Truth be told, I did not know how to start this. I know I’m supposed to write about who I was so that I can figure out who I am. The problem is that all of this information in the beginning comes to me second-hand. This takes place when I was only three years old, and I barely remember any of it. There are times when I see glimpses of that night, but thankfully Mother Riesz was willing to fill in the gaps. She never liked talking about this night for some reason. I’m glad she eventually told me. A lot of bad happened this night, but a lot of good did, too.
She was awake in her room in the Temple of the Morninglord. The hour was exceedingly late, as usual. Ever since her spouse died some thirty years ago, she always had trouble sleeping. I personally blame the other Dawnbringers in the temple. Mother’s quarters were much closer to the front gates of the temple than anyone else’s, so when the gates pounded just after two bells, she knew she’d be the only one who would answer.
“What time is it?” she asked, out loud and to no one else in her quiet room. Riesz had heard the pounding on the door down the hall from her room. The noise echoed endlessly in the stone walls of the temple just as she had finally laid down to rest. It had been a very busy day and she was looking forward to finally sleeping. She knew that, because of the proximity of her quarters to the front gate, the other Dawnbringers would ignore the summons, rudely but correctly assuming she would answer.
She quickly raised herself out of bed and grabbed the sigil of the Morninglord laying on her bedside table. She muttered a small incantation and pointed to the lantern on the wall, igniting the small round stone in the center and casting a soft white glow of light in the darkened chambers. Riesz slipped on her sandals and grabbed the red cleric robes from the wall peg. Pulling the robes on was difficult tonight. For one, she had been working on sewing projects all day long, as usual, so her fingers and wrists were very tired. It was also difficult because of her age. As she always liked to joke with us, dragonborn don’t live quite as old as many others, and being hunched over a loom for hours on end was very taxing to her old body. As she pulled the robes over her head, she thought it might be wise to cover her face, too. She was the only dragonborn in the temple, let alone the town just outside. Anyone who knocked on the temple doors this late would probably need help. They didn’t need a fright from her white-scaled face and pointed fangs, too.
In a moment, she sped down the hallway with her usual silver scarf wrapped around her face. The distance from her quarters to the front gate was not long, but she did not like keeping people waiting. She told me once of a time when someone knocked on the door this late, Mother found a dwarf with a grievous injury to his left arm. He had been bleeding profusely and, when Mother finally answered the door, he was in a very sour mood. The taverns were likely still open this late, she thought, and was wondering if that foolish dwarf had returned.
“Just a moment!” she called out as she approached the heavy wooden doors. “I am here! May the Morninglord light your path.” She twisted the lock and pulled on the door. It swung open, creaking loudly.
There I was: a small child, wearing scraps for clothing and crying in the cold, standing there alone. Riesz was a very caring and nurturing person. I always thought she would have made a good mother. She probably should have looked around to see if anyone else was there with me, but instead she lunged forward and scooped me up in her arms. She said that I was remarkably light for my age at the time.
There are a pair of torches next to the front gates of our temple, both enchanted to give continual light perpetually. She held me next to one to see me better and was surprised at what she saw. As you know, I have a shape just like any other human, elf, or otherwise, but the look of me was and is strange. My hair was a mess of white tangles, my skin was a pale gray color, and the most unsettling parts of me were my silver and white eyes. I am sure at the time they were streaming tears.
Riesz pulled her gaze away from me and looked out into the cold. There was no one else round. She saw two town guards, armed with bucklers and long spears, walking towards the temple. They must have heard me crying, but they stopped their approach when Riesz picked me up.
“What are you, little one?” she asked, almost more to herself than to me. I stopped crying for only a moment, regarding Riesz. But that moment passed, and I began wriggling in her arms again, sobbing and incomprehensible. “No, don’t be afraid,” she soothed. “I’m sorry, child. I did not mean to scare you or hurt your feelings. I’ve never met anyone quite like you.”
At this point, I just collapsed into her arms, burying my face in her red robes.
“That’s it, that’s it. Calm down,” she soothed again, patting my back. “Come with me. I think there is some leftover soup you might like.”
Years later when Mother told me this story, she made sure to mention that I did not stop crying for a very long time. She carried me through the adorned halls of the temple, worried that my weeping would awaken everyone, including those who were genuinely sleeping. The elves in the temple were they that would be most bothered by the din. Their rest wasn’t really sleep so much as a hypnotic state. They would be surly the next day if disturbed. A few dormitory doors opened slightly as Riesz moved towards the mess hall. These doors closed again immediately, ignoring Mother and I.
The temple’s mess hall was very modest and terribly cold when Riesz brought me in. As she walked by the hearth, I distinctly recall seeing her perform magic for the first time. Even at that young age, I remember I was awestruck when she pulled out a simple black wand from her robe’s inner pocket and flicked the fire in the hearth to life. A warmth spread from the hearth immediately, distracting me long enough to finally stop crying. Riesz set me down at a table and removed her robes and scarf, wrapping them around me instead.
This was my first time seeing a dragonborn, I am sure of it. One of my earliest memories I have (apart from seeing my mother cast a candle-igniting spell with a wand) is seeing her for the first time. Her white and gray scales glistened in the light from the hearth. She was already very advanced in age, even so long ago, and the scaled skin of her face was showing it. I also can acutely remember the kindness in her eyes. Dragonborn don’t smile in the same way that we do. They smile with their eyes. It was enough to stop the tears. I couldn’t help but stare at her. Riesz just smiled at me and said, “I hope potato and lentil soup is okay.”
She placed a black pot over the fire and began heating the soup. She brought out a few slices of bread and a bit of sugar and butter. While I began munching, two people came into the mess hall behind us. I never got their names. They moved away before I could speak the common tongue. They were an elf woman and a human man, both Dawnbringers. They had begun whispering to each other while Riesz poured the soup into a bowl for me.
“What is it?” asked the elf woman.
“It,” snapped Riesz, annoyed at the question, “is a child.”
The man scoffed. “We know that. But it’s obviously not a human or dwarf. Is it a drow?”
The elf woman pointed at my ears. “No, look,” she said. “The ears are wrong. Is it half-elven? Maybe its father was a drow.”
“The skin is all wrong,” replied the man. “I knew a half-drow years ago. The skin was much darker than this. Look how peculiar it is! The eyes are so-”
“Knock it off,” hissed Riesz, trying to keep her voice down. I just kept eating. “It’s just a child. Let-”
She paused. She had meant to say ‘let him eat’ but found identifying my gender was difficult. I did not necessarily look like a boy. But then, human children had very few distinguishing physical characteristics at that age while clothed. I looked neither male nor female.
A loud thud startled me and the Dawnbringers as a door on the other end of the mess hall flew open, slamming into the wall with unnecessary force. A tall elf with long braided hair strode into the room. A gold and copper circlet was on his head, shimmering in the light of the hearth, matching the gold embroidery on his white seraph-skin robes. While the other clerics had quickly thrown on their robes and vestments, the High Priest was dressed as immaculate as ever.
“What is the meaning of this?” he barked, not at all careful to keep his voice down. “What is this thing doing in my temple?”
“Sel Mara,” replied Reisz, careful to speak elvish instead of the common tongue, hoping I would not understand. “It is an orphan, left at our doorstep. I-”
“It is a changeling,” the High Priest interrupted, snarling and continuing to speak common. “Shapeshifters, liars, thieves. And you, Etriel Riesz, brought one of them into our midst?”
A changeling! Riesz knew of the changelings, of course. Everyone had heard the stories told in taverns late at night to scare women into sharing a bed with strange folk. Changelings could alter their skin, hair, and even their bones and organs to become anyone they wanted. They could even mask their voice to perfectly mimic anything you could say, even if they heard you speak only a few short sentences. As such, we changelings are outcasts of society, often and accurately labeled spies or thieves. We can hide in plain sight, wearing the identity of your friend, lover, or even your spouse as a mask. You wouldn’t suspect a thing. The person you thought was your brother could cut your throat before they ever felt the sting of betrayal.
Thinking on this, Riesz suddenly realized why she did not know if I was a boy or girl. I am a changeling, and as such, I was both and neither at the same time. She looked at me while I sloppily ate soup, though I nervously watched the Dawnbringers. She said I was especially fearful of the loud High Priest, and rightly so. He was always so hot-tempered. Riesz thought it a mercy that I did not appear to be comprehending anything in the conversation.
“Kill it,” commanded the High Priest. “Consider it a service to the Morninglord and the people we serve.”
Riesz and the other Dawnbringers were shocked. The three of them voiced their displeasure immediately. “We cannot kill it!” declared Riesz. “Sel Mara, it is only a child! What harm-”
“What harm?” boomed the High Priest. “Changelings breed changelings, Riesz. If the offspring of a changeling is here, then the parent must be nearby. For all I know, one of you could be the parent. Even now, any of you could be readying a poisoned dagger, eager to strike me down and rob us all!”
The Dawnbringers looked at each other nervously, shifting on their feet.
“That is preposterous,” objected Riesz. She slid a cup of water to me and said as calmly as she could, “No one came in the door after I brought the child in. I locked it behind us.” The elf woman and human man eyed her suspiciously. “Cast a spell if you want,” she said. “I am telling the truth, if that is what you’re after. But either way, High Priest, we are not killing a child.”
“Always aid,” agreed the elf woman. “It is a tenet of faith.”
The High Priest glared. “Then cast it out. Put it back outside. Let its sire claim it. The creatures of darkness have no place in the temple of the god of light.”
“That would be the same as killing it outright,” said the human man. “It is very cold tonight. If the child was left on our doorstep, the parent must be long gone already.”
“It’s an infant,” pleaded Riesz. She was happy to have defenders for me. They looked down at me. Much of the soup was on my ragged, filthy clothes. Tears were welling up in my eyes again. Riesz picked me up. This time, I had raised my small arms towards her, wanting to be held.
The High Priest relented. “Do as you will. Put it in the orphanage or give it a blanket and stuff it in the courtyard. I care not. But it is your responsibility now, Riesz. If that thing sets a single toe out of line, I will end it myself.” With that, he spun on his heel and stormed out.
Riesz held my hand as we walked through the halls of the temple side by side. The halls were well-lit during all times of the day in honor of the sun and the Morninglord. But this section of the temple wouldn’t be, at least not at this time of day. Around the dormitories, one could always find a magically enchanted torch. The hall to the bath house, unfortunately, was dark. I squeezed Riesz’s hand when we turned the corner towards this hallway and stopped moving, except for a tremble in my legs.
“I don’t like the dark either,” said Riesz, squeezing my hand in return. “But fear not the night. A little magic can fix this.”
She pulled from her pocket a small silver sigil. It was a perfectly round disc with etching depicting rays of sunlight over a vast field – the symbol of the Morninglord. The sigil glowed with a soft yellow light as Riesz touched it to an unlit torch. It immediately glowed with the same soft light, extending brightness to all parts of the hallway. The shadows fled and were replaced with brilliance.
“That’s better,” said Riesz, cheerfully. She plucked the torch from the scone and handed it to me. I held it high above my head while we walked, though I seem to recall still being very scared to be in a slightly-less-dark hallway with a strange woman shaped like a fearsome dragon. Riesz noticed my continued apprehension and began talking, calming and distracting me.
“This is the temple of the Morninglord,” she explained. “He is the god of light, life, and fire, and is the protector of our lands. Have you heard of Him? Or of us?”
I didn’t respond. In fact, I made no indication that I understood anything she was saying. Riesz actually wondered if I were mute or could not speak the common tongue. But she continued talking anyway, figuring that silence in a dark hallway would frighten me.
“The temple is usually more well-lit than it is right now,” she continued, waving her hand around in the light of the torch. “There are spells to make torches lit forever, but they’re expensive to cast and we’re very modest here. There are more Dawnbringers in the temple, priests and priestesses like me. Around this time of year, many of them are traveling. We perform service missions for the people of Ylisse. It’s mostly teaching people things we know. A lot of what we do is performing ceremonies, like marriages or funerals. My days of service missions are gone now, old as I am. I used to teach needlework, cooking, or speaking vs’shtak.” I looked up at her when she said this. She smiled at me again. “Funny word, isn’t it? It’s dragon-speak, or draconic.”
We turned another corner and came to the small wooden door of the bath house. According to Mother, I was absolutely filthy and she felt bad for me. She couldn’t take me to the orphanage like this. I had started to blink in weariness while we walked, and she had to keep me awake just a little while longer.
The bath house was as dark as the halls, but my torch lit it well enough. There were three large pools in the center of the room with a fire pit underneath each one, accessible by a stone compartment below. The fire pits were used to heat rocks that would be added to the pool to warm the water. Riesz lit the fire of the nearest pool before walking to the back of the room and pulling linens, towels, soap, and shampoo from a supply shelf.
Riesz had me sit down on one of the towels and take off my clothes. In just a moment, I was in the pool, splashing in the water, happy but sleepy. As she suspected, my gender was ambiguous. Without going into too many details, my true form is more boyish than anything, but I have traits of females, too. She said it was my long eyelashes in particular. It wasn’t important though, thought Riesz. What was important was cleaning me up and finding me a place to sleep for the night.
She handed me a bar of soap and pantomimed scrubbing it on my body, and was immediately surprised by how much dirt and grime came off my pale skin. But soon, as children are wont to do, my skin was soon covered by an absurd amount of bubbles as I found the soap amusing. It might have been a happy memory for Riesz had she not considered that I had probably never experienced a bar of soap before in my life.
Seeing me distracted by the soap bubbles, Riesz began washing my hair. She poured shampoo on my head and began rubbing it into my scalp. “No, don’t look at it,” she instructed. “It needs to be kept out of your eyes. Play with your bubbles, child.” As she lathered the shampoo into my hair, she found a few dark shapes crawling between the hairs. “Fleas! You poor thing! But the shampoo will take care-”
She stopped. As her clawed fingers moved through my hair, she noticed strange markings on my neck. They had been hidden by my overly long white hair, but now were as plain as day: a deep, black marking, not unlike a tattoo. It was a word written in unskilled draconic letters, but it wasn’t a word in draconic.
“Leef,” said Riesz, reading the word out loud.
I stopped playing with the soap and turned to her, a questioning look on my face.
“Leef?” she repeated.
I gawked at her, astonished. I wish I remembered this moment. Mother said I looked very appalled. I tried to open my mouth to speak, but stopped before any sounds escaped.
Riesz wondered if I could understand her. She remembered saying vs’shtak in the hallway and noticed I looked at her when she did so. “Is your name Leef?” she asked. But I did not respond. I just continued to stare, cocking my head to the side. Riesz thought about the draconic word on my neck and decided to ask again, but this time in draconic. “Leef ui dont ominak?”
“Axun,” I replied, pointing to my chest. Yes.
“Petrans’swin ekess tafiaf wux’ii, Leef,” said Riesz, smiling. It’s an honor to meet you, Leef.
I smiled faintly, but the smile faded immediately, replaced by a frown and tears again. “Svaklar ui opsola’ii? Si tuor opsola’ii!” I cried. Where is daddy? I want daddy!
This time, a tear came to Riesz’s eye. I must have looked helpless. She responded in draconic, “It will be okay, Leef. I will take care of you until your father returns.”
I was clean and free of fleas after nearly an hour of scrubbing. Riesz kept talking to me the entire time about all sorts of subjects, but I stayed silent. I was starting to get very sleepy by the end, exhausted from the emotional turmoil of the night. Pleased with her work, Riesz wrapped me in some linens, put on me some incredibly soft stockings, and carried me back through the hallways and out into the courtyard. The air was very cool and the sun would not rise for a couple more hours yet. Past the courtyard was the entrance back to the main halls of the temple and Riesz’s dormitory.
The temple of the Morninglord kept a small orphanage for disadvantaged children in Ylisse. Only a few children were in the temple at any given time. Most ended up claimed by distant relatives. Those that stayed often became temple initiates and later Dawnbringers as they took vows to the Morninglord and became permanent residents of the temple. Such was a good life for an orphan. Riesz had thought to take me to the orphanage, a small stone building beyond the courtyard, but decided against it. It would awaken the other children. Tomorrow would be better, especially after I had some rest.
I was asleep in her arms when we came to Riesz’s quarters. She tried to lay me down gently in her own bed, but I woke up anyway, confused and scared. Riesz gently pulled a warm quilt over me. “You need to sleep,” she said, speaking draconic again. “You can sleep here in my bed tonight. I’ll take the chair. Tomorrow I will find you your own bed. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
I nodded and yawned. “Will daddy be here tomorrow?”
“Maybe,” she replied, though she was certain my opsola was already long gone. Most of the orphans that came to our temple were here because something terrible happened to their families. On most occasions, they were just abandoned like me. “Until then, you’ll be safe and warm in our temple. Now, take off those stockings.”
“But you just gave them to me,” I complained.
“Yes, I did, and they’re yours now. But this quilt is very nice and your feet might get too warm. Do you want warm or cool feet?”
“Cool feet,” I decided, reaching down and pulling off the stockings. Riesz placed them on the bedside table, and I was pleased to know they were close. They were mine, after all. I looked around the room, nervously.
“Is everything alright?” she asked me.
I said something too quiet for her to hear, so Riesz made me repeat it. “Too dark,” I said in a hushed voice. She could see me trembling.
“Yes, it is very dark,” she replied. Riesz pulled out the wand and tapped it onto a candle. It sparked to life, covering me in its pleasant glow. I must have immediately looked relieved. Riesz smiled. “You’re very tired, aren’t you? It’s time for sleep. I’ll wake you in a few hours when the sun rises.”
“Yes, we watch the sunrise here. It is important. It means a new day is upon us and good things will happen.”
“I want daddy,” I moaned.
“I know, Leef,” she replied, holding my hand. “Try to get some rest and have pleasant dreams. The Morninglord will watch over you here. There is always another dawn.”