zweihander: (through music our race was humanized)
celene ([personal profile] zweihander) wrote2015-03-29 11:56 pm
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just one world

How could anyone be satisfied with just one world?

The stories her father had taught her, little Caroline Clark, had been passed down through the community for generations. That's what he'd always told her, and she believed him, because why would he lie? He'd gotten them from Grandmother Weaver, he'd said, but she never knew the person behind the name. Stories about the Fair Folk, how they would entice wayward little children and take them away, and how they could grant wishes if you did everything just right. About wizards, ones who made crops grow and ones who razed them. About dragons and their treasure hoards; sunken kingdoms and the gods who dwell within them; myth after myth, and each one made the world inside little Caroline Clark's head more vivid.

And she taught herself to tell them, too. Once she had them memorized, she went around to the children in the town and practiced. She shared Fair Folk stories with Nuada and tried not to let her own curiosity get the better of her. Jamilan got to hear about a ferocious horseman who patrolled the forest searching for his missing head. Once the hag took Rana in, she told her about a miracle man who could heal the sick and raise the dead with a simple touch. She told Khalil almost everything else; that poor carpenter's son had to deal with the overflowing mind of little Caroline Clark and never once did she feel bad about it.

And then there was Maria.

Maria defied any story Caroline knew—so she had to come up with her own. She asked her father if he had anything to help, and he reached once again into his own personal bag of tricks and brought out a lute, a battered old instrument that he'd taught himself how to play before becoming the crier for the town. And he taught her while her friendship with Maria grew, and when she thought she was ready, she gave Maria her own story. A song, poorly composed and overwrought with cliche, but full of true emotion nonetheless. Little Caroline Clark was in love, and for a while, it seemed like Maria was, too.

Caroline's mind brought forth new stories, ones she had to practice even more because they never really seemed as impressive as the ones that her father had taught her. But Maria seemed to like them, and that made things better. The tailor's daughter she'd fallen in love with always seemed to have more than her, but Caroline gave what she could. Maria gave her a cloak, and Caroline gave her songs. She did all she could to share her world with Maria.

But how could anyone be satisfied with just one world?

Their relationship fell apart when Maria decided that Caroline wasn't enough to keep her attention anymore. And her heart broke. She stopped suppressing wonder at Nuada and brightening Jamilan's eyes with war stories and bothering with crossing the swamp. Only Khalil was spared, and only because she looked up to him for how strong he managed to stay in his own losses. They were partners in misery, or something poetic like that, and after Maria, little Caroline Clark needed all the help mending herself that she could get. She started composing songs again, in time. She started making more stories, ones that didn't involve Maria, but still stung with bitterness. When Khalil discovered a strange book under the miller's wheel, they spent late nights together crafting their own origins for it. They formed their own world and lived in it, and for a while, things were good.

Her heart healed eventually, but little Caroline Clark would never be the same. She'd always had a bit of a rebellious streak, but Maria had managed to keep it in check. Keep her in line. And if it was something Maria wanted to suppress, thought the self-important crier's daughter, then that was all the more reason to let it shine. She learned how to use her own charms to get things out of adults. She learned the ways they acted around each other and tried to emulate it as much as possible, especially at the inn where she spent much of her time. She was never the most impressive bard, but knew how to control her voice and twist her face to evoke as much emotion as possible, whether she was singing about terrifying beasts or her own heartbreak. Visitors fell for her act on an almost constant basis. And as long as she kept performing there, she had a deal with the innkeep that she would never have to pay for a room if she needed a place to stay the night.

The one visitor to stop her in her tracks called himself one of the Fair Folk. The stories taught her to know better about making deals with him, but he asked for nothing in return when he pulled her aside and started testing her intellect with riddles. Word got out quickly around the town and soon everybody was there, watching a Fae prince relentlessly quiz little Caroline Clark. And Maria, the tailor's daughter with a mind like a needle, she showed up too. And in that, the Fae prince had accomplished something much greater than even he could have planned. The exes answered riddles that had come straight out of Caroline's stories and returned with ones of their own, and the Fae prince left them an intellectually defeated man.

The next day, Caroline woke feeling lighter. Had she meant that much to Maria, in the end? Had some part of her own world stuck around in Maria's mind?

She stopped writing songs about heartbreak. Things weren't going to be better for a long time, but they weren't going to be as bad as she once thought. She took the stories, the Fair Folk and the headless horseman and the miracle man, and she wrote new songs about them. She came up with stories about her friends, inventing adventures and giving them each their own roles. Nuada and Jamilan led the charge against ogres and goblins while Rana and Khalil and yes, even Maria provided magical support from behind. Caroline rarely put herself into her own stories. If she did, she might want to leave the town and go out to the world, and she didn't want to risk discovering that myths were myths and stories were just stories.

There was the town that she knew was real, and the friends she knew she had. And as long as she never left, she could still let herself believe that somewhere out there was an actual sunken kingdom, instead of just some old book that had washed in and gotten stuck under the miller's wheel. She could let herself believe that Nuada and the prince were actual Fair Folk and each circle of mushrooms she ran across was a portal to their kingdom. And she could keep thinking these things while she brought actual news to the people under her father's tutelage, and she could keep herself grounded, and she could never run the risk of finding out that everything she wanted to believe was constructed by man.

But her mind would never let her. Her curiosity gnawed at her like a wolf. There had to be some place for her in the strange new reality she crafted every day. Charging blindly towards enemies or finding hidden pathways that led to ancient temples or staring down a wyrm from across a massive cavern. The overflowing mind of little Caroline Clark was its own world now. By denying it, she was making her choice which one to live in.

And how could anyone be satisfied with just one world?