cup in her hands, she smiled to Zach who looked miserable, but hid it well.
Nursing a bruised buttocks, Rodger sat with Eleanor as the both of them watched over young Toby. They made sure he didn't eat any grass or the like. Or a spider for that matter.
"Hey check this out." Eleanor said as she brushed away at some moss on the tree. Upon it was carved a heart with P & J written upon it. "Do you think this is Mom and Dad."
"Sure has to be. Dad's name is Joshua and Mom's Patricia." Rodger commented.
"I miss Dad," Eleanor said as she slumped down to sit upon the picnic blanket. She absently picked up Toby who was chewing on its ends. "He tells the best nighttime stories."
Rodger nodded. He was a lot younger than Eleanor and only seen Dad a few times. He sent money from the city home and spent a few weeks out of the year to see them.
"You think you'll fall in love and carve your initials into this tree too?" She asked.
Rodger gave her a disgusted face at the thought of falling love.
"NO, girls are boring. All they care about is smoochy stuff and dresses and boys. I don't care about any of those things."
Eleanor smiled at her little brother.
"Not all girl's are the same, you'll find that out one day. And I wouldn't be surprised if you carved your name here next to Mom and Dad's."
"Not gonna happen."
The two of them laughed as they looked towards the dusk befalling their village. A sense of home and happiness washing over them as they were called to home for bed.
The moon was high in the sky, basking everything in it's pale white light. Joshua, with a heavy satchel at his back, rode along an old familiar road. Thoughts of resting beside his lovely wife in his lovely bed, lingering in his mind.
"I can't believe I made it." He stopped at the maple tree and smiled to himself. They had been so young when he'd fallen in love with her.
It should still be there, he thought as he dismounted.
Getting to the tree, he caught sight of the initials right away. Still clear in the moonlight. He traced them out with his fingertips before turning to his home down the hill. The shade of the tree dancing upon the initials as he did so.
He stepped down and rapped upon door. His father-in-law answered with a crowbill in hand. But as he caught sight of him through the candlelight his expression changed to one of utter relief.
"Joshua, dear Joshua. Is it really you?" He asked smiling. He yelled out behind him. "Trish, Joshua is back. Come, come get out of the cold."
Joshua looked to the crow bill and raised an eyebrow.
"It's a long story son, I'll tell you another night perhaps. Tonight is one of merriment and rejoicing."
His wife came out of their room and rushed to him unable to drop his satchel he caught her mid stride. The two hugged and kissed passionately before realizing father was still present.
"It's quite alright, quite alright indeed."
Patricia looked him up and down. She caught sight of the weariness in his face and seem he'd aged more than years would demand of him.
"What happened, where have you been."
"Where I always was meant to go, just not where I needed to be." He cryptically answered. He made a mental note that he'd been hanging around the temple too long. "What I mean to say is... I did it, but it took a very long time."
Reaching to his side, he pulled out a large money pouch and poured out it's contents onto the table. The two of them, caught in awe at the sight of the silver coins laid before them.
"But how," She asked as she picked up a coin to bite into it. "It's real."
"Hahaha, you expected anything else did you. It just took hard work, diligence and inspiration. All of which, I got from a Temple of all places."
"Your music then?" Asked his pops.
"Well, I'll be."
"Is it enough." She asked hope in her eyes.
"No," He said as he slumped down into a chair. "It is as much as I could save, but not enough to keep the land or the farm going for more than a few seasons. I think the only way is for me to go back."
"But you can't," She protested. "I need you here Joshua."
"I know and I will stay. For a few weeks. I'll go back and earn coin and repeat this as long as I can. If I'm able to, one day, perhaps I can stay."
It wasn't the answer she was looking for. But it was the only one they had for now.
"Well let's drink to your two weeks, my love."
The three of them uncorked a bottle of fine wine. And began sharing stories that they had missed.
"So they didn't decide to stay to see this." Zach expected as much as he uncorked a bottle of wine and poured himself and his fiancée a glass. "Their loss."
"I don't understand why though. This is one of the most wonderful things about living out here. To see all of this before you." Lizah look flustered and it had not been because of the wine.
He brushed her hair back. He didn't know how lucky he was to have someone as close to his heart as her.
"So you think it is worth it to leave everything in the capital to live here in Eraphene. The backwater town as you so aptly called it."
"I called you a backwater hooligan. Eraphene is... well it's home."
"Well then, we should buy a cottage or something right here."
"Don't be silly, this land belongs to Mulfred and Sons. Quite a big farming guild."
"We'll rent it out and pay for it someday. Or our children will." He said with a wink.
She pushed him aside jokingly.
"What, it's true. Besides we have our entire lives in front of us. We shouldn't be worrying about landlords for the entirety of it."
"You don't just leave that to your children. Have you no shame."
He shrugged. "Well, what would you have us do."
"Exactly as you say dearest. As long as I get to name the children."
"And if we were to grow old and die. Would you be against having them take on the deed to the land."
"No, as long as you keep me there as a tree."
"Excuse me?" He asked puzzled.
"I want to be planted as a tree in my next life, Zach. To watch over our children and our children's children. Can you imagine being able to witness many lifetimes of those you love."
Zach held his tongue. His teaching would turn away such notions and that a proper burial would be the only means for her to reach paradise. Where they could spend eternity together.
"I guess, but do you really wish this to be how you are left?"
"Yes, it'd be my one wish."
"Well then consider it granted, my love."
The two then shared a soft kiss, a glass of wine and thoughts of shade beneath a maple tree.