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Look at the night sky, at the stars sparkling in the cloak of darkness, glittering jewels of fire and dreams; the tales, legends, omens and secrets they spell, laid bare for all to read. And to those who prefer otherwise, what are stars if not omens of hope and desire, of dreams yet unfulfilled, of a longing which stirs the soul? What are they, if not the spirits of the night, drops of bright silver that shine upon us, and comfort us, and give us hope that tomorrow will be a better day?
But of all those who watch at the stars with longing in their soul, thrice blessed are those whose eyes behold the shining North Star, creator of dreams, fulfiller of wishes, harbinger of hope, for they are the lifeblood of the world. For it is in dreams and desires that the power to change the world resides. Greater miracles than magic could accomplish can take place under the benevolent gaze of the North Star, herald of the Ilelorn, for those who have the daring and the faith to believe that the Gods look upon the world they created with love. That even the ineluctable laws of the world can be broken, if one has sufficient desire, and even the most unlikely dreams and hopes can come true, if one but has the courage to try.
The Twin Worlds have changed, and much has been lost with the passing of the Ages; lore and knowledge that might never be recovered. But the North Star still shines serene in the velvet sky, beckoning to those who might be brave and faithful enough to follow its light, and there are still eyes which look to the night sky with longing and desire, which will follow the light of the North Star in search of their dreams...
-From "The Star of Fulfilled Dreams" byMiril Maidelin Tornorin
I write these words by the light of a candle, in a nameless inn on the road to Logard, in the month of Seren, the year 412 of the Fifth Age. I wish to record all that has happened before wonder fades and we wholly return to the world. As I write, a fire burns merrily in the hearth, and we gather around it in the common room.
None of us speaks; but even as I pen these words, my thoughts, and those of my friends and companions, go back to what we have seen and witnessed in the past months. We drink spiced wine and mull over what to do next, but none of us is ready to move on just yet. We have been witnesses to both grief and miracles, we have stepped out of the mortal world for a fleeting moment, and seen what the world has lost. It will take time to adjust back to the world we had left behind.
So I write these words as a tribute to what we were a part of, a way to record all that happened so that the memories will survive us, and so that those we left behind will not be forgotten.
No story truly has a beginning; I can only begin by telling how I came to it. But before I continue, let me ask for your forgiveness if the tale is not as polished or adequate as a writer or a story-weaver could tell. I'm neither, and this is just my poor attempt at telling what we saw. Perhaps in the future a story-weaver or singer will read this account, and make a wondrous tale out of it. I would love to hear that, someday, and to know all will be preserved, but for now, this must suffice.
Don't be deceived by the fact that I am the writer of the story; though I took part in what I will recount, this story is not about me, however much it may seem otherwise. Bear with me, if you will, or read on quickly, and soon enough the real story will begin.
My name is Riyya kin'Nanimah, daughter of Mizad and Falmeh, and I am a nurain from the Free Lands of Irig; other races call us "centaurs". My tribe, the Nanimah, was one of many scattered across the endless plains, neither particularly large nor particularly important, but to me, it was family, and I would not have changed it for anything in the world. I remember it fondly, even after so much time has passed.
Like my mother, and her mother before her, I was born with the gift of magic. It runs in the blood of my family, as far as even Nourah ai'Nanimah, our story-weaver, could remember. From a very young age I was trained in the use of my rare gift, which brought honor to my family, and which I wished to use to make my ancestors proud. So, throughout the seasons, as I grew up, I trained relentlessly, while the tribe moved through the plains, herding and living as we have always done. Few nurain have embraced city life, and thinking about it, it's ironic that I write this in a human tavern. But few outsiders have seen what life is like among my people; even fewer can understand my bafflement at the chaos that grips the societies humans have built, and my dislike for the walls that surround their cities. I can't help thinking of the hours of sheer joy we used to spend galloping wildly through the plains, the wind in our faces and green, soft grass beneath our hooves, not a care in the world, in lands so verdant and scented that I have never seen their like elsewhere. Or of the numberless evenings spent in groves or on the shores of small lakes, rolling in the grass for the simple pleasure of it, wading in the water or singing at sunfall, bonfires burning happily and children playing hide-and-seek and telling each other stories, while the adults enjoyed the evening air and the many scents it carried with it, and smiled at the enthusiasm and happy laughter of the young ones. And the tales! No story-weaver was more skilled than Noumah, whose endless supply of legends and fairy tales, songs and myths, used to keep us enthralled for hours, children and adults alike. She had a voice capable of weaving wonders; she was able to tell stories so skillfully that many would get lost in them. We would sing together in the night; everything was peaceful, because the Lands of Irig are vast, and we don't seek out enemies.
It was Noumah's stories that first made me wish to see more of the world, all the magical, fascinating places she described in her tales. I spent my adolescence daydreaming about those lands, and I remember fondly my mother teasing me, because I spent more time dreaming with my eyes open than training or accepting the courtship of childhood friends. But I was enamored of the world, like all young men and women are; and I longed to see those lands whose names--Abreldin, Mathklyr, Ailund--filled me with yearning and wonder. Perhaps I was naïve, but I spent many nights lying on the grass, gazing at the North Star, and wishing with all my heart that I could go see the realms Noumah had sung of, live through adventures like her heroes. Once she had told me, when I was still a little child, that if you wished upon the North Star, and you really believed, your desire would come true. I had grown up, but I still believed, and so I wished that I be given the chance to see the world.
That chance came earlier than I expected. I was barely an adult in my tribe's eyes when news came from the north. Uprisings in the northern kingdoms had ended after a long time, and the upper plains were safe to travel once again. The roads to the northern kingdoms were reopened, and merchants started returning to the Plains of Irig, from countries I knew only through Noumah's tales. They brought rumors and books with them. But others also came to the Plains, sinister people, whom our tribe avoided as much as possible: slavers, since my people are apparently a great curiosity in human lands. All the tribes knew better than to approach slavers, but the slavers in turn often would resort to force in hopes of capturing some of us, to sell us as exotics in lands where people still believe that we are born of the coupling of a man and a horse. And although some tribes who lived in the outer rim of the Plains had taken up the duty to prevent slaver raids, sometimes slavers would manage to slip in, as we found out...