Monday, December 9, 2013

Lady Evica


You'll find her in the lakeside town of Havenholt, where she lives. The easiest way to approach her is after Sunday mass, when all of the parishners gather on the lawn and patio to talk and exchange the week's news. They stand in small circles, talking with the deacon, inquiring about each other's health and the weather. They might say

That's two masses in a row that Grocer Hammond has missed. I hope he isn't ill.”

or perhaps you will hear

Daley, get away from the fountain. You're bothering the koi.”

She dresses conservatively, like her peers. Her long auburn hair is usually up in a bun, or in a braid beneath a headscarf. Her dress will be brown or navy, perhaps with a small carnation on the breast, and it will reach all the way down to her black leather patents.

A short veil may shade her eyes when she faces east, towards the lake and the morning sun. Her face is young, but not girlish. Her skin is flawless and her lips are full. Her jawline is a graceful, subtle curve, like the neck of a swan or the keel of a courtship canoe. Her eyes shine like sunlight on the water, and her laugh is as clear and dulcet as a bell. Her dress is bulky, but it carries a few hints of the voluptuous physique beneath it. In speech, she is modest, playful, and warm.

She is terrifyingly beautiful, but that is no surprise, since she chose the shape of her body. Shapeshifters rarely settle for the unremarkable.

Her nature is not a secret to the inhabitants of Havenholt. They have forgiven her monstrous origin.  But more than that, they love her.

Mothers exchange recipes for puddings with her, forgotten secrets from distant cupboards. Husbands look at her with respect (and surprisingly little lust) and ask if she needs anymore help fixing her gutters. She often walks home with a garland of dandelions around her brow, made by the children while their parents talked. She knows all of the town's children by name. She knows everyone by name.

Even the deacon and his priests have relaxed around her. It's been years since she missed a sermon. She has learned her scripture as thoroughly as any priest, and a compromise was even reached regarding the size of her bust. She has been an examplar to the town of piety and humility, and the Church is extremely pleased with the progress they've made with her. They regret all the harsh words they said in the beginning. They are sorry that they made her cry by telling her that she has no soul.

Perhaps an hour after mass is finished, the people will trickle back to their homes. Everyone exchanges kisses upon the cheek, parents arrange playdates, and the children make their goodbyes by offering Lady Evica a crown of grass and wildflowers.

She thanks them, and promises them that she will wear it for all the rest of the day. And she does.

She is usually accompanied back to her house by her friends. Mr. and Mrs. Brooken, or perhaps young Ms. Sarey Malloran. Sometimes the Roodens come when they can get a baby-sitter, even though Lady Evica insists that she doesn't mind the little ones. You might also find Mrs. Ranada, the seamstress, or Mr. Wencelworth, the merchant. Mrs. Tafferty is engaged in some sort of pastry war with Lady Evica, and the two women constantly barrage each other with desserts (and Mrs. Tafferty, I'm sorry to say, has been putting on an unfortunate amount of weight.) The spinsters Ebla and Balne Maverly are also prone to visitation, and will invariably attempt to apply their matchmaking talents to Lady Evica.

What do you think about Hanko, the reeve's son?”

I don't know. . . which one is Hanko?”

I'm so glad he finally abandoned that ridiculous beard. He's the one that is big enough to throw you over his shoulder.”

Oh! Well, I don't think I'd look very dignified atop a shoulder, so I must say that I have a very low opinion of men who go about, chucking women on their shoulders willy-nilly.”

Come, dear, but you aren't getting any younger?”

In truth, Mrs. Maverly, I don't think I'm getting any older either.”

Everyone laughs at this, because Lady Evica is immortal. They say she only gets more beautiful every year.

In her own words. . .

"When I was born, mother put me into a crystal ball at the bottom of lake, along with all my brothers and sisters. We were all very small then, no bigger than the smallest finger on the smallest man. It was a bit like falling asleep under the warm clouds, like dreaming without dreams. Sometimes mother would visit and sing to us. The songs were very beautiful, and I believed that she must be beautiful, too.

When mother died we all knew it. It was awful, at first. I was cold and hungry and scared. All around me my brothers and sisters were thrashing in the dark, just as scared as me. Before we knew what we were doing, we all set about eating each other. It was such wickedness, I regret all of it now that I have no noble brother or beautiful sister to visit with. But, alas. After I had eaten one of them, I swam away. There was still such a great tumult in the water and I was so full I could hardly breathe.
I know we didn't have souls--Mother didn't. But when she passed, her spirit entered us, only it was split between so many of us that we only had a tiny piece to each ourselves. It was like the light of a candle pressing back the darkness all around. And I believe it was that wicked spirit that led us to devour each other, because only by eating one another could we find more of Mother's spirit.
For a very long time, we swam the length of the breadth of the lakes. We would hunt and devour each other whenever we crossed paths. Soon there were only a few of us left, all of us the biggest and smartest that had hatched from that crystal egg. I suppose we lived like simple animals, then, although I remember experiencing things like curiosity, and playing, and loneliness. I used to love to watch the geese return every summer, and I would sneak up on the fat ones whenever I could and toss them as far into the air as I could. At least, that was what I did when I wasn't too hungry.

That was also when I began to see the first men building their cities along the shore. They would come out into the lakes in with their boats and their nets and their white sails. They seemed so brave and clever to sail across the lakes when there were so many dangerous creatures in it. And may the Authority forgive me, but I ate many of them, not knowing it was wickedness.
I would never have been redeemed if I had not heard their songs. The humans and the smallfolk used to sing to each other when they were hauling the nets. When I heard them I was overcome by loneliness and I suddenly felt as dirty as a mud duck and as small as a minnow. So, I showed myself to the fishermen. I don't know what I was expecting, but they drove me off with arrows and spears. You must understand that I was still beastly then, covered with scales and teeth and spines. Actually, that was when I realized that I was ugly, and I hated myself for it. I never bore any ill will towards the humans for driving me off. It was my body that I grew to despise, armored and gruesome. I resolved that someday I would be beautiful and kind, and and in those days I ate far fewer humans.
I didn't know that there were only two of us left. But one morning, when the sun was still a cool glow in the east and I was hunting for catfish, my last unlucky brother--I'm almost positive it was a brother--swam down from straight above me, seeking my neck. He was larger than me and much stronger. But he only ever chased after my neck, never minding where the rest of me was. In the end, he ended up biting me on my forehead--to small effect, for we both had skulls as thick as warships--while I was coiled around his neck and body. It took a long time to choke him, and the whole time he was thrashing like a thing possessed, pounding me against the green rocks at the bottom of the lake. And he was of such hideous strength that I feared that even my heavy skull would crack under his thick teeth. But at length, he was dead, and I wedged him under a rock and set about the slow task of eating him.

After I had finished eating him, I became aware of myself. It was like seeing a mirror for the first time. I felt strong and young and free. I realized that I could turn into other animals. I think I always could, if someone had shown me how. What is it like when a human first realizes he can wiggle his ears? I turned myself into a woman, the most beautiful one I could imagine, and went to where the people were. It was dusk, and the mayflies were dancing.

I walked into a muddy cottage and there was a man and he laid with me. I believe this was the first time I had felt happiness. It was startling and wonderful. I did this for a while in many of the towns around the lakes. I found that I could make the men breathe water so that they could stay with me on the bottom of the lake. Many people didn't like me for doing this. I remember one time, a large group of knights found me. I must have been stabbed half a dozen times before I made it back to the lake. I ate most of the knights in the end, may the Authority forgive me. After that, there were many knights in the towns, and I decided that it was no longer safe to leave the lake. For that reason, I think, I can never feel truly safe unless I am near the lake. Or in a church.
Humans, especially their wives, I think, were fond of saying that I charmed their men. But I never did. I didn't know how. I just held them and patted their poor heads and listened while they told me their problems. They were so troubled most of the time, poor things. I did what I could for them. I fed them and loved them and gave them the kind words and kisses they so needed. And when that was not enough, I changed them so that they could be happier in the lakes with me.
One day I found a small boat anchored in the center of the Steely Sea. Olmar was the only one aboard--this is before he was a saint--and he had been trying to find me. He had been hanging a side of beef off the side of the boat, thinking that I would come to eat it. In truth, I was eating less and less meat in those days, and besides, the beef had gone off and I believe that Olmar was quite nauseaus from the smell, poor thing. I came on the boat and he talked to me, and he was not the least bit scared. He told me of the gospels of Hesaya, and he spoke with such clarity and conviction that I was moved. I realized how wicked I had been my entire life.
Olmar, bless his soul, helped me to pray. And that was the day that the Authority entered my heart and I found my redemption."

She'll conclude her story, and her friends around her will shake their heads in sympathy.
It must have been so hard for you, dearie.”
Praise the Authority and his prophetess, blessed be her name.”
Yes, well, I'm glad that's all behind you, m'lady. Now then, I hope it's not too early to open a bottle of wine. It's not Naltese brandy, but the parson assures me it's made from the second best vineyard in all of Kathar.”
The parson abstains from alcohol!”
Perhaps he only abstains from poor vintages. Open the bottle, would you, Hamill? The corkscrew is the veranda.”

And that's all well and good. Havenholt loves the Lady. But there is good reason to believe that she is lying—or at least omitting—quite a bit from her story.
By other accounts, Olmar did not convert Evica immediately. Rather, he left with her and lived with her for some time, probably as another of her consorts. When paladins found him, he pleaded for more time, claiming that he needed more time and was close to a breakthrough. The paladins were skeptical and would have brought him back to Gattica to account for his failures if he hadn't slipped out of their camp.
The next day, Olmar presented Evica as a convert to the church of Hesaya. She confessed her sins and begged to be forgiven of them, even though she had no soul and heaven would be forever impossible for her. Olmar swore that their relationship was a pure one, and declared that her conversion was sincere. The church accepted this report, and Olmar found acclaim (and eventually sainthood ) as the man who converted the monster of the Three Secret Seas. That was over a hundred years ago.
Since then, Lady Evica has grown to be cherished by both the Church and her adopted community of Havenholt.

The town of Havenholt adores her because she is beautiful, kind, and generous. She remembers everyone's names, and they think that she is the absolute pinnacle of piety and goodness. Look into the eyes of a man in an opium daze, and you will see the same expression that the villagers wear when Lady Evica gives them one of her holiday pies. (It's understandable; her pies are simply divine.)
The Hesayan Church sees her as one of their proudest achievement. She is living proof that they can bring civilization and worship to even the bestial offspring of an enemy god. (Not only did they destroy the gillmen's civilization and kill their goddess, but they that same goddess' only offspring is now a faithful churchgoer.) They pay for her comfortable lifestyle, and send her gifts of scripture, clothing, and tropical fish.  They would go to great lengths to prevent anything that would besmirch her good name (and their own). 
Digression: One of the Church's agents responsible for Lady Evica is St. Cascarion, an immortal vampire and one of the most powerful weapons in the Church's arsenal. Technically, he is the only true vampire in the world (all the others are pathetic murderers with terrible allergies, dietary restrictions, and poor impulse control.) Unlike Lady Evica, Cascarion's mind has been layers with so many enchantment, restrictions, dominations, and safeguards that it is unknown if any of his original personality survives beneath his priestly garb. He has many responsibilities in many parts of the world, but he is required to have dinner with Lady Evica two or three times a year. He scares the shit out of her, but then again, he scares the shit out of everyone.
But let's get back on subject. I was telling you how she lies.
At nights she will often slip into the cool waters of the lake and go for a swim, not returning until morning. During these excursions, she will take the form a mermaid, unless she intends to go for a longer swim, in which case she takes the form of a giant mermaid, 30' long.
This form is disturbingly close to that of her mother, Dendrola, who was the empress-god of the gillman empire that once darkened the coasts and waterways of the entire continent.
These excursions are kept secret, and the few townsfolk and clergy who are aware of them will deny them, both to outsiders and to themselves. The implicit acquiescence of the church is a bit surprising, since they were once very dedicated to the control of their faithful godling.
A hundred years ago, Lady Evica and Saint Cascarion were in comparable situations. But Cascarion struggled against the bit, and his collar has grown extremely tight, while Lady Evica has been gentle, and her leash has grown long, indeed. They don't even require her to present herself to the priest-kings in the capitol anymore; since they know how much she hates to be away from the water.
And that's the end of the hard facts. Now we enter the realm of speculation.

Before the Lady was converted to Hesaya, men would disappear from their homes and families. They would sometimes reappear as monstrous versions of themselves, speaking of living in a dome of air beneath the lake, where they enjoyed the Lady's intoxicating affections until she tired of them.
Some of these men had only slight mutations, while others were monstrous. Regardless, they were uniformly destroyed when discovered, because of their terrible appetites and constant lamentations and declarations of love for their new goddess. Broken, violent brutes, all of them.
Speculation: Many have suggested that it is most likely that Lady Evica just has a thing for hulking, brutish lovers. She claims that it is merely a side effect of her kisses that she uses to give men the ability to breath water, and that she has no control over it. Yet others claimed that she merely changed her paramours into what they secretly desired, and for most, that was strength.
These creatures were common in her nefarious “youth”, but they stopped appearing once Lady Evica converted to Hesaya and began living in Havenholt. But now, men go disappearing from the lakesides and the monsters have begun to reappear. These new man-creatures speak (when they are capable of speak and not merely breathing water) of their beloved scaled goddess, who they wish to love and to serve and to kiss.
Sometimes these creatures drag their twisted bulk into Havenholt, seeking Lady Evica. They are always killed before they get very far, while the Lady retreats into her house. She hates violence.
Regardless, she denies that she has anything to do with these monster-men who raid livestock pens and hunting nets, and has even offered a reward for information leading to their capture.
And gillmen have been seen in the lakes for the first time in generations.
They are the dispossessed race of the world, and no one has fallen as far as they since the Time of Fire and Madness. An illustrious empire decimated by a thousand misfortunes, into illiteracy, disease, and petty tribalism.
The gillmen are here to win back the heart of their estranged goddess (or at least her daughter, since she is the reincarnation of Dendrola). They bring tiaras of mottled gold, and lavish her with mounds of irregular pearls. They bring cloudy bottles of fermented dolphin's milk (a delicacy in their culture) and corroded scepters of ancient kings. They have even salvaged a tremendous suit of ceremonial armor, sized for a mermaid of truly prodigious proportions.
They can promise her empire, power, and wealth. They can take her to her mother's sunken palace, two-thousand miles away beneath the sea, where she can reawaken her divine spark and become a thousand times more powerful. These things may be true, but the gillmen are desperate, and although they have contacted Lady Evica in secret several times, they have always left frustrated. If they ever overcame their timidity long enough to leave the water, they would be amazed at their own bitter tears, which are so commonly invisible in the water.
So they began to consider alternative methods of reclaiming their goddess, the instrument of their future glory. Kidnapping is the crudest method, but it has been suggested. Many more are in favor of some machination that will remove her from the comfortable lap of the Church.
They have magic and monsters. They are subtle and patient. And so they slouched to the forgotten structures on the lakebed and began to plot. They've been plotting for years now.

Fish hooks:
-Lady Evica could be a quest-giver even before the party learns of her true nature.
-Fish monsters interrupt your tea party.
-Lady Evica is smitten with one of the PCs. He is bombarded with delicious pies and demidivine affectations.
-Angry wives want their husbands, sons, and fathers back. They may even want to confront Lady Evica, believing her responsible.
-Lady Evica is responsible for the monster-men, and seeks revenge on those who destroyed her lovers.
-The gillmen are responsible for the monster-men, and seek revenge on those who ended their creations' rampages early.
-The gillmen decide to go with the kidnapping plan and infiltrate the sewers of Havenholt with all of their scummy monsters.
-The gillmen succeed in their kidnapping. Either rescue Evica from their clutches (chase down their weird, flooded galleon) or pursue them all the way out into the undersea palace of Dendrola.
-The Church decides that the town's adoration of Evica borders on the heretical, and need your help to smuggle Evica elsewhere.
-The Church decides that Lady Evica's allegiances are in question, and hire you to bring her to the capitol for re-education. She is hiding somewhere in her beloved lake, guarded by fishmen.
-As above, except that you help Lady Evica and her closest friends escape the Church's clutches. Watch out for the Vampire Saint.
-Evica wants to secretly travel to her mothers palace on the bottom of the sea, without the Church or the Gillmen discovering.

Take the mental picture that you have of Lady Evica and run with it.
In my mind, Lady Evica is both naïve and monstrous. I have her in the exact center of the victim/villain/ally triangle. Her relationship with Havenholt is tempered by both narcissism and genuine care. Her relationship with the gillmen, who represent her monstrous legacy, is complicated. Let's not get started on how she feels about her mother, being a very maternal person herself.

Of course, none of these subtleties survive long in a DnD game (and this is probably for the better). I expect her motivations and character will crystallize quickly in play, so just run with it. And she's not so anchored in world lore that you couldn't plop down Havenholt near any body of water and throw a demigoddess among the pews of some other religion. Put a psalm on her lips and some prayer beads between her palms.
Just don't forget where she comes from.