Colwyn grimly faced the sunrise shimmering off the lake. The cold Calistril air blowing off Lake Encarthan was nothing compared to the chill in his heart on the 7th day of this most accursed of months. The pain of loss was nearly as fresh today as it was on that fateful day 18 years ago. His eyes went vacant - his small farm north of Detmer invisible to him as memories filled his mind.
The morning started as any other. Feed and care of the animals, and a successful fishing run. It was peaceful on this peninsula. Colwyn and his wife Talya were largely self-sufficient here. Talya's father Venkar Okalaunui had given them this land when they married. He was a minor noble in Greengold and was happy to have Talya away from the political environment of the city and living on her own. It was a modest holding, but as Venkar liked to say, "Any man with land is a rich man, and any man with my daughter is a lucky man." And for a few years, that was true.
Colwyn shifted his grip on the oar slung over his shoulder, knuckles white with remembered rage. It was hard remembering the happy times with Talya. Harder still to remember how that day ended.
"Talya, it's crab soup tonight", he declared with pride. "A monster big enough to feed us for a week - even with you eating for three!"
Talya met him at the door with a smile, her stomach preceding the rest of her by a sizable margin. "By tonight the feeding will be harder, Col - they're coming today; I can feel it." She smiled at the panicked look on his face as he furled his small sail and pulled the boat up on shore. "Colwyn Sunskald, I do believe you're scared", she smiled. She was even more beautiful when she smiled; her cute Elvish nose wrinkled irresistibly, and her pointed ears poked bashfully out from beneath her blond hair. It was amazing to think she was his senior by a century or more...
"Light of the Seven, Tal, sit down then!" Colwyn fussed. "Let me send the bird and get that old crone up from town to see this through." They'd prepared for this day for months, and the midwife could be here a few hours after the homing pigeon was loosed. The wind was unusually stiff today, but these flyers were bred strong.
A tear rolled down Colwyn's face, and across the ragged, clawed furrows of his left cheek that gave him his new name of Sevenscars. It was five, really - but two had healed unevenly. And nobody could bear the sight of him for long enough to count them, truthfully.
Memories poured forth, unbidden. Colwyn should have known there was trouble as soon as he saw the pair of riders accompanying Mother Gilvan's rickety cart. She'd had no apprentices for years. Mother Gilvan's corpse tumbling from the back of her donkey shocked both Talya and Colwyn into a stunned silence.
"Twinsblood." grunted one of the leather-clad men. His ridiculous porcelain mask identified him as a priest (or cultist) of the Living God Razmir. These zealots had mostly slunk back to the safety of Razmiran after that nonsense on the Isle of Terror a few years back. Colwyn didn't know anything about this alleged "City of Golden Death", and he wasn't stupid enough to go poking around to find out. This pair of miscreants held an unpleasant combination of fervor and death that lent credence to the tales of the dark rituals associated those involved.
The one who'd spoken leveled a crossbow at Colwyn. "Be honored that your offspring shall lend their call to Khulos' ascension." And with that he loosed a bolt, catching Colwyn in the thigh and sending him to the ground writhing. Talya screamed, and tried to run to Col, but the other rider grabbed her and threw her to her knees. A brutal kick from a hobnailed boot shredded Colwyn's face and left him momentarily unconscious. The men slung Talya unceremoniously into the boat. The shock had quickened her labor, and shrieks of pain punctuated the screams of fear.
In his mind, Colwyn had played through thousands of scenarios of derring-do in which he valiantly defeated the cultists and saved his family. But his memories always painted a much grimmer picture. He rose from the ground as the boat with his wife and unborn children was pulling away from shore - the novice sailors struggling to set the sail. Talya fought mightily, but stood no chance against these brutes. Colwyn charged into the water, ignoring the pain from his leg and striking out as if he could catch them. Perhaps there was a chance, with the sails set poorly, only one paddling, and the other unceremoniously poised to wrest the twins from their mother's body as they were born. 10 strokes into the lake and the distance was unchanged.
A howl of pain was followed by a satisfied grunt. "The first has come. Put the man down, Tullar", ordered the masked one.
The rowing stopped and a crossbow bolt flew wide of Colwyn. 10 meters. Tullar calmly reloaded the crossbow. 6 meters. A bolt punctured Colwyn's kidney. 2 meters. Tullar switched to his cruel, hooked shortsword, while the other man kept Talya pinned with his knee, the newborn babe tucked casually under one arm. With a surge, Colwyn closed the distance and grasped the side of the skiff, his sudden weight tipping it precariously. The mask-wearer lost his balance and dropped the babe overboard, barely managing not to fall in himself. The lurch sent Tullar's strike wide, and he and fell atop Talya, who screamed in pain.
This part always came to Colwyn with agonizing slowness - every moment presented in crystal clear pain. The already-strong wind strengthening suddenly to gale forces and catching the sail. Natalya sinking right there in front of him - only minutes old and already drowning. His wife and unborn child captured, and slated for sacrifice.
Saving Natalya meant losing his Talya, but trying to save his wife meant his daughter's certain death. And just like that his mind was made up. He dove for his daughter and prayed for his wife. The infant couldn't have sunk far, but the lake was murky, and the light was fading. He dove, and searched and flailed until his vision went black and his lungs screamed for air.
Later he would describe it as if a surge of power flowed through him, from hidden reserves he never knew he had. It let him grasp his daughter's tiny foot and haul her from the lake. Carrying her to shore and gently breathing life into her fragile frame - and almost miraculously the water drained away from her lungs. Of three lives, he'd saved one. Colwyn hardly counted his own. He was a broken man.
Only a few weeks ago, at the beginning of the year, he had received a letter from his father-in-law, Venkar. Years had gone by since Venkar had left Greengold, and after his brief note informing Colwyn of his plans to leave there had been no word at all. Colwyn knelt, and spread the letter before him again on the sunny rocks. He'd read it almost every day since it arrived.
"Colwyn, I apologize for my lengthy silence. My work is sensitive, and there are few I trust to deliver word to you. I paid well for this missive to be warded to open safely only to your hand. I found Tullar, and I confirmed he was the one who took Talya. With him that day was Vespen Ghorosh, a priest of Razmir and a vile creature. Tullar was in the employ of one Maynard Greygull when I finally caught up with him. I played a long game to take down Greygull, but I succeeded only partially. I brought about his financial ruin but not his death. Vespen had parted ways with Tullar years earlier, and Tullar hadn't seen him since. I trust this dying confession. It was extracted skillfully, and with magical assistance.
It is important that you know a few things about yourself, though, Colwyn. Your presence in Greengold was no accident. You once told me that one of your only memories of your Mother was of her taking you to a Temple of the Seven, and that is why the Seven always gave you comfort. That was in Caliphas. The orphanage you were raised in from the age of six was run by a friend and business associate of mine, Ms. Durenda Tronsov. One of the many responsibilities she had was to identify orphans with high potential. You were one such. Your intelligence caught her attention and I cultivated you as an asset from that point forward. You were 15. Your history lessons were my doing. Your interest in languages was cultivated by me. I paid for you to have music lessons. When you chose to come to Greengold that seed was carefully planted by my agents, and I obtained that first job for you, at the Crystal Goblet. In my business one learns to take a long view, and it was always my habit to invest in promising children with no family.
I realize you're probably astonished by this. Did I raise you to be my son-in-law? No, that was never the plan. But as you grew into the man you've become, I knew Talya would find you irresistible. You became my ace in the hole, should I need to lure her away. That's exactly what happened. Actually falling in love was not something i expected. There are always miscalculations in this line of work; it is the nature of people to be unpredictable.
This is more than I expected to tell you, but my pen has a mind of its own, tonight. To cut to the quick of it - your mother was Aaralyn Trueta. She was a Cleric of the Seven. Your father was Umandan Cueolan, and he was killed before you were born, fighting in the Mendevian Crusades. I tell you all this for two reasons - first, I am unsure if I will survive this mission I have set myself, and I want to confess the level to which I've orchestrated your life before I die. Second... it is important that you understand just how well I know you. And of course you understand how well I know (and how much I love) my daughter. I must share with you these sketches you'll find included. There are seven children here. These were sketched at about the age of twelve. Note that the third of these bears a striking resemblance to Natalya at that age. I say striking resemblance, but in truth, this could be her - to the very angle of her eyebrows and slope of her nose. Colwyn - I believe your second child lives. These seven are all of the children with in a year of the age Talya was born. They are in Whispertruth, in an orphanage (like father like daughter). It took me years to follow the trail that Tullar set me, and it has led me here. I wish I could free her - but I cannot. I have angered very dangerous people, and Greygull, as dangerous as he is, may be the least dangerous of them. I am on the run, and don't know where my next step will be.
Colwyn, I implore you - remember the man you were before Talya was taken from you. Seek out the Seven and look to them for power. They will look upon you favorably, as they did your mother and your father. Your daughters need you. Natalya's sister is called Vyrianna. I cannot tell you what her past looks like, but her future should be with you. She will be put out of the orphanage on her 18th birthday. I know not where she might go, and my picture of what she's been through to survive until now is incomplete. But I know I can rely on you to recover your lost child.
I apologize for my role as puppet-master. I have come to love you as I have seen the love you've given my daughter, and my daughter's memory. Take strength from this history I have given you, and the knowledge that the daughter you've never known needs you in her life. Prepare yourself for deeper waters than fishing and farming provide, because there are depths to this maneuvering that I have yet to divine. All queries regarding Khulos have been met with ignorance or terror. I am unused to failure when collecting information, and I am deeply concerned about why lies behind this name.
Give my love to Natalya, and know that I have come to love you as my own son as well.
Natalya came out of the house and walked over to her father kneeling on the shore. She touched the scars and spoke softly. "Get up, Father. We must train."
He'd finally explored that surge of power he'd experienced so long ago, and found that communing with the Seven allowed him to tap into it and control it somewhat. He'd gotten moderately better in the weeks since training became a daily practice.
Likewise, Natalya had taken up the expanded her work with the Temple of the Seven to not just the refinement of her physical skills, as she continued her training as a Paladin, but her mental skills as well.
It was good to have purpose again. Perhaps next year's birthday would see a family reunited.