Write about a loss: something (or someone) that was part of your life, and isn’t any more.
The following is an excerpt from Book Two: Traipsing Light & Shadow. Ser (pronounced like “stair” without the t) is Lorata’s sun, and Kaj’Darem is the kingdom where Zarrek has been staying the past few months, attending an academy for the nobility of various realms.
Zarrek did not explain any further, but escorted the princess down past the edge of the garden. They exited the academy grounds through a door in a quiet part of the wall. Nobody else was there, leaving the two of them to enjoy the morning alone. From the wall, it was only a short walk to the shoreline of the lake. It, too, was abandoned so early in the morning.
They found the headmaster’s boat tied to a dock nearby, and Zarrek helped the princess step inside and take a seat, placing her basket behind her. He untied the rope and climbed in across from her, pushed away from the dock, and took up the oars to get them out of the shallows quickly. Ser shone gently down on the lake that morning, and even the animals were quiet. Zarrek rowed around a curve in the lake, so that they were out of view of much of the city, and then slowed down. One the shore were only trees, some tall as though they reached for the city, some low, bending gracefully over the lake. Many of them were weeping willows, their long branches draping like curtains over the water.
“Are those the willows that mark the burial places of Kaj’Darem’s long-lost dead?” Zarrek wondered aloud. Most parts of Manastaecies marked their burials with a willow tree, but he knew of a few that followed a different tradition.
“I suppose they must be,” the princess replied. “Kings of long ago? Knights who defended the kingdom? You seem lost in thought, Zarrek. Are you thinking so much about the dead?”
Zarrek shrugged. “It reminds me of my father is all. There is a river near his willow, high up in the mountains. The dragons go there to drink and catch fish, so they see his tree every day.”
“You were very fond of your father,” Eledrynne noted.
“That much is true. He taught me everything he could, while everyone else wanted only to limit what I learned.”
“The first time we spoke of him together, you began bleeding, Zarrek. The scars you have, were they not enacted upon you by him?”
“You were not supposed to see my scars,” he told her, sighing heavily.
“The truth is the truth, whether it is about Métius or Aamh or Jenh or Kearr.”
“What…?” Zarrek asked, raising a brow.
“Why would you not simply tell me the answer, Zarrek? What has been done to you that you cannot speak of it?”
It took Zarrek several long moments of thought before he settled on what he was going to say. “Do you know what Onsira is known for, Eledrynne? Why it is so famous throughout Manastaecies?”
“All kingdoms hold in their history a certain fame, my friend. But with Onsira, there is also glory. That is where your honored ancestor set free the goddess and became a great hero. I know enough to know that you are of the hero’s bloodline.”
“So you know that much. Imagine, then,” Zarrek told her as they floated leisurely past the line of willow trees, “the disgrace that a member of the royal bloodline would cause when he began taking the rites of the very god who had entrapped the goddess so long ago.”
“That is a curious thing to do, to be sure,” Eledrynne said. “But then, why do so at all?”
“My father gave all manner of reasons for it while I was growing up. Make peace with the Dark One and let the past be the past. Unify the alignments, unify the races. Onsira is too great with the power of Jenh to have anything to fear from Métius. Let the people be free to choose their way of worship.” Zarrek scoffed as stared out at the weeping willows. “My father said anything he could to get my mother to let him take me to the black temple. Eventually, he stopped trying to reason with her and took me despite what she said. I remember that things began to change between them around that time.”
Eledrynne listened closely as he spoke, and when he paused she said, “You sound as though you wish to say something more.”
I cannot share more than that, really, because it would give away certain facts about the plot of Book One–too many facts. The things that happen in Book One affect Zarrek very deeply, as I have probably mentioned before. His turbulent emotions take his back and forth across the continent on Manastaecies in Book Two, and he he eventually ends up in Kaj’Darem, where he meets the mysterious Princess Eledrynne. She speaks a different dialect of the Elvan language, which is why you might have noticed her speaking so strangely. She wants to understand Zarrek, although he is terribly secretive about his past and all the things that his father did.
The fact is, willow trees are like headstones on Loarata; they mark the burial place of the dead. Whenever an elf is buried, a willow sapling is planted above the body. That said, an orchard of weeping willows is the same thing as a cemetery. Those who cared about the deceased find ways to remember which tree represents their loved one, and go to visit it, sometimes even leaving offerings. Actually, Zarrek’s father’s willow tree is somewhat of an exception, but I cannot explain why without ruining the story.
Sir Loracaz III also has a story to tell involving a willow tree, but his is in Booth Three. I have yet to write it all down, but I have it planned out in my mind. It is a tragic story– but how could it not be if it involves a grave-marker? More precisely, when Loracaz III plants a willow tree in Dragon Valley, it marks the turning point of his emotions. The death that he is marking is the pivot event that changes him irrevocably.
There are songs about willows on Lorata. It is my personal favorite tree, and I would love to live somewhere that they grew in plenty. Why I decided that it should represent death… who knows? But I do know that I wanted Lorata to have a different way of marking a burial place than cairns or headstones–and urns and pyres did not seem like a good fit. I did not wants to copy A different world, a different practice. I decided.