Chapter I: Blood Moon

Our story begins with ribbons of grey cloud gliding quickly across an Autumn evening above a small village named ToadChapel.

It was the kind of village that bigger towns would call names. So they called it ToadChapel. The unimaginative locals mostly didn’t call it anything at all, since few of them had ever travelled more than a day or so from their homes. Where else would they talk about?

ToadChapel was home to all sorts of people. Dwarves and humans lived there, mostly, but elves, halflings, and gnomes lived or traveled among them. Still stranger beings were also not unknown in the village. This unusual mix of folk usually lived together peacefully, since the community had just been, well, slowly cobbled together over time out of many people from many places. No one had ever really settled ToadChapel, it had merely drifted together many generations ago. All its peoples had brought their own traditions, and many of them still survived in some form or another. Since pretty much everyone’s ancestors came to ToadChapel from somewhere else, no one had ever thought to say it belonged to him.

Now two new strangers lived in ToadChapel. You could tell from the way they acted they were sister and brother. People in the village put their ages at about 10 and 6, but no one knew for sure.

One very wet, cold morning after a memorable Spring storm a goatherd on his way to the hillside to tend his goats found the two young human persons peacefully sleeping under an oak tree. Their clothes were badly torn, their cheeks were thin, their hair was caked thick with mud. They bore scratches on their faces and arms.

When the goatherd addressed them, both children spoke perfectly well, the boy perhaps even more than was usual, but they could provide no details about their identity, home, or former life.

The confused but kindly goatherd led the strange pair to the village center, where the wisest men on hand seized upon the Problem of the Two Children with much thought and more discussion.

While he waited for these venerable greybeards to decide what should be done, the goatherd fed the two children with the meal his wife had packed for him that morning. The hungry pair found wrapped carefully in a clean cloth tucked inside the goatherd’s beaten leather pouch a chewy hunk of bread with a beautiful bronze crust, a ball of fresh cheese from his flock, and flower-scented honeycomb, harvested months before, that had captured the essence of a long hot Summer.

A good while after the last dribbles of honey had been wiped from Gramm’s chin, the sages continued to debate what they ought to do with the young newcomers. Eventually the two were handed over to the care of a sensible and strong-willed dwarf woman named Ga-Ga, who seemed like the best choice. The children said goodbye to the goatherd, feeling very alone in this new place.

For many cycles of the seasonal moon, Ga-Ga tried tirelessly to discover who the children were and how they had come to ToadChapel. However, she had come no closer to an answer after more than half a year with the children living under her roof. But she began to love them anyway, and took great care for them, and resolved to raise them in the way she imagined human children ought to be raised. She began by pretending the two were a terrific burden to her.

Neither Mills nor Gramm displayed any knowledge of their lives before coming to ToadChapel, not even their names. Which is how they got those names, by picking new ones. The girl, who bore hair so pale it shone like polished elf metal, decided to be known to the world as Mills. Young Gramm chose the name of a proud warrior, about whom he knew next to nothing.

Nobody knew for sure if the children were a good thing or a bad thing for ToadChapel, so everyone kept an eye out. People around ToadChapel tend to be nosey. You would be too if you lived in a small, sleepy village in the middle of nowhere. So the rumormongers, talkative aunts, and topers down at the inn called them orphans of the storm, and mostly expected them to turn out bad.

Which brings us back to a fast deepening dark on an evening not too different from the one that delivered Mills and Gramm in its cold and rainy arms. On that former night a great moil of clouds had come suddenly flashing across the sky and rattling the rooftops of ToadChapel with deafening claps of thunder.

Above the children now hung an enormously full moon, high in the sky and brilliant as it shone out between the clouds in the cold air. In these final days of faltering warmth Ga-Ga and the two young ones she cared for were fixing their gently battered house as best they could before the cold of Winter put those efforts to the test.

Another brief day had passed, and Gramm hadn’t started the work he was supposed to have finished. Loose steps needed nailing, raw boards needed painting, and the roof needed to be patched. Gramm had spent his afternoon attempting to catch a chicken from a neighbor’s barnyard. What he intended to do with it is anyone’s guess.

Ga-Ga had directed Mills to clean and organize the room she shares with her little brother. The room was about as messy as you would expect two such young and curious persons to leave it. Though she had begun the day with good intentions of tackling the job, Mills sprinted off through the woods instead and spent the afternoon in the icy waters of a rivulet catching tiny colorful trout in her hands.

As the sun went down over a village that did not yet feel like home, the moon above them began to glow with a heavy red light, more like blood than fire.

~

As you can see in the image with which ToadChapel’s record begins, Evening was achieved by waving my hands in front of the light while I shot the picture on my cell phone. It seemed appropriate to leave the finger in.

ToadChapel is entirely handmade. I am a novice at most of the elements of this project.

Much of what you see is incomplete. The two story house behind Mills & Gramm, which is in fact Ga-Ga’s, is not a finished piece of scenery.

These imperfections and flaws are essential elements of ToadChapel. This project is an effort to give shape to the various intersections of my imagination.

Though the story will advance, I’ll continue to edit, augment, and extend earlier Chapters. Nothing in ToadChapel is ever perfect or fully defined.

I invite you to explore and engage the ideas, experiences, and creations from which ToadChapel springs.

The gaps between the slabs of earth are visible. Here is one way to build a road to ToadChapel. I hope it leads you there.

~

If you would like to follow the trail of Mills, Gramm, and Ga-Ga as they expose the scheming Herling, the story continues this way.

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