Authors: Lana Axe
After a hard day's ride, Mel and the
others arrived at Duana. Slowly, they walked their horses to the stables and
“Well, my ass hurts,” Mel said rubbing his
Thinal walked behind him and squeezed his
bottom with both hands. “I'll help you with that later,” she said.
“Not accustomed to riding much, Mel?”
“I'd say that's the second time in my life
I've been on a horse, or maybe it's the third. I've never ridden all day
before, and I don't much care to do it again.”
“I'm sure the king won't want to travel on
foot,” Mi'tal said, “but we may have a few days rest before he arrives. Let's
see if they have any rooms for us at the inn.”
The six of them headed towards the inn
just as the sun was disappearing below the horizon. A warm orange hue filled
The inn was rather large and in good
repair. Voices could be heard coming from the common room. Duana was a
medium-sized town that did not receive too many visitors, but the inn was the
center of activity for its citizens.
Mi'tal and Loren stepped inside first,
followed by Mel, Thinal, and the guards. Immediately, Byord and Oli took seats
among the crowd and motioned to a server to bring ale. Mi'tal led the others to
the bar where a fat innkeeper was hurriedly wiping glasses.
“Good evening, innkeeper,” Mi'tal said.
“Do you have any rooms available this night?”
The innkeeper stopped wiping glasses and
looked up. His eye fell straight to Mel and Thinal, who were dressed in animal
“What the hell?” he said, bewildered. His
eyes darted between Mi'tal and the elves.
“Forgive me, innkeeper,” Mi'tal said. “I
am Councilor Mi'tal, First Advisor to King Aelryk. These are my companions,
Councilor Loren, Mel, and Thinal. We are on urgent business for the king and
would like rooms for the night.”
The innkeeper swallowed and took one more
look at the elves. “Councilor, sir, this is a thing unheard of.” He leaned over
the bar close to Mi'tal and whispered, “Those are savages. Why have you brought
them here? Are they under arrest?”
Mi'tal waved his hand. “No, nothing like
that. They are in the king's employ.”
The innkeeper stood up straight,
dumbstruck. “We have plenty of rooms available. Two silver per night, and that
includes your meals.”
“Thank you, sir,” Mi'tal said. “We will
take five rooms.” He placed ten silver coins on the bar. The price was
unreasonable, of course, but he was in no mood to argue.
“Rooms are upstairs. You can take your
pick,” the innkeeper said, scooping up the coins. “Oh, and make sure your wild
friends behave themselves. I don't want any problems.”
Mi'tal nodded and motioned the others to
follow him to a nearby table.
“Let's have some dinner, shall we?” Loren
said. His stomach had been rumbling for hours. He was not inclined to miss a
meal and had put on some weight over the last few years. A comfortable seat on
the king's council had not helped his physical fitness.
A few seconds after taking their seats,
the innkeeper appeared at their table with four steaming bowls of stew and a
loaf of bread.
“Drinks are on their way,” he said and
They ate hungrily while Loren grabbed at
the majority of the bread.
“Hey, Mel,” Oli called from the corner.
“There's a man over here that says he can aim better than any elf. Why don't
you come over here and show him a thing or two?”
Mel looked over at Thinal who smiled and
shrugged. Never one to back down from a competition, he backed his chair away
from the table and headed towards Oli. Byord raised a mug as he walked by.
“This little thing?” the challenger asked,
laughing. “Place your bets, gentlemen.” He finished his mug of ale, slammed it
on the table, and grinned.
At the rear corridor of the inn was a
throwing area. It was well positioned to avoid accidents caused by intoxicated
“I'll take fifty copper on the elf,” Oli
said. His remark was followed by abundant laughter. Most of the others were
betting against him.
“Three knives each, closest to the
bull's-eye wins,” the challenger said. “I'll go first so you can see how it's
One at a time, he turned and threw the
three knives. Each one landed in the exact center of the target. The crowd
cheered, and the man raised his arms and nodded his head.
Mel retrieved the knives from the wall,
and the crowd once again fell silent. Positioning all three knives in his hand
at once, he gave a quick flick of his wrist. Three knives stuck deeply into the
“Yes!” Oli shouted, jumping up and
spilling his ale.
The crowd was obviously stunned, and many
of them sat with their mouths wide open.
“Looks like a draw,” Byord offered. “They
both hit the center.”
“Bring out the moving target!” someone in
the crowd yelled. An onlooker near the railing above loosed a target that hung
from the ceiling and swung side to side.
Both Mel and his competitor threw their
knives and hit the center of the target.
“Looks like we'll have to move this fight
outside,” the challenger said, grinning.
Most of the crowd followed as the pair
walked outside. Behind the inn was an archery range.
“Bows?” Mel asked, thinking how easy it
was going to be to win.
“Not against an elf,” his competitor
huffed. “We'll throw hatchets.”
Though Mel had much less practice throwing
hatchets than he had throwing knives, he was still able to hit the center three
times. His competitor hit the center as well.
The crowd started to get annoyed at the
lack of a winner, and one man offered up a solution. “I'll throw an apple in
the air and see if you can hit it. One try each.”
The rest of the crowd shouted their
approval. Grabbing two apples, the man tossed one high into the air. Mel threw
first. His knife sliced the apple in two halves and stuck fast in the ground.
The second apple flew, and Mel's competitor tossed his knife towards it. The
knife's handle bounced off the apple and fell flat in the dirt.
The crowd roared and Oli shouted, “Pay
Mel's competitor was livid. His face
reddened as he marched towards the man who had thrown the apples. He punched him
square in the face. Quickly, a brawl ensued amongst the crowd.
Mel preferred to stay out of the mess, so
he walked back into the inn and sat down next to Thinal.
“Did you win?” she asked.
“Yep,” he replied, downing another mug of
“Father, the creature's body has been
taken to the House of Medicine for inspection by the Elders,” Isandra said as
she approached River. She was his eldest daughter and favored her mother in
looks, except she had her father's deep blue eyes. Her temperament, however,
was quite different from her mother. She was a warrior who preferred armor and
swords to gowns and jewelry.
“Thank you, Isandra,” River said, laying a
hand on her shoulder. “Shall we go and have a look at it?”
“It's a horrible, ugly thing,” Isandra
said, frowning. “I've never seen anything quite like it. We found it dead about
three days away from our village. It was seriously wounded by the dryad but
managed to flee quite a distance before succumbing to its injuries.”
Together they headed for the House of
Medicine. It was near mid-day and a soft rain was falling. River paused and
turned his face toward the sky, allowing the tiny droplets to settle upon his
face. As he took a deep breath in, fresh, sweet-smelling air filled his
nostrils. Opening his sapphire eyes, he turned and smiled at his daughter. They
continued on their way.
Reaching their destination, they saw a few
of the Elders had already gathered outside the door. They nodded in turn,
acknowledging River as he passed by.
Inside, the creature's body had been
placed on a soft bed. Despite its fierce appearance, its face seemed peaceful
in death. River approached silently and laid his hands upon its furry head. A
blue light surrounded the lifeless body.
Isandra watched her father silently as the
Elders entered the room. They observed River as he examined the creature. Any
information he could glean from it would help them decide what course of action
to pursue. His face was serene as he penetrated the creature's mind with his
magic. Many of its secrets would be revealed to him.
“This was once a woman from the Kingdom of
Na'zora,” River began, speaking softly. “Some evil has bound her essence. A
very dark magic has combined her with the essence of a wolf from the Wildlands.
Her every action has been controlled by sorcery. She was commanded to kidnap a
dryad and return her to her master.”
“Who is her master?” Elder Rellin asked.
River removed his hands from her head and
looked at the Elders. “She does not know his name or location. It is a compulsion
that draws her to him. Her own will is long since gone. These are only fading
memories that I can read. Had she been found sooner, perhaps I could learn
“Will they try again?” Brandor inquired,
his face concerned.
“I have no doubt of it,” River replied.
“She was unable to succeed in her task, and I do not believe her master would
give up easily.”
“I will see that patrols are increased
even more,” Isandra said, bowing her respect to the Elders. Promptly, she
turned and left to tend to her duties.
“What should we do with the body?” Rellin
“Treat it with respect,” River replied.
“This was not always a creature of evil. She deserves her dignity in death.”
Rellin nodded. River turned to leave,
followed by Brandor.
Outside, the gentle rain had ended, and
the clouds gave way to a bright blue sky. Small droplets of water still
lingered on the lush green foliage of the Vale. Elves walked about the village
casually, going about their business.
“River, my friend,” Brandor said. “Do you
have any idea who could be behind this?”
“Someone evil, obviously,” River said with
a sigh. “But a name I cannot give you. Nor have I seen this person's face.
Where he is, and who he is, I simply do not know. All I know for sure is that
he has not touched the Blue River, nor have these creatures. If they are indeed
on both banks, they must be coming from the south and entering the land from
the sea. Whoever is controlling them does not want me to know.”
“That is a most distressing thought,” Brandor
said, shaking his head. “Not many people know that we are still here. Then
again, it could just be superstition keeping them from the river. Tales of our
people have been told in many lands. I'm sure most people think we are just a
“Perhaps,” River said, contemplating the
idea. “With malice being their only intent, they would find crossing the river
impossible. If they had tried, I would have seen it.”
“Since they did not try,” Brandor began,
“then it probably wasn't just out of superstition. Whoever it is, he must be
stopped.” After a few moments of silence, he asked, “Could it be Telorithan?”
“It could be, but I doubt it. His method
of binding a living being's essence is quite different. I suppose he could have
learned a new way that requires less power, but he lives in his tower and has
everything he has ever wanted. He has no reason to do this.”
“Trying to understand a mind of evil is
like trying to tame the wind itself.” Brandor's voice was grave as he spoke.
River clapped his hand on Brandor's back
and smiled. “I could not catch it or tame it, but I could try speaking with it.
Perhaps the wind holds the answers we seek.”
* * * *
Evening arrived in the Vale heralded by
the soft hooting of an orange-eyed owl. The sky was clear and full of stars as
Lenora sat at her dresser brushing her long, golden hair. She sat down her
silver brush and slipped into a long white nightdress. A soft breeze blew in
from her balcony, and she welcomed its caress on her cheek.
River approached from behind and kissed
her softly on her neck. “Good evening, love,” he said.
She turned, wrapping her arms around his
neck. She kissed his lips, looked up at him, and smiled. Taking his hand, she
led him into the bedroom. He sat at the edge of the bed while Lenora went to
her dresser to retrieve the hairbrush.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed behind
him, she began loosening the braids he wore accenting each side of his long
brown hair. Lenora herself had braided it that morning as usual. Every evening,
she would loosen the braids and brush out his hair. It was a simple routine,
but one she performed lovingly.
When she had finished brushing his hair,
she kissed his temple and massaged his shoulders. Then, she helped him out of
his clothing and into a pale blue nightshirt.
Fiddling with the white stone ring on her
finger, she asked, “What troubles you, dear?”
Taking in a deep breath and releasing it
slowly, he answered, “Many things.”
“Lie back and ease your mind,” she said.
Lying across the bed, he placed his head
in her lap and closed his eyes. She placed a hand gently on his cheek and
kissed his forehead. Softly, she began to hum while running her fingers through
Smiling, River opened his eyes and said,
“I love you, Lenora, more than anything.”
“I love you too, my River,” she responded.
She moved and placed her head upon his
chest and laid her hand over his heart. He embraced her as they settled in for
the night. Serenity descended throughout the room as the night crept over the