Eric Aaronson and the Dubious Reasons
Oona Underfoot, Daughter of Reef
A half-hearted, half-elven "bard" of the Free Caer'allan
Oona the half-elf stands defiantly at six feet and two inches tall, with tangled, dark, rosewood colored hair. Tall and austere, her ashen face and emerald eyes cast long observations at the world. Her features share the mix of her heritage: a strong jaw and bold nose, tapered ears and high cheekbones, slender fingers that belie their capable strength. She dresses in the modern fashions of a Bard, with large, flowing, olive-colored silken sleeves, and robes of muted brown and ebony hues, though when the light catches her garb just right, it shines with a mercurial fey sparkle. Yet for her fair skin and fine clothes, her wrists are adorned in bangles and bracelets, necklaces of carved wooden beads and bright stones hang from her neck, and her hair is rife with flowers, feathers, and bits of string. She carries her worldly possessions about her; in pouches about her waist and pockets amongst her cloak, and in a curious sack that, like her countenance, appears to hold more than it ought.
Daughter of Auspice
Oona Reefsdottir was born to Bern au Dette and Reef Dugulsson in a small village on the shores of Vast Lake. Her father, Reef, was an ambitious (if not driven) under-merchant, the youngest of seven brothers. Reef met Bern au Dette in the city of Bujold, and after an arduous courtship, commenced their matrimony with two kids, four years apart. Her brother, Gregarin, and her sister, Frencine both were born and grew up in the city of Bujold. While Reef was a highly capable servant, his employers could not see past his almond eyes and pointed ears, so when – at the bourgeois insistence of his wife – Reef accepted a “promotion,” it was with a bittersweet heart that he moved Bern au Dette, Frencine, and Gregarin all back to the humble and simplistic Village of Vast Lake, where it was not long after that his third child, Oona, was born.
The Apple of His Mother’s Eye
While the burden of a third child was the last thing Bern au Dette and Reef desired, Reef’s mother Aena was delighted to have a second granddaughter — of her seven sons, all had themselves born sons, Reef being the exception. Yet young Frencine and Gregarin, having lived in the city of Bujold, held hidebound perspectives on life and entitlement, and viewed Aena as a backward and silly old woman, who frolicked in faerie rings and treated her pet owl like it was a person. And while most in the village could have told you that little Oona was an odd duck, it was Aena who saw in her a mind of great substance and perhaps even greater potential. Aena doted upon her granddaughter, and it was many a day that Oona would spend in her grandmother’s overgrown and earthen cabin outside of town, tending to the herb garden, foraging in the forests, and compiling samples for her field guides. When Frencine and Gregarin would attend the parties and balls of which their societie elite mother was so enamored, Oona would be ankle-deep in Beaver Creek, learning how to tickle crawdads. She often escaped from her family to stay with Aena for days on end, and found solace in the long walks; she always took the scenic route, cradling the warm clay pot of tea Aena would always send her home with.
While Reef was happy to have his daughter out of the house to entertain his aging mother, Bern au Dette grew more uneasy of what the few gentry of Vast Lake might think of Oona’s relationship with a woman who was, as she put it, “a kooky old sot.” So, on Oona’s ninth year, Reef – again at his wife’s insistence – enrolled Oona in the Orators of Vast Lake, a school run by a lackluster skald who promised to make “something of a Bardess,” out of her. Though she gained insight to the myriad ways in which magic and art intertwine, music and oration were not her forte. Downtrodden but obedient, Oona respected her father’s requests, which kept her from Aena’s cabin more and more.
Secrets of the Moon
On sunrise of her tenth birthday, Aena came to Oona with an innocent, yet ominously foreboding request: simply to meet this evening for a cup of tea. That sundown, when Oona visited her grandmother’s cabin, it was not the bright and cheerful abode she knew; candles smoldered in the corners of the house, casting long shadows and haunting shapes, and strange symbols were drawn in chalk about the floor, windows, and ceiling. Trembling, but insatiably curious, Oona entered, to see Aena dressed in long and ragged vestments, the eyes of the owl on her shoulder piercing her soul with their starry glint. Beckoning Oona to sit, Aena poured her a cup of tea from a specially marked pot — all without lifting her fingers. Fascinated, Oona begged her grandmother to show her how; Aena promised to teach Oona all that was her birthright as a Witch of the White Moon. For untold ages the Women of her line had passed the ways of the Full Moon to their daughters, but since the birth of her first child Aena despaired, fearing a terrible curse: she bore only sons, and they only bore her grandsons. Reef, her “bessed Seventh,” was the only one to sire a scion for the Coven. Yet Frencine was “too much her mother’s daughter,” as Aena put it, “too enthralled with the mundane and shallow, the unimportant and vacuous. But you, my owlet, you have the eyes of wonder, to see what the Full Moon can show.” Oona could not have been more excited, and she soaked up all of the information her grandmother shared, professing the ways of a Bard during the day, only to return to Aena’s cabin with the changing phases of the moon. She would spend untold hours under the stars, following the tutelage of Aena’s owl Gryps, practicing the secrets of the old ways of magic, the true source of her arts.
What Waxes Must Wane
She continued her illicit studying with Aena, but as the moons walked their cycles, from full to dark and full again, Oona saw that her grandmother was getting progressively ill. Reef and Bern au Dette had doctors from the village come to Aena’s remote cabin, but Oona knew that no medicine or spell would avail against the ravages of time. Lying on her deathbed, Aena urged her granddaughter not to lose hope. “You must continue your studies, Oona. Gryps, he will stay with you from now on — listen to what he knows. You are intelligent, and you must always be the best sibyl you can be. Your sister is not able to see the world you do, your brother too enamored with the ways of Man. You are the last of our family’s legacy.” She gave Oona her beautiful obsidian necklace, which had been passed countless times from daughter to daughter. Pulling Oona close, Aena strained to whisper one last canticle to her scion: the power to send messages to anyone, anywhere in the world through the trees. “This way, my love,” Aena sighed, “you will never be alone.” With these words, Aena’s body vanished into the autumn breeze, snuffing out all but one candle, and leaving only the shadows of a stoic old owl and a sobbing young girl.
Sparkle and Fade
The next few years were hard. She moved into her grandma’s cabin for a time, caring to the garden and to Gryps, while attending her bardic college with the same uninspired tenacity that her father gave his business ventures. Her only joy was the time she spent with her one childhood friend, Twinkle. Oona met Twinkle in the bardic college, but Twinkle’s artistry was in textiles, so as Oona continued her “studies” with the Orators, Twinkle went on to apprentice with the weavers. The two would often sneak off to wander together through alpine fields full of wildflowers, or gaze silently into the expansive southern night skies. But time passes as it will, and soon Twinkle moved to Bujold, to follow the Master Weaver under whom she studied, as his style of tapestry had become highly sought after. Oona was crushed, but resolute to not let it show, and even more determined to leave Vast Lake. Occasionally Oona would be able to ride the trade road to Bujold with her Bardic teacher, and would try to find Twinkle in the craft district of the city, but to little avail. Only once did she see her friend, on the back of a haycart, boisterously laughing while being haggled at by boys of all ages, and Oona felt further from Twinkle than ever before.
The Naturalist and The Witch
On a day of particularly boring mundanity, four austere figures rode into the Village of Vast Lake, cloaked in matching ceremonial robes, and hauling a donkey-cart of supplies. Oona cared little for foreigners – who visited more frequently now, thanks in part to the efforts of her father and his employers in the Feif Stockton – so she paid little mind to the fact that these humans were from the Hallows. She couldn’t, however, shake the distinct sensation that she was somehow being watched after their arrival, and so sought out the odd company that evening, to “make of their company, and inquire of their customs and their travels” (as was supposed of a Bard). The band was gathered in an inn, and there Oona learned they were pilgrims of a sort, devotees of Ioun’s Wandering Eye, retracing the path of their patron saint, Aragathia the Vagabond, in an attempt to find some far-flung Goliath settlement above the treeline, deep in the Divide. One, an Historian, was overjoyed to have found the Village of Vast Lake: Aragathia’s journals had made mention of “a tiny, unnamed hamlet on a vast Lake,” and cited the village as evidence their further expedition would be fruitful. Another, an Anthropologist, was enamored with the elven construction of the Steeple, and was excited to verify if the fabled Goliath race even existed, as no true contact had been made in the years of the Falcon’s rule. The Cleric among them was eager to bring the inquisitive, yet steady and knowledgeable faith to the heathen, who likely still worshiped the old primal traditions. The only one who seemed at all uneasy was the Naturalist, who cast a dour mood on the revelry with her mention of the likelihood of elven interaction. This one Oona sat with, and discussed at great length about the flora and fauna of Vast Lake, potioncraft and alchemy, the Decree and the Citadel, and the Feifdoms of the Peregrine. The visitor was herself quite curious about Oona’s owl, and was fascinated by the breadth of knowledge possessed by a Bard-in-training. The next morning, the travelers left for the mountain trails of the Divide, and Oona was left pondering the curious stranger the night before.
It was eleven nights later that the Naturalist appeared at Oona’s hut, exhausted, bloodied, and harrowed. Her wounds were bleeding profusely, and Oona was herself shocked and terrified: she wouldn’t be able to help the dying woman without using magic that would likley bring others of the faith to hunt her down. Despite Gryps’ protest, she decided the prospect of having to explain a dead acolyte was worse than a life on the run, and with Gryps’ help was able to pull the Naturalist back from the lands of Shadow. Over the course of the next few days, the Nautralist, amazed and thankful to be alive, revealed herself to Oona as Althea Astra, another of the Full Moon Coven, who had come from across the Caer’allan to meet with an aged Witch named Baba Mora, who was said to live near the Goliath village, below the treeline. Her companions and she had succeeded in finding the village, though it had been abandoned for some time. While the party explored the ghost town, they were beset by a hostile band of elves, set on slaying the human trespassers, and though she did what she could, Althea was hardly able to save herself, let lone her companions. Using her magic, she was able to evade their finding her long enough to locate Baba Mora, and there she stayed for three days, to mourn her companions and confer with the elder witch, before trying to return. The elves hadn’t let up, however, knowing there was a human in their forests, and tracked her voraciously, playing cat-and-mouse. Had the elder Owlbear not attacked them all, she wouldn’t have been able to flee to the lowlands and to the Village of Vast Lake. Owing her life to Oona, Althea promised that, before she left Vast Lake, she would honor any request she could fulfill. Oona asked only one: the location of the Sage of the Southern Circle of the Full Moon Coven, Baba Mora.
The Sage of the Southern Circle
With a combination of a few months’ dedication and a concoction of suggestion, Oona eventually received her approval by the Chief of the Order, becoming a recognized Bard of the Realm. She gathered what belongings of Aena’s she could not part with, locked the cottage with an arcane word, and, after wishing her father and mother farewell, set forth “to find her Fortune and make of herself a Name in the Bardic Way.” That her path directly followed the route of Althea Astra was no mere coincidence, and after having left the Village of Vast Lake felt, for once in her life, driven with purpose. Using the knowledge given her from Althea, she traveled through the untrained wilderness, as to avoid detection from the bands of elves that patrolled the alpine dales and mountain trails. She let Gryps lead the way, using his eyes and ears in the dark undergrowth and darker nights as she scaled the skirts of the Divide, and finally found what Althea told her to seek. Swallowing her fear, Oona gingerly ascended the wooden stairways and ladders that wrapped up the trunk of an incredibly tall tree. After a climb that felt like it would kill her, she arrived at the house of Baba Mora.
Waiting at the open doorway was the tallest woman Oona had ever seen, who wordlessly beckoned her to come inside. When Oona did, the woman still made no reply, but showed her about the place, gesturing to a low bench next to the fire. Oona sat quite still, as this impossibly large woman seemed to float about the room, magicking ingredients and implements about in some slow-motioned flurry of creation: a kettle, herbs, a gentle breeze, mortar and pestle, a flicker of light. When she was finished, the woman bade Oona to help herself to a cup of tea, in same manner as Aena once did. Wary, Oona did so, just as her Grandma had before, holding the cup to her lips and taking a sip. As she did, the light of the treehouse brightened, the silence was filled with birdsong and windchimes, and the woman finally spoke: “I am the Baba Mora, child, so you need not ask. I predicted your arrival; since that Althea of the East arrived I’ve seen how she would bring you to me. It was not your Grandmother’s wish that you know the ways of the Coven of the Full Circle, nor was it my will to show the old ways to a runtling from Below the Shale… yet here you are, and what am I to do of it?” There was a long pause. Oona was about to speak when Mora silenced her. “It is in your heart to desire greater knowledge, to honor your Grandmother Aena’s shade. Yet you ache to be true to your self, and yearn for acceptance and recognition of your skill — this I fear of you.” The old woman grew solemn, and rose from her seat to stoke the fire. As she spoke, the light grew dim again, the chimes went quiet. “But if I turn you away, you will learn nonetheless… and I fear far more those who could warp your talents. Aena was not wrong about you, Oona. You possess great potential, potential for love and kindness and the serenity of the full moon, but also the potential for power and sorcery, for charms and for deception, for domination, the potential to raise souls from the living earth. You must pledge to me now,” and with this Mora produced a stick from the fire, glowing with embers and puffing with smoke, “pledge that you will never bend your magic for dominion of others’ minds, that you will never raise a soul whose time has come, that you will not party with Nerull, with Zehir, with Barbartos, with Lolth, with Veccna, with the poisoners, the defilers, the brutal and the deceptive. Take this in your hand and say these words.” Without hesitation or qualm, Oona took the embers, but did not feel the burn. She repeated Baba Mora’s words and when she was done, her treehouse was again calm, warm, and serene.
A Circle of Four Points
For thirty cycles of the moon Oona stayed with Baba Mora in the house among the treetops. There she learned of her people, the giant folk called Goliath who lived above the treeline, in the sheer cliffs, the deep ravines, and the the craggy peaks of The Divide. Though the Goliath were a tribal people devoted to the primal ways, some still would seek out the Baba for her knowledge of herbal medicine and rituals to remove curses and ailments. It was among them Oona earned the nickname Underfoot, as her epic curiousity had her nearly everywhere at once. She studied tomes of knowledge of the world and of Histories of Magic, the study of the Arcane and it’s presence in all things: the aura of lving matter; the alchemical properties of minerals, of flora and fauna; the ripples of the aether that echo across the whole of creation. “Yet there is more to this magic than just wonder at its being,” warned Baba Mora, “all actions in the world leave their marks on the Fabric of Time.” Baba Mora taught Oona the names of the Aspects of the Ancient Magic, Selune and Shar: one was the shining face of light found in the full moon, the other the sullen shadow of darkness when the moon has waned to black. “Beware the daughters of Shar, Underfoot, for they will charm and placate with sinister, cloying guile, but it is a ruse to hide their jealous and bitter hearts; full of hatred for other’s joy, they seek to control and subjugate others to their narcissistic will. Selune’s glow will show you the way through the night, while Shar’s dark guidance will lead to a night no sunrise can find. Theirs is the battle for light and darkness, ours is the battle between freedom and control.” While Oona would listen intently to Baba Mora’s lectures, she could not help but ponder Gryps’ inquiries as she would pass into dreams, what if Selune and Shar were the same, two faces to the same entity? For as the moon passes from full to dark, is it not still the same moon? These questions would raise the ire of Baba Mora so strongly that Oona once feared for her life, and ever since left it to her and Gryps’ silent rumination while alone in the deep woods. While she was excited by knowledge that seemed to frighten even her wizened Baba master, Oona couldn’t help but recall what Mora had said when they first met, that with her capable mind “…you will learn nonetheless… and I fear far more those who could warp your talents.”