Elf, Archer, Rogue, Excellent Whistler
AroVânnâ LåAltha: Background Story
My name? Yes, you’re right, it’s strange. It is as split in two as I am. “AroVânnâ”, you see, means “she who dwells in the clouds”. “LåAltha” means something like “of the forest”. What a ridiculous half-breed concoction of a name, you’re thinking. I don’t blame you. It’s not really the name I was born with, of course. That name is for me, and only me. You can call me what all people call me: Aro.
If I told you “I’d like to tell you about my childhood”, that’d be a lie. I don’t wish to tell you about it. It was a miserable excuse for a childhood, and my memories are a shadowy grove at best. Much of my childhood is lost to me, and it will not benefit me to remember it.
I was born in the Forest of Masks, and when you are born to the Elves of Shall, your totem is known at once. One’s totem is read by a wise woman, who pulls it from the whispers of swaying trees. When the wise woman of my village named my totem “White Fox”, people didn’t understand. ¬¬
“The White Fox is not a creature of the Shallwood Empire,” they shouted. “it must be a mistake! White Fox is seen high in the mountains, in the ice and snow! The wise woman must read it again!”
It was then that the woman told my parents that I was a double-child, like the fox whose fur is white half of the year, and brown the other half. Though I would be raised by the Shall, I would not remain with them for long. My parents asked if that meant I was to die, and when she shook her head, they were comforted. In time, they forgot. I was a normal child. I played, I laughed. Like all Shall children, I made pretend-masks from mushrooms and twigs (a Shall doesn’t receive their Mask until adulthood – this was the way of my people, to be gifted with a mask that has been crafted and blessed by the elders).
For my first few years, “my people”, if I can even call them that, raised me to learn the quiet and honorable ways of spirits, the balance of life maintained by the forest, and the wisdom of the Totems. Quiet and honorable beings do not necessarily prevail, however, when evil or trickery finds them. While the hordes burned and destroyed other parts of the Forests, I fell victim to a different kind of misfortune.
When I awoke to strange men binding my hands and stuffing a rag in my mouth, I thought it was a dream. Earlier that evening at the hearthfire, I heard stories of the humans. With colorful images of strange and exotic people and places in my mind, I wandered off to one of my hiding places to think. Falling asleep between the roots of a giant oak, my parents could not find me… but a band of human travellers that happened to be crossing through did, and I was taken away as easily and silently as that.
After many hours of walking with my tiny hands bound and my shouts muffled, I was given a flask of bitter-tasting water to drink. I soon fell into a deep sleep, and when I awoke, I was on horseback, and my forest was gone. If I ran away then, I could never have found my way back to my village. After riding for days, we came to a dusty, noisy port town. There were so many different colors of skin and clothing, so many creatures I’d never dreamt of, that I forgot my fear and gave in to wonder. The man who took “care” of me on the journey – his name, as I shall never forget it, was Neylander – bought me a beautiful new dress of sky blue, and gave me strange red berries to eat. I almost warmed to him, thinking he must’ve felt bad for taking me, and was rewarding me for being brave before returning me home. Yes, I was that naïve.
With my berry red lips and bright blue dress, he took me to the market, and there, he sold me into slavery. I was to be a pretty little elvish servant child. This was my new life. Well… at least there was quite a bidding war. I will never forget my price. It was thirty-three gold pieces.
My hands were bound again, this time by a silken cord, and I was led into a tower. I went up some stairs… many, many stairs. I climbed and climbed, and was sure I was going to be offered up as food to the hideous Sky Giants I’d heard about in hearthfire stories, when I saw the top of the stair, and I saw sky. I then saw The Sovereign of the Skies.
The Sovereign was a three-mast armored Storm-Frigate with twenty-four guns. I didn’t know that then, of course. All I knew was that I had climbed higher than any Shallwood tree could ever grow, and that I was now to be the servant of “the Corsairs”.
I spent years as the servant of the captain of The Sovereign (his name was Captain Althas Merrick, a soft-spoken man with a constantly furrowed brow and a big hat). I played the part of “adorable child” while he and the crew carried on a brisk business in piracy and theft. I was taught to deflect attention, to pickpocket, to sneak under tables and loot purses, to filch jewels and to pick locks, and to smile sweetly while doing so. In exchange, I was treated fairly. Well, sort of. I was worked to the bone and verbally abused by the crew, but no more than any other Corsair abused another. It was a new kind of home. I soon learned how to use my innocence to charm the captain and crew into taking care of me, treating me like a doll, a pet, or a little sister. I was protected and cherished, whether they knew they cherished me or not. I was a good luck charm in our many storms and battles, and I embraced this role. I learned how to con them as I was used to con others.
I forgot the feeling of leaves and moss and shadows, and grew to like¬ the icy mist of clouds on my face.
Captain Merrick had long since stopped chaining me up or treating me as property. He fell prey to that occasional affliction of child slave-owners (especially those who, by and large, are generally good men), in that he raised me, and therefore grew to care about me. I became a daughter, and he, my second father. I never called him that, of course. He was called Captain, and only ever Captain. He called me Aro, which he said meant “something insulting” in the language of Sky Giants. In Shallish, however, “Aro” meant something like “cloud”. Despite this, he was a good captain, and a decent enough father.
In a fight with a [insert interesting foe here], Captain was killed. The crew set sail for the edge of a large sea squall, and tossed his body overboard to its final rest in the stormy waves below. With my master dead, I was no longer property – I stayed with the crew until they set back to port, and the new captain (formerly first mate Bjernsen) gave me a small satchel of gold and a few of the Captain’s personal effects as “reminders”. He asked me to return to the Sovereign if I ever got “restless on the rock”, and we parted in good spirits.
Once I got my land legs back, I made my way through town after town, spending time in pubs and halls, putting my card skills to good use to “earn my way honestly” while taking other money and goods from people that seemed almost eager to part with them (if you tie your coinpurse to the back of your belt you’re just asking for it). I slowly found my way to lands that knew forests. I needed a bolder name than just “Aro”, so I pieced together what I remembered of Shallish, and my name became what it is now.
I approached the Shall Empire from much farther north that my village had been (by my terribly murky estimate). Instead of being greeted as a child of the forest, I was glared at and sized up by the elves with whom I should have been sharing supper and stories. I wasn’t Shallish anymore, of course. Not to them. I dressed too boldly. I smelled too strongly. I spoke too loudly. I smiled too widely. I was not Shallish. To them, I was a Corsair, and not to be trusted.
Because of the shape of my ears and the threat in my eyes, they conceded to allow me to share their fires for the night. They did not tell tales. The Shallish tales I still dreamt of hearing were now forbidden to me, the outsider.
Leaving the last border settlement behind, I went into the deep forest alone. I became angry, bitter. I felt like a half-person, with one side of my face Shall, and one side Corsair – never able to show myself to either because I was not whole.
One month into my solitude, my Totem came to me, and this story I shall not recount to you or anyone. To speak of your Totem with another is blasphemy. That is between me, White Fox and the gods.
The following morning, I found the largest ash tree of the glen, and dug at its base until I exposed a heart root. I cut out this root, and, with my knife, cut my arm to give it my own blood as an offering. I spent five nights carving this wood, and built a great fire to char it. I found the right plants for oil with which to seal the wood, and I polished it to a pale mirror. I remembered every step of the ritual I used to watch as a child. I was finished. I made my own Mask.
After shedding or re-dying some of my more garish Corsair clothing, I was able to blend in more efficiently. Villagers were put slightly more at ease by my having a mask, and I was invited to their hearthfires. I found more and more settlements that had, amazingly, humans mixed with elves. There were other races as well – refuges from other towns and lands that had common enemies, and were therefore now friends. I met and spent time with many of these young ‘castaways”, including a strange and odd-eyed character named Ronan. His strange stories were unlike any I’d heard, and that was saying something.
I built my own hearthfire and shared my own stories, but to my disappointment, my stories were laughed at, called “fiction”. Worse still, the stories I heard in return were small and boring. These villagers’ lives were not the lives I wanted to share. Their stories were too small for me. I needed more.
I also needed a job. Farming was… not for me anymore. I might’ve come from a family of trappers or farriers, but this was not what I was destined for, or more importantly, trained for. In my time learning to read maps on the Sovereign, I learned that the town I was dragged off to so many years ago was called Riddleport. It was a large and bustling town. Its stories were my kind of stories. I convinced a friend to come with me, and…
Well, I guess you’ve figured out the rest. It also seems that we’ve played our last hand, and you’re out of money. I’ll be heading out now, unless you’ve anything else to bet…