20 years ago, in Silverymoon
Gwaihir felt vulnerable and confused after Alisyn disappeared, despite many attempts by his family to cheer him, and much teasing from his friends about his ‘short-lived lover’. They encouraged him to just enjoy the memories and move on with his life, and he tried. There was just always something tugging at his mind about the young woman who had seemed such a beautiful vision of Hanali Celanil.
Eventually he sought a change of scenery and went to Silverymoon to visit an elf who had many more years and much more knowledge than he — a cleric of Oghma named Rúmil Aerlinn that was an old friend of the Talagan family. He counselled the heartsick young elf to focus on balancing his emotions with logic, instead of letting them run rampant. Rúmil also encouraged him to dedicate himself to a new task for a few decades in order to make himself a stronger person. Although Gwaihir was uncertain that the intense, virile, wrestling, mostly human priests of Oghma were going to be the best companions for him, he had always loved learning new things and trusted Rúmil’s advice.
Gwaihir had been serving Oghma at the Halls of Inspiration in Silverymoon for about 5 years before Alisyn waltzed into his life again. 21 years ago, Alisyn was in Silverymoon visiting Dawndancer House — the temple of Sune in this fantastic city. The public gardens were particularly beautiful in the spring, and it was here that she was walking when she noticed a familiar form resting on the branch of a tree.
She stopped beneath the tree, but he did not notice her. Gwaihir was at ease leaning back against the trunk, eyes closed, face turned up toward the sun. Save for the few dark hairs that had escaped his long braid, the elf could have been a painting himself. Alisyn’s voice was light and playful when she spoke, “This is a beautiful day to see the sun shining on a lover’s face.”
Joy, pain, and confusion all raced plainly across Gwaihir’s face as he sat, staring down at her in shock. The wind was ruffling her brilliant red hair, and she tucked it behind one rounded ear as he finally dropped out of the tree, landing lightly on his feet. There was open appreciation in her eyes as she watched him walk slowly toward her, and there was also love.
He reached out to hesitantly caress her cheek as he stopped in front of her, hope now mixing with confusion as he asked, “Ali, why did you leave?”
She almost leaned in to kiss him, but stopped when he quickly stepped back. “It was all I knew to do. I had found love, and been loved, and thought it was time to move on.” She smiled wryly as she continued, “I was young, and the world was still out there, waiting. You were my first lover, Gwaihir, you knew that. At the time I didn’t even think about the fact that my leaving might hurt you, but it is clear now that it did.”
He looked away from her then, his green eyes bright with pain and tears. It felt like it had only been weeks, not years, since she had disappeared. Since she had twisted his life around so badly that he barely knew which way to look.
“I loved you then, and I still do, Gwaihir, if you can forgive me.” Sincerity and regret filled her voice. After a moment he looked back at her, and there was more relief than grief in Gwaihir’s expression. Though the elf’s eyes still shone with unshed tears, his heart was light as he wrapped her in his arms.
As painful as it had been when she left, he rarely thought about that while they were together in Silverymoon. Although they each still lived separate lives, serving their respective temples, each spent many nights in the others’ rooms and much time out in the gardens of the city. Though many of the Ogmanites were jealous of Gwaihir, his lover’s saucy, flirtatious manner and lovely face did much to make them look forward to seeing her instead of dreading it.
It wasn’t long before Ali was pregnant again. She also had a serious discussion with a few select others at Dawndancer House about how ineffective their normal herbal mixtures seemed to be when it came to mating with elves. At 26, she had been with many lovers since her time in Neverwinter Wood 10 years before, but never with anyone quite as special to her as Gwaihir — and never with another elf.
“Even this half-elf noble down in Waterdeep that was infatuated with me…” Alisyn said as she paced in Tannia’s rooms, one hand on her hip. “What had been his name?” she thought to herself.
“He could scarcely keep his attention on anything else, Tannia. I tell you, we lay together every day for a month and I never showed the slightest hint of being with child. Now, I’ve been back with Gwaihir for less than a month and I know that I’m pregnant.”
“Why him? Why now?”
The incessant pacing was starting to irritate the quiet, motherly priestess, and she knew that her decision to remain tight-lipped about this mess wasn’t going to last much longer. Tannia’s mouth twitched to the side as Alisyn turned about again, her dress brushing against a tall vase near the window.
“Alisyn, stop it.” She spoke sharply, gesturing with a hand to cut off the girl’s response. “You are acting like a petty child when you should be celebrating that you are twice blessed! That elf loves you more strongly than you understand, or he would not have taken you back into his arms after what you did.”
Tannia stood and walked to the frustrated priestess, who had finally stopped pacing. Taking her by the shoulders with a no-nonsense expression, she caught Ali’s confused, petulant gaze and didn’t let her look away.
“For once, take the time to love what you already have Alisyn, instead of always lusting after tomorrow.”
She hoped that Alisyn would take her words to heart.
Alisyn did love Gwaihir, and wanted to spend a few months with him again. He was so happy that she had returned to him that he practically glowed. It wasn’t the pregnancy itself that bothered her either — Sune loved children, and many half-elves revered Sune in thanks for the blessing of their parents’ union. Ali certainly loved all of the attention that she knew being with child would bring, and she remembered the joy of bringing a new life into the world. She also remembered the frustration of feeling trapped in a role she didn’t want.
It was him, and what having a child would make him want. It was the same boring family life that she had run away from as a child, always living in the same house, doing the same chores, seeing the same boring people every day. She couldn’t think of anyone she wanted to see every day for that many years in a row, ever again.
Gwaihir was overjoyed when Ali told him about the baby a few weeks later. For elves a child is a rare blessing, and his exuberance was infectious as he swung her around in circles under the spring blossoms. His love for her was clear in everything that he did, and through it all he continued serving Oghma – even if writing poetry wasn’t exactly the most productive task he could have done. Their joy seemed to make both temples lighter in heart, and the illustrations that Gwaihir created and manuscripts that he transcribed were some of the most beautiful tomes that had been produced there in many years.
Alisyn loved these months of happiness, and her laughter and shining hair were a welcome sight, even for the staid old Rúmil, who she thought was as interesting as a “ridiculously formal, antiquated, elven armchair”. Even this absurd description of his esteemed friend made her lover laugh, when she bemoaned how boring he had been during their recent dinner together. If only it had lasted.
Apparently even months of joy, with a fantastic lover, in a beautiful city wasn’t enough to keep her happy. She was two months shy of when the child was due when Gwaihir began noticing how frustrated she seemed. The only thing that seemed to make her happy was when they would talk about travelling to other places, especially ones she had never visited. He would bring travel journals, and read tales to her of bizarre cities and incredible scenery that even he had not seen. Ali still seemed melancholy though, and was increasingly bored with the city itself when they went out in the crisp winter landscape. Looking back on this time, Gwaihir would find himself wondering why she had never tried to convince him to leave Silverymoon with her.
Even the Sunite priestess that he spoke with told him that it was just normal moodiness from the pregnancy, but in truth Alisyn just wanted to be done with all of this. She still loved him, she just didn’t want to be with him every day. She wanted to be done with these temples and this city, and just be somewhere new, fresh, and exciting.
“I want to name her Ali, Gwaihir.” Alisyn’s voice was somehow sultry and petulant at the same time, which normally worked to convince men of just about anything. It wasn’t working on the elf standing in front of her, though.
“That doesn’t make any sense – I call you Ali, I can’t call our daughter Ali too.” Gwaihir gently scooped the sleeping child from his lover’s arms, walking toward the window as he admired the delicate little girl. Looking back at Alisyn, he smiled. “Look at her Ali, she will look more like an elf than a human. Someone so different from you shouldn’t have the same name either.”
Ali sighed and lay back on the divan in her rooms. She enjoyed how happy he looked, standing there at her window, but by the Lady he was so particular sometimes! Why couldn’t he agree just to make her happy? “She is only a few weeks old, so we have time to decide on a name still.” The priestess just wanted him to agree with her on something.
“Mmmmm…perhaps we should give her an elven name, something from my family. We should go visit them in the spring, you never had the chance to meet them when you were in Sharandar before.”
He didn’t see the exasperated look on her face, and she hid her annoyance well when she spoke. “Of course, it will be even more lovely than the gardens here, as your people have surely done wonders in reclaiming the tree-cities.”
“I think you will get on well with my elder sister, Malthenniel. She serves Hanali Celanil, but was gone for the entire year when we first met. She actually has reddish hair, auburn really, and not so brilliant as yours. Her eyes are what always draws everyone’s attention – a rich gold, like a hawk or one of the great hunting cats…” He continued talking about his family, and the Talagan estate, but Alisyn wasn’t really listening.
“Oh dear,” she thought. “This is worse than usual. I’ve avoided talking to him about family for this long, but now he isn’t going to stop. I don’t even want to think about my family.” She stared off into the distance, unhappy memories of scrubbing tables and washing dishes surfacing despite the long years since she had run away. “They are probably still in the same musty tavern on the same dusty street in Neverwinter, gods help them.”
“…don’t you think?” Gwaihir was looking at Ali, expectantly waiting for a response.
“…Of course, I don’t see why not,” she said with a bit too much false cheer.
“I’m getting sloppy,” she thought. “I wasn’t paying a bit of attention to what he was saying…this might not end well. She smiled at him as though everything was normal, but the puzzled look on his face clearly said otherwise.
He paused for a second or two more, and then cautiously said, “Because you’ve always avoided any mention of your family. I didn’t expect you to cheerfully agree that we should go visit them and invite them to the celebration in person.”
She sat up abruptly, staring at him. “The what? Who? Oh no, no, no.” Apparently her mind had been wandering for longer than she thought.
Gwaihir’s face was awash with confusion and frustration. “How long were you not listening to me? Do you not care about planning for our future? A celebration of our union?”
She must have looked shocked, because he continued. “Do you even care about having a family? You love this beautiful child, yes, but have you thought about how she will grow up? Who she will be?”
It was as though all of the fear and worry that he normally hid was tumbling out at once, question upon insistent question.
He strode back to where she sat, seeing the denial on her face turn into irritation with every new thing he asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
“We can’t know any of that now, anyway.” He wasn’t yelling, she thought. That was probably a good sign.
He sat down next to her, still cradling their unnamed child in his arms. His voice was quiet and full of worry when he spoke. “Ali, what is wrong? No, we cannot know her future, but it is our responsibility. That is what family is for – caring for one another.”
She looked exasperated and felt exhausted, but she tried to keep it from her voice. She knew having a child with him would bring trouble.
“No. All family does is tie you down to one place, and keep you from living your own life. I don’t want that, and I never have. You would both be just fine without me, admit it.”
When she met his eyes, she knew she must have said something terrible.
If she had stabbed him, it probably would have hurt less than those words, and disbelief was written plainly on his dark face. The words came out slowly. “I cannot believe that is true, Ali.”
The baby woke and started crying as he sat there, still as a statue. It broke the tense silence, as Gwaihir passed Ali the child and she stood, walking to calm her down.
“It’s alright little one, it’s okay.” Ali sighed… it was hard to comfort someone else when you were unhappy too.
The handsome elf still sat there, 20 minutes later, when Ali finished nursing the little girl and wrapped a blanket around her in the rocker where she slept. Gwaihir had woven it out of willow that he cut from near the River Rauvin as it ran through the city, and she thought it was silly but sweet. It was apparently traditional among wood elves to do so, and some would go to great lengths to seek out willow before a child’s birth if none grew nearby. It was said that long ago Corellan Larethian had blessed the peaceful, swaying branches of the tree, and the river and the wind would keep the child safe by sweeping evil spirits and troublesome fey away.
She looked tired and melancholy when he stepped up beside her, the two of them watching the child rest. “Help me choose a name for her.” Gwaihir’s words were soft and determined. She nodded, but there wasn’t much heart in it.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, leading her to bed. She looked as though she needed the rest. In truth, she was more emotionally exhausted than anything. “I don’t know how much more of this I can deal with…” Ali thought, as Gwaihir undid the buttons running down the back of her dress. She sighed as she slipped out of the garment and tugged her shift over her head. Catching sight of her curvy silhouette on the wall, her hands self-consciously went to her less-than-smooth stomach as she climbed into bed. “Constant reminders that I’m supposed to be bound to someone else… it never ends.” Ali’s thoughts were bitter, and she shivered. The silk sheets weren’t exactly warm, despite the fire burning in the hearth.
Gwaihir leaned over and kissed her softly, pulling the blanket over her bare shoulders and tucking it around her. Ali was already half asleep as he sat on the edge of the bed and unbraided her hair, gently running his fingers through it as he had done so many times before. “Gods above,” he thought, “why is she so unhappy? We have so many blessings, and I would gladly do almost anything to bring her joy. With so much ahead of us, what is holding her back from committing to being part of our lives?”
Gwaihir watched them sleep for a little while, alternating between the red-haired woman and the dark-haired little girl, still dwarfed by the willow rocker where she would sleep for many months to come. He needed time to sort through all of the thoughts whirling through his mind, and was soon putting his boots on in the parlor of Dawndancer House and jogging lightly out into the dark. For him the snow was refreshing, a cold dusting of clarity on top of the turmoil. Anyone passing through the northern gardens that night heard an elven voice singing, hopeful and haunting in the wintry night air.
They chose a name the next afternoon, a compromise between what they each wanted. ‘Ali’ apparently meant ‘sublime’ in someone’s ancient version of the common language, which Gwaihir decided translated into a respectable name for an elven girl – Tauredhiel. Alisyn thought that it sounded lovely, but complicated.
“How old will she be before she can manage to say her own name?”
Oddly, Gwaihir seemed happy when she said this, as it apparently indicated that she was thinking about the child’s future. “Well, I suppose that is true,” she thought.
He stayed there with them that night, and it was nice to fall asleep in his arms again. Gwaihir spent the hours watching the flickering firelight that caressed the curves of Alisyn’s body while she slept. He tried to imagine what their daughter would look like as a young woman, and he honestly thought that she would look more like him – a lean, dark, wood-elf. Ali was lying stretched out across him, her hair strewn across his shoulder in a fiery tangle after their lovemaking. He trailed his fingers down her side, ivory skin a familiar contrast to his own brown body. “I wonder if we will have a child that looks more like her someday? A spirited little boy perhaps, his red hair constantly letting us pick him out from a crowd of youngsters.” Gwaihir gently rolled the two of them onto their sides as he mused, and Ali wrapped one leg over his hip as she settled in again. The elf held her close against his chest as he reached for the blanket, keeping the two of them warm as the hearth fire slowly died down.
When Ali woke in the morning Gwaihir was already gone, which was not unusual. She wrote him a simple note, and packed her belongings. All of the baby’s things – Tauredhiel’s things – went into a bag together. She carried the girl with her when she went to speak with Tannia, as she was still one of the priestesses she was closest to, despite their differences.
That afternoon a familiar face showed up at Gwaihir’s rooms at the Halls of Inspiration, but it wasn’t Alisyn. Tannia was carrying Tauredhiel, and a younger priestess behind her was carrying the willow rocker and a bag. The priestess of Sune’s words were sincere and compassionate, but not helpful.
“I don’t know, Gwaihir, that is just how she is, I suppose. Some people just do better with constantly seeing new things, and they wilt when you try to hold them to one place.” Tannia passed Tauredhiel to him as she spoke, and it almost made her cry to see such raw pain and bewilderment in the eyes of someone so kind and caring. “I wish she had appreciated just how much love she had here with you, instead of always searching for more.” She gave the two of them a gentle hug, handing him the note Alisyn had given her earlier that morning.
He was still trying to convince himself that he was imagining everything as he watched the two priestesses walk away. Looking from the little girl in his arms to the note, Gwaihir sat down at his desk before unfolding the paper.
“Gwaihir, I do know that you and Tauredhiel will be fine without me, and I cannot stay. It is the same it was in the forest all those years ago – this just isn’t who I am. I wish you both the best, but I must say farewell.
With love, Alisyn”
Small comfort to those she left behind.
Looking for more information on Gwaihir, Alisyn, and Tauredhiel? Check out the main page for Divergent Paths.
featured image: Forest in CO (July 2016)