Burdens to Bear

She was tormented by shards. Pieces of memories, hardly a whole story, rising unbidden to her mind in her darkest moments. Despite her devotion, despite her training, she could not purge herself of the scattered remnants of who Tama Dalender had been through her scant 23 winters in Faerun. Her memory was just keen enough for important details, not much more--but the detritus of the past was more than enough to make her spring awake in the midst of the night. She could remember her parents--their faces and voices occasionally, in the dreamy way that children perceive their environment before the agony and worry of the world pull them out of their ignorant bliss.

***

“Tama, stop fussing. When you get older you’ll have to wear these all the time, you may as well get used to it now--put the sword down! Luke, could you--”
Her mother knelt over her, trying to fit a dress over the struggling 5 year old’s form, the heavy footsteps of Luke Dalender coming toward her over the worn, old wooden flooring. She couldn’t see him, the deep blue fabric of the garment covering her eyes, but she knew he’d have that irrepressible laughter in his blue eyes as he bent down too, wrestling the wooden practice sword out of his little girl’s hand. Her mother finally jammed the dress over her head, the defeated toddler sticking her arms through the proper holes with a petulant ‘harumph’.

“Be careful, Rina. She’s learned how to arm herself, and as soon as she learns how to use it she’ll be unstoppable,” Luke exclaimed, then picked up his daughter under the armpits and whirled her around before setting her back down. “Oof, and so big for her age too. A good knight she’ll be one day.”

“Not if she doesn’t learn how to behave,” Rina tsked, knee-walking over to Tama and looking her over, checking for any messes--then sighing softly as she surveyed the young girl’s bird’s nest of hair, pulling a comb from her apron pocket and quickly doing her best to rectify the damage. Tama watched her mother quietly, worry-lines marking the elder Dalender’s eyes and mouth, as she tied Tama’s hair back in a ponytail.

***

The rest was even further shattered fragments--fragmented detail she hadn’t been able to make sense of at the time. Her mother’s gradually declining jewelry, until only the pin with the harp was left. Her father installing another bolt on the door, telling her not to play outside anymore. Frantic packing, the last of their belongings put together on a horse.

She could remember the panic when it all went wrong. When the gods stopped answering. When the streets of the city were packed with those fleeing, seeking--trying to make sense of the world in the days when the Time of Troubles began. Her parents were among them, her father taking up his old armor, her mother worriedly demanding to go along with him. There were fights, there was arguing, but the one thing they could agree on was--

***

“Take care of her for us, Thorin?”

The old priest managed a gruff affirmation, placing his hand on the shoulder of the child. Tama didn’t like him. His face was fierce and wrinkled, his grey eyes as hard and unflinching as the eye of the gauntlet of his cloak.

“I’ll watch her for ye alright, Dalender,” he said, his bushy white eyebrows low over his eyes as he squinted at the younger man. “But be vigilant, in these times of all times.”

No, she definitely didn’t like him. But at least it would be temporary, something she’d only have to endure for a time before her parents returned and they could go back to their old lives.

Luke nodded, hesitantly, then kneeled down to look into his daughter’s eyes, unstrapping an old scabbard from his waist and handing it and its contents over to her. Ocean blue eyes met hers as she took it gingerly, somehow seeming heavier than an old, badly beaten sword should be.

“This is your heritage, Tama,” he started--it almost looked like some tears were coming to his eyes--then he hugged her abruptly, squeezing her tightly as he held her, whispering softly in her ear. “It still has magic in it, little one. No matter what happens--no matter how long we might be separated--as long as it glows when you hold it, know that somewhere your mother and I are proud of you. We love you, little hawk. Be vigilant.”

She stood stunned for a moment, looking up at her father as he stood, stepping back--then it dawned on her what he meant. She started to run toward him, but was caught by the arms of the priest, the old Watcher holding her back as she screamed and struggled, watching as Luke walked away from her for what would be the final time.

***

She grew, gawky and awkward. She was always big for her age, and Thorin was no slouch of a trainer. Her shoulders were naturally broad, her body developing far more muscular than the noble girls she saw around town as she drilled and patrolled--as long as she was under the protection of the Watcher, Thorin was adamant she train and perform temple duties. She traded the dresses of her youth for armor, and for the most part she was glad of the transition.

Even if the other teenagers made fun of her for her size, bulk, and stiff formality, she had her own companions. Thorin was no friend, but he could be a confidant--and increasingly she found herself speaking to Helm in her head for hours on end. He never responded, not in speech, but speaking to him gave her peace in time long spent on guard. She hoped he could deliver her messages to her parents--they had to be with him, now.

***

The final shard was of now, her sword and god at her side and the face of evil before her. Her responsibilities weighed on her now, more than ever. The county was collapsing.

For the first time in her life she was thankful that her shoulders were broad, for she had burdens to bear.

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