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Authors: Lana Axe

A Story Of River

BOOK: A Story Of River
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A Story of River

 
 
 

Tales from Nōl’Deron

 
 
 
 
 
 

Lana Axe

 

Text copyright © 2013 Lana Axe

 

Cover art by Michael Gauss

 

All Rights Reserved

 
 
 

For Dad, my hero.

Prologue

 

“I’m sorry, Yillmara,” the young elf maid
said as she wept. “The child does not live.” She held the tiny bundle toward his
mother, who slowly took him from the maid’s arms. Yillmara looked upon the
lifeless face of her tiny son and wept softly. She closed her eyes and pressed
him to her breast. After a moment, though still exhausted from the birth, she
rose from her bed with her son in her arms.

“You mustn’t, my lady! You need to rest!”
The maid pleaded with her and touched her arm as if to stop her, but Yillmara
continued walking. She made her way from her rooms and stepped out into the
light of the dawn. It was a cool spring morning, and the sound of the river
danced throughout the forest that was home to Yillmara’s people, the Westerling
Elves.

Yillmara approached the river slowly,
earnestly. She trod lightly so not to offend the Spirit of the river. With her
son still in her arms, she walked into the water and fell to her knees, begging
for the life of her child. “River Spirit, hear my plea and grant my son his
life. He deserves the chance to live, to grow, and to know the beauty of this
forest. He should be given the chance to hear the music of the river.”

Slowly, she placed the lifeless body of
her son into the water. Hoping for an answer from the River Spirit was foolish,
she knew, but what matter was that compared to the life of her child. She
covered her eyes and wept. As her tears hit the water, she heard a soft voice
around her. It caressed her and consoled her grief. The River Spirit had come.
The young mother’s weeping ceased, and she felt pure serenity. “I will gladly
trade my life for his,” she said with all the strength of her heart.

With that assurance, the Spirit granted
her request. The mother slid gently down into the river, and the child opened
his sapphire eyes. The young maid came running to the river’s edge along with
Yillmara’s life mate. The maid took the child from the river and rushed him
inside to get him warm.

Though he knew his love’s body would fade
into the river, Ryllak waded into the water to be near her. He could see her
lying serenely in the water, her face peaceful as if sleeping. Reaching his
arms out for her came naturally, but it was no use. He could no longer touch
his beautiful Yillmara. She was gone forever.

The river had granted the child his life,
and in time, the river would reclaim him.

Chapter 1
 

“Far you must travel to a land of spring
and bring back the River who dwells there.” The bent old man’s voice was raspy
and strained but his resolve was strong. He had held the gift of prophecy for
many long years and had served the kings of Na’zora his entire life. He had
always been cryptic, but he was never wrong. If King Aelryk was to survive this
new threat and save his people from a life of servitude, he would have to
figure out how to bring a river from a distant land.

King Aelryk’s face was contemplative. He
may as well have been asked to move a mountain. For months now, dark creatures
had been leaving the Wildlands and attacking Na’zora. Villages near the border
were being raided, and citizens were being taken. Aelryk feared a dark force
had arisen and bound these creatures to an evil purpose. His armies would
arrive either too late or in time to be slaughtered themselves. This was no
simple foe he was facing. His own mages had confirmed there were incredibly
strong enchantments at work here.

Aelryk stood, immediately followed by his
mages. He was taller than all of them, dark-haired, and muscular. He was an
expert swordsman and a brave war leader. During his father’s reign, he had
secured peace with some of the clans who inhabit the Wildlands. The Wild Elves
fought savagely, but in the end Aelryk’s forces were victorious. The vicious
attacks stopped, and the Wild Elves were driven off to their forests. Orzi the
prophet had come through in his father’s time of need, and if Aelryk could
manage to complete this seemingly impossible task, he may be able to save his
people.

“Does anyone know of a land of spring?”
Aelryk asked. His dark eyes looked at his mages, who each lowered their head in
turn. No one knew. “Repeat this prophecy to my historians. Tell them not to
stop searching until they’ve figured out where it is I must go.” A young page
dashed from the room to carry out the king’s command. “Orzi, is it imperative
that I go myself? It seems so dangerous to leave my people in this time of
need. I would much rather move closer to the border and deal with these
creatures myself.”

Orzi had sunk into his chair, exhausted
from the mental strain his gift of prophecy caused him. Slowly, he began to
speak. “Yes, your majesty. Only you will be able to bring back this river. If
you do not go yourself, your kingdom will fall to darkness.”

The matter was settled. Aelryk would leave
his kingdom in the hands of his most trusted advisors and generals. With his
whole heart he was determined to protect his people, even if it meant leaving
them.

As he walked the stone floor of his palace
his mind wandered to the memory of the mutilated bodies that had been brought
back for him to see. Many of them were torn into several pieces. These
creatures had attacked with such savagery that it was impossible to believe it
could have been any beast known to man. These were dark creatures controlled by
some evil force. The few who managed to survive were incredibly lucky. In their
accounts, they had run but had not been pursued. They had witnessed many
citizens being cut down with vicious claws while others were dragged away
completely unharmed. For what purpose could these monsters take the living? Why
were they murdering with such ferocity? Where had they come from and who were
they serving?

The witnesses had described them as
standing a head and shoulders taller than any man, dark blue-black skin,
patches of wiry dark fur, huge fangs, and long scythe-like claws. Their eyes
were golden and glowing, and their snouts were short and flat with wide
nostrils. Small pointed ears sat atop their heads. In all his years, Aelryk had
never heard of such creatures. His historians were at a loss to find any record
of such a creature ever being described.

As he reached his council chambers, he
could already hear the mixed voices of his twelve advisors coming from within.
He stepped inside, and immediately his men quieted. They moved to stand behind
their chairs and bowed their heads until Aelryk was seated at the head of the
table and motioned for them to sit as well. “The Prophet Orzi has given me
hope. He knows how I am to defeat these vicious creatures who have been
attacking my people. Unfortunately, I know not exactly what is to be done, but
with help from my historians I’m sure this mystery will be solved soon. Is
there any news from the outlying villages?”

“No attacks have been reported for three
days now.” General Morek's voice sounded relieved. “The remains of one creature
have arrived and are awaiting inspection by the mages.”

Aelryk turned to his mages. “I will leave
you to your work, then. You are dismissed.” The three mages stood, bowed, and
left the room without a word. A grave task lay before them.

Chapter 2
 

“I won’t do it. They’re murderers. They’re
not to be trusted!” Mel didn’t care that he was raising his voice at the clan
overseer. He detested the men of Na’zora, and he would never forgive their
crimes against his people.

“Yes you will. You will go without a
doubt,” the overseer said with a smug sense of satisfaction. “Thinal is going.”

Mel glanced over at Thinal. Her dark eyes
turned to Mel and danced with playfulness as her mouth turned up into a
mischievous grin. Mel was speechless with frustration. He stormed from the
overseer’s hut.

“Mel, wait!” Thinal had followed him from
the hut. “You’re not really mad are you?”

Mel sighed and looked up at his mate. “You
know I could never really be mad at you, but this is dangerous. These men can’t
be trusted. The best we can hope for is an easy chance to kill them all.”

“Oh, Mel. Where’s your sense of
adventure?” She took his hands in hers and laughed playfully. “There has been
peace for many years now. They have tried to make amends, and they’ve been fair
with us. I’m not defending the past, but I don’t see any reason to fear them
now.”

“I’m not afraid!” he shouted. Lowering his
voice, he added, “I just don’t trust them. We’re expendable to them. We can’t
expect their help if trouble finds us in the Wildlands.”

“You mean
when
it finds us.” She
smiled and drew her sword from her back. “Don’t worry, love. I’ll protect you.”

Mel laughed and threw an arm around her
waist, drawing her towards him. He kissed her passionately, and all his
reservations about the upcoming journey fell away. His love for Thinal was much
stronger than any emotion he had felt. She was impulsive and adventurous, his
exact opposite, but he loved her. If she was going, he would always follow.

“So,” she said. “Should we get back in
there and start planning for our trip?”

“They can wait an hour or two.” He grinned
and led her towards their hut. Making love with Thinal was far more important
than planning a trip with a couple of human emissaries.

The men had come seeking aid from the Wild
Elves. They needed scouts who could track and locate the monsters now
inhabiting the Wildlands. There was no better scout than Mel.

 

*
* * * *

 

Afternoon came as Mel and Thinal lay in
each other’s arms. Thinal awoke and kissed Mel on the nose. He stirred and
rolled onto his back. “Wake up, sleepy!” She slapped him on the chest. He
startled awake and sat straight up. Thinal got out of the bed and began to
dress. “Come on now,” she said. “We have a journey to prepare for.”

Mel slowly left the bed and began to
dress. “Maybe they’ll decide they don’t trust us and they’ll piss off back
home.” He knew they wouldn’t. All Wild Elves were experts on the forests and
the creatures that dwell within it. New creatures, evil ones, had begun
appearing. So far they had left the Wild Elves in peace, but traders at the
borderlands had sent word of the beasts attacking the outlying villages of
Na’zora. With his own eyes, Mel had seen these beasts passing north of the
Elven border. They were surely driven by some unnatural force. Not once did he
see them stop to take food or drink. They ran on towards Na’zora, and if the
rumors could be believed, slaughtered the humans relentlessly and dragged
others away.

Together they walked out of their hut and
saw preparations being made for the evening feast. The emissaries from Na’zora
were being treated as honored guests. Mel was disgusted. Here were
representatives from a kingdom that had slaughtered his kind in the past. Now
they pretended to be friends. They brought fine gifts with them including some
jewels and fancy metal dishes. He wondered what good such things could possibly
do for his people. Such gifts were entirely useless to them. Everything the
Silver Birch Clan needed was supplied by its members. Food, shelter, clothing,
weapons, and tools were all they needed. Spice and sugar gifts would have been
acceptable. But these items he could get trading furs at the borderland
markets. He didn’t need emissaries to bring them.

The Overseer was sitting on a woven chair
outside his hut. He beckoned with his hand for Mel and Thinal to come over. Mel
contemplated stabbing himself in the thigh to avoid the upcoming conversation.
Just
suck it up
, he thought. Thinal was excited about the chance for adventure,
and as usual, Mel would indulge her. He could never refuse his love anything.

“Mel, I’d like you to meet the emissaries
from Na’zora.” He gestured to the two men seated on a low log bench to his
right. “This is Loren and that is Mi’tal. You will be helping them track the
unfamiliar beasts in hopes of finding their kidnapped citizens.”

“Surely there are others coming as well,”
Mi’tal said.

“No, just Mel and his mate Thinal. Mel is
an excellent tracker and Thinal is our finest sword maiden. You may consider
her help a bonus.” The Overseer smiled smugly at the men.

Mi’tal looked back at Loren, and they both
seemed disappointed. One scout, even a very clever one, to cover all the
Wildlands wasn’t going to be a speedy process.

“Don’t look so disappointed,” Mel said. “I
already know where your citizens have been taken. I’ve seen the creatures
heading in and out of Al’marr.”

Loren rose to his feet, his temper
flaring. “You’ve seen this and made no attempt to stop it?” he shouted.
“Coward!” The two guards who had been standing around observing the other
elves' activities took notice of Loren’s tone and came to his side. Their hands
rested on their swords in preparation for a fight.

Mel drew his knives from his belt as the
Overseer stood and said, “Please, let’s be reasonable here. My Lord Loren, you
can’t expect one elf to fight an entire pack of ferocious beasts. A few of our
clansmen have seen these creatures, but all of them were alone at the time. We
hunt using stealth, but once an arrow is loosed, all hope for secrecy is gone.
Then one must face whatever threat is in front of him. You cannot expect a
solitary hunter to carry out a rescue attempt.”

“Forgive me.” Loren looked down at the
ground and then back to Mel. “I understand, and I apologize for my behavior.”
The guards became visibly more relaxed as their hands moved away from their
swords and hung casually at their sides.

Slowly, Mel sheathed his knives. “The
bigger question is, what do you expect me to do?”

Mi’tal spoke this time. “We need to get a
basic idea of these creatures. We need to know their movements, their behavior,
and where exactly they are hiding our citizens. Most importantly, we must learn
if the kidnapped citizens are being kept alive somewhere that we might rescue
them.”

“Seriously? You’ve come all this way for
that? I find it difficult to believe you have no scouts among men who are
capable.” Mel was more than a little annoyed.

“There are no men in Na’zora with such an
in-depth knowledge of the Wildlands. We patrol near our borders, but we very
rarely venture far beyond that. Your people are knowledgeable of the area and
highly skilled in tracking, so we’ve come to you. I can promise you that King
Aelryk will reward you greatly for your help.”

The Overseer, who had been sitting
quietly, finally spoke up. “We ask for no other reward than the continuation of
peace with your kingdom.”

“No,” Mel said. “If I’m the one going, I
ask for the reward of settlements for my people anywhere within the Wildlands.
You have restricted us here in these forests and declared the rest of the
Wildlands as off limits except for hunting. Our numbers are growing since the
wars have stopped, and we need more land to settle. If I provide this service
and help you to save the lives of your people, I will expect your king to
consider my request.”

“You have my oath, Mel,” Mi’tal said. “You
will have an audience with my king as soon as this matter is settled.” His blue
eyes seemed sincere, and he extended his hand towards Mel. Mel nodded and shook
Mi’tal’s hand. He did not trust men, but he was willing to give this one a
chance. There was no way to talk Thinal out of going on this journey, so he may
as well try to make the best of it.

BOOK: A Story Of River
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