People want to be heroes in their own stories. When someone gets to do something beyond their own expectations, reach for something greater than they had ever imagined, they are transformed. But when they reach for glory and fail, the bitter ashes of defeat are frequently too much to bear.
That is the case with the caravan folks by the time I had them gathered the next morning. They had not even made it to the next town, not that there was a town left to reach. But they had been beaten. Or so they whispered amongst themselves while I met with Danby, Ordo, Gizela and Belle. The perceived failure was palpable in the air.
It was the mindset of the beaten down. I’ve had horrible moments where the odds were stacked against me. When I saw good friends die, battles lost and even retreat turned to rout, turned to slaughter. At the battle for the West River Bridge, even when we were down to our last few hobs, when the croakers were minutes away from destroying we final few, we had not given up hope.
These were not people who understood victories or hope. They had no lessons, no songs, no myths to teach them. Those things had been punished out of them, beaten from their culture. Even Gizela and Belle who had dared to teach Danby a lesson had begun to lose heart with the attack of the undead and the likelihood of worse before we reached the end of our hunt.
I had already made up my mind that I would send many of them home. Some would argue, and I would let them, but in the end, they needed to have fulfilling lives. Many of these people wanted nothing more than to raise a family and tend to loved ones; till the earth; find peace. I should’ve never let all of them come with us in the first place, but their liberation had been so exhilarating, that I had been swept up in the overwhelming joy of their freedom from oppression.
As they listlessly went about packing their things and preparing to return home, defeated, I climbed into the back of one of the wagons and called them to me. They were sullen and hurt, expecting a dismissal, but what I told them proved quite a shock.
Instead of breaking camp as they had expected I told them that we were making preparations for a new quest. Yes, some would go forth and hunt down Eronel and her henchmen, but there was much more to do here. More to do than we could get accomplished in a single day, week, month or year.
I told them that we would be spending the next few days in consultation with each of them. Liz, Lilith and I would each interview them at different times. I told them that we were making a change in the valley and we needed heroes to spread the word of the transformation. We were going to unite the people. We were going to hunt down the undead that now roamed the land and see that they were put to their final earth. I told them that we were going to raise a militia and I told them that we would be discussing new revelations and old prejudices.
And I told them we would be searching deep in ourselves to address the fears that we still carried. Ignorance breeds fear and fear allows despots to rule us. We were not going to live like that any longer. We were going to rise up and take control of our lives. We were going to take back this valley and make it safe once more to raise our children, till the earth, and live to our greatest potential.
The last confused them, so I bade them wait. When our interviews were complete, when we had outlined the new quest, they would understand their roles. It would be dangerous and daring, but also joyous and uplifting.
I called for a song, any song that the people would know, and a young girl in the back began singing a harvest song she had heard from her gran. It was a light song, made to ease the workday. It was familiar and allowed the people a moment ofcommon purpose.
Next, without asking, Gizela rose and started another song. This one was more bawdy, about the night a young couple consummated their union. Many of them laughed and joined in. It was on the very edge of their social norm and seemed to give them the thrill of breaking taboos.
Then Pavil rose and began singing Bob’s lament. We had sung it two nights previous, twice through as Bob had done. But the young woman had picked up the words and the melody as if she’d been studying it her whole life. She changed the words a bit, including a line for Riven and how he had been taken from them. Then she added a fourth verse about facing a new life.
It was beautiful. Many in the crowd wept, including myself. When her final note faded the crowd grew quiet. Then, as I thought to speak again, Liz came forward and sang a song in her native tongue. I had heard her sing it before, but none in the valley could understand the words. It was a lullaby her mother had sung to her once upon a time. The melody was haunting and her voice lovely. She held the crowd spellbound, but the true meaning was lost on them. So I asked her to sing it again and as she started, I called on the divine. I had no intention of healing or such, I just wanted them each to hear her and understand.
I had learned a bit of magic to allow me to understand the fairies once upon a time. I used that in conjunction with other spells I had discerned to create an area of understanding large enough to encompass the entirety of the crowd. For one moment, they heard the strange language of Liz’s people, and the next her words began to sound familiar. They knew this was magic, but while a few appeared surprised or even scared, the song and Liz’s voice kept them enthralled.
This time, when the final note faded, some were openly weeping. Unlike Bob’s lament, this song was not about loss, but about hope for a child’s future. It was just what the crowd needed.
I sat on the back of the wagon and watched as the crowd dispersed, going to the chores of keeping the camp. We would begin categorizing them into guilds, I decided. Groups that could be spread to every village, a way to connect them through a common purpose, a common skill or goal.
It was only a start, but I had a strong inclination that this would truly transform these beaten people. I also knew we were stalling, but for the time being we needed to teach them to hope.