The Flames of Alvestia

The firewood cracked with a deafening pop, sending a dazzling array of embers into the smoke-filled room. A boy sat unfazed at the edge of the hearth, peering intently into the flames, as if he were seeing the secrets of the cosmos within. At length, he remembered there was a bard seated at the stool beside him, and he turned his head away from the fire. “Well c’mon then,” the boy said, “tell another one!”

“My my, child,” said the bard in his gravelly tones, “another one already?”

“Please, sir! Mum hasn’t rung for supper yet any’ow!”

“Very well, very well. But we must keep our voices low, for strange things are afoot this night, and you never know who may be listening in from the shadowy corners.”

Just then, as it so often happens when tales of darkness and yore are spun in front of a crackling fireplace, a sudden gust of wind burst through the window, filling the room with a chilly air, and snuffing out an unlucky candle in its path, before fleeing hastily through the open door, leaving only the dimmed light in the common room as proof.

The boy got up from his crosslegged position on the floor and grabbed the candle. He took a step toward the fire, when he was stopped by the bard’s outstretched hand.

“No!” the bard whispered hoarsely, his boney white knuckles gripping the boy’s shoulders. “You musn’t – the time has not yet come!”

“Huh? I - I was just gonna g-go relight it.”

“That’s just it, my boy. The time has not yet come to rekindle the flames! Soon, child, very soon – the festival is nigh - but right now you must hush, and listen, for darkness rides in force tonight.”

Slowly, the boy sank to the floor, his eyes transfixed on the shadows that seemed to dance across the muted greens and browns of the bard’s cloak.

“Now, child, as the legend goes... long, long ago, there was a terrible curse that fell upon Oberin, enshrouding the lands in an endless darkness. Some say that it was cast by an evil wizard who couldn’t stand the light of the sun, other say it was a natural remnant of the infamous Black Plague itself. However it came about, it all began here, in Lerilin, on one ordinary eventide at the end of a sweltering midsummers day much like this one. All the villagers were sitting peacefully at home, when suddenly, every last stove, torch, and fireplace in the village all died out in the blink of an eye, just as the last vestiges of the sun were setting below the horizon. The worrisome villagers scrambled to relight their flames, but try as they might, they could not produce even the faintest spark. They waited out the evening in terror, knowing that the sun would surely rise the next day, and then all would be well. But it turned out their problems were only just beginning: for when the clock struck morning, the animals and children all arose, but the sun did not.

"The villagers waited one whole day, stunned and anxious, hoping that the sun would return, but return it did not. They waited a second day, hoping in their arrogance that they could get the flames to relight, but relight them they could not. And then, on the third day, vicious monsters of shadow began to appear in the village, feeding on the darkness, and attacking the townsfolk. The streets ran red with blood, and the villagers barely emerged with their lives. In the aftermath, they all gathered in the square to come up with a plan, but none of them could do so. Finally, a peasant named Alvestia stood up to address the throng of people gathered in the square. She spoke of their shared history, reminding them all of the ancient Haven, deep below the volcano, where humanity had hid long ago from the terrors of the Black Plague. She spoke of the eternal flames that danced in the depths of Haven, flames which protected and warmed and nourished humankind for all those years, flames which no evil could ever snuff out, so blessed were they by Elara. These flames, she insisted, could lift the curse and save them all from certain doom.

"But there were none in the crowd who dared to brave the treacherous forests and roads to the volcano, none who had enough faith. So off she went on her own, with only the stars and the dim red light of the nascent moon to guide her. She followed that light to the volcano and descended into the depths, where sure as day, the flames still burned. Alvestia took up her torch and seized the Flames of Haven with bravery and passion so great that the very shadows fled from her. And as she emerged from the cave with torch in hand, she saw the faintest trace of the sun, creeping back over the horizon.

"Victorious, she marched back down to the village. Upon her triumphant return, she took the flames and lit a great bonfire in the square, and the people all cheered and cavorted wildly around it. Alvestia then paid a visit to all the shops and homes in the village, rekindling every last flame and stove and torch. And with each additional flame, the sun rose a little higher and higher, until finally, by the time the final flame was relit, the sun was shining fully in the sky, and so the darkness was vanquished at last.

"But it didn’t end there. The next year, as the Bleeding Moon drew to an end, the people spoke of all manner of devilries and oddities: fireplaces extinguishing by themselves and relighting on their own accord... ghostly howls in the night... even ghastly spectres of the fallen, wandering the streets. The villagers began to worry about the darkness again, fearing that it would return. To assuage their fears, Alvestia returned to the volcano once more on the final day of the moon, torch in hand. She descended within, took up the Flames of Haven, and returned to town to light the bonfire, just as she had done the year before. And as the clock struck midnight, all the villagers snuffed out their flames on their own volition, and gathered at the bonfire, where together they would take a tongue of fire from the Flames of Haven, and use it to rekindle their own flames, and thus ward off the evils for another year, and allow for prosperity and growth.

"And just like that, child, we come to the present evening. The darkness and evils of the curse are long gone, but the tradition remains. That is why we utter those words during the festival, and at the bonfire in particular. Words which you have certainly heard before: ‘The Flames of Alvestia protect you.’ Of course, as with many of the tales and legends of yore, the details have gotten a little hazy as the drums of time beat on. Some of those who tell the tale say that Alvestia was much older, and that she lived during the time of the disciples themselves. Others say she never existed at all. As for me, well... I say she never left, and that she still resides today in every hearth that still bears her wondrous flames. And if you listen closely to the gentle crackling of the fireplace on a peaceful evening, you might just hear the faintest echo of the kindhearted laughter, of a simple village girl in a sleepy little town called Lerilin…

"Or so they say."
Sign In or Register to comment.