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The Starlady and Her Shadow: A Folktale of Avaric

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This is a tale told on the plains of Avaric, in the dark before the dawn when Oceanus wanes and only stars shine faint in deepest heaven. For though the stars see all, they keep their silence and carry no rumors to the jealous Powers of the world.

Once there was a lorelai, a water witch who lived at the edge of the desert, in a mere of shadows and stolen souls. Her greatest foe was a sorceress who had sold her shadow, a woman burned white and cruel by Solstar's light. The starlady feared and loathed the witch, for the lorelai knew the ways of shadows and if she ever stitched a scrap of darkness to the sorceress's shoulders, all the sorceress's power would drain away to dust.

The sorceress gathered a great army to battle the witch, drawing them in with her sunbright eyes and sweet, silver songs of the witch's crimes. Among those lured by her words were the prince of Avaric and his promised wife, a warrior queen in her own right. The sorceress saw the prince, saw his courage and strength and the beauty of his face, and she desired him for her own. When Solstar stood at zenith, she crept into his tent as he slept away the heat of noon. With a blade of starshine, she cut his heart from his chest and replaced it with her own.

Each heart still yearned toward its own flesh, and so the prince woke aflame with need. He turned from his intended wife and followed the sorceress with desperate eyes.

The starblade was so sharp its wounds left no scar. There was no sign of the spell. But the warrior queen knew this change in her beloved was not natural. Her pain broke the net of the starlady's song and she saw clearly who was her foe. One by one, in the shadows, she besought the lons of all the lands for aid, that the sorceress might not hold the prince in her thrall.

"We have no power over the white lady, child," each lon told the queen in turn. "The knowledge of the Ancients runs through her blood like fire. We live at her command."

The queen was near to despair, but then at last Marelon, the great serpent of the Sea-of-Dust, said to her, "I have no power to help you, but I know one who does. I will take you to her, though I cannot stray long from the starlady's sight." And she carried the warrior queen to the edge of the land, where a girl as black as night guarded a tower that held a shining pearl.

"Who are you and what do you seek?" the nightgirl asked the queen.

"The starlady, she who is shadowless, has enchanted my beloved, and means to make him her husband once she destroys the water witch," the queen said. "I cannot break the spell, and none of the lons are strong enough to stand against her."

The nightgirl smiled and said, "I can help. This pearl was forged in the heart of the world, where all light and shadows meet. Take it. When the witch of the mere is dead, you must place it in your beloved's hand, for it reveals all truths and shatters all spells."

"But what of the sorceress?" the queen asked. "What will prevent her from snaring him anew?"

"A shadow," said the nightgirl. She wrapped the pearl in a scrap of seedsilk and handed it to the queen. Its light blazed as a lantern even through the fabric and the flesh and blood of the queen's hand, but the shadows in the corners of the tower grew dust soft and void deep.

As Solstar rose and set and rose again, they walked the long way back to the desert mere, the nightgirl always one step behind the queen. The prince and the starlady had married in their absence, but the queen held her peace at the insult. She knew a castle built on lies cannot long withstand the weight of time or truth.

Soon the starlady flung her army against the fell beasts that lived in the lorelai's nightcold lake. The sorceress and the witch strove one against the other, light and shadow, sun and void, and for a time they were equally matched. But the warrior queen rode close, the nightgirl following one step behind, and unveiled the pearl in her hand. Its shadowless light tipped the balance.

The starlady turned with sweet words of thanks, but the pearl broke the spell before it could settle around the queen's heart and muddle her mind. She rode into the thick of the battle, the nightgirl following one step behind. The pearllight scorched and scattered jackals and mereguints as she went, and after a time she found the prince standing above a wingèd beast, half man and half bird, the starblade in his right hand coated with its foul and smoking blood. He turned to her with hate in his eyes and raised the burning sword against her, but the queen's love was greater than her fear, even when the starblade pierced her side. She felt her blood run down her side from his blow, but she struggled forward and placed the pearl in her beloved's open hand.

Its light sank into his skin, swam through his blood, and purged the evil from the borrowed heart within his breast.

The starlady shrieked as her enchantment shattered and the prince's love returned to its proper home. "You think you have won?" she said to the queen? "You think to turn me aside with light? Fool! Now his blood burns, and I shall own him again in an instant."

But the nightgirl, who had followed one step behind all this long way and time, stepped forward and wrapped her hands over the sorceress's shoulders.

"You sold your shadow for power," she said as the sorceress froze in fear. "Now I have returned from the heart of the world where you cast me, and it is time to pay the rest of the price."

She stepped backward into the bloodsoaked mere, and dragged the starlady down into darkness.

The queen and her prince returned to Avaric, where they were wed and ruled long and well, with neither witch nor sorceress to trouble them. And this is why the sign on the banners of the royal house is a pearl in an open palm, and why the sword of kings shines with the light of stars.

That is the tale they tell on the plains of Avaric, in the dark of night before the dawn.

May Solstar's light rest easy on your back, and your shadow follow you faithfully all the daymonths of your life.