Author Topic: Of green cathedrals and stone forests: Stories of Penelope de Vos  (Read 527 times)

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Wildwoods

Mordent. Fifteen years past

“Penelope, flee!”

The frayed strands of a blonde braid danced against the girl's tunic as she sprinted, unshod, across a carpet of pine needles and withered foliage. The dense fog, smothering the forest floor, swirled in pursuit. The creatures that dwelled within scattered helter-skelter, forcing Penelope to evade a squirrel that darted across her path. Farther behind, the clamour of the woodland folk's skirmish against the night receded, the mist muzzling the noise.
 
Suddenly, a deep-throated bellow resonated from the rear, startling her, and she glanced back with bugged-out eyes to see a stag crashing through the mists, bellowing a warning call to its herd. Distracted from the path ahead, a fallen branch hooked onto her toe, and she plunged to the ground.

The agony was searing, but she grunted, disregarding the blood trickling from both knees. Advancing at a slower pace, the forest grew silent and stagnant, and through the treetops, the nocturnal sky was a deep blue, hinting at the darkness's withdrawal.

Presently, she stumbled upon a babbling brook and splashed the cold water over her wounds, washing away the blood. Scanning the surroundings, she spied a woundwort plant and picked a leaf. As her grandmother had done countless times before, she spat on her knee and rubbed the herb on the grazes, mingling saliva, blood, and the juices of the plant to form a reddish stain.

The girl lay there for a while, catching her breath as she watched the sky transmute into a warm red hue, before rising, the gnawing sensation of dread coiling in her gut as she realized she had lost her way.

Penelope stooped to drink from the creek, cupping her hands to scoop the frigid water to her lips. When she rose, she locked gazes with a fox, whose head was lowered to the water. It seemed to contemplate her for a moment before scampering back into the underbrush. It knows where it is headed, she pondered, and waded across the stream to the opposite bank in pursuit.
« Last Edit: September 21, 2023, 04:13:26 AM by Starbrighter »
Characters: Agata Pietra | Mylandarial Saethaur   Shelf: Penelope de Vos

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Re: Of green cathedrals and stone forests: Stories of Penelope de Vos
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2023, 10:34:39 AM »
Penelope had tried, several times, to retrace her steps through the woods, yet each time a rolling wall of mist seemed to block her path.  Her voice was hoarse from screaming, calling out for her Mother and the names of the others who’d lived in the small settlement in the woods, but nothing but silence echoed back to her. 

After a day or more of wandering, she arrived on the outskirts of a town.  The shadows of the towering trees that lined the path cast eerie shapes around her, and the howling of the wind made her shiver, but as the trees gave way to stone buildings, the shadows seemed ever deeper, and the canopy did not have the warmth and life of the trees.
A sign on the path marked the town as ‘Glenwich’ and she could hear the calls of gulls and smell the salt air of the sea.  As she walked through the empty streets Penelope's stomach grumbled loudly, reminding her of the hunger that had been gnawing at her for days. She spotted a small bakery and, while the baker turned to take fresh rolls from the oven, she slipped a bun under her cloak tail and slipped from the shop.

Her wandering led her to pluck a discarded newspaper from the floor, where she noticed a help-wanted notice posted by a Mr Ravensmere. Despite her reservations, the promise of a job and the chance to escape poverty was too tempting to resist.

Upon arriving at the Ravensmere estate, Penelope was met with a foreboding atmosphere. The mansion loomed over her, and she couldn't shake off the feeling of dread that had settled in her bones. She was ushered into a dark drawing room where a man with deep shadows under his eyes peered at her from behind a grand oak desk.

The man peered at her in the dim light.  “… I’ve lost one of my kitchen girls, and of course it falls to me to find a suitable replacement, servants be damned.” He explained, beginning a rambling story that Penelope found hard to follow. “I know what happened; The girl was enraptured with my Rosalie’s tutor and the two had conspired together to elope, plain as the interfering nose on your face.”

He finished his rambling and looked across the desk again.

“But why are you here..?”

His question was abrupt and startled the young girl. 

“I saw that you had a position open.”  She explained,  “the newspaper..”

“So you can read, girl?”  He looked suspiciously at her plain tunic and rustic appearance.

“Yes..” she stated, surprised a little that he should assume otherwise.

“Hmm.. I don’t need kitchen girls that can read”, he muttered to himself as he wrote with a quill in a spidery hand.   “Kitchen girls that can read start reading letters that don’t belong to them, don’t they?  Confidential letters.  Hmm.  And they start fraternizing above their station, thinking for themselves.”

Abruptly he looked up again.

"But tell me, do you have any lofty aspiration beyond working in the kitchen?"

Penelope didn’t know how to respond and shuffled awkwardly in the oversized chair. “I just need a job, sir. I don’t mind what.”

“Hmm.” He seemed dissatisfied. “And what would you do, if you suspected impropriety between a member of staff and another of this household?”

“I.. I don’t know sir..”

“No, you’d keep your precious little secret, wouldn’t you, just as the previous two”.  He peered over the desk and Penelope found herself sinking further back into the hard wooden chair as his cold eyes fixed on her.

“I should not beat you around the prickle bush, my needs being urgent as they are. My daughter needs a Governess… Concierge, call it what you will. She has a thriving, intelligent mind, far greater than yours, but a maudlin, dispossessed temperament which I intend you to remove. Distracted, you might say by her own solitude, none of it my fault. You see she misgives my protection as imprisonment but then what father would not strive to keep his family safe. She needs company. Tutelage; Correct instruction on how she conducts herself”. He paused his hand from the letter he wrote, not gracing her fully with his attention. “Confidentiality is to be imposed on all of my staff on the matter, I’d expect you to bind your very heart and soul to this position at least… Contract if you will… And you would be advised to obey it to the letter”.

Penelope didn’t know what some of these words meant, but a foreboding crept in. There was something about the man that unsettled her.

“Um…  I’m not sure.. I just need a…”

Suddenly angry, he slammed his fist down into the table, making his books rattle. "You refuse my offer and waste my time then, after I have seen it fit to interview you! You ungrateful little weasel! Get out!"

Penelope jumped from her seat and was backing towards the door when his cheek twitched as he seemed to force himself to stillness. Turning to a bowl on his mantle, he plucked from it a red apple.  He turned slowly to Penelope, polishing the apple to a mirror shine on a kerchief.

“My apologies. Dear.”  His tone was abruptly silky smooth, like a snake, as he held the fruit in his outstretched palm.

“N.. No.. thank you..”  she stammered, raising her hands up as one would do to calm a deer.

“Take it!”  He lashed, spittle flying from his mouth.  Penelope’s eyes were wide open in fear as she stepped back, once, twice, before turning and fleeing.

His screams of “Deceitful, lying wretch!”  pursued at her down the hallway,  Penelope fled the mansion, running as fast as she could towards the safety of the town. The winds howled around her, and she felt as though something was chasing her. As she looked back towards the Ravensmere estate, she saw the silhouette of a figure staring out of the window, watching her leave.
« Last Edit: April 11, 2023, 10:39:03 AM by Starbrighter »
Characters: Agata Pietra | Mylandarial Saethaur   Shelf: Penelope de Vos

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Re: Of green cathedrals and stone forests: Stories of Penelope de Vos
« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2023, 02:06:45 PM »
At the home of Dumarais Family,  not far from Chateaufaux: the southern reaches of Dementlieu. The year 777

"Georges, Jean-Charles: asseyez-vous s'il vous plaît,"  said Penelope, her voice rising as she  sought to get the boys’ attention. The boys took their seats behind mismatched wooden desks that creaked and groaned in the attic room.

Penelope’s  white blonde hair fell like a veil over her shoulder. She cleared yesterday's lesson from the blackboard with a slow, deliberate motion, her eyes fixed on both boys as if daring them to misbehave.

"And silence, so I can continue," she said, her voice having just enough edge to let them know she meant it. The word "silence" hung in the air like a warning, with just enough to make it echo with the unspoken threat of no time to play outside should they not comply.  She had to turn back to the blackboard to hide the small smile.

She was fond of the boys, having raised them both since infanthood – Georges was into his third year when she had first arrived at the Dumarais’ manor house as a nanny, and Jean-Charles was a squalling newborn that Eucharistie pushed into Penelope’s arms as soon as she could. Penelope was barely a child herself, then –  of course she had on occasion watched a child, as a servant girl in countless homes, the children of the household always found their way to the kitchen eventually –  but Eucharistie’s indifference to her children was likely a blessing.  The woman was prone to paranoid delusions and was fanatical in her Ezrite faith.  Once, a four-year-old Jean-Charles had dropped a plate, and it had provoked such hysteria that the child was touched by evil that Penelope had to call on Mr Dumarais from the solitude of his cabinet to calm his wife.

"Today, we will be revising our lesson on the Church of Ezra." she continued. The boys groaned in unison, their boredom with the topic evident. But the woman paid them no heed, already turning her back to write "L'eglise d'Ezra" in a flowing cursive.

With a flourish, she underlined the words and turned to face the class once more. "Who can tell me who founded the church?" she asked, her lips forming a line.
But as she spoke, her eyes darted to the open window, where George was entranced by the sight of a mother bird was feeding her hatchlings at the nest, which sat upon perilously thin branches bending in the wind. The sight filled her with a sense of dread, as if the natural world itself was trying to warn her of some impending danger.

"Georges? Georges? Are you listening?" she called out sharply, her voice echoing in the old attic room that served as the schoolroom. But the boy's head snapped back, as if waking from a dream, and he returned his attention to the lesson at hand.
Characters: Agata Pietra | Mylandarial Saethaur   Shelf: Penelope de Vos

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Re: Of green cathedrals and stone forests: Stories of Penelope de Vos
« Reply #3 on: April 30, 2023, 09:07:42 AM »
The boy’s head was snapped back, sharply.

“Georges can you hear me?”

The stillness of the youth’s body on the ground was haunting. She felt panic rise in her as no response came from the boy.  As she reached out to cradle the boy's head, her hand recoiled from the stickiness of his blood.

Penelope reached deep within herself and tried to summon what her mother had called nature’s gifts, but either her connection to the land had waned or the boy's injuries were too severe, for his body was still, cold.

Her eyes were drawn up to the attic window. The wind howled through the open window, the linen curtain twisting and turning, as if it were alive and mocking her inability to save the boy.   How could he have moved so fast to the open window?   What had possessed him?

Penelope's attention was drawn back to the boy, his blood seeping into the ground beneath him. The sight made her stomach turn, and she wished she could look away.
Little Jean-Charles stood like a stone statue; the boy unable to take his gaze from his beloved brother.

“Non, don’t look, child.”

She turned to Jean-Charles, the boy's face frozen in grief and shock. She knew he shouldn't have to witness this horror, and urged him to leave.

“Jean-Charles” She held his shoulders, kneeling down to meet his eye. “Find Monsieur Moulin. Quickly now.”

The boy’s lip trembled, but he obeyed and ran off in search.  Penelope did not know what the old groundskeeper might be able to do to help, save help lift the boy onto a cart so they could transport him to the hospice. A priest, perhaps… No… not from this.  But by the time help arrived, she knew, the boy would be lost.




« Last Edit: April 30, 2023, 09:15:10 AM by Starbrighter »
Characters: Agata Pietra | Mylandarial Saethaur   Shelf: Penelope de Vos

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Re: Of green cathedrals and stone forests: Stories of Penelope de Vos
« Reply #4 on: April 30, 2023, 09:13:08 AM »
The beginnings of a Journal, written in a Dementliuse-style cursive.



As I write this, on the eve of our return from the Darkonese shores, my mind has a certain clarity about it.

The past weeks have taken their toll.   I prefer not to believe in fate. It deigns to remove one’s personal agency and leave it to mysterious gods who some would say play us like pieces in some game.  That said, the chance meeting on the road, many months ago with one I can now truly call friend  - who in this writing will remain anonymous – did in no small part lead me to the situation I now find myself in.

On arriving in Vallaki at the dawning of this year, I had nothing to my name.  It saw fit then that I found employment, and fortunate or unfortunate, there was not much call for fallen governesses in this small town.  So it was to be that I saw an advertisement pinned to a tree for apprentices at a medical clinic.  It was surely something that I could do- I’d nursed enough bruises and bumps and yes, in some part of my mind, buried deep, repentance for darling Georges.

However fulfilling it was to learn and become a practitioner of medicine, I could not shake off the memory of Eucharistie’s bony finger pointing towards me, her grief turned to anger and condemnation.  She’d used the Dementlieuse word ‘sorciere’ but although it stung, it was not for the reason Eucharistie had intended.  Rather, it had incited a defiance in me.  The word held no relevance - I was something else.

Still, although it smouldered.  It was then on learning of the Onyx, and what had occurred in the forest south of the town that, I suppose, awakened some memories long buried deep. Of a simpler life.  As a child I’d run barefoot through forest. I drank ice-cold water straight from the stream and at night, I’d lie in hammocks slung between tree branches.  At the end of it all, I’ll have to admit my memory is hazy. Was it monster or man who’d burned the grove?  For profit, for malevolence? The result would’ve been no different.
(I suppose I’d become civilized after that.  I’d had to – I’d survived and learnt their ways. The rules.  How you dressed, how you ate. How you spoke.  What your place was in their society – and always, always, a step lower than you thought.   It was a mask of convenience that I’d learned to adopt that over the years had become second nature).

So I’d set upon a path then that I will not write of here.  But it did bring me, by some mechanism, to be writing this within the Elven settlement of Degannwy.  To the Vallakians, my services as an agent of the Lantern Light clinic have brought me to better serve the afflicted.  A convenient half-truth, for my dwelling here has been much more than protecting Barovian sensibilities from witnessing the horrors Avalan has brought.   

Yes - I’ve nursed the afflicted, bound their wounds and prepared herbal concoctions until my fingers bled.  I’ve drunk ice-cold water from the stream.  And yes, taken off my boots on occasion to feel the ground beneath me.  To connect with it, to learn from it.   And at night I’ve lain awake in my hammock, slung between the trees, lest the nightmares of the needlemen return. 
« Last Edit: April 30, 2023, 09:16:11 AM by Starbrighter »
Characters: Agata Pietra | Mylandarial Saethaur   Shelf: Penelope de Vos

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Re: Of green cathedrals and stone forests: Stories of Penelope de Vos
« Reply #5 on: August 18, 2023, 06:31:06 AM »
August 18th, 778

It has been seven months since I arrived in Barovia.  Since my last writing so much has changed.

My life in service to the family was constrained. I had little freedom to grow. To know myself, to know others and the world outside Chateaufaux. I knew only my duties, to keep the house in order, to teach the children.  My pleasures were small acts of deviance – letting the children play, to swing from ropes slung across branches, and run barefoot, as I once had, through forest streams.

That is how I choose to remember – their laughter, faces red and their clothes smeared with mud as I shushed them to sneak in through the kitchen and up to bed.  Or days in the schoolroom where I’d tire of reciting Ezrite scripture and instead close the dusty books and gather them to tell them made up adventures about woodland creatures.

Despite my choosing, the grief comes and goes like the changing of the wind. Oftentimes it is like a soft breeze, I find myself thinking of little Jean-Charles, and how it'll be his birthday soon.  I hope that he is smiling again, even if it will take years for his own heart to heal.  I hope that his mother is not treating him too cruelly. Perhaps, I hope, they have employed a new governess who will be kind. 
 
Other times it is a foul gale. I know that she will have poisoned Jean-Charles' mind against me.  I recall how she screamed vile things as her palm left its imprint on my cheek.  I see him cowering in the shadow, his eyes widening in horror as she spewed lies of how I'd killed Georges with my witchcraft. I was from that moment not the governess who’d rubbed a woundwart leaf on his grazed knees, but the wicked hag from the stories of old.
 
He witnessed true horror that day. A child’s life extinguished.  And I, seeing the orphan child’s broken body on the cobblestones of Vallaki felt a foul gale building in my soul.  I would take myself to the foot of Ghakis then and allow my rage and my grief to flow through me.  I raised my hands to the sky and called on the clouds to muster, to swirl and darken until all around me the rocks were illuminated with lightning, hailstones pounding at my flesh until I lay exhausted and broken.  I allowed my dear friend to bandage my wounds, not that I could have mustered the energy to protest. 

It has been seven months since I arrived in Barovia and I have indeed grown – my connection with the land, and my connection with the people of Barovia, both native-born and outlander.  I have purpose to my life. With the bonds forged during my time in Degannwy, that I’d take the Wayfarer’s amulet felt inevitable.  A family of my choosing. There are challenges ahead of us that to face them, I will need to embrace my fears.  With my kin at my side I no longer fear being called witch.
Characters: Agata Pietra | Mylandarial Saethaur   Shelf: Penelope de Vos