Family & Duty

“Shandor died to save me. It’s my fault he’s dead. If only I hadn’t been so clumsy. If only I hadn’t panicked when the beasts came.”

“Don’t be silly, child. Shandor would have stayed to kill that beast even if you hadn’t fallen.” Tekla chided her daughter. “It was his calling, and he never shied from defending the Family.”

“That’s why I have to go, Mami. He called me to follow. He asked me to protect her, as he died.” Gilly looked up, eyes filled with tears. “As he died in my arms.”

“No, Gilly, my dearest, please. We don’t raise blades, we read Tarot, we sing. This is your calling, ever since you were a babe.”

“Na, Mami, the Unchained Demon and the Guardian call me now. You saw. I… I have to protect the Mother and the Family.”

“Oh sweet Gilly, please, it could mean something else, it could just be portents of the evil coming. It doesn’t have to be you.” Now her mother had tears in her eyes.

Gilly looked at her mother, so strong and Talented. They both knew what it meant. She had to try. Try to make up for Shandor’s death. Try to fill the hole he had left. Gilly was terrified, but that didn’t mean she could give up. He had died to save her, now she must offer up her life to protect them all.

“We can’t stand in her way, my darling.” Simen wrapped an arm around his wife’s shoulders. “This is her path now, this is her Journey. And if it is not, she will return to us soon enough.”

Tekla buried her face in Simen’s chest, and her patted her back, looking over his only daughter.

“Gilly, be sure you do this for the right reasons. Not because you feel guilty about Shandor. Shandor made his choice, and it is not for you to take the blame for a death he earned.”

“Na, Papi, I know.” She dropped her gaze to the ground. “I am called by the Tarot and by Madam Nadya, but I felt the call the moment he spoke, before he died.”

“Gilly, look at me. I want you to be sure. Be sure it is not just guilt calling you.” Tekla had stilled, but he held her close.

“No, Papi.” Gilly raised her face and looked at him. “I do feel guilty over his death, but that’s not why I’m doing this. There are so many safer ways to fix that. I will write him a song to honor his life and death.” They both smiled. “But this, I have to do this, I cannot turn my back on the call of the blood. Please, Mami, Papi, don’t turn your backs to me “

Gilly’s tears began to flow again. Her parents rushed to embrace her. Shushing sounds and reassurances. They would never, she was Family and their family. They loved her, no matter her Journey. They would always be her family.

Gilly Tavolga

Gilly grew up in the Mystic Lydian tradition, quickly taking to Tarot at her mother’s (Tekla) knee. At first, she just loved all the strange pictures, but soon she came to understand them. One day, when she was just five years old, she read the cards aloud as her mother placed them, before Tekla could speak. Amazed, the patron stared at the young girl as her mother nodded to her words and intuition.

Circling Idona with her family, easily learning the languages of all the people they encountered. She picked up Elven the fastest, becoming fluent before she was 6. Gnomes and dwarves were encountered far less frequently, but by 10, she had mastered their tongues, as well. Her father (Simen) always told her she was special, even before Madam Nadya noticed her.

When she wasn’t reading Tarot, Gilly performed with her father and brothers (Vaya and Jeppa) when they stopped in cities and towns for supplies. She loved to play her flute while Simen and Jeppa sang, and Vaya drummed along. And dancing, whenever the Family came together to celebrate a festival, Gilly loved to dance around the bonfires.

Her mother recognized her talent and helped Gilly paint her own deck, though found her fanciful designs a bit odd and some downright disturbing. Mother’s was more traditional, but Gilly found it a tad boring as she grew older and her talents matured. She often read for younger folk than her mother, with images that set their imaginations running.

Gilly was just fifteen when the Beasts starting coming out of the Cursed Forest. The Family began staying further north most of the year, but a journey down to Port Mofti two years ago changed her life forever.

The Beasts attacked a gathering of Mystics outside of the Port. The Family avoided conflict, it wasn’t their way. However, the Hunters rose to their duty while the families fled. Gilly tripped and fell, and a Hunter stood his ground in front of her while the other three ushered Madam Nadya into the city. Shandor fell protecting the retreat of them all, and Gilly watched it happen. As he slew the last Beast, its dying spasms ripped open his chest and Gilly rushed to him, cradling his head as blood replaced breath.

“Must … protect … her,” were his final words to Gilly.

Gilly carried him and his bloody weapons into the city and to Madam Nadya. It wasn’t long before she found herself in the Testing Lodge, tormented by visions of death and battle, of creatures and Beasts, of things far beyond her Ken and terrible. She survived and soon they were traveling to the river mouth.

The journey was hard, and Gilly was terrified, but resolute. She had to protect the Family and their ancient Mother. Once there, the Ritual was held in silence.

A fire was lit, and blades were heated. Nadya drew a star in the dirt with her staff, with the fire in the middle. The three Hunter’s, Gilly, and Madam Nadya stood at points of the star. Silent prayers were lifted to Lydian as Nadya drew a single card, showing it only to Gilly on her right. They both knew what it would be, but it confirmed the path for Gilly and for them all.

Replacing the card, Nadya set her deck on the cloth before her. Then she took one of the heated blades, the blade of the fallen Hunter, and drew it across her palm. Squeezing her hand over a goblet, she let the blood run freely for a moment, and then seared the wound closed with the heated blade. Gilly took the goblet, and brought it to her lips. The coppery smell nearly made her choke, but she tilted it up and swallowed convulsively until it was gone.

Pain lanced through her body, it felt like her own blood was boiling. Her head fell back and she screamed. The next she knew, she was being pulled up to her knees, pain still raging through her. Then a new pain blossomed on her back. The three Hunters were pressing the heated metal of their daggers against her flesh, creating the brand that united and identified them.

She woke to water being poured down her throat. Coughing, she pushed it away, and sat the rest of the way up. The burning had subsided, and light filtered down through the trees. When she was fully aware again, she saw they were all sitting circle around her. Madam Nadya sat before her, with Shandor’s blade on the ground before her.

“Take it up, Gilly Tavolga, it is yours now. You are one of The Four. A Blood Hunter, bound to me and to the Family. Take up this blade and protect us from the coming Evils. You have been Chosen.”

“Thank you, Mother Nadya.” Gilly took the dagger gingerly, feeling the weight and the balance. “My life for the Family, I will protect us all.”

On the return journey, Gilly was also given Shandor’s sword, and her training began. The Hunters taught her to fight and how to use the power she had been given. They also taught her new songs, the kind her father said she was still too young to learn.

When they arrived back to Port Mofti, the Mystics moved on, heading North again. Gilly found her new isolation difficult, but at least she still had her parents and brothers. They loved her, no matter what.

“You’ve always been a little strange,” Jeppa teased. “No point in it bothering us now.”

When word came of the meeting, the Mystics headed for Weston Landing. Gilly was a bit nervous about traveling so far from the Family, but it was her duty, and she obeyed.

Before leaving, she gave her little brother, Jeppa, her first flute, so he could play her favorite songs when he missed her. Her mother gave her a necklace with small opals set in a twisting silver chain, one for each member of their immediate family. Her father bought her a new scarf, to bring her luck on the Journey.