Three

Three

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Gevin's first encounter with an Elven woman changes his life.

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3.

 

‘Vulnerant omnes, ultima necat’

 -- Latin proverb

 

 

The second story occurred fifteen years later.   Time had passed like a blur for him; he fell into the grim ritual of seasons of war as Corston expanded his Kingdom, followed by winters of feasting and almost juvenile merrymaking at various royal palaces and castles around Greidour.   As Knight Champion he was an essential part of the royal court and was expected to travel with the King wherever he went - except when he was leading his knights in various battles for his liege. 

Gevin operated with perfect efficiency, and in spite of his mixed Elven blood, was proclaimed by the king as a shining example of a perfect knight.   But inside, he felt anything but perfect and spent many sleepless hours mulling over the death of Lyssa and seeing the countless faces of those whom he killed on the field of battle.

Yet it didn’t stop him from taking up arms and obeying every command of his royal master.   In the fall and winters, when armies left the battlefield, there were jousts and grand tourneys and he awed everyone by remaining undefeated in all of them.   Oh, there were numerous challenges presented to him, for every young, hot-blooded knight wanted the glory of unhorsing the king’s knight champion.   But he defeated all with the same skill of arms that he manifested during war and his reputation grew.

This only made him more desirable to the young women of the royal court and for several years they all tried to get his attention.   He remained steadfast and politely rejected their advances and even refused to wear any sign of a woman’s affection into a joust, unlike the vast majority of his fellow knights.   Instead, the memory of young innocent Lyssa was carried in his mind as he struggled to uphold the vows of chivalry that he’d made.   Sadly, few knights took their own vows as seriously as he did.

Years passed and except for young women new to the royal court, the ladies gave up trying to turn his eye.    Queen Wesse gave the king a son two years after Lyssa’s death and he was given his father’s name.

As the young prince neared his thirteenth birthday, the king decided to bestow upon him some titles as was frequently the custom with heirs to the throne.  He chose the title ‘Duke of Albsidhe’ and it was a somewhat controversial choice.   For Albsidhe was the name of the former Elven kingdom directly north of Greidour that had been conquered in the early days of Corston I’s reign, by his brother, the Black Duke and his armies.   Most of the inhabitants of the small kingdom that hadn’t fled into the Albsylvia woods were either murdered by the Black Duke’s men or brought south as slaves.    Gevin’s mother, whom some said had been an Elven princess, had been forced to become the Black Duke’s mistress.

So when Gevin heard of the young prince’s new title and learned that with it would come a new dukedom that was made up of the entirety of the former kingdom of Albsidhe, it troubled him for several reasons.   One was due to his connection to it, through his deceased mother.    Another reason was that the few Elves that had been allowed to remain in their former county (after swearing their loyalty to King Corston) were said to still be holding deep burning grudges.    But as time neared for the prince’s official recognition as Duke of Albsidhe, there was no sign of any unrest and the garrison that guarded the king’s interest there reported everything mundane and peaceful.

A few days before the prince’s ceremony, a delegation arrived in Whiteberry to attend the royal event.    It was the governor of the region, who would remain at his position, but now serving as a representative of the new Duke.   Along with the ten people in the governor’s delegation was Tamcia.

He’d noticed her as soon as she came into the king’s presence at court.    Nine of the ten delegates were human men and women that King Corston had placed there after the kingdom was annexed, to assist the governor and form a system of new noble families to help stabilize the region.

Tamcia, however, was not a human but a Sylvan Elf, a representative from the Elven rangers sent here to pay homage to the new Duke who would be their master.  He’d seen a handful of Elves over the years, all of them men, either merchants or rangers that accompanied caravans travelling through the area, who would appear at King Corston’s court from time to time.   But never had he seen an Elven woman.

She was of the height of an average human woman, but of graceful, slender form.    She didn’t wear a dress but the clothing typical of an Elven ranger.  Shoulder length chestnut brown hair was pulled back under a soft cap and her facial features were slightly ‘sharper’ than a human woman’s face.    Her eyes were soft brown and lovely in a common, un-made up way and she was quite pretty at which to glance.

He had not been able to take his eyes off of her, for he’d wondered about what his mother had looked like, and here standing in a group before the king was an Elven woman who came from the same region.

Gevin had not heard anything that her travelling companions told the king, for he was too busy taking in Tamcia’s loveliness.  After a while she became aware that he was staring at her and so he would look away, blushing like a little kid, only to sneak glances when she was looking at something else.

Even when her party left the king’s presence, he could not help but think about her and he wondered if he could muster up enough courage to talk to her and perhaps gain knowledge of his mother’s Elven heritage.

The delegation returned the next morning for another audience with the king and again she was dressed in ranger’s clothing, though it seemed of a more festive color.    His heart raced as he watched her and when she’d turn to glance his way, he’d shyly turn away, always blushing like a silly love-sick school boy.   But once, just before her party left the king’s audience hall, their eyes met and a gentle smile briefly crossed her lips before she broke eye contact.

This electrified him and he sat there in a daze for the rest of the day thinking about how wonderful it would be just to talk with her and learn some more about what it was like to be an Elf.   A few of the other knights seated near him noticed his interest, as did some of the ladies of the court and unbeknownst to him, his fascination with the Elven girl was the gossip of the week.

That evening was the formal ceremony where Prince Corston -who would one day rule as Corston II- would be installed as Duke Albsidhe, with a grand banquet and dance to follow.    He was expected to attend functions such as this and he dressed in his best clothing, which was rather plain compared to the attire of the other knights.

Taking his place in the knights’ gallery, he watched for the Elven girl.   When the Albsidhe delegation arrived, he was thrilled to see that she wore an elegant blue dress and looked prettier than ever.    The hall was filled with people crowding in to see the prince receive the dukedom, so he lost sight of her when they disappeared into the section across from the knights’ gallery.

All through the ceremony he thought about her and tried to convince himself to find her and speak with her during the festivities that followed.   But there were too many dinner guests at the banquet which made it impossible to move around without weaving around tables and people.    So he sat there mulling over his misfortune during the lavish dinner.

Finally, the banquet ended and the tables and dishes were cleared away to make room for the dancing.   As the band began to play, he mustered up all of his courage and stood up and slipped out of the gallery, across the dance floor where couples were just gathering to waltz and up into the section where the delegates had been seated.   Then he caught sight of her, standing with the other Albsidhe delegates, chatting happily with some of the regular court nobles.    He dodged around people making their way down to the dance floor, his heart racing as he drew nearer to her.   His mouth dried out and he tried to remember what he intended to say to her as he approached, but when he was only ten feet away from her, young Duke Pentlerook, who’s duchy bordered Albsidhe, suddenly took her hand, she curtseyed merrily and he escorted her out onto the dance floor to waltz.  

There he’d stood, feeling awkward and very foolish with the other delegates from Albsidhe and Duke Pentlerook’s aids and staff giving him an amused look at his embarrassment and frustration, for it must have been clear why he was approaching.

Red faced, he’d turned and sullenly returned to his place in the knight’s gallery.   Most of the knights were dancing with ladies of the court, but a few that remained seemed to be almost snickering as he passed them.   Shame cloaked him like a blanket and he’d slumped down in his chair with his eyes closed, wishing the night would end.

 

He’d endured it for half an hour and finally decided to risk offending the king and prince by leaving.    He stood up and wove through the dancers and those standing around the fringes of those dancing, wanting nothing other than to put an end to this night.

But as he was passing through the grand arches to the foyer, a hand on his shoulder made him stop and glance around.

Lovely gentle brown eyes met his and he was very surprised to find the Elven girl, Tamcia, standing there smiling at him.

“Sir Knight, I have been informed that you were seeking a dance with me,” She said in a voice as equally as pretty as the girl.  

“Uh…well, um…I-I was, but…I-I didn’t want to intrude…” he stammered.

She reached out and took his hand.   Her soft warmth electrified him.

“I’m available to dance with you for the rest of the evening, if you’d like.”

“Um…yes, absolutely!” he replied, his face beet red.

“Wonderful!  I noticed you earlier in the knight’s gallery staring at me,” She told him as she pulled him back toward the dance floor.

“I-I’m sorry, m’lady, I didn’t mean…I-I mean, I’ve not seen, uh…a lady Elf before.”  He cringed on how stupid it sounded, and she looked around smiling brightly then reached up and touched the top of his slightly pointed ear.

“But you’re half-Elven if I’m not mistaken, and I am told you are the son of the Black Duke, so you’re mother was an Elf, wasn’t she?”

Again he flushed and nodded, “Yes, m’lady, but my mother…died…when I was still a baby, so I never knew her and was raised apart from her people.”

“Ah, that is too bad, for you missed out on a rich heritage,” she told him as they reached the dance floor, “I assume you learned the courtly art of dancing?”

“Yes, m’lady, though it has been some time since I have danced.”

“Then it is high time that you reacquaint yourself to it.”

“I will try to not shame myself, m’lady.”

She pulled him closer to her and slid her arm around his shoulder and waist, “You can call me Tamcia.”

“It’s a lovely name, I am Gevin,” he’d responded, feeling such exhilaration at the nearness of her graceful body that a delightful sense of joy began washing over him.   It was like a wonderful, perfect dream.

Tamcia glanced up at him, “I believe it is customary for the gentleman to put his arms around the lady, Gevin.   Don’t be scared, I promise I won’t bite.”

“Oh…sorry,”  He nervously complied and touching her silky gown was perfect bliss.   Then he took her hand and he was in pure heaven.    Thankfully, hated dancing lessons from years ago returned to him and a moment later they were waltzing across the floor in perfect unity.   It was like floating on a cloud, a magnificent time that he would never forget.   For the first time in his life he felt himself firmly grounded in the moment and not an outsider viewing life going on around him.    It passed, as all perfect times, much too quickly and he was shocked to find himself speaking freely and candidly with her.   She’s seemed fascinated in anything he had to say and he’d rambled on like a simpleton, overwhelmed with feminine attention.

“You’ve quite a story, Gevin,” She’d said as they danced closely, later in the evening, “I’m sure you’re quite a knight, like your father before you.”

He’d soured momentarily at the mention of the Black Duke, “No, not like him.”

Tamcia’s eyebrows had arched slightly and she’d seemed to scrutinize him closely for just an instant before saying, “You don’t favor the comparison?”

“No, I don’t.   I never met him, thank Yesh, but he was responsible for the death of my mother.”

Tamcia had stopped dancing at that moment and gently touched his cheek in sympathy, then leaned up and softly kissed that cheek. 

“I’m sorry, Gevin, so very sorry,” she’d whispered in his ear, “There are so many repercussions from the vile acts of others, and the echoes resound for a long, long time.”

He’d looked at her quizzingly, and for a lingering moment she’d held his gaze, her brown eyes filled with compassion.   But the moment passed, she shook her head slightly and a merry grin crept across her face as she slipped her hand around his waist and they resumed their slow dance.

“Tell me, Gevin, what do you think of the new duke?” She’d asked, and to his delight, he’d felt her head rest against his shoulder.   He smelled the perfumed scent of  her hair and something deep in his heart was strongly stirred.   He was surprised to consider that he was falling in love with the Elven woman.

“The duke?   He’s just a boy; I’m not sure he even knows what it is all about, but his father wants him to have some sort of status before he becomes king.”

Tamcia’s fingers began softly stroking his hair, “Well, he’s our master now, I suppose.  Does his appointment garnish him more status at his father’s court?   A private apartment in the palace perhaps with a hundred servants waiting on him hand and foot?”

Gevin had laughed softly, “No, he’s still just the same; he’s had his own quarters downstairs from his parents.”

“Is it fancy?” She’d asked softly, her hand still moving through his hair, causing his head to tingle at her touch.

“No, not really; it is no different than mine, actually.”

“As knight champion?”

“Yes, it’s on the same floor actually; his apartment, the head steward, the arch chamberlain and then my own, at the other end; they’re all alike, on the third floor, directly under the royal quarters.”

“So you have a larger suite than the other knights?”  She’d cooed in his ear and he felt her soft lips brush his neck.   His heart was racing and his mind was spinning.

“Yeah, I guess so; it’s not too fancy, really and I don’t have any servants because I’d rather do everything myself.”

“Very practical and sensible.   Do your other floor-mates share your thriftiness?”

“They have a handful each.”

“Attending them day and night, no doubt?”  Again he felt her lips brushing against his neck and then the bottom of his ear.  

“Just during the day; they don’t work nights unless they are specifically needed.”

“So there are probably none there now?”  She’d whispered in his ear.

“Well, if the prince is still here they’re probably getting things ready for him for the night.”

“The prince left an hour and a half ago, Gevin; apparently he has a bedtime curfew,” Her hand now was softly caressing his cheek and he felt a powerful new feeling wash over him; physical desire.   He shuddered at the intensity and Tamcia noticed and he could see in her eyes that she approved of the implications.

“Tamcia, I-I’m afraid I…um…”

“Don’t be afraid, Gevin,” She whispered, her lovely face close to his, “I want to see your quarters.”

“W-What?”  He’d asked, numb with the speed that everything was transpiring.

“Show me your quarters, Gevin.”

“Tamcia, I-I don’t…”

She pressed a fingertip to his lips to quiet him, then leaned up and kissed him hungrily on the lips.    His whole universe shrank in that moment to the glorious contact with the Elven girl.   His body shook off its ascetic fuelled lethargy and fired up all the furnaces, ready to forge a new outlook on life, after initiation by physical splendor with Tamcia.

He was kissing her wildly, not caring who saw or what any of them thought at that moment.   The next few minutes were a blur to him, she wanted to leave with him for his quarters and he lost any sort of reserve to refuse or suggest a more respectful courtship.

They rushed up the stairs and he led her to his room at the end of the hallway.   As he fumbled with the door keys, she asked if the Prince was at the other end of the hall.   He mumbled an affirmative and was turning to say something to her when there was a flash of light and an explosion of pain in his right temple.   He crumpled in the hallway at the foot of his door, stunned.   

He could hear through the ringing of his ears, running feet and through his pain he somehow managed to get his eyes open.   Through blurry lenses he could make out the form of Tamcia running down the hallway with a dagger in her hand.

For an instant he thought she was pursuing whoever had attacked him, but realization was already splashing cold water on him by the time she’d stopped at Prince Corston’s door.    She leaned over and put something into the door lock, glancing anxiously down the hallway toward him, but he had yet to move, so she turned back, fiddled with something, then the door clicked open.

It was at that moment that he knew exactly what had happened, what she was and what she was about to do.   Betrayal vied with rage as he forced himself up, his head spinning wildly and blood from where she had clubbed him with the hard pommel of her dagger dripping down his face.

He rushed down the hallway, not seeing much for the entire distance, for his head spun and his ears roared, but apparently he’d quickly covered the distance.    He thought of yelling an alarm, but it might give her time to escape and instead he thundered through the door into the prince’s chamber just as she had her dagger raised up at the side of the sleeping prince’s bed, ready to assassinate him.

He’d found his voice then and yelled in a booming voice, “ASSASSIN!!   HELP, ATTEND PRINCE CORSTON!”

Instantly she spun and flung the dagger at him.  It had flown straight and true and bit him squarely in the middle of his chest.   But he always wore a silver medal of devotion to Yesh the Merciful (given to all new knights on the night before their accolade) under his tunic and the dagger hit it and was deflected.

His head still spinning, he reached for his sword, only to realize that he had not worn it to the ceremony as they were not allowed.   Before he could yell out another warning, Tamcia leaped across the prince’s bed, diving at him with long sharp hair pins in each hand.

Somehow he’d caught one of her wrists, but she’d slashed at his neck with the other hand, the pin scraping his forehead as he tried to duck under the slash.   Through his ringing ears, he could hear the prince screaming and footsteps running, but he had no time for that.    Tamcia fought like a tigress, stabbing him twice in the right shoulder as he managed to spin her away from the bed and push her back against the large window pane.   But she flexed to lunge at him again and in that moment it was as if time had somehow slowed down to a fraction of its usual speed.    The first thing he noticed in that long moment was the look on her face.   Her brown eyes were no longer gentle or beautiful but were those of a dangerous, trapped bear.  Her face was contorted into a killing rage that froze his blood, but thankfully he acted instinctually.  Between them was a large backed parlor chair and lacking any other weapon, and with no time to lift it up to defend himself with it, he simply plowed his body against the back of it, pushing the heavy wooden chair forward on widely spaced legs against her, to pin her back until help arrived to assist.    It was a move she hadn’t expected and the chair hit her as she was posed to spring, causing her to fall forward on top of the seat as he pushed it as hard as he could, hoping to pin her legs so she could not move.  

Whether it was a surge of strength caused by the situation or something else, he never knew, but the sliding chair rammed the large floor length window in the prince’s room and shattered the glass as it passed through, tipping over and sending it and Tamcia flipping end over end.    Gevin had almost fallen with them, but grabbed the edge of the broken window and caught himself (cutting his hand in the process), and he’d witnessed Tamcia’s gruesome end.

She’d slammed into ornamental iron grating on top of the low wall that surrounded the first floor of the palace.    Two iron spikes had impaled her chest and she’d jerked and twitched for several seconds as her blood spurted out with each gurgling breath she took.

It had been too much for him; as hands pulled him back into the room, he’d passed out, the sight of the Elven girl dying etched on his mind.

 

***

 

He’d awoken a hero again, for the young prince had witnessed it.    The king had him cared for in regal fashion, but he laid there numb in mind and spirit from everything.

He was told that she’d been a secret member of the Albsidhe resistance movement and had worked as an inside spy in the governor’s house for years.    Her mission had simply been to assassinate the prince, and if possible, the king as well, in revenge for the destruction of the Elven kingdom many years ago by the king’s army, led by the Black Duke.   She’d been trying to locate Prince Corston’s quarters in the sprawling palace and needed information on any guards or servants she might encounter.

She’d planned to seduce Duke Pentlerook at first for the information, but the young duke had no knowledge of the layout of the palace other than the ground floor where public audiences were held.   Then she’d remembered seeing a young shy knight looking at her and had asked Pentlerook who he was.   When she’d learned that Gevin was the son of the hated Black Duke, who was the King’s Champion, she decided to ply him for information.    Gevin suspected that she’d been surprised to see that he was half Elven and had perhaps even momentarily felt some sympathy for him, but her mission and purpose was too important to her, so she had charmed him and learned the location of the prince.

Then she’d simply clubbed him over the head with the end of a dagger that she’d concealed somewhere on her body.   She’d planned to kill the prince, then make her escape, but he’d stopped her.

King Corston was pleased with his loyalty, but reprimanded him (privately) for letting a ‘pretty face’ cloud his judgment.   He acknowledged his failure and vowed to himself never to let another woman manipulate him.

It was a vow he’d kept for over a hundred years.

In the middle of the summer, a few months later, King Corston asked him to lead a force of men to Albsidhe in the name of the new duke, to seek out the Elven resistance and destroy them.    Still confused, bitter and more than a little mentally and emotionally dazed, he’d eagerly agreed to the assignment.   It would begin one of the darkest periods of his long life, a point in time when he was more like his hated human father than he cared to admit.

A massive army of all the knights of the king and ten thousand foot soldiers were quickly assembled and marched off northward on Midsummer’s Day.   Angry at Tamcia’s humiliating manipulation of him, he let his emotions lead him, which he’d nevrer done before in battle, except when he’d sought revenge for Lyssa.

As commander of the forces in the name of the Duke of Albsidhe, he pushed his army northward at a grueling pace.    No-one had seen him like that before and there were numerous mumblings from the older veterans in the army that he had a distinct air of his father about him.   With horrible forced marches, he whipped his army to the limit of their speed and strength, arriving at the Governor’s keep in nine days time instead of two weeks as was usual.

He wasn’t surprised to learn that all the Elven rebels had fled into the Albsylvia woods, joined by a small portion of the human population that were sympathetic.    While he let his army rest and recover for a few days, he joined scouts surveying the outskirts of the forest.    The Albsylvia woods was a patch of forest about 50 miles wide and nearly as long, that had, long ago, been part of the great forest that had spread completely across Greidour and neighboring kingdoms.    Human settlers had slowly cut the forest back, leaving only the western forest and the thickly forested mountains to the northeast.    The Albsylvia woods made up the northernmost part of Albsidhe, now separated by the northeastern forested mountains by a long deep fjord that divided the former Elven kingdom from connecting with land on the east.  

Cleared land on the western side of Albsidhe had left the eastern side of the western Great Forest 175 miles from the Albsylvia woods, so he’d known that the rebels could not escape there due to the distance.    Back then, there had been a large royal garrison on the Albsidhe edge of the western Great Forest at West Tower built to monitor any attempted movement into (and out of) the forest by the Elves of the former kingdom.   So they would have to make their stand in the smaller, less threatening Albsylvia woods.

He felt nothing but hatred for the race after his encounter with Tamcia, and though a part of his mind kept whispering to him that he was not thinking straight, he listened instead to the ruthless logic of strategy.   Those under his command saw the fire in his eyes and obeyed him without question, for they knew who his father had been and that he was, in this campaign, truly his father’s son.

Only one road led into the Albsylvia woods; it was a fairly wide and level path, but it would begin to wind around increasingly steep, rocky hills, all of them heavily wooded.    When it had been an Elven kingdom, there had been forest wardens charged with keeping the forest floor clear of choking underbrush, but since Greidour’s military occupation of the area, the woods had been left to its own growth and so now was thick with smaller trees, dead leaves dried out from a long hot spring with little water and assorted twigs, thorn bushes and brambles.  

It would mean that they would have to stick to the cleared path through the tangled woods, but the rebels would have to do so as well.    Even the rebel Wood Elves and rangers would not be able to move far or efficiently through the underbrush without hacking out a trail.    Yet they were familiar with the geology and geography of the area and their smaller number made movement easier and ambushes even more likely.

Gevin had decided to just push forward up the twisting path with his heavily armored knights leading the way. 

They started out on one of the hottest days of the year, thankful for the cooling shadows of the trees, but growing less and less comfortable as the trail began to curve and twist, revealing sharp drop-offs onto rocks and trees below.   They were two days into the forest and had not encountered anyone or anything other than the usual fauna, when, just as Gevin was about to call for a halt for the day and send the scouts ahead to search for a large and level stretch of trail to have the army camp, they were attacked.

From seemingly all sides there were the twang of released bows and the whistle of arrows.    Within the first few minutes, seven knights and three times that number of foot soldiers had fallen from the uncannily accurate aim of unseen Elven bowmen.

Somehow in the dim light of the tall trees they had managed to conceal themselves in the underbrush on both sides to fire arrows and then drop down, immediately camouflaged from sight.

They tried to fight back, but it was impossible to mount a charge and the foot soldiers were blocked from most of the action by the knights ahead of them, dodging deadly arrows in the twilight.

He’d had no recourse but order a retreat and they’d backed down the path, harassed by archers for nearly a full hour until as suddenly as it started, it ceased.

Gevin kept them moving back until they found a flat stopping off place at which they had briefly rested at midday.

The path was wider here and he put them into a strong defensive stance, but a renewed attack did not come that night.    The men were completely unnerved by the ease and quietness of the Elven ambush and did not sleep well that night, in spite of their many sentries on watch.

Hoping that the archers might move on up the path in the night, Gevin had ordered a resumed advance, though this time the foot soldiers led the way, for they would be more able to pursue enemy in the dense underbrush, at least for a short distance.

For an hour they advanced, and then once again the ambush began, this time with some archers shooting from above, through the canopy of branches, with unbelievable accuracy. 

He’d tried to keep the foot soldiers disciplined, but the arrows were coming from all around and panic took them and they fled.   To his dismay, the knights following them, instead of trying to rally them, joined in their wild retreat.    He’d shouted after them, but they would not respond to his threats and curses.    The Elves, seeing the enemy commander separated from his army, began to rush out of their places of concealment, firing upon him.   He had no choice but to turn and race after his army.   It seemed as if a thousand arrows whizzed by him, most impacting against his heavy plate armor, but several well-aimed shafts hitting him in gaps between armor plates.    His mail and Gambeson kept the points from going deep, but it reinforced his respect for the skill of the enemy archers.

Once again they regrouped at the wide area where they’d camped, the army frustrated and exhausted.    There had been 60 foot soldiers killed, twice as many injured, 17 knights injured and 19 killed.   The numbers were unacceptable and despite their superior size, Gevin did not want to lose any more men than necessary. 

A council of war was formed and their strategy was debated.   A few of the scouts that had travelled up the trail in peaceful times told them that the point from where they were being ambushed was just before a hairpin turn that sharply ascended just past the curve.    The Elves were able to look down, and though the trees partially concealed them, they knew when they were advancing and could plot very effective attacks against them.  

It was one of the most challenging points on the trail to advance against, if an enemy held the higher ground and had effective missile weapons.   The Elves bowmen were legendary and it became apparent that just rounding the curve would cost them a lot of men and time with little payback to the enemy in their superior position.

Gevin long blamed himself for what happened next, though some claimed that he had not actually made the suggestion at all.   He wasn’t sure, but clearly some of the foot soldiers thought it was a brilliant idea, no matter who actually suggested it or said it in jest.

Someone said that they could simply burn the damned Elves out of their position and for a few minutes they talked about it, though Gevin and none of his captains really thought that was a viable or even logical suggestion.

But almost an hour later, as the council of war was just wrapping up, men came running up to tell them that the forest was on fire.

He’d raced with the men to the edge of their camp area and ahead, a fair distance up the narrow trail toward where they’d been ambushed, a thick black cloud of smoke was rising.    

“Sir Gevin, it’s spreading really fast!” One of the foot soldiers anxiously informed him and he was certainly not exaggerating.    The long, unusually dry spring, compounded with many years of cluttered underbrush that had not been removed yearly by forest wardens, had caused the fire to spread unbelievably quickly.   Brilliant yellow flames could be seen already rushing not only up the hillside toward the hairpin turn and the Elven rebels, but down toward them.    He never knew who started it or even how they got it going so well, but after seeing how quickly it ignited, he’d immediately ordered his army to retreat down the path as fast as they could, leaving their camping gear behind.

For the rest of the afternoon and all through the night they rushed down the path through the woods with the flames and choking smoke slowly gaining on them.    They didn’t dare stop to rest, for it was quite clear that this would be a terrible inferno.  It nearly overtook them late that night as they ran or rode down the trail in the stinging smoke.   The flames lit up the night, giving it a hellish orange glow.   There was a terrible roar from the flames as it swept through the dry foliage that made it seem like a living monster determined to completely consume them.

Men dropped weapons, armor and anything that would hinder their escape.    Horses panicked and several men fell, overcome with smoke, but most were pulled up by their companions and dragged along.

It was a terrible nightmare, a vision of eternal damnation that was too horrible to consider, but they had no choice but to flee the way they’d come.

Two hours or so before dawn they stumbled out of the forest, gasping, coughing and wheezing.    The whole army kept moving until they reached a nearly dry creek a few miles from the edge of the forest and here they all stopped without anyone giving orders or suggesting the place.    Men fell on the ground gulping down air or poured water from the trickling creek over their heads and faces to wash the smell of burning from them.

Gevin took care of his horse, which had been singed slightly in the escape and once he had him calmed and rubbed down, joined some of the others to stare in awe as the heat of the fire created a sort of windstorm that fanned the fire into a twirling beast that by then had nearly engulfed all of the Albsylvia woods.

The worst part was the animals that rushed down the path or even out of the underbrush, terrified of the flaming death that was consuming their home.   A large male deer leaped out of the brush near them around dawn and one of the knights snatched up the longbow of one of the foot soldiers and would have shot the fine creature had not Gevin angrily jerked the bow from the knights’ hand and then glared at him until he dropped his gaze and forgot about the easy game.

The terrible smoke from the forest fire hid the sun the next day, but they held their position, sure that the Elf rebels would soon be fleeing the same way that the animals had left.   There was no other path out of the woods and the scouts told him that at the other end of the path was the remains of a once large Elven city, built into the trees, but now long since abandoned and overgrown with debris and brambles.   

He didn’t know if the information was good or not, yet he kept anxiously waiting for some of them - any of them- that were hold up in the forest to make it out alive.   But only animals left the conflagration.

They watched the fire burn all the following day and into the night and still there was no sign of the Elven rebels and their human allies that had harried them for several days.

Gevin found that his hunger for revenge had drained completely away, drying up even any residue in his heart.    He tried not to imagine anyone - Elf or human, friend or foe- burning to death, trapped inside a hell of burning trees.  

The weight of it pressed down heavily upon him, for one way or another,  he was the reason that this terrible thing had happened.   Whether it was his fault directly or as a result of a comment made by someone in the council that he’d formed, either way, terrible destruction had occurred and he knew that his desire to give payback to the group of people that had trained Tamcia to be an assassin was completely snuffed out.

A sick burden of guilt covered him like the stench of the forest fire that he knew he would not be able to scrub off his soul.   The eyes of the frightened animals haunted him and thoughts of dying Elves and humans - perhaps even children, babies and pregnant women tormented his every thought as they camped nearby.    For a full week the fire burned, though the southern section where they were was consumed in about four days time.

He knew he had to make a report to the king, but he had no idea what he should say or how Corston I would react to the news.    The forest was thought to be a potentially great source of lumber for Greidour, as the two halves of the Great Forest were untamed and shunned by man.

But the king heard about the fire quickly and to Gevin’s surprise was pleased, as it solved the problem of the rebellious Elves by not only probably eliminating the rebels, but destroying their sanctuary.   To his dismay, once again he was a hero for his actions in service of the king.

However the whole thing had a profound effect on him.   Maybe he had just seen too much death in battle, coupled with the mixed emotions of Tamcia and then unintentional destruction of the forest in the place where his Elven mother had lived.    For whatever the reason, though, a terrible season of self-loathing and inward critical evaluation began which lasted quite some time.

He wondered who and what he really was and what his actual best place should be in the world.   He pondered again and again if it had been divine providence that had made Tamcia’s murderous dagger hit the silver Yesh devotion medal around his neck instead of piercing his heart.    

What did it all mean?   It was the question he kept returning to as the days, weeks, months and years went by, a continual revolving circle of seasons, wars, intrigue, births, alliances and deaths in the royal court and it was all just gray whispers in the fog that seemed to blanket his mind.  He found himself going through the motions of living but feeling less and less alive as time passed.  

Everyone around him aged, as after the incident with Tamcia, it was extremely rare for an Elf to come to the Greidour court, but he never changed.    Those who were his peers when he was first made a knight became older, respected elders, than senile old men and women, but he stayed the same, as young as their grown children, then grandchildren.

He’d never thought about Elven ‘immortality’ as a curse before, but of course he’d been a young man anyway and had not seen the effects for a long while.   Not aging as everyone around you does is something difficult to get used to, for there were none like him at the royal court.   Though he did not have any real friends, to see fellow knights lose their edge in battle while you remained the same was difficult.   Somehow he felt like he was missing out on what everyone was going through.   Of course this only accented his difference to everyone and that made him even more alienated.    

At first he tried to just ignore it, and focus on the younger generations that slowly replaced those who he’d known.   But each generation was different from the one before it and values and beliefs of all of them varied and changed.   By the time King Corston II had children of his own, Gevin felt like a fish out of water.

Oh, he still was King’s Champion, for Corston II had not forgotten how he’d saved his life from Tamcia’s blade when he was younger.    But the newer knights looked at him almost like more of a symbol of a bygone era rather than a flesh and blood person.   He was treated with respect and some degree of awe, but there was subtle fear of him for being different as well.   He was treated as sort of a resident ghost, something unchanging and present, but not fully a part of the modern world.

He had acquaintances and some, like the Halfling Pondertort family that were close to being called actual friends, but still he was set apart.

Gevin had struggled with religion for some time.   The Church of Yesh was universal around the world by the time he was born and yet there were variations of it and slightly different beliefs (though nothing that veered too far away) so that he wondered for a long time which view was the correct one.   He embraced the older doctrine of Yesh the Merciful; the Half-Elf manifestation of God who came to Synomenia to save all intelligent races from sin.   Newer doctrine tried to portray Yesh as a human and wash out any mention of the other races, but Gevin knew that the oldest stories of him were true.

He began to feel dismay at the death he’d caused in the service of the Greidour king, but there were plenty of Greidour priests who would absolve him of any sins due to his service.   He wasn’t so sure, but remained a knight, though he tried to have compassion on enemies when possible, as that was one of the knightly tenets. 

Gevin found comfort in the words of Yesh but he still felt heaviness in his heart.   It was that same sense of not belonging, of not fulfilling a role that he felt he should be filling, though he had no idea just what that role was or how to figure it out.

Years passed and humans, reigns, and customs changed, but he stayed the same and with each passing year, he felt more and more isolated and obsolete.   The decision to head toward the Nihility Gate had taken him a year to make, for there were religious and ethical considerations.   Was it suicide?   No-one really knew for certain as nothing had returned from it - or so the legends claimed.    Even its location was wrapped up in myth and the mists of time, harking back to thousands of years ago when a powerful Elven race lived in the huge forest that circled for many thousands of miles across the globe.

The tales were vague and varied, but most claimed that this old Elven race, or one of their wizards, created a portal that led to absolute nothingness.    Some thought it opened out into another world, a sort of one way door that required a leap of faith to travel through, while others saw it as the darkest black magic, a demonic destroyer of souls.

Yet there were other tales that resounded with him, tales of old Elves who had lost the spark of joy in living in this world that chose the uncertainty of the unknown to the certainty of unhappiness here.   These tales predated the arrival of Yesh in Synomenia, but he had felt strangely and powerfully drawn to the idea.

At first he’s dismissed it as sinful and sacrilegious, but the thought kept coming to his mind.   How can someone who doesn’t age hope to end their unhappiness unless they do something desperate to themselves?   That was the question he asked himself over and over.   He could serve recklessly in battle for the latest king, but if he did this purposely, it would be the same as trying to end his own life.    He wasn’t invulnerable, just ageless, but putting himself in harm’s way or not fighting to the best of his ability seemed shameful and sinful.    He didn’t want to endanger others, or his vow of service by doing something stupid just so an enemy’s sword, lance or arrow would end his life.

The Nihility Gate was an uncertainty - no-one knew if it resulted in death or just removal to another place or time.   Therefore, it wasn’t actually suicide if he didn’t know for sure he’d die by just passing through it.   It took many months of wrestling with this logic before he finally accepted it, but he thought it would be the best choice.   

It would leave no body on a battlefield for strangers to enshrine in some tomb that would be forgotten in the lifespan of a human.   Simply vanishing through an ancient mysterious gate seemed to him to best match the supernatural light that they looked upon him with and he could travel there alone without causing anyone any grief or stress.

The trip would take a long enough time that he could prepare himself for the finale during the journey there.    He didn’t consider that the Nihility Gate could only be a myth, for something in his heart told him it was as real as the air he breathed.

 

So as the moon shined down upon him astride Thallow, who clopped along at a steady trot, he felt a slight swell of nostalgia as he passed across the land that he’d known for over 130 years.    It was a fair land, he thought to himself, if only the people living here were as honest and straight-forward as the terrain.  

Gevin let himself get lost in memories again, this time of little Lyssa and the innocence of childhood with hope of a bright future.   It had been so very long ago.

He sighed and replayed the memories, letting Thallow lead the way westward.

 




© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 12, 2020
Last Updated on November 12, 2020
Tags: Synomenia, Nihility_Gate, fantasy, elf, sword_and_sorcery, magic, knights, Halflings, Drow


Author

Eddie Davis
Eddie Davis

Springfield, MO



About
I'm a fantasy and science-fiction writer that enjoys sharing my tales with everyone. Three trilogies are offered here, all taking place in the same fantasy world of Synomenia. Other books and stor.. more..

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A Chapter by Eddie Davis


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A Chapter by Eddie Davis