The Family Tree

- by Shame

A soft, cold rain began as the ship pulled out of the harbor. Here and there amid the drops was the harsh sting of ice as the wind from the north debated with itself - should rain or sleet fall? It brought with it the lung-burning smell of the refineries - oily smoke clinging to each droplet. Isabella felt absorbed by the day - merging with it as rain soaked her hair and the smell of burning oil clung to her clothing. The younger children were clinging to her skirts - gray wool to match the gray sky, faces buried as the city walls slowly slid from view. Somewhere below decks were Langston and Robert, fighting with other families for a modicum of space in the cramped hold.

“We should have left weeks ago,” Langston had said into the darkness the night before, as Isabella checked and rechecked the family’s few belongings, packing them tightly into trunks. “If the winds are slow...we might miss the planting. But there were so many forms, so many things to do...” his voice begged forgiveness.

Isabella tiptoed across the floor of their tiny rented room, avoiding the sleeping bodies of the children. She sat beside him on the low wooden cot, stroked his temples - long gone white with care. “Shh, you did what you could - as quickly as you were able.”

It was simply the truth. Ever since they had sold their acreage to their old neighbors and come to Stratholme it had been like dwelling inside a complex and stressful nightmare. Every morning Langston rose before dawn, standing in government queues - hoping that this day he would get the papers his family needed to sail south. Isabella too spent much of her days in lines. Standing with other hopeful migrants into order to use public mills and ovens, shelling out too many of their precious copper everyday just to keep her husband and children fed. Thank the Light for Robert and Allissa - the former running small errands in the streets during the day, bringing home a few coppers and news to his tired parents every evening while the latter watched the baby in the families cramped rental - allowing her parents the freedom to peruse their own errands. It had taken longer than they had ever imagined, and with time copper was also spent. Every day, every meal paid for at city prices meant fewer resources when they finally reached the southern continent of Azeroth.

This final night Isabella repeated to her husband the litany which thus far had been their mantra and hearthstone, the thing which kept up their spirits, kept open their eyes, “The south is a land of opportunity now that the war is over. They need people to rebuild, need industry, need farmers. Land is cheap there - settlers being given government made the right choice Langston.” Stroking his temples as he relaxed she murmured the words again, “The south is a land of opportunity.”

Finally he slept, as quiet as the children, one of his large calloused hands curved protectively around her smaller one. She leaned against the wall, unable to find rest, her large eyes opened and staring into the unseeing darkness. She couldn’t sleep. She was keeping a secret from her husband.

Langston had finally gotten their papers yesterday, and at spent today arranging their passage on the Oleander, one of the many ships pressed into service to transport settlers south. She had set all of the children to packing, then left herself to run one final errand before they left the shores of Lordaeron behind them. She felt a flutter in her stomach as she left - she didn’t think Langston would approve of the nature of her errand. But she pushed aside the butterflies, and slowly her steps took her into a quarter of the city she had not visited. Here it was not bread or fish or fowl that was hawked on the streets but words. The shop fronts featured incomprehensible sheets of newsprint - or parchment bound in gold and leather - or bottles of night-black ink and snowy quills. The scribe’s quarter, in short.

Isabella needed a letter written.

She didn’t need to stand in line this time. In storefronts and on street corners were young men - and no few women, with writing desks set up and quills at hand. Most had their heads bent, copying work from some patron or another, but a few looked up as she passed - then looked away again disappointed as they saw her plain dress, the shawl draped over her head. “Just another peasant lost in the city” said the silence in their eyes. She paused in front of a young man whose coal-black hair and chocolate eyes reminded her of her children, hesitantly she cleared her throat.

He looked up, and as he caught a glimpse of her face beneath the heavy woolen shawl he gasped - the air literally escaping from his lungs as he saw her. Later that night, in the private darkness of his room he would write with shaking hands, Today an angel held to the earth merely by the weight of her gray woolen cloak came to me... In truth Isabella was beautiful, the sort of breath-stealing porcelain beauty that made men stare and women resent her. It was not much of an asset for a farm wife.

She cleared her throat again and spoke hesitantly, breaking him from his stupor, as awed by his education as he was by her face, “I...excuse me, I need a letter written.”

He blinked and then, “Of course lady, have a seat...a seat.” He stood abruptly, knocking over his own stool before quickly righting it and offering it to her.

“How much will it be?” she asked, feeling the slender weight of the coins in her purse as she took the proffered seat.

“Ten copper a page lady,” he replied, secure now on the ground of finances, drinks at the pub and the rent to be paid.

Isabella swallowed and weighed once again, her purse and the importance of her mission. “Alright,” she replied finally.

The scribe pulled free a clean sheet of parchment, sharpened a quill the color of a gray dove’s wing, “To where shall I address it? And to whom?”

Her voice was lower when she spoke this time, reluctant to speak such things aloud, “The place is Alonsus Chapel, the name is Glendale.”

“But lady,” he protested, the thought of his fee dissolved in the blue oceans of her eyes, “That is but a short walk away...why do you need a letter?”

She had known the entire time they were in the city, how close it was. It was like a heavy hand placed upon her sleeve, trying to lead her in a direction which she dare not follow. Langston...he would never allow it. “I cannot go there,” she finally said, “Will you write the letter?”

He nodded, “Of course lady,” and scrawled the address quickly in his neat trained hand, “How does the letter begin?”

She glanced around the area once more and said in the merest whisper of a voice, “My dear son Glendale, first my apologies...”

When she left the scribe’s quarter her purse was lighter, but her heart felt much heavier in her chest. She returned to the rented room before her husband - and he never thought to ask where she had gone.

Now, with the city and that horrible rented room and the endless waiting behind her, her heart felt lighter. She almost laughed as she pulled the children’s faces free of her skirt, “Look Allissa, look Robin...say goodbye.” The children’s faces were tear-streaked, but their mother’s was clear of all emotion save a slight smile. The last glimpse of Stratholme slipped away over the horizon. The rain fell more heavily against the three figures huddled on deck. And the ship headed south.

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