Authors: K.J. Hargan
Iounelle was so frustrated she could cry, scream, strike something. She swung her fist at the air in frustration. The Ar knocked against her thigh. Iounelle stood very still. She could try it. She had to try it. She and Mót would die if they wandered around this steppe with winter on their heels. But, how to do it?
Iounelle remembered Frea's trick.
She dug out the pouch holding the Ar. The Long Nose had wandered off. It probably wouldn't work with the beast anyway. Iounelle untied the straps holding Mót to her back. She took a deep breath. Then she decided it had to be done.
She took the Ar out of its pouch and placed the stone in the toddler's hand. The child quickly stiffened as though he was about to have a seizure. Iounelle quickly turned the boy's hand over, so the Ar would fall out of his hand into hers. The boy would 'give' Iounelle the Ar.
As the stone fell into Iounelle's hand, she instantly felt the shock of the power of the Heart of the Earth. The world was clouds of energy. The earth was transparent and blue as if it was water. The shape of the Long Nose was a sparkling flash of bright, moving, yellow, connected strands shuffling away in the distance. Iounelle felt the bands of energy coming up from the center of the earth. Eagerly feeling for her like living tentacles. She had to ignore the rippling cords. She had to find the garonds.
Iounelle let her mind expand in a horizontal way, and there they were. A cluster of shining sparks of light huddled together. They weren't far if one walked in the right direction. The elf put the Ar back into its pouch and strapped Mót back onto her back. The child was unusually quiet.
Iounelle walked briskly in the direction of the garonds. She was still seeing the visions from the Ar, although they were quickly fading. She broke into a run. She could smell smoke from a small camp fire. Iounelle scanned the grass of the steppe, but her keen elf eyes could see nothing out of the ordinary.
She almost trod on the first garond, squatting with a grass blanket covering his back. The other garonds leapt up from their hiding places with sharpened sticks and clubs. There were a dozen garonds huddled together, nine males and three young females.
"I am a friend! A friend!" Iounelle shouted.
"Elf? Is that you," A familiar voice asked.
"Dond?" Iounelle happily said. "How am I understanding your language?"
"You have the Heart of the Earth with you," Dond said.
"Ah, I remember," Iounelle exclaimed, "Frea said it allowed the user to understand any tongue."
"This is my friend," Dond said to the other garonds. Blankets of woven grass were brought for Mót. There were three garond females and no garond children, so they cooed over the infant. Mót, who normally wouldn't have tolerated anybody else's attention, was strangely quiet.
These garonds were gentle in manner, as a garond should be, with small pieces of carved shell and bone braided into their long, dark red hair. Paintings of earth ores marked their faces and arms. There was such an atmosphere of love and concern, Iounelle found it hard to reconcile the garonds she knew of Wealdland with the garonds she found here in their natural state.
"I have brought the Ar, for your people to keep and use," Iounelle said. The elf began to take out the stone, but Dond stopped her.
"After we have mourned," Dond said. The garond pointed at a still form the elf hadn't noticed when she arrived. One of the garonds was dead. "Will you mourn with us?" Dond asked.
"It will be my great honor," Iounelle answered.
"Then we will see who will be the next Mother," Dond said with a sad smile. The three young garond females looked frightened rather than excited to be chosen.
To Iounelle's horror, the garonds began flaying the dead garond until all that was left was a bloody pile of meat and a bloody pile of bones. The bones were painted and dressed with decorative necklaces, and buried. As the skeleton was interred, the garonds roasted and stewed the dead garonds flesh. And, then they began to solemnly consume the meat. Dond offered a piece to Iounelle.
"I don't- Elves don't-' Iounelle stammered. The Ar must have still been vibrating in her mind as she comprehended exactly what they were doing. The dead garond was very loved and by eating its body, they would be taking the dead garond's body into their body to live forever in their line of progeny.
Out of respect, Iounelle took a small piece of meat and put it in her mouth. Her first instinct was to vomit, but she held it back. She chewed to force herself to eat. The meat was sweet and salty, and unlike anything she had ever tasted before. She wanted to scream and spit the meat out, but she loved her friend and respected the garonds. With a supreme act of will, she swallowed. A garond offered another piece, but Iounelle held her hand up and shook her head.
Iounelle was shocked to see little Mót greedily eating the meat offered him. But then the elf checked herself. Mót was a human after all. Here we are, Iounelle thought, the old elf race, the dwindling garond race, and the still infantile human race.
"The mourning is complete," Dond said.
"No," Iounelle suddenly said, as a realization of what she had to do crashed down on her. "I was honored to join in your ceremony," the elf said. "I wish you to honor me once again and join in my rite of grieving." The garonds all nodded their heads in sympathetic agreement, and then gathered about the elf in support and curiosity.
Iounelle removed the last of the Mildarilg tree bark from a pouch on her belt. She took a coal from the campfire and started a separate fire with the World Tree bark. The smoke was pleasing and fragrant. Iounelle smothered the small fire with the flat of her hand with quick pats.
Iounelle pulled up her left sleeve, revealing three elegant chevron tattoos on her left forearm. She drew an elven knife with a silver, slim blade.
"This is Galehthaire," Iounelle said pointing with her knife to the first chevron, "my father. This is Veranelle, my mother. And this, Albehthaire my brother." She pointed to the second and third tattoos. Iounelle paused with the knife in her right hand.
She remembered the fine, dark hair that was only on the third knuckles of all his fingers. She remembered how soft his hands were, even though his fingers and palms were calloused. She remembered the turgid strength in his forearms, developed from the constant pull of the bowstring. She remembered how only his left eyebrow would arch up when he laughed. She remembered the way his mouth, with his full, dark lips, just at the edges, was pulled down into a slight frown, even when he was sleeping. She remembered when he first pinned her cloak to that elm tree in Bittel with an expert shot. She remembered how he raised his finger to his lips to keep her silent just before he slaughtered the garonds holding the humans captive. She remembered his astounding feat of prowess at Plymonley, when he single-handedly routed the garond army. She remembered how he sat backwards on his horse and picked the garonds off one by one, as they fled from Kenethley. She remembered his evident pain when she turned her back on him after the Battle of Byland. She remembered the restrained strength in his embrace, his arms large and powerful. She remembered his dark hair, flecked with white. She remembered his dark eyes, filled with sorrow and depth. She remembered the sound of his voice when he said her name, low and filled with tempered emotion. She remembered their only night together in Bittel.
Iounelle quickly made a shallow cut with her knife on her forearm, another elegant chevron. She picked up a handful of ashes from the last remains of Mildarilg and rubbed it into the wound.
"This is Derragen," Iounelle said as her tears freely fell, "my husband." Then, finally, the flood gates of grief opened wide for the elf as she wept and wept, crumpling into herself.
The garonds moved forward to comfort Iounelle, but Dond raised his hands to warn them back. The garonds sat all about Iounelle, close but not touching, looking off to the horizon, in a quiet show of loving support, yet not wanting to embarrass or offend her.
The wind on the steppe grew a little, as if it, too, wanted to console the elf. The moon peeked briefly through the dark clouds roiling in the night sky to see if all was well, and then hid its face again out of respect. Iounelle composed herself. She felt good, still filled with grief, but now she could go on.
Dond rose. "We choose a new Mother in the morning," he said. "Now let us sleep." The elf, the human baby, and the dozen garonds all piled together in a tent made of skins and furs. It was quite cozy and Iounelle slept without dreaming, a deep cleansing sleep.
The elf was shaken awake. It was a cold, gray morning and it was time to choose the Mother.
The three garond females sat facing each other in a triangle. Dond nodded for the elf to hand over the Ar.
"Which one?" Iounelle asked.
"It matters not," Dond replied.
Iounelle handed the Ar to the nearest garond female. The elf could see the shock the Ar produced, but the garond quickly handed it to the next female. They passed the Ar around and around, until one of them stopped. The other two rose and put their hands on the Ar cradled in the hands of the chosen garond. The other male garonds greedily put their hands on the Ar in the hands of the new Mother. The small group of garonds huddled together in a bonding trance, hands on the hands of the new Mother Garond. Iounelle was almost moved to tears by the beauty of the ceremony.
Then, the Ar was tucked away into a piece of leather, to be kept safe by the newly elected Garond Mother.
"I feared we would not survive," Dond said to Iounelle after the rite had ended. "But now I have hope."
"Before I go," Iounelle remembered, "I made a promise to one of the hairy Long Noses...?"
"Yes," the elf said, supposing that was what the garonds called the Long Noses. "I promised to ask you to not kill so many of their kind."
"We are tied together," Dond said. "If the bammonon is no more, then the garond is no more. We will be respectful as you request, but we must have some to live."
"I understand," Iounelle said. "It is time for me to go."
"You will not stay the winter with us?" Dond asked like a little child hoping for a favor.
"No," Iounelle answered with a smile. "I think it would be too hard on the human child. I still have friends who need my help in Wealdland. And, in the land to the south, there is some writing, on a cliff wall of a Red Mountain, that I must see."
"May you have peace and love at home," Dond said in the traditional greeting and farewell of his race.
"I no longer have anything that I can call home," the elf said looking down with a look of placid resignation. Then she looked up and scanned the far horizon, her eyes were filled with hope, and a desire for adventure. "However, the world is larger than I ever supposed," Iounelle said with a faraway look in her eye, "and there is much to see."
Book Three - The Lord of Lightning
The Wealdland Stories
Book Four - Legends of Haergill and Conniker's Tale
The adventures of Iounelle, the last elf, continues into the Sixth Age, the age of human science and discovery, in:
Mathematics and Magic
Book Five - Ancient Science
Book Six - Future Sorcery
Book Seven - Present Horizons
Book Eight - A Cold Night in Oslo and Other Unverified Gossip
* * * *
Two thousand years before Iounelle, the story of the forging of the Mattear Gram, and the Moon Sword begins in:
The Chronicle of the Elf Human Wars
Berand the Fool
Berand the Brave
And concludes in:
* * * *
On Twitter: KJHargan