Youth and childhood
There were always ravens. I do not remember much of my childhood. Perhaps there is something at work there, or perhaps I am just leaving it in my past. They would watch me from the heavy boughs of the nearest trees. Enveloping me, filling the air around me like an immortal wind passing. They never harmed me, never left as much as a claw mark or a peck. I would glimpse clusters of them in strange patterns on the ground outside. They liked to congregate on the stacks of feed. Even sheltering in the nice, dry stable during those stormy afternoons.
I told my mother of the strange man who was waiting outside the iron gates at the edge of my father’s land. He was let in and walked slowly to reach our door. As he approached, my mother shooed me away, but never chided me. She rested her hand on mine and looked down at me, speaking gently for me to go off and play. I waited in my chamber and was not aware of the words exchanged between my parents and this strange man, who I thought looked unusual. I only have the vaguest of memories for what followed these events. This strange man cloaked in gray had a black wiry beard and a pointy nose. His words were deep, and they may as well have been steel and fire. My father said a few words after listening to all the man had to say, and by then I had left my chamber and was crouching on the top of stairs as though one of my skulking ravens.
“The boy must come with me. He will not be safe here with you.” His voice was emphatic.
“If he comes with me, I will see that he is placed in the care of the right people. People who can teach him to take care of himself. Those who can teach him devotion and honesty, and to be a soldier.”
The man insisted. My father looked at a letter in his hand, it had some gooey blue wax at the bottom, and looked like it had a marking of some variety upon it. I know now that those are used by magistrates and other officials, even nobility to issue orders or to give edicts and issue taxes. My father could only frown at the parcel before him. He turned toward my Mother, who began to back away, tears on her cheeks.
“They have issued me this military assignment. I must go. If Queldaren goes with Warrick now, he will have all that I cannot give him, and I can trade my service for these debts.“
“I was not clear on anything that my Father was responsible for or guilty of. If I look back now, he may have been indebted to someone. Who could say?” That evening, the man returned, and Queldaren’s father already had packed and saddled a horse, riding off earlier that afternoon. The man came to the door again, my mother meeting him at the door.
“Is he ready?” The man prompted from my mother. She only nodded sadly.
“Queldaren!” she called. “There is a man here to see to you.” She waited in the main hall until the boy brought a small leather bag, into which he’d placed
some clothes, a pouch with a few personal items, and a letter to the headmaster of the Temple of the Raven Queen. His mother instructed him to hand it to the priest at the temple. That was the last time the boy saw either of them, alive or dead.
Tonsuring and Initiation
Sitting in a tall chair, the boy watched as Prelate Anadorus gingerly and expertly pulled the long, sharp blade across the top of his head, shaking the wavy locks of hair from between his fingers as it fell to the floor. The boy thought he looked strange without hair. Thankfully, he thought, his hair grew back quickly. This was just a formality to bring a youth into their circle. They all stood in line, twelve in total, as the prelate cut their hair, one by one. It did not hurt, and the scraping sounded like they were cutting the old world away from each boy.
“Hold still there!” Anadorus barked. We all would learn later that he was the one we could bring our worldly concerns to. Often, these were just strange tales and misrepresentations by many of the newly – initiated boys. Tales they’d heard before being brought here. Tilting my head off to one side, I felt rather like a strange owl or raven trying to discern the cause of a nearby plume of smoke.
“You’re done, up you get!” Anadorus waved off to my left. “Next of you! Move up, now! Don’t worry yourself now.” He sounded reassuring. No doubt a trick he’d mastered by the many young men through the years that he’d seen. The young man standing beside me when I reached the group of the others who’d been relieved of their locks was a lanky lot. Went by the name of Oedric.
As fate would have it, the commune we shared would be large enough for 4 other youths. In this line, you stood and awaited your vestments, and were given all of the items that you were to keep on your person, including your beads, a cincture for your waist, and the soft leather shoes that we wore to do our work on the grounds. We were also each given a strong woven cord from which hung a hammered silver medallion symbolizing the Raven Queen.
In the coming three years, we would learn much of the rituals of the Raven Queen. This was dictated time and again by the priests and Oblates in the monastery. We were the ones the local township would call when there was a criminal to bury, or a family in the village who lost a parent or a daughter. Ravnos made sure they taught me all the things that were important. You could even say he oversaw my upbringing, making sure our priests taught me all that was correct and right practice. Our tenets were as follows:
1. Hold vigil for the New Moon, to remember Her sacred charge.
2. Observe Her traditions of ceremonial burial and right sacrifice.
3. Life’s end is continuity, know this and take heart.
4. Walk by the light, fear not the shadows, that is when Her eye is nearest.
5. Abhor Necromancy; for the Threads of Fate are Hers, alone.
These would be the cornerstones of my life, moving forward. A focused lightning-rod in the service of the Strings of Fate.
Declaration and Departure
Leaving them behind was not an easy decision, nor one he made hastily or without prayer and contemplation. When the boy was 12, Ravnos received a letter from the same patron who brought Warrick to Queldaren’s home. The letter dictated to the temple that he was to be handed over to Warrick, the Master-at-Arms, who stood before Ravnos now.
“What is this!?” Ravnos asked Indignantly. He held the letter over the candle on his desk. It began to wilt and crumble, as the paper began to blacken in the top corner. The man standing before him knocked the candle from the desk, snatching the writ from Ravnos’s grasp. Letting the paper fall freely onto the tile beneath his feet, he snuffed the flame by stomping it under his riding boots. Guarding himself, he knelt as he lifted the paper gently from the floor.
Exile and Expulsion
“Elios will hear of this. That young man is to be transferred to the Paladin’s barracks to begin his squire duties by morning!” Warrick fumed. He turned gruffly to leave. That night, while the boy packed, his corruptors would make themselves known. Four men rapped on the door to the communal space they shared. The hour was nearly ten. Queldaren spent most of the evening preparing his few belongings to depart in the morning. Two men with dark gray masks, the largest of their priests, seized the boy, separating him from the rest of the room.
“He’ll be returning until morning, bind his hands!” One told the others. They followed and we made our way into the night air. After a proclamation, something did not feel right here. There were individuals he never recalled before that night in this strange new group. Others arrived after the messenger had asked for Queldaren’s transfer. These men cared not for our rituals, and nothing they did felt within our keeping.
One man grasped the rod from the nearby flames, extracting the white iron, which possessed a strange mark in the center. Pressing it to his back, two of them held the boy up while he cried out in pain, nearly fainting from his fiery punishment. The man withdrew the rod, and they pronounced a few words that he recognized all too well. The words were in Infernal, and he knew that these were not the worshippers of his beloved Raven Queen. This was someone else.
When he was returned to the room on the first floor, Queldaren immediately sought out Anadorus. He seemed deeply consumed in some reading or other desk work when he met the boy in the wide doorway. Revealing his back to Anadorus, the man put two fingers on the boy’s new mark and quickly gasped.
“I have seen this before. You have been excluded from our brotherhood, but you depart for the barracks when you leave in the morning. They will decide
if you are worthy of elevation. You will be the Hand of the Raven. This is not the last I will see of you.” He promised.
“Take care of yourself, you are in the ravens’ hands. As you always have been. I have long suspected our brothers of corruption.” He took a moment to place a bit of clean animal skin over my newly imprinted back, securing it and listening to anything else I could recall.
“I think they were speaking Infernal.” Queldaren offered.
“We don’t learn Infernal here.” Anadorus returned. “While She is the goddess of the dead and Winter, we do not learn the tongues of the underworld. You understand this tongue because of your upbringing. Return, you will need your rest for morning.” He finished.
Queldaren returned slowly to his room, the carriage that would return to pick him up would bring him to an entirely different world. A regimented world. A place where he would learn his true calling. Soon he would meet this “Elios.”
Study and Elevation to Knighthood
“No! Not that way!” Evander chided him from outside the combat circle. The boy stood on the nearer side of the circle to Evander, where he could best hear the man correct him. This had nothing to do with his hearing, and almost everything to do with the man’s desire to make his pupils aware of their weak points.
Garro, one of Evander’s students from a more advanced class, swung the blade in a high arc. Often Garro would beat the blade relentlessly on Queldaren’s shield, finally knocking the shield into the boy’s lip. Drawing blood, the blow startled the boy. The next swing caught him further off guard. The next blow sent the blade singing from the boy’s hands. His guardian, Warrick looking on beside Evander, chuckling harmlessly before he realized the boy was cut. Garro backed off, retreating to a small bench, but not before he listened to the blade as it struck the soft earth nearby with a thud. Evander strode to meet Queldaren in the circle.
“Right foot here, No, there! Grip here, hold tighter here, it will soften the impact! Now show me again.” His voice trailed off. The sword-master was always harder on him, because of his potential.
“Again.” He said simply. He motioned Garro to his position. Garro stood opposite, shield out before him. This went on for hours a day, and it often made him late to his next session with the horse master. The boy would never admit it, but he thoroughly enjoyed the rush sword training gave him over packing some beast to carry him everywhere, when Queldaren could bear his own burdens. His wings offered him a different perspective. The thought of being required to hide them everywhere he went did not aid matters.
Swearing his Oath and Devotion to the Raven Queen
For the next eight years, the boy came to trust Elios more. He grew stronger each day, training to repay the injustice his brand would never let him forget. Earning Queldaren’s trust took a long time. He still could not prove it, but there was something corrupted or illegitimate about the company Ravnos surrounded himself with. Anadorus even stepped around his own suspicions. The day would come for him to swear his oath of fealty to the Order of the Raven Queen.
Omens of promise – upholding the Raven Queen’s Ways
On the day that he was finally elevated to a defender of the Raven’s Path, he took his oath under a flurry of deep blue ravens. Many tight groups of the gawky birds swirled above the ceremony, filling the sky. Fleets of the birds took wing, their shrieks proclaiming affirmations for this new harbinger. Scattered off into the distance, they left the ceremony bathed in the sun’s sinking rays, calling out for all the world to hear. As the sun dipped beyond, all that remained was dusk.
Wherever She leads – The road ahead.
A Paladin of great promise, Queldaren Onafiel has set out to find the men responsible for his branding. Although the mark can never be removed, he seeks answers for his betrayal, or whether there is some deeper meaning. He has vowed to his Dark Queen to understand what the brand means, if Her deputies have elevated him in Her name besides, he holds fast to her tenets and her rituals. He has started this new life and is seeking others for whom to offer his sword and his loyalty.