Fellowship of the Goose
A farmgirl looking for her destiny. The gander she always teams with is the physical emblem of her long-sought courage.
Text version of the Background follows:
‘’Clio? She is just a wimpy, whiny, spoiled brat! Why should we take her with us?’’ Therese was the one who always said fair and square what she thought, and what she thought was seldom nice. ‘’Sorry, fellows… I have to drag my cousin along. Father asked me to play with her’‘, Marigold would answer, shrugging. Often the girls of Hommlet would stroll together to play games, spy on boys, or visit the Shaman’s tent at the edge of the village, but Clio was often unwelcome in these moments. ‘’Please, don’t leave me alone.‘’ she would cry ’’I promise, I will behave, please’’. Milva would point a blaming finger to her, while saying ‘’Oh grow up! If you want to stick around try at least not to be a nuisance… Weakling!’’
Cliomenica was a weak creature indeed. And her story was one full of tears, spilled easily and for all the right reasons, full of people who left, not to come back ever again.
The first to leave was her mother, Esther. She had an accident one day, when Clio was only seven years old, at the barley farm where Clio’s family used to live. Esther lost control of the plow at that time, and she was wounded by a deep cut in her right leg. Despite the wound did not look too bad initially, a terrible infection spread over her body, and Esther’s health worsened within the week. Alas, the wise shaman and healer of the village, Thrall, was on a journey to tend to sick people in other villages in those days, and nowhere to be found. The desperate attempts of Clio and her Father, Julio, to track down Thrall in the winter snows only caused Clio to be struck by a violent and delirious fever. By the time she got conscious again, her mother was gone.
Clio was struck by despair, but nothing compared to Julio, who was utterly broken by the loss of his wife and only love of his life. Depressed, he fell into complete apathy and callousness. He started drinking heavily, staying away from home all night long. The few moments he was around, he could show no sign of affection or care towards his daughter. He had left her, just like her mother had before. Cliomenica found herself crying rivers of tears in her never ending loneliness, wishing only for that gesture of love that her father would never share with her. She managed somehow to survive taking care alone of her house, a house now empty of everything but of the sobbing of a young girl.
When her uncle Josefold, worried for her survival, had pity and decided to take the child under his care, he was afraid Julio would not willingly part himself from the daughter. He was wrong: ‘’Take her.’’ replied Julio ‘’I can’t stand to see Clio anymore. Her face reminds me so much of my beloved Esther, I am about to cry every time I look at her. I can’t even watch my daughter in her eyes… take her away from me, Josef!’’. And so the brother did.
Josefold was a just, but rough man, and, a cooper of profession, he was far from being rich. Clio tried to fit in her new foster family, willing to help at the best of her few skills. But she could not shrug off the feeling that they despised her, for she was half a stranger eating their own food at their own table. Especially her relationship with her cousins was difficult: the kid twins Terrymold and Barbiesold were always playing pranks on Clio, and the second born girl Marigold envied her, for what reason Clio never understood. In that family Cliomenica grew to her teenage years, of a delicate health, and physically and emotively weak, which did not win her many friends in Hommlet.
But one day…
…a mysterious new guest started inhabiting Josefold’s house. A man, coming from a distant town, carrying a goose. The day he appeared he was in terrible shape, and uncle Josef decided to offer him aid. As the man, whose name was Guildestern, recovered from his past mishaps, they learnt he was a cheerful, amicable person, willing and more than capable to help Josefold at the workshop. He soon became a second regular guest in Josefold’s house, together with Rosencrantz, his goose (actually a gander), who followed him practically everywhere. Guildestern could relate very easily with every member of the family, including Clio.
Oh, and he had stories! Beautiful stories of adventures, and prowess, and magic; and such a good storyteller Guildestern was! Stories of might and bravery, which enchanted Clio and gave her comfort in the rough moments. ‘’My dear girl, I reckon you love stories of heroes and deeds, do you not? Would you maybe like to be a hero yourself?’’ bragged once Guildestern, slyly grinning at her. ‘’I… I would love it’‘, Clio answered trembling,’‘but I am weak and feeble and clumsy. How could I ever be a hero?’‘. Guildestern laughed soundly: ’’Ha ha! Clio, it is not strength nor wits which make a hero. It is what lies in your heart, it is a matter of passion, drive, courage!‘’. ’’Courage you say?‘’ Clio shook her head, ’’but I lack courage as well. I am just a wimpy, whiny, scared girl who knows only how to cry.‘’ Her eyes filled with tears once again.
’’Child, you are very mistaken,‘’ Guildestern rubbed her head while smiling,’‘your only fear is to be alone, is it not? I watched you. You have more compassion, and care, and mercy than anybody else I have ever known. That alone is worth a thousandfold what other people are capable of. You just need to have faith in yourself.’’
Cliomenica was astonished, half lost and half flattered by that speech: ‘’I… I… faith?!’‘. Once again Guildestern smiled: ’’I know exactly what you need.‘’, he claimed after thinking for a brief moment, ’’You know Rosencrantz, my Goose, yes? Let me tell you a secret: It’s a magical goose.‘’, he whispered to Clio’s ear, ‘’From now on, carry always Rosencrantz with you. He will give you the courage you need, the bravery to overcome your fears. It is his magical power, you will see how well it works!’’
The girl, of course, did not believe on the spot that the goose could have magical properties, she was not a little kid anymore. Nevertheless, she did what Guildestern asked of her, and so she started to team up with Rosencrantz more often than not. To her wonder, the magic trick must have kicked in somehow, because she started feeling more confident, serene, and socially adept than she ever felt before. She started hanging out with the young people of Hommlet who were treated as ‘different’, as ‘weird’. Alric was considered dumb by everyone, and they made fun of Macario because he was fat, but Clio really appreciated the company of both. She had great time together with Drugo, son of the one and only halfling family in town, and with Braenn, which many considered mad as a goat since she could speak with dead people. Gildorel was probably the only left-handed elf in the world, and Magellan had unpopular sexual tendencies, but Clio cared for none of those matters, while they soon became good friends with her as well. Clio even liked the company of ‘Firecracker’ Nils, a reckless juggler who loved fireworks, and was regarded by everybody as ‘totally nuts’.
At last, Cliomenica was no longer alone. All in all, her life was actually going for the better…
until THAT happened.
The screams came at night; one fateful night during the autumn of the great cold. ‘’The town granary! The granary is burning!!’’, was the message. Then it was panic and horror, while the townsfolk struggled to put out the flames by any means necessary, sadly, in vain. People cried at that time, or laughed hysterically. But everyone in Hommlet was present, staring powerless at that majestic show of destruction… Almost everyone. Clio realized that she could not spot Guildestern in the mob. Where was he?
She ran home, beyond the barn, and it was there that she met him. Guildestern had already packed his few things and was on his way to the dark woods. ‘’He is going to leave me’‘, thought Cliomenica in an instant, ’’just like mother… just like father.‘’ She rushed to hug him, to stop him ’’Don’t leave!‘’, she cried, ’’Please stay! I… I am not crying, I am… I will be brave tomorrow. Please, let me beg you to stay, Guildestern!‘’. Then she saw that the old man was crying as well: ’’Gods know that I wish to stay, Clio.‘’ he replied, ’’I would never leave you and your family if I could choose. But after what happened tonight, I have to. If I stayed I would put you all in great danger.‘’ Clio was puzzled: ’’Danger?’’ she asked.
Guildestern went on one knee to look straight in her eyes. ‘’Clio, you might think you know me. But I am actually a bad person.’’ he confessed, ‘’Before coming to Hommlet, I killed a person. I killed a man of the king.’’
Cliomenica shook her head, defiant: ‘’You… you couldn’t! That is not true!‘’. ’’It’s true, child. I had to, or else my own son would have died.‘’ He paused, in reminiscence, then he went on: ’’I abandoned my family so that they would not be pursued by the king’s men. I had to escape where they could not find me, like a small village, like Hommlet. I was hurt and hungry, and your uncle gave me a new life. But after this event, people will start asking questions, they will discover that I am an outlaw: your whole family will pay for it in the end. That is why I have to leave, again. Do you understand, girl?‘’.
Tears were flowing plentiful across her cheeks,’‘I… I understand.’’ she answered clenching her teeth, her fingernails sinking deep in her palms. ‘’Have a good j… journey. Thanks for everything you did for me…’‘, she paused, ’’Rosencrantz…‘’
’’Keep him, Please. He has become you shadow and your strength. Remember me when you look at him.‘’ ’’Yes, I will.‘’ said Clio rebuking her tears, as the man walked away from her.
’’Guildestern!‘’, She shouted, one last time, ’’Look at me! am I brave?‘’. She rubbed her tears away from her face.
’’The bravest!‘’ Shouted back Guildestern. Clio could see his smile from the distance ’’You really understood the meaning of courage, Cliomenica. Goodbye.’’
But the bad news were not over yet. As the village grew restless for having no food stashed to survive the impending winter, panic and violence spread once more. The townsfolk took little time to blame Firecracker Nils for the arson. He was dragged on the village square to be hung. ‘’Noooo!’‘, screamed Clio, ’’It wasn’t him! He is my friend. Please, spare him!‘’. Nothing she said could move the village to compassion, and by the end of the day his lifeless body was hanging from the gallows. Clio realized once again how weak she was, unable to stop people from leaving her. ’’No more!‘’ she swore ’’Nobody else has to die! No-one will leave me ever again!‘’.
These were her precise thoughts when she volunteered for the mission in Chief’s Tomb: she had to prevent more deaths, she had to save her friends from the denizens of that dungeon, at all costs.
Yet, when she found herself in the bed several days later, after waking up from a mental enchantment, she discovered that she could not save everyone. Among those who did not make it, Magellan and Marigold were the closest to her. ‘’Uncle Josefold… I… I am so, so sorry’‘, she cried while still sweating cold in the bed, ’’I am sorry that I survived and your daughter didn’t. I tried to save her. I just… I was weak.‘’ It was the first time she saw Josef crying ’’Clio, please don’t be sorry!‘’ he tried to smile, ’’I am so happy that you made it back. I love you like you were my own daughter.‘’ They hugged for a moment which seemed so long then. ’’Quaack!’’, said Rosencrantz.
As Clio’s health recovered, in the following weeks, so did her resolution. She acknowledged that, in order to protect the people she cared for, courage alone was not enough. She needed the strength and the willpower to keep them safe. That is why she and Rosencrantz joined the traveling group for Cillamar, where she could be initiated in the holy mysteries of the righteous Goddess Justitia. With the power infused by the goddess, she would be able to provide healing, comfort, and mercy to those in need. And so her journey begins…