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“So, who is your king?” Alaric was back to asking question after question like he often did. He preferred to be the one asking as opposed to answering. It took the gazes of the other elves away from him.

“King?” snorted Nhed. He had his bony fingers prodding each other in that wistful way wise men do. “We do not need a king. Our last king died hundreds of years ago. We live in peace with one another and if there is an issue…well, we’ll deal with it accordingly.” The smile left his kind face at the last part of his remark.

“Ah, I see.” Alaric leaned back and then returned to his normal posture. He was sitting with his legs crossed on the ground across a large bonfire from Nhed. Thirty or so elves had gathered around behind them to listen in. There was a deep fascination amongst the elves ever since the word had spilled that a human had washed up—and word spread fast in a small place such as Brymeria.

“You ask me many questions. I do not learn much from you, yet. You say you were a lord where you are from?” Nhed squinted his eyes as he asked and the bags of skin under his eyes rose up to conceal half his olive eyes. Arokas snapped some more twigs and sticks in half, tossing them into the fire.

“Yes, Father Nhed. I was a lord of a land called Khudril. It is a part of the Nine Kingdoms of Osknia—where I am from.”

“Yes, yes. Osknia. I have read much of its old history. Who rules now?”

Alaric hesitated a second, remembering his last seen momements with King Eyowen. He had been in a panic. Surely, he had known something he shouldn’t have, but Alaric could hardly remember that conversation now. “Last on the throne was a King called Eyowen. He was a dear friend to me.”

“Are kings good men?” Nhed asked as if the answer was an obvious one.

“This one was, yes.” Alaric was happy to fulfill his inclination.

“Interesting…I have heard horrible things of your people and of your kings. My men were shocked to find you and your friend to be so amiable.” Alaric nodded his head, wondering to himself how the king had come to learn of that word, for he never used it himself.

“Yes, well, men can be kind at times. We have had our fair share of horrible men in our history. None so dark as these wights you speak of.” Alaric trailed away to invite Nhed into explanation, but he was hesitant to do so. Alaric could see it on his face. A few subtle heaves of breath came from the elven men who sat to listen. Most did not speak the One Tongue and so they had no idea what Nhed and Alaric spoke of. Yet, the word ‘wight’ had enough substance behind it to rattle a few squeamish elves. Two got up and retreated to their quarters after hearing the word.

“The wights are difficult to speak of because they have taken much from us. For some, they took their own lives before the wights could do it themselves. It is still a difficult topic to speak on amongst our people.”

Alaric nodded understandingly. He felt awkward now that the atmosphere felt tense. He thought of a change of subject, but none came to him. Mott was sitting beside him and he spoke for the first time that night.

“The day light seems quite brief in these lands,” Mott gestured his hands out before him to signify the camp around them.

“Day light lasts around three or four hours, depending on the weather. As soon as first light arrives our hunters search for food. That is how we found the both of you. The elves were riding one of our best whales—Challow.” Elves who sat listening gave toothy grins at the mention of Challow. Mott looked around to mimic their excitement, wanting to connect with the elves.

The discussion went on and on, late into the night. Alaric had taken to explaining how their land was first discovered by Skadjans and how they are brute savages with a small brain. He then told of the takeover by Osknians after the goblins drove them away. Nhed was deeply fascinated and chimed in whenever he could to demonstrate his knowledge he had gathered from old books and scrolls. The elves had slowly left the conversation until it was just Mott, Alaric, and Father Nhed. It was the third night in a row they had sat for a long conversation, and Alaric had begun to discuss with Mott as to how they might go about requesting ships and supplies to journey back—wherever that might be.

Mott and Alaric were back in their tent for the night, both were resting but neither slept.

“What do you think of this place?” asked Mott. He laid his hands under his head as a pillow and gazed up at the high ceiling of the tent.

“It has a magical feel to it. The bugs are exotic. The people are kind—I mean, the elves are kind.” Alaric paused a moment. “They almost feel…too kind.” He almost felt awkward saying it, lowering his voice in case there were any elves nearby their tent.

“I felt the same,” said Mott. “Maybe we should just escape on our own. Once everyone is sleeping, we just go.”

“To where would we go? We can’t just steal Challow and be on our way. We don’t even know how to ride the thing.”

“No,” replied Mott. “We go further inland. Find out what’s here. The wights can’t be all there is. They haven’t told us anything else except about the wights because they want to scare us. They don’t want us to leave.”

Alaric pondered Mott’s reasoning. Mott had not been his usual charming self lately. He had gotten his leg mostly healed, but other than that he had been a far cry from his usual self. It made sense though, given their surprise desolation onto new land. They might never see home again.

“We’re fine, Mott. Let’s give it a few more days. We haven’t been here long. I’m sure if we just ask, they’d let us leave. I don’t know about going inland though. The wights do seem ruthless.”

“What about them, though? We don’t know a thing about them besides the fact that they are pasty wight, tall, and live like eight hundred years. That’s all he’s told us, Alaric. They sound like tales more than anything.” Mott was on his side now, facing Alaric.

“This whole place seems like a tale, Mott. I didn’t even know this place existed I didn’t even know elves existed! Nhed has a book upon books about us. Doesn’t that ring a bell for you?”

“We don’t know that they’re actually elves, Alaric. They have dark hair and dark eyes, so what? They probably killed all the others that had a different look to them. Maybe we should be careful in that case and leave like I suggested.” Mott’s tone had grown whiny and irritated.

“Are you have a laugh? They do not seem like humans to me at all. Nhed is over two hundred years—”

“—so what? Age is a number; he could be lying—”

“—what about the medicine they used on you? How about the fact that they rescued us on the back of a giant whale? What about the tree that guards this land that is bigger than some mountains? Don’t you find it slightly odd that Nhed speaks perfectly in the One Tongue?” Alaric was flinging his arms around to drive home his point.

“Look, Alaric. All I’m saying is you are a lord. Or, were a lord. I’ve been at sea for many years and there are a lot of weird things out there. One thing I do know is that I’ve stared a goblin straight in the face. I’ve even spoken to one. If you’re going to tell me that this is incredulous, you must have lived your entire life behind castle walls. What a pity that is. You’d be wise to heed my advice here.” When Mott was done his face had gone red and his fists had been clenched. He laid himself back down and wrapped his furs around himself, turning to face away from Alaric. The two finally drifted off to sleep. Alaric slept with his flaming sword under his blankets, the hilt held firmly in his hand.

The elves had given Alaric and Mott fine robes of elven design in colors of moss green and baby blue. The days went by quickly, for the two were entranced by the beauty of Bymeria. The Great Tree, as they called it, was still an incredible sight to behold and the beautifully designed houses that bordered the lands were another sight to see. Shig had given the two tours around the gardens that rode along the hill behind the Great Tree. Shig made it clear they were never to go beyond the hills and wildlife that surrounded Bymeria on all sides.

“These borders keep us enclosed from the outside. The wights have not found us here yet, and it is the web-spinners who determine our fate above that keep it that way. The only safe way to leave is through the river and out into the sea to hunt for eel and great fish.” He had said with his thick accent and in more choppy utterances, but Alaric had understood what he said and so he relayed it as best he could to a confused Mott. On the whole, Mott was not well versed in the One Tongue—he had only ever been a fisherman and a peasant.

It had then come as a surprise to Alaric and Mott when they learned that they were to join Arokas and a band of hunting elves to rescue supper for the night. It was their fourth night in Brymeria and they had not left its borders. Arokas approached Alaric as he stood in a clearing in the middle of the tents and elven decorated houses.

“We go hunting. To kill. Father Nhed has chosen you. With us,” Arokas held out a longbow and a quiver in his hands.

“Oh, erm, I’ve never used one of these,” explained Alaric. Mott had shrunken behind him.

Arokas handed the bow and quiver to the elf beside him. Another elf handed Arokas a rusted sword with a dull point. Arokas handed it to Alaric, “Use this.” Alaric took the sword from Arokas, who return a smug smile. There was ambition in his eyes and Alaric knew that Arokas could sense his discomfort at the thought of hunting. There was animosity there, and Mott had sensed it too.

Arokas spoke again, dressed in light mail underneath a layer of boiled leather over his chest. He had fresh ink all over his arms and warrior’s paint under his eyes. His hair was not braided like it had been. Instead it hung in one large wave down his back. He looked ready for war—at least Alaric had thought so. “Leave soon. Be ready.”

The three elves that had approached then swiftly turned and walked to their stallions. They were all white, every one of them. The air was crisp, but it was beginning to warm up as the sun prepared its ascension. A wave of fog hung low along the ground, misting like ghosts. Alaric turned the sword around in his hand, testing its weight. It felt clunky and heavy, unlike the wooden swords he used to wave around at his brother. Mott had only been given a short sword. It was longer than a dagger, but its point was also dull.

Mott leaned in to whisper to Alaric. “We can’t stay much longer, Alaric. They expect us to hunt with them now. They no longer see us as visitors.” Mott grasped Alaric by the collar and yanked him closer to himself so that Alaric could smell his breath. “For all we know, they might mean to kill us as soon as we step outside this village. Let’s leave as soon as we can. Right when we follow them out and beyond, Alaric.”

“No,” replied Alaric. He didn’t say anything more but held his jaw firm and there was challenge in his eyes. Mott backed down, releasing his grip on Alaric’s collar.

“Then what is your plan, then?” relinquished Mott.

“To leave. Eventually. But not yet, there is much for us to learn. I get the sense that these elves need us, Mott. The wights seem—”

“—horrible?” Mott interjected. He dropped his gaze when he saw hurt in Alaric’s eyes.

“And what is it that you’ve lost, exactly? You were a poor fisherman turned smuggler, with no home, and only a few coins to get by. What exactly are you leaving behind?” Alaric’s voice was raised slightly above a whisper and a few elven men exiting their tents nearby peaked at the two men with intrigue. “I’ve left behind my lordship, my lands, my friends, my brothers…I’ve lost everything, and better yet, I think the entire kingdom was overthrown, Mott. The Skadjans!” Alaric’s face had softened but Mott held an even gaze. The two paused for a second.

They were distracted by the sound of horses being readied. Arokas and his elven hunting party were tossing their packs over their saddles and climbing atop their fine snow-white horses. Their hooves were bigger than Alaric had ever seen, and bushy fur covered the bottoms of their legs down to their hooves.

“You come?” called Arokas. Alaric nodded and made his way to the stables.

Arokas had the two humans mount slightly smaller mares. Their coats of white were dirtier than their own and they were much more skittish. Alaric was used to horseback from his time in Khudril, but he could tell Mott was not comfortbale. The mare could sense it as well, neighing loudly and trying to rear Mott off the horse at first. Eventually the mare settled down and the two humans followed their horses behind the trail of elves. There were about twenty in all.

“Always in packs of twenty, never less,” Father Nhed had said earlier that morning. “Ten keeps the wolves and the bears away. Twenty keeps the wights away. Well, most of them.” Alaric had grown uneasy at the last part, grinning sheepishly. He wished they would just go ahead and tell him what was so threatening about these ‘wights.’

The trail of men sat their mounts at a walking pace in pairs towards the Great Tree at the base of Brymeria. Alaric gazed up its trunk in awe, towering hundreds of feet high. The trunk had a small hole through its base in comparison to the tree itself, but the band of elves and two men could fit comfortably through it upon their horses. They push through a thicket of branches and vines at the other end of the tunnel and came out the other side.

Arokas led the line at the front. Alaric and Mott had brought up the rear but the two elves in front of them peeled off to fill in behind them. Elves spoke in their own tongue as they rode. The path took them through a thin forest. There was little brush and plants, mainly widely spaced trees that dwarfed in comparison to the Great Tree. Pine needles littered the forest floor even along the wide path.

The band of elves moved to a light trot now and Alaric spurred his horse on to follow their lead. Mott’s mare resisted at first but after hitting the stirrups a few times Mott had his horse on its way. The elves at the rear joked in elvish, but the two humans knew nothing of it—their ears mute to their words and the meaning.

After near an hour of riding, the woods had not changed. Arokas slowed the line at the front, holding out a hand to signal for quiet. He dismounted slowly, brandishing a long coil of silver rope from his pack that was slung across his horse. The rider beside him withdrew an arrow from his quiver. Alaric could not see what they were looking at from his place, but he could see the way the elves treaded so lightly that not even a mouse would hear their steps.

The rest of the elves dismounted except for the two behind Alaric and Mott. The began to form a circle around a creature that rested against a tree. Alaric leaned out of his saddle and his eyes found what they were hunting. A fox lay peacefully against the base of a tree. His little black nose was the only thing about him that was not orange except for the tip of his tail which gleamed a white as light as snow.

Arokas was prepared to toss the end of his rope around the fox’s neck when one of the horse snorted air from its nose, waking the fox. Its eyes popped open and its legs were already moving by the time the noose of Arokas’ rope wound about its neck. He yanked and the rope tightened. An arrow pierced its side and it cried out. The fox must have had friends nearby because a dozen other foxes from neighboring trees scuttled from their places and were gone in a flash. Their fur had blended so well into the orange pines on the ground that Alaric had not even noticed they were there.

A second arrow burrowed into the fox’s neck and it quit any escape attempts. The life left its body and Arokas had one of his elves scoop it up and secure it to his horse. They continued on, moving more quietly and cautiously now. Every couple of miles an elf would whistle lightly for pause but the animal would be too quick and dash away before any of the elves had time to grab an arrow from their quivers.

Alaric had hoped that he would not be called upon by Arokas, but he knew it was coming. He had glanced back at Alaric a couple of times before when an animal was sighted, but the creature would scurry away before Arokas could call upon Alaric. This time, he knew, there would be no escaping Arokas’ summoning.

Of all the things to be found in a deep sleep, it was a winter tiger that rested its head upon its paws in a small groove along the path. The tiger had seemed to think it was hidden well enough, but the leave that covered the small ditch had blown away from the wind and still he slept. Not even the hooves and the snorts from their horses had alerted the tiger. Arokas signaled for Alaric to approach the tiger. He dismounted, his hand going to his side where the scabbard sat along his waist. He walked to Arokas who stood, smiling.

“I capture. You kill,” he said.

Alaric just nodded, lightly pulling his dull iron from its scabbard. The weapon felt alien in his grip. It was oddly heavy, and he did not know whether he should use two hands or one, so he held it awkwardly in his left. Elves circled the ditch with the tiger and held their arrows knocked at the ready, in case things should go wrong.

Arokas made one final glance to Alaric, who gave an approving nod. He cast the rope down and tightened as it caught around the tiger’s neck. Its eyes jutted open and instantly its mouth bared its jagged canines. Saliva stretched from the jaw to its teeth and it roared in anger as the rope was yanked by Arokas. The elves back away as the tiger pounced from its ditch. He looked around, roaring at the nearest man. Alaric had held his ground with his sword pointed lamely to the ground in his hand. The tiger fixed its eyes on him, seeing the blade in his hand.

It roared and stalked low to the ground despite the rope’s grip on its neck. Its fur coat was silvery with black spots along its back. His paws were bigger than Alaric had imagined, and he gulped hard when the tiger bared its set of jagged teeth again.

He gestured for Arokas to shoot it. He smiled. He looked around and none of the elves returned his look.

“They mean for me to slay it,” Alaric whispered to himself, his lips hardly moving.

He held his sword out in front of him, tip first like he had always done as a child.

The tiger grew bored of waiting. Its hind legs sprung it forward and within half a second it was upon Alaric. The former lord of Khudril slashed his sword sideways, hoping to catch the beast across its face but it was far too wise for such an inexperienced attempt. Three arrows slammed into its side from all different directions, but, to Alaric’s horror, it did not slow the tiger one bit. Instead, it howled in fury and came at Alaric on all fours again. It lunged and pulled away, testing Alaric’s resolve and another four arrows pierced it again. Two on its back, two in the side again. The beast was huge and strong—and it came for Alaric for real this time. It lunged and Alaric saw his paws come high into the air and suddenly he was falling back onto his back. He landed with a thud and then came a whimper. Arokas had gotten behind the tiger and now he yanked it back aggressively, which had choked the tiger.

It found its feet again and by that point many of the elves had begun to yell instruction at Alaric, but he could not understand their language. The tiger was hurting and laying in pain. Alaric did what he assumed was expected. Put it out. End the tiger’s life. He approached cautiously with his dull sword. The iron was heavy enough to put a severe dent in the beast if he brought it down hard.

He was within a few feet of the tiger. It lay pitifully. The arrows had begun to ooze blood from where they had punctured the tiger’s fur. Alaric paused, glancing at Mott had appeared desperate for him to get it done with.

Alaric raised the sword above the tiger’s neck, whose eyes followed the blade glumly. It seemed to accept its fate. The human paused, hoping the tiger would somehow die before he had to sweep the blade down.

“I can’t,” he finally declared.

The elves whispered to each other, confused.

“Kill,” said Arokas. His voice was firm.

Alaric started to sheathe his sword and that was a mistake. The tiger roared to life, yanking the rope so hard that it slipped from Arokas’ grasp and knocked him to his butt. He lunged at Alaric who stumbled as he backed away. He was on his back now with his sword still in hand. The tiger loomed over him and prepared to gnaw into his face with his set of jagged canines.

An arrow whizzed by the tiger’s face, but it did not flinch. They say animals have a killer instinct, but Alaric learned humans must have it too. He had raised his sword in time and held the hilt on top of his chest so that as the tiger came down on him, its own belly impaled itself on Alaric’s blade.

The warmth of life left the tiger’s body and its dead weight fell upon Alaric. The elves were quick to move in, all too aware of the burden that a dead corpse has. The tiger was heaped off his body and laughs of relief echoed through the thinly marked forest. All laughed but Arokas—who set about tying up the tiger to lay him across the rear of his horse.

Mott approached Alaric with relief in his eyes. He gave Alaric a hard pat on the back, who stood beside his white mare in shock. He looked along the blade of his sword where it was stained by the tiger’s blood. His face was still pale, and his head was dizzy. An elf approached him and said something in elvish that Alaric did not understand. He nodded his head and the elf helped him mount.

They continued on with their hunt, but Alaric rode in quiet. They caught seven squirrels and a large bison. The squirrels were caught easily enough but it was not exciting for the elves were far tired of roast squirrel. Arokas had brough down the bison on his own. Strangling it with the rope, he then launched a spear into its neck which brought it down. The bison had been in a clearing, far from its herd. It had a limp which had meant the elves were lucky to be the first ones to see it. Prey in these parts were ravaged quickly by other beasts—beasts that hid away in the short hours of the day and then emerged only when the sun dropped beneath the horizon.

The hunting party soon returned and their elves waiting there for them to skin the the beats and the squirrels. They went about their work quickly, and then there were other elves waiting so that they could tie them up and hang them over a fire. The elves worked efficiently and quietly sprinkling spices and herbs over their food and making skins and fur coats out of the tiger’s fur.

Alaric figured Arokas must have exaggerated the tale of his kill because the elves all looked to him when he finished talking and cheered loudly. Arokas shot him a devilish grin when he had finished, and elves approached him to give him a pat on the back. Some even planted light kisses on his forehead which had made Alaric feel uncomfortable. Father Nhed emerged from his large tent with his two servant elves at his side. He hobbled on his old legs with his thick cane helping him along.

“I hear tales of your great slaying, Alaric. I hear you took down the tiger like a savage. The way Arokas tells it, you would have no problem slaying a hovel of wights!” Nhed’s talk in the One Tongue had become sharper each day that he spoke to Alaric.

“It was no easy task, I am sure. I think Arokas is generous in his telling of it,” suggested Alaric.

“Do not downplay your killing, Alaric. A snow tiger is among the fiercest creatures to be out during the day! We have lost two or three elven lives over the years at the paws of those beasts. And to slay it in such style—you must have been a mighty lord in those lands…erm, Osknia, is it?”

“Yes, father, indeed. I am no master swordsman, but I did often practice with a wooden sword against my brother. Nothing more than—”

“I know!” shouted Nhed. “We will have you spar one of our elves. The less experienced ones could use practice, you know. Some of them have never seen a wight, and it would be so very kind of you to give them some practice, you know? Take it easy on them though, we only have so much Paja Potion to seal those cuts.” Nhed gave an old cackled laugh that turned to a phlegm filled cough. He repeatedly knocked his hand on Alaric’s arm as he laughed.

Alaric did not affirm Nhed’s wishes, knowing full well he was in no position to be sparring and training elves. They had already appeared far better equipped than him with a bow and arrow and he dared not imagine their skill with a blade in their hand. They had a way of doing things that seemed efficient—graceful.

He watched the elves go about their work with the food. They skinned the squirrels smoothly in one cut. The furs and skins of the animals were fashioned beautifully with crafty hands and strong fingers.

One of the elves who finished the fur skin of the spotted snow tiger approached Alaric with a gift. He held out the skin that was meant to go over his head and sit on his shoulders like a fur. He bowed his head as he offered it and Alaric muttered his thanks. The elf returned an utterance of what he assumed to be gratitude in the elven tongue.

Alaric slipped it over his head and let it sit on his shoulders.

“It looks mighty fine upon your shoulders, friend.” Nhed admired the fur skin and smiled warmly at Alaric. All of Brymeria slowly gathered from their tents, hovels, and houses at the sound of the meat cooking. Some elves had taken out their instruments and began to sing in their native tongue. Alaric had not heard such a beautiful sound come from the mouths of men, but these were elves, he knew.

Tables and chairs were ushered out while Father Nhed filled Alaric’s ear. Alaric nodded and pretended to listen. His eyes were watching how efficient the elves were at preparing the meal. The worked with smiles on their faces and purpose with every step. By the end, the tables were spread symmetrically throughout the great clearing that was protected by the great canopy overhead offered as shade by the Great Tree. The last sunlight was already starting to fade and so candles were lit and placed along the long table. It was the longest table Alaric had ever seen, and there were four of them placed.

Lamps lined the borders of the four long tables. The lamp was made of glass which sat at the end of a stick. Bugs flew around busily inside those glasses, lighting their bodies with bright light. Mutton, bread, spices, garlic, onion, bison, venison, and various plants Alaric had never seen before we laid along the four tables neatly by the shorter elves—although they still stood proudly at six feet.

The elves with war markings and rings around their arms finished running stones along their sword’s edges and retired their sword belts. Other elves brought husks of corn, scores of wild fruits that ranged from green to violet and then to a deep crimson. The smell drifted through Alaric’s nose bringing a light smile to the corners of his mouth. Mott was smiling too, and his eyes began to hang heavy. The aroma was most soothing. Alaric felt his shoulders drop and his posture drop from its tense state.

The two enjoyed feasting amongst the elves and when it was all done, various groups of elves sprouted from each other to talk in hurried elvish voices. Alaric could hear Shig talking excitedly in his high-pitch voice to a group of warrior elves. They gave grunts of approval, some even chuckled. Father Nhed was speaking in a slow voice to a group of younger elves who may have only been fifty years old.

Alaric’s eyes scanned the clearing until his eyes rested upon someone he had not seen yet. It was the only female elf they had left. She was standing at the far end of the clearing as if she had only just entered from beyond Bymeria’s high hill borders. Two elvish men had taken to sharing japes and trying to entertain her, but Alaric watched as shot them cold glances and eventually the two gave up and awkwardly pretended to be involved in another conversation to their right.

Her eyes swept the scene, but they missed Alaric. There were too many bodies between them for her to have a clear shot at Alaric standing there, but he had his eyes locked on her and so he followed her with his eyes. For what reason, he did not know. She was pretty, but that was not what had taken his eyes to her. There was an exclusiveness about her that tugged at him. She was a rarity—the last of her kind. Alaric had seen in his short time in Brymeria how defensive elvish men would get. They protected her like a fine pearl—like a pirate’s captain to his chest of gold.

He felt almost abashed that he should follower her long, braided hair as she went. She was meant to be kept in solidarity at all costs. His alienness had been taken with ful precaution by the elves, and so Father Nhed had made it clear that until they got to know the two humans a little better, they were not to go near her.

He watched her now. She passed by a group of older elves—the ones who had cooked the meat over the fire. Their turned to prepare to speak with her but the elf just glided by, right toward an unsuspecting elf who stood by himself with a cup of ale to his mouth. He turned in surprise when she tapped him and the two exchanged light embraces. She still had hardly smiled, but the man elf had smiled a toothy grin.

The aroma still had Alaric in its blissful grip when a jolt sent Alaric stammering to his left. He sloshed ale over his elven boots that Nhed had given him.

“Fight scared, you do. Tomorrow, you will show.” Arokas whispered it into Alaric’s ear and he could smell the ale in his breath. Alaric only watched as Arokas continued on walking by, making his way over to where the she-elf talked sullenly to a cooking elf.

Mott nudged him, “Well don’t stare, Alaric. I don’t mean for them to think we’re onto her.”

“What?” said Alaric, snapping out of his trance.

“Don’t stare at the lady. They’ll think you mean her harm.”

“Why would I?” Alaric was still staring even now.

“I don’t know, Alaric, it’s just a suggestion!” shouted Mott. The crowds were starting to thin and elves began to bury themselves away again for the night.

“It’s just…” He trailed away, finally breaking his gaze at the elf.

Later that night, Alaric found himself summoned to Nhed’s tent. It was becoming a routine for an elven guard to enter his tent suddenly and place Nhed’s request before Alaric. It was often at night when his thoughts were off in Khudril. He would have to refocus his mind before he left his tent flaps.

It was blissful inside Nhed’s tent and an elf was blaming a gentle melody on an instrument fashioned from wood and leaves. The instrument was small but the man playing it was bulky. He sat in a chair far too small for him and so Alaric suppressed a grin as he passed to the far side of the tent where Father Nhed sat as usual.

“How are you, Alaric? Are you treated well?”

“Indeed, Father. Thank you for checking.”

“Please, just Nhed. I am a friend.”

“Ah,” said Alaric. His eyes darted busily around the grand tent. Statues of stone carved into various mammals and creatures lined the sides of the tent today.

“Did you enjoy your time with Arokas? He is a great hunter, and he spoke very highly of you indeed, Alaric.” Nhed had his hands clasped together as he leaned back in his tall chair.

“Yes, it was splendid. The land here is beautiful.” Alaric gave a head nod to honor the great elf before him. He could tell that Nhed had something else in mind he wanted to ask.

“Well, the reason I have summoned for you tonight is because I have an idea in mind that would make me ever so grateful. It would be a great honor to have you duel with another elf of my choice tomorrow before the great bonfire. It would do my heart a great joy to see that. I have always dreamed of two races binding their causes—and with the wights out there it would be rather smart if my elven warriors were to be able to emulate your skills, I would think.” He paused, looking rather perplexed. “I take this wouldn’t be too large a burden, would it?”

Alaric chewed his lower lip, grimacing. “I—”

“—think about it!” Shouted Nhed. He had thrown his hands up as if it were the only obvious option.

“Yes, I, uh, I shall then…” Alaric had half turned to prepare to go and then Nhed began again.

“I would also like to discuss this,” Nhed held up a sword and Alaric had to give his eyes a rub to ensure he was truly holding what he thought it was.

“Yes, that is my sword. Flamesword,” he called it. He had never named it before but now seemed as good a time as any.

“I hope you don’t mind me taking it from your quarters, but I had to marvel at the beauty of this one.” Nhed examined the sword intrigued like he had never seen a sword before.

“It has no scabbard, I lost it—”

“—problem solved.” Nhed had his servant elf grab a scabbard that had been beautifully made to fit the blade to the inch. It had swirling lines of green, blue, and gray along its side. “Those are the three threads of the web spinners up above. They determine the outcome of our lives.”

“Thank you, Nhed. I shall treasure this gift and hope to repay you someday.”

“Repay me? No. It is what we do, the elves. We make things and then we give things. It is how we find happiness, Alaric.”

Alaric was at a loss for words, so his mouth just gaped wide as he looked along the length of the scabbard.

“Just so you know, Alaric, I was serious about the offer. You duel tomorrow night, we’ll be watching. Every last one of us.” He gave a graceful smile and Alaric returned it although his mind was thinking a thousand different thoughts all at once. He sheathed the sword and placed it at his hip, returning to his tent for the night.

 

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Jon Wrathmoor

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