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Sorrowful Supplicant (Rik, Abbie, Ellwythorn) [Backstory]

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Ellwythorn looks utterly confused, looking between Rik's stern countenance and Reverence's amused one. "Father Rik is the father of my child," she explains, her voice soft and tentative in the silence. "I love him and I don't want anyone but him. T-thank you."

Reverence softens and touches the girl's cheek gently. "You may need to take another lover at least for a time, my dear. You only have one surname to grant your child. Will they be a Redfang like your husband? It is impossible to change your surname without exposing you to those seeking you. The process requires you to appear in court at a public time and place. Your councilman father would learn your whereabouts."

"No. No. I won't- My baby can't- Not a Redfang." The girl pales, looking faint where she sits.

The high priestess studies her for a long moment before glancing at Rik and Abbie with a meaningful expression. "Well. Perhaps a father with a more suitable surname will step forward. We will pray to Sehanine."
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"We have nine month to figure out a surname," Abbie soothes. "You won't be alone. We all want you and this child to be safe and happy. We'll find the best way to make that happen."

The priestess gets a questioning glance, the mystery of Ellwythorn's family only deepening with the girl's reaction. Instead of pushing it at the moment, though, she adds in a low voice, "And Father, please remember that life and death, in a perfect world, would work in harmony and not opposition. We choose to serve life and the followers of Nerull choose to serve death, but that doesn't mean we must be enemies or that they may not have a worthwhile calling." This is probably mostly true - Abbie does favor a ecumenical approach to the city's various gods - but the fact that they are in the temple of Nerull's lover almost certainly plays a part in her decision to state this.
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"I am Father to your child thanks to the blessing Yondalla has granted to you through my being. There is no obligation for you to me. I am merely the conduit of her divinity. I am Her tool to use to create and to protect. The child that grows within you is a creation from your own desires, ones that I joyously aided in bringing to life. I am Father. You are Mother. Some mothers have allowed me to meet the blessings that Yondalla has granted them through me. That Yondalla may grant me the chance to protect you as her blessing grows inside you... to be there at the birth...", his eyes shine, but he remembers where he is and stands abruptly.

"Regardless, a Husband is different than a Father. Yondalla has never wished me to be a Husband to anyone else as of yet, if she changes Her mind I will serve as she wills, but until then my oath is to Her."
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Ellwythorn quietly bows her head to look at her hands, her young face unreadable.

Reverence shoots him a wry look. "One need not be a husband to make a child," she points out, looking amused. "Thus one need not be a husband to name a child. Fathers in Brilight give names to their byblows all the time, or so I am told. But as Sister Silvergrass says, there is time to find a name for the baby." Her lips twitch again. "And she is indeed correct that Nerull is part of life's natural dance, and has ever been fond of Sehanine's children. I would not recommend a lover I deemed a poor fit."

She looks to her own child then, nodding for Freed to speak. "But I see in your eyes you do not understand this child's revulsion to her wedded family's name. Freed, explain."

Freed smirks and leans against a nearby wall. "The Redfang family is an extended sprawl of orcs who've moved up Northside from the Southside slums. Some of them are legitimate merchants but the family itself is up to its neck in crime. Extortion of other shops for money, theft of goods, selling those stolen goods out of Redfang shops, you name it. The Northsiders are too cowed to fight back and the family has enough politicians in its pocket--including Xiloscient--to protect themselves from the city guard."

"Immeral Xiloscient," Reverence adds in a softer voice, "has been on the council of elders since he inherited the role from his father. His seat is one of the ancient elven seats which pass through bloodline rather than by vote or appointment. When he dies, the seat will pass to his child--of which he has only one--or to her children. The marriage of Ellwythorn to the Redfang family was an attempt to guarantee their political protection for generations to come." She reaches to cup the girl's cheek. "Betreygis will want you back."

Ellwythorn shakes her head, trying to make this untrue through sheer force of will, but Freed continues without remorse. "Betreygis Redfang is the family's eldest son and his mother's right-hand. He is also a high-ranking cleric in the temple of Olidammara. We could walk to see him right now if we wanted; he's surely in the temple at this time of morning." At even the suggestion, Ellwythorn breaks down and begins crying softly into her hands.
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On instinct Abbie moves to Ellwythorn and wraps her arms around the crying girl. Despite her humble origins and military background, she responds to this last tidbit with an aristocratic sniff that would put dowager duchesses to shame. "I thought more highly of Olidammara. Thievery is one thing; hitting your wife is quite another."

She strokes Ellwythorn's hair and sighs. "We'll have to work on more permanent arrangements, then. I can talk to some people. In the meantime..." She glances at Reverence and Freed. "I don't think the child has eaten today. Perhaps we could let her and Father Rik settle in while we work out breakfast?"
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Rik suddenly looks very serious and nods.

"Yes. It has been a long morning and Mother needs her rest. Rest and food, definitely food, some of that sea grass stuff if you have it."

He looks a bit confused and frustrated by all that has been said and starts ushering everyone out. He comes over to Mother and leans over her tenderly.

"I hope this wasn't too much for you today. May I help you to the bed to rest, maybe a nap until food can get here?"
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Reverence rubs the girl's back with a soft hand, smiling wistfully at Abbie when she sniffs. "Evil gods can have good priests, and good gods can have evil ones," she murmurs. "And the trickster god of breaking rules and crossing lines attracts saints and sinners abundant to his ranks." Tipping the girl's chin up to her gaze, she studies her with gentle eyes. "My children tell me you do not visit your husband's temple?"

When the girl shakes her head, Reverence nods. "No, I thought not. I can hardly blame you, considering the circumstance, but gods rarely interfere directly unless they are called upon to do so. Otherwise, the world would be chaos. Still, even so." She muses to herself, a smile playing at her lips. "I believe Olidammara is blessing you now in the only way he knows how. We will light a candle to him for you."

She chuckles as Rik gestures for her to rise, beckoning for Freed to follow. "Thank you, young man. Dear, we will discuss over the months to come precisely how we will topple that father and husband of yours. Sehanine may be capricious--" Father Rik's earlier words are thrown lightly back at him, "--but she does take an interest in local affairs. Little girlish hobbies, like 'city politics' and 'rival temple hierarchies' and 'underworld crime families'. Nothing fancy. Now let us see about that food. Coming, Sister Silvergrass?"

The three women slip out the door, leaving Rik alone with Ellowythorn for the first time since last night. Still crying quietly, she hides her face in her hands. "I'm sorry," she whispers, unable to look up at him. "I'm sorry I got you caught up in all this. I should've just run away into the wilds. But I wanted to see you again and... and for someone to know I had left. Even if I didn't survive, I wanted someone to know I'd tried. I'm so stupid." She sniffles and tries to rise, moving on unsteady legs towards the bed at his suggestion.

[OOC: and now we're on Rik --> Ellwythorn, as Abbie has left the scene for now.]
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Rik gathers her up easily in his arms before she takes two steps. He carries her easily to the lavish bed and gently lays her on top of the fluffy coverlet. He does not remove his hands entirely though. Kneeling beside the bed, one hand on her knees, the other brushing her brow. He looks down into her tear reddened eyes.

"You are not stupid. I pray you are not sorry. I would not have changed this blessing for all the mutton in the city." He smiles slightly, hoping she will do the same, "You are Mother now. You are strong. And when you can't be any longer, when you fear and need to be safe, I am Father." The last he whispers. He smiles wryly "It is almost too bad that Yondalla has already blessed you," he moves his hand from he knees to her belly, his fingers accidentally dragging up her thigh and hip. "It would seem you could use another demonstration of your own strength Mother", his voice lowering, he hesitates, an almost imperceptable reddening around the edge of his ears.
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Ellwythorn reaches up to brush her fingers over his cheek, his ears, his head. Her smile is sad and soft as she gazes at him, unsure and still so shy. "I do love you, Father," she whispers. "I mean that. And I... I understand why you wouldn't want to be my husband." Her face clouds with sorrow but she pushes it away. "I wouldn't ever ask you for anything you didn't want to give. Not when you've given me so much already."

Shyly, she studies his face for answers to questions she isn't sure how to ask. "But... even if you don't love me like that, can't I still kiss you?" Gently, if he allows her, she slides her hand around the back of his neck and guides him down to her even as she half-rises to meet him halfway.
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"Love? But you barely know me? The first time we met you thought I was going to kill yo and didn't let me in the room. It has barely been a full day since you came to the garden...how can you know?" He looks genuinely confused and worried that he has missed something important. "I never said I didn't want to be your husband, I don't, I belong to Yondalla, but I never said...it isn't possible to be both. I already..." his words falter and he realizes her face has begun to blur in his vision. She can feel warm wet tears drop onto her cheek as she pulls him downward. The question not even registering, he does not know to resist even if he wanted to or if he would want to.

As her lips brush against his he startles, pulling back instinctively only to find the gentle pressure of her hand on his neck. He freezes.
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She holds very still, kissing him with gentle warmth as her fingers lightly press the back of his neck. "How can you know I'm pregnant, Father?" she whispers, her voice soft against his lips. "You seem so sure. Is it magic? Then... that's how I know I love you. My own magic tells me. Tells me that you're good and kind and warm and strong. That all I want is to be in your arms. That I'd rather sleep on the floor at your feet than in this soft bed without you. Is that not love? Am I using the wrong word, Father?"
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"Floors are not good for Mother," he mumbles almost reflexively. As she speaks be listens, frowning. "I don't know, I have only ever felt what yiu describe for my goddess, and she is, well, a goddess. I am no god, I do not have that kind of power. Could you perhaps be confusing what you feel for Yondalla and just think it is about me? I know her power was strong between us last night"
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Ellwythorn smiles softly at this. "If floors are not good for Mother, I think that means Father must come to bed," she suggests shyly. "If only so he can keep Mother warm?"

At his question, she hesitates. "I have never felt Yondalla before," she admits, trying to be truthful. "But I have also never felt you before. Would it be possible to feel you now, without Yondalla, so I can... compare? Your hands feel so good on me and... and you could give me your strength." She smiles shyly. "Then perhaps I can tell you if I love only Yondalla, or if my love is for you both."
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He looks very serious for a moment, "you do understand that Yondalla only ever blesses me once with a Mother, right? I would not be able to give you a second child..." He begins to look uncertain, "you would still want to...lay with me?"
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She laughs with joy, her smile wide. "I think being pregnant with one is enough," she agrees, her cheeks flushing. "Yes. Very much. I would give up all the riches in the world to- to lie with you again. If you would have me, I-I mean," she adds, her blush deepening.
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He smiles with a bit more confidence and allows himself to look at her. To truly take in her face, her eyes, her hair. The rose rising in her cheeks, the curve of her lips around her tusks. He breathes deeply, inhaling her scent.

"They will be coming soon with food, Mother. Perhaps we should wait until we have had some? Perhaps we are both delusional from hunger...", he laughs it off as a small joke, but the uncertainty is palpable.
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She bites her lower lip lightly and something very like hunger flickers in her blue eyes. "Then we'll lock the door," she murmurs, pulling him gently down to her. "And after, we can eat. And after we eat, we can try again, just to be sure it wasn't the hunger..."

[Reaction to you and then I think that's a scene fade.]
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His eyebrows rise in surprise and then his lids lower, watching her lips approach his.

"Yes mother, we will test this thoroghly for both of our sakes..."

As his lips meet hers at last they both forget entirely about locking the door and almost everything else for quite a while.
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---[fade to black]---

It is almost impossible to commune with a goddess on a regular basis and not dream of her. Just as brick-layers dream of brick-laying, and ditch-diggers dream of ditch-digging, clerics and paladins take their work to bed with them at night and dream of their gods. A major part of any clerical tuition, in fact, is teaching young and eager worshippers that their every dream is not a divine visitation.

A divine visitation is rare and the dreamer knows without question, without hesitation, that they are in the presence of divinity. Their god suffuses them with divine essence until every sense is invaded and overwhelmed. In Yondalla's presence there is warmth and love, maternal affection both fond and fierce. There is the ancient scent of copper and blood, the salty taste of clean skin, the ever-present sound of an eternal heartbeat: faraway but strong, it surrounds the dreamer as though they were in the womb again listening to the steady beat of their own mother's heart. These things are Yondalla, and they are primal and raw and older than time itself.

Rik Templeborn has been divinely visited once before when he took his oath of devotion eighteen years ago. He has not been visited by Yondalla since then, but was warned by the other clerics that this was not unusual: a goddess can love her children without constant visits to each one. Moreover, her children must never forget that the gods are not like us; that their love is not expressed the way ours is.

With these lessons firmly in mind, Rik is surprised to find himself shrouded in Yondalla's warmth when he drifts to sleep with Ellwythorn in his arms for the second time.
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He doesn't speak at first, too overjoyed merely to be in Her presence again; he drifts on a breeze the way he imagines a child drifts in a womb, and listens to the perfect heartbeat that surrounds him.

"Child." Her voice is as soft as a gnome mother singing a lullabye to her newborn, and as strong as an orcish commander calling her troops into line. "My child. How pleased I am with you. So many children have you brought to my children. So much new life and green growth."

The currents caress him with motherly love, stroking his cheek and ruffling his hair. "In all your service to me, my child, you have asked nothing for yourself. For your children, yes. For their mothers, yes. But for yourself, child, you ask nothing at all. Now I watch you and wonder: does my child know he can ask?"
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There are tears streaming down his face. The beauty and joy is overwhelming. He falls to his knees, head bowed.

"Oh most wondeful and beautiful goddess, I am nothing but grateful for the 18 years you have allowed me to serve you. I would happily serve another 18 if it was your wish. I ask for so much for so many, and you allow me to serve as your conduit in this world, giving life where none was. Protecting those blessed with such joy. It is the greatest honor anyone could hope for. What more could one such as myself even imagine asking for?"
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The wind ruffles his hair again at this outpouring, her touch gentle. "My beloved child. I cannot tell you what more to wish for, only that you may. Your vow of devotion to me is a bond, yes, but one which gives rather than takes. Even a paladin is allowed to seek his own happiness." A faint touch against his cheek, affectionate. "I would not have you close yourself off from the world and my children in the name of serving me."

She pauses in this speech, and for a piece of eternity Rik is simply surrounded by unconditional love. "My child, do you remember when I gave you the ability to serve as my conduit? I told you it was a special gift, not given to all or even most of my paladins. That I could give it to a mortal only once, and that a ritual must accompany its use. Do you remember, child?"
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His tears turn from joy to shame as he realizes his folly wholly. He can not look away from her countenance and the thought of failing, in some how misusing her gift to him is anathema.

"I do goddess"
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"Shh." The breeze surrounds him with fresh affection, the unconditional love and understanding of a mother for her child. "These tears, child. You have done nothing wrong. There are things I must tell you, yes, but know first that you have not failed me. That I am not disappointed. That I am nothing but wholly pleased with you, my dear child. You have surprised me, yes, but in the best of ways; what more could a mother want from her child than to watch him grow up into a worthy man such as yourself?"

Her voice softens, washing over him like a gentle wave on the seashore. "My child, you should know that you have brought into this world a child of your own flesh and blood. I opened the womb as you both asked, yes, and made what was not fertile now rich and ready to be planted. But without the ritual, I did not form the seed or plant the sapling. You sowed on your own, my child, and what you reap has my blessing--but is not my own creation in the way your other children were and are. This one is yours, through and through."
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He relaxes at her first words, the rising panis receding, but as she continues his concern begins anew. As her word keep going, she keeps speaking like a carriage pulled by wild horses running straight towards him. His eyes grow wider and wider. He cannot move feom the spot. His heart beats faster until it is apace with those horse hooves.

"Goddess... I am a, a ... Father?"
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