Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Amerasu's Passing

The words fell from her lips as wine would from a drunk too long in his cups.
She could not help herself for it was a need within her and as she waited for the Death God to finally claim her she would have her way, for in her own mind she needed to make things right for she had been silent overly long.

Avarin, her last remaining child held her hands gently in her own as the Nine Ladies of the Night Sky surrounded the two figures. These priestesses were all gently singing the prayers of passing as the smoking incense bowls they held suspended from chains were swung in silent motion, perfuming the Great Hall of Voices with the sweet aroma that would mask the outpouring of emotion to come.

“I love you my Daughter”, a look that was held before she cast her eyes to the two empty chairs that were also upon the dias on which her own chair of ornate wood carving was set, in which she now was seated for the last time. Avarin could offer no words yet for she was herself struggling with the moment at hand. Instead she smiled at her mother and clasped her frail hands in her own more firmly.

“I have missed my two children so much since they were taken from us, yet I have taken only the greatest of pride in you my eldest and most beautiful daughter. I hope I will be welcomed by Jhokl and not admonished for that which I have done. More so though is my wish to once more see my fair Lerel, my long missed Kay’alo and my most loyal and loving Navarre. Do you think they will greet me with the love I have always borne them?”

This last was a clear question that demanded an answer beyond a gentle caress of the hand.

“Oh mother, your children will always welcome you with the warmth of the love you have only ever shown them. I believe they await you in the Halls of the Dead and together you will all be once again a family of souls bound by the love and honour you have given us all and always. The Lord of those Halls will himself take a knee as you pass through the gates. You will ascend as is your right so to do. I wish we could have more time – I am not ready to be the last of your bloodline, I am not as strong as you or my kin … my sister, Navarre … I…”
Only then did Avarin let her grief show as the tears marked her cheeks.

Amerasu reached to wipe the tears from her daughter’s face but her hand was trembling and weak so Avarin guided it longing to feel the life within her mother still, only it was leaving her aged body and with it she was leaving Avarin.

“You are strong Avarin – never question that in yourself. I watched you as I exiled your brother, as Lerel was taken from us and finally when the news was brought to our very gates of Navarre and those that fell with him so far from our lands. You are all I had ever hoped for and wanted for this House. I only wish I could have given you more but I am weary of this life now and will go willingly knowing that you are my daughter and heir. A mother could not be more proud of her child and the grandchild you have given us.”

Avarin now wept openly. Her companions, the comitati would have come forward to comfort and protect the First Daughter but they knew they could be of no assistance so they held their positions showing their discipline and respect of the moment. Heads bowed hidden deep within the dark blue hoods of their cloaks their own emotions were masked and Hiska, head of the comitati was thankful of that as she was struggling with her own emotions and suspected her companions may well also be doing the same.

In these few passing moments Avarin had gathered her inner strength and looking up at the Priestesses she moved closer to her mother to be with her at the very end. Amerasu was among the eldest of all the people of the Elves. She had witnessed the rise and fall of the great nine cities of the elven races and had been instrumental in the return to Aquila, the greatest of those nine monuments in which she now passed her final breaths in the world of the living.

The Priestesses moved in, their soft voices giving comfort. Amerasu’s hand slipped from Avarin’s clutch as the life left her body. Her head slowly fell to her chest and in a moment of pure peacefulness she was gone from this world.

A lone crow that had been sat at a window opening flew close to Avarin’s head, circling round and then taking heavy winged flight out of the same window opening and into the night sky. With one single bone-chilling cry, Seeker the crow was joined by a murder of crows that streamed out from their nests high in the trees that stood guard over the burial mounds. The crows combined and became one mass of ink black wings in the clear moonlight of the night sky. Those still awake within the city turned their eyes to the blackness of the night. Whether they knew what they were seeing or not, it mattered little for blood ran cold and sorrow overcame all that beheld this sight.

Sound could give no voice to the tumult of emotions within the chamber.
The Great Hall of Voices was defeaned by the grief of a daughter, her comitati and the Priestesses that now guided their queen’s spirit to the Halls of the Dead.

* * *

Avarin stood on the battlements looking north towards the Great Wood far to the north of Aquila. She wondered how the news of her mother’s passing would be received by her kind there. There was no way of telling until the messengers returned so until then she had only her own thoughts on the matter. Long ago she had grown weary of the politicking of that place instead preferring to leave it to her younger sister Lerel, sorely missed, for her own place was here, at her mother’s side in the city of the elves. The city that had caused a long war fought over some seven years and one that had cost her the lives of many of her House and her own sister. Such things could never be forgotten for her mother had carried the grief of all those lost for all of them ever since. Now she was gone and Avarin was her heir.
Thus she found herself looking out into the early morning light over the walls of her city, for hers it truly now was. The words of Navarre echoed in her head “For you are heir to it all.”
She knew it and the council of the Houses deep in the Great Wood would also know it come the daybreak.

* * *

The riders stopped sharply at the gates of Strayhold. The night watchman was unsure of who he was dealing with for the deep hoods hid all features from the dim arc of light cast by his sooted lantern. Straightening his shoulders in an effort to give himself more courage and hopefully add a few inches of stature and thus more of an air of authority to those he now approached, he strode forth uncertain and trembling inside. He hated these moments but he would not abandon his post. A quick check at his hip for the rusty short sword that hung awkwardly gave him no greater solace or courage. He knew he was past his youthful days but he was a proud man and thus spoke up: ‘Who is it that approaches our gate?’

No answer was forthcoming.
Instead the three horseman turned to one another. All that Jeremiah could make out in the evening gloom was the hoods of the riders turning to converse with one another, yet he heard no words being spoken. Just as he was summoning the courage within his twisting gut to challenge them again one of the horseman spurred his mount forward. In doing so he pulled back his hood to reveal shoulder length hair, the pointed ears of the elven race and the dark smudges of tattoos at his temples.
Jeremiah breathed out. ‘Aditu’ he thought to himself. He hoped.

As the rider let his hood fall he stopped his mount within a few feet of Jeremiah’s questioning face.
“Forgive us Night Watchman, we meant no cause for concern. I should have announced us but we are weary from our hard ride north. We are of the House Aditu and merely wish to ask for water for our mounts. We have pushed hard ever since leaving the city and we cannot delay overly long yet.”

“The city… Aquila?”
“Aye, we are of the Queen’s household and are bound for the Great Wood.”
“Of course. Any Aditu are welcomed here as you know. Our gate is open to you my lords. Whatever you may need for your horses is yours. The stableyard is just yonder past the gates. Do you need any supplies for the road? If so, I can send word to the tavern whilst you tend to the horses.”
“We have trail rations enough but you have our thanks nonetheless. We will see to the horses and then be gone but may linger longer on our return journey south, once our business is complete north of here.” With that the rider smiled and led his two fellow horseman through the gates that Jeremiah held open for them.

After only a few moments Jeremiah found himself re-opening the heavy wooden gates at the palisade for the three elves. As they passed him one turned and nodded their head in kind acknowledgement before once again lifting the hood and setting the horse to a gallop, north upon the well worn High Road that would lead them to the southern boundaries of the Great Wood. The riders said nothing but set their spurs to their mounts and within moments were gone from Jeremiah’s sight. So he too turned his back to the night and the open road and set his lantern in its place as he barred the gates of Strayhold once more to the outside world. His shoulders hunched as he settled into his heavy cloak at his slow burning brazier that warmed his joints as he waited for the dawn.

* * *

The Warden stood silent. Something was wrong and she could sense it. Making her way to the Summer Gates she was shocked to see a number of elves there, waiting. Alia-tey had been a Warden of the Great Wood for over three centuries counting and had done good service during the Wars of The Returning. Yet for some reason, in this time of relative peace, she felt a fear creeping down her spine the like of which she had not known for a very long time as she approached the company at her gates.
“Why is it so many of you have come to the Summer Gates?”

One by one the elves stood. It was clear most were families who had gathered here, waiting for a Warden. A male spoke clearly “We cannot say in truth Etriel, but I felt a need to be here, as did these others. Will you let us pass through – we do not wish to go far, merely sit at the boundary of the wood for a while.”

“I see no reason to refuse your passage. Let me perform my duties and make sure all is well beyond before you come through.” With that Alia-tey entered the gates of bowed tree branches that formed a large natural doorway and then she was gone from view.
Only a few heartbeats passed and then Alia was back. “All is well my kith and kin. Follow me.” The company of elves from various Houses did just that.

And so it was, in the misty haze of first light with the sun still low in the trees, that a Warden and a crowd of elves came upon the sight of the three riders. Initially Alia went for her bow and notched an arrow to its string. Hailing the strangers she demanded to know their business at her Gate.
“Declare yourselves and your matters here for I am Warden of the Summer Gate.”

The three pulled down the hoods and the lead rider spoke clearly with the air of the cold morning misting with each breath and word “I am Hiska of the Comitati of Aquila and First Daughter Avarin Aditu. You must give us immediate passage into the Great Wood for the Counsel of Houses will hear our words. Summon them to us at the Meeting Stone for we cannot and will not delay our mission. Thus is First Daughter’s command of us and thus is it our command of you.”

Alia lowered her weapon and made forward. “You were not expected but are most welcome. Come with me and what you have asked for will be done.”
With that she led the three riders into the Great Wood. As they passed the crowd of elves a wave of sorrow came with them, unspoken but definite and foreboding. The elves mostly fell to their knees or bowed their heads as the riders passed by. The message was clear enough for it was the reason they had come to the Summer Gates unwittingly. They did not need to hear the words the Hounds of Aditu were about to give those within the Great Wood, for they already had the truth of it from the saddened eyes of the riders. So they stayed behind and turned their gaze far to the south, as if they could see the lone figure upon the battlements of Aquila in her mourning clothes and somehow reach out to her with comforting arms and words. Yet they were far too many leagues away to do so, but still they tried with heavy hearts and tear stained cheeks.

* * *

Hiska was in no mood for courtly manners and etiquette this day but she knew she must present herself with all the bearing of her position and House, else do her mistress a poor showing of the task given her. They had ridden so hard through the night and into the hours of the dawn that she was exhausted from sitting upon the saddle for so may hours and knew she must look less than well presented in her armour of chain and leathers but she cared nothing for that. Her place was beside Avarin with the full compliment of the comitati, or Hounds as they were commonly known, and she wanted to be done with this business as quickly as she could to then return to her charge and the city that was her home.

The Great Wood was not a place she often came to in truth since the Returning to Aquila and so she felt a little out of place here. Others had come here as companions to Lerel, for Avarin had chosen her mother’s side and the city walls over the boundaries of the ancient homeland of the Elves of all the Houses. And as such Hiska had stayed with Avarin – ever and always, as was her oath.

As the members of the counsel gathered many other inhabitants of the Great Wood also came, as was the instruction given out by the three riders of Aditu. All were to hear the words. It seemed to take an eternity for the crowds to gather and settle. Hiska of the Aditu comitati was impatient to be on her way before mid morning was upon them, if she was to be back within Aquila for late nightfall.  Even that was asking much of herself and her horse, and she knew it.

Finally, a calm descended as Hiska strode out into the clearing and up to the chairs of the counsel members of each of the ten Houses of the Immortals. Her two companions followed in her shadow, silent and somber.
Hiska stopped in front of the seated elders and stood at the meeting tree. She planted the point of her longsword deep into the dew soaked grass at her feet and removed her hood to show the Aditu markings at her eyes – the crimson tattoos that all Aditu wore with pride as a badge of their House.
Turning to all so as many would hear her voice as was possible she gave the words she had long dreaded.

“I am named Hiska of the Aditu comitati. I am sent here to give you these words to my honour and to my shame, for I would not have wished to bear this news.

First Grandmother Amerasu of the House Aditu now sits with her children, Lerel and Navarre, and the Death God Jhokl in his Halls. She passed from us two evenings ago. The manner of her passing was peaceful, with her last surviving daughter Avarin at her side and her spirit accompanied by the flight of all the crows of Aquila to see her upon the Crow Road. The light of Ashaan was upon her at the last. May she guide our mother to her rest.

My mistress, First Daughter Avarin of House Aditu is now named Head of House and Queen of Aquila as is her birthright.

The Queen is dead; long live Queen Avarin, daughter of the Light Elves and Singer to Crows.
I have no other words for the giving.”

Silence followed her for none of the gathered had voice enough to respond to that which they had just learned. Many wept openly while others cradled themselves in their arms or were held close in the arms of others.

As Hiska walked out of the clearing she stopped at her two companions and gave them orders. They nodded in acceptance. She hated being apart from her comitati and they felt the same but this was necessary. ‘Ever and always’, as were their oaths. Hiska deftly drew her sword from the ground, wiped it upon the stained blood cloth at her belt to dry it from the morning mists and sheathed it in fluid motion. She did not turn back for knew she would never return here. The world had turned for her and her kind. She would stay her course.

One of her companions then spoke to the assembly before them “All are welcome to attend the internment of Amerasu within her barrow mound. Three days hence shall we gather at the Garden of the Dead within Aquila to sing our mourning songs and give her safe passage into the dark.  This will be recorded and now forever known as the year of Amerasu’s Sorrow.
These are the words of Avarin freely given, for all are children of Amerasu and all are welcomed in this our mourning at her passing from this life. We will remain and bring any who wish to travel to Aquila for this back with us – make yourselves known by evenings fall, for we shall depart on the morrow at dawn’s breaking. I am named Joren of the Comitati and will be guardian to those that come with me, as will be my companion Brenna.”

Joren and Brenna then took their leave and headed to the Aditu lodges for rest and food. They were well tended by their fellow Aditu who had many questions to ask of them. Hiska was already upon her horse and headed to the Summer Gate and home, south to her city and her new queen.

Friday, 1 March 2013

this 'ere site

As well as keeping it as a repository for occasional elf stuff, do we also want to use it for Clarion now that we have collectively Drawn A Line Under It And Moved On?

Friday, 2 December 2011

Cathwaer the Barakyte.

"And did you know there are only five of them? Amongst all the elves of the Great Wood and all those who have returned to the fair city of Aquila, only five. They number fewer than their High Priests, few than the lords of the Elven Houses. Can you imagine a more exclusive selection? If you can then you won't have imagined one more arduous to join and members more unwilling to be a part of it.

The Barakytes; warriors beyond compare, welcomed on the field and shunned off it. Heroes known by every adult, every child in their house, and beyond, but their history known by none. Or rather a specific part of their history is not known, the part that made them into what they are. Into the Barakytes."

Klaus stooped to pick up his tankard and surveyed the room over the brim as he drank. This was his third, and final, act of the evening and he had the attention of the entire room now. The Inn of the Crooked Spires in Twinforkes was always a busy place, the main room full of travellers and traders going between the city states and sometimes, like tonight, more exotic guests going between the Great Wood and Aquila. When it was full the room could be a loud mix of a dozen tongues babbling at once around two dozen tables, the ceaseless clatter of meals and drinks being delivered and consumed and the scrapes and thuds of benches and chairs on the old wooden floor. On a cold night like tonight the many torches around the wall and the roaring fire pits added their own crackling din. Against this an inexperienced bard might find himself singing to just the nearest table and the rest of the room oblivious to his efforts.

But Klaus was not inexperienced and had played the Crooked Spire many times before. His first song had been loud, dirty, and well known, easily getting the majority of the room to join in. His second more sombre but rooted in the region and popular, all but the one table in the far corner listening to him. His final act was, as is traditional, a spoken piece about history and legend. By the time he'd reached for his tankard even this last, stubborn table had quietened to listen.

Of course they're listening, Klaus thought as he put his tankard back down, they love a story about themselves.

"Of course I cannot tell you about all of them. I would run out of breath, our host out of drink and all of us out of years before I recount the deeds of five such elven heroes. So I shall tell you of just one of them. The only one to have left the Great Wood so it's said, and travel with his House and to fight against the Church and besiege the City of Spires. This night I shall tell you a tale told to me by an Elven bard many years ago about Cathwaer the Barakyte, of the Royal Elven House of Aditu."

He'd guessed right. Eight sets of eyes fixed on him from the corner of the room, utterly focussed, unwavering, disconcerting even. Though the light in that corner was poor, Klaus had thought the material of their hoods a dark blue and though they pulled the hoods far up, he had seen red tattoos on their temples. Aditu warriors. Depending on which war captain led them he might even earn silver tonight or, if they didn't appreciate the tale, loose his life.

"Like all Aditu elves, Cathwaer was a warrior born. Fast, deadly and ruthless. A marksman with his great yew bow from an early age and in the shield wall an unrelenting killer. Marked for greatness from a young age, Cathwaer trained under the steady gaze of the greatest elven warlords. However, and no doubt a frustration for the young fighter, beyond the occasional skirmish, the elves of the Great Wood were at peace with little chance for a warrior to earn glory.

Do not forget this was many hundreds of years ago though. Before some of the cities even stood, much of the land still rolling plains populated by tribes of Mongols and other savages. Whilst these days the Great Wood is bordered by civilisation, then there was little beyond seas of grass and occasional ruins. Into this empty world rode the Mongol horsemen, terrible and merciless, none more so than Hettan Shur, Khan of the Burnt Faces clan. This murderous fiend had killed his own father to command the clan, before slaughtering his brothers and sisters and anyone else who threatened his rule. Those he spared but who had not supported him as fully as he would have liked, he branded on the face, costing them at least one of their eyes. His more ardent supporters, seeing this please their Khan, then branded their own faces, though more careful about sparing their eyes no doubt. A different brand was devised for each role with in the clan; warriors, wives, craftsmen, healers. When the clan began swallowing up it's neighbours, each new member was marked accordingly, only the very young spared until their role was divined. Soon the only face not so scarred was Hettan Shur himself. Shockingly handsome so it's said, his flawless beauty made all the more so when surrounded by his burnt and maimed tribe.

Now you think you know handsome, after all you have sat and beheld me, Klaus of Franconia, for long enough, but Hettan Shur was much more. Women would swoon at the sight of him, emissaries become tongue tied at his smile. Why even his horrifically scarred warriors would look up from ploughing their yaks when he passed. However upon seeing that he walked on two legs not four and had no shaggy coat or tail, they would as quickly return to their bestial rutting. But no one can deny they looked!"

As expected this got a laugh from the crowd. Mongol jokes always played well in the Forkes since the attack a few years ago. Just hidden beneath the laughter was a bitter edge, resentful of the horse-lords' arrogance and power. That same base anger kept the Mongols away from the taverns though and made Klaus' jokes safe to tell. No laughter from the elves however, not really their high-brow humour Klaus thought, but a few had smiles so they weren't too offended by the mocking of their allies.

Best tone it down a bit though Klaus, he considered, not really in the mood for an axe being thrown at the stage.

"Eventually the Burnt Faces came to edge of the Great Wood. They numbered in their thousands, covering the land with ponies, wagons and others walking, surrounded by vast herds of yak and raising a tattered banner of dust visible from scores of miles away. At the edge of the wood the Khan drew his warriors up along the tree line. There they paused, the front rank but a step from entering the realm of the elves. Hettan Shur was no fool though and he knew the consequences to entering elven lands. He was not blind either and though he could see none of the warriors, in the gloom of the forest he could make out the many banners of the elven warlords, planted in the forest floor in plain view of the human warriors. He could see the red and blue of Aditu, the white and black of Acoma, the gold and red of Athuati. And amongst these colours could be made out the sigils and heraldry of the war captains. Such is the way of elves in forests that the Khan could not be sure whether the banners were there alone or whether hundreds of warriors were concealed in the woods about them. His tribe had conquered every foe he had set them against, they would no doubt outnumber the elves by a vast number, but even so he did not order them forward. To take on elves is one thing but in woods? In the Great Wood in particular? Against their priests and shamans and against nature itself? Hettan Shur may have been cruel but he needed his army alive if they were to conquer the world for him."

This was getting a few nods from around the room. Find a collection of caravan guards and mercenaries anywhere in the Steppe and you'll come across at least a couple of Church army veterans. Towards the middle of the room in particular were a pack of a half-dozen Grey Sword mercenaries and judging from the odd tattoo and remnant of kit, at least half their number were ex-inquisition. They were sitting quietly now, some gazing into the past, no doubt thinking about their own experiences of fighting the elves. Klaus had prepared lines extolling the virtue of elven warriors but decided to skip over them whilst the veterans were still reminiscing and before any further flattery might rile them. The rest of the room was silent now, listening to the tale and probably considering the eight elves sat with them in the room.

"Eventually, when no movement was seen under the trees, he pulled his warriors back and encamped a half mile from the edge of the wood. The camp was vast, filled with all the people of his tribe, all scarred to their tasks in life. Though they rapidly stripped the surrounding land of any food and resources, being Mongols all they really needed to survive were their herds of yak. They settled in to wait as though besieging a fortress. Obviously Hettan knew he could not really besiege the Great Wood however he hoped to draw the elves out to do battle and there destroy them with his numerous horse warriors.

Altalas Tay'lon of the house of Athuati commanded the elven forces and had no intention of allowing the foul Khan his victory. He could not fight the Mongols in the woods for they were too afraid to enter them and he did not want to fight them on the plains as the Mongol cavalry would have too much advantage. But Altalas was an elven warlord and had spent centuries waging wars. His plan was deceptively simple, a slaughter, not of men though, but of the yak. That first night, whilst Hettan's forces slept and watched over their vast camp, prepared for an attack that wouldn't come, the entire elven host, some 800 warriors, crept out, killed the guards of the herds and began a bloody nights work.

How do you kill herds though my friends? Though you don't look, or smell, like men who spend too much time with cattle but I'm quite sure you know what happens when you kill an animal on the edge of the herd. Dumb they may be, that's the yak not the Mongols, but the rest of the animals are not going to stand around and let themselves be slaughtered. But that night they did just that. The elven warriors swiftly and methodically cut their way into the herd killing every beast. How did they manage it? No animal will quietly let itself be cut open but these did. It takes a lot of work to kill a grown yak, to hack through the fur and fat to the heart or throat, but the elven warriors seemed to barely cut the creatures before they fell dead to the ground. How? You see Altalas had made compacts with the elven gods. How they made the herds so calm and quite the elven bard would not tell me. Perhaps this is a secret they still retain? Perhaps it is a skill they have lost? Who can tell. But how did they kill the yak so quickly? That the bard did tell me, in fact he told me in whispers as though scared of the power he revealed.

We mortals do not know much of the elven gods. We have heard of Ashan and Arapey. We have heard of Grun. Those unfortunate enough to have faced the elves in battle will recognise the names of Baradan and Jkohl. But one god who we do not know of, who we do not want to know of, who, in truth, the elves themselves do not want to know of, is Glandu Gen, the Mistress of Disease."

It seemed as though a couple of the veterans actually had heard of the elven goddess of plague and pestilence to judge from their reflexive spitting at her name. Normally such displays were all the spark needed to start a fight; no one likes seeing their gods insulted. However the elves in the corner table had reacted in much the same way, as Klaus knew they would, and didn't take offence.

"At the slightest cut or graze from the elves blades the yak would fall dead as the poisons coating the weapons raced through the great beasts. The animals were dead before they realised they had been cut and rotting before they slumped to the ground. As the warrior would move onto the next yak, the now poisoned meat would already be sloughing off the bones of the dead. This was Glandu Gen's gift to the elves though, as with all her gifts, there would be a price to pay. What Altalas had promised the priestesses was not known at the time and would only become apparent later.

But that night there was no talk of debt, no talk at all in fact, as the warriors slid amongst the herds and slaughtered the Mongols' way of life. The left some alive, but only those which were so close to the fires of the tribe's camp that their sudden collapse and stillness would be noticed by the humans. This thin screen of yak hid the thousands, tens of thousands, of dead animals behind them. Glandu Gen's poison was as subtle as it was effective; no stench of rot reached the camp though the carcasses almost completely surrounded it. As the sky began to lighten the elves crept back out from the fields of the dead animals and returned the woods, their presence never noticed, and the Mongols woke to the ruin of their clan. With the warming sun and the collapsing of the Glandu Gen's spell, the horrific stench of death filled the air bringing with it all the flies and carrion feeders from the surrounding lands. From the woods the elves could hear the cries of despair and lamentation rising from the human camp. The few yak left alive were barely enough to feed the Mongols for a day or two and then people would begin to starve. Fights broke out between the warriors for possession of the remaining herd with the newer, weaker, members of the Burnt Faces being attacked for whatever stocks of food they had. The clan was coming apart and the Khan could do nothing to alleviate the problem. Only the fear which the clan held for his original followers, the Vlas-tevny or Self-scarred warriors, held them together and stopped the whole lot from dispersing into the steppe. There were no cities to rob in those days, no farmers to put to the sword and crops steal. No innocents to intimidate and threaten, no children of the Forkes to starve so that Mongol warriors didn't. The dirty bastards were beaten but too stupid to realise it."

The room had an a heavy undercurrent of satisfied anger to it now. Though many here were visitors to Twin Forkes, many were residents of the city and many others from Whistling Forkes where the Mongols had also forced the people to surrender their food or be killed. There was a risk telling tales of the elves to men so recently fighting them however by picking a common enemy, however historic for the elves, Klaus could give the whole room something to enjoy, Regaling the elves with their own heroics would always go down well and telling the tales of the Mongols being given a taste of their own medicine would provide a small sense of vengeance to people in no place to take their own.

"But where was the hero of tonight's tale in all this? Where was Cathwaer? He had been amongst those slaughtering yak and was now, along with the other warriors of Aditu, waiting for the Mongol Khan to order his troops into the woods such action being his only option other than a defeated retreat. Traps had been prepared, spells woven around trees and across glades. Pits had been dug and earthen mounds raised to impede the Mongol cavalry and channel them into killing grounds. Lines of battle, fall back positions, rally points, targets for advances; all had been discussed and agreed. But none of them were used. Altalas's scheme had been even more effective than planned and the Khan could not convince his people to attack as he must expend all his effort just to keep them from running away.

The elves waited. The Mongols argued and fought amongst themselves. Those who tried to leave were killed by the Vlas-tevny, those who stayed began to starve. The elves waited. And waited. They waited for days. They waited and watched as the young and old of the Mongols staggered to the edges of their camp and were cut down by the Vlas-tevny for trying to leave and, as more time passed, cut down but any member of the foul tribe as being a waste of precious food.

You might think this was the perfect way for the elves to fight the battle. Their enemies killing each other and dying off in droves without a single elven life lost. To this idle bard it sounds like the best way to win. But what force should rear it's ugly head? What power has ever been the bane of generals of every race in every age? Politics. House Acoma was not happy with how things had turned out. Some of you will no doubt of heard of House Acoma. An entire tribe of politicians and diplomats; can you imagine anything worse? If they cannot get an advantage from a situation then the next best thing is to make sure no one else does either. It turns out politics is the same no matter the species"

A few laughs around the room. No one liked politicians and those of House Acoma were known to be the most slippery of the breed. Some of the merchants in the inn would have even met them during their travels but everyone knew of them from their frequent visits to the cities near the Great Wood where they tried to spread the influence of their House. Even though Klaus was mocking other elves he knew he was relatively safe from the warriors sat in the corner. Aditu did not have the best of relationships with Acoma, no doubt harking back to some instance in antiquity, and Aditu warriors especially would have little regards for the effete and cowardly ways of their cousins.

"You see Acoma did not enjoy the sight of Altalas, and House Athuati, gaining the prestige of defeating the Mongols whilst House Acoma contributed nothing beyond slaughtering some yak and therefore gained no credit. The praise of the warriors of House Aditu for the Athuati warlord only angered the Acoma further. They could not seize any credit for the victory but maybe they could find a chance in the Mongols' suffering to cast themselves in a better light. Preaching peace and mercy they claimed that leaving the Mongols to starve to death and slaughter themselves was barbaric and a tactic worth of their enemies, not the noble actions of elves. The warriors of House Aditu laughed at this sentiment and derided the Acoma warriors present for being led by cowards and fools. Athuati are not Aditu though, and Altalas was swayed by the words of the Acoma. He agreed with the Acoma that the quicker the Mongols moved on the better and the quickest way was to now offer the survivor's enough food to leave rather than to leave them any longer until desperation forced them to attack and elven lives might be lost. Altalas decided he would visit the Mongol camp himself, under a flag of truce, and offer the Khan terms. Though his warriors objected and called on their lord to ignore the Acoma suggestion or at the very least advance in strength, Altalas was firm and his troops obeyed his command to remain in the woods. Athuati are not like the elves we know. Savage Aditu warriors, deadly Velent'm archers, effete Acoma diplomats. Athuati are not warriors as such but soldiers and they follow the commands given. The Aditu warriors, Cathwaer amongst them, demanded the right to advance and to provide protection to Altalas but these too were refused. Though not soldiers the Aditu respected the Athuati warlord too much to refuse him. At the least they requested that a bodyguard of the best Aditu warriors would go with Altalas and protect him from the Mongols, known to be a traitorous people then as now. This honour however went to another House. Though their diplomats and leaders turned down or made excuses to avoid the parlay, the warriors of Acoma are a different breed and a dozen of their number would form an escort for Altalas.

The elven war host formed up just within the tree line. On the left flank was the legion of Athuati, resolute and standing firm, a red and gold wall. In the centre the Aditu warbands, savage, eager, like hounds held on a leash. On the right the Acoma warriors, less disciplined than the Athuati, less aggressive than the Aditu, a silent host in the black and white colours of their house. Behind and to the flanks the armoured archers of the lesser houses. They all watched as Altalas, surrounded by his twelve bodyguards, made his was out from the trees and across the bare ground to the Mongol camp. Absolute silence. A few dazed, starving Mongols watched the elves approach, hundreds of elven warriors watched them walk away. Silence. The elves in the woods watched the small column reach the outskirts of the camp, enter it and be lost from view. Silence."

Klaus paused. Silence reigned in the tavern room too. All his listeners knew a battle would ensue, indeed they would be disappointed now if it didn't.

"And then keening, wailing, screaming. The Mongol camp seemed to convulse and collapse in on itself as Mongols streamed to the centre of the camp, kicking over tents as they went. But the savages weren't collapsing on themselves, only converging on the elves in their centre. On Altalas and his twelve warriors. Immediately the elven line surged forward from the trees desperate to close the distance to the camp and rescue the warlord. These warriors had fought together for years, scores of years, centuries; though they ran their line did not break. But even their endless years of training could not stop their line beginning to fragment and spread out. Then from the left of the Mongol camp cavalry suddenly burst out and began forming up to charge at the elves. It seemed the Khan had preferred the weaker members of his people to die before his warriors horses were touched. Though the surviving beasts were somewhat skinny and underfed, the elves had no cavalry of their own and were now moving across open ground. Once formed up the horses charged, quickly eating the ground up between the armies. Ranks of lancers readied their weapons to crash home whilst the terrible Mongol horse archers prepared their bows to rain down arrows upon their enemies while circling out of reach.

Hundreds and hundreds of Mongol horsemen were bearing down on the still-running elven army. Then two parts of that running mass suddenly stopped. On the left flank the Athuati, seemingly running in a straggling column, stopped, each warrior pivoted left and they formed up. Quicker than can be imagined by human warriors the solid line of red and gold reappeared and now faced the oncoming Mongol horse warriors, protecting the entire left flank. Spears, longer than those usually carried by the elves, thrust out from between the shields and the Mongols, so confident of their crushing charge just a minute before, rode onto their deaths. At the last minute the rear ranks of elves flung short throwing javelins taking down hundreds of horses and men, bringing others down in the confusion and barricade of dying horses. Those that rode through or jumped over their downed comrades were spitted on the spear points, their stinking hides and furs not able to stop the points from punching clean through warriors and taking others behind them. It is said that some of the long spears had two or even three Mongol bodies skewered on them by the end. Those few that reached the lines crashed against braced shields, held in place with spikes on the bottom driven into the ground. Short stabbing blades flashed out cutting down first the horses, then the riders. The Mongol lancers were stopped dead and the Athuati line began it's advance, shields pulled up from the ground and short swords stabbing out. Whenever a still-mounted Mongol rode at the line the shields were slammed back down and the long spears run out. The red and gold line butchered the Mongol warriors and the gold was soon turned a matching red.

The second elven forces to draw up had been the armoured archers. Far beyond the range of even the Mongols' powerful re-curve bows, the elves drew back their great longbows and began to send flight after flight of arrows amongst the Mongol riders. Not yet able to retaliate the Mongols had to ride through the rain of shafts to try and bring their attackers into range. A futile effort. Half the Mongol archers were dead before they brought the elves in range and of the survivors, many were riding away from the battle, desperate to save themselves. The elven archers now swarmed round the flanks of the Athuati line and, abandoning ordered volleys, began picking off Mongol lancers and archers alike. Such was the number, accuracy and speed of the elves, many Mongols fell from their horses pierced by four or five arrows.

Whilst the mounted Mongols had formed, charged and died on the left flack, the Aditu and Acoma warriors had not halted their own advance. As they reached the edges of the camp, a horde of stinking Mongols surged forward and threw themselves at the elves. No ordered attack this, just the starving mass trying to overcome the attackers by weight of numbers. Into this ravening horde the Aditu warbands plunged. Like a spear thrust into the side of one of the Mongols' yak. They were quickly surrounded but continued forwards cutting ever deeper into the Mongol camp. Near the tip of the spearhead Cathwaer fought with his brothers, forcing their way towards the centre of the camp to avenge the attack on Altalas. Against such numbers no advance can continue however. Eventually the Aditu attack slowed and stopped, the weight of the Mongol numbers to great to press into further and now threatening to overwhelm the shield circle the Aditu had formed. At that moment, when it seemed the Aditu line might break and Mongols swarm amongst the elven warriors, the Acoma, who had swung wide on the right flank before attacking the camp, struck the Mongols in the rear. Between two such forces there could be no doubt of the Mongols' fate. Battle became slaughter, fighting became a harvest and arms became heavy with endless killing.

At the moment of the Acoma attack, when the Mongols reeled back, Cathwaer had charged forwards for he had seen the bright red clock of Altalas lying in the dirt not twenty paces from him. Mongol warriors tried to stop him and died. He cut down two, five, a dozen. Nothing could stop him. Mongol warriors still looking well fed and better armoured than their fellows flung themselves in his path. Four of the Vlas-tevny, the warrior elite attacked him. They died just as easily under Cathwaer's blade. Two particular Mongols, who fought together in a deadly concert of blades, managed to make him slow but no more than that. They died with the rest of the foul warriors. Though he did not know it, Cathwaer had just killed Hettan Shur's two sons and extinguished his line. And what of the Khan himself? Cathwaer fully expect to reach him next having cut his way through the bodyguards but it was not to be. As Hettan's younger son fell to the earth, and the last of the Mongols fled, Cathwaer saw the Khan of the Burnt Faces tribe already dead on the ground. Thrust through the Mongols chest was a short Athuati blade, the hilt decorated with the heraldry of Altalas. The elven warlord himself lay nearby, the bodies of the twelve Acoma warriors surrounding him. Around them lay dozens of Mongol corpses. Cathwaer had cut down only four Vlas-tevny; the only four left. The rest, over a hundred, had died at the hands of the Altalas' bodyguard. It is a strange thing my friends. The Aditu are a war-like house and they are all savage warriors. The Athuati a martial house and the most disciplined of soldiers. The Acoma are a house of diplomats and priests but their warriors are all heroes. Few of that house choose to become warriors but those that do are beyond compare. Though outnumbered, surrounded and doomed, the Acoma warriors had fought an entire clan and slaughtered the elite Vlas-tevny warriors. As Cathwaer stood in stunned silence he saw Altalas' hand move slightly and his eyes flutter open. Though brutally cut down, the Athuati warlord still lived.

Cathwaer rushed to his side calling for healers though he suspected Altalas was beyond their aid. The Athuati warlord must have agreed for he muttered only one thing when Cathwaer was close enough to hear. The name of a god: Glandu Gen. Only the healing of a god could save the elf now and Cathwaer prepared to pick Altalas up and bring him to one of the Bone Witches, the priestesses of Glandu Gen, of whom several had accompanied the army. Though not of Altalas' house, if Cathwaer could not find an Athuati warrior before finding a Bone Witch then he would gladly serve in the Dead Guard in payment for the healing. Altalas had proved his value beyond the ties of houses. The warlord was not done though and gasped out a few words more before Cathwaer could pick him up. "Her price must be paid," the warlord struggled out. "Her gifts are not free". Altalas would not say more and, as Cathwaer watched, the life slipped from the Athuati warlord and his spirit passed on. As Cathwaer rose from kneeling he became aware of another elf stood on the other side of Altalas' body. One of the Bone Witches, a young, innocent looking girl, dark straight hair hiding most of her face, white shift muddied a the hem but otherwise impossibly clean for a battlefield, hands covered in blood, some black and old, some red and fresh. "The Mistress demanded payment from this one for her gift" the priestess said, looking down at the dead warlord. "The Mistress still demands payment Cathwaer of Aditu" she continued. "And I will pay it in his stead then" Cathwaer replied. The priestess reached out a dripping hand for Cathwaer to take and led him from the body of Altalas. Without seeming to cast any spell the priestess and Cathwaer stepped from plains to dream-road to the holy place of Glandy Gen. To those who had watched the exchange, the two seemed to fade away to nothing in the space of just a few heartbeats.

The battle had cost the elves dozens of warriors but the Mongols hundreds. Their bodies were left to rot next to the bones of their precious yak, the vast field of dead a warning to the other savages of the steppes. The bodies Altalas, his twelve guards and all the other fallen elves were carried back to the Great Wood leaving nothing but dead Mongols outside the tree line. Cathwaer's bothers did not wait from him to return for service to Glandu Gen is never short. He would return when he had paid off Altalas' debt to the goddess. Cathwaer himself became a guard of Glandu Gen's holy place, then bodyguard to the priestess from the battlefield and, it is rumoured, her lover too. Hundreds of years passed before he was seen again by the warriors of Aditu when he returned to them, his service done. What acts he committed during those years, what training he received, what battles he fought; all of that is unknown. He was no longer just another warrior though. He had been touched by a goddess, by the sister of death, seen rituals and prayers forbidden to all but Glandu Gen's followers. He was a Barakyte now, one who has completed his service to the Mistress of Disease, still Aditu but also apart. More deadly than ever before in battle, more separate than ever before from his brothers. Less a single elven warrior than a force of nature, still carrying the blessing of a god.

And he is out there my friends, maybe in Aquila, maybe the Great Wood, maybe travelling between the two…A peerless warrior, a terrible enemy, a Mongol killing hero!"

The room was filled with the racket of dozens of mugs and fists being rattle on the tables. The crowd approved of the tale, they approved of a hero who slaughter Mongols. Klaus began his round of the room and the coppers seemed to pour into the tankard he passed around. The evening was a success and Klaus was feeling very pleased with himself as he approached the final table in the room. The Aditu warriors watched him as he approached and placed the tankard at the end of the table and thanked them for listening. Custom was for patrons to drop a reward into the cup before passing it on and around the table. Just as Klaus began to wonder if he needed to explain this to the Sithi, one in the centre of the group put an upturned hand out over the middle of the table. Lying in his palm was an Aquila minted silver coin. Purer and larger than the human minted versions, they were worth a lot more.

Maybe they don't carry coppers thought Klaus, this must be the reward from the whole group.

Before he could move however all but one of the other warriors dropped another silver coin into the first's hand. Seven bits of silver gleamed in the torchlight as the elves who had contributed turned to regard the eighth who had not. Leaning forward the final elf dropped his coin on top of the others and now a full gold piece rested on top of the seven silver. The first elf tipped all the coins into a small pouch he tossed to a stunned Klaus. Eight tankards raised to him, eight elven heads nodded in respect. Klaus staggered away…


Silence at the table.
"That was a good tale" said one.
"Well told" said another.
"Well learnt" said a third.
"I wonder who told it to him" wondered the first.
Silence again. The seven look at the one, the gold giver.
"So…" said the first.
"So what?" the eighth asked.
"You know what. Is it true?"
Considered silence from the one. The other seven waited.
"Mostly I guess. But I never fucked the Bone Hag."

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Of Children & Crows (Part 3: Final)

From a distance Amerasu and her Comitati look upon the scene that is unfolding in the Gardens of the Dead. Hiska pulls back the hood of her cloak and looks to Amerasu.

“My daughter and Tirandel know what they are doing so why do I fear so much.” A statement, as much as a question. “Trust in the CrowSingers Etriel, for they have always served your House well and I cannot believe they would do such a thing lightly if there were no other way.”

“Trust?” Amerasu turns fiercely upon her bodyguard and household companion “It was trust which brought us to this moment all those years ago when men failed us on the field of battle in spite of their long given words and blood bonded treaties. Our sons paid the price of trust that day and evermore I have carried its lament. Trust is a whoring bed fellow. That is all trust is.”

The tears upon Amerasu’s delicate face mark her grief. Hiska can only comfort her with a silent embrace for she has no words to offer her queen.

* * *

The wings of the crow’s block out all light and the three figures fall into the darkness brought upon them by the birds that are revered as the harbingers of death by the Elven Houses. There is no noise within the living tomb of shadowed wings other than the flapping of wings and the snapping of beaks as they puncture skin and take their blood toll. The child is screaming as Rauxlor and Seeker take from him that which they demand – his life blood.

Avarin and Tirandel shelter him from the beaks of the other crows that are calmly seeking to join in the macabre feast. Blood streams from their faces and limbs as the frenzied attack starts to abate. Once black dresses are now dyed a dark crimson. They do not fall or falter from protecting the child. Never once do they step back or fail to shelter him from all except the two birds that have demanded royal blood. This night both elven women have learnt what it truly is to be a Singer to the Crows.

From within the darkness that surrounds them Rauxlor and Seeker stand back and face the Elves and their own kind alike. A voice is heard by all within this company:

"This night we have supped upon the direct bloodline of Third Son Navarre. With his passing and that of his fellow Aditu warriors we have been protecting the Aditu from the wandering spirits lost upon the Crow Road. Four years passing is time enough. Our shadow can now be lifted. Without their bodies they cannot be laid to rest in our Garden of the Dead, for they fell far from here in lands unknown and hidden from us. Jhokl demands his payment. This we have taken from the son this night. With his blood upon our beaks and wings we have an offering for Jhokl to put our beloved lords safely upon the road that will lead them to his Halls. My kin, fly with me this last time for I will not return.

My place is at the side of he who has served me so well and whom I must now give my last honour and breath to. My master calls me home. Blood for blood.”

Rauxlor then ascends into the night followed by a streaming murder of crows. Only Seeker remains behind staring at her CrowSinger, Avarin, who returns her gaze coldly.

“You have done well my children. Rauxlor will pass from the mortal veil and ascend, as is his fate so to do. Long has he carried the dead. Now the time of mourning is past for you. Bury items of all those we do honour to in the barrow beyond these steps. They deserve your remembrances, as they will have ours. Mighty lords of the House Aditu fallen in battle. They can now be at peace.”

With that Seeker follows her kin and is lost to sight in the paling light of the night sky.

Tirandel and Avarin comfort the child who is bleeding from his hands. They wrap cloth about the wounds and notice that despite his cries of pain he appears calm and not at all fearful. Tirandel looks to Avarin: “The kei-vishaa helped.” Avarin merely looks back at her companion with eyes that narrow and blood streaked cheeks. Her dress is soaked in her own blood from many wounds, as is Tirandel’s.

She looks to the tomb that Seeker spoke of. “We will do as commanded and rejoice in the peace that has been granted them so long since their passing from us.”

The three figures then make their way from the Garden of the Dead in silence. Thoughts need no sound.

* * *

The figures in the Rose Gardens watch as the crows take to the sky.

As the comitati step away from Amerasu she turns her head and speaks softly from the depths of her hooded cloak of crimson and royal blue.

“Soon my daughter will be your Queen.”

Friday, 5 August 2011

Arguments in the North

“Years, Sereg. Years” he says, pacing in front of the seated captain, “and they call it duty. It is exile.”
“Exile?” the captain questions.
“Or banishment. Or... I don’t know. I don’t have the words for it. I am not Finwe or Lassel. If I were then I would not be here would I? Instead I am. Dismissed. Forgotten.”
“Is this truly how you feel? That you have been sent away? Forbidden from ev...”
“I am not saying that saying that Sereg. Grandmother would never forbid us from the city. From her. Grandmother is not so cruel.”
“Who then? Who has banished us? Exiled us?”
“You know who I...”
“Who is so cruel? Few can give orders to me; a War Captain of House Aditu. Few can force me to summon my Gaesatae, my shield wall, to march North, to bring fire and iron, death and war where they dictate. Is it one of those few you accuse?”
“No! I would not ever...”
“Is it Amren Jelass? The War Marshal? Baradan’s chosen? Or is it First Daughter? The last child? Another? Who do you accuse nan Retan?”
“Let me speak Sereg! You would dig a hole for me to fall into and then...”
“You dig your own grave Retan. Your words are...”
“So let me finish! My words are sense! They are concern! They are the very soul of the Gaesatae!”
“ The Gaesatae? They thi...”
“That we are...”
“Wait. The Gaesatae they...”
“...abandoned! Left to rot!”
"Hold Retan! Remember you place!”
“I... I am sorry nan Sereg. Forgive me. My life to serve.” He kneels, his head bowed.
“And you are forgiven nan Retan.” Briefly, but long enough, his hand rests on the Retan’s head. “Tell me bizema, what do the Gaesatae feel?”
“That we are not wanted.”
“Not wanted?”
“In the city. The court. In the... thing! That Perohnin Aditu becomes.”
“That Aditu becomes? What do you mean my friend? Your words would cut the heart out of me.”
“No Sereg! A thousand deaths before I would harm you.” He seizes the Sereg’s hand, trailing from when it rested upon his head, and presses his forehead to it. “Your heart is the Gaesatae’s heart. Your soul; it’s soul.”
“But it seems my Gaesatae worry? That my brave hunters feel... Well, what do they feel nan Retan?” His hand moves from his Retan’s forehead to the shoulder, his upper arm. He brings the Retan to his feet.

“How long have we been in the North Sereg?”
“We came with Amren. Four warbands; an army to wipe these lands clean. With Lenae, Cabal...”
“And where are those war captains now Sereg? On soft beds.”
“We marched for war! Else I would never have mustered my Gaesatae. Never have roused them but for war.”
“How long Sereg? In the cold North? By ourselves!”
“Years” he mutters, maybe just to himself. “Years.”
“We are dispatched from the city Sereg. Ordered to a frontier far from our borders. A warband deserted, forgotten.”
“We are needed here Retan. A duty is ours to perform.”
“Yes nan Sereg. There is a duty here. A task that only a warband could achieve. But must it be us? For six years we have been here. Six years!”
“A warband must stand here Retan. Aditu must remain.”
“I know nan Sereg. But are we here because we are the right warband to stand here? Or because we are right warband to be absent from the city?”
“True. True nan Retan. We would not easily... fit into the new court.”
“It is the court I worry about nan Sereg! Who is the court? Why is it that the warbands who do not, as you say, fit in the court are those sent away from it? Ithir, Cabal, Y’dar. Those who would distain robes and finery. Those who would instead bear metals and glory.”

He remains silent, lost in thought. The Retan waits patiently, the need to speak now sated and past.
“We are the fortunate ones Retan.”
“Nan Sereg?”
“Consider that we may return to Aquila in weeks should we so choose. What of Y’dar?”
“Aye, the Sereg is far from home.”
“And those that travel with him. Months before they could reach home. Tal, Llofan, Shao. Even Renkin.”
“Ha! I think the city will be barred to him for...”
“None the less. Even the Great Wood is months travel away for poor Renkin.”
“It is as you say Sereg.”
“Even those left with us, Cadfan and his hunters; they may return to Aquila but not as Gaesatae. No triumphant return for Y’dar or his warband yet. No boar standard flying above blood drenched warriors as they return to the city.”
“Aye nan Sereg. When I escorted Y’dar to fair Aquila we were not received as a War Captain returning. Just another Aditu returning to the city.”
“You judge harshly Elohath. Were the Bronze Guard given more notice they would have welcomed Y’dar in a fitting manner. Anlus would have insisted on that.”
“But I worry Sereg. How will the court welcome us when we return? When you return. Ithir Achal, Sereg Amal a Perohnin Aditu. How will the court functionaries receive a son of Baradan, after years spent in the War God’s realm?”
“Ah, now I understand your concern. And I am not worried as you are.”
“No? Are my worries so childish?”
“Not at all nan Retan, but they are no longer relevant. First Daughter has roused herself from the mourning. The functionaries have been blown aside, as leaves in the face of a hurricane. The Miller’s Daughter directs the House again.”
“Why have you not told the Gaesatae this nan Sereg?”
“It is not their concern, my orders are to be followed no matter where they originate.”
“And they would be Sereg, even if you ordered us to walk unarmed and unarmoured into the halls of death. But the needless worry could have been averted.”
“Then spread this news Retan. Let the hunters know that one who knows them, one who understands them, once again directs the might of Aditu.”
“It will be as you say Sereg!”

“But Retan...”
“Yes Sereg?”
“We did not discuss this. I did not entertain your doubts. I did not soothe your fears.”
“Of course nan Sereg. Else you would not be called The Cold.”