At the height of the power of the city of Abdazon, the great trade center between the world of men, and the world beyond men, arose a wealthy merchant, whose name was Delroy. Delroy owned vast store-houses in the rings outside the city (and a few in Sheb by the sea), into which all manner of goods were stored: foodstuffs for men and animals, treasures from far off nations won through clever trade deals, often priceless objects of whose value the current holders had no clue.
Delroy was a shrewd trader, who dwelt bodily in the House of Wealth, but who inwardly knew the secrets of the House of Sorrow, he and his wife Aiara having no children of their own.
After long years of despairing, a theriomorphic magician appeared one day at a local inn in Abdazon for Hypogean travelers, asking for the Lord of the Storehouses. Delroy was summoned, and there he met Morbat, who appeared to him then in the form of a peculiar small striped four legged creature with a long horse-like face, a little larger than a dog, and three hoofed toes to each foot. He spoke with the voice of a human man, though deep and otherworldly.
“Lord of the Storehouses,” he addressed Delroy.
“All life is impermanent. What is not stone will turn to tarnish or rot, according to its characteristics and essence. What is stone will one day crumble, the next turn to dust. This is the way of things. Turn from this path of hoarding. What has made you wealthy has laid you barren. Open your storehouses, release your surplus, and I shall grant you the one thing your wealth hasn’t bought you, a child.”
Delroy, holding back sudden tears, “Be it truly in your power to grant such a blessing?”
Morbat responded, “By the antlers of Anthuor, it is so. But be you forewarned, Son of Man, the cost of life is life itself. Upon her quaranteenth season, she will be my bride and dwell with me on the other side.”
Delroy responded, “It is a heavy cost. I care nothing for my riches, which can be rebuilt through labor. But I would sooner pay with my own life, than hers, for what will my life be worth having known her and lost her, whereas now, I’ve only known that empty space and longing?”
“Well spoken, trader,” Morbat said. “But knowing perfection exists, would you flinch away from it out of pride for the integrity of your suffering?”
“These thoughts weigh heavy on me, and you’ve only just proposed this trade. I shall need time to think,” Delroy replied.
“Of course. It being near sun-down, I extend my offer until sun-down tomorrow. You may meet me on the Great Bridge tomorrow with your answer.”
When Delroy went home and broached the subject of the magician’s offer with his wife, Aiara, he was surprised that she scolded him for not accepting on the spot.
“Are you daft, husband? To have a daughter, and for her to be betrothed to a powerful magician in the same moment? Of course we accept!”
For in those days, it was not unheard of still for humans to take up living with the theriomorphic or therianthropic magicians, and to form families of their own. But they usually did so in the Hypogean lands, far from human settlements, returning only at odd occasions, or on High Holidays, and then only briefly, and rarely in fleshly form.
When Delroy climbed at sun-down the next day first the Foot, and then the Stair and walked onto the Great Bridge, he found Morbat standing there, in therianthropic form, nearly twice as tall as a man, dressed in a thin white robe, with the head of a strange emaciated pale horse with glowing eyes.
“Greetings, mortal,” the magician greeted him. “I trust you have come to a decision.”
“I have indeed,” Delroy began. “With one condition…”
“We spoke not of conditions yesterday at sun-down. But let us hear it nonetheless. For trade is negotiation.”
“That she marry for love, not for power, or out of obligation to a contract in which she had no part in agreeing to. That she not pay for my mistakes and shortcomings. That if in her True Heart she comes to love you, and you her, then I accept your offer, and will forthwith on the birth of a healthy child open up my storehouses.”
“Be so it done,” Morbat said, and with a thunderclap, vanished from the bridge as the sun sank down behind the mountains.
Delroy and Aiara did then have a girl child, some nine months after. And as promised, Delroy opened his storehouses. The girl was named Delrin. And to the surprise of her father, his storehouses were not ransacked and emptied. They remained full. The people trusted him as steward, and in turn his riches grew, as did the loveliness of his daughter.
Delrin, it seemed, had the Song and the Touch, the sense with animals of intuitive understanding, and wordless communication. She would hum, and sing a few notes, and the beasts would come out of the woods to stand and stare at her. Her mother worried at this, and when this communication eventually developed into her young daughter following these animals off into the woods for forays into the unknown.
“It’s not right,” her mother said. “She should have human children as friends. Some wrong will come of this.”
Delroy replied, “You’ve seen how the beasts cherish her. And if she is to be the bride of a powerful magician, then she will need the wisdom of the beasts. No harm will come to her, for I will set my Best Men at a distance to track and follow her unawares.”
So he did, and thus many years and many adventures passed as Delrin grew up between two worlds, the wild wood below the Great Forest, and the city of Abdazon and her father’s world of commerce, in which she showed precious little interest.
“I will marry a woodsman,” she told her father, from the age when she started to comprehend what marriage was. “Tall and brave, a tracker. I do not wish to become a merchant or a merchant’s wife.”
Her father smiled gently, “Your future is yours to decide, in your True Heart. Just promise to marry for love, whatever happens.”
“I do father. I will.”
So it came to pass, when she was of about marriageable age, that her father began to send Delrin away on what he called diplomatic missions to other lands, in the secret hopes of preventing her betrothed magician from easily finding her and trying to collect on his debt.
Delroy ordered his daughter first to Sheb, to check on his storehouses there, and thence on to the Threx Gate, where they were to skirt the edge of the Great Forest all the way up to the city of Threx. If possible, they were to rendezvous there with certain Buorthern mariners, and to negotiate a trade visit to those strange lands.
Delrin was excited, as she’d never left the Cleft before. Her father had forbade her even from climbing the Foot, let alone the Stair, or mounting the Great Bridge, and she had never disobeyed him.
Sheb turned out to be a bore. Like Abdazon, only smaller, and by the sea. She wasn’t sure she cared for the sea, nor wanted to cross over it, but Threx was far away still. Her traveling party consisted of the four Best Men of her father, who had her life long acted as silent secret guards on her adventures, and a host of birds and animals from forest and glen, whose fidelity to her knew no bounds, and who shadowed their movements in secret, from the cover of rock and flora.
Passing through the lower part of the Threx Gate, as the journey commenced in earnest, her animal friends bade her silent farewell, as they too never left the Cleft, and were wary to climb the long, winding, and exposed trail up to the plateau. Delrin cried, and the animals wept bitterly, and even some of the Best Men teared up at this farewell. Some of the birds, however, flew on up to watch over her. And thus they passed up out of the lands of Abdazon, to the plateau where the Great Forest began.