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Sixteen

Sixteen

A Chapter by Eddie Davis
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Gevin and his companions visit the ruins of the elven city of Shelterhaven.

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16.

‘True redemption is seized when you accept the future consequences for your past mistakes.’

-- Eduardo Macedo

 

 

They began their ride before sunrise to help Zaeya to adjust to the sun a bit better.   The horses performed perfectly, seeming to be happy with their captivity.   Troem and Zaeya rode the mare Ihar and Gevin and Applemint rode Harn.

The pace was kept relaxed so that Zaeya could grow used to riding a horse, as well as making things easier for the pregnant mare.   They descended into a long, wide valley, at first covered with trees, but thinning out as they progressed southward.

Shortly after noon they reached their destination, the former village of Shelterhaven, northernmost ‘city’ of Albsidhe.

Gevin had not known exactly what to expect from the ruins.   He’d never seen an Elven community - only a few places where a fair number of Elves had once lived, amongst humans- and he’d wondered how it would appear.

It really didn’t look any different than any abandoned, destroyed village.    Most of the structures had been wooden and very little of them remained, though there were indentations where foundations had been.    There were a handful of stone structures and they seemed to possess a grace of form, even in their ruined state.   Troem pointed out key structures to him and Gevin just nodded respectfully, too deeply affected to say much of anything.

He imagined what it would have been like for the residents to have a human army posed to destroy them.   Deep shame covered him like an overcast sky as he somberly explored the ruins of a stone church of Yesh that had been destroyed by the conquering army.

There was no-one around and from the weeds and regrowth of trees, it had been many years since anyone had dwelt there.  

He stood on the remaining stone dais at the front of the ruined church and glanced through the remains of the windows -long devoid of their stained glass- and marveled that the sun would still shine here in this scene of devastation.

As he looked around, Lady Zaeya stood in the shade of a large tree in front of the church, her cloak pulled far over her head as she shielded her sensitive eyes from the bright light, petting the two horses that were tied to the same tree.    Troem and Applemint stood at the entrance to the sanctuary, watching Gevin quietly, but respectful of the turmoil that he was experiencing and allowing him as much time as he needed.

For a full hour he wrestled with strong emotions and struggled with what exactly to do with them.   He needed to make some sort of restitution or atonement for his part in the crimes against the Elven nation, but what exactly could he do, and would it truly erase the blood on his hands?

Finally, he heard Troem and Applemint approaching him.

“Gevin?” Troem asked softly.

“It was once a beautiful church, wasn’t it, Troem?”

“Yes, it was; relatively modest in the scope of things, but very beautiful.”

“And yet though the men who torched it also claim to worship the same God as those who worshiped here, they did not pause for an instant to destroy it.    God, how we must reek in the nostrils of the Lord!”

“Purity and Holiness is perfectly manifested only in the divinity of Yesh,” Troem quoted a familiar saying.

“Those who did this are as far away from Holiness as Heaven is from Hell.”

“Gevin, history is filled with acts of evil as well as noble actions - sometimes by the same group of people.  I’m certain that if you examined records of ancient times, you’d find Elven acts against humans as ruthless as this.”

“That doesn’t excuse any of it, Troem.”

“No, that it doesn’t.   War is like that, but mercy overcomes even terrible ruthlessness.”

Gevin snorted, “It must really struggle to overcome acts that destroyed a village like this, filled with innocent women and children.”

“There were also rebels here and those who stayed understood the risk.   They could have fled the advancement of the human armies.”

“What about the fire that my soldiers set in the woods south of here?”

“It never reached this place, Gevin.”

“No, but did those who died in that fire have time to flee and did they know of the danger coming toward them?”

“Gevin, most all of those who died that time were rebels committed to war against Greidour.   There were no innocent Elves living peacefully in the Albsylvia woods at that point.   They’d lived there after the raid of the Black Duke, but not when your men set the woods on fire.”

Gevin looked up hopefully, “Really?”

“Yes, they were sworn to die for their cause.”

“Their cause was just - I see it now- and I still feel their blood is on my hands.”

“Yesh has washed away that blood.   Your heart is regretful and remorseful, Gevin.    That is all that is needed.   Now, instead of feeling regret, do something constructive to make amends for your earlier sins.”

“Such as what?”  He sat down on the top step leading up to the dais.    Troem joined him and Applemint stood nearby, respectfully listening to their dialogue.

“There is a terrible fracture between men and Elves and the Elven race is fading quickly from this world.    What is needed is someone who can unite the two races into a true community of equals.”

“You expect me to do that?”  Gevin laughed, “Troem, as far as I know, no-one in all of our recorded history has been able to do that.   Not even Lord Yesh the Merciful could unify all the races together in one belief.”

Troem folded his arms across his chest, “It has to start somewhere, sooner or later; why not with someone who understands the turmoil of living halfway in the Elven and human world?”

“That’s a lofty goal you’ve asked of me and even if I thought that was possible, I would not have any idea where to even begin.”

“Gevin, what if God was to show you how to begin.”

“I think Yesh would be more concerned with purifying my soul.”

“Purification can sometimes be best accomplished in service.”

“Maybe so, but why in the world are you even suggesting such crazy things?”

“Perhaps God is telling me to prepare you for a greater purpose than you can ever imagine.”

“I’d imagine Yesh would tell me as well, and so far I haven’t been informed.   I think it might be wiser to focus on smaller goals right now, okay?   Such as rendezvousing with Apple’s family and figuring out what to do about the coup in Greidour.”

“Yes, of course, but I want you to just promise me that you’ll respond favorably to any opportunity that God puts in front of you.    Your vision of Him that you told me about makes me certain that He has a great plan for you.”

“Well, we’ll see, I guess, but I sure don’t feel very anointed right now.”  He sighed, getting to his feet and glancing over at Applemint, “Apple, let’s go see how our horses are doing.”

“They’re fine, sir; Zaeya is watching them.”

“That’s good, but who’s watching Zaeya?   She may have ridden off already.”

“Oh, I doubt that - she can’t see very well in sunlight.”

As they walked out of the ruined church, Troem touched his arm and spoke softly in his ear while nodding in the direction of the Dark Elf lady, standing with her head bowed near the horses, gently stroking Ihar’s swollen flank.

“Gevin, you should give Zaeya the benefit of the doubt; she grew up in a terrible, Hell-like place and is tainted, but I suspect underneath it all there is a woman who could learn to care about others like any other woman.”

“I think I’ve been very fair with her, Troem.”

“Yes, but you don’t trust her.”

“After what she did to Apple…no, not yet.   She has to earn my trust.”

“Well, just give her that chance.”

“Alright.   Let’s go see what she’s up to.”

 

***

 

“How are they doing?”  Gevin asked Zaeya as they joined her.

“I think they’re okay.   Ihar seems tired, though.”  Zaeya reported without lifting her head.

“We’ll let her have the rest of the day to rest; this is a good place to camp.”

“I think I’ll try the summoning spell again to see if we can find another horse to replace her.”

“You don’t want to leave her behind, do you?” Applemint asked in alarm.

“Of course not!   That would be cruel for even me.   But she would be more comfortable without any of us on her back.   She could still walk with us…can’t we tether her to another horse?”

“Sure,” Gevin replied, pleased to see the Dark Elf’s concern for the horse, “I think that is an excellent idea, Zaeya.   Do you need us to help you to prepare the spell?”

“No, it should be easy now that I’m familiar with wild horses.   I’d imagine there could be more of them around here.   I could use your help if any respond to the spell, however.”

“We’ll be glad to help,” Troem replied for the others and they nodded in agreement.

“Alright then, give me a few minutes and we’ll try this again.”  Zaeya patted the pregnant mare and with her head still concealed by her cloak, walked off to gather the spell components. 

 

***

 

It was mid afternoon before Zaeya once again cast the summoning spell.   They were surprised to see five horses thunder up from the south in less than ten minutes time.  Three were adult mares, the fourth looked to be about a two year old filly and the fifth was about a year old filly.  

But all of the horses, even the yearling, had bridles on.

“Oh, that’s not good,”  Gevin said as the horses under control of the spell, came to stand in front of Zaeya, “These are domesticated horses.”

“Good; we don’t have to tame them!”  The Dark Elf lady replied.

“Zaeya, these horses belong to someone and we are in effect stealing them if we take them.”

“You don’t know for sure they’re someone’s horses.”

“Wild horses don’t wear bridles.”

“Maybe they ran away some time ago while still wearing bridles.”

“Well, we’ll see soon enough - I’ll simply look at their hooves.   If they’re shod and the shoes are in good shape, it should mean that they were cared for recently and thus belong to someone.”

Gevin selected a mare and spent a few moments examining her, then moved over to the yearling and glanced at her hooves.

“This young one is unshod, but her hooves have been cared for and I would say both are Greidour horses.   The older mare’s horseshoes are the type used on royal cavalry horses.   The bridles are cavalry style as well.   I’d bet these horses came from a royal garrison, probably one with extensive facilities and a cavalry farrier on hand.”

“Which one is closest to our location here?   My spell would not reach vast distances,”  Zaeya asked.

“The nearest would be Woodedge - it was the southernmost garrison fort, about five miles south of the edge of the bottom of the Albsylvia woods…or at least where the woods used to be.   It is the main fort Greidour set up to monitor the main road south out of Albsidhe and there is…or was… a village that grew up around the garrison where many of the soldiers’ families lived and worked.   That is where we were heading anyway, as that village will likely have an inn.”

“So you think these horses came from the garrison at Woodedge?”  Troem asked.

“It looks like it…is that troubling to you for some reason?” Gevin noticed a thoughtful look cross the Elf’s face.

“Well, that fort is about 75 miles south of here, about 2 and a half days for a horse to walk.   But that is assuming that a horse would be walking for eight hours each day and heading directly and steadily in this direction.   It seems unlikely that some horses that- let’s say- got loose due to a thunderstorm or something like that, would travel into territory unknown to them, heading through the badlands where the woods used to be and then upward into the mountains with steeper terrain.   Horses usually stay where there is plenty of grass to graze upon and it is not nearly as plentiful the further north you go, especially with two young horses accompanying them, and at least one of the young horses is unshod and unsuited for mountain walking.”

Gevin nodded, considering Troem’s reasoning, “That is very true, Troem; they should not be this far north.”

“What about another fort, or maybe they were lost as part of a patrol moving around nearby.”  Applemint suggested.

“They wouldn’t take the yearling or even the older filly out on a patrol.   Those two were still being trained for cavalry work and none of the smaller forts - if there were any between here and Woodedge- would keep young horses as they can be too distractive to older steeds.”

“So where did they come from?   I know my spell can’t reach 75 miles!”  The Dark Elf said.

“That is the burning question,”  Gevin replied, scratching his chin as he pondered the mystery.

“So what do we do with them, sir?” Applemint asked, “We can’t just leave them since we summoned them here.”

“We’ll take them with us, though we’ll have to tether them together and lead them.   They might not get along well with our two horses, especially the stallion, so for now we’ll keep them separated.”

***

 

The five new arrivals kept them busy for the rest of the afternoon.   One of the mares seemed to be the ‘matron’ of the new arrivals and she was suspicious and somewhat hostile toward Harn, though the stallion, for his part, seemed uninterested in the five new females.   They accepted Ihar readily, however, and she was able to be tethered close to them.

They set up camp in the ruins of a large house which gave them a degree of security, though the roof and windows were gone.   The seven female horses were tied close to each other, with Harn tied to a post out of sight (and smell) of the mares and youngsters. 

They built a fire in the ruined house’s large intact fireplace and were seated discussing how to get the new mares used to the stallion when dusk fell.

In the middle of the debate, Zaeya glanced out of one of the window openings and did a double take, then crouched down slightly and began scrutinizing something in the darkness.

“Zaeya?  What is it?” Troem asked in a whisper.

“Keep talking; I think I see something, but I don’t want to tip them off that we see them.   Keep talking!”

Troem turned and nodded to Gevin, who resumed his account of reactions of dominant mares with aggressive stallions.

As he spoke, Gevin and the others watched Zaeya, who had slowly eased down on her belly and crawled over to the edge of the window.   She then sat up against the edge of the wall and keeping her head low, peered out of the opening to something the rest of them could not see in the twilight.

She glanced out for a long moment, then slid her body back against the wall and turned toward them.   For a moment they were alarmed by the red ember-like glow of her eyes, for they were not used to the Drow lady’s superior night vision.

They could barely see the rest of her by the fireplace light, but there was enough illumination for them to see her hold up three fingers and then point toward the window.

She pointed to Troem, touched her own pointed ear and silently mouthed the word ‘ELVES’.

Gevin, Troem and Applemint looked at her in disbelief, but she nodded her head to indicate her certainty.

Gevin began rambling on about horses, so if their intruders were listening, they wouldn’t sense that they had been discovered.   As he spoke, Zaeya gestured to him to keep talking and she wrapped her cloak around her and in perfect silence crept out of sight from their intruders, toward the doorway leading out.

“It looks like we need some more wood on the fire; I’ll go get some,” Troem said loud and clear enough so that anyone listening in even fairly close proximity would hear him.

“Do you need some help?” Applemint asked, also loud enough for the intruders to hear.

“No; you help him clean up our dishes, I’ll take just a minute.”  Though they had not yet eaten, it was clear that he wanted Applemint to stay put. 

Gevin suspected that Troem was using himself as a distraction so that stealthy Zaeya could move about easier as their three intruders monitored what he was doing.

“I think there is some firewood on the north side of the house,” Gevin said loudly to the Elf, giving a location in the opposite direction from which Zaeya indicated that they were being observed.   

“Okay, I’ll check it out,” Troem stood up and made great effort to move as loudly as seemed reasonable without making their intruders suspicious.  He hummed to himself as he walked through the doorway out into the dark.

Gevin stood up as well and stretched with a loud groan, hoping that his movement and sound would also draw attention away from whatever Zaeya had planned.

“That was some dinner, wasn’t it?” he said to Applemint and she understood what he was doing, so she also got to her feet.

“The chicken was a bit burnt, but it was still good.”

“Yes it was.”

Applemint looked up at the sky, “The stars are coming out.”

“Yes they sure are = they’ll be clear tonight.”  As he carried on the conversation, Gevin tried to casually glance through the window where Zaeya had observed the three Elves, but he could see nothing but darkness.    To their right, on the other side of the house, Troem could be heard purposely moving something around as if sorting through a pile of firewood, as he continued to hum to himself.   

Wondering how long they’d have to wait and exactly what the Drow woman planned to do, Gevin continued talking about the night sky and how cool the temperature would drop tonight, as well as how sunny it would be the following day - anything just to hide from those watching them that Zaeya had slipped out of the ruined building.

They wouldn’t have long to wait.

 

***

 

Partially concealed by the remains of a low wall, a trio of Elven youths; not children but not quite adults, stood with their long bows notched with arrows, peering at the people encamped in the ruins of an old house in the abandoned village of Shelterhaven.

They spied on them for a long while, confident that they were completely concealed and unnoticed in the growing darkness of the weeds and overgrowth surrounding the old wall.

They watched one of them go out looking for firewood and disappear in the opposite direction.   A remaining man was talking to a short woman about the stars and weather and it was too tempting of a target for the bravest of the three.

Standing up, he pulled back his bow and fired through a gap in the concealing foliage at the rambling talker when he paused in clear view at the edge of the glassless window.

The arrow flew straight enough, but hit the wall to one side, perhaps due to the overgrowth between the shooter and the target tainting his aim.

The man flinched upon hearing the arrow impact the stone wall but before the three Elven youths could plan another action, something dark and terrible rushed out of the shadows from behind them without a sound except for the rustle of leaves.

They spun around to see a demonic pair of eyes glowing like the fires of hell from a jet back figure that fell upon them.   They stepped back in terror, but the figure, with lightning speed, snatched one of the youths’ long, bone-handled hunting knives from its sheath. 

Horrified at the demon’s speed, he tried to grab his knife from it, leaning in to reach.   As he did, he got a quick glimpse at the fiend; it looked female, a sinister, darkly beautiful parody of an Elven lady.   But before he could do more than merely focus on her face and glance at her burning eyes, her arm shot out with unbelievable speed and he felt the bone pommel of his own knife crash squarely in-between his eyes.

There was a flash of light, an explosion of pain and he fell hard and senseless to the ground at her feet.

In near perfect harmony, the other two youth forgot their budding bravado and screamed like children, turning and racing off, abandoning their bows in their desperation to escape.

They ran so fast that no one pursued them and despite the loss of their comrade, they didn’t stop until they’d reached their camp two miles down the road.   There they hesitated only long enough to mount their horses and thunder down the road in the night, too frightened to be cautious.    They wouldn’t stop for many hours, until far, far away from the demon in the dark.

***

 

 

 

 

“What did you do to him?”  Applemint asked as Zaeya joined them again, with Troem behind her, carrying the limp body of one of the Elven teens.

“I neutralized him,” She replied smugly as Troem gently placed the youth on the ground.

“Is he dead?”  Gevin inquired.

“No, he’ll have one awful headache, but I think he’ll regain consciousness.”

“You scared them to death!”  Applemint exclaimed, kneeling to look at the Elven boy, “Did you hear his friends screaming?”

Zaeya grinned, a lovely sight despite her glowing red eyes, “Yeah, that made my day.   They’re just stupid boys really; bodies older than their brains.    They all had longbows.   This one took a shot at Gevin.”

“Oh, so he’s the one, eh?”  Gevin frowned, joining Applemint, but with far less concern for the young man’s well-being.

“Probably a group of trouble-makers,”  Troem told them, “Most of the surviving Elves live far west of here, but sometimes older youths - ‘teenagers’ as humans would refer to them- go hunting in groups, yet unbeknownst to their parents, go farther east then their parents know.   Probably hoping to find something valuable in the ruins of Albsidhe.”

“Their parents let them go off for long periods of time like that?”  Applemint inquired.   Gevin noticed that she seemed fascinated with the boy, who was probably about her age.   He was surprised that this really irritated him.  

“Some of them do - hunting is sort of a rite of passage for many Elven boys and fathers usually train their sons in the skills needed to survive for weeks or even months in the wild.   A hunting trip of perhaps a week in length with other boys and no adults present is frequently an older boy’s stamp of approval of his maturity by his father.  His buddies or perhaps his parents will wonder what happened to him.”

“Well, he brought this problem on himself!” Gevin replied harshly, “Here we are peacefully camping out and in the darkness he takes a shot at us.   We’re lucky Zaeya saw them - they probably would have crept up and slit our throats when we were asleep.”

“Sir, stop that; you don’t know what was going through their minds or why they were here!”  Applemint protested, which irritated him more.

“Oh, and you do?  Why would they attack us without at least finding out who we were?  If they saw Troem, wouldn’t that have told them that there was at least one of their own kind amongst us?”

“Sir, he’s just a boy!”

“Youth is no excuse for trying to kill strangers,”  Gevin growled, “But we’ll see what he has to say when he wakes up.   Is that fair enough?”

“Yes.” She sighed, her brows furrowed at his mood.

“To get him to tell the truth, we’ll need a plan, one of which I have in mind.  Here is what we’ll do…”

 

***

 

With a groan, the Elven boy regained consciousness some time later to find that he was laying on the ground, stripped of his weapons with three people looking at him.   One was an Elven man who just stared at him without any emotion.   There was an extremely lovely redheaded girl who almost seemed Elven but was just a bit small, so had to be a very tall Halfling.   She was seated next to him and smiled prettily and sympathetically as he looked at her.    The third was a short-haired man with slightly pointed ears but who seemed at least partially human.   He was glaring fiercely at him and seemed to be ready to kill him with his bare hands at the slightly provocation.   Clearly he was extremely dangerous to cross.

The Half-Elf leaned in close, “Well, you’re awake.   Who are you?”

The boy hesitated, fearfully glancing back to the gorgeous redhead.   She tried to reassure him by touching his arm.

“Don’t be afraid,” she said in a voice as lovely as her face, “My name is Applemint…what is your name?”

“Um…I’m…Crois…”

“What is your last name, Crois?” the Elven man standing behind the other two asked calmly.    Crois hesitated again, but a nod from the redhead convinced him.

“Atlonneix…Crois Atlonneix, sir,” He spoke to the Elf.

“Atlonneix…hmmm…are you related to Dennthel Atlonneix?”

The boy’s eyes widened, “That’s my grandfather…or was…he’s dead now…did you know him?”

“Yes, quite well actually, though he was just a boy when I was your age.   My name is Troem and this other gentleman is Gevin.  Do you live around here, Crois?”

“No…nobody lives here now…”

“Then why were you and your companions wandering around our camp with long bows and why did you shoot an arrow at me?” The Half-Elf asked, his anger barely concealed as he leaned in close, his fists clenched as he glared banefully at him. 

“We were hunting!”

“Hunting?   Hunting what, Crois?  Us?”

“No, nothing like that!   We came here looking for treasure - stuff left behind when…our people…fled.”  He hesitated when he said ‘our people’, looking questionably at Gevin as if not quite sure if the term could apply to him.

“So you try to kill strangers camped out in the night?” Gevin persisted.

“No, sir!   We were…you know…stealing horses-“

“Stealing horses?!”

“From the humans!  Down in that garrison in Woodedge!   They’re abandoning it sir!   Don’t you know that?”

“What are you talking about, boy?”  Gevin growled. 

“It’s the truth sir!   They began pulling out two days ago!  The soldiers, that is!   They even left their families behind, though they are leaving now too.   Something big is going on in Greidour, I guess.   But they were in such a big hurry that they left a lot of stuff behind in some of their farms outside of Woodedge.   We decided to go look and found a place where they bred and raised horses for the garrison…it was completely abandoned, and they left some of the horses behind!   So we took them.   Three adult mares and two fillies.   We were leading them back to our camp earlier today when they suddenly tore free from us as if a panther was after them.    Goff was leading them and had their leads tied to the back of his horse’s saddle.   They were so desperate to get away that they pulled Goff’s horse down and broke free.   Our own horses were acting crazy too, and we had to fight hard to control them.   By the time we got them under control, the humans’ horses were gone, so we tracked them and found them around your camp.    Honest, sir, that is the truth!  We aren’t saying you stole them from us or anything like that!”

“It’s hard to steal from thieves,”  Gevin snorted and Applemint frowned at his rudeness and patted the boy’s arm.

“So you were just looking for your horses, then?”  She asked Crois with such a sweet smile that the boy blushed.

“Yes, ma’am, we weren’t trying to rob you or anything.”

Gevin leaned in close to the boy, “Then why did you shoot at me?”

Crois flinched and leaned away, fearful in spite of the redhead girl’s gentle pat of his arm.

“I wasn’t shooting at you, sir!” he blurted out after a long pause, his voice sounding almost hysterical as he tried his best to make his lie sound convincing, “It was…it was that demon!   I was shooting at her!!   That’s the reason!   You saw her, didn’t you?   She was horrible!   Red glowing eyes and black as night!    I swear, it was a demon!    I saw her moving around and I took a shot at her…and…and I missed and she…she charged at me and….she attacked me!   She grabbed up my hunting knife so fast I couldn’t stop her!  She hit me with it and then I guess I lost consciousness!   It was a red-eyed demon woman, sir, I swear it was!”  He glanced wildly from Gevin to Troem to Applemint, desperate to see a glimmer of belief evident in their eyes.

The redhead still seemed sympathetic, but the other two just returned his glance with neutral blank expressions.

“It was a demon, honest, it was!”  Crois repeated, his body trembling from a mixture of the memory of the creature and fear of the wrath of the Half-Elf.

“Oh, we believe you, boy,” Gevin finally said, glancing at Troem and Applemint both of whom nodded in agreement, “We’ve had several dealings with her.”

“She nearly killed me,” Applemint told the Elven youth, “I’m lucky to be alive.”

“What is she?”  Crois asked her.

“She’s most active at night - she sees like a cat after dark,” Applemint told him, glancing around as if afraid she might be nearby.

“She’s the one who caused your stolen horses to act like that,” Troem added, “She’s fascinated with them.”

“What does she want with them?”

“Who knows?’ Troem said with a shrug.

“What happened to Goff and Sellec?” the Elven boy suddenly remembered his companions.

“Who?”  Troem replied.

“My friends!  What happened to them?”

Troem glanced over at Gevin who shook his head, “We heard screams and they were nowhere to be found.   Only you.”

“The demon got them!” Crois groaned, glancing at Applemint for sympathy, but the Halfling girl had her head bowed and her face covered.

“We never found them,”  Troem repeated, “They might have escaped.”

“What is she?  Why is she hunting you?”  The boy asked them.

“She’s cunning,”  Gevin replied indirectly, “She goes wherever we go.   In daylight she can’t see very well, but at night…well, you saw her.”

“How have you escaped her?”

“She could be just toying with us for some reason.”  Gevin replied, seeming to lose some of his anger toward the boy as he spoke about the demon.

“What’ll we do?”  Crois asked desperately.

“Well, she has your knife now…”

“Oh!  Oh, that’s not good…” the boy groaned, still glancing at Applemint, who seemed to be deeply emotional about the situation.   She was still weeping into her hands, but it was a nearly hysterical sound that almost sounded as if she was laughing.  Crois imagined that she was probably reliving the demon’s attack on her.

“Please,” Crois turned back and forth to look at Troem and Gevin, “Please sirs, we’ve got to do something…there has to be a way to stop her!”

Applemint stood up and rushed away from them, going over to stand by the fireplace to try to regain her composure.

“Well, that is why you really need to be honest with us, boy,” Gevin said to him, gently, but firmly gripping him by the shoulders and looking grimly into his eyes, “You saw what she is capable of, and it is vital that you are completely honest with us, so we can prepare our next move.    I want to know the truth, no matter how embarrassing it may be to you or how unflattering your actions may have been.   If you want to help us stop her…you have to be up front and honest with us, do you understand?”

Crois’ eyes were as wide as plates and the color drained out of his already pale face.  He nodded somberly, “Yes, sir, I understand.”

Gevin smiled a bit weakly, but patted the boy’s arm approvingly, “Very good.   Now tell me - what you and your friends were really doing?”

Crois opened his mouth to quickly blurt out another lie, but paused, took a steadying breath and with his eyes lowered he said, “We were out robbing and looting.”

“I suspected as much.”

“We mostly steal stuff from some of the human farms and stuff like that.   I told you the truth about the horses, though; they were found in the barn lot of an abandoned farm where I think they bred them.”

“So the garrison is leaving Woodedge?”

“Yes, sir; they left abruptly and like I told you earlier, their families are just now leaving to join them.   I heard a rumor of the Greidour king being assassinated.”

“It’s not a rumor.”

Crois looked up in surprise, “Were you there when it happened?”

“No, but I received word.”

“What did you say your name was, sir?”

“Gevin.”

Crois’ suddenly gasped, the blood draining out of his face once again, “Sir Gevin?  You’re the Black Duke’s son?”

“Yes.”

“But…you’re…your ears…um…”

“I’m Half-Elven, Crois.”

“I didn’t believe the rumors that the Black Duke’s son was a Half-Elf.”

“Well, it is true, and yes, I am the same knight that commanded the troops that torched the Albsylvia woods.   Believe it or not, that was not something I ordered and I deeply regret that.”

Crois nodded, clearly terrified of the dreaded knight champion of the king of Greidour. 

“Tell me something, Crois; your people, they are not too fond of me, are they.”

“No sir, you are considered only slightly less evil than The Black Duke.”

“So if your arrow shot had found its mark, you would have been a hero amongst them for killing me.”

“Sir, I-I…” He stammered, at a lost what he should say.

“It’s alright, Crois, but a little suggestion to you - don’t try to kill someone before at least knowing more about them first.   That is a lesson that has taken me many years to learn, hopefully you won’t take that long.”

“Yes, sir.”

“So you took the horses and were heading back to your camp with them when they suddenly bolted and you went after them and that led you to us?”

“And the demon!”

“Ah, yes, well…Apple, come here.”  Gevin called the shapely Halfling girl, who was drying her eyes.

“Yes, sir?”

“Go get her.”

“Now?  Are you sure, sir?”

“Yeah, this boy has told us everything he knows.”

Crois looked quizzingly as Applemint nodded and rushed out of the ruined house.

“Sir Gevin?”

“Yes?”

“Um…sir, who…who is she going to get?”

“You’ll meet her in a moment.    But before you do, I want to make something perfectly clear to you.   I do not enjoy having someone shoot arrows at me and had this been on a field of battle, your head would be rolling around on the ground, detached from your body.   I realize that you are just a stupid youth and hopefully your stupidity will fade like it did for me, but I do not want you or your friends robbing and looting this area.   If I hear that you have returned to this…profession…I will come and track you down and ease your body of the burden of carrying your head.    Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t know who exactly is in control of this area right now, if anyone, but regardless of who controls it, there needs to be peace here.    Despite my notoriety, I hold no ill toward any of the remaining Elven people.    There has been far too many years of conflict between humans and Elves and if I have any say in the matter, it will permanently cease.   That means that it has to stop at both ends and you are the beginning of change on the Elven end.   Understand?”

“I think so, sir.   I’ve learned my lesson.   I just wish my friends…”

“Your friends, as far as I know are alive - if they didn’t break their necks in their panic when they fled.”

“But the demon-“

“Well, here she comes right now with Apple.   Zaeya; this boy wants to meet the she-demon who attacked him.”  Gevin gestured toward the doorway and a moment later Applemint returned with the darkly beautiful woman with the glowing red eyes.

Crois tried to jump up, but Gevin restrained him gently and he calmed down as the women approached, though he seemed ready to spring into action at any moment.

He was wide-eyed and speechless as the black skinned lady smiled sweetly at him and knelt down to better examine the swollen knot between his eyebrows where she’d hit him.

“Well, that left quite a mark, didn’t it?   Does it hurt?”  She asked so casually, Crois just stared at her blankly.

“Has he said anything or did it leave him mute?”  She asked Applemint.

“He’s just overwhelmed with your presence, Zaeya.   You have such a charming way of making new friends; it sends rather mixed signals.”

“Well he was shooting arrows and I had to do something.”  She looked down at the boy and grinned at him.    She was extremely attractive in a wonderful but disturbing way and Crois smiled sickly in response to her smile.

“Boy, does the cat have your tongue?”  She squatted down next to him and extended her hand, “My name is Zaeya.”

“I’m…uh…Crois…Are you a…a demon?”

“According to a lot of people, I’m many foul things,” She glanced at Applemint and smirked, before turning back to him, “But no, I’m not a demon.”

“Then…um…what…”

“You’ve never heard of the Drow?”

Crois gave her a blank look as an answer.

Zaeya sighed wearily, “I’m a Dark Elf; a Drow.”

“You’re an Elf?”

“A Dark Elf; I can’t believe that you haven’t heard of the Drow.  You know -the Elves that live in the Underdark?”

“The what?”

“Underdark - underground.”

“You live underground?”

“In vast caverns…there are cities there.”

Crois looked amazed and confused, “I’ve never heard anything about underground Elves.”

Zaeya smirked and glanced over at Troem, “What have you been teaching the younger generations, anyway?   Once we were feared by all, now we’re forgotten by everyone!”

Perplexed at the turn of events, Crois just looked questioningly to the four coconspirators, “You tricked me.”

“No, you’re the one who claimed a demoness had attacked you.  We just reacted to what you believed.”

Zaeya turned back to the Elf youth, “I also know for a fact that you weren’t shooting at me; you took a shot at Gevin for no real reason except mischief.”

Crois’ gaze fell upon the Half-Elf, who frowned slightly but shrugged, clearly already knowing the truth.

“I-I’m sorry!  I’ve learned my lesson; really I have!”  He exclaimed. 

“Let’s hope so,” Gevin commented, leaning back and folding his hands behind his head, “Now that we got the truth out of him, our next question is what we should do with him?”

“Please, sir, don’t kill me!” Crois blurted out anxiously, causing Zaeya to snort in amusement and Applemint to giggle.

“He’s not going to kill you, Crois!   He never was, were you sir?”

“Well at first I wasn’t sure, but no, we won’t kill you.   We just wanted to scare you and your fear of Zaeya gave us that chance, though I thought Apple was going to mess it up when she started laughing.”

“I thought you were just really upset,” Crois told her, remembering how she’d covered her amusement by appearing to go into hysterics.

“It was really fun to participate in, especially to see how scared you were.”

“I wasn’t that scared.” Crois protested, blushing.

“You were about to yell for your mommy,” Applemint replied, then patted his arm, “It’s alright, I had a similar fright from Zaeya a few days ago, she is very terrifying when she is mad.”

“Yes she is,” Crois quickly turned to the Dark Elf, “No offense, ma’am.” 

Zaeya arched her eyebrows, “I’m flattered, actually.”

Crois turned back to Gevin, “What are you going to do with me now?”

Gevin folded his arms across his chest, “Well, that is a good question.   I don’t need you bringing a large group of Elven archers against us.”

“I won’t tell anyone about this!”  He promised.

“Uh huh…you see, I don’t believe you at all and I doubt you believe it yourself.”

“Are you going to kill me, then?”

“No, there has been far too much killing and I’m sick of it.   I think the safest thing is to keep you with us until we reach the garrison fort at Woodedge and then I’ll let you go.”

Gevin had wondered if this would upset the young Elf, but from the frequent glances at Applemint, he was not surprised when Crois seemed almost pleased with it, though he was too proud to show it around the older persons.

“Don’t try to run off, Crois,” Gevin warned, but the boy was too infatuated with Applemint to consider doing that, so he readily promised, trying to sound reserved and perhaps a bit frustrated, though the youthful spark in his eyes betrayed where his interest lied.

“We’ve already lost a lot of the night with all of this foolishness, so we need to all get some sleep.   Crois, you’ll sack out with Troem and me.   The boy nodded in agreement but continued to try to rather awkwardly flirt with the Halfling girl.   Though Applemint was just polite to him and didn’t encourage his attention or actually flirt back, Gevin found that he was growing rather childishly jealous.

 

The rest of that night, Gevin could hear and feel the Elven boy tossing and turning.   While he really didn’t blame him for being restless in his specific situation, he also suspected that part of the boy’s trouble was due to an attraction to the Taphelo Halfling girl.   That got Gevin thinking about both of them, for though they were of different races, they were very close in age.   A creeping doubt began to move around his heart.   He was being very foolish and just downright pathetic in his own feelings for her.  She was too young for him and it wasn’t proper for a knight to take advantage of his relationship with a servant.    At least that was what he firmly believed, but it was values from long ago when there was much more dignity in the world.

Applemint had been very kind and loyal to him, but that was just her nature and the nature of the Pondertort family.   He was letting his own loneliness take control of his mind and his own desperation for somebody to cloud his better judgment.

Realizing this didn’t make it any easier, however, and he laid there feeling a stomach churning mixture of guilt, frustration and depression for the rest of the night.

 



© 2020 Eddie Davis


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Added on November 25, 2020
Last Updated on November 25, 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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