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Extreme Planning..
Part Two

Extreme Planning..
Part Two

Timeline:

It is time for strategic planning.

Heroes and friends gather to see what must be done and what can be done for the enemy is harsh, merciless, numerous, and hidden..

 

And in a small town,
the future of the kingdom is decided.

 

This story is the continuation of
Extreme Planning..
Part One

 

 

Ladies and gentlemen, Lords and Ladies, emissaries and representatives, welcome to our humble town of Serenity Home.”, the old, raspy voice of the mayor was heard as everyone settled down as he stared at the rather crowded room full of important people of many different peoples and races, their retinue, their guards, and their servants.

“That said, I believe introductions are in order. I am Arthandos Yuleman, the mayor of this town and your host, and upon formal request, I shall also be representing the Arashkan refugees.. As a quick reminder before we begin; as you all know, are under the threat of a formidable enemy. All possible precautions have been taken. However unlikely, should anything unexpected occur, each and every one of you here has been given assignments as to where you should be and designated a location to wait until further notice. Please follow said instructions in an orderly fashion and stick to them. Should you need any assistance, town guards will be made available to you as soon as possible. Also, dinner will be served after sundown. Thank you very much. Now, shall we begin?”

“Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman, Lady Moira Hooman, and Captain Fardashi. Durkahan.”, Lady Alisia introduced herself and her retinue in a brisk tone.

“Nadine Graciousward. Former queen of Bari Na-ammen.”, the beautiful lady Nadine said and though she appeared calm, the fire in her eyes spoke otherwise and hushed voices rippled in the room.

“Lord Haransis. Koruxan Knights’ Commander.”, said a tall, lean man in bright steel armor, his winged helm on the table, his sword and shield hanging from his chair.

“Dridges Motherswolfie, Tactical General. Elder Hills.”, a young dwarven girl said quietly from her seat. Standing right behind her was also a pair of dwarven girls scowling menacingly and leaning on long, wooden shafted battle-axes —the Tosser twins.

“Margaret Madish, Argail Smitefast, Lady Magella, and Harakoon Evilscowl. Scowling Hills.”, said a surprisingly soft-voiced dwarven woman with half of her scalp shaved and had very pale green eyes. Sitting on her side was an ancient dwarf with a grand and white beard and with a big hammer hanging from his thick, leather belt, a young, diffident dwarven girl and a middle-aged dwarf, his face marred with a truly evil-looking scowl.

“Moglonar Picklefork. Tinker Hills’ Artificers.”, piped a bold and old gnome.

“Master Randorm Billbuckle. Mayor of Last Hope Town.”, said a middle-aged man with peppered hair, a thick mustache, and muscles that said he’d rather be out cracking goblin heads than be a mayor.

“Dagard Dreadhound. Representative of the Drashan Armadana.”, spoke a tall, stick-skinny man in black, possibly silk, clothes; black shirt, a black necktie, black trousers, and black shoes.. His face was clean shaved and other than a sinister mark, likely cut by a knife, etched at the side of his chin, with his thick, black eyebrows and his knotted black hair, he might as well have been some corporate’s shark lawyer.

“Drashan Armada..”, scoffed someone from the other side of the room. “You mean a bunch of rat pirates floating on feisty rafts!”

“Those rats on feisty rafts have been sinking Watch Flotilla’s for the past few centuries, Lord Alberdel. How is that cuss of an elder brother of yours, by the way? Trimdel Kandara, wasn’t it? Ow, wait. He’s dead, on account of being assassinated.. while he was surrounded by twenty of his elite men. That must have been rather embarrassing.”, replied the man, Dagard, cooly.

“That’s it.”, growled Lord Alberdel as he rose. “I refuse to be in the same room with this deck rat!”

“By all means, leave, Alberdel. Though walking all the way back to Endless Watch should be quite a chore; we sunk your ship.. with our feisty rafts. It was a pretty ship. Did make a fine bone fire, though.”, grinned Dagard.

“You, son-of-a—”, snarled Alberdel and reached for his cutlass.

“Gentlemen. Please. We are all here for one, and only one reason and that is not starting a fight in my town. Every representative here has come willingly or by the king’s command.”, inserted Arthandos Yuleman with his raspy voice. “Please refrain from abusing our welcome.”

 

Lord Alberdel settled in his seat, fuming furiously while Dagard smirked at him.

 

“Shall we?”, offered Yuleman.

“Parson Brimstone and Katrine Faeriefire. Vodgar Nuke Squad..”, said a frowning man in dark red robes with intelligent eyes and entertaining a long, elaborate goatee sitting next to a charming looking woman in her early forties, in dark purple dress robes with wildly curly brown hair, a distracted expression, and vivid blue eyes.

“Seressa Wraiven and Miss Cinotnacra Gocelap, representing the Academy of Melshieve.”, said the very tall, night-black girl in frilly pinks with a cool, cultured, but distinctly feminine voice, politely introducing herself and the scruffy-looking gnomic girl sitting next to her.

The hobbit sitting next to them coughed.

“Brom Bumblebrim. Observing from Bowling Hills.”, the small hobbit said.

Miss Cinotnacra Gocelap? Really, girl?”,  he then asked, lowering his voice.

“Shut up, hobbit!”, the gnomic girl snarled at him.

“Cora Sleet. Representing the Bear Claw Tribe, the Ice Crag Tribe, and the Ice Wolf Horde of the Great Northern Tundras.”, the pale, white-haired elf with the swirling tattoos said softly.

“Liam Ruststone. Commander of Palantine Militia.”, spoke the man in banded armor, sitting next to the white elf with a hoarse voice that sounded like he’d been shouting all day.

“Liason Constance. Representing a special interest group.”, came the soft, careful voice of the tall, elegant half-born woman.

“Standorin Shieldheart. Sheriff of Serenity Home.”, Standorin said in a curt, all-business tone, sitting next to the liaison.

“Talüna Mira Silverdenú. Elder of the Wood Elves of Dimwoods.”, creaked a very elderly elf woman.

Upon being nudged by his queen, Udoorin cleared his throat.

“Udoorin Shieldheart and Alor’Nadien ne Feymist. King and Queen of Aranië.”, he said with his low, rumbling voice.

“Armathelius Riverblade. Commander to former Bari Na-ammen forces.”, the high elf said in his baritone voice.

“Anglenna Brightleaf. Advisor to the King and Queen of Aranië.”

“Aranië..”, rumbled the awesome ogress sitting right next to her queen. “A bit vague, don’t you think?”

“You know elder elvish?”, Anglenna asked more than a little surprised.

“I know many things. Elder elvish is one of them.”, Grulganiste replied with a scowl. “But ‘Kingdom’ is a bit of a generic name, isn’t it?”

“Bari Na-ammen is destroyed, Chieftain Grulganiste.”, came the soft voice of the Queen of Aranië, Alor’Nadien ne, sitting beside the giant ogress. “We may not use it again. When we take back our woods, we shall not rebuild it. What we will build is something new, and it shall not carry the sins of her ancestors. We shall adopt what we have seen and witnessed here, in this very town, wisely named; Serenity Home. Whoever comes in peace shall enter it, and live in it. And whoever lives in it, shall sweat for it, and bleed for it. Thus, I and my King have decreed, and so the elves I represent have agreed.”

“A wise and refreshing choice, girl.”, smiled the ogress, making her already brutish face, even more terrifying. “Now, then. Grulganiste Grimtooth. The chieftain of the ogre’s of Oger’s Foot.”

“Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane.”, whispered in a slightly petrified voice and the skinny little Inshala spoke with a very much embarrassed face. “I represent the druids, the shamans, and the witches of Ritual Forest.”

“Speak up, little girl.”, some creaky voice said from the other side of the room.

“..Hooman.”, added Lady Alisia sternly, one hand on the pommel of her long blade. “She is my daughter and her honor is my honor.”

“..Bolgrig.”, rumbled Grulganiste. “She is my daughter and I will crush any of you punny things who disrespect her!”

“..Fogstep.”, murmured Aager very quietly. “And my claim trumps all of yours, for she is my mate. But by all means, do disrespect her. I haven’t let blood loose for quite some time..”

 

A terrifying silence settled in the room.

 

“I did not ask for her credentials.. I asked her to speak up!”, said the same voice of the very old Talüna Mira Silverdenú..

 

Several more representatives declared their identities, including a tall, beautiful, high elf woman with auburn hair and very deep green eyes from Solace, a platinum-blonde high elf from Tranquil, several other mayors from various towns, and the King’s personal emissary, all with their retinue.

When the last representative introduced himself, an eager silence settled.

✱ ✱ ✱

Thank you all for the introductions.”, rasped Yuleman. “Now we will exhibit the current situation and bring you all up to date. Then I shall present our needs and open the floor to anyone who may address them. As most of you know, two months ago, Arashkan city was unexpectedly ambushed, without warning nor provocation by an army of Orken.

For those who do not know, the Orken, as we suspect, are originally orcs, though heavily modified and mutated to be as tall as eight to nine feet tall, extremely vicious, resilient, hardy, ruthless, and cunning creatures. Where they came from, we do not know. How they came to be is also unknown at the moment, but their timing coincided with four major attacks;

One on Heavens Hand, demonic in nature, and the assault is still underway. Though the wall still stands unbreached, the loss in life was unprecedented.

Another attack occurred on all the outposts of Tranquil, also demonic in nature. Two outposts were overrun and totally destroyed. Thanks to the quick intervention of Tranquil Airships and the Demon Hunters barbarians, the demons were routed.

The third attack was on Dwarwick, east of Celestial Mountains, Orken in nature. Though they were unable to breach the dwarven walls, the loss of life was monumental.

And the last assault occurred on all fronts at the Demon Plains, demon and undead in nature. Though the Durkahan knights and paladins held their ground, Solace forces were hard-pressed and Korduba’s Watch cavalry was pushed back behind their own walls. The Ford is currently under siege!

At this point, it isn’t hard to suspect some form of collaboration and assume the attacks on Arashkan and High Woods were the fifth and sixth attacks..

From where these Orken came, we do not know. As to how managed to come all the way to Arashkan, and in such massive numbers, reliable witnesses from many independent sources inform us they deployed a device that rendered either all or a large portion of their leading forces totally invisible. They were over the walls of Arashkan before any feasible defenses were brought in. The siege of the city did not last long but the total occupation and the destruction of the city took nearly two weeks, as local forces and the high elves in the city fought a costly delaying tactic to get as many civilians and the city’s militia out as possible via ships and boats. The Arashkan military camp was simultaneously also placed under siege, but thanks to the timely arrival of more ships still floating, more than half the city’s regular army was smuggled out and also brought here.

As far as we know, the First Lord, Princeps Kaladin, his son, and his daughters were all slain. While Arashkan was being overrun, a second Orken army entered High Woods and laid waste to the high elf city of Bari Na-ammen. The current status of Ri Grandaleren is unknown, though his wife, the former Rise, Nadine Graciousward, and their daughter, Queen Alor’Nadien ne made it out alive and are both here.

A large portion of that army split and turned west and surrounded Vodgar which is currently under siege as we speak. Whatever the reasons, the Orken made one fatal mistake; they started their campaign and attacked right before winter settled in. At the moment they are all out there, stretched between Two-Day Forest and Vodgar. They may, or may not have considered turning former Arashkan into a base for themselves, but due to some unforeseen and unprecedented occurrence, the city is now very much uninhabitable to anything, including the Orken. They have suffered two months’ worth of extreme winter thus far.

Come spring, however, they shall attack. They must or they shall perish and they know it. They may split again and go north for Tranquil, which would cost them too much with little possibility for victory, as Tranquil has been on high alert for the past six or seven thousand years and their army consists mostly of highly skilled and battle-hardened veterans —unless they abandoned their current campaign and rushed there.. They may turn south for Koruxan, also ending in a likely disaster, as Koruxan is a fortress city, its back resting against extremely hazardous mountains and approachable only by two sides. They may go for Durkahan, also a city full of veterans and paladins, it’s back also against mountains. Should they move against either city, they will be leaving their own rear and flanks totally vulnerable to attacks.

They might decide to skim over to Last Hope and attack Palantine, again, being subject to attacks from all sides.

I believe that leaves us..

..as the only viable option.

Should they take Serenity Home, they will have access to the great Ritual Forest that will give them all the wood and lumber they would need to build further catapults, mangonels, spears, and arrows, almost endless supply of food both from the forest itself and the surrounding lands. They will have access to the Arashkan river and able to build ships and be able to make landfall anywhere in the kingdom. They will also have access to the iron, copper, and silver mines under Scowling Hills and Tinker Hills. Once they invade this portion of the continent, they will also be able to move north, up to the tundras, and attack Celestial Mountains, Tranquil, Sky Stone Keep, and Dwarwick from the rear. All they will need to do after claiming these lands is to stopper the gaps and they will be able to practically settle here and in the next twenty years, they will have doubled their numbers. In the next fifty to sixty years, they will be over a million, all able warriors and armed to the teeth.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will have only one shot at defending the king’s land here. I must also inform you that they have deployed the same device they used at Arashkan and one-third of their army has gone missing. We do not know where it is, or where it will strike. We have trackers and rangers scouring all the possible locations they may appear but so far, we have thus failed to locate them.

The Durkahan army will be moving out as soon as the ground thaws to reach here and give us relief. But that will take time. We must help break the siege on Vodgar. Once that is done, It will be possible for them and anybody else to come at the Orken army from the rear and also give free rein for the wizards and sorcerers there to teleport directly here to help strengthen our defenses until the Durkahan army gets here. For this, we were hoping to rely on Koruxan knights and Palantine militia.

Our main problem is the lack of trained warriors and logistics. We have great amounts of lumber moving from Dimwoods, but not fast enough. We lack food, clothing, and shelter for the near eighty thousand Arashkan civilians and High Woods refugees and we are sorely short on arms and armors. The dwarven smiths have been working day and night, around the clock, but with nearly twenty thousand Arashkan militia and regulars, and fifteen thousand High Woods’ able soldiers, that is really a tough call. We have over thirty thousand very well-trained dwarves at Elder Hills but they will and must defend their hills and the west of Ritual Forest. The wall we have been building for the past months is substantial, but it will not stand against mangonels or even a steady pounding of scores of catapults. We have the engineers and the manpower, thanks to the dwarves and the gnomes, but we still need more, much more raw materials.

Ladies and gentlemen, we need your help, and quite desperately and we have two months at best, five weeks if we get an early spring, or the Orken get tired of sitting in the winter and decide to attack anyway.”

 

Mayor Arthandos Yuleman looked around for a moment, then nodded at Sheriff Standorin.

 

The sheriff cleared his throat and stood up.

But before he could start, the deep rubble of Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth was heard.

“Will the woodsmen of Dimwoods behave, should my boys bring their lumber here?”, she asked.

“We may be able to arrange a liaison.”, the sheriff mused. “It would be wiser if the chosen person went to speak with them first, though there are quite a bit of trees, cut and shaved already.”

“A team of my sons and daughters can drag half a dozen trees from there to here in under three or four days. The first batch will be slow. After that, they will have opened a trial. They have grown fat and lazy. The exercise will do them good, and there are over three thousand of them. Now. What raw materials do you need for this wall of yours?”, she inquired in a brisk, matter-of-fact tone.

Standorin turned to Margaret Madish.

“Stone.”, Margaret said simply.

“Will mountain rock work the same way as stone?”, Grulganiste asked the dwarf woman.

“Depends on the mountain.”, she replied.

“Rook Mountain rock!”, growled the chieftain.

“Rook Mountain rock is hard to chip and shape, but otherwise, it will be exceptionally good for a siege wall.”, Margaret said, her eyes suddenly bright.

“I shall call upon past favors and summon distant friends and relatives. I shall tell them to bring the Rook Mountains here as gifts.”, Grulganiste rumbled with a hideous grin. “After that, we shall all go to the west of our forest and camp there and wait for these Orken to come. They will make a merry hunt for seven thousand of my sons and daughters, and friends and relatives.”

“Perhaps..” said the creaky voice of the elderly Talüna Mira Silverdenú. “..the chieftain would like seven hundred elven archers to protect their flanks from their north when they make camp west of Ritual Forest? If she is willing to refrain her sons and daughters from eating my elves..”

“Elf tastes like chicken, Mira-Silverdenú!”, sniffed Grulganiste. “We don’t eat chicken. We have them only for their eggs. And elves do not lay eggs!”

 

Chuckles were heard from the dwarves.

 

“Perhaps..”, said the young dwarf tactical general, Dridges Motherswolfie, as she glanced at the ogress. “..the chieftain would like several thousand dwarves to protect their flanks from their south when they make camp west of Ritual Forest? If she is willing to refrain her sons and daughters from eating my dwarves.. That way, we may part and divert at least five thousand of our ground troops to the defense of the walls here.”

“We have standards, Dridges-Motherswolfie-girl!”, she said with a distinct expression of disgust on her face now. “None of my sons and daughters will put a dwarf into their mouth and risk infectious diarrhea!”

 

Dridges went red.

The Tosser twins went black!

A burst of roaring laughter went off and Argail Smitefast slammed the table as he stared at the brutishly glowering chieftain ogress.

 

“It would seem, years have stolen little from your sour sense of humor, Grulganiste.”, he said merrily.

“It would seem, years have stolen quite a bit from you, old dwarf. You are all white!”, Grulganiste sniffed at him.

“Harsh..”, said Argail, and laughed some more.

“You two know each other?”, Dridges spluttered.

“Argail thinks he knows me. Like all men who think they know and understand women, he is a wrong old fool!”, snarled the chieftain with undisguised disdain.

Dridges and the Tosser twins just stared at her, then at their grandfather, thunderstruck, while Margaret Madish and her sister, Marideth Brave, gave their father a bemused, poorly concealed, slide-long glances.

 

Argail coughed.

 

Sheriff Standorin looked at Margaret again.

“Will this solve the issue of stone and lumber needed to finish the construction of the wall, Lady Margaret?”, he asked.

Margaret Madish didn’t reply immediately. She pursed her lips as she thought for a moment, then she turned to her own daughter and spoke.

“The stones and the lumber will suffice. But that will not solve our main concern, here. I believe Our Tactical General Dridges is better equipped to outline said concern..”

Dridges nodded at her mother, then quietly but sternly, she picked up her mother’s narration.

“Our main concern; the south end of the wall.. Unless we continue building the wall to eventually surround the town, a wall is just a wall —a linear line. It may not be breached, it can, however, be easily outflanked. Perhaps not from the north end, due to the swift-running Arashkan River and they do not come with ships, it will be flanked from the south, making the whole structure redundant and moot. Should the enemy circle around Silent Lake and risk the Demon Fog, our whole defense line will be overrun in a matter of minutes and Serenity Home will be done for. Should they follow the said route, they will not only be coming at us from our south but also from our rear, practically using the King’s road! Should they not want to risk the Demon Fog, they still have the option to sail over Silent Lake using whatever that floats and still come at us from our south, totally ignoring and bypassing the wall..”

“If some kind of sleds be crafted and pulled by, perhaps the ogres before they leave for the western end of the forest, a decent number of our Drashan Armada can be put on the other side of the stone bridge. That way we can make sure these Orken can not come at the wall from the north by the river and we can patrol the whole of Arashkan Lake make it quite hazardous for them to shore anywhere. Provided the petty lords of Endless Watch do not use this as a lame-ass excuse to cockblock our ships in hopes of trapping them. Should they be foolish enough, we will unload everything we have on them, and anything else that gets in our way and be damned with any past treaties we have made with Serenity Home..”, Dagard Dreadhound spoke in a calm, deadly voice. “Make no mistake, here, gentlemen. We are not here as anyone’s servant, and certainly not as part of the Kingdom of Isles. We are here as part of our pact with this town and this town alone. Perhaps the merry Lord Alberdel can actually offer something to save his own kingdom.”

 

Lord Alberdel Kandara glared at the tall, lean man in blacks but refused to comment.

 

“It is possible..”, said an illustrious, cultured, and distinctly feminine voice. “..Lord Alberdel may be more of help by providing a sizable number of Endless Watch Naphta Team, along with their munitions, instead of bringing in more ships into a river already cramped with ships.. and avoid further frictions?”

 

Everyone turned and stared at the very tall, very dark, and rather buxom girl with the long, pink hair and the frilly, short, and vivid pink skirt dress.

 

“What are you doing, girl?”, hissed the scruffy-looking gnomic girl at her side. “We can’t get involved. We can only observe!”

“But we are not getting involved, luv.”, Seressa Wraiven said, grinning with pristine-white teeth. “We shall be observing this war.. from above.. via Melshieve Gunships.. The Endless Watch Naphta Team will merely be on board our gunships as guests and we can’t always keep an eye on said guests, nor can we be responsible for the things they throw over board, now can we?”

“Sophistry!”, scowled the little gnomic girl. “That’s pure sophistry and you know it!”

“Tonic, luv—”, the very tall, very dark girl began.

“—Shhh.. Don’t use my name dammit!”, hissed the scruffy gnomic girl.

 

And a few tables over, Nadine Graiciousward’s ears prickled suddenly!

 

“Oops. I am sorry.”, whispered the dark girl earnestly. “But what I was going to say was, it is only sophistry when there are two parties and one of them is trying to outmaneuver the other by following the letter of a certain agreement, but not the spirit of it. Yes, the Academy of Melshieve has a sworn policy to ‘observe only’ any and every possible occurrence taking place in the Kingdom of Isles without taking sides or joining any conflicts. But said sides of any given conflict must have some form of agreement or at the very least, some form of recognition in the first place, historically or conventionally. Neither the Kingdom nor the Academy has ever made such agreements and no one here has recognized the Orken as a sovereign kingdom. They appeared out of nowhere and attacked without provocation.”

“Girl, you just defined how sophistry works.. with another sophistry!”, snarked Tonic. “But I don’t really care. It’s not me you have to sell that demented logic to.”

“Spoken like a true pair.”, murmured the hobbit sitting next to the gnomic girl.

 

“That actually is a very good idea, Maiden Seressa.”, spoke Lorna. “Melshieve Gunships are quite famous, and bombarding the enemy from above will make sure they are unable to circle around and come at the wall from the south end and make sure they can not use boats to cross Silent Lake. It is possible to put highly trained elven archers on board the gunships as well, providing both protection for the ships, the Endless Watch crew, and raining arrows upon the enemy below.”

 

The room was suddenly filled with nods and murmurs of agreement as Tonic bent closer to her pair, Seressa, all the while hiding her face behind one of the fruit bowls.

 

“You just want to ride on a Gunship!”, she hissed at Seressa in a low voice.

 

“About this device, the Orken has employed..”, Lady Alisia asked. “What do we know about it?”

 

“Actually, I want to ride their new invention; the Storm Kites.”, grinned the dark girl. “You, on the other hand, truly want to be on a Melshieve Gunship. I know for a fact that you do because you applied one hundred and nine times as a flight member crew, a gunship engineer, a gunship’s turret man, a deckhand, a kitchen assistant, and going as low as applying as a flight attendant, who basically just serves drinks! All your applications, along with their rejections, were also in your files..”

 

Nimbletyne Tinkerdome got up at that point and he had a very sour face.

 

The gnomic girl gave her a very baleful glare.

“Girl, you can turn into a ghostly raven and it looks awesome and you can literally fly without a gunship!”, she almost snarled at her.

 

“The device, as far as we know..”, Nimbletyne began after clearing his throat. “..is comprised of several components. We are not sure how they have been assembled or who was the original designer. But once activated, it bends and reflects light around a very large area, sort of a half a globe or sphere, not making those inside strictly invisible, per se, but making those outside unable to perceive those that are inside. At least that is our working theory.”

 

“But so can you! You have a cloak, and a broom that can help you fly.”, Seressa smiled down at her little pair. “And why are you suddenly hiding behind that fruit bowl?”

“The cloak does not count.”, mumbled Tonic.

 

“And what are we doing about it, Master Nimbletyne? That missing Orken army might be anywhere. We could be bringing our paladins in hopes of hitting their army here and get slaughtered when they suddenly appear behind us.”, Lady Alisia said with a concerned tone.

 

“What? Why? Did you dump one of your acid vials on it to see if it is acid-proof?”

“What? No, dammit.. I.. plan on.. *some incomprehensible mumbles*”

“You what?”

*More incomprehensible mumbles*

 

“We have tried various approaches to the issue at hand, but I am afraid we haven’t made much headway.”, admitted the Nimbletyne with an infuriated and frustrated tone.

 

“Ow. I see. You don’t want to tell me. I get it.”, Seressa said cooly.

“You really want to push this don’t you?”, Tonic scowled at her pair.

“Yes. Very much.”, smile Seressa.

 

“We may have a solution.”, said a distinctly alluring voice, and people turned to the tall, horned girl sitting next to Sheriff Standorin.

“You do?”, asked Nimbletyle Tinkerdome, somewhat surprised. “By all means, share with us, Liaison Constance.”

“We did not come forward with it because the solution lacks the practicality of application.”, Constance said. “We are, at the moment, looking into various avenues.”

“Perhaps I can help there?”, Nimbletyne asked eagerly.

“The main composition at the moment can reveal, not the location of this concealing device nor what it conceals when activated, but rather the area it affects. At least for a time long enough to be seen with the naked eye. Our problem is delivering it to the suspected area.”, the Liaison explained succinctly.

 

“I plan on gifting it to Cora!”, she whispered at her.

“Ow? Why?”, Seressa asked a bit surprised.

“Because she’s awesome and cool and I want her to experience the delights and the freedoms of flying. I mean. She’s a barbarian. She is literally the definition of ‘free’ and on so many levels. And she’s been a friend to me even though she had no reason to be. I mean, I certainly never gave her any reason, that’s for sure.. Uhhmm.. besides, I want to see how fast she can fly and land on her foes with that kazirillion foot long sword of hers.. from above! It’ll be legendary!”, Tonic replied with a silly grin on her face.

 

Nimbletyne Tinkerdome mulled over the Liaison’s explanation.

 

Seressa sighed.

“You are such a dork, baby girl.”

 

“Use PPG’s.”, said Tonic promptly, from behind the fruit bowl.

“Of course!”, exclaimed Nimbletyne, smacking at his forehead.

“Well, FINALLY! Someone who knows his acronyms!”, said the gnomic girl happily.

“Perhaps you may want to dummy that down for the rest of us, Miss Cinotnacra?”, Udoorin said, showing a surprising initiative, as he stared at the voice hiding behind the fruit bowl, with a bemused and poorly hidden smile.

“Pressure Propelled Grenades.”, Nimbletyne inserted absently. “Never thought much of them myself because they are quite unreliable and tend to totally miss their target as often as they hit your allies.”

“Yes.”, Cora Sleet, the barbarian girl said quietly from where she sat without cracking a smile.

 

“Hells bells, Cora. Just how many times did I hit you?”, Tonic hissed at her with a scowl.

“Nine times.. Five with your fire grenades when you misjudged their distance. Once with your stun-bang grenade-thingy, which almost got me killed because I couldn’t hear or see anything. When I am very silent, I can still hear my ears ringing. And three times with your acid grenades, totally disintegrating and ruining two very good shirts, and that time when you totally melted away my favorite pair of pants and put me on display to the rest of Arashkan —in my undies!“, she replied seriously.

Tonic gave her a rather guilty look.

“You are never going to let that one go, are you?”, she fumed.

“It was a good pair of pants and you still owe me one.”

 

“We should try it immediately, Miss Palecog. I believe I have all the materials.”, offered Nimbletyne eagerly.

“No, no. I heard a lot about you, Master Nimbletyne. I am sure you can handle this one on your own.. And.. uhhmm.. I have a prior engagement elsewhere, sir.”, Tonic replied a bit hastily, still hiding behind the fruit bowl.

“Very well.”, said Sheriff Standorin. “We shall eagerly await for the results of this PPG-whatsit. Now, we have three more items on our plate. One is; how to lift the siege on Vodgar as soon as possible, because as long as that siege is there, Vodgar will be out of commission, and we will be unable to trap the Orken. Yes, as much as we want to make sure they will be unable to invade the eastern end of the continent by taking Serenity Home and its surrounding lands, we also do not want them to spread out and around the hills and forests between here and Vodgar. Two; we need clothing and food for over one hundred and twenty thousand refugees, including the Arashkan civilians, their militia, and their regulars, and the High Woods elves. And three; the elves and the regulars currently have acceptable equipment, though most of their armors need repairs and lack shields, the Arashkan militia have very poor arms and armor, and we do not have enough for any new requites from the civilians who want to participate in the coming war.”

“We shall move our main forces and beef up Last Hope’s defenses to make sure these Orken can not come at you from that direction. And when they attack the wall, we will harass them from their southern flank..”, Liam Ruststone, the commander of Palantine Militia said hoarsely. “We train our militia both as stationary and mobile defensive long-pikemen, and for trench warfare, so we have certain diversity. Any gap that needs corking, any trench that needs clearing, my men can handle it.”

“We can hold off the Orken at Vodgar for a very long time.”, snickered Parson Brimstone.

“Indeed.”, Katrine Faeriefire gave a hearty laugh. “Best thing that’s happened to Vodgar in the last three centuries.”

“Yes, yes.”, added Parson gleefully, stroking his odd goatee. “All the newbie and apprentice wizards, sorcerers, and warlocks who could barely cast a cantrip just two months ago are now dropping fireballs, ice storms, and lightning bolts —en mass!”

“We could send some two hundred of them over in a few days. Some physical training and seeing the results of war would be good for them. Educational, even, and that it isn’t just nuking from afar.”, Katrine said thoughtfully.

“Excellent idea, my dear. We should also send some to Durkahan. Those partial to detection and divination, in particular. It should help against possible ambushes should they decide to employ this device against the paladins. We have had good relations with them for centuries and they have treated us with honest respect.”, Parson said, nodding at Lady Alisia who nodded back.

“Then it is down to food, clothes, arms, and armors.”, Standorin noted with some relief.

“Endless Watch can supply the food and clothing.”, Lord Alberdel mused. “We are, however short of arms and armors ourselves. We can send word to Graystone Military Keep and Devien City for them, however. If the bloody pirates refrain from raiding them, they could be here within one and a half months by sea. Our ships with the food and clothing, within two weeks.”

“I have been given free rein to make any agreements.”, Dagard said cooly. “Provided no Drashan ship is attacked. If they are, Drashan will retaliate in kind. Please note that should this Orken threat be eliminated, we expect the Kingdom of Isles to officially accept Drashan as a free, sovereign kingdom.”

 

A strained silence settled in the room as many faces turned sour.

Aager Fogstep, who was standing silent and quite still behind Udoorin, had an amused expression on his face, hidden behind his half mask. Many things could be said about Bara’baras Kördog, the ‘King’ of the pirates of Drashan, and none of them good, but the very tall, giant of a man did have great foresight and he was a patient hunter. The official treaty he had signed with Serenity Home five years ago had legalized Drashan’s existence in the eyes of the Kingdom of Isles, even if it had been by mere insinuation. And now, he was going to officialize that, hence any attacks on any Drashan ship or soil, would constitute as an assault against a sovereign kingdom instead of a rabble of illegitimate pirates.

 

“Well played, you son-of-a-heartless whore..”, Aager growled with admiration..

 

..and just then, Lilly Venom dropped from the heavy chandelier above just as alarm bells went off everywhere in town.

✱ ✱ ✱

The events of the next few moments happened in a blur..

..when the lithe form of Lilly fell on someone standing right behind the former Rise of Bari Na-ammen, Nadine Graciousward!..

..as someone else, standing right behind Lord Haransis, the Koruxan Knights’ Commander, gave a low, painful grunt and stiffened, and Agent Largo was standing behind him with a bloody knife..

..and Inshala Frostmane disappeared as another figure lunged forward with a long, curving dagger..

..and a tiny squirrel was climbing up Chieftain Grulganiste Gimtooth’s massive, tree trunk-like arm and shoulder! The squirrel darted into the giant ogress’s thick, braided hair and holed in it..

..when Dagard Dreadhound whipped out a very sharp dagger and hurled it at Lord Alberdel of Endless Watch..

..just as Aager Fogstep sent a ghostly dagger across the room at the barbarian tribes and horde’s representative, Cora Sleet..

..while Bremorel Songsteel lurched up and over the table, and with the great, blue sword in her hands, knocked a dagger cast for King Udoorin, right out of the air..

..and with a swift draw, Lord Armathelius ran his long, elven sword through the neck of the man coming at his Queen, Alor’Nadien ne, without so much as looking at him..

 

..and the room went up in total chaos!

 

“You deck rat bastard—”, began Lord Alberdel furiously as he went for his sword when the dagger hurled at him missed. Then he froze and stared in amazement when someone behind him toppled over and crashed, face down onto the table.

“Huh.”, was all Cora Sleet had said when she turned around to see the moaning man clutching at the long, ghostly dagger sticking out of his chest. To her bemused surprise, the dagger suddenly faded.. and disappeared! She looked back at the man in dark leathers, hood, and mask and noted the same ghostly dagger reappear in his hand, once again. The man did not so much as glance at her as he engaged with someone else trying to get at the human king of the high elves.

She didn’t wait for too long to take in the chaotic mess around her for someone had just grabbed for Tonic!

The little gnomic girl yelped as the ‘guard’ behind her picked her up by the knot of her reddish-brown hair and tried to twist her very slender neck.

“There is a man behind you, Mother Ganiste. I think he is trying to come at you with a knife!”, whispered Inshala into the ogress’s ear, from where she was lodged.

“So the peace with the humans is over? Thus soon?”, Grulganiste grunted with disgusted disappointment.

“I do not think these are good humans, Mother. Ow, and the one coming behind you is almost upon you. I think you should do something about him.”, Inshala urged.

“I SHALL KILL HIM THEN AND FEEL NO REMORSE!”, snarled the ogress.

“I don’t think so..”, said Cora cooly, and seamlessly she drew out her great, two-handed sword, blazing with frigid tundra winds from her back and brought it down on the man, splitting his head open like a ripe melon, all the way down to his midriff! “..She’s our midget.”, she continued with a touch of swagger.

What was left of the man stiffened as blood and gore gushed out everywhere and Tonic dropped on the floor all drenched!

“Mustn’t complain. Mustn’t complain. It’s only hog’s head full of blood and crap!”, muttered the gnomic girl. “Behind you, Seressa.”

Seressa, however, was a bit busy hailing several other guards across the room coming at the ranger girl, Bremorel, sending ghostly and howling skeletal hands in misty fists at them. The ghostly hands clutched at each guard’s throat. Bremorel spun around, and with a lithe dance, she cut the men down, showing once again just how she’d earned her name; Songsteel..

“Thomas, GO!”, she snarled. “Take the Liaison and Temez and GO! I must guard Udoorin!”

Brom, the hobbit, pulled out his lyre and with a quick twitch of one finger, send a very disturbing, discordant note, and the man coming up behind the very tall, very dark Seressa stumbled as his head suddenly snapped up, one eye staring ahead, the other, somewhere north and west! Blood gushed out of his mouth, nose, eyes, and ears, and his whole head exploded from the inside!

“Dridges!”, yelped Lady Magella in a terrifying voice as she shied away from the man coming at her. The man lunged at her and she flung back, toppled over her chair, and slammed herself on the ground, hitting her head quite hard.

“You should be ashamed of yourself going after girls. Fight someone with balls!”, snarled her mother, Margaret Madish, and caved his head in with an enormous hammer while her father, Argail Smitefast was downing men, right and left.

In perfect sync, the Tosser twins, Britney and Dritmey, had started swinging their great battle-axes as Dridges told them where to butcher.

Lady Magella rose from the ground and her timid face was gone. What replaced it was nothing short of wrath. She pulled out her six-flanged mace glowing with incandescent light and started breaking bones!

Thomas gave Bremorel a stern look filled with the fear of being deprived, turned around, and with two of his junior temple guards, he dashed up to Constance and Temez and curtly said, “You, two. With me!”

Liaison Constance nodded, though it was clear, she did not want to leave..

..when Perigren Ostlanna Temez jumped over her table, and with a water-like flowing motion, she flipped and landed a kick right into the throat of a man coming at Lady Anglenna, who was hastily dragging Queen Alor’Nadien ne. The man stumbled back and Temez pulled out the broken pair of her antler horn and stabbed it into the man’s face, then at his jugular, and seamlessly, at his heart! The man barely gave out a rattling, wet, and wheezy sound as he collapsed.

Back to back, just a few steps over, Lilly Venom and Agent Largo were carving their way, from one table to the next, using a rather brutal strategy..

..where Largo would jump an assassin, and with a series of punctures, then stab his shortsword into in their stomach, twist, slice open, pull out, point up and shove it into their throat as they would, inevitably grunt forward, and Lilly would cut open their kidney, then stab them in the pit of one arm, piercing the heart at a diagonal angle, and finally slice off a jugular, as an encore.. and move on to the next, a process that seemed more like an extremely bloody and excruciating dance, really!

A body with two arms missing flew over Temez and crashed into a group of men trying to corner Sheriff Standorin as he tried to fend them all off the Serenity Home mayor, Arthandos Yuleman.

“Aager, Morel!”, he bellowed over the clamor. “Get Udoorin to his secure location, NOW!”

“Time to go, I believe. Nadien ne. Please stay close to me..”, murmured Anglenna.

“Not without my King and certainly not without my mother.”, replied Lorna stubbornly as she sliced open a man trying to get at her, all the way from his groin up to his forehead!

“Young Udoorin has his own retinue, cousin. Being pigheaded now is unseemly for a queen. Lord Armathelius, do ask the former Rise of Bari Na-ammen to join us if you will?”, she said as she calmly flash-burned someone trying to get at her. The man crumbled in charred cinders.

“I offered.”, Lord Armathelius replied with equal calm as he clashed his elven longsword against three assassins. “She said she was assigned elsewhere.”

“Get behind me, mother. You are out of practice.”, Moira beseeched. “Two kills and your sword hand is trembling.”

“Just who do you think your father practiced his swordplay, young lady?”, fumed Lady Alisia Hooman.

“Mother, that was over twenty years ago. Please. Just do this for me? You have children who will mourn should something happen to you.”, Moria pleaded as she slammed her shield into a man and ran him through when he stumbled.

“I am not leaving my daughter, nor the man who makes her happy.”, Alisia hissed with determination. “If anything happens to that boy, Inshala will be devastated.”

“Mother, Aager knows what he is doing. Better than either of us. And I do not see Inshala. She must already be out. Captain Fardashi. Please talk some sense to my mother..”, Moira said grimly.

“I do not tell the First Lady of Durkahan what to do. No one does. Because she is smart enough to know what she must do, as opposed to what she wants to do. After all, she is the First Lady of Durkahan.”, Captain Fardashi said calmly as he cut another man trying desperately to get at Lady Alisia.

“Lady Moira, Lady Alisia, Captain Fardashi..”, Thomas said as he and his junior temple guardians maced their way over to them with Nadine Graciousward in their mids. “This way, if you will. We have two more to pick up..”

Udoorin head-butted one of the men coming at him, then chopped him down. The next one was just a little too slow and he was dead before he knew it, as the burly King lopped his head, clean off his shoulders.

“Time to go, Udoorin. Anglenna and Armathelius are taking your Queen away as we speak.”, Aager growled.

“Can’t.”, Udoorin rumbled. “The door is too crowded. Might as well stay and help.”

Aager fumed.

“That one, Mother Ganiste. And that one.. we must get them too before we can leave.”, Inshala whispered.

“Why? Can’t they take care of themselves?”, the ogress, Grulganiste, growled.

“I am sure they can, Mother. But then, so can I..”, the tiny squirrel chirped happily.

“You have been too long with the humans, my daughter. You now have much sass!”, scowled Grulganiste as bulldozed through the chaos, reached over, and grabbed her query, by the scuff of his coat, right off the ground.

“Eep!”, yelped Brom, just to come face to face with one of the most brutish and awesomely scowling faces he had seen in his entire life!

“Ow. Hello Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth. It’s been a while. You are as comely and captivating as ever”, he said grinning toothily at her.

“Good Heavens!”, Inshala exclaimed in a melting voice. “He is sooo cute! Can we keep him?”

“Master Hobbit. You seem to appear at unexpected times. And your words are as beguiling as ever, even though you lie through your teeth. Do say more!”, growled the ogress.

“Chieftain Grulganiste!”, Cora snarled. “You will let our hobbit go, right now.”

“Simmer down chicken legs!”, Grulganiste snarled back at her.

“Chicken legs?”, Cora said dumfounded and with a very flushed face.

“Yes.”, the giant ogress said. “Meat like chicken —all white!”

“It wasn’t meant as an insult so much as it was a descriptive term, Cora. The esteemed chieftain and I are acquainted.”, Brom explained hastily. “Uhhmm.. where are we going?”

“Wherever I take you!”, scowled Grulganiste and tossed the hobbit on her back!

Brom yelped again and clung to the long, thick, braided hair of the giant ogress.. and came face to face with a tiny squirrel poking her head out of the nest of hair!

Inshala giggled.

Thomas appeared next to the very tall and very dark girl, Seressa Wraiven, and the midgety little gnomic girl, Miss Cinotnacra, with Ladies Nadine Graciousward, Alisia, and Moira, Captain Fardashi, and his junior temple guardians, and was talking to them in quick, brisk words.

“Hold on tight, my daughter.”, growled Grulganiste as she bashed in the head of another assailant and stepped on him. The mad crushed and the chieftain of Oger’s Foot rammed right through the town hall’s outer wall..

..with a dust-covered Cora coming up behind her!

“That was awesome, Mother.”, said Inshala. “You are so awesome at breaking houses!”

“Are you punning me, my daughter?”, scowled Grulganiste.

“We are out, my Aager.”, Inshala whispered in her mind.

“Pun you? Who would be foolish enough to pun Mother Ganiste?”, she giggled.

“I noticed.”, came Aager’s dry and amused voice. “I must admit, your mother is indeed, quite awesome!”

“I know, right?”, Inshala said with an exhilarated voice.

“There! The way out!”, Aager said, pointing at the gaping, ogre-shaped hole in the wall.

Udoorin turned around to see Alor’Nadien ne, Anglenna, and Lord Armathelius shimmer..

“..Stay safe!”, he shouted.

“..Stay safe, my Dorin..”, Alor’Nadien ne whispered..

..and Anglenna, Armathelius, and Lorna vanished.

“Ranger Lieutenant Morel. It’s time.”, barked Aager.

“Just a sec..”, snapped Bremorel as she danced her way into the chaos.

“Once. Just once I want you people to do as you are told!”, growled Aager..

..and the ranger girl reappeared with a limp body in her arms and running over the tables. When she reached the last few tables, she jumped, sailed over them, and landed, quite lithe and supple, next to Udoorin.

“Why have you risked everything for that woman?”, Aager snarled at her, as he pointed at the elder of the wood elves of Dimwoods, Talüna Mira Silverdenú. “She had her own assigned designation.

“She was knocked on the floor and people trampled over her. Just how was she supposed to get to her designation?”, Bremorel snarled back.

“That is not your concern, Ranger Lieutenant!”, snapped Aager.

“She is my only remaining relative!” she hissed at Aager. “She is my cousin Laila’s grandmother, hence my grandmother too. I’ll be damned before I left her there to be slaughtered.”

Aager fumed some more, though he knew any argument made here would be futile. The ranger lieutenant’s stubbornness was bested by only her dislike for him.

Then, inadvertently, he looked down at the frail, old, and unconscious elf woman in the ranger lieutenant’s arms and noted she was very nearly as small and skinny as his Inshala. Yet, where his Inshala was full of life and skipping energy, this woman was at the end of hers.

“To the sheriff’s office..”, he growled silently.

✱ ✱ ✱

To say Inshala was pleasantly surprised when Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth had parkoured her way through the town in a literal sense and brought her to her home..

..newly built and freshly painted!

 

“Nuf with the free ride, hobbit!”, Grulganiste growled. “The Heavens have gifted you with sturdy legs.. as short as they may be..”

Brom hopped down the giant ogress’s back and landed on his butt with a flushed and quite embarrassed expression face as Cora joined them.

“Why have you brought us here, chieftain?”, she asked gruffly.

Grulganiste scowled down at the tundra elf for a moment.

“You are a grouchy one, arent you? I can not say I like elves, but I had heard the white elves from up north were a bit better mannered than their kin living in the woods. Do not make me think I was mistaken.”, she scowled at her some more.

A squirrel climbed down the fourteen-foot ogress and hopped on the floor, spun once, spun twice, and on the third, the squirrel was gone, and the skinny form of Inshala was there.

“Mother Ganiste, please. They are guests. And they have just come out of a dire fight.”, she said with a shy smile as she looked down at the very ‘cute’ hobbit and his pouting elf-girl companion.

Then she turned around and ogled at her home..

..and darted inside.

 

Apparently, Chieftain Grulganiste hadn’t had her ogres rebuilt her home..

..she had them built something totally new; a two-story lodge with a guest room and a separate kitchen with a larger fireplace on the ground floor, a wide-spaced living —and possibly playing— room on the second floor and a very cozy attic that had its roof high enough to stand —as their spacious bedroom.

The new home was furnished with hand-woven tribe’s patterned rugs on every floor, low, cushioned, backless chairs and a similarly low table on the guest’s floor, two more low and backless chairs and a table on the second floor, though these were less flashy but warmer in color and appearance, along with dozens of cushions. The mattress in the attic was certainly not a threadbare thing, but something filled with washed and sun-dried sheared fleece, soft cowhides, and not-itchy woolen blankets. There were handcraft lanterns hanging from little hooks and slender chains on the walls now and there were a few more pots, pans, wooden plates and bowls and cutlery in the kitchen, and the squeaky pump in the garden had been fixed, and it didn’t shriek like a banshee anymore when its lever was pulled down and it was also, somehow, moved into the kitchen! However Chieftain Grulganiste had attained them, there were even a few very elegant vases and soft, faintly blush-colored doilies as well, all elf made!

And then, there was the garden..

Grulganiste’s ogres hadn’t touched the big, blooming cherry tree, but the small garden had been swept clean and a stone-laid path was leading from the kitchen to a little gazebo, complete with a wooden table and two benches on either side and a brazier hung from the ceiling of the gazebo.

Inshala was enthralled..

..and thoroughly shocked.

The cherry tree also entertained many lanterns and even a two-seat swing, hanging from one of its larger branches..

And as a final touch, the garden was cordoned off with a fence tall enough to give certain privacy, and the fence itself was hand-woven, interlocking, dried and varnished reeds..

 

“Mo.. Mother Ganiste? What did you do to my home?”, she asked dazedly when she came back out.

“I made up for my folly, my daughter. I had my ogres use as much as the original materials they could salvage from what I wrecked, then made a home worthy of my daughter and the Ritual Guardian. Your father, Cathber, was a man with many good traits. Being alone made him lose perspective. Particularly after he lost Tamara at the hands of Themalsar. He was the Ritual Guardian, yes, but otherwise, he was little more than a hermit running around doing silly things like delivering babies and gathering lightning. Being the Ritual Guardian is not much different than being a king, a queen, or a chieftain, my daughter. People will not understand what being a Ritual Guardian means, nor what it entails, and they certainly will not understand the kind of responsibilities and burdens it shall place upon you. But they will see this home and respect you for it; you had the most feared and fearsome creatures of your forest build it for you. The underlying message there will never go unnoticed.”, rumbled Grulganiste.

“But.. but what if my Aager does not like it?”, moaned the skinny girl.

“Does your Aager burn when he takes you into his arms, my daughter?”, the ogress asked.

“Mo.. mother, please.”, the skinny girl blushed furiously.

“It is a relevant question, girl. Does he or does he not?”, Grulganiste asked.

 

“Every time.”, came Aager’s voice.

 

“Y.. yes..”, mumbled Inshala, her face blazing hot.

“There you have it then. If you liked this home, then so will he, because when it comes to homes, the only part that belongs to a man is the roof. The rest is yours. Your man will love it because of who is in it. Not because of what is in it. If he is more interested in that, then you have a problem. I saw the condition of your former home, my daughter. He loved that home because you entered his life. Now he will defend this home because there is actually something in it.”, Grulganiste said gruffly. “Now. Tell me who those men were and why did they try to kill you, the hobbit, and the elf?”

“Uhhmm.. they attacked you as well, Mother.”, Inshala objected.

“No, girl. They went after very specific people. You, Master Hobbit, the white elf, the little gnomic girl, and the tall, black and skinny one with the pinks, the boy king, his pretty mate who was brave, thoughtful, and foolish enough to sit next to me, your itchy fingered sheriff, but only because he was defending your mayor, your human mother, and your human sister, the man who had his ship burned, the little dwarf girl and my brave Argail, who bashed in many heads, the tall one in iron clothes from Koruxan and the two from Vodgar; the human with the goat hair on his chin and the madwoman with him. They attacked me only because I was blocking the way of many.”, Grulganiste said, displaying just how perceptive she was.

“Then shouldn’t we help them?”, Cora asked, getting a better grip of her great blade.

“We do not know who is friend, nor do we know who is foe. Do not be another itchy-fingered fool, elf. There are more than enough of them out there. For me, everyone here is a foe and no one is a friend. Hence I shall wait for the sheriff to come and tell me it is over, and my daughter, Inshala here, will make us some nice, hot tea, as our host.”, she replied cooly.

Inshala blushed and ran inside her new home and her new kitchen.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter, Chieftain Grulganiste. Though I must say, she is adorable. She hopped on my head and nested herself there and chirped all the way here as if wanting to assure me.”, murmured Brom.

“Yes. She is adorable, and she is the nicest and the most selfless thing I have ever seen. She sure did old Cathber a lot of good the way she dropped into his lonesome life.”, replied the brutish ogress.

“Cathber? What has he got to do with her?”, Brom asked as he remembered the months he’s spent with the odd druid.

“Inshala ‘la fey’ Frostmane is a foundling, Master Hobbit. Old Cathber found her, many years ago in the woods. I believe her birth mother was some woodsman’s wife, taken when she was out gathering herbs and mushrooms. Never liked them, woodsmen. Foolish, superstitious, rash idiots, the lot of them. They blamed us whenever anything went wrong in their lives. Break a toe, it’s the ogres. A lightning strikes, it’s the ogres. A goat dies, it’s the ogres. As if we had nothing better to do.. But for years, many of their women were taken. Then one day, one of the taken woman returned, bedraggled, hungry, hurt.. and bearing a newborn child. You would think they would have rejoiced, but no. They drow her into the forest and stoned her, and the child to death. From how old Cathber told it, the mother did everything she could to protect her baby. The fools left, thinking she was dead, and to be fair, she was.. just not yet. She got up, and with what strength she had left, she ran off deeper into the forest for as long as far as she could.. which wasn’t all that far, seeing as she was already weak when she had come down Rook Mountains, to begin with, and being stoned didn’t help her either. She died, from much bleeding, with her little baby in her arms.. In my many centuries, I have had respect for very few and even fewer among humans. To soothe the spirit of that woman, I have prayed and burned much incense. Old Cathber found them some two days later. He buried the mother and tasked himself with the care of the baby. The soft-hearted old fool.. What did he know about raising a child? Yet he did.. Yet he did..”, Chieftain Grulganiste said, her eyes lost in some unseen distance.

 

Brom and Cora, however, were looking at each other and with quite freaked expressions.

 

“Uhhmm.. When did this event happen, Mother Ganiste?”, Brom asked carefully.

“Some years back.. my daughter should be seventeen now, so that many years ago.. Not too long after your visit to my hills, really.”, the ogress replied.

“Mother Ganiste, Master Hobbit, and Pretty White Elf lady, the tea is ready.”, Inshala came out of the house with a happy skip.

“You like it then?”, Grulganiste asked with a surprisingly pleasant smile.

“I love it, Mother.. The new kitchen is so awesome and the pump is so easy to use now so I also made some things to eat. The house is so big now and we have so many more plates and bowls, I can finally ask Bremorel and her hubby, Thomas, Lilly and her hubby, Sir Agent Largo, Liaison Constance and the sheriff, Perigren Ostlanna Temez, Hal Mali, gorgeous Demelze, Hamna Vir and dear Dar Derune, Biberbell, De De Dexter, Laila’s father, Uncle Devien, Ranger Master Uncle Moorat, Lady Magella, and her sisters and even her mother, Udoorin and Lorna, Mother Alisia, my sisters and brother, and Granma, and when they come back, even Laila and Gnine..”, she said in a breathless voice.

“Perhaps we should eat in the garden?”, Grulganiste said, and not without some guilt. “I believe I have destroyed enough buildings in this town in one day.”

“YESS! I loved the garden, Mother Ganiste. There is even a swing there! I will bring the tea and the food out there and light the brazier to keep our guests warm.”, the skinny girl said happily and took off again.

“Wow.”, Brom admitted. “She really is adorable and so happy to have friends in her life.”

“Whatever friends she has, they are all new, Master Hobbit. That girl lived alone all her life, even if her father, Cathber, was there. She tried to make friends with the wood elves. They never hurt her, but they never let her come anywhere near them either. She tried to make friends with the woodsmen and they beat her, stoned her, caged her, and whipped her for it. So when I said, I would ‘crush any of you punny things who disrespect her’, I was being polite.”

 

“What is happening, my Aager?”, Inshala whispered as she put the tea, the teacups, the plates full of newly washed fruits onto a large platter she found in the kitchen.

 

“We.. uhhmm.. we saw her with a man in dark clothes, back when we were in Arashkan, some months back. Is he her husband?”, he asked.

“Yes. A dangerous man. But he will not let anyone hurt her. Now, Master Brom Bumblebrim and you, Cora Sleet, will tell me where you two actually know her from?”, the ogress gave the two of them a very ugly and stern look.

 

There was a moment of precipitous silence.

 

“Cora, my dear, I think you should tell this one. It happened in your tundras. If anyone has the right to speak on this to another person, or whether it should be told or not, is up to you. Though I am not sure now is the right time, and whether the girl should hear, or even know about it..”, Brom said quietly.

 

“The town is under attack, love. Whoever these people are, they have been infiltrating amongst the refugees and even amongst some of our town guards.”, came Aager’s strained voice.

 

Cora frowned a bit, but not because she thought Brom had thrown her under the dragon, per se, but as to all the events that had transpired up to and after the ‘RED OCTOBER’, as the barbarians of the Great Northern Tundras had named the odd phenomenon; the turning of the sky to crimson on a clear October day and the appearance of the vile creature..

..and the beginning of the disappearances of their womenfolk, including the daughter of the chieftain of Bear Claw Tribe.

 

“..then they mingled as part of the retinue of one lord or lady or representative or another, and everyone, including us, thought they belonged to someone. Quite ingenious, really.. in a sinister and heinous way..”

 

It had been at that point Cora and Brom, along with the dwarf sisters, Lillias Absentwhot, and Jeina Blonde had gotten involved. They had been asked by no other than the Bear Claw Tribe chieftain himself to find his daughter and to bring her back.

After a long, dangerous, and harsh trek, they had finally located where the vile creature had holed up; a cavern set deep into the southern end of Lost Mountains, filled with many corpses, all ravaged, half-eaten, gnawed and rotting —and all women.

 

“..we have many wounded and many more dead. We barricaded Udoorin at the sheriff’s office and he was very frustrated about it. He tried to order me, ‘I am the king and I order you to let me go!’ I laughed at his face and told him if he didn’t stay in the building, the elves would LACK a king and his pretty Lorna would be all sad about it! In retrospect, though, I probably shouldn’t have said that, but it was funny at the time. More assassins arrived and they climbed the office walls and came down through the door leading up to the roof and now he is laughing like a merry idiot and cutting them down as they drop into the office and he won’t even share the kills with anyone!..”

 

That was also the time when Cora and Brom had met pretty much the rest of the particular clan Lillias and Jeina had belonged to. The whole lot of them had arrived to ‘bring their lost dwarves’ back home.. For Cora, it had been the first time she had met them. Brom, on the other hand, had made acquaintance with some of them before, during his travels, though he hadn’t said as to how he knew them. The answer to that would reveal itself much, much later, and after the two, along with Seressa and Tonic would suffer Arcanton Mordenon’s demented tower!

Upon the insistence of Lillias and Jeina, the whole clan had gotten involved and had lured the vile creature from its cave using a continuous hit-and-run tactic, all the way to Rook Mountains, and losing the creature at Ritual Forest, buying time for Cora and Brom to enter the cave and save whatever there was inside left to save.

 

“..I left him with the guards and Bremorel to check in on the others. The elves’ headquarters are also under attack, though I suspect a similar mule-headed enthusiasm on Lorna’s part there. I always thought her to be a calm and gentle girl. Turns out I am not even sure which of them is worse anymore; Lorna or Udoorin..”

 

Neither she nor her bushy little friend, Brom, would ever find out the extent of their deeds that day, but Cora had always suspected that there would be consequences..

..the ones she would know and perhaps find out later, and the ones she would never hear about;

When they had saved the chieftain’s traumatized daughter and returned her to her father, she would, in time, be married to the son of the chieftain of the Ice Crag Tribe, making Cora quite popular and ‘savior’ among the two tribes. And later, when she and Brom had saved the Ice Wolf Horde from a certain ‘demon’ that had infested their lands, who had turned out to be no one other than Seressa Wraiven and her vivid illusions and her pair, Arcantonic Palecog, the savage Ice Wolf Horde had promptly adopted her as their ‘savior’ as well, effectively promoting her as a hero among three of the four major tribes/hordes of the Great Northern Tundras —and when the events of her ‘re-encounter’ with Dreadmaw had wiped out the Wyrm Horde, she had, perhaps unwittingly, become the ‘Princess of the Tundras’, the sole person to have the power to call upon all the remaining three tribes/horde to arms and fight against the coming Orken, in a land far, far to the south and beyond the tundras. This had been the most apparent, though quite unexpected, and certainly unintended outcome of the RED OCTOBER event.

 

“..The temple is also under attack but Thomas and his temple guardians are putting up a good fight. Not to mention they have Nadine Graciousward. I am tempted to say, like mother, like daughter, and I can see where Lorna gets her calm and enthusiasm from. There is also that tall, dark girl with all the creepy pinks and her gnomic friend who I think is quite mad! She is cackling like a maniac and throwing bombs at everything that moves. The bloody idiot has already leveled six houses near the temple!..”

 

The other was, there had been a second survivor, deep down in the cave of the vile creature; a much traumatized, beaten, raped, and ravaged, underfed, hungry, bruised, and very much pregnant young girl..

..who had wanted nothing from them except some food and an axe, and to be let go so she could return to her people, her family, her husband, and her home..

The resilience of the skinny little girl who had suffered months of use and abuse from the vile creature, not to mention, was at the end of her pregnancy had, now, astounded Cora for she, in all candor, had never believed the girl would have survived the month-long trek through the bitter cold, torturous, treacherous, and precipitous Lost Mountains and then the Rook Mountains to reach her Dim Woods. Yet she had.. and giving birth, alone, on the way, no less..

..just to end up being run off and stoned to death by her own people and her husband..

 

“..Some of them tried to infiltrate the temple by breaking through the boarded windows.. They never came back out for some reason. I am not sure if they enjoyed their last moments in this world, but I am certain our Liaison’s half-born brothers and sisters must have..”

 

At that point, Cora wasn’t sure just who had been the true ‘vile creature’.

Yet, her daughter had survived, against incredible and impossible odds; Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostman, and ‘WOW’, was all Cora could think of.

 

Whether Cora had figured out that when they had saved that skinny little girl, they had also caused the vile creature to follow her in hopes of finding and retrieving its offspring and consequently becoming a menace to the woodsmen of Dimwood for the next decade and more, was unclear.

Probably not.

And now, that vile creature’s daughter was here;

 

“..Sheriff Standorin, Lilly, her hubby, Agent Largo, D.D. Dexter, and I, along with three dozen guards, rangers, and the elven veterans I have been training are now moving street by street and going house to house in a search and destroy mission. I am afraid this might take a while though.. Hey, are you making tea?”

 

A beautiful, adorable, earnest, sincere, full of life, selfless, shy, frightened, abused, stoned just like her mother, beaten, caged and whipped, scared and scarred little girl, adopted by the old Ritual Guardian, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, and by the ogress chieftain of Oger’s Foot, Grulganiste Grimtooth, and also by no other than the First Lady of Durkahan, Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman and become the new Ritual Guardian..

The whole thing made Cora reel back in its incredible, unbelievable, mind-staggering, and quite astonishing absurdity.

 

“Well.. We do have some guests here, so I thought I ought to make some for them. It is cold outside..”, Inshala replied a tad guiltily. “I really wanted to be there with you.”

 

Cora carefully cleared her throat and spoke with her low, slightly hoarse voice.

“People need her now as she is, and anything that is past is in the past, though our stories somehow come out in the most unexpected moments and haunt us..”, she said, looking down at Brom with emphasis, “..it would be fruitless to summon them by will.”

 

Chieftain Grulganiste scowled down at her for a long moment.

 

“..’Tis alright, love. Enjoy yourself. I shall be there as soon as possible, though I suspect it might be later than I would want. We will have to make a tally on our losses and figure out how they managed to bring in so many.”

 

“I see.”, she rumbled finally. “And perhaps wisely spoken too. My daughter is very dear to me. The first time we met, I thought she would scream and run.. Yet she said I was awesome, as demented as I had thought her perspective was at the time. She looks at people and somehow judges them by their merit.. and accumulated deeds.. if at all.. And should she judge said deeds, she seeks the reasons that led to those deeds as if looking for an excuse to forgive them. I would hate to see her break again and humans have done everything they could to do just that.”

“Ready!”, declared Inshala happily as she ran up to them with a skipping hop. “I lit the brazier to keep us warm as well, especially for Master Brom Bumblebrim, here, or perhaps you would rather I call you Blom Bumdlebim Hobim?”

“What?”, blurted Brom in surprise. “How do you know that name?”

“Blom Budle— what?”, Cora asked with an amused expression and very much pursed lips.

“You don’t really need to know, Cora.”, he scowled.

“I am friends with all the dryads and nymphs in Gull’s Perch, Master Brom. They told me some very endearing and lovely stories and you were in them. My Aager and I saw you at Arashkan before today, but I didn’t know your name then. We saw you and pretty Cora talking to our Merisoul and give her something. We were up on one of the roofs and the very tall girl with the lovely pink hair and dress that I would love to have too, and the cute gnome girl was also there, though they were hiding in some trash for some reason!”, she said as she led them into the garden and over to the gazebo.

“You can sit on the swing if you like, Master Brom. I already tried it and it is awesome!”, she offered with an exhilarated grin.

 

There were also two ogres, one male, the other a female in the garden sipping tea from comparatively very, very tiny teacups! When they saw their chieftain, they jumped on their feet and sort of stared at their feet like two kids caught in the act.

 

“Uhhmm.. Greetings Chieftain Grulganiste. We fixed and refurnished the house as per your instructions. Does it meet your satisfaction?”, the female ogress rumbled carefully.

“I wouldn’t know, Garishka.”, the chieftain replied with a horrible scowl and turned to Inshala. “Does it?”

“I love it, Mother Grulganiste.”, Inshala said happily. “I think sister Garishka Bloodhammer and brother Grawl Goraxe are very good at what they do.”

Garishka and Grawl beamed at her.

“I think you should hire out your ogres to help build the defenses and homes for the Arashkan refugees. That way, the humans can become friends with your sons and daughters, just like Sheriff Standorin wanted.”, she said.

“Maybe..”, Grulganiste scowled. “But only if your hubby also likes this home..”

“There were some men skulking around the house, Chieftain, but because you told us not to kill any humans while we were here, we asked them, very politely, what they were doing. They just pulled their knives and charged at us. Again, we told them, very politely, not to do that but they just wouldn’t listen. So.. me and Garishka bashed them all and tossed them over the fence.”, Grawl said tentatively.

“We tossed ’em far, Chieftain, like, several buildings over so there shouldn’t be any blame on us!”, added Garishka hastily.

“We also wiped all the blood and brain!”, Grawl mumbled quickly.

 

Grulganiste looked at them much like an executioner would, right before he brought down his axe.

Then sighed.

 

“The deed is done. If they drew their knives at you here, in the house of the Ritual Guardian, they got what they deserved. How is the tea?”

“Excelent, Chieftain Grulganiste. The Ritual Guardian sure knows her teas.”, Garishka said in a hurry and Grawl nodded vigorously.

✱ ✱ ✱

It was past midnight when Aager Fogstep stumbled, dead tired, to his home..

..and looked up at the two-story house.

He had known all along that Chieftain Grulganiste had totally destroyed it, even if she had done it unintentionally. He hadn’t said a word about it to Inshala and had, quite deliberately, made sure to never think about it all day, just so she wouldn’t be able to sense his disappointment. True, it had been a rather simple, single-room, quite bare, empty, even, and in all candor, a pathetic house, really, but it had been his home, dammit!

The home he had secretly wanted to share with Inshala from the moment he had understood that he felt something for that ‘pretty but weird’, and ‘pretty wierd’ girl who had been outright cantankerous, to be honest. She had plagued and pestered him, constantly creeping up to him and whispering ‘You are not a good person!’

The fact that the moment of his comprehension of his feelings for her and the moment he had figured the odd nuance in her words had coincided hadn’t gone unnoticed by Aager;

 

She had never said he was a bad person..

..like ever.

Only that he was not a good person.

 

And in all likeliness, him being ‘not a good person’ was very true and a bloody obvious fact, and he, Aager, had never claimed otherwise.

What was there to claim otherwise?

But where no one in his entire life had cared about him being a good or a bad person, or ‘not a good’ one, the way Inshala’s had phrased it, told him something;

That for some dementedly naive reason she had thought he wasn’t a bad person, and cared enough —again, for some incomprehensible reason— that he was not a good person, either

..and that it bothered her.. A lot.

Enough to plague and pester him for weeks from the moment they had met while tracking down the assassins who had started the unquenchable fire in their town, up to the moment they had come climbing up the broken and crumbling stairs of the damned ruins of Themalsar.

 

Had she actually managed to make a good person out of him?

 

Aager thought not.

And looking back at all the things he had done since having met Inshala, just about anyone would agree with him.

Looking at how, or better yet, why he had done them, however, said ‘anyone’ might just pause..

 

So when Aager had found out about the predicament of his rather simple, single-room, quite bare, empty, even, and in all candor, pathetic house and consequently say he was disappointed, it would likely have been the under statement of the century!

And now he was staring at a two-story house with dim candlelight glowing from all the windows.

“I am sorry for your home, young man.”, a voice rumbled in the dark.

Aager stared at the newly woven reed fences and noted the three giant figures sitting there.

Quietly, he veered in that direction and nodded at Chieftain Grulganiste and then at the two other ogres.

He also noted the gazebo, the burning brazier hanging from its wooden ceiling, and the swing hanging from the blooming cherry tree and thought of just how much his Inshala had probably loved seeing all this.

“You came to my tent and behaved as a guest should. I came to your home and behaved.. badly..”, she said.

“Tis alright, Mother Ganiste.”, he replied tiredly. “I am aware you did not do it deliberately. Bad things happen, even with good intentions.”

“I tried to make up for my folly. Inshala loved it but is freaked out because she thinks you might not. I told her, home is where we are with the ones we love and care are, and that coming from a clumsy ogress is a neat trick!”, she rumbled. “If you do not like this home and want to break spoons, I will understand.”

“What is it with spoons and breaking them, Mother Grulganiste? Who would want to break spoons? How would you eat if you broke your spoons?”, Aager asked amusedly, even though he was quite tired and just want to sleep.

“That is the point, young man. No one wants to miss supper because of broken spoons.”, she said as if stating the obvious.

“I take it there are many spoons in this home now?”, Aager asked, getting a hint at where this conversation was heading.

It was interesting to see this giant monstrosity of an ogress to genuinely be sorry for what she had done, and with this ‘private’ talk, she was almost begging him to accept her apology, along with the house, in her strangely roundabout and gruff way.

“Damn.”, he thought. “She is a lot more considerate than many humans I have met!”

“Of course. A house should always have many spoons. For friends, guests, clumsy mothers, and.. mayhap.. children..”, she said with a straight face. “You have many guests even now. The hobbit, Brom, the white elf who thinks scowling all the time is cool, the crazy gnome girl, and the creepy one with the pinks. I saw so much pink today, I am pink-blind now. The other mother of my daughter, her elder sister, and the mother of the queen of the elves is also here.”

“Huh.”, Aager grunted.

“I would have wanted to apologize to that skinny she-demon for the things I said to her earlier. I found out she has an interest in your sheriff and that she treats him with care. That is good because your sheriff is a respected enemy and has fought well today.”

“Huh.”, Aager repeated himself.

“You should go and tell your mate that you liked the house.”, she growled. “Inshala is a good girl but she panics over the silliest things. She must truly care for you and for what you think, young man. Nurture that.”

 

Aager nodded at her and started for the door and stopped.

There was another door leading from the fenced-off garden directly into the kitchen too, now.

He hadn’t noticed that..

 

“Thank you, Mother Ganiste. It would seem some mistakes are good to happen.”, he said quietly.

“You should see what I did with your bedroom, then.”, he heard her grinning voice coming from behind.

 


 

arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons groups modül savaş serenity The Great Arashkan the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

Extreme Planning..
Part One

Extreme Planning..
Part One

Timeline:

It is time for strategic planning.

Heroes and friends gather to see what must be done and what can be done for the enemy is harsh, merciless, numerous, and hidden..

 

And in a small town,
the future of the kingdom is decided.

 

This story takes place shortly after
Grulganiste Grimtooth Bolgrig;
“A Debt Father to Daughter Passed..”

 

 

Hello Nimbletyne. It’s been a while.”, said the rich, throaty, enthrallingly feminine voice as a carefully swaying figure of elegance stepped lightly into the workshop.

“Hello, girl. Been a while indeed. Thought you’d drop in one of these days.”, Master Nimbletyne Tinkerdome rasped as he limped over to the tall, rather curvy, and extraordinarily striking figure. “Are you here to kill me?”

 

The tall beautiful woman stared down at the old gnome for a moment before she replied.

 

“By all accounts, I probably should. You didn’t do us any favors when you burglarized the central office of the Whisper. Do you have any idea how many assassins I had to put up with since then?”, smiled the striking woman.

“I am sorry for the trouble I caused you, girl. But not for what I did. You were there when we found out what they were up to. You knew what I had in mind. And, as I recall, you did encourage me.”, grunted Nimbletyne.

“True. Though, in my defense, I was young and foolish, then.”, mused the extraordinary figure.

“Lassy..”, Nimbletyne grinned. “..you are always young in my book, but never foolish.”

 

The woman gave out a rich, throaty, genuine laughter.

 

“Apparently, some things never change, and you are as smooth as ever, darling. How are you still single?”, she asked merrily.

“Had me eyes on a girl, once. Nothing on your league, of course, but killer-cute. Single mother, a Wessa Doodlebellz, with a sweet little daughter. Husband killed in a Bean Bomb manufacturing accident. She was, however, also one of the victims of the Whisper.”, shrugged the gnome, though not as indifferent as he wanted to seem.

“I.. am sorry about that. And I am sorry I wasn’t there with you when you found out about it.”, the woman said honestly.

“Tis alright, girl. Really. You had your own plate full, as I recall. A breakup with Delia must have been devastating for you. Was surprised to see his daughter here, a girl by the name; Moira. Very pretty. Very strong. And very stubborn —in an endearingly mule-headed way! Delia always did attract women with those particular qualities for some reason.”, he said with another grin.

 

The beautiful woman looked down at the old gnome with amusement.

 

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”, she said with a pursed smile.

“My thoughts, exactly.”, chuckled Nimbletyne.

“Alright.”, the woman said, all-business. “Who must I wrestle here to get some attention? Who’s arm must I bend?”

“You require little to garner attention, my dear. Years have barely noticed you.”, the gnome’s grin widened.

 

The woman sighed.

 

“You are going to drag this as far as it can go, aren’t you?”, she said, but not without a certain amount of amused resignation.

“But of course, my dear. And your ‘pretty’, will fully justify my sins on this account! For the sake of saving some time, however, going to the sheriff’s office should speed things up for you. At least on this side of the river. Couldn’t speak for the elves, though. You should know how they are, by now; arrogant, conceited, condescending, sniffy, snooty, stuffy, and stuck-up.. pretty much in that order!”

“Nimbletyne..”, the woman said with a note of reproval.

 

Nimbletyne shrugged.

 

“Ow, I am sorry, sweetheart, I wasn’t aware we were putting on a public face.. For them, you should probably go and talk to your daughter. I must say, she is quite the will-full girl —in an endearingly mule-headed way.. I must congratulate you on a job well done, there, Dine, she has everything an elf has, and none of the things they shouldn’t. It’s like the Great Heavens dissected the perfect elf, tossed out all the bitchy parts, and named her, Alor’Nadien ne! Never seen a girl as pretty and still be honestly and earnestly dignified and down to earth about it. If she, at this very moment, pointed one pink finger in any direction and said, ‘That way..’, all the elves and the Arashkan refugees will pick up whatever sword, shield, or stick they can find and charge that way! And that’s over fifteen thousand high elves, over eighty thousand Arashkan refugees, not including their militia and their regulars, several thousand wood elves, and no one really knows how many of the fey-folk!”

 

A surprised and pleased expression lit the beautiful face of Nadina Graciousward.

 

“Finally. Has she thus decided to be her destiny?”

✱ ✱ ✱

Biberbell knew she was on an important mission because she was told, she was on an important mission.. by no other than the Ritual Guardian herself! Hence she ignored all the ogling Mortals as she flew through the Mortals’ town they named Serenity Home, which did sound like a place where elderly people would reside. Biberbell was likely the only creature around to have noticed the irony of Mortals naming their town after a place for the elderly since only they would grow old and inevitably die.. The only problem with that would be, Biberbell probably didn’t know what irony was, and even if she did, she’d stay well away from it.. since it had ‘iron’ in it!

With a serious, all-business-like frown on her tiny face, she flew up to the sheriff’s office with a trail of sparkling pixie dust, drew her toothpick height up to an impressive, toothpick and a pint, and knocked on the ‘massive’ door.

 

Nobody answered.

 

Possibly because the stupid Mortals were also too deaf to hear her minute fists banging on a door, many scores of times bigger than her!

Biberbell fumed!

Then she darted over to the tiny, barred window near the gigantic door and peered inside. There were several Mortals inside, all wearing iron clothes and carrying sharp, iron swords. Biberbell scowled at them in disgust.

Then she took a handful of her pixie dust, weaved it into a gossamer spell, pointed her tiny little index finger at one of the dumb Mortals; the one nearest to the door, and released it.

The dumb Mortal gave a surprised sort of grunt, turned around, and opened the door that he thought was being pounded—

 

—to come face to face with a tiny little thingy!

 

“What the..”, he said in astonishment and made a grab for it..

“Hands off, you uncouth clod twerp!”, Biberbell piped!

 

The Mortal froze..

..and a whole lot of merry laughter came from inside the sheriff’s office.

 

“That’s a new one, Anderson!”, laughed one.

“Indeed. Your ability to rile women of all sizes is astounding..”, chuckled another.

“Hey, clod twerp! ‘Sup man!”, snickered a third.

 

Mortal Guard Anderson flushed furiously and turned around to mouth off his fellow guards when another voice was heard, and this one did not laugh, nor snicker. In this voice, there was a definitive, commanding rumble.

 

“Please invite Miss Biberbell, the fey-folk liaison, if you will, Mr. Anderson.”, the rumbling voice said.

“Liaison Biberbell, this way please.”, the young guard, Anderson, said politely, though he was very much flushed.

“Well. At least you are acceptably behaved.”, sniffed Biberbell. “Hence I shall apologize for my impromptu reaction. You may call upon me for one favor that is within my ability to attain or accomplish.”

“There really isn’t any need, Liaison Biberbell. I made a grab for you, and that was very rude of me. I would think what I did and got in return, are fully justified.”, Anderson mumbled.

Biberbell stared at the young man for a moment and amended that perhaps not all of these Mortals were lummoxes after all.

She flew closer to him and with a patronizing tone, she said, “Give me your hand!”

“Uhhmm..”, the young man hesitated. “Am I going to get it back?”

“We fey rarely give without taking, but never take without giving!”, she sniffed. “Give me your hand, boy!”

Resigned to his predicament, young Anderson opened his hand and showed the tiny sprite his palm.

Biberbell carefully placed a red bug with white spots into his palm.

“Uhhmm.. a ladybug?”, he said a bit confused.

“Yes. That’s what you Mortals call it. Keep it safe and feed it greens and your home will always be free of infectious pests and always be warded from deploring emotions..”, she squeaked.

“Ow. Wow! Thank you. My sister will love this. It will be good to see her smile again!”, Anderson’s face lit with elation as he stepped aside and let the tiny fey in.

 

All the other guards crowded around the young man and stared at the tiny ladybug with undisguised wonder, as it crawled along the fate-lines etched in the palm.

 

Biberbell swooped into the office, careful never to get anywhere near all the iron racks holding all the long, iron spears and armors and shields and all sorts of other iron things, and came into a, relatively, much smaller office, where two, very large Mortals, one sitting behind a desk, another standing across him and on the other side of the same desk. There was a third thing in the office who was possibly the only one who wasn’t a Mortal. Biberbell scowled, for she knew what this one was; one of them pretty she-demons, and the reason why all the little fey-folk were in this town!

“Liaison Biberbell. We are glad to see you here.”, said one of the large men. The one sitting behind the desk. “May I offer you some refreshments, perhaps? We have—”

“—I am sorry Sir Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, but your Mortal beverages are not suited for my taste—”

“—Sugar Cane Juice—”

“—GIMME!”, Biberbell piped!

 

Without cracking a smile, Standorin pulled open a drawer in his desk, using just two fingers, he carefully pulled out a very, very tiny and delicate glass cup, and from a relatively small bottle, he counted a drop or three in the cup and pushed it across the table with the care only a midwife would show during a delivery!

Biberbell swooped down, not unlike a hawk would on a fat, juicy rabbit, grabbed the cup, and drank its content with alarming lust.

 

“What will I owe you for another, Sir Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart?”, she asked eagerly.

 

Standorin wordlessly poured her another.

Biberbell topped that one as well, then stared at the sheriff with a flushed face, a silly grin, and slightly off eyes, then squinted at the tall, non-Mortal she-demons standing behind him, then back at the sheriff.

 

“You, Sir, sure know how to treat the women around you!”, she said, her voice happily slurred..

..then toppled over and dropped, face down, on the desk!

 

There was a moment of awkward silence and Constance sighed.

 

“And this is why you should always bargain with the fey-folk, sir.”, she said with an amused voice, mixed with resignation.

Standorin stared at the tiny thing snoring on his desk!

“Well..”, he said. “That went well..”

 

The other large man snorted.

The sheriff scowled at him.

 

“This is not a laughing matter, boy. And it certainly isn’t funny.”, he growled.

“I am sorry, father. But it sure looked that way from here.”, Udoorin chuckled, though he seemed somewhat tired too. “How distilled is the juice in that bottle?”

“I don’t know. I asked for the best the innkeeper had to offer when I went to buy it. I wasn’t going to serve some cheap snot to the fey!”, Standorin rumbled.

Constance sighed again.

“What?”, he asked.

“The best would mean he gave you ‘pure’ sugar cane juice, sir.”, she said.

“Yes, so?”

“You didn’t so much as make our little liaison, here, roaring drunk, you made her comatose..”, she replied, stifling a laugh.

“Ow..”, Standorin said with a flushed face. “Well, what do we do now?”

“Mix some clear rainwater into the bottle. A spoon for spoon ratio should suffice.”, she said smiling.

“No, I mean, about her!”, the sheriff fumed.

“Ahh.. Do you perhaps have any rosemint tea at hand?”, she inquired.

“Rosemint, what? I am sorry Liaison Constance. I don’t even know what that is. I only drink coffee.”, he scowled.

Constance sighed once more.

“Some water and a bit of cotton, then?”

“We have water and lots of cotton and bandages.”, he said and from the same drawer, he pulled a steel canteen and rolls of bandages and a linen pouch full of cotton and put them on the desk.

“And a box, please. About wee big..”, she said, pointing at the sleeping little sprite.

Standorin frowned, took one of the parchment docks on his desk, dumped its content, and gave that to the tall half-born girl.

Constance placed the parchment dock on the desk and carefully lined it with one of the rolls of bandages, then padded it with cotton. Then she took the canteen, tried to pull open the cap.. but failed. She looked down at Standorin meaningfully.

“Must you plug every bottle and every jar so tightly? Is there some manly code about it that I am not aware of?”, she said with a frown.

Udoorin barely avoided a snort.

His father gave him a searing glare, wordlessly took the canteen, with an easy twist, pulled the cap off, and handed it back to her.

The tall, alluring girl parted a bit more of the cotton, and wet it with the water from the canteen, then dripped a careful drop or two on the sleeping little sprite.

“What! No! I didn’t do it!”, Biberbell yelped as she sat up like she was stung!

“Biberbell. You came here for a reason. What was it?”, Constance asked hastily.

“What?”, spluttered the tiny sprite. “I am on an important mission, that’s what! She is coming! The Ritual Guardian is coming very soon and wants preparations made to accept Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth Bolgrig of Oger’s Foot immediately! They will arrive at the Blooming Tree at noon! I was also told—”

That’s as far as she got before she fell back, curled into a tiny, sparkling ball, and started to snore!

 

Constance reached down and very gently, she scooped up the tiny thing and placed her in the cotton-filled parchment dock. Then she picked up the dock and put it on one of the higher filing drawers, and out of sight.

 

“She should be safe there. Have one of the windows slightly ajar so she doesn’t feel trapped and panic when she wakes up.”, she said kindly.

“Noon, huh?”, growled Standorin. “It is bloody noon, and we are supposed to prepare to entertain the chieftain of the ogres? This is going to be one wretched day, this will. I am sure of it!”

“Your scowl is impressive, sir. But please do not use it on the chieftain. She represents at least five thousand of her kind. A like amount if she calls more from the Rook Mountains, should you offend her. If such an unfortunate friction occurs, I fear you will lose more than half the forces you have here, including the elves, before you subdue her and her kin.”, she said. Then added, “And please do not test her as you tested me upon my arrival.”

“You are never going to let that go, are you, Liaison Constance? I did say I was sorry. Took you out to dinner, even, to make up for my blunder.”, Standorin said with a flustered face.

 

Udoorin coughed.

 

“I never held your faults against you, sir. But this is the part where I do my job, as a liaison, and advice. And you did not take me out to dinner as part of your apology. You took me out on a date.”, she replied calmly.

 

Udoorin coughed again.

 

“Sorry.”, he said with a grin. “Still recuperating from my wounds. There are bound to be a cough or six!”

Standorin scowled some more.

“Come, dear, sir. I believe we have a chieftain to entertain.”, Constance smiled warmly at him. “I think a score or so of your men should suffice as an entourage and impress upon her just how seriously you take her, which you should. Young Inshala spoke quite highly of her, and one should never dismiss that girl’s wisdom.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Someone coughed from the other side of the door and Lilly Venom snapped open her eyes. She gave a very quick glance around to absorb her surrounding, made sure she was alone, looked down to see there were a pair of very old, very sharp, nearly shortsword size daggers in both her hands. One might even call them ancient. She wondered just exactly where her elder brother, Aager, had found these daggers. They were elegant, perfectly balanced, impressively sharp, and never seem to chip nor blunt no matter how hard she stabbed or slashed at something. Whatever else her brother was, he sure knew how to bribe a girl, apparently.

Then she looked further down and noted she was also pretty much naked.

 

Armed and naked!

 

Sounded like the title of one of those soppy romance books young men seemed to like.. or girls.. The kind you read under the table, or when you knew you were alone.

But then, Lilly had only recently discovered just how much she enjoyed sleeping in naked abandon and cuddled with her hubby, ‘Sir Agent Largo’, as the little girl, Inshala, called him, to his great dismay.

Said Sir Agent Largo certainly didn’t seem to mind her new sleeping arrangements, she thought smugly.

 

“Ahem..”, came the coughing voice, again.

 

‘D.D. Dexter..’, she thought. Her hubby’s son. He was a decent young man. A bit on the stuffy side, but decent.. Enough to share his home and his food with them until the war would end and they would get a place for themselves.

“I am sorry to wake you, Lilly.”, the young man said sincerely. “I know you have been up late, training rookies all night, and need your rest..”

‘That’s not all I did all night long, boy, and your father will concur!’, she smirked quietly.

“..but the good sheriff sent word; if you’d be kind enough to grab yourself and your hubby, picked a good spot, and made sure certain people behaved! —his exact words.”

 

Lilly Venom frowned.

What the ‘good’ sheriff had meant was, hide somewhere and kill anyone who steps out of line..

Lilly’s face soured.

Dammit!

She had decided to never do that kind of job when she had looked at Largo and figured she’d liked him. Enough to spend the rest of her life with him.. way back when they were sailing from the burning city of Arashkan to here.

 

Then she sighed.

Apparently, there was a price for everything worth it..

And this was hers to pay.

 

All of that, she didn’t mind. Not as much as she did when the ‘good’ sheriff also dragged her hubby into it and put his life on the line as well..

“When I said, spend the rest of my life as ‘partner in crime’, I was speaking metaphorically!”, she fumed.

 

Then she sighed again..

What was done, was done.

Some people earned their place peacefully.

Apparently, she was never going to earn hers quite that malleably, but as bloody as possible —just like any good Drashan girl would!

 

“Well. At least I am armed for the occasion.. if not quite clothed..”, she muttered.

Then she said, to the door, and the young man behind it;

 

“Be right there..”, she said, putting a deliberate, cheery tone to her voice as she put on her clothes and further armed herself. “..and thank you, Dexter.”

✱ ✱ ✱

What do you mean, I hope they let us in?”, squeaked the scruffy-looking little gnomic girl. “I thought you came through here, before.”

“I did.”, replied the bushy-haired hobbit sort of evasively as he stared at the distant ‘rock’, lost in the clouds; the sight of Gull’s Perch had lost nothing of its beauty in the last eighteen years. The little hobbit felt a pang in his heart as he stared at the majesty of the naturally formed, spirally column, some half-mile at its base and climbing all the way up to the vivid blue winter sky and disappeared in the mists.

Brom Bumblebrim ‘thought’ he heard the lone, sorrowful cry of the gigantic, pristine-white gull perched up at the very top of that rock, hence the name, Gull’s Perch, though he doubted anyone else knew why it was called so.

“Rest in peace, lovely Aremela Berrybush.”, he murmured quietly.

“Say, whot?”, asked the scruffy gnomic girl.

“Nothing, Tonic. And when I said, I came through here, I mean it in a more, generalized sense. I came as far as seeing the town from the edge of the forest, but never went in it.”, Brom admitted.

“You came all the way to the edge of this town and didn’t even bother to enter? Duuuude!”, Arcantonic Palecog asked incredulously.

“The time wasn’t ripe.”, shrugged the hobbit.

“Leave him alone, luv.”, said the very tall, very dark girl, Seressa Wraiven, from behind, in a hushed voice as she followed the hobbits gaze and also stared at the beautiful sight of the Perch. “I believe there is a history here of personnel nature. And if Master Brom believes the time wasn’t ripe, it probably wasn’t.”

“What she said.”, said a fourth voice, soft and sort of throaty, or perhaps a bit hoarse. Like someone who’d been shouting in the dead of winter for too long; Cora Sleet came at the rear, her pouting scowl in place and her long, glossy white, braided hair playing tag behind her. “It’s a good thing those rangers we encountered recognized a tundra elf when they saw one.”, she huffed. “You would think we were something of a legend.”

“But my dear, Cora. You are a legend.. On a uniquely singular level.”, smiled Brom.

“Are you flattering me or punning me, hobbit! It’s hard to tell.”, scowled the tundra elf.

“I never pun anyone I can’t outrun, my dear girl.”, the hobbit said with a grin, even though she couldn’t see it.

“Huh. You can’t outrun anything!”, she replied, squinting at her bushy little friend.

“Ow.. Harsh, girl. Very harsh.”, snarked Tonic. “I mean, I felt it stab all the way from here. Did you feel that too, Brom? Bet you did..”

Brom lost his grin and sighed.

“Girl, you are killing me. I was flattering you. I mean, what is there not to flatter; you are a uniquely singular legend!”

“Now I know, you are punning me!”, Cora scowled. “But you managed to squeeze unique and legend in the same sentence, twice. So I shall let that one pass. Wow, that is a lot of refugees!”

 

The odd, unlikely four came out of the south end of Ritual Forest and saw the vast encampment of refugees stretching as far as the eye could see in either direction and it was very noisy. Brom saw troops marching up and down, children crying or running around, cooking fires everywhere with pots, pans, and cauldrons of whatever size was available, boiling soup and stew. Though there was a semblance of order, the refugees of Arashkan all looked lost, mournful, dejected, angry, and miserable.

 

Brom didn’t linger. He took the shortest route possible to the long, stone bridge stretching over Arashkan River and leading to Serenity Home town..

..and found himself facing a score or so armed-to-the-teeth dwarves, mounted on similarly armored, pony-sized goats, their horns shod with sharp, serrated steel.

And they seemed like they would not let anyone in without a goring them, or taking a sizeable bite!

“Lamark Earthbound at your service. Name and business, please?”, grunted the leading dwarf.

“Responding to an urgent summons, sir. We will reveal our identities when appropriate. Suffice to say, I represent Bowling Hills, the elf lady represents the tribes from the Great Northern Tundras and the other two ladies represent the Academy of Melshieve.”, replied Brom promptly as Tonic huddled right behind him while Cora glanced at the dwarves with professional coolness and Seressa stared at their goats with interest.

 

The dwarf stared down at him, then at the gnomic girl, then at the elf, and finally, and with quiet deliberation, at the tall girl in her scandalous pinks.

 

“Don’t I know you from somewhere? Are you, perchance, Master Brom Bumblebrim?”, the dwarf asked.

“Maybe.”, Brom cautioned.

“You don’t seem so sure..”, noted the dwarf.

“Depends on what will happen if I am, perchance, said Brom Bumblebrim..”, replied Brom.

The dwarf shrugged.

“If you were, you’d be the troublesome hobbit who tasked my mother, Margaret Madish, something vicious some years back and then killed my brother some few months ago.”, he said gruffly.

“Then I probably should not be said Master Brom Bumblebrim, seeing as how it might be detrimental to my health if I were.”, Brom replied, even more carefully. “But if said hobbit did, indeed, tasked your mother, Lady Margaret, he did so because he thought every inch of her was worthy of the task. And if he also killed your brother, said brother probably had it coming.”

Tonic snickered from behind.

“Yea, he totally had it coming.. The gnarled, slimy bastard!”

The dwarf snorted.

“Perchance you should enter, then.”, he said. “Go on. Report to Sheriff Standorin, though. All representatives must.”

 

And nudged his giant, angry-looking goat-mount out of the way.

 

“If I may, Master Lamark. Are Dridges Motherswolfie and the Tosser twins here? Or even Lillias Absentwhot, and Jeina Blond?.. Perchance?”, Brom asked.

“Perchance they are. Along with their mother and our grandfather, Argail Smitefast, who will very much want to meet the hobbit who tasked his dear and beloved daughter with something thus vicious!”, Lamark grinned at him. “Our dear sisters Lillias and Jeina are not, though. As per said vicious task, they are at the outpost east of Gull’s Perch.”, he added. Then he looked behind him and his grin turned to a polite, appreciative smile.

“Lovely pinks, by the way..”

✱ ✱ ✱

The large tent’s flaps parted and the large, young man entered without challenge. He looked around and noted the tent had been quite lavishly furnished and decorated; several backless elven chairs, a moderate-sized table, any number of cushions carelessly thrown around, two densely embroidered tapestries depicting some beautiful trees, deers, and birds, the ground was covered with soft, thick, rich maroon, very expensive carpets, many lanterns gave the interior of the tent, a certain, fairy glow, and several braziers radiated enough heat to warm the place to a comfortable level. The other end of the tent was partitioned off; the sleeping quarters of the Queen of Bari Na-ammen.

Udoorin pulled off his great helmet and tossed it near one of the heaps of cushions, undid the knots, and carelessly dropped his cape as he walked, pulled off both his massive battle-axes and stabbed them into the carpets without so much as taking notice..

 

And pulled apart the partition..

..to see something he’d never seen before but had wondered.

 

Alor’Nadien ne Feymist lay, sprawled on a bed of silks and velvets and in a black, gossamer gown, her slender back curved and her youthful, smooth hips rather calling..

..and she was totally out.

Udoorin stared down at the girl he’d loved the moment he had seen her, and of the beautiful sight, he notes the ugly bruises, the gauntness, the totally limp and exhausted arms and legs, and the, quiet but steady, wheezy quality in her soft breathing.

It broke his heart to see her like this.

She was a princess, dammit!

No.

She was a queen now. Declared unanimously, by the high elves, the moment the two of them had limped up the Arashkan River and to the banks of Serenity Home.

In his life, he had never seen such manic and holy joy in a crowd, let alone elves. In fear for her life, he had so wanted to just grab her and runoff, as tired and done-for as he’d been.

But with a few, curt commands, the much-elated elves had settled down, and several people had approached them; his father, Sheriff Standorin, in the lead, accompanied by a tall, pretty-looking young woman with horns, whom he would later learn was the Liaison Constance of the half-born, whatever that was, followed closely by a grim-looking Aager and a happily crying Inshala, and Lady Lenna who’d also very nearly crumbled down and cried, standing next to a very tall, blonde high elf in very eloquent armor. Then he had seen a grinning Thomas, holding Bremorel by the waist and Udoorin was like, “What the.. Thomas is so dead, now!”

And behind them were rows upon rows of joyously chorusing elven warriors, some fifteen thousand of them;

 

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

 

At that very moment, Udoorin knew he wasn’t a hundred percent, but vaguely he recalled ‘Rise’ was elfish for ‘Queen’..

“About time, you snobs!”, he’d muttered to himself.

He couldn’t exactly remember the rest, though. Only someone was trying to take his Lorna away from him and he was trying to stop them.

It had been Lady Lenna, Lorna’s cousin, who had neared him and said, “Dear boy, it’s alright. Your queen needs care and rest. I shall see to her needs personally and be there at her side, always. You go with your father and Master Aager. You will need similar care, and rest. No one should see either of you drop. Come now, young Udoorin, let her go.. That’s it. Nice and easy.. There..”

 

Funny, how he had trusted his Lorna to no other than Anglenna, then..

Apparently, spilling sweat and blood and ultimately, life, did form that very special bond.

 

That was the extent of the surreal events, as far as he could remember. Something had happened.. sometime and somewhere between the Arashkan sewers and waking up in a very pretty valley. He was out of his armor and his shirt and his pants were all bloody and he felt a certain, sizzle in his heart, but he’d supposed that was to be expected. After all, he was told he had been very severely wounded and lost a lot of blood, and had very nearly died, but was saved by no other than his Lorna, which was no surprise.

 

His Lorna was awesome, like that..

 

Except there were two problems with that. One, he couldn’t remember who had told him of all the events leading up to his waking up in that pretty valley, other than remembering a rich, throaty, mature, and distinctly feminine voice, and two, Lorna had stopped talking to him. Well, not precisely stopped talking to him, but had been decidedly evasive of him. Sure, she’d kept hovering over him making sure he was not bleeding or anything, but it was clear, she herself was done in. She had been a rather slim girl, to begin with. Not skinny or anything, but comfortably slender and still have very beautiful curves.. When he had woken up in the valley, she seemed little different than how little Inshala seemed, right after she had buried the whole ruins of Themalsar down into the ground!

What had truly hit the young man was, she had stopped looking at him in the eyes.

And that was downright killing him.

Hence, armed to the teeth, he had marched right into the elf camp, expecting to run over anyone who’d be stupid enough to get in his way, had found an extraordinarily neat, military headquarters, teaming with high elves, and all of them had just.. stopped. It had been quite uncanny, really. Wherever he’d passed, they had all stopped, turned to him, put their right hands over their hearts, solemnly nodded at him, and murmured;

 

“Mere Estel Aranië..”

 

Udoorin knew very few elvish words. And the only one he thought he knew had been Aranië.. or rather, Ara.. or maybe it was Aran.. which meant noble, or maybe even king. He’d certainly hoped it meant noble. He was fine with noble.. Just not with a bloody king!

Hence, he’d nodded back at them, in a ‘noble’ sort of way, and came to the largest tent. And there he saw the same tall, blonde elf with his eloquent armor —damn that armor looked awesome— talking with Lady Lenna.

“I would like to see Lady Lorna.”, he’d asked and the blonde elf dude, his awesome armor, and Lady Lenna had just stared at him.

“Are you asking us, you want to enter the queen’s tent, young Udoorin, or are you merely being polite and informing us that you are going to see your queen?”, Lady Lenna had asked, staring directly into his eyes.

Udoorin had suddenly gotten the uneasy feeling that he was just about to be scored depending on the answer he would give. At least, that’s how Lady Lenna had made it sound like.

“Uhhmm.. I am telling you I want to see Lorna?”, he had sort of said.

“The tent is yours, young Udoorin. So is the Queen. She has thus declared it by having chosen you as her mate, just as you have made a similar declaration when the two of you announced your betrothment.”, Anglenna had told him with slight amusement. Then she’d half turned and introduced the blonde elf dude and his awesome armor, “Ow, this is Commander Armathelius Riverblade, the leader of the high elves, here, by the way. The two of you should have a sit-down and get to know one another some time.”

“Mere Estel Aranië..”, the elf had said to him and nodded, also placing his right hand on his heart.

‘Again, with the Aranië-thing!’, Udoorin had fumed but politely nodded at him and his armor, and murmured, “As soon as I am sure Lady Lorna is doing well. She has suffered a lot. I hope you understand.”

The blonde elf had merely nodded at him but hadn’t said anything.

“We will be out here. Do call us if you need anything.”, Lady Lenna had said politely.

 

Something was decidedly going on here, Udoorin had conceded.

 

“Lorna.”, he whispered, which sounded more like a hoarse rumble, really.

The gaunt form of Lorna didn’t even nudge and the only thing that gave away she had any life in her limp figure was the soft, wheezy sound of her breath and her skin had gained some of her ‘baby-tan’ color back.

 

“I am so sorry, Dorin.. I should have told you..”

 

“What?”, he said.

And noticed, she was still lights-all-out, asleep.

Udoorin frowned.

And it hit him.

 

She was thinking of leaving him!

 

That’s why she was sorry.

A terrible expression came over his face.

 

Not ugly.

Not furious.

Just plain, childish fear.

 

“If you want to leave me, I will not stand in your way and make it difficult for you. But I would rather you said it to my face. That way, I will get to see your eyes one last time.”, he said with a desperate voice, turned around, grabbed his helmet, his axes..

..and left.

 

“I apologize for the carpet.”

..he said to a rather surprised Lady Lenna and was out of the elven military camp. 

 

Udoorin felt drained.

Tired physically, mentally, and emotionally.

And he didn’t want to go back to town.

Not that he cared about the gossip or anything, that he had just been abandoned by the elven queen. To what he felt at the loss of his Lorna, that particular gossip meant so little.

Hence, he turned direction and headed north.

Perhaps getting lost in the woods for a few days, maybe even a week or two would help settle his storming heart.

 

Heart.

 

That’s when he felt the sizzle again.

It wasn’t painful, per se, but very, very, very bothersome.

Like something that truly reminded, just how short life could really be.

 

“You look troubled.”

He heard a voice say.

He was a tad surprised to see Bremorel grinning at him.

And no..

He wasn’t surprised to see Bremorel.

He was surprised to see her grinning, something quite rare, and whenever it was sighted, it meant something bad was about to happen, no matter how one looked at it!

“..like someone who swallowed a bug.”, she said, still grinning.

“Uhhmm.. I am not really in the mood, Bree.”, he mumbled.

“Well, I am, so all is fine.”

“Is Thomas still alive?”, he asked.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”, she asked back.

“I thought I saw him holding you, the day me and.. Lorna came back. I thought to myself, ‘Man, you are so dead, no one will be able to save you, now!'”

Bremorel laughed.

“I suppose that is true. No one can save him from me, indeed. Never got the chance to tell you. Thomas and I got married!”, she said happily.

 

Udoorin felt thunderstruck!

 

“When? How?”, he spluttered.

“About three and a half months ago, when you lot were in Arashkan.”, she smirked.

“Wow. Thomas finally managed to brave up? I am.. pleasantly surprised.”, the young man said.

“Well. He worked hard for it. Worked hard to fix me too. I can not undo the things I did before. But at least I can do new things. Smarter things. And he is there to back me up. We live in the temple. I go around helping and smiling now, which makes all the other people decide to give me a second chance. I know they don’t have to. But they are doing it anyway. So I am trying hard not to mess it up again.”, she said.

“I am happy for you, Bree. I really am. I know we didn’t start off well and it was all my stupidity. But even then, you chose to forgive me and be my friend. I knew you were cool. A bit hot-headed, but cool.”

“You did come and apologize to Laila and my uncle for what you did.”, Bremorel reminded him.

“Of course, I apologized. You would have too if you’d gotten a trashing from my father. Damn, he had a heavy hand. After he put you in that hole to cool off, he came home and gave me the speech.. and the beating of my life!”, Udoorin said with a horrified expression on his face. “I mean, it’s been years and I can still hear the ringing in my right ear!”

Bremorel laughed again.

Then as if remembering something she said, “Oh my, you have been out of touch for so long, you probably don’t have any updates. Here, let me fill you in; Lady returned first, but didn’t stay. She left for Scowling Hills to fix some family business there. Then these half-borns arrived.”

“Half-borns. I have heard that word, and I think that Liaison lady hanging around dad is a half-born.”, mused Udoorin.

“Yes, accept there are quite a bit more of them. I am not allowed to reveal their numbers or capabilities right now but they can be quite a handful when they want to. They are like our Merisoul. It would seem she helped them escape their masters so they all came here to help fight their former masters and the Orken. A few weeks back, that Anglenna elf girl came crashing into the town, and when I say, crashing, I mean it literally. The only problem with that was, according to Lady, you and Lorna were supposed to be with her, yet neither of you were. She was quite badly wounded and sick for weeks. Then Aager and Inshala returned from Durkahan and it seems they have also married!”

“Well. That one was only a matter of time. I am happy for him. And her. Neither had a happy life. Together, I think they can have one.”, Udoorin said thoughtfully.

“A few days after that, Lilly Venom came with a man named Largo who turned out to be D.D. Dexter’s father.”, she continued.

“I met him. When Anglenna, Lorna, and I were at Arashkan.”, Udoorin said. “I am happy they both survived.

“Ow, they survived alright. Enough to get married!”, Bremorel snickered.

“Is everyone getting married?”, the young man asked and that particular topic seemed to sting him all of a sudden.

The ranger lieutenant shrugged.

“I suppose, people are more honest with one another when imminent and total annihilation is at your door.”

“So it’s only Laila, Gnine, and Soul who haven’t returned?”, he asked.

Bremorel paused there.

“What is it, Bree? Have you heard something?”, Udoorin asked.

“I.. We don’t know exactly how, but the half-born somehow learned.. Merisoul is gone, Udoorin. They were.. devastated..”, she said mutely.

Udoorin staggered.

And stumbled.

“How? How did it happen?”, he asked.

“We really don’t know. They won’t even say ‘dead’.. only ‘gone’.. like she stopped existing..”

“She was nice to me. Always. She was strange, but her advice always helped, in some odd, unexplainable way.”

“Yea, she was weird. But to stop existing? She.. she didn’t deserve that.. All she wanted was some peace at heart..”

“Some peace at heart is more than most could find in a life time. Hello, young Udoorin, Ranger Lieutenant Songsteel.”, said a cultured, baritone voice, and the blonde elf dude and his awesome armor appeared out of the trees.

 

Udoorin was too at a loss to notice either, though.

 

True, Merisoul had always been strange. Or perhaps, off. Or even ‘out of this world’, sort of girl, but she’d had one of the purest hearts he had ever noticed. One could almost call it child-like.. Her means had been convoluted, to be sure, but the ends were not. And on top of everything, this particular news did not settle well with him at all.

 

“Back off, elf.”, growled Bremorel. “This is a private conversation between friends.”

“I apologize ranger lieutenant. But I believe Mere Estel Aranië overrules friendship. Sir Udoorin can not be left to roam alone in the woods. I am sure anyone you would care to ask would concur.”, Armathelius replied calmly.

Bremorel scowled at him.

“Well, I am already here, and this conversation does not need a third wheel.”, she growled.

“But it could use a fourth, perhaps? That way, it will less likely topple over and no one will get hurt..”, said another voice, and Anglenna also came into view.

Bremorel’s face turned black, now.

“I remember quite clearly just what I had said, should I want your opinion, banshee! You have been nothing but trouble from the moment you stepped foot into our town!”, she snarled at Anglenna.

“I believe the word you used was ‘bitch’, not ‘banshee’. But in all fairness, I have been more than trouble, and much before I set foot in this town, young Bremorel, so when I say, I had the worst intentions in mind for my cousin, Alor’Nadien ne, young Udoorin, here, your own cousin, Laila, the irritating little gnome, your half-demon freak, Merisoul, and just to be on the safe side, Master Aager, I mean it at its greatest extend. I am telling you this, so you do not delude yourself into believing your feelings for me is a simple matter of distaste on my part or some character flaw on yours.”, Anglenna replied calmly.

 

“I don’t believe that.”, Udoorin rumbled suddenly.

 

“Then you are as naive now as you were when we first met, young man.”, she said with a very distant voice.

“It is possible I am naive. But no. Not in this case.. You only thought you should have ill feelings for Lorna, but such feelings were introduced to you and impressed upon you.. You based your feeling for the rest of us on top of that; me for wanting Lorna’s love, even though I was not even aware she was a princess at the time, Laila, for having been given that sacred elf bow, Aager, because he is bloody dangerous, Merisoul, for always speaking uncanny truths and revealing what everyone actually felt, as opposed to what came out of their mouths, and Gnine, for being irritating, which is the only one you got right. The little midget is irritating! The pranks he pulled on me in the last six or eight years have made me want to toss him right into the Arashkan River, and that isn’t even a joke!”, Udoorin replied.

 

The three just stared at him.

 

“Who are you and what the Hell did you do with the real Udoorin?”, said Bremorel with an astonishing frown.

Anglenna tried a few attempts to object, just nothing came out!

Armathelius opted to stay his silence, though a bemused sort of smile played on his lips.

 

“Told you, you would fail, should you try and judged him at face value, cousin.”, came a soft, slightly wheezy voice, and with absolute silence, Alor’Nadien ne appeared.

“What are you doing out here and alone, Nadien ne?”, Anglenna said with a decidedly reproving tone.

“I have been out and alone long enough to want no more of it, cousin. I am here because I dreamt of my Dorin. In my dream, he had come and visited me, yet when I woke up, he wasn’t there. His cape, however, was.. I kindly asked our rangers to track you down, then leave. So they did. I believe I have some things to discuss with my mate-to-be if you would give us a few moments of privacy.”

Anglenna was about to object when Armathelius smashed one mailed fist on his armor and in his baritone voice, he said, “As my Queen wishes. We shall be but some acceptable yards away. Lady Brightleaf, if you will?”

Anglenna gave him a sour look but caved.

“I shall take my leave as well, then. Though I had actually come here to tell you something else. But since everyone I was charged to inform is already here, I might as well say it now.. Udoorin, Lorna, Lord Armathelius, and you, Anglenna, are invited to join a meeting at the mayor’s office, on the second toll, this afternoon. This shall be an important meeting so no skipping town, I am afraid. Everyone of note shall be there, and no platoons of guards, please. Only two for Lorna. Aager and I shall be guarding Udoorin.”

“What the.. I don’t require guards, Bree. And if you and Aager do it, there’ll be no end to that one!”, fumed Udoorin.

Shut up, Udoorin! Not like I wanted Aager, either, but my Thomas will be there representing the temple and the temple guardians..”

“Who else is coming?”, Udoorin asked slightly freaked.

“You, Lorna, Lord Armathelius, Anglenna, Master Argail Smitefast of the dwarves, his daughter, and possibly Lady Magella and their strategist, Dridges Motherswolfie. Davien and Moorat will speak for the rangers. Arthandos Yuleman will be there, naturally, as the host and speak for the town and the Arashkan refugees, the Ogress Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth from Oger’s Foot, some gnomes from Tinker Hills, your father, Sheriff Standorin, our Inshala as the Ritual Guardian and as the representative of all the druids, shamans and the witches, Perigren Ostlanna Temez and Liaison Constance will speak for the half-born. A Lady Alisia Hooman and our Moira from Durkahan, some wizards from Vodgar, militia generals from Palantine, bigwig knights from Koruxan, elves from Solace and Tranquil, two representatives from the Academy of Melshieve, some lord from Endless Watch, a barbarian princess from the Northern Tundras, if you can believe that, not to mention our Nimbletyne Tinkerdome and your mother, Lorna, Lady Nadina Graciousward will all be there, along with a representative from the king himself.. Hell, there will even be a bloody pirate from Drashan!.. The whole town has been put on the highest alert. So whatever issues you two got, you have less than an hour to fix it!”

 

A chocking silence fell, for the list of people, places, and representatives the ranger lieutenant had just dished out was not only impressive in number but it bespoke of the importance and the direness of their true predicament.

 

“My mother has returned, then?”, Lorna asked, sounding slightly relieved.

“Just this morning, I believe. I am not privy to the details, but I suspect the two of you will have time later to catch up.”, Bremorel replied. “Well, I am off for now, though Thomas did ask me to invite the two of you over for dinner sometime. Funny how he can think of all this stuff and I can’t!”

..and she took off with an impressive dash.

 

“My Queen. Mere Estel Aranië..”, Armathelius very politely nodded at the two of them, kindly held out a hand for Anglenna, who gave him another sour look, but followed him anyway, though quietly fuming.

 

Udoorin stood awkwardly, staring at, not his own feet, but at the feet of the girl, he’d loved the moment he’d set eyes on her as if to make sure she was still there.

 

“You forgot your cape, Dorin. Tis a tad cold to be wandering the woods in the dead of winter without a cape. You lost a lot of blood. You will freeze before know it.”, Lorna said, as she produced his cloak, neatly folded. Her voice weary, very tired, and had.. to Udoorin’s confused surprise, fear!

“That’s a new cape. How would you know it was mine?”, he asked, though to make conversation, really.

“I know my mate’s warmth. I know his scent..”, she replied softly but with a determined voice.

 

That simple phrasing very nearly concussed the young man and stung at the same time.

 

“Why would you say that, if you are planning on leaving me?”, he asked with the simplicity of a child.

“Leaving you?”, Lorna very nearly gasped.

“You have been avoiding me since I woke up in that valley. You have barely spoken to me. And you sure as Hell haven’t looked me in the eye once, since then and it’s killing me! I am fully aware of my standing and certainly not up to your elf standards. But I would rather you be honest with me to the end because we always have had that, at least.. Perhaps I did something when I was out. I do not know. You must tell me what it is that I have and is bothering you. How else can I work on it, if you don’t tell me? If you want to leave, I will not make it difficult for you. You are the Queen now, while I am just a country bumpkin.. I have never demanded anything from you. Only and always your good grace and the smile on your face. I was never quite as happy when you made me feel happy, as I felt content when I made you smile because every time you did, I was dancing in my head and shouting like an idiot, ‘Yes! She is smiling. She is happy.. I did that!'”

 

Lorna did not reply for the longest time.

When she did, her voice was anything but herself. It seethed and boiled and with no small amount of bitterness, she spoke.

 

“The Hell with the Queen and the Hell with the elves..”, she very nearly snarled.

 

Udoorin froze and stared at the gentle girl in amazement.

When Lorna spoke again, her voice was low and burning with her words now..

 

“None of my heritage nor my people were there when I needed them. They honor me now because they need me. And to get me, they must accept you. This they know because I left them no choice. This they know because I gave them no choice. I was chosen by the Spirit of High Woods. I never asked for it, but she chose me anyway. Yet they did nothing to nudge from their ways and look what that befell them. It cost them their lives. It cost them the ways they couldn’t be bothered to change. It cost them Bari Na-ammen and it cost them, High Woods. Never in my life have I acted on self-interest. I abandoned my only home just so they could have their merry ways. And now, all of that is gone, and I am done with their merry ways. Now they will have me with you, or they will all scatter and fade as homeless exiles. Whatever happens, or however this turns out, I am not leaving you, my Dorin. But should you want to leave, I shall not hinder you, either, and the line of Feymist will end with me, for I shall never take another and neither do I wish to birth the seeds of another.. The only man to have met me, and honestly desired me, without even knowing my heritage, is you. Though I gave you my consent and my freedom, you never took advantage of either and you never abused them. And you would think I would want to leave you? Know this, my Udoorin Shieldheart; if there is no you, there shall be no Queen.. I will lead these elves to victory or to annihilation. Either way, I shall not lead them any further than that. Not without you!”

 

Udoorin gulped. He’d always known or guessed, there was a seething, smoldering, and equally lonely volcano in the young, beautiful woman that he loved. But this was the first time she had thus openly let it all loose.

And deep down somewhere, something wild and exhilarating churned in him. He’d loved Lorna as the calm, gentle girl that she always had been. This burning and very nearly feral girl, however, he suddenly raved to see!

 

“Then look me in the eyes, and tell me why you are so sorry and what it was that you should have told me, Lorna. You said that when you were asleep when I was there in the tent.”, Udoorin said silently.

 

Lorna gasped in pure, unadulterated panic.. and fear.

Then her shoulders slumped and she spoke like someone who just submitted to her own execution..

 

“I.. can’t..”, she moaned, her face aflame and all she could do was stare down. “I did you a great wrong, my Dorin. And the shame I feel burns. You.. you have all the rights to reject me and never look at me again.”

“What..?”, Udoorin said somewhat surprised. “..that you stabbed me? Knew it the moment I saw your blade sticking out of my chest! It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. Not something I would want to repeat, but it was funny at that moment.. Is this what all this is about?”

 

Alor’Nadien ne flinched..

..and broke down.

She just went limp and dropped on the frozen forest ground and wept with uncontrolled abandon..

 

..but Udoorin was there.

He caught her in his great arms held her by her slender neck and the small of her back and lifted her, and looked her full in the eyes.

Lorna went pale, her cherry-red lips trembling and tear-stricken eyes were very deep green now, as she turned away her face, trying desperately to avoid the young man’s burning eyes..

 

“You will look me in the eyes, Alor’Nadien ne, the chosen daughter of the Spirit of High Woods, the Queen of elves, and my mate-to-be. You will look me in the eyes and tell me what ails you. Through my sweat and blood, spilled and spent, and through the fires we walked, this much, I have earned..”, he said, and now, his rumbling voice was ablaze too.

“I.. I almost killed you, my love. I almost destroyed your beautiful heart. You gave it to me to care, to nurture and to nourish, and to safe keep and I betrayed you by shredding it! How can I look you in the eyes and expect you to love me?”, she spluttered.

“And just what did I do when we first met, my love? Did I not try to slay you?”, Udoorin growled.

“You did not know. And you held your swing. You stopped. I did not. I very nearly slew you!”, she moaned.

“Never have I ever told you your follies, my dearest Lorna. Never would I have thought the day would come that I would have to. Thus that dreary day has arrived, and I shall speak the truth of the day we met my love, and you shall listen, and you shall accept and you shall understand, also. When Inshala burst through that door, down in the stinking dungeons of Themalsar and went after Darly Dor, I was much vexed, for we had been trailing the bloody assassins that had burned our town, for weeks, yet we had found nothing. No trail to speak of, nor any clues as to why they had done, what they had done.. Nothing.. I charged, mindlessly into a room expecting answers, because I was stupid, and I was also a fool, for there were no answers to be had with axes! And I charged the first thing I saw, without understanding what I saw. You may think I had some great self-control and stopped, but you would be only so wrong. I stopped because I was dumbstruck by your beauty. I have never claimed to be a smart man and seeing as how the others have thus looked upon me, I couldn’t even blame them; I am just the dumb kid with the big axes and likes to chop things down to mincemeat! I stopped that moment, yes, but it had absolutely nothing to do with me, but everything to do with you. I stopped because I was so stupefied by the young woman that stood before me, her glaive raised, the way she’d spun, and the way her skirts scattered and with blazing, fearless green eyes, she came at us even though she was thus outnumbered. You saw an idiot charging at you, I saw a majestic creature with no fear. What I did see also, was that she held no scorn in her burning eyes. She came at us because she had to, and not because she held us in contempt. That is the only remarkable thing that I could claim wisdom on my part; the fact that I somehow noticed all that. You, on the other hand, were under the duress of the Draugr, when we were down in the sewers of Arashkan, seeking the old head quarters of the Thieves Guild. When Anglenna warned us about it, I figured she knew what she is talking about better than I would, since I never even heard of a Draugr before, let alone know what the bloody Hell it was. My only guess was, it was something big and ugly. So the moment I saw something particularly big and ugly coming at us, I just closed my eyes and started swinging at any sound that came at me. That’s why I told you to get behind me; to avoid accidents, though I didn’t think there would be any because you do not make sounds when you move, much like you do not shout or do silly battle cries the way I do. I just barge into fights and try to appear as large and threatening as possible to get everyone’s attention. You? You weave through the enemy. You could be fighting through a horde of Orken or a gaggle of undead or even be belly dancing and no one would know the difference, should they watch only you. What happened to you was unfortunate, and had I had my eyes open, either we would have killed one another because I would have been struck by the Draugr’s insanity as well, or I would have tried to disarm you and carry you away until you came around. The simple matter of fact is, none of us were prepared for the Draugr. We attacked it like we would attack a band of goblins and had our piece handed over to us. Now you can either accept this for the fact it is, or you may not and destroy everything we have thus build together and quite needlessly. But you should know, my love. I shall have a Lorna who looks me in the eyes and without shame, or I shall go to this war and against the coming Orken, and I surmise I shall make a very bloody mess, but I will not return. Because you are the reason I want to fight.. and live.”

 

Tears rolled down Lorna’s eyes as she reached up at the man and touched his scruffy beard with both her slender hands and held them there. She held his face and stared into his eyes like it was the last time.

 

“Dear child. You mustn’t.”, said a rich, throaty, and very mature, voice in the depths of her mind.

“I will never have secrets from him. He shall know and accept. Or he shall stay ignorant and there shall never be a Summer Lady from our line.”

“This was not our bargain, dear child.”

“Our bargain was that you heal his heart and save his life, and in return, you would take one of my daughters as the Summer Lady.”, she said fiercely.

The rich, throaty voice sighed.

“Mortals.. Very well, child. But should you speak the truth and he departs, what then? I have fixed his heart and saved his life but there shall be a bargain unfulfilled.”

“You may take mine, as I offered it to you for his in the first place, for there will have been nothing else for me to give. I will never wed, nor bed another man.”

“Dear child. Again and again, I have thus told you; I may not take a Mortal’s life who has never done me wrong.”

“Should he depart, I will never be able to pay you my end of the bargain, Mother Titania. That is a wrong done to you..”

The rich, throaty voice sighed again.. and was gone.

 

“I bargained with the Summer Queen.”, Lorna whispered, staring into his eyes, and still holding his face in her hands.

“I do not know this Summer Queen person. But for the sake of argument, let’s say I do.”, Udoorin rumbled with a frown. “What did you bargain?”

“I did not wound you, my Dorin.”, she said as she started crying. “In my insanity, I stabbed you through the heart. Neither my cousin nor I could have saved you. So my cousin sent me and you to Serenity Home. But for some reason, we missed our destination and ended up in Gull’s Perch. That is the Summer Queen’s sacred valley. She put you into stasis and offered me a choice. To save your life for something in return..”

Udoorin’s frown deepened.

“And what did she want from you?”

“Life for life.”, she said with a moan. “I begged her to take mine for yours, but she said she couldn’t. Instead, she would take one of our daughters.”

 

The young man froze.

 

“But.. we do not have any daughters.”, he blurted.

“We.. we will.. should we wed..”

“Let.. let me get this straight. She demanded one of our unborn daughters for my life? What kind of a demented bargain is that?”, he suddenly blared.

“Dorin..”, the girl in his arms said weakly.

“How could she even know we would have daughters? We aren’t even wed yet. I mean, we could have sons.. What will happen then? Are we going to try and try until we have a daughter? Or she wants a red-head and we would end up making a dozen or two until we get one!”

“Dorin.. please..”, she pleaded.

“What? Is she going to take her pick from the ‘litter’? Who does that? I mean, we are not even wed and people are making bids on our unborn children already?”

“D.. Dorin.. S.. Stop..”, she begged.

“Let’s say one of us falls in the coming battle. What will happen then? She is going to wait until one of us weds then demand from that lot? If she is, she’s going to go home quite empty-handed because I am going to marry you, or I will stay alone.”, Udoorin blazed.

“If I fall, you are free.. of me and the bargain.. Should you fall.. she will have the right to mine..”, replied Lorna quietly.

 

Udoorin just stared at her.

 

“The Hell, she will!”, he said fiercely.

“Dorin. Please. If you want to know just who the Summer Queen is, you should ask dear Inshala. After all, she serves the Summer Queen.”, Lorna said mutely. “The bargain, however, is done. I.. I had to save you, Dorin. I had to. This you must know. A lonely life, I could bear. A lonely life without you.. I could not. If.. if you want to leave, I will understand. I was told not to tell you of this bargain, but I did it anyway because I can not have secrets from you.”

 

Udoorin fumes.

 

“What is she going to do with our daughter?”

“She will make her the Summer Lady.”, Lorna replied.

“What the..”, the young man spluttered.

“You really should have a sit down with our Inshala as she is the best equipped to tell you all about the Summer Queen, the Winter Queen, and the Ladies, and the Courts.”

“Why does she need a Lady, anyway? Is she short on girls in this court of hers? Perhaps I should go and have a sit down with this Queen, myself!”, Udoorin sizzled.

 

Lorna just stared at him.

 

“Why don’t we go and speak with Inshala now. Since she serves this Summer Queen, she should be able to arrange a meet, right? Then I can tell it to her face, child exchange is not acceptable. This is ridiculous. Perhaps I can challenge her for a duel to free you and our daughter from this bargain. I am sure a queen would have a knight or two to fight in her steed?”

 

Lorna sighed.

But when Udoorin grinned at her, she wiped her eyes and squinted at him suspiciously.

 

“You.. you are punning me..”, she blurted.

“Punning you? No, love. Punning the mess we put ourselves? Yes. Of course, I know who the Summer Queen is, Lorna. We are practically neighbors with Her and the Gull’s Perch. But we do not go there because the dryads there can get frisky at times. Not that it matters, because the whole valley was cordoned off when I was around two or so, I think, due to some dwarves getting too greedy and trying to mine there. It was perhaps the only time I remember my mother getting riled about anything. She died shortly after that event. What’s done is done, Lorna. I thank you for saving my life. But not because I believe my life was all that worth saving, but because you think I am worth you, and because of you, I will get to see you every day of my life. Does that make me selfish? Perhaps. But I do not care. I do not know what being the Summer Lady entails. All I know is she gets to become a noble in her court. She will get to see many places and experience things no elf or human can. And do great deeds as well. She will have a very full filling, and hopefully, a happy life. I do not know my daughter yet. But I am already happy for her, and would very much like to meet her sometime. Will you marry me?”

 

The question came seamless and so suddenly, Lorna was caught totally off guard. It took a long moment to go over all the things the young man had said until she got to the end.

 

“You.. you do not blame and hate me for my choice?”, she blurted.

“Lorna.”, Udoorin said seriously. “I hate the reasons we ended up in such a mess. But I do not hate you. You saved my life and bought me the days and years to be with you. You made my daughter the Summer Lady. What’s more, you made me realize, our days are short and numbered, and I do not want another gone without you. I have little in the way of fortune. What I do have, however, is you. Will you marry me?”

“Like, right now?”, she spluttered.

“Like, right now.”,  he said, stood up straight and called, “Lord Armathelius and Lady Lenna, if you will, please?”

 

After a moment of startled silence, Anglenna, Armathelius, and his awesome armor approached.

 

“Should a couple wish to wed, how many witnesses are required among the elves?”, the young man asked.

Anglenna pursed her lips before answering.

“It varies.”, she said. “But King’s Law demands and requires only two.”

“Alright.”, Udoorin said with a frown. “Lady Lenna? Lord Armathelius? Will the two of you act as witnesses, then?”

“I would be happy to, young man.”, Anglenna smiled.

“I suppose I will have no choice but to agree.”, replied Armathelius with a small smile of his own.

“Well, then.”, he said, turned to Lorna, and knelt.

“No. Please. No kneeling. You will be my mate and I want no doubts that you are my equal.”, she begged.

“Very well.”, Udoorin said a bit relieved, and got back up, took a deep breath, and rumbled, “Lady Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, daughter of Nadine Graciousward and Grandaleren Feymist. Will you be my wife, my life-long friend, my partner, my love, my comrade in arms, and my breath?”

“I will.”, Lorna replied, her face bright red, somewhat dazed, and with the first honest smile since the destruction of Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen. “And will you, Udoorin Shieldheart, son of Limnia Karya and Standorin Shieldheart, be my husband, my life-long friend, my partner, my love, my comrade in arms, and my breath?”

“I will.”, Udoorin said, giving her a small smile of his own. “On a throne, or on cold ground..”

“I, Armathelius Riverblade, son of Sylvenessa Brightgrove and Methalier Riverblade, have so witnessed.”, the young elf commander said solemnly.

“And I, Anglenna Brightleaf, daughter of Selvius Brightleaf and niece to Selendenien Sindarin, have so witnessed.”, Anglenna said. “Will you exchange rings now, or perhaps hold that for a more, public wedding?”

“Ow, right, rings..”, Udoorin smacked his forehead. “I knew I had forgotten something.”

He pulled a ring from his own hand, a not too ornate but gold with green specks, and offered it to Lorna, while she pulled a ring from one of her own fingers and offered that to him.

The rings they exchanged, fit the other like it was made for them.

 

Anglenna sighed.

 

“I can’t believe this.. Did you two actually just switch combat rings?”

“Well, I gave her my Ring of Regeneration. She should feel better in an hour or two.”, grinned Udoorin.

“I have him my Ring of Spell Storing.”, smiled Lorna.

“What? Why?”, asked the young man a bit surprised. “Give me something else. You love that ring and what do I know about spells?”

“Yes, I love that ring, my Dorin. Which is why I gave it to you. And you will not need to know much about spells, either. You will have to have it filled should you expend the ones in it, though.”, she replied.

“What’s it got in it right now?”, Udoorin asked with a curious and enthusiastic grin on his face.

“Will tell you later.”, she smiled.

“Right.”, agreed, the young man. “I believe we should head out for the meeting? Elves, as I recall, do not like tardiness. And I do not wish a trashing from the sheriff.. again.. Lady Lenna, Lord Armathelius. Thank you both for being patient with us. If you would lead the way?”

Armathelius banged his steel fist again, nodded at him, then at Lorna, and murmured, “Lady Lenna, please allow me to escort you.”

 

Udoorin waited for a thirty count before he swiped Lorna off her feet and with a very refrained enthusiasm, he hugged her.

 

“Thank you.”, he said simply, staring into her eyes. “I.. I would very much like to..”

“..kiss me, now!”, finished Lorna, staring back into his eyes.

✱ ✱ ✱

What a lovely tree. Cherry. And in bloom.”, rumbled the nearly fourteen-foot tall monstrosity as she ducked out of the gaping hole that had just parted in the trunk of the beautiful, blooming cherry tree.

“Did you do this?”, she asked the disproportionately ‘tiny’ girl, as she peered up the tender pink flowers fluffing everywhere.

“Yes, Mother Ganiste.”, smiled Inshala, as she reached out to help the giant ogress up.

“What are you doing, daughter? Are you giving me a hand?”, she asked with a scowl, though there was an amused light in her very scary eyes.

“It was the polite thing to do, Mother.”, Inshala replied seriously.

“Polite, pointless, fruitless, and quite futile, my daughter.”, she rumbled.

“Futile?”, the tiny girl asked.

“That you would think me old and feeble and I would require help to get up, girl!”

“Loved ones can help without offending those we love and care, Mother Ganiste.”, Inshala said with a little smile.

“I see you have already been afflicted with the foolishness of the humans around you.”, she scowled.

“How so, Mother?”

“You now have a smart mouth!”

 

A funny noise escaped the little girl; her way of a snort.

 

“And punning your elders too, now. Should you roll your eyes at me, as well, I shall spank you, little one, Ritual Guardian or not.”, Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth Bolgrig said with vehemence, though the glitter in her eyes, as creepy as it was, said otherwise. In secret, she was very pleased to see her tiny ‘daughter’, happy and full of life. It made her want to pocket her and keep her there. A something she should have done many years ago, but a tad too late now. The little girl she loved as her daughter had grown. She even had a hubby now.

Even if said hubby was the Winter Knight of Mab.

 

Chieftain Grulganiste shuddered.

 

Mab?.. Really, now, girl.. I knew you were a wonder for much greatness, but Mab? MAB?

 

Grulganiste growled and rose and stared around.

 

“What is this hideous place, my daughter? It stinks of humans and fear.”, she rumbled.

“Yes, it smells a bit because they are working day and night for the coming war. And they fear for their loved ones.”, Inshala replied solemnly. “Their fear is well placed for the Orken are a fierce foe.”

 

Grulganiste grunted and looked around.

 

“And this?”, she asked, pointing at the tiny, single-room house.

“My home, Mother Ganiste.”, replied happily.

“This?”, Grulganiste asked incredulously. “Is this what the great Winter Knight has to offer to my daughter? I can walk right over it! I put my chicken-birds in sheds bigger than this!”

“Please, Mother. Do not mock the warmness of my home. This is where my Aager and I belong.”, she pleaded with a pout. “We eat here, we talk here, we sleep here, and here, we even dance and play silly games. Here, he can look at me as he pleases. Here, he spoon-feeds me when I am too tired to feed myself. Here, I can hug him as it pleases me. Here, only the two of us are.”

“I.. see..”, Mother Ganiste replied, eyeing her tiny little daughter. “Perhaps I spoke in haste. Let me have a look into the warmness of your home.”

 

Inshala smiled.

It was a beautiful, happy smile.

An accomplished smile.

A smile that said;

Something wonderful has happened here..

I brought peace to a troubled soul.

I did that!

 

Inshala opened the door to her home and wide.

“Please come in, Mother Ganiste. You shall always be welcome in my home.”, she said.

 

Mother Ganiste looked down at the tiny house, then at the even tinier door, quite dubiously, as she mentally measured her head, her very broad and very much muscled shoulders, and her powerful buttocks, came to the obvious, impossible conclusion.

Then she noted the happy and the quite earnest face of her tiny daughter..

..and sighed.

An ogress she may be.

But she wasn’t a heartless beast to break the heart of her beloved daughter. Certainly not when she put on that eager face!

Bowing to her predicament, and bowing quite literally, she stuck her head into the door as she berated herself just how silly she must look from behind, as she pushed..

 

..and promptly got stuck!

 

“Oops!”, exclaimed Inshala. “Are.. are you alright, Mother?”

Mother Ganiste said many things at that point. A series of choice swear words in ogre, in orcish, and in dwarfish as well, because when it came to cussing, no other race beat the dwarves, and it was possible that had been the only reason she had learned it, to begin with. She struggled, moving her massive shoulders sideways, turned the other way, and tried some more, and when that didn’t work, she even tried to cork her way in!

 

“Uhhmm.. what’s going on, here?”, asked a struggling Guard Anderson as he stared at the greatest ass he had ever seen, and would likely ever see, in his entire life!

 

Chieftain Grulganiste froze..

 

..and be damned with silly daughters, silly humans, and their silly homes, and with the silly world in general!

With a great snarl, she heaved and pulled herself out..

..along with the door.. and half the wall!

Inshala yelped and ran out, as the roof caved in, and the house collapsed in on itself!

 

“Well..”, grunted Grulganiste, her eyes still ablaze. “..that went well..”

 

Then she looked down at her daughter, who just stood there, her tiny hands, her diminutive face, her long, dark hair, and pretty much the rest of her was covered in dust, as she stared at the wreckage of, what was just a few mere moments ago, had been her home.

 

Her slim shoulders drooped, a pinkish-red blush spread around the ovals of her eyes and her cheeks as large tears streaked down and around her trembling, and pouting little mouth.

 

It was hard to say what crossed the awful face of Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth at that very moment as she held the door frame and parts of the wall still hanging around her neck, and stared at her devastated little daughter.

✱ ✱ ✱

There were guards everywhere. The level of security had been quite apparent the moment they had come out of the Ritual Forest when groups of elf, half-elf, and human rangers with no-nonsense expressions skimmed past them. As they came closer to the town, they noted the two platoons of dwarven warriors armed to the teeth, sitting on armored, rather angry-looking, almost horse-sized goats with brutal-looking iron-shod horns stationed at the north end of the stone bridge. There were also large groups of Arashkan militia and regulars roaming both around the refugee camps and the northern banks of the Arashkan River. Udoorin also noted the strange runes and glyphs etched on the outer walls of the town and at even intervals. And when he looked up, he saw odd flocks of birds circling the town from high above.

One such bird, a tiny little baby owl, darted down and settled on Lorna’s shoulder and immediately started pecking and cleaning her fluffy, soft feathers.

Udoorin gave Lorna, who was smiling impishly, and the extraordinarily cute baby owl a side-long glance, then blurted, “Inshala?”

“Whoo?”, replied the baby owl.

“Inshala..”, repeated the burly young man. “Our Inshala..”

“Whoo..”, said the baby owl, staring up at him with large, endearing eyes.

“Ow. Now you are just making fun of me..”, he said smiling down at the owl.

Lorna laughed and the owl hopped down and spun once around herself, twice, and on the third, the baby owl was gone and the skinny little girl with her curving horns appeared.. also laughing.

Inshala jumped the large young man and hugged him, then jumped Lorna and hugged her as well, then paused, ogling at the two of them.

“When?”, she blurted!

“Uhhmm.. when what?”, asked Udoorin.

“When did you two—”, she began.

“Shhh.. not here, dear sister.”, Lorna said with a blush.

“How could you possibly know?”, asked Udoorin with an exasperated frown. “I mean, pretty much nobody knows.”

“Your scents!”, said the skinny little girl with a happy red face.

“Our scents?”, the young man stumbled.

“Yes. Yes. Your scents. Always before, they were separate. Yearning but distinct.”, explained Inshala joyously.

“Do I even want to know how that makes any sense?”, Udoorin mumbled.

“But now, your scents are together. Intertwined! And they have made a new scent. A happy scent. A scent full of new potentials!”, she blushed and seemed like she was about to burst with happiness. “Are you going to have babies? I love babies. They are so cute!”

Lorna also blushed.

Udoorin coughed.

“I can’t believe you can read all that from our scents. I mean, all you had to say was, we needed a bath..”, he murmured.

“Please don’t say anything to anyone, dear sister.”, Lorna pleaded. “This meeting is important and does not need any distractions. We shall declare it at an appropriate time.”

Inshala stared at her like she was asked not to cry when she’s just stepped on a bee, or worse, an iron bee —however silly that sounded!

 

“Lorna and Udoorin got married!”, she blurted in her mind.

“Eh? What? When?”, Aager’s surprised voice came.

“Speak later? Please, please, please don’t tell anyone..”, she begged.

 

“Ow, alright. I promise I won’t tell.. anyone else..”, she mumbled in a deploring voice.

 

“Okay.”, Udoorin said seriously as they walked over the stone bridge. “What’s the security protocols here?”, he asked.

“I have no idea what you just said, but my Aager will tell you some rules. He told them to me as well, but there were too many butchered words in it and I got lost!”, Inshala replied. “All I understood was, if anything happens, I am to go home and wait for him there, which he knows is not going to happen.”

“Butchered words?”, Lorna asked.

“Yes.”, Inshala replied with an exasperated tone. “It is when humans cut words in two or more. It seems like an infection. Even the half-born are using them now. Just the other day, I heard Liaison Constance call Sheriff Standorin as ‘Stan’..”

 

Udoorin froze.

 

“She called my father, Stan? Nobody calls my father, Stan. Only my mother used to call him that. And maybe the mayor. He would cave in any face who would call him, Stan!”, he said. “So they really are dating? I thought they were just putting a scene to make me uncomfortable.. Sort of a private joke.”

“I think they are. Dating, I mean.”, replied Inshala honestly. “Your father seems more, now, since he started dating her.”

“More? More what?”

“Just, more..”, Inshala replied, as if that explained everything.

 

Lorna smiled.

 

“I do not understand.”, Udoorin complained.

“I will explain it to you later, Dorin.”, she replied.

“Anglenna and the other elf, Armatus, I think his name was, will be attending to Lorna at all times, and should anything happen, they are to take her to the elf camp. My Aager and Bremorel are to stay with you, Udoorin, and take you to the Sheriff’s office where they will lock all the doors and windows. The dwarves will charge at anything that comes near the town, the rest of the elves and the Arashkan soldiers will go up to the defense wall, along with more dwarves and gnomes. The druids, the shamans, and the witches will help them. The rangers will be everywhere. The ogres will travel just north of town, and wait near Elder Hills, in case there is an attack from there..”, she said breathily.

“I am not getting locked up in a room!”, Udoorin fumed.

“I am not separating from my Dorin!”, Lorna flared.

“I was told you two might say silly things like that. My Aager told me to tell you that if you will not follow simple orders, then he will use the big stick on you again. He said you would know.”, Inshala said to the fuming young man. Then she turned to Lorna. “And Anglenna said, she would teleport you to the elf camp if she had to, and told me to remind you how her last teleport spell turned out! I told them that it wasn’t nice of them to say such things to them because they were both grown people who are much bigger than I am and that Udoorin is a smart man and would do what needs to be done, and Lorna was the best when it came to making calm and wise decisions.”

 

Udoorin scowled down at her while Lorna smiled in defeat.

 

“I believe we should give in, Dorin —gracefully. Our friends want what’s best for us, even if we might think otherwise. And disrupting current security is unwise. It would seem we are not part of the entourage, but part of the delegation.”

“I did say you were calm and wise.”, grinned Inshala.

“You are part of the guests too, aren’t you?”, Udoorin frowned.

“I am.”, admitted, the skinny little girl. “Hence the reason my Aager told me to go home if there was trouble and the reason I won’t.”

“How does that work, exactly?”, Udoorin asked, still scowling.

“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity!”, she smiled smugly.

Udoorin cocked an eyebrow at her.

 

“My Aager will not hit me with a big stick!”, she said and took off.

 

A funny sort of noise escaped Lorna. Something that might even constitute a snort!

✱ ✱ ✱

Just out of curiosity..”, rumbled Udoorin as he walked up the stairs leading into the municipality building with Lorna in his arm. The mayor’s offices weren’t all that big, to begin with, but the base furniture, the bookshelves, the drawers, the filing cabinets, and the desks were all removed to make room for the self-same tables used during the celebrations upon the return of the heroes from Themalsar. “..what does Mere Estel Aranië, mean, and why is that Armathelius elf keeps calling me that?”

Lorna smiled, leaned into him, and whispered.

“It means, ‘the awaited hope of the kingdom.’, dear.”

 

Udoorin stared at her.

 

“You can’t be serious!”

 

“Elves may have habits that may appear odd and many others that may be faulty, but they do not toy when it comes to names.”, she said quietly.

“Couldn’t have picked something less ostentatious? Like, ‘He’s alright.’, perhaps?”, the young man asked with a rather disturbed expression on his face.

“I didn’t choose it, Dorin. The elves did. You came to us at a time that was clearly the end of Bari Na-ammen. As sad as it is to lose our beloved home, they finally understood what my mother had been trying to tell them for the past thirty years; that they had grown secluded, complacent, and become stagnant. Nature does not tolerate such qualities. Secluded becomes complacent, and complacent becomes stagnant. Eventually, stagnant rots and collapses to make room for ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ life and beginnings. The elves that are here could have gone to Solace, or even Tranquil. But they preferred to come here.. to humans because if there was going to be a kingdom for us again in High Woods, it had to have the things it pushed out and rejected, and let in friends..”, she said. “And friends mean, other races. What the humans in Serenity Home and the dwarves at Scowling Hills have done to sustain the Arashkan refugees was exceptional. That they treated us the same way and unbiased, considering how Bari Na-ammen treated strangers, has put us all to shame. And you, love, came out of this town. You fought against Themalsar, side by side, with the princess of Bari Na-ammen. You defended and protected her. You cared for her and honored her, and you brought her back to her people when they were leaderless. That, my dear Dorin, is the long-awaited hope for the new kingdom of elves.. We will have many wars to fight ahead of us. But we will also have a home to return to. And that home must have a leader. They insisted I lead. But I never wanted the job. Perhaps I am selfish. But that is the truth of it. When I declared Anglenna to take my place, I was not putting on a show. I was being honest. I really wanted her to take this burden off my shoulders. But after what my aunt did, they wouldn’t follow her. It is thanks to Lord Armathelius that they haven’t shown open hostility against her, or put her on trial while we were not here.”

“I’ll cave in any face that tries to show hostility against her, hold her in contempt, or try to put her on some trumped-up trial. None of those elves know the kind of Hell Lenna went through..”, Udoorin said grimly.

“That is rather nice of you to say, young man.”, Anglenna said from behind them. “It would seem my cousin chose her King well. The only person that wouldn’t judge me for my sins is a human that we wouldn’t have let step on Bari Na-ammen soil. Though I suspect the irony in that will be lost upon many.”

“We are who we are, Lady Lenna. But we can be who we choose to be.”, Udoorin said seriously. “You and my Queen are not so dissimilar. She was forced to be something. Yet she chose to be something else. You were forced to be something as well. Against all odds, you chose to be something else, too. Which makes both of you much greater than I could ever be; I wanted to be nothing, and likely would have been nothing, had it not been for the people around me. First Aager Fogstep and his unrelenting efforts to make something out of me, then my Lorna.. Her mere existence made me look at the world and see it about to burn and made me do something about that. And I would like to claim no small effort on your part, either. I am aware of how you have been secretly shadowing and protecting us without us even knowing. That is honor and loyalty in my book.”

Anglenna stared at the young man with an odd expression on her face.

Armathelius didn’t say anything, but a mirthful smile played around his lips.

“Wow, I haven’t been in this building for a while. The last time I came here, I got trashed by Mayor Arthandos Yuleman personally. It was the best trashing I had, and the only one I got a ‘Thank you, young man, you did a great job!’, at the end.”, Udoorin grinned.

“So you are the boy with the itchy sword hand that has been giving my boys and daughters trouble all these years. I would very much like to crush you!”, rumbled a bass voice and everyone stopped.

“Yes. That would be me, ma’am.”, they heard Sheriff Standorin from inside.

“Ma’am? Just which part of me did you think makes me a ma’am, boy?!”

“Merely being polite, Chieftain. We are all here for the same cause.”, the sheriff said.

 

Udoorin, Lorna, Anglenna, and Armathelius ran in to see Sheriff Standorin standing at ease, facing something..

..HUGE!

 

Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth made an average ogre look small. She had long, thickly braided strands of hair, untoned arms, torso, and legs, all impressively muscled, yet, no one could mistake her femininity and she was an evenly proportionate ‘woman’.. and she loomed over the sheriff with an awesome scowl on her face.

In a rather brutal way, Grulganiste was, indeed, a striking figure.

 

“No, boy. I am not here for your cause. I am here because my daughter, Inshala, asked me. I am here to make sure she stays safe. If it weren’t for her, I would have stayed in my hills, and watched you and yours butcher one another.”

“Lady Inshala has been kind to us. And we honor her for it. She fights for us because this is her forest and this is her home. We all fight for the people we care about, and we are all here to defend our homes, Chieftain. And your home is also in that forest.”, Standorin replied kindly. “We have had minimal quarrels with your sons and daughters and have left you alone.”

“You speak arrogantly, boy. You fail to recognize this by admitting to have ‘left us alone’. Oger’s Foot is ours. It was ours before this town. And it is not still there because you ‘left us alone’ and neither did you do us any favors by claiming that you did. I am quite disappointed in you and hope you do not look upon my daughter with the same narrow perspective. The woodsmen of Dimwoods are alive, today, only because old Cathber asked me not to avenge what they did to her. They thought they had the right to my daughter’s life. They beat her, stoned her, caged her, and whipped her..”

“Mother Ganiste.. please.. there is no need for this. It’s all in the past..”, Inshala said with a brittle face, as she stood next to her.

“No, my daughter. It is not. I have seen the scars on your back, and the scars in your heart. Closing your eyes to the arrogance of men is foolish. They think us brutish and call us savages. But then, we are brutish as we are savages, for we are ogres. Tell me, daughter of my father, what is their excuse?”, she growled at her, then to the sheriff, she said, “Much like them, who thought they had the right to my beloved daughter’s life, you think you have the right to ours when you say you ‘left us alone’.. I find the similarity of your stance with those ignorant, superstitious, and savage woodsmen and you, sheriff of this town, disturbing.”, she said balefully.

“Chieftain Grulganiste—”, Liaison Constance stepped in.

“—Whatever gave you the idea I was talking to you, demon? Do not cast your words at me and think you know better. I have made an agreement with my daughter, the Ritual Guardian, to come here in peace, and to help her fight the Orken. Said peace, however, does not include your kind. Should I see you or your kin anywhere near my ogres, I will rip your skinny arms and your pretty legs off, and I shall feel content about it!”

 

A moment of choking silence settled in the room as the air grew intense.

 

“I apologize, Chieftain.”, Standorin said finally, though very much offended. “For my choice of words, but not for my arrogance. I am the culmination of my life and the things I have seen, lived, and suffered and they are unlikely to change. We may not correct our faults, but our children might get that chance. For that to happen, they must live. I offer little more than that; a chance for both our sons and daughters to live in peace. This may happen, or it may not. That will be up to them. Should the Orken do what they intend to do, however, even that small chance of change will be gone because all of us will be dead. As for our young Inshala, she will be our treasure, always. You have seen what I did when I came to your hills. Should anyone mistreat her, they will get more of the same.”

 

Grulganiste glared down at the sheriff for a long moment, then gave a nightmarish grin.

 

“I shall then hold you to your word, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Now.. I have seen the sad condition of the house my daughter lives in..”, she said with disdain.

“Mo.. mother, please.. My house is fine —was fine! My Aager and I shall rebuild it the way it was. We liked it the way it was..”, Inshala blubbered, her face burning bright red.

“Hush, girl. This is grown-ups talking.”, Grulganiste told her briskly. Then she turned to the sheriff. “Two of my ogres will be arriving from the forest. They will have white flag poles on their backs and some sacks with them. I will be unhappy if they were hindered. You will allow them here and to my daughter’s sad home.”

“What will they be bringing, if I may be so bold as to ask?”, Standorin inquired politely.

“A bit of this, and a bit of that..”, the giant ogress replied evasively.

 

Standorin cocked an eyebrow.

Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth sighed.

 

“They hold my daughter’s dowries, young man. Something that is truly none of your business!”, she fumed.

Standorin coughed.

“Mo..mother? I don’t have any dowry..”, Inshala said, her face burning even brighter.

“No. You don’t, because you are a foolish little girl, and seeing as how that sour old Cathber lived in that pathetic little chicken shed he called home, I didn’t think he would have thought about dowries. Hence, I have been preparing it since the day he first brought you to me.”, Grulganiste said grimly.

Standorin’s mouth curved at the corner.

“You are a very cunning woman, Chieftain Grulganiste. Even though everything you said about my arrogance was true, all you wanted was a free pass for your ogres to the town! All you had to do was ask, you know. I may have an itchy hand with my sword, but I am not totally unreasonable.”, he said with a poorly hidden grin.

Grulganiste scowled at him.

“I am the chieftain of Oger’s Foot, boy. I do not ask. I demand.. And the things I said were correct and had to be said. Are we at an agreement, sheriff of Serenity Home, or shall we break spoons?”

Standorin didn’t know what ‘breaking spoons’ meant, but it wasn’t hard to guess.

“Chieftain Grulganiste, I shall send two rangers to escort your ogres to Lady Inshala’s house. I will have to ask your ogres to stay in her garden until the end of the meeting, though. This meeting will call upon many people of many races and places. There is no need to risk frictions.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about them, young man, for they will have their work cut out for them. And they better have it finished by the time this meeting is..”, she fumed balefully.

“One more thing, Chieftain. Should anything happen during the meeting, I would like you to take Lady Inshala and yourself to her home and stay there.”, Standorin informed.

“You want me to run and hide in a broken down chicken shed?”, Grulganiste blazed.

“Chieftain Grulganiste. This is my town. I am the host, and you are the guest here. And the safety of my town and my guests is of utmost importance to me. And I can not do my job if all the guests are running around and doing as they please. You are a guest here, but you are not the only guest.”, the sheriff said, then he looked down at Inshala and grinned. “And as a personal favor to Lady Inshala’s mate, you should make sure she stays there as well..”

 

Inshala’s face looked mortified because she’d had no intentions of running home nor staying there at all.

 

“That.. was not nice, my Aager.”, she fumed in her mind and heard a growling chuckle in return.

“You.. you are laughing at me!”, she said heartbroken.

“No, love. Only making sure you do your part as I have kindly asked of you.”, Aager said.

“Don’t I get any say in this?”, she pouted.

“No, love, you do not. You told me you wanted my respect and my trust. This is where you show me yours —by deed.”

“You think I do not show you respect and trust?”, she asked somewhat downcast.

“Love. I have the utmost respect and trust in you and never have I ever doubted yours.. But town security is not something that can be done alone. It involves hundreds of people; guards, rangers, the elves, the Arashkan militia, the dwarves, and quite a few others that must know where they must be and what they must do, act as a whole, and in cooperative coordination. I have absolute trust that you can take care of yourself, and me, but you do not know any of the security protocols. Young Udoorin does, yet he is still not part of it, because he too, is a guest today. This, you must see. This, you must understand. And this, you must accept.”, Aager replied briskly and succinctly.

 

“Come, girl. Let’s find ourselves a seat before all the good ones are gone!”, Grulganiste rumbled.

 

Aager thought he heard a lot of huffing and puffing and mumbling about putting live Kumse Beatles into someone’s pockets before her voice was gone.

✱ ✱ ✱

The meeting of possibly every leader of every race, people, city, community, circle, near and far, and every important figure, head, or chief was a crowded, confusing, chaotic, and a bit of a messy business. The central conference room had been opted to be used for the meeting out of convenience as it was the largest room available for the job. There were many lanterns hanging on the walls, but the main source of light was the great chandelier with scores of burning candles made brighter by the use of cleverly placed reflectors —a gnomic ingenuity, thanks to no other than Nimbletyne Tinkerdome, crafted and placed many years ago. The center of the room was left open to anyone who would want to get up and speak, and tables surrounded the room in one big circle, all covered with white table cloths. Many flower pots were placed on the tables at military intervals, along with large, flat bowls full of fruits, decanters full of cool cider, and brass cups. Food would also be served shortly after sundown and adjacent rooms were prepared and available for private forums and strategic planning. All in all, Aager, who was responsible for the security of the building, suspected if half the guests survived, it would be a win!

And he had good reasons to expect so..

The dwarves did not want to sit next to the high elves, for one. They might fight alongside them, and against a common enemy, sure, but they did not want to sit next to the pointy-eared, condescending, stuck-ups!

The high elves, in a similar line of thought, did not want to sit next to the dwarves, the gnomes, who were pointing at them and snickering, the woodsmen, the bandits, the shacksmen from the tar pits of Stinking Shacks just northwest of Ritual Forest, and certainly not next to the bloody pirates of Drashan, and decidedly not with the ogres.

The wood elves didn’t mind the dwarves, but they really seemed like they wanted to make a scene about the ogres in an —as dramatic a way— as possible and preferred to stay aloof of their high elf brothers and sisters.

The Drashan pirates outright refused to sit next, or anywhere near the Endless Watch representatives, who, surprisingly wanted to get as near to them as they could —with cutlasses and poniards —and possibly a galleon’s deck catapult of two!

The Koruxan knights all seemed quite distraught as they didn’t want anything to do with any of this bunch!

The two representatives of the Academy of Melshieve looked around a bit dazedly. Or rather, one of them looked around quite dazed and in a dreamy way —an extraordinarily tall young girl with sharp, pointy horns, dark as a starless night-sky skin with long, loose, pink hair wearing rather scandalous pink dress skirts. The other one, a midgety little gnomic girl with many pouches, a heavy wrench tucked in her belt, and with carelessly pulled up, scruffy reddish brown hair, who, for some reason, kept throwing covert but guilty glances at Nadine Graciousward. The neatly dressed little hobbit sitting beside her had a polite expression on his face though he seemed like he was watching everything and everyone from a third person’s view, rather than his own. Sitting next to them was a tall, lithe, elf girl who was very nearly pale as her long, thickly braided, glossy white hair, many swirling and spiraling, dark, marine-blue tattoos on her arms and shoulders, and with a frosty, no-nonsense expression on her face.

 

There were also many familiar faces among the representatives.

Sheriff Standorin himself had taken a seat and..

..Liaison Constance was sitting next to him, also with a polite and interested smile on her face and..

..Perigren Ostlanna Temez, the leader of the Escape, had settled right beside her. She did not smile. She looked pale and soulless, like someone who had something most precious and dear to her taken away and most unfairly. She just sat where she did, silently and still with one of her antler horns broken and missing. The only sign of life was her eyes, as dull as they were, seemed to look at every single person in the crowded room individually, and singularly..

Next to the leader of the Escape, was the senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, with two of his younger guardians standing right behind him.

Lady Magella sat with a diffident expression on her face, next to her grandfather, Argail Smitefast, a mountain of a dwarf, her mother, Margaret Madish, one of her brothers, Harakoon Evilscowl, a dwarf true to his name, her aunt/uncle, Yor Whatoo, and one of her sisters, Lamideth Doncross, as the representatives of Scowling Hills.

Dridges Motherswolfie was also there, waving at the hobbit across with Britney and Dritmey, the Tosser twins, also grinning at him, and Nikelix CarverLady Magella’s sisters, along with another of her aunts, Marideth Brave, representing Elder Hills.

A coldly grimacing Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman..

..her eldest daughter, Moira Alisia Jean Hooman, who had an expression that said, ‘Why me?’, in an existential sense..

..and the sour captain, Fardashi, who was likely going to head-butt the person responsible for the sitting arrangements, because sitting next to the first lady of Durkahan was no other than the former queen of Bari Na-ammen;

Nadine Graciousward, herself, who was politely smiling, and Master Nimbletyne Tinkerdome, who was, for whatever reason, eyeing the little gnomic girl from the Academy of Melshieve.

The appearance of Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth in the room did cause a bit of a ruckus as pretty much everyone, except for the sheriff, and interestingly, the same hobbit, went for their weapons. The fact that the relatively tiny girl, Inshala had reached as high as she could and was holding her hand, had made the scene all the more incomprehensible.

A low cough and a ‘settle down’, warning from the sheriff hadn’t put them at ease, but certainly put them to shame and.. well.. ‘settled them down!’

It was at that moment when the queen of the high elves, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, walked in with her very new husband and king, Udoorin Shieldheart, flanked by Lady Anglenna Brightleaf, Lord Armathelius Riverblade, Aager Fogstep, and appearing next to him like magic, Bremorel Songsteel..

Queen Alor’Nadien ne was simply radiant and every bit as queenly as she was promised. A promise, given not only by her beauty but by her calm, serene, commanding, but not quite demanding, aura.

King Udoorin, on the other hand, just scowled.. silently. A protracted tactic he had decided to adopt for the whole of the meeting and for as long as he could. After that, he was of the opinion; LET THE AXES TALK!

 

Bremorel gave a cursory glance into the room, picked out the former Agent Largo, dressed quite elegantly as some lord, and mingling amongst the other lords and emissaries. It took a while for Aager to spot his sister, Lilly Venom, though.

 

“What the..”, he silently exclaimed.

 

She was up on the vast, candle-lit chandelier, holding on to its thick chain with her slender legs snaked around it, staring at everyone, upside down! And because of all the bright candles and the reflectors, she was literally cast in total shadows in the center of the bloody thing!

“Damn..”, Aager thought. It must be burning hot up there. The creepiest part was, the chandelier never budged, nor swung..

And he would never have seen her, had he not known she was in this room somewhere.

He somewhat grudgingly admitted, her sister, Lilly Venom was much better than he was when it came to hiding and ambush, which, in a way, made sense; Lilly was an assassin, through and through and he was not.

But, really, girl?

The meeting was likely to last past midnight and she would be hanging, upside down, in the middle of scores of candles, for at least ten hours and possibly until the next dawn.

 

Queen Alor’Nadien ne and King Udoorin went over to Nadine Graciousward and the half-elf girl gracefully hugged her mother.

“I see you have finally come to terms with your destiny, my daughter; lived, suffered, and overcome. You, my darling, were the only accomplishment your father and I managed to do right, even if we messed up so horribly at the end. And you, young man, have stood by her at her best, and at her worst, and are still here. You must truly love her. Do be never as I and my husband were. That would be a shame.”, Nadine said and hugged the bearish man who was flushing furiously.

“Hey, you.”, said Moira from two seats over.

“Hey, you.”, grinned Udoorin. “I heard there was a family squabble back at Durkahan. I am happy you set things right and are here again.”

“Not without quite a bit of help from Master Aager and my sister Inshala.”, Moira grinned back.

“That’s what friends are for.”, replied the young man. “Lady Alisia, it has been a great pleasure and delight to have met you and your daughter, here. May I introduce the Queen of Aranië, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist.. Alor’Nadine ne. This is Lady Moira’s mother and the First Lady of Durkahan, Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman, and the wife to late Delia Karakash Hooman.”

Alor’Nadine ne reverenced gracefully at her and smiled.

“I have heard so many beautiful things about you, my lady. Your daughter, Lady Moira always shined bright as the sun and lit our way through dark and dread by her very presence. Just for that, I shall cherish you and her for the rest of my life.”

“Thank you, dear. You are as kind and graceful as my daughter described.”, Lady Alisia inevitably smiled back.

Lorna beamed at her.

“I see you have met my mother.”, she said with a flushed face.

“Yes. I have.”, Lady Alisia said with a slightly grim expression.

“I know this meeting will last quite a bit. But when it is over and before you leave, I would be much honored if you and Lady Moira would be kind enough to visit us in our camp, just outside the town —as a personal favor?”, Lorna asked.

Lady Alisia looked at the beautiful young girl for a moment, as if seeking something on her face. Then she smiled.

“Of course, dear. We would be delighted to visit you and yours. I dread these meetings, to be honest. I would rather decisions be made and in haste, hence we get to the fighting part and cleanse our lands of this Orken infestation.”

Udoorin grinned.

“Spoken like a true Durkahan lady.”

 

Bremorel didn’t go directly to stand behind Udoorin but steered towards her husband, Thomas. She motions him over and took him, by the hand, to where the two representatives of the Academy of Melshieve were sitting. She nodded at the very tall, very dark girl in pinks, and at the scruffy-looking gnomic girl then came to stand before the hobbit!

“Master Brom Bumblebrim!”, she smiled at him.

The bushy-haired hobbit, Brom Bumblebrim, stared up at the pretty girl, and at the confused-looking man, she was holding with a death grip.

“Uhhmm.. Hello? Do I know you, my lady? Ranger, by the looks of it.. And a corporate at least, or possibly a lieutenant.”, the hobbit said.

“Very astute, Master Hobbit. How did you guess.”, she asked, grinning at him.

“You have the air of accomplishment and confidence that only well-earned achievements can give, my lady.”, the hobbit, Brom, said politely.

“I am impressed more now than I was impressed before, Master Brom.”, Bremorel said, then turned to her husband. “Thomas, I would like you to meet the esteemed Master Brom Bumblebrim.”

“Pleased to meet you, Master Hobbit.”, Thomas said politely, though still confused.

“Thomas, this is the first guy I have ever kissed!”, the ranger lieutenant said, her grin even wider.

“Come again?”, asked the gnomic girl, ogling at the tall ranger-girl, then at the hobbit.

“I.. see..”, Thomas said carefully.

The hobbit coughed.

“I am sorry, young lady, and I know this makes me sound like an arse but, have we met before?”, he asked with a flushed face.

 

The very tall, very dark girl in pinks was eyeing the ranger-girl and the hobbit with a neutral expression..

..while the pale elf girl with the glossy white, braided hair was staring at the hobbit too, though with bemused eyes and pursed lips.

 

“Morel.”, said Bremorel. “Daughter of Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine..”

 

Nothing but stumbling out of his chair could have described the hobbit’s reaction!

He got back on his feet and stared up at the pretty girl..

..and his eyes blurred.

 

“Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine.. Ow. My. Good. Heavens! My dear, dear girl.”, he said quietly, hopped on the table, and hugged Bremorel.

“I am so, so sorry for what happened to your parents. It broke me when I heard about them. For unrelated reasons, I had met with some of the dwarves at Scowling Hills, and Lady Magella, who is sitting right over there, claimed she knew you and told me about it. I was devastated..”, he said with an equally hushed tone. “They were good people. And look at you, now. Wow, you have grown and become the beautiful young woman I knew you would be, even back then.”

“You are kind to say so, Master Brom.”, Bremorel replied, also hugging the hobbit. “You were a great inspiration for me and kind enough to suffer a little girl’s adventurous games with dolls.”

“It was the best game I played, my dear Morel.”, smiled Brom as he drew back.

“And possibly the only game where you played the princess in distress?”, Bremorel smiled at him.

“I didn’t mind being the princess for you, my darling. Being saved by your fearsome knight was as entertaining as it was educational for me.”, the hobbit replied, wiping his eyes.

“Will you be staying? I would love to have you and your friends over for dinner.”, she offered.

“Our schedule is out of my hands, my dear girl. And this meeting will likely be quite binding. But I shall do my best. You are the only one I dearly enjoyed having met, during my long travels with Master Cathber, all those years ago.”

 

Several tables over, Inshala’s ears prickled at that..

 

“And where shall we be seated, Master Aager?”, Lorna asked in a low whisper to the lean man in dark leathers.

“Technically, you and Udoorin, here, are the only king and queen present. Everyone else is either lords and ladies or various representatives. As long as you do not sit next to the Drashan pirates, because that would totally give the wrong message to the rest of the whole of the kingdom, and not next to the lord representative of Endless Watch, which will very much alienate the bloody Drashan pirates, you are free to sit wherever you want. We can seat you next to your mother, Nadine Graciousward if you like?”, Aager offered.

“As much as I would want that, no. Sitting next to her will tell everyone I am under her shadow. As sad as it may be, she no longer holds any official capacity, hence, she represents only herself, and that inevitable shall be interpreted as self-interest.”, she replied as she mused for a very brief moment as more representatives started filing in.

 

“There.”, she said.

 

And with Udoorin by her side, she calmly walked over to the singular ‘person’, sitting alone and with the exception of the disproportionately tiny girl seated next to her, three seats in either direction were empty.

Inshala waved at them happily and then patted the seat next to her and motioned her hubby over with a grin filled with hidden trepidation—

 

Her Aager didn’t know about the house yet!

 

—and with her king, the queen of the high elves and  Aranië started in that direction and sat right next to Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth!

 

And just then the mayor of Serenity Home, Arthandos Yuleman entered..

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, Lords and Ladies, emissaries and representatives, welcome to our humble town of Serenity Home.”, the old, raspy voice of the mayor was heard as everyone settled down.

He looked around with worn, tired eyes and smiled.

“Shall we begin?”



 

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a witness or two..

a witness or two..

Timeline:

A long stream of refugees disembark from the damaged Arashkan ships to the shores of Serenity Home town, adding to the already unmercifully overcrowded town and the lands surrounding it. From the last ship, a pair; one handsome but tired-looking blond half-elf, the other, a boldly beautiful young woman walk down the ship’s plank and follow the last remains of what was once The Great and Glorious Arashkan, towards the town that’s offering more than it has.

 

This story takes place about a month or so after
The Stab In The Back
and a bit before
Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig;
“A Debt Father to Daughter Passed..”

 

 

Agent Largo: This is a bad idea. My guestimation is one of three outcomes..

Lilly Venom: That so?

Agent Largo: Yes. (a) He will suffer a traumatic shock and runoff, shouting how much he hates me. (b) He will undergo some form of angst, followed by an episode of a not so unexpected breakdown, accuse me of letting his mother get killed, and very likely result in him punching me. (c) He will outright defy me, saying I wasn’t there when he was growing up and when he needed me, and that he’s all grown up now, doesn’t need me at all, and will refuse to see or talk to me..

Lilly Venom: Angst, huh? Never thought you a man for high drama, Agent Largo. But here you are, proving me wrong.

Agent Largo: You pun me.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) I pun a lot of people, Agent Largo, and you still owe me a dinner. I hope this town has a decent inn.

Agent Largo: You came here before, Lady Lilly. You should know.

Lilly Venom: The key to being a good assassin, Agent Largo, isn’t the kill, no matter how effective or efficient you are at it.. It is knowing your target.. and their habits.. And of course, never being noticed. The Temple Guardian, Demos, never visited the inn, hence neither did I. Thinking back, good thing I never did visit the inn.

Agent Largo: Ow?

Lilly Venom: Inns are a good source for local gossip, news, and information.. and finding out who is who. Had I visited the inn, I definitely would have left this town with at least one corpse.

Agent Largo: You know someone in this town, then? On a personal level?

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) That’s none of your business, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: You really enjoy calling me ‘Agent’, all the time, don’t you, Lady Lilly?

Lilly Venom: More than you like ‘Lady’ing me.

Agent Largo: (side glance) You are in a mood, today.

Lilly Venom: I am in a mood, every day, Agent Largo. Have you decided on what to do? About your Dexter, and about your job? At the moment, you have neither.

Agent Largo: That was a tad harsh, Lady Lilly..

Lilly Venom: I have never fallen head-over-heels for any man, Agent Largo. But I am willing to give you a shot—

Agent Largo: Coming from you, that sounds ominous. I am not sure if I should feel elated, or I should start wearing full body armor.

Lilly Venom: —And I don’t like distractions.

Agent Largo: You are quite the target-oriented girl aren’t you, Lady Lilly?

Lilly Venom: I am a Drashan girl, Agent Largo. Everyone is someone’s target there. And if you are a girl, that number rises exponentially. But I have always believed in celibacy. It removes the option of undesired attractions, and hence, unwanted distractions and complications.

Agent Largo: That’s a bit.. lonesome..

Lilly Venom: Any self-respecting Drashan marries only once, Agent Largo. That being said, there is no such thing as a ‘self-respecting Drashan’, and the only thing we truly marry is ‘death!’

Agent Largo: You make it sound like it’s a proverb.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) It is.. Have you decided what to do?

Agent Largo: I was hoping to get killed in the upcoming battle and save everyone the hassle.

Lilly Venom: No.

Agent Largo: No?

Lilly Venom: No, Agent Largo. You owe me dinner and I refuse to dine with a coward.

Agent Largo: Now, that really was harsh, Lady Lilly. And totally uncalled for.

Lilly Venom: Then go to the boy, knock on his door, or knock it down and say ‘Hi..’, sit down, and explain all your reasons for having done what you did. He might get angry, he might pout, or he might be happy. I would be happy if my mother rose from her grave and came to visit me.. though I doubt she has a grave.. Unclaimed bodies are usually just dumped into the sea with the rest of the derelict, in Drashan..

Agent Largo: That’s.. sad..

Lilly Venom: You don’t really have to act the ‘understanding type’, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: I am not the ‘acting’ type of spy, Lady Lilly. I am the ‘orchestrating’ kind of agent. Though I see nothing to orchestrate, here. Well, actually there is.. with a lot of potential.. but I just don’t want to..

Lilly Venom: By all means, Agent Largo, do!

Agent Largo: No.

Lilly Venom: Why?

Agent Largo: You are a girl with a very special and specific set of skills, Lady Lilly. But you have honor and, diverse as it may seem, you also have integrity. I am afraid, I just don’t feel like playing with and consequently destroying either. Whatever sins I may have done, I have done for my Arashkan. I never wanted you to be part of that even before we met for the same reasons I mentioned above. The only reason I called upon you was because High Lady Angrellen left me little to no choice and I needed help.. desperately..

Lilly Venom: Do I sense ‘tender care’ in all of that?

Agent Largo: (replies with silence)

Lilly Venom: (after an extended, counter-silence, and a sigh) Neither my honor nor my integrity will save me should I ever be subjected to the law, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: Arashkan is destroyed, Lady Lilly, therefore I am no longer the law.. And hence, I feel no obligation whatsoever to turn you in. Funny how that turned out.

Lilly Venom: (more silence) You will likely end up an outlaw too..

Agent Largo: I have been in and out of said law for longer than I can remember but never for personal gain. If for once, I end up doing that, I don’t mind doing it for you.. At all! I will do whatever job I can find, once this war is over and provided I am still alive. As for my son.. He will accept me, perhaps in time, or he will not. I did what I did, to preserve his life. He will either understand this too or not. But if you are willing to be with a fool like me, I am willing to do what it takes, Lady Lilly..

Lilly Venom: My contract with you was—

Agent Largo: —Your contract with me got voided at least twice.. back in Arashkan.. when you saved my life in the tunnel and then again after High Lady Angrellen trampled over us.. And possibly any number of other times I am not even aware of, when you watched my back on our deadly plight to get the civilians and the remaining guards out to the docks, and aboard the ships, Lady Lilly.. So when I say, you have my gratitude, I mean it at its maximum capacity. Many people who are alive now owe their lives to me. Funny how they fail to see, they actually owe it to you..

Lilly Venom: (stares ahead and does not say anything)

Agent Largo: ..We will have to take Prince Korodin in with us, though. Quite unavoidable, really. I did, after all, give my word of honor to Lady Ferrara, and the boy needs training from the best..

Lilly Venom: (snort) A wanted assassin and a former ARIS Agent..

Agent Largo: Like I said; The best..

Lilly Venom: (back to serious) Someone’s bound to notice me eventually, you know.

Agent Largo: I thought all you assassins were good with disguises.

Lilly Venom: We usually are. It’s part of our basic training program.

Agent Largo: There you have it then.. A good handlebar mustache or a chevron, along with a brett, and no one will ever recognize you.

Lilly Venom: (snort) Yes. I am sure no one will recognize me, but everyone will notice you, constantly arm in arm with a guy!

Agent Largo: So you want it to be ‘arm in arm’ and constantly, then?

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) Depends on the dinner, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: You really have your mindset on that dinner, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Yes. I do.

Agent Largo: Why? I don’t mind a dinner.. many dinners with you, Lady Lilly, but why indeed?

Lilly Venom: Because it will be a first, for me.

Agent Largo: (blink) You mean to tell me, you have never had dinner with anyone in your life?

Lilly Venom: Agent Largo.. Just who would dine with a wanted fugitive such as myself, let alone an unaffiliated, freelancing assassin?

Agent Largo: Apparently, me..

Lilly Venom: That is yet to be seen.. and I think we are here..

Agent Largo: I suppose we are.

Lilly Venom: There are guards at the town gates and they seem to be questioning everyone before they let them in.

Agent Largo: Let me handle the guards, if you will, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Handle away, Agent Largo. I have no issues with a capable man. I have nothing to prove, and neither do you.

Agent Largo: I must disagree. Every man has something to prove, where a pretty girl is involved. If you can accept that, we can move forward.

Lilly Venom: I suppose I must. Since you think me ‘pretty’.. So, yes, I am willing to take that risk.

Agent Largo: (smile) Forward it is, then..

✱ ✱ ✱

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Good afternoon, sir.

Agent Largo: Good afternoon.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: What can I do for you, sir?

Agent Largo: We are Arashkan refugees, to see Dexter Summersong.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: And what business do you have with the town bard? He has a full schedule, training the platoon assigned to him.

Agent Largo: He.. he has?

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Yes, sir. Anyone with any skill sets is expected to train others for the upcoming battle. Any kind of training is of use. You can fill in this form over here, take a number and you will be assigned somewhere, or be assigned to someone..

Agent Largo: I see. I will fill in the forms, but after I see Sir Dexter..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Very well, sir?

Agent Largo: Largo.. Largo Summersong.. And this is Lady Ferra and the young boy is my distant relative, Rodin.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Alright, sir Largo. I shall send a runner and see if our bard, Dexter, is available. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I can not let you in until there is some sort of vouch —security protocols, you understand..

Agent Largo: Of course..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Perhaps you can take the time to fill in your forms in the meantime, sir? It may take a while for Sir Dexter to get here..

Agent Largo: (sigh) Very well..

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: ARIS Agent? Really? You are actually going to write that?!

Agent Largo: Well, why not? For once in my life, I actually don’t have to lie about my job!

Lilly Venom: Then I guess I will just have to write ‘Assassin For Hire’, in my form, then.

Agent Largo: You.. might not want to do that, Lady Lilly.. For my sake, if not yours..

Lilly Venom: I don’t do lies, Agent Largo. Perhaps you might have noticed that.

Agent Largo: I have.. And it’s made me wonder..

Lilly Venom: A good assassin does not do lies, Agent Largo. Lies constantly require attention to keep track and that clusters the mind. And because I study my contracts very well and plan my exit strategies accordingly so I never have to lie. O.P.G.G.. Observe. Plan. Get in. Get out..

Agent Largo: You really never cease to amaze me, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Also, it is immoral to lie!

Agent Largo: (stares at Lilly)

Lilly Venom: What? Just because I am an assassin, doesn’t mean I lack moral codes, Agent Largo. I kill because it’s my job, not because I enjoy doing it. That is what was available for me to learn to stay afloat at Drashan, so I learned it well. Had I enjoyed it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because you would have been dead and I would have been elsewhere busy cutting throats.

Agent Largo: Touché.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) It’s the truth.

Agent Largo: Write, ‘Security Advisor’, then. I am guessing you can do that very well.

Lilly Venom: I suppose..

Agent Largo: It won’t be a lie..

Lilly Venom: (sigh) It had better be a very good dinner, Agent Largo..

✱ ✱ ✱

Agent Largo: Here you go, sir. Two forms.. One for me, and one for the lady..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Thank you, sir Largo. Sir Dexter should be here soon.. Ow.. and here he is.. Sir Dexter. These are the two who wished to see you; Sir Largo and his lady, Ferra..

D.D. Dexter: (stunned) Dad?

Agent Largo: (flustered) Uhhmm.. Hello, son..

D.D. Dexter: (still stunned) You.. You are not dead!

Agent Largo: (still flustered) I.. can explain..

Lilly Venom: (snort)

D.D. Dexter: Who are you?

Lilly Venom: I am the girl your father owes a dinner to!

D.D. Dexter: (stunned and shocked) You have a girlfriend? She is younger than I am, dad!

Agent Largo: (flustered and blushing now) I.. can explain that too..

Lilly Venom: (snort) Your father is alive and well, and you are worried about my age?

D.D. Dexter: (splutter) What the heck, dad?!

Agent Largo: (going down in flames) I…

Lilly Venom: (briskly) Your priorities are mind staggering, boy.

Agent Largo: (dead because of fighting in two fronts now) Uhmm.. Lilly..

Lilly Venom: (mildly agitated) What? After some twenty-odd years, he sees his father, ALIVE, and he is making an issue of my age? Really, now.. I thought bards were a polite bunch, if not smart!

 

(many footsteps approach)

 

Sheriff Standorin: (Udoorin’s father) (stern officious voice) Lilly Venom. You are under arrest and wanted for the murder of Lord Trimdel Kandara of Endless Watch. Please do not resist. Master Aager, please arrest this felon, if you will..

D.D. Dexter: What the..

Agent Largo: Ow crap!

Aager Fogstep: (approaches Lilly with cuffs and hisses at her with an extremely angry, tight voice ) You idiot!

Lilly Venom: (sigh) Well, bugger..

Agent Largo: (more than flustered) Sheriff Standorin—

Sheriff Standorin: (with a heavy club in one hand) And you, former Agent Largo.. You are also under arrest for aiding and abetting a known fugitive. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. I suggest you keep to your silence!

Agent Largo: Sheriff Standorin. You know who I am. You know what I do—

*wham*

Sheriff Standorin: —There.. I appreciate it when criminals heed a good advice when it’s given to them and do stay silent. How about you, Venom, how would you like your reception? The same, perhaps? Or would you rather exercise your right to silence?

Lilly Venom: (shrug) No, I’m good..

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: How are you?

Agent Largo: I hurt. The good sheriff has a heavy hand with that club of his..

Lilly Venom: (heartlessly) I wouldn’t know, Agent Largo. I did not resist.

Agent Largo: (sigh) Well.. That certainly went well!

Lilly Venom: This is sort of embarrassing for me, to be honest. The first time I come to a town with no contracts nor clients, and I am detained and put to jail. Remind me again why we are here?

Agent Largo: The boy.. Where’s he?

Lilly Venom: Which one?

Agent Largo: Both, I guess?

Lilly Venom: Your Dexter was with the Sheriff the time I saw him, though he did come in to check in on you once. You were still out so he just stared at you.. and me as well, I guess, since your head was on my lap.. He was furious and was looking somewhere to lash out. I told him if he tried that in my direction, he would lose everything he thought was dear to him. I might have threatened him with evisceration and death by choking on poisonous darts as well.. We had a small chat after that, though only I spoke. Told him everything you did for him and why.. He didn’t say anything, but he listened, then he left..

Agent Largo: I should have been the one to tell him those.. Not the evisceration and death by poison darts part, obviously.. The other things..

Lilly Venom: Probably. But you were making such a lousy job out of it.. And the boy needed to know.. Hearing it from a third person is sometimes better. Gave him something to think about besides pouting, at least.. He might come around, or he might not. It’s on him now.

Agent Largo: (sighs) Thank you.. Lilly.. What about the prince?

Lilly Venom: They took him elsewhere. I suppose they will question him first for some kind of leverage.

Agent Largo: Korodin won’t tell them anything except that his name is ‘Rodin’ and that I am his distant uncle. And he will keep repeating that.. unless they hurt the boy.. And if they do that, I will get out of here and really murder someone!

Lilly Venom: (a bit surprised) You care for the boy!

Agent Largo: Well, sure.. He is my prince.

Lilly Venom: True. But you personally care for him..

Agent Largo: (sigh) Yes, Lilly.. I personally care for him. He’s young but I suspect he understands what’s going on around him a lot more than he lets on, making him quite brave. He didn’t cry once during our plight from Arashkan, nor on our way to here on the ships.. And we read The Amazing Adventures of Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Anyone who reads that book together, are bro’s for life!

Lilly Venom: (snort) Boys!

Agent Largo: Don’t pun the ‘bros bond’, Lilly. It’s a real thing!

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) I am no longer a Lady, then, Agent Largo? Why am I suddenly not a lady anymore?

Agent Largo: (sigh) We share a cell and that’s as close to any woman I have been since my wife was murdered, and that was more than two decades ago. I believe that calls for a bit of honest sincerity. I don’t think this was the dinner you had in mind but here we are, in a quiet and dim setting.. just like you wanted. We even have candlelight. I am in your hands.. and your lap, quite literally, I might add.

Lilly Venom: (stares down at the face in her lap, studying it, perhaps to finalize a decision)

We have no dinner, Agent Largo..

Agent Largo: Jail food is never really all that good, but it’s always on time. Should arrive soon enough..

Lilly Venom: Very well, Agent Largo.. Will you propose now?

Agent Largo: I was really hoping for better conditions, Lilly.. You deserve better conditions..

Lilly Venom: I think I will be receiving ‘what I deserve’ on the morrow, Agent Largo. I wouldn’t fret about it too much if I were you.

Agent Largo: You could get away, you know.. I am sure these bars can’t keep you..

Lilly Venom: Could say the same thing for you, Agent Largo, but you won’t.. Because of your son and because of the damage it might do to his reputation.. For similar reasons, I won’t either. Just.. not for a son or daughter.. (pauses for a moment, then sighs) And I gave the good sheriff my word that I wouldn’t try to escape, provided he let me stay in the same cell with you.

Agent Largo: Huh! A wasted bargain, if you ask me, though I can’t complain about my current disposition; your lap is surprisingly.. intriguing. Enough to want to know what’s on either end.

Lilly Venom: (amused) A foot on one end, and a hip on the other, Agent Largo, among other things, and you don’t have rights to any of them —at the moment. Not unless you want to embarrass yourself anymore than you already have.

Agent Largo: (snort) Fair enough. I am guessing the other reason you stayed has to do with the person you know in this town?

Lilly Venom: (silence)

Agent Largo: Very well, then.. If I will have more of your breath.. and perhaps get clubbed every once in a while knowing I shall wake up to your lap, then I would very much like to propose. Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me, Ferra Ferrea? To be my wife, my companion, my partner, possibly in crime, and my friend?

Lilly Venom: Yes. I would, Largo Summersong. The rest of my life, short as that maybe, I would like to spend it with you.. Same conditions!

Agent Largo: The name is Lauca, actually.

Lilly Venom: Lauca?

Agent Largo: Means, ‘warm’, in Elvish, though I have no idea what my mother was thinking when she gave me that name. It is supposed to relate to ‘A Warm Summer Song’.. But I have been using Largo since a bit before I joined ARIS because they sound similar and Largo was easier to pronounce. This, however, is a definitive occasion, so I thought at least you should know.

Lilly Venom: Lauca.. Sounds intriguing.. Means, warm?

Agent Largo: Please don’t make too much pun of it. Half-elves tend to get touchy when it comes to certain things.

Lilly Venom: La-yu-ka.. Law-ka.. Am I pronouncing it right?

Agent Largo: Do you want to pronounce it right?

Lilly Venom: I would, yes.

Agent Largo: Why bother?

Lilly Venom: Why bother with Ferra Ferrea?

Agent Largo: Touché.. and point taken, I suppose.

Lilly Venom: I shall call you by this name, from time to time, so we remember a warm summer song!

Agent Largo: That.. actually sounded poetic. Much better than I ever thought it would.

Lilly Venom: I think, I like it..

Agent Largo: Alright. Now we’ll need a witness or two..

Lilly Venom: I believe we have.. a witness or two..

Agent Largo: We do?

Lilly Venom: Yes, we do.. Don’t we, Aager?

Aager Fogstep: (sighs and comes out of the shadows) You really are an idiot, Lilly.. What possessed you to come here? This place is going to burn, and very soon.. and you came here?

Lilly Venom: Hello, Fogstep. Good to see you too.. Less than I wanted to, but here I am..

Aager Fogstep: This isn’t a game, Lilly. I have no authority over the sheriff, and certainly not over the mayor. I thought you were a survivor.

Lilly Venom: I am tired of just surviving, Aager. I have done it all my life. Took a page from your book and I have decided I want to ‘live’ now..

Aager Fogstep: And you came here.. For that.. Just how stupid are you?

Inshala Frostmane: (comes out from behind Aager) That is not nice, my Aager. I do not think Lilly is stupid. I think her to be extremely smart. Certainly smart enough to make all the correct choices, when we were back at Arashkan.

Lilly Venom: And, here is our inseparable second witness..

Inshala Frostmane: Hello, Ferra.

Lilly Venom: Hello, girl.. You have grown some. And you glow more..

Inshala Frostmane: (blush) I.. I do?

Lilly Venom: Yes. You were scared all the time, the last time I saw you. Now you look.. free!

Agent Largo: Don’t mind me. I’ll just lie down here and nurse the bump on my head.

Lilly Venom: (to Aager) Do you want to introduce yourself, or should I?

Aager Fogstep: (shrug)

Agent Largo: I know who he is. He is SIS —Serenity Intelligence Service; pseudo-named, Aager Fogstep. Single. Real name; unknown. Mother; unknown. Father; unknown. Siblings; rumored to have one, though his or her gender is unknown and presumed dead. He is also a former Drashan convict.. His ‘apparent’ job is being the right hand of Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. He was one among others to have brought down Themalsar. There are any number of murders attributed to him, though none of them have been proven, nor verified.. The girl, I do not know. None of the spies I sent could get any information about her, back when she, sir Aager here, and their diverse other companions first came to Arashkan and started asking questions about Gar Thalot.. We found out who all her friends were.. Just not her and the one other girl who slept on the roof of the inn they were staying. It’s like neither of them ever existed before. We couldn’t even put a name to them. Heck, we couldn’t even scry them! It was like.. they both were off limits!

Lilly Venom: I am inclined to be impressed, Agent Largo, though I don’t think Aager here qualifies as single and his sibling’s name is ‘me’.

Agent Largo: (confused) Me?

Lilly Venom: (silent smile)

Agent Largo: (somewhat horrified expression) YOU?

Lilly Venom: (sumgly) Yup!

Agent Largo: (stunned silence)

Lilly Venom: Yes, Agent Largo, he is my elder brother.. I am not at liberty to divulge who or what the other one is, but this cute little girl, here, is Inshala Frostmane. Aager’s girl, woman, mate.. I have thus failed to put a name to what they are, to one another. Nothing seems to sufficiently cover their relation.. In all candor, though, it is likely she is the best thing that’s happened to me in my life and I am happy to call her my sister.. Other than that, I am not aware if she has any other title.

Inshala Frostmane: (beam) I am here in my ‘Ritual Guardian’ capacity, dear Ferra..

Lilly Venom: I do not know what that means.

Agent Largo: I do, and it is an immense ‘capacity’.. I thought the good Master Cathber was killed in his sleep. I wasn’t aware he had any students in training.

Inshala Frostmane: (quietly) He had me. And I had him. He was my Father and my Master since I was a month old.

Agent Largo: I am sorry, young lady. I knew Master Cathber personally and deeply revered him. Now.. Master Aager, and Ritual Guardian, if you would be kind enough to put in a good word for Lady Lilly here, I would be grateful. I shall suffer my punishment, whatever it may be.

Lilly Venom: How very noble of you, Sir Agent Largo! I wasn’t aware I was getting a knight in shining armor when I asked for that dinner.

Agent Largo: I apologize, Lilly. But it comes as part of the package!

Inshala Frostmane: (beaming) I have no idea what you just said, but it sounded so sweet. And I didn’t know you were a knight, Sir Largo. I will ask them to release both you and my elder sister Ferra and also to kindly return your shiny armor.

Agent Largo: !

Lilly Venom: (snort)

Aager Fogstep: (snort)

✱ ✱ ✱

Sheriff Standorin: You seem to have left out quite a bit of your personal life, Master Aager. I thought you said your sister was dead.

Aager Fogstep: I thought she was dead, too. Her unexpected appearance in Arashkan did take me off guard.

Sheriff Standorin: I see no mention of this in your reports. Are we making private exemptions, then?

Aager Fogstep: (cooly) Yes and no, Sheriff. Some of the things that happened at Arashkan never got mentioned for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Suffice to say, putting them in writing would have been too damning for the people involved, which includes our esteemed Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane, and by proxy, Ranger Master Davien Hart. Master Nimbletyne Tinkerdome’s niece, Master Gnine, and by his proxy, back to his uncle. Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist and High Lady Anglenna Sunsear of High Woods and Bari Na-ammen, damning Ri Grandaleren Feymist and Rise Nadine Graciousward, again, by proxy.. Our Senior Temple Guardian Lady Magella, and by her proxy, Master Argail Smitefast and pretty much all her extended family at Scowling Hills, and the deceased Demos Lightshand. Then we have Udoorin Shieldheart, your son, who also happens to be the betrothal of Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, hence damning her again. And since he’s your son, that would be damning you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart of Serenity Home town, by a similar proxy. Last but not least, myself, and by my proxy, damning you again! The Ritual Guardian, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, here, and ‘The Celestial’ girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu, never got mentioned as neither of them are within our kingdoms’ jurisdictions.. The title of ‘Ritual Guardian’ is not bestowed by the king nor his vassals, but by the Ritual Forest itself and I shudder to even contemplate just who has any jurisdiction over Merisoul Xyrotwu, other than ‘The Great Heavens’.. What was put into writing, however, was done so from a distinctly ‘relevance’ point of view.

Sheriff Standorin: (amused) Nicely done, Master Aager. You have threatened damning everyone of note in this town and people of the highest status among our neighbors. Not to mention damning my own son, my future daughter in law and myself —twice, I might add..

Aager Fogstep: (coldly) You didn’t bring me here from Drashan to play ball, Sheriff. You brought me here to be the solution!

Agent Largo: (snicker) I did offer to take him off your hands years ago, Sheriff..

Sheriff Standorin: (ignores Agent Largo and glares at Aager) Just how damning are we talking about, here?

Aager Fogstep: (total silence)

Sheriff Standorin: (sigh and turns to Lilly Venom) Says here, in your form, you are a ‘Security Advisor’, Miss Ferra?

Lilly Venom: Ferra is my given name, Sheriff Standorin. And that would be ‘Mrs.’ Not, ‘Miss’..

Sheriff Standorin: (cocked eyebrow) I wasn’t aware the infamous Lilly Venom was married.

Lilly Venom: I would have been surprised if you were. It happened just last night!

Agent Largo: (cough)

Sheriff Standorin: You can’t be serious!

Agent Largo: I have been. For quite some time, now.

Lilly Venom: (smile)

Sheriff Standorin: What the hell do they put into the prison food?!

Agent Largo: I resent that.

Sheriff Standorin: (irritated) What am I expected to do now?

Agent Largo: (shrug) That’s up to you, Sheriff Standorin. This is my home, but it’s your town.

Sheriff Standorin: I suppose you will spill everything should I try to send you to the gallows, Mrs. Lilly?

Lilly Venom: (shrug) I am an Assassin —or a ‘Security Advisor’, if you will, Sheriff. I kill people for a living and I am very good at it. Whether I shall keep doing that is up to consideration at the moment, but I don’t do two things; lies and blackmail.

Agent Largo: I do.. And yes, the irony in that is sort of disturbing, but in this case, I shall uphold Lady Ferra’s wishes.. and honor..

Sheriff Standorin: (scowl) This is a mess, Master Aager. Please tell me the ‘solution’ in all this.

Aager Fogstep: (shrug) Hire Agent Largo as part of the Covert Ops team and let him do what he’s good at doing. Hire Lady Ferra, here, as a Security Advisor, as written in her form, and let her do what she’s good at doing. This town can’t stay a town any longer, Sheriff, even should we win the war. You know this to be true. We have tens of thousands of refugees of all races and The Ritual Guardian is doing everything she can to keep the weather ‘mild’ and the ground warm so they don’t freeze to death and so there’s is still some crops growing and hence, food available for the all those hungry mouths. It is also because of her and the druidic elves that survived High Woods we assigned to her that there haven’t been any breakouts.. All those refugees will, however, and eventually, require a roof over their heads, and said homes will require a much, much larger security team.. I am guessing Yuleman already knows this also. Everyone is working hard now and for a common cause because there are a hundred and fifty thousand Orken coming this way. But that’s all going to change, should we win the day and the threat of imminent death is gone. Especially should we win the day and the threat of imminent death is gone..

 

(silence for a long, smoldering moment)

 

Sheriff Standorin: (sigh) Very well, Master Aager. I shall take this up to Mayor Yuleman. In the meantime, Master Largo and Lady Lilly will stay in your residence, Master Aager. They may get out into your garden, but they shall not leave the premises. Agreed?

Agent Largo: Agreed.

Lilly Venom: I suppose so..

Agent Largo: I need some rest, anyway. Been running back and forth for weeks now.

Lilly Venom: (cooly) Not tonight, you aren’t!

Agent Largo: (stammer)

Sheriff Standorin: (sigh) Go get the Temple Guardian Thomas here to officialize and formalize their wedding, if you will Master Aager.

Aager Fogstep: (quietly) Yes, sir.. And.. Thank you, sir..

 

(after Agent Largo and Lilly Venom are escorted out)

 

Sheriff Standorin: Is she as good as they say she is?

Aager Fogstep: (slight frown) She killed me, once!

Sheriff Standorin:

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: That was one hell of a speech you gave back there. I am impressed. This place has done you good.

Aager Fogstep: The good sheriff might be a harsh man, but he isn’t unreasonable.

Lilly Venom: (after a moment of pause) Will you give me away, Brother? When your Temple Guardian comes to officiate our marriage?

Aager Fogstep: Bit late to be asking me that question, don’t you think?

Lilly Venom: (quietly) I am.. I am trying, Aager.. This is me, taking those steps..

Aager Fogstep: (silent stare)

Lilly Venom: (returning the silent stare)

Aager Fogstep: Where’s your.. Largo?

Lilly Venom: Outside. Behind the house, talking to his son.

Aager Fogstep: You are okay with him having a son? Not that it should matter and Dexter is a decent man. But the fact remains; both are quite older than you. Agent Largo in particular.

Lilly Venom: It isn’t like the age disparity is all that much, you know. Well, it is, but he’s a half-elf. By the time I am old and crooked, should I see those days, he will still be of mild age.. And to be honest, his age never bothered me, considering how much I dislike fools and loath men in general. I think, being forced to work in Madam’s brothel when I came to age, back in Drashan did that to me.. Do you even know, or have any idea what it feels like to be groped or fondled by a total, filthy stranger who is leering at you with unwanted desire when you are barely twelve?

Aager Fogstep: (in pure, silent wrath) No.

Lilly Venom: You are naked. In all kinds of ways. You are shivering. Not because it’s cold, but because you are so scared. You have no idea what you are expected to do and everyone and everything is looming over you and they are all so much bigger than you.. All you know is you are about to be used and it’s going to hurt and you are going to cry because you are just a small, skinny, powerless girl.. You are going to cry and it will not matter because it won’t change the fact that it’s still going to keep on hurting in places that you shouldn’t be hurting.. Not at that age.. All you have is a tiny knife that you are allowed to use if the man likes beating his girls.. I was so scared that I couldn’t even move.. He became angry.. I don’t know at which point I sliced him open! But when I woke up, I had a cracked head and a bloody face, and he was dead. That was my first kill.. Then I decided to do the same for the next half dozen or so men as well. I just stood there, unmoving, and I was scared all the time.. Eventually, though, it would anger the men and they would slam me around and I would slice them open! That is when they sold me off to the Cutters Guild.. (sigh) I don’t think I could have found someone my age that fit my tastes since I really, truly, and quite mindlessly loathed men.. All men.. Still do, really. Largo.. He has.. seen things.. Bad things.. And over the course of years longer than either of us seen put together.. It has made him mature.. And serious.. Yet he still clings to that lame sense of humor of his. It is pathetic, really.. But I find it.. endearing.. if you could believe that. Yes, I freely admit I like those qualities in him. I.. I don’t think he will grope me like those animals. I think he will treat me.. right.. and alright..

Aager Fogstep: So you love—

Lilly Venom: Aaaaaaa! La, La, La, La, La, La, La !!!

Aager Fogstep: (confused) What?

Lilly Venom: I don’t want to talk THAT with you! I don’t like you that much, yet! Or rather, I don’t know you that much yet.. Brother..

Aager Fogstep: Fair enough.

Lilly Venom: (sigh) I don’t think we will ever be like the way you and Inshala are.

Aager Fogstep: What way would that be?

Lilly Venom: Wierd?

Aager Fogstep: (snort) Huh!

Lilly Venom: To be honest, I wouldn’t want to, either.. Too much effort, too much work, too much pain.. and too many emotions for my taste. I just want honesty, care, and reliance —both ways.. But I also want a certain amount of privacy reserved for ourselves too..

Aager Fogstep: Also, fair enough. I am happy for you.

Lilly Venom: You.. you are?

Aager Fogstep: (shrug) Yes.

Lilly Venom: This conversation went.. better than I expected!

Aager Fogstep: Just what kind of a beast do you think I am, Lilly, to mess up your happiest day?

Lilly Venom: (carefully suspicious) I am sorry. Hard to change everything, all at once.

Aager Fogstep: (straight face) Besides. You are TOTALLY his problem now!

Lilly Venom: (scowl) I knew it!

Aager Fosgstep: But I would rather you took your man and left. Gone.. Far away..

Lilly Venom: Why don’t you?

Aager Fogstep: (quietly, and after a pause) I can’t.

Lilly Venom: Why?

Aager Fogstep: (silent moment) This.. is my home now. And my Inshala’s forest.. I won’t give up my home, she won’t give up her forest..

Lilly Venom: Largo will not go. They destroyed his home. He does not show it, probably for my sake, but it’s tearing him apart. I strongly suspect he wants to die in as bloody a way as possible in the coming war.

Aager Fogstep: Why marry him then?

Lilly Venom: Because I.. want him.. per se.. And to give him another reason not to do what he foolishly wants to do.. Besides, we will likely go into the battle together. I’ll just have to watch his back..

Aager Fogstep: You are going into a battle.. because of an idiot?

Lilly Venom: No, brother. I am going to war because I want to preserve what’s mine.. And to earn my own ‘home’..

Aager Fogstep: You are an idiot too, then!

Lilly Venom: Perhaps.. Wonder what that makes you?

Aager Fogstep: The elder brother of an idiot!

Lilly Venom: (scowl)

Aager Fogstep: (snort)

Lilly Venom: Where’s your pretty girl? Where’s Inshala?

Aager Fogstep: She’s up the tree in the garden, trying to convince it to bloom.

Lilly Venom: Do I even want to know why?

Aager Fogstep: The tree is supposed to have very pretty pink flowers. She wants you to share them with your Largo.

Lilly Venom: (stunned) What? I am..

Aager Fogstep: Speechless?

Lilly Venom: Well, yes!

Aager Fogstep: She loves you.

Lilly Venom: I am flattered but how can she love me? Considering how little she knows me, and how horribly I treated her back in Arashkan.

Aager Fogstep: She has a great heart. And it seems she has a distinct affinity to seeing the depths of the souls in people. I can’t imagine what, but it appears she has found something she finds lovable in you.

Lilly Venom: You are not as funny as you think you are.

Aager Fogstep: I am funny?

Lilly Venom: What will you do? We.. seem to have barged into your home.

Aager Fogstep: (shrug) Sisters’ prerogative, I suppose.

Lilly Venom: (scowl)

Aager Fogstep: It’s alright, really. We will take our rest in the temple dormitories, or more likely next to some campfire —it’s a bit too crowded in the temple for my taste. We still have a lot of work until the day’s end, though. Inshala has to coordinate and make sure the ground stays warm and the weather mild for the refugees and I have two teams I need to continue training. One in the afternoon, which I should be heading soon, and the other at night and will take all night. ‘Infiltration, Blind Fighting, and Ambush!’

Lilly Venom: Oww.. Ambush! I could help you with that.

Aager Fogstep: No.

Lilly Venom: Why not?

Aager Fogstep: This one is an advanced group of former Bari Na-ammen vets and rangers, hence we will be using live weapons and I don’t want you bleeding back to your.. husband.. Besides, you should make good use of your time.. Nights in particular—

Lilly Venom: La, La, La, La, La, La, La —I am not listening to you..

Aager Fogstep: (snort) See you tomorrow morning, then.

Lilly Venom: (quietly) Aager?

Aager Fogstep: Hmm?

Lilly Venom: Thank you.

Aager Fogstep: Thank me when this is over and the ones we love are still alive.

Lilly Venom: (hug)

Aager Fogstep: (strained voice) You.. aren’t going to try and stab me are you?

Lilly Venom: I just might..

Aager Fogstep: Care for a slice of advice?

Lilly Venom: From you? No.. But say it anyway. I might listen.

Aager Fogstep: Lose some, to win some.

Lilly Venom: What the hell kind of an advice is that?

Aager Fogstep: The kind I gave to myself, though mine was, lose all, to win all! You are a smart girl. I know because my Inshala said so! I am sure it’ll come to you in time. Now, go on to your hubby, baby sister!

Lilly Venom:

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: Are you done?

Agent Largo: Almost.

D.D. Dexter: I still can’t believe this.

Agent Largo: I am sorry Dex. After what happened to your mother, I wasn’t going to trust anyone from ARIS where you were concerned. This town was the safest place I could think of and still give you a happy life. You know what is coming. You know the score.. I was ARIS and I had to do something for Arashkan without a constant threat on your life.. I can’t even tell you how many of my friends, my co-workers, and their families were assassinated in the past thirty years.

D.D. Dexter: I know the reasons, father. It’s just..

Lilly Venom: (briskly) Give it time. You’ll get used to it.

D.D. Dexter: You are.. intense.. If you don’t mind me saying so, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Just ‘Lilly’ will do.. Considering all the effort I gave to make your father quit calling me that. As for intense.. Guess Agent Largo here will find out soon enough.

Agent Largo: (fluster, flush and blush) Lilly.. Please.. This is my son, for Heaven’s sake!

Lilly Venom: (heartless laugh) And he isn’t nine, Agent Largo. He’s older than I am!

D.D. Dexter: (cough)

Agent Largo: (blush some more)

Lilly Venom: Are you ashamed of me, Largo, that you keep blushing?

Agent Largo: No. Never that. It’s just.. a bit of an uncomfortable topic, that’s all..

Lilly Venom: There you have it, Dexter. He loves you enough to be embarrassed in front of you. Which is the only time I have seen him actually blush like this. You, Dexter, must understand; he did what he did to you, knowingly and deliberately because he had to. And now he has decided to share a life with me, knowingly and deliberately. Your father is a smart man, Dexter. I don’t think he would have been fooled by my approaches, because I am not really a ‘girly’ girl.. He accepted me because he wanted me. Considering just how loyal he has been to your mother’s memory for the past twenty years, I would say he deserves a break, wouldn’t you? Take that into account before you dish out judgments. We just came from Hell itself. There is no name for the blood and carnage we saw in Arashkan. We didn’t watch it from a distance, Dexter.. We were there.. On the ground, fighting, bleeding, and saving lives.. At least your father was.. All I did was to try and stay alive, and watched his back.. Your father needs respite and I hope he finds it with me. Will you not allow him to have that much before we go back into that Hell? Because whether we want it or not, Hell is coming our way as we speak!

D.D. Dexter: (stare with open mouth)

Lilly Venom: Now. If you would please, I would like to have a few, private moments with Agent Largo..

D.D. Dexter: Of course. I will see you later today, or perhaps in the evening when my duties are over.. (pause) On the other hand, tomorrow will be a better time.

Lilly Venom: Tomorrow will be fine. Thank you for being considerate.

D.D. Dexter: (mumble) Not like I was given much of a choice.

Lilly Venom: Best kind of choice offered. Which makes sense, since this really isn’t anything you should be making a choice over, should you think about it with an open mind. The only thing that concerns you is whether you will honor the choices your father had to make to keep you safe and alive and wish him some happiness and that he finds it with me.. or sulk about it.

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: I am sorry if I was a bit abrupt with your boy.

Agent Largo: I won’t complain. Had you not said the things you said, when I was still out, I don’t think we would have made any headway today.

Lilly Venom: I just didn’t give him the time to do or say things you both would have regretted, by making myself the target of his possible ire.

Agent Largo: You didn’t have to do that, Lilly.

Lilly Venom: But I did it anyway. I saw enough sad and stupid in my life, Largo. And I am tired of it. We can either carry that particular baggage into our lives or keep it out. This.. this is something I learned.. or rather, ‘was shown’, really, by my bother, Aager, and his skinny little woman.. But he.. they proved to me it could be done and I want to give it a shot. I will sweat for it, bleed for it, war for it, but want you to be there for it..

Agent Largo: (smile) We are back to ‘shots’? Where is the boy, Prince Korodin, by the way?

Lilly Venom: He is with Inshala.

Agent Largo: I don’t really know Lady Inshala. Can she be trusted?

Lilly Venom: More than either of us. She will ‘care’ for him like no other.. Now, quit dodging. Will you go for it?

Agent Largo: I am here, aren’t I?

 

(pale pink flowers start to fall all around them..)

 

Agent Largo: (surprised) What’s this? Cherry blooms in the middle of winter?

Lilly Venom: (looks up at the thousands of pink, cherry blooms flaking down with a glowing face and shimmering eyes, and whispers)

Inshala, baby girl.. Thank you..

✱ ✱ ✱

It is the first few days of December and evening has settled over a white Serenity Home. It is quiet and kind tonight and a barely discernable warm wind seems to blow from Gull’s Perch as if Mab and Titania have come to a rare understanding. There is a great, awe-inspiring, beautiful cherry tree in bloom in a garden in this town and there is a small ‘home’ next to this tree.

A home where people ‘belong’..

In this home, there is a young woman with a boldly handsome face and she shivers even though there is a cheery fire crackling in the small grate. Carefully, she takes off her long, brown leather trench coat, revealing an exquisitely made dress; a pale green loose blouse, a very dark royal green tight bodice with many laces complimenting her narrow hips, her slim waist, her slightly gaunt belly, and her pleasant-looking breasts, hiding in her blouse. A long skirt of the same color embroidered with delicate, silver threads and slits on either side flow down her hips to her bare feet, carefully displaying parts of her slender, naked legs..

The young woman shivers again, her hands in tight fists by her hips, and has trouble looking up at the maturely handsome blonde man standing a bare foot in front of her. The man has a slight frown on his face as if trying to discern a last-minute vex, for the small, single-room home is thread-bare to be sure, but it is warm.

The young, boldly handsome woman, however, is as if knot, and her lovely dark eyes seem to be staring only at his hands.

 

Lilly Venom: Will you have me now?

Agent Largo: Lilly? What’s wrong—

Lilly Venom: If you are, I would like you to take my daggers, all my knives, my darts, and my shark teeth away from me.

Agent Largo: Why? If you won’t mind me asking—

Lilly Venom: (looks up at her husband’s face, then at his hands again and whispers in trepidation)

I am scared.

And I do not want to kill you..


 
Epilogue

 

The boldly handsome young woman is as if staring down at her own bare feet as she speaks in a low, hoarse, throaty, and barely audible voice, her face burning with defiant rage and with a kind of a lost shame. She fidgets as she speaks but her eyes are in fact affixed on the blond man’s hands as if expecting them to move for an assault at any time.

 

Lilly Venom: You are the first man I have liked. And been this close to. And that almost includes my brother. I have loathed men all my life and killed many because they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. If this is an issue for you, I will try to understand, even should you want to leave.

Agent Largo: (stares at the girl, silently)

Lilly Venom: It isn’t like I am the only girl around.

Agent Largo: (continues to stares at the girl silently)

Lilly Venom: I can’t claim I am much of a catch, either.

Agent Largo: (still silent)

Lilly Venom: You are a handsome man, after all. I have seen any number of girls looking in your direction on the ship while we were sailing here..

Agent Largo: (persistently silent)

Lilly Venom: And yes, I am aware I should have said something about this before. But in my defense, it isn’t something I wanted myself to remember, let alone admit to someone else. It is not exactly table conversation; hey, I loath men, and I tend to slice them open when they come too near!

Agent Largo: (absolute silence)

Lilly Venom: I would rather you said something.. or left..

Agent Largo: (finally speaks, in a dry, gravelly voice) I don’t really know what I should say and still stay safely unbleeding..

Lilly Venom: (scowls while still looking down)

Agent Largo: That you think so little of yourself, and by doing so, you think so little of me, since choosing one another was consensual and you are basically accusing me of having bad taste! That you would notice the girls staring at me, but not notice the constant scowl I had for all the young men ogling at you on that same ship, and why I never returned the wonts of any of those girls but stayed as close to you as I could, while trying very hard not to crowd you. That you think I would leave because you have some issues, serious as they may be. And last but not least, that you would want me to strip you of your weapons, yet never asked me to remove mine..

Lilly Venom: (stares at the man)

Agent Largo: No one is ‘just right’, Lilly. We all have our issues. I will not belittle yours. But at least it is a relatively tangible problem that has its own solutions. I carry the guilt of Arashkan, dear Lilly. The blood of thousands are on my hands because of my failures and there is neither a cure and nor any redeeming salvation for that.

Lilly Venom: You can’t blame yourself because of what happened there. Everyone was at fault for that failure. Everyone ‘failed’.

Agent Largo: True. But I am the only one left alive to have to live with it. The dead feel no guilt!.. But that’s another, and certainly not a ‘tonight’ matter, for you have worked hard to give me some respite and I shall not let that go to waste.

Lilly Venom: Very well. I shall do more, if I must, to carry that guilt with you, only if I can’t wash it off you. What.. solution do you offer?

 

Agent Largo slowly takes off his coat, folds it neatly, and puts it aside. Then, even more slowly, he reaches for the girl and smoothly strips one of her daggers from her.. and cooly tosses it aside and out of reach.

 

Agent Largo: There. Your turn!

 

The boldly handsome girl ogles at the man for a frightened, breath-held moment, then, and inadvertently, she smiles, for suddenly she knows this is a game. A game she is certain to win.. She does a quick, mental inventory: the other pair of the long, close-quarter combat dagger, sixteen short-range throwing knives, half a dozen shark teeth, any number of garrotes, and two dozen poison darts!

 

Lilly Venom: (smirks) You will run out of ‘steel’ before I do!

Agent Largo: (smirks back) And what are you willing to bet on that?

A red glare appears over the Gull’s Perch to the east, and very slowly, the sun starts to rise and Serenity Home stirs with a lazy and reluctant yawn.

The night, however, hasn’t all gone to waste;

Lilly Venom loses some and wins some..

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups komedi modül serenity Whispers; A Cabal

Unintentional Adaptation.

Unintentional Adaptation.

Timeline:

 

Place; Serenity Home

Time; Mid-January

Aager Fogstep and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane have left Durkahan city and returned to Serenity Home where each has their own harsh responsibilities waiting for them.

 

 

The events in this story take place after
Promise To Be Stupid Together,
and
The End of Sunsears

 

 

46 Days After The Fall Of Arashkan.

 

The lithe figure in long, brown, leather trenchcoat skulked near the wall, taking advantage of the shadows and the bush, happily growing in the garden of the house. She had her target insight, perched and hidden amongst the branches of a brittle, snow-covered tree, and she had no intentions of letting it get away this time. She dearly hoped the other two were in place. Then her thin lips pressed together and she growled in her low, throaty voice. “They had better be. Or there is going to be murder!”

Carefully, and with exaggerated motions, she took another step forward.

Her target didn’t seem to notice and was looking, not quite in the other direction, but she knew she wasn’t in her target’s peripheral vision either. A drop of sweat trickled down her brow and itched its way down the side of her boldly drawn nose, around the curve of her tightly pressed lips, and disappeared around and under her somewhat angular chin. The lithe girl did not flinch, nor moved to wipe it off. She’d done that once, before, and that was why her query had gotten away.

“Not this time. Not this time.”, she hissed. “This time, you are going down!”

 

Not far, another figure was ghosting. This one in dark, sinister-looking leathers. He wore a low hood and a mask, made from the same material, covering the bottom half of his otherwise slightly pale face. A short, dirty-black, and tattered cloak hung from his back, all the way down to his hips and just a bit more, hiding the daggers attached to his leather belt, and his short, but deadly swords strapped across his back. He was a stab above average in height and had shoulders an edge under broad. He was neither skinny nor gaunt, but lean, though he gave the slight impression that perhaps he’d suffered from malnutrition in his youth, and now, his form refused to take any access body fat. There was a cold, wintery air about him as he moved even closer to the lithe girl in her long, brown, leather trenchcoat.

 

“What are you doing, girl?”, he growled quietly.

And yes.

His voice actually did sound like a growl.

“You are not supposed to be here. I distinctly remember warning you not to bring your murder into my town. Was I not clear? Must I kill you to remind you of that?”

 

The lithe figure took another oozing step.

And her target prickled and looked directly in her direction!

The girl in the long, brown trenchcoat froze..

Her target’s eyes scanned and raked the area in her direction without mercy, but the lithe figure was good and her target couldn’t see her.

“Yes. Turn around and look the other way now. Come on. You know you must.”, she murmured to herself.

As if her words were some kind of prophecy or perhaps some mental geas, her target slowly turned around and started scouring in the other way —the opposite direction.

“Right.”, whispered the lithe figure triumphantly. “Now or never.”

 

The man in the dark, sinister-looking leathers also froze, for he saw someone else who had just come into play. Another lithe figure. This one had a long-sleeved, white, silk shirt, of all colors, open at her slender throat, a dark, gold-trimmed, tight bodice that fit her like a glove and complimented her hips, her waist, and her cup-sized breasts, a pair of black, belly dancers low-cut, loose trousers, and soft healed boots reaching up to her knees. Unlike the first, this girl did not skulk, but moved like.. water! The lean man in dark leathers had never seen anyone move with such natural grace, and that was a word he used to describe the lithe figure’s flowing motion which was exactly what she had done. She hadn’t moved silently, she had flowed from one spot to another! Her whole body language bespoke of elasticity, suppleness, and fluidity.. and precision! The man in the dark, sinister-looking leathers didn’t know who she was but guessed at what she might be, for she also had antler-like horns, and she was upon the girl in the long, brown trenchcoat before she knew it!

Aager Fogstep heard a very soft, bold voice.

“You are dead, love.”

“What the hell?”, he exclaimed as Lilly Venom slumped down and on her knees, screeching as she pummeled the dirt..

..and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostman Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep jumped down from her perch on the tree as she punched the air with a small fist, a happy grin on her face, as she gloried a victorious, “YESSHHH! I THINK WE WON AGAIN!”

“NO DAMIT! NO. BLOODY EF’ING NO! I ALMOST HAD IT! I ALMOST HAD HER! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF! EF!”, screamed Lilly Venom!

“Now now, dear girl.”, said the one with the antlers, also grinning. “There are children around that might overhear you. I believe that word is considered bad among mortals, though the reason escapes me. After all, there are children around because of the deed that word implies and entails!”

“HOW, DAMIT! HOW DID YOU EVEN..!”, Lilly screamed at her. “I ALMOST HAD HER THIS TIME!”

“I am sorry, dear girl, but you never had her. This round, she played the possum, per se. Or bait, if you will.”

“WHERE ARE MY TEAMMATES, DAMIT? THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE COVERED ME!”

“Totally owned ’em!”, came a soft, merry voice.

“Uhhmm.. I am sorry Lilly..”, said a very embarrassed Agent Largo, followed closely by his son, D.D. Dexter Summersong who also bore a similarly embarrassed and flushed expression, guarded by a very pleased-looking Bremorel Songsteel, miming holding a sword in her hand. “The two ladies here jumped us before we could even get into place..”

“Totally what dad said. I mean, I even went as far as warding our location, but the Ranger Leuitenant Bremorel had downed my father already, and Lady Mirima Temez, here, came at me from above! I was like, ‘Isn’t that against the rules?’, but she just smiled at me and said, ‘Darling, there are no rules in love, and certainly not in war..’, so I.. gracefully gave in.”, Dexter mumbled in a dejected tone.

“Darling, you gave in because you lost. But I will not otherwise gainsay you. You were quite graceful about it.”, smiled Perigren Ostlanna Temez.

Inshala came running at them with an elated expression etched all over her face and she was jumping and skipping all the while.

“Whoop! We won! So you three are cooking tonight?”, she said happily, all the while beaming at Temez and Bremorel.

 

Lilly Venom scowled furiously at her.

Lilly Venom scowled even more furiously at Agent Largo.

Lilly Venom scowled and almost incinerated D.D. Dexter!

 

Then Inshala spotted Aager and beamed at him as well, and started waving in his direction!

Lilly Venom noticed her brother too..

“Well, crap! Now he saw it as well!”, she spat, her face darkened and her scowl deepened.

Then with a poisonous glare, she turned to her husband and her son-in-law.

“YOU.. BOTH OF YOU..”, she snarled pointing at the two who squirmed like two schoolboys caught in the act. “..TOTALLY SUCK!”

Then with a destitute flare, she turned around and stormed off towards Serenity Home Temple..

..to do that evening’s cooking.

Perigren Ostlanna Temez and Bremorel Songsteel ran after her, while the extraordinarily beautiful Temez tried her best to comfort the very much irritated Lilly Venom, the ranger lieutenant only laughed harder as Inshala almost threw herself at Aager.

The two hugged and drifted off towards their own home.

 

“Well..”, Agent Largo said when he was alone with his son.

“Yup!”, D.D. Dexter said.

“..that went well.”, his father finished.

“Yea..”, agreed, Dexter. “..we suck!”

Largo grunted.

“Yes. Yes, we do.. Six times in a row, though? I mean, from three young and pretty girls, you’d think they’d show us some mercy and let us win once! You know, just so we’d save face..”

“Yea..”, said Dexter. “..could have been worse, I suppose. Your young wife does seem to have admirable temper.”

“That she has. But she curbs it most of the time, which in itself is the truly admirable part. It’s just, she doesn’t like losing.”

“Who does? But I wouldn’t really call losing to a Ranger Lieutenant, the Ritual Guardian, and the head of Escape, a loss, father.”

“There’s that. But like I said. Lilly doesn’t like losing, and she doesn’t really like cooking either. Lucky for us, I don’t mind cooking at all. I have been doing my own cooking since I lost your mother. Lilly.. she really is trying to learn, you know, if only for my sake, and cooking for the refugees is good for her, but after seeing her slice a loaf of bread, I got scared and told her I totally wouldn’t mind doing the cooking at home.. at all!“, Largo said.

“Why?”, asked Dexter.

“She cut the bread like she was slicing open a man’s throat. It was the creepiest thing I have ever seen! I mean, you should have seen her face, then. She had this strange, dreamy expression no woman should have while slicing bread!”

Dexter laughed.

Then, as if remembering something else, he laughed again.

“What?”, asked his father.

“Just remembered something; I can actually go home and sleep merrily after we are done cooking at the temple.”

“Yes, so?”, asked his father.

“A night with a very pissed-off Lilly should be interesting for you, though!”, Dexter laughed again.

“That was not nice, Dex.”, mumbled Agent Largo.

✱ ✱ ✱

I see you are having fun.”, smiled Aager Fogstep, though only the little girl in his arm knew it.

“YEZZ!”, smirked Inshala viciously, reminding the man next to her, a bit like her old self. From the time they had first met. There was, however, a gaping difference between the two;

This Inshala was not hiding her horns under layers of hair, conically braided around them, she wasn’t the hissing surly girl anymore, but had a distinct skip to her pace, and she was..

..smiling.

 

He laughed..

..and woke up to another difference;

He, Aager Fogstep, was not the same man the girl had first met, either. Because he had a lighter step to his gait that had appeared the moment the little girl had ran up to him and threw herself at him for a hug, and..

..he too was smiling.

 

“Well, now..”, he said.

“Well now.”, she agreed happily.

 

He laughed again and held her closer and tighter, and the girl literally purred.

“I take it you were playing some game?”, he asked.

“I think so. I had fun. Lilly was telling us just how boring it was teaching noobs how to sneak and ambush, and that her trainees were a bunch of klutzes, though I have no idea what a ‘noob’ is.. nor a ‘klutz’.. She said there was no challenge here at all, so I asked her what would be a challenge for her, and she said she hadn’t gone up against any pros since Endless Watch. I totally agreed with her, since I now know what ‘pros’ is! It’s so nice to know social things.”, she said with another skip. “Then I offered her perhaps we could play a game and she could try and catch me. But she suddenly went cold and her face did this red thing and said to me, I am never going to hurt you again. And I was very sorry for reminding her about the arena thing and hugged her and apologized to her, and she was like, ‘Why are you apologizing me, girl? If anyone is to apologize, it’s me.’ But I told her that, she didn’t know me then and she didn’t know you were her brother and so there wasn’t anything for her to apologize. I think that broke her mind a little because she just stared at me and seemed like she was about to cry. Well, I wasn’t going to have any of that, so I quickly said, ‘It’s only catching.’ And that if she could, she won, if I caught her first, though, I would win. That got her attention, I think. Lilly loves winning. Then she said, ‘How about we bring in others. That way, we can also improve our teamwork skills.’ I had no idea there was a skill called Tea Murk but learning new things is nice so I agreed and she called her new hubby, Sir Agent Largo, though I don’t think that’s his real name because every time I say it, he does this funny face like he wants to cry, but it makes Lilly happy, so I keep saying it. Then she also called Sir Agent Largo’s son, De De Dexter, and told them about what we wanted to do. But De De Dexter said it wasn’t fair that the three of them should go up against one little girl and that I should also go and bring two others. So I went to the town temple and found Laila’s cousin, Bremorel, there, because, you know, she’s my friend, and asked if she would like to play with us. She asked me who was on the other team. When I told her, she said, ‘Your Aager’s sister? Nice. I am in..’. Then she called for Perigren Ostlanna Temez, one of Merisoul’s sisters, and told her about what we wanted to play, and asked her if she would like to join. She said, ‘Sure, sounds fun. But we must return before midnight because she and all her other brothers and sisters had to go down and pray for their Demos Lightshand. She was very pretty and always smiling so I didn’t get too scared of her and she has antlers which I thought were awesome, so I told her I didn’t think it would take that long and that I had to go home to my Aager before midnight anyway. So we started playing. Lilly plays very well. Hides very well too. And she is very patient. I don’t think I can be as patient as her and I am a patient girl. Sir Agent Largo is very smart. He almost caught me once because he had changed coats with Lilly and De De Dexter was I think using magic to hide them. But I don’t think any of them use their noses. They use their minds, their eyes, their hands, their ears, but never their noses. I smelled Sir Agent Largo and got away before I fell into their trap. So we started making traps too. In this last one, Perigren Ostlanna Temez told me to be bait, which I think is just another for ‘wait’, while she and Bremorel hunted them down because she thought Lilly had some sad feelings about coming after me and that distracted her, and that De De Dexter was an unmarried boy who would want to be polite against three, very pretty girls so he would lack courage. Only Sir Agent Largo would be the real problem, so they would first get him, then De De Dexter, while Lilly would end up waiting for them and wouldn’t be able to do anything, and they would get her last.”, Inshala said with a ‘phew, I talked too much!’, blush.

 

Aager was laughed, once more, but was astounded by the level of sophistication in the way her mind worked when it came to ‘hunting’. The Temez girl displayed a similar trait, but hers was based on gender psychology. She had used each and every single one of their opponent’s most innate and base weaknesses against them. That was.. a dangerous area to exploit.

Then it occurred to him. Of course! She was a succubi half-born. Using such tactics was their ‘thing’. That’s how they ‘got’ to their enemies and that’s how they brought them down on their knees. While a mortal would think such methods quite unorthodox, vile, even, it was their natural element. Much like you just didn’t blame a snake or a scorpion for using their poison, you just couldn’t blame Temez and her kind for using their flavor of skills.

 

“You liked it here, then? This town?”, Aager asked tentatively. It was something he’d been meaning to ask her, but had thought perhaps she hadn’t seen or known the town long enough. And it had been quite hectic since their arrival. He had been forced to his sheriff’s-right-hand duty, raised exponentially since the arrival of the thousands of refugees, not to mention the three groups of specialized trainees; morning, afternoon, and midnight.. Inshala had taken over her duties quite immediately as the Ritual Guardian and worked day and night to warm the earth, and the weather, so as to avoid further deaths among the miserable refugees. Both Aager and Inshala would end up, for the few moments to walk, arm-in-arm to his single-room house and just slump down onto the hard mattress, cuddle, and pass out —quite literally.

The only consolidation he felt he had in all this was the fact that the little girl was extraordinarily warm to hold in his arms. Deep down, he didn’t think it was merely her body heat, but something else.. It was like she radiated a kind of warmth totally unrelated, and had nothing to do with her skinny figure, but everything to do with her heart.

And he’d always wake up when he felt a soft, deliberate breathing into his face..

Inshala, it appeared, had her own way of waking him up. She never poked him. Never called his name. And never squirmed in his arms. Very carefully, and patiently, she’d turn around to face him.. and quietly watch him sleep —interestingly, not very unlike cats sometimes did to their owners!

And when Aager came around and opened his eyes, she would smile. A flushed, accomplished smile. It was like;

‘This weary and tired man has slept soundly and peacefully.. I did that!’

Aager recalled, how she had been so very shy and had very nearly panicked, that first night of their wedding, back at Durkahan. She’s just yelped, and hid in a corner, behind the wardrobe when they had finally entered Aager’s cave/den/lair of a room after the festivities were finally done.

Against all Aager’s thoughts, Inshala hadn’t turned herself into a little ball because she feared him, but she was just so over-excited and didn’t know what to do or what was going to happen next, she’s just shut herself down!

Aager had sat before her, in the darkroom, and silently waited for her to raise her head. He hadn’t tried to soothe her, nor comfort her, for Inshala didn’t need comforting, then. What she needed was to brave up to the ‘unknown’, and Aager had refused to take that away from her..

..until he noticed she’d fallen asleep, curled in the corner between the wardrobe and wall.

Aager had just picked her up, carried her over to the single bed next to his, and lay her there, pulled off the blanket from his own bed, and covered her with it. Then, as he’d done so many other times, he’d grabbed the spare from the wardrobe and, just before he’d slumped into his own bed, he had whispered in her direction;

“I am yours now. We may sleep together whenever you wish, my Inshala.”

 

He’d woken up the next morning with Inshala cuddled in his arms, silently breathing into his face with the best smile he had ever seen on anything alive..

..wearing one of her pretty little nightgowns, much like the ones she’d worn before.

It had been a wonderful experience for Aager. More so, when he’d found out something he never knew about himself; he’d liked to cuddle!

And now, they could do it as often as they wanted.

It was rare for Aager to be eager for anything. As a matter of fact, he’d never been eager to do anything in his life. True, whatever he did, he did them with surgical accuracy and pragmatic efficiency, always seeing things through.

Just not eagerly..

 

“It’s nice, here, yes. I.. I was very scared when you said we would come here and asked me what I would think about settling here. I am sorry I am scared of humans all the time. They.. weren’t very nice to me when I was a little girl. I feel shame when I admit to my fears because it makes me seem like a crybaby. I don’t always cry. I just don’t know when I am allowed to and when I shouldn’t because no one ever told me. My Father let me laugh and cry whenever I wanted. And now I am here, in this town, and there are so many humans here.. Some of them seem to be nice. Your sheriff, Udoorin’s father, is nice, though I feel a bit shy when he is around even though he is always very polite to me. Your mayor, Artanboss—”

“—Arthandos, love..”, Aager said with a smile.

“Yes, him.. He is nice. I met his daughters, and they really wanted to make me more dresses. I told them I’d loved the one they made for me, the one I wore on our way to Arashkan. But only if they would let me give something in return. They said they would not accept gold from the Ritual Guardian, so I showed them the soap blocks and the rose oil I’d made and they loved them but told me the rose oil was too pure and that they would have to make at least seven dresses for it. We argued and finally settled on four. Then I heard our Bremorel was here and that she and this Thomas boy had married. I was so happy, so I went to visit her. She was very surprised to see me and hugged me. She wanted to sit and talk but said the temple was a bit too crowded so we didn’t go in there then. Instead, she took me to this place called bakery where they make these awesome breads and cookies and things called doughnuts, cakes, pies, and many other things that I forgot their names, and they let you have things to drink called melonades and berry juice and honeydew. I think she knows everyone in this town. Or perhaps everyone knows her, I am not sure, but she waved at this young boy working in the bakery whose name is Dervel. Did you know he is the childhood friend of our Udoorin and is married to this very small and young wood elf girl? Bremorel said he, Udoorin and this other boy once made fun of our Laila for having pointy elf ears and the two of them had a fight with the three of them over it and now Udoorin is going to marry our Lorna who also has elf ears and this Dervel married a wood elf girl who has even pointier elf ears! Well. I didn’t think any of that was funny, since I also have elf-like ears, just much smaller but Bremorel was laughing about it all, though they all seem to be friends now, accept the third boy who went missing some months ago and was never heard of again. Bremorel ordered some of everything and a big jar of melonade, and we walked over to someone’s garden and she just barged into the house and came back with a blanket and some plates and some cups. She lay the blanket in the garden and told me to sit and eat. I was a bit frightened because I didn’t know whose garden we were in and humans were always angry with me when I came near their gardens when I was little. Then this man poked his head out of the window of the house and I was almost about to run away when he waved at us and said, ‘Hey, Morel. Having an outing, are you? And right in front of my open window where I can smell all those wonderful pastries. You are a cruel girl, you are.” I just sat there, frighted like a rabbit, but Bremorel just laughed and told him to come over and that there was more than enough, and the man did come over and sat with us. He.. he smiled at me and said, “Who is your pretty friend?..” I was so scared and he was just smiling at me and calling me ‘pretty!’.. “Uncle Darien, this is one of my dearest friends, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, the new Ritual Guardian who is also the daughter of the late Master Cathber. She was with us when we fought and brought down Themalsar. She is as awesome and wise as she is pretty.”, and I was now blushing so much, I had to drink half of my melonade to cool down. Then we ate all the wonderful cakes and cookies and doughnuts and the other things I can’t remember the names of. While we ate, we also talked. Uncle Darien is a nice man, and I learned he is Laila’s father! Bremorel seems to have changed. She was always angry before. And arguing. Now.. she is.. shining? She is smiling a lot. And laughing a lot. Then we said goodbye to Uncle Darien and he told me I could come and visit him any time I wanted to. Bremorel showed me the town and she met me many other people before she left to train her new rangers. Did you know there is an orc here who works at your iron shop? When he saw me, he slowly came and dropped on his knees and said, “Ritual Guardian. Many years ago, I was wild and with my marauding band, we attacked villages for their food and their gold. When the rangers came after us, they hit us hard and they killed my band. Your father, Master Cathber found me, days later, wounded and dying. He chose to save me instead of ending me. He tended to my wounds and brought me here to work hard to atone for my sins. Thus I have. I was bound to your father. And now, I am bound to you.” Later, I met more people, and today I met the half-born and we played a game of catch.. Of all the people I met, from this village and amongst the refugees, elf, human, or half-born, I learned that ‘nice’ is a choice. Some chose to be and some do not, and that my fear was misplaced. What I feared were people. What I should have feared was, ‘bad choices’..”

 

Inshala fell silent after that, a bit breathless.

 

Arm in arm, the two walked in silent harmony for a while. Aager sensed his young wife wanted to say more but whatever it was, she was clearing feeling very shy about it and was trying to brave herself up.

He opted to give her the chance.

 

“I..”, said Inshala a bit hesitantly. “..want to show you something tonight.”

“Ow?”, said Aager.

“I saw some little girls do it and I thought it looked awesome. So I was brave and went and asked them what they were doing. They were a bit scared of me too, I think. But after we talked a bit, none of us was afraid anymore. I let them touch my horns and they all laugh with delight and asked me if I had any more and begged if they could borrow them to show off to their other friends. I told them I was sorry and that I only had these. Then we talked some more and they told me what they were doing. I tried it too and asked them if I was doing it right? They corrected me and I tried some more until I think I learned it correctly now. I asked them if they would mind I showed it to my hubby, and they were like, ‘You have a hubby?’, and I was like, ‘Yes, I have a hubby because he decided to be my hubby and asked me if I would want him to be my hubby, so I told them I didn’t know what hubby was but that it sounded awesome, and if it made him near me and made me near him, then I wanted him to be my hubby!'”

 

Aager chuckled.

 

“What did they learn you?”, he asked.

“Not here.”, Inshala said blushing brightly. “I.. liked it.. very much.. and want to do it while you watch..”

“Alright.”, he said.. and without noticing, he had picked up his pace.

Stop this, video and start the next one to see
what Inshala has unintentionally learned, and
wanted to show Aager..

 

 

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups komedi modül serenity Whispers; A Cabal

The End of Sunsears

The End of Sunsears

Timeline:

 

Place; Serenity Home

Time; Mid-December

 

The events in this story take place after
“I believe this belongs to you..”,

 

 

28 Days After The Fall Of Arashkan.

 

Something crashed right through the Guest House of Serenity Home with incredible force causing everyone nearby to go for their weapons!

The wooden inner walls of the modest Guest House splintered and the windows shattered sending shards everywhere. The clanking of alarm bells rang through the town as everyone apart from a burly group comprised of harsh-looking men and women led by Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart ran to their designated posts. Apparently, the town took its defense quite seriously and all the training of the past months had paid off; in under ten minutes, the great wall built just west of the town was maned with thousands of elves, dwarves, and humans, their swords, axes, shields, and long pikes at the ready. Down below, hundreds of bows were drawn, waiting for the command to ‘LOOSE!’ while two dozen catapults were already being loaded with various destructive projectiles..

 

..but the expected Orken attack never came.

 

Sheriff Standorin ran up the flight of stairs, followed closely by the hardened town guards holding heavy clubs in their hands. Town security did not draw swords on a whim. Their job was to secure, not kill. Standorin pointed at one of the doors and two men stood before it, each facing the door. He then pointed at the remaining five doors and the men and women ran for each door in pairs. Then he pointed at the door he was facing, nodded at the large, burly man, some thirty years younger than him. The young, burly town guard nodded back than shouldered the door, smashing it down. Standorin and the rest of the guards barged in.

“MEDIC!”, shouted the sheriff the moment he took a quick stock of what lay before him. “GO GET SENIOR TEMPLE GUARDIAN THOMAS DIMWOOD HERE AT ONCE!”

Then he paused for a tad moment.

“No.”, he said. “Tell him to prepare to receive. We will bring the wounded to him.”

“Yes, sir!”, barked one of the younger women and dashed out of the room and down the stairs, and with the opening and slamming of the Guest House door, she was gone.

Standorin walked over to the remains of the broken single bed, with his powerful arms, pushed it aside, walked through the gaping hole in the wall, and stepped into the adjacent room and very carefully, he picked up the very tall, rather willowy figure, her robes shredded, her long, once elegant dress-skirts torn and ripped, her platinum-blonde braids loose and disheveled, her somewhat angular face bloodied and one of her arms hung at an odd angle.

The sheriff motioned at one of the guards who had followed him through the hole. The guard ran ahead and opened the room’s door for him.

Standorin carried the broken form of High Lady Anglenna Sunsear out of the room, and down the stairs.

“Bring a bedsheet. No one needs to see her like this.”, he rumbled quietly, then paused again and added. “No one needs to see her.”

He looked at the town guards and his face hardened.

“We do not know how the elves of Bari Na-ammen will react to her. She will get her opportunity to explain herself. I will not have a riot, nor a witch-hunt in my town. Do I make myself clear?”, he asked, looking at the men and women staring at the high lady.

The guards all nodded silently. The sheriff gently put the high lady on the wooden floor while the dust and splinter-riddled bedsheet was pulled off the broken bed and brought down.

“Couldn’t have brought a clean one?”, asked Standorin to the guard, a high elf and a recent addition to the town security.

“Sorry, sir. But we already broke one door down. And I don’t think this.. woman.. is worth a clean sheet to begin with.”, he very nearly spat.

Standorin stared at the young elf with his, calm-before-the-storm, gaze.

“Young man. I can not imagine your losses. However, you are a guard of Serenity Home now and represent the honor of this town. People from all over the kingdom come and settle here. Much like you, everyone is welcome, provided they do not drag their prejudices and their personal issues along with them. This is not Arashkan. This is not Endless Watch. This is not High Woods or Scowling Hills or Koruxan. This is Serenity Home, and the lady is the cousin of Princess Alor’Nadien ne and to the best of my knowledge, the princess adores her cousin. I am not privy to the reasons, but I am guessing she must have them, wouldn’t you say? You may not care, nor have any respect for this woman, but you will care and respect the Princess of Bari Na-ammen.”

The young high elf gulped.

“I apologize, sir. I acted and spoke out of turn and before I thought things through. I hate this woman with all my heart and wish nothing but ill will for her. I will, however, show her all the courtesy required of a high elf and a town guardsman.”

Standorin gave him a nod of approval and the young elf ran back up, and returned with another sheet —a clean and neatly folded one.

With the help of two female guards, Standorin carefully wrapped the high lady, covered her face, then gently picked her up again and nodded at the Guest House door.

The young elf ran ahead and opened the door for him.

The sheriff of Serenity Home rumbled.

“Form a quiet line. We do not need spectators. And inform the watch, they can turn the alarm bells off. Everyone is to remain at their posts for another hour then return to their daily routine.”

✱ ✱ ✱

High Lady Anglenna Sunsear woke up, quite dizzy and groggy, to a dimly lit, single-bed dormitory. The room was plainly furnished. Spars, even, consisting of the bed itself, a small table, a chair, a box, possibly to hold personnel possessions, two shelves nailed to the walls, and.. that’s it! No carpets, no ornaments, no framed pictures, no doilies, no curios, no vase with flowers, no tapestries and no curtains, though that was understandable since there were no windows, giving the overall impression that this was a cell, rather than a dormitory..

Anglenna looked down.

At least the room was clean and so was the blankets and the sheets, and she was wearing a long, ankle-length, burlap-colored linen nightgown of some sort. Apparently, someone had gotten her out of her shredded, sewer-smelling, soot-smudged clothes, cleaned her up, washed her hair, even, applied ointments and bandaged the dozen or so cuts and bruises, and cast her arm.

Hmm, she thought, why was her arm cast? She didn’t remember fracturing her arm. True, it’d just looked.. odd.. and had quit working properly, back when she’d been in the sewers, but the pain had died down, eventually, in the days, or perhaps it was weeks, or likely four or five days, maybe, ten at most, where she’d barely been able to find an hour or two, time enough for a breather, but never quite enough for full meditation. Anglenna had depressingly admitted she had no sense of direction whatsoever underground and that she was unequivocally lost. Exhausted, constantly on the run, hungry, thirsty, and hunted, by the Orken, and by the horror-inducing, pitch-black, sentient smoke; The Three Dog Curse she had unleashed, constantly growing and always spreading, and where she had dashed back and forth in those tunnels, very nearly losing her mind. It was during her desperate running in the sewers of Arashkan that she’d carelessly slipped and fallen into a crack in a wall caused by an Orken mangonel rock that had landed on the house above ground and caved it in all the way down to the sewers and then some.

Anglenna had very nearly screamed in abandoned panic when she had found out that she couldn’t even climb out of the narrow crack. The irony of having found the calm of being a Sunsear under the very harsh tutorage of her mother that had saved her from ultimate madness had not been lost on her. She had used her, quite secluded, predicament to her advantage; she had meditated for the duration of a full rest and was able to finally teleport out of the dark, stinking sewers, out of the burning, ruined, dead and dying Arashkan, and all the way to Serenity Home Guests House, where she had stayed once, when she’d first gone there, looking for the princess.

There had been three major problems to be able to cast the teleportation spell for Anglenna, however. The first was, she’d already used it on her cousin, Princess Alor’Nadien ne, and the young man, Udoorin. The second was, she wasn’t yet powerful enough to cast a second before making a full, meditative rest, which she hadn’t had the opportunity until now. And the third was, the person casting said teleportation had to know the destination.. thoroughly. That had always been a major drawback and problem with teleportation spells. The caster had to have familiarized the landing point, otherwise, the outcome(s) —plural, could be unpredictable or unprecedented at best, deadly at worst, obviously. The better he or she knew it, the more accurate their landing would be.. which in itself had produced its own issues. Before the events in the Arashkan Arena, Anglenna had been everything she seemed like; cold, distant, uncaring, looking down on everyone, and.. somewhat intentionally unobservant.. because everything was pretty much beneath her —just the kind of daughter her mother had always wanted! True, she had stayed at the Serenity Home Guest House for a few days while waiting for the possible arrival of her cousin so she could drag her, by the hair if need be, back to her father. But she hadn’t given a second glance to the Guest House, the town itself, and certainly not the little room she had been offered, which she had taken offense, but hadn’t been able to take umbrage due to the fact that (a) the alternative was to stay in the town’s common inn, which was just too beneath her, (b) all the rooms in the Guest House were the same!

In all candor, the only thing of note had been the spectacular view of Gull’s Perch, visible through the Guest House windows, for even though it was a few days travel east of the town, it was still, quite the magnificent sight; a single ‘rock’, some half a mile wide at its base, reaching up and up until its cap was lost in the clouds..

Hence, when she focused on her destination as she cast her spell, she had only a vague picture of the room she had stayed, which in turn had presented its own, distinctly ironic problem; all the rooms in the Guest House were indeed, identical!

Anglenna wasn’t sure if she was even at Serenity Home, at this very moment and this.. little howel.. or perhaps it was a cell.. certainly didn’t look like one of the rooms in the Guest House.

 

There was a polite knock and the door of her cell opened presenting a young, sturdy-looking man in a long, white robe that had contouring, embroidered colars and sleeves in dark red, and the only thing he wore that seemed unassuming was a holy symbol of some sort hanging from his neck.

The man nodded politely at her as he came in, carrying a tray in one hand covered with a clean cloth, a tankard in the other, and a genuine smile on his face.

 

Anglenna ogled at him.

 

And no.

She wasn’t ogling at him because he was a young, good-looking man, nor that he was smiling at her. She was ogling at him because the smile was genuine!

Alright, she thought, he must not know who I am and he is smiling because he is looking at an elf girl.

“Human males and their ‘elf maiden’ fetishes.”, she fumed to herself in disgust. “Guess I’ll just have to disillusion your elf fetishes by showing you, bitchery is not a registered trademark of human females.”

“High Lady Anglenna Sunsear. It is a distinct honor to have finally met you in person.”, the young man beamed.

“What the—”, thought Anglenna. “The boy knows who I am and is still smiling at me. No, he is beaming at me!”

“Are you sure you are talking to the right High Lady Anglenna?”, she asked, her voice patched and dry, and sounded more like a croak. “Perhaps you are confusing me with someone else.”

“I doubt, my Lady. There is but one of you.”, he replied, still beaming at her.

“Do I know you, young man?”, she asked a bit irritably. People did NOT smile at her. And if they did, it was more of a sneer, than a smile, really. Perhaps this boy was merely an idiot!

“I doubt, my Lady.”, repeated the young man. “Though we did meet once, albeit briefly. Several months ago, at the celebrations on the evening of the return of our people from the Ruins of Themalsar. You were staying here, waiting for your cousin to arrive, I believe. Then I saw you again, the day after. You were in the meeting where the same group members met with the mayor, the sheriff, and the town council members, deciding on the course of action in relation to what they had learned.”

“I am at Serenity Town, then?”, she asked somewhat relieved.

“But of course, my Lady. You are at Serenity Town Temple, to be more precise.”, the man answered politely.

“You know who I am, then?”, asked Anglenna.

“Indeed.”, replied the young man.

“You know who my mother is too?”, she asked.

“As much, yes.”, said the man.

“And what she did?”

“Not definitively, but I dare say, the rumors are likely true, considering the wide variety of different, independent, and quite reliable sources.”, smiled the man.

“Is something wrong with your head, boy?”, asked the high elf woman, unable to refrain herself.

“Yes. He’s an idiot!”, came a soft, irritable, feminine voice from outside the room.

The young man looked at the owner of the soft, irritable voice, grinned at her, and made room for a young, tall, beautiful girl with a lithe, striking figure, deep green eyes, fair skin, and long, free-flowing black hair. Anglenna thought she’d seen her before, but couldn’t quite remember when and where.

 

Unlike the young man, however, the girl was glaring at her.

The girl was glaring at her balefully and Anglenna got the distinct impression that this girl had glared at people all her life, and had dismantled any number of them to prove just exactly what her glare entailed!

 

“Why are you down here, talking to this psychopath, Thomas?”, she almost snarled.

“There.”, thought Anglenna. “Someone who does know me!”

“Perhaps introductions are in order?”, asked the high lady.

“SHUT UP, BITCH!”, snarled the young woman. “YOU DON’T GET TO MAKE ANY DEMANDS, HERE! IF I WANT YOUR BLOODY OPINION, I’LL BE SURE TO BEAT IT OUT OF YOU!”

 

Anglenna froze.

That.. had been the first time someone —anyone— had ever talked to her in that tone, let alone tell her to shut up so viciously. She felt her cheeks blaze with embarrassment.

 

“Morel..”, said the young man reprovingly. “Please, love. She’s my guest, in my temple. We agreed, I would follow your lead in the woods, and you’d follow mine in my temple.”

“It’s alright. I’ll just drag her off to the woods, by the hair, or ankle, or throat, or nose, doesn’t matter which, and finish her off there!”, she spat, as she stared at the high lady with impressive hate.

“How do you even drag someone by the nose?”, the young man, Thomas, asked.

“You stick two fingers into the holes and drag. Either they come or they loose the nose! Quite painfully, I might add.”, the young woman replied with an indifferent shrug.

The young man stared at her.

“You will do no such thing, love, nor will you harm her. You are not a cutter.”, he said with a decisive tone.

“She is, though. Her mother’s precious little cutter!”

“I don’t think that is true, love. And I don’t believe you think so, either.”

 

The young woman, Morel, turned to Thomas and hissed at him.

 

“Do you know what this elf skank and her bitch of a mother did?”

“Yes, love. I do. A bit more so than you, actually. I have been caring for the refugees of Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen for the past few weeks now, remember?”, Thomas said quietly. “Had to burry quite as many, pray over their souls, and comfort their loved ones, too.”

“If she wants to drag me off and cut me, perhaps she should.”, Anglenna said in a subdued voice of her own. “I certainly deserve it. But only after I see my cousin and young Udoorin.”

The young man and the girl turned to her, staring with baffled expressions.

“Neither the princess nor young Udoorin is here, Lady Anglenna. Which is why Ranger Lieutenant Morel, here, is a bit edgy. Of those who went for Arashkan, only Lady Magella has returned thus far, and she had to leave again to speak with the dwarves about the upcoming war and smooth over some family issues at Scowling Hills. No one else has come back yet. Other than her, you are the first to arrive.”

 

Anglenna blinked.

 

“Before leaving for Scowling Hills, however, the esteemed Senior Temple Guardian, Lady Magella, informed us that the deputy sheriff, Master Aager, and the young lady, Inshala, had gone off to Durkahan to inform them of the events culminating with the fall of Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen and look into the possibilities of arranging some form of military relief, while Ranger Lieutenant Laila, Master Gnine, and Lady Merisoul had gone to.. Silent Hills for.. well.. we are not quite sure why they went there, and you, Lady Anglenna, along with Princess Lorna, and young Udoorin had set out for a secret mission at Arashkan. The princess and Udoorin aren’t here, but you are, which does raise some questions. More so, considering your distinct affiliations with.. your mother.”

“How is this possible? I sent my cousin and young Udoorin here days ago.. Weeks, maybe. I lost track of time when we were at Arashkan. The young man was severely wounded, so I sent him and the princess here to make sure he received proper medical attention. But we hadn’t completed our mission yet, hence I had to stay behind.”

“So you say! For all I know, you are in it with the Orken, just like your mother. But I am warning you, girl, if something happens to Udoorin or Lorna, you are a dead meat!”, sneered Morel.

“Morel, please.. Why don’t you go and— Wait. What are you doing?”, Thomas asked when he saw the high lady throw off her blankets and try to rise.

“I need to go find my cousin.. and that foolish boy!”, she hissed.

“Lady, please. You need rest. You have been unconscious for weeks.. Your wounds were quite extensive, you have a fever, and.. we still need to break your arm!”

“You need to— What?!”, exclaimed Anglenna staring at the young man.

“I am sorry, Lady. But your arm was fractured, mangled, really, and I am afraid you didn’t set it right before you let it bind on its own —incorrectly.”, Thomas said with a strained voice.

 

Anglenna stared at the young man with a distinctly horrified expression.

The young woman, Morel, however, grinned.. quite viciously!

 

“I can do it.”, she offered, still grinning. “Please let me do it, Thomas! I could make you very happy if you let me do this one thing!”

 

To give the young man credit, he only blushed a little.

He coughed once, then turned to the grinning young woman.

 

“Why don’t you go and find the sheriff, love. He will want to ask questions before I do.. what I have to do. I doubt Lady Anglenna, here, will be in any condition to speak coherently after that. Not for a day or two.”

“Spoilsport!”, scowled Morel and turned around to leave.

“Here.”, the young man said and gave the tray and the tankard to her.

Morel stared at him.

“Perhaps the high lady should eat after what has to be done. Less of a mess that way. And.. I thought you were over breaking arms, Morel.”, he said to her.

“Ow, Thomas.”, said Morel, smiling fondly at him. “If I don’t break an arm or two every once in a while, I’ll have to break yours. And if I did that, you would be so useless at nights, and mornings, and in the woods, and in the afternoons, and—”

 

Young Thomas blushed furiously.

Hell, so did Anglenna!

The young woman’s heartless laughter trailed off as she left..

 

“I.. am sorry about that. Morel and I are—”, Thomas coughed.

“—Just weird?”, finished the high lady.

“..newlywed. I mean, it’s only been a month or so.”, Thomas stammered.

“Why are you apologizing me for?”, asked Anglenna.

“You.. didn’t have to hear some of the things she said, that’s all. Morel is kinder than she lets on, really.”, mumbled the young man., paused, then added. “And quite the robust girl..”

“Apparently, so are you, young man.”, said Anglenna with a straight face.

 

Young Thomas deflated as his own face went even brighter red.

 

“Ah, I remember the two of you, now. Back from that celebration night. Didn’t that girl punch you in, then slam you on the ground and dislocate your shoulder?”

“Well.. yes.. I suppose she did..”, admitted, Thomas blushing some more.

“And you married her!”

“Well.. yes..”, mumbled the young man. “I.. love her.. always have.. since I was six and she was four..”

“I am tempted to ask, just how stupid are you, young man? But I shall politely settle for, just creepy and weird.”, said the high lady with an amused tone.

 

Thomas ogled at the high lady.

 

“Go get your hammer, and your anvil.”, she gave Thomas a brittle smile. “Might as well get it over with.. Before your woman decides to come back and do it herself. Something tells me she doesn’t like me very much and might feel obligated to break more than just my arm.”

“It will hurt.. a lot, Lady Anglenna.”

“You are the Senior Temple Guardian now, then? A bit young for that kind of responsibility, aren’t you?”, Anglenna asked.

 

Thomas shrugged.

 

“Lady Magella is the senior, really. But she has other responsibilities, making me the fill-in for her. Not a position I wanted at my current age, as I lack the temperament, the wisdom, and the experience, but the other guardians are even younger than I am.”

“You over underestimate yourself, young man. I am not as good a read of character as my cousin, Alor’Nadien ne, is, but you seem to have the temperament and the wisdom. The experience will come in time. It always does. And since you are a temple guardian, just Anglenna will do. Or Lenna. Bari Na-ammen is no more and I am no longer a high lady.”

“You don’t need a piece of land to be a lady, nor to have a noble soul, you know. Much like I don’t need this temple to be a guardian, nor do I need it to be my Morel’s husband.”

“But you do have your temple, and your woman.”, informed the high lady.

“There are over a hundred and fifty thousand Orken that we know of, are marching this way, Lady. The fact that I have a temple or my wonderful Morel is a moot point.”, Thomas replied with solemn realism.

“Young man.”, Anglenna replied with a resigned voice. “It is obvious you are as polite as you seem. And honest as well. You don’t have to try so hard, though. Considering the things I did in my past, and my many sins..”

“I am not trying anything Lady Anglenna. This is the only me, my Morel gets, and the only me you will get.”, Thomas smiled.

“I see. Well, do politely break my arm then, if you will, please?”, Anglenna smiled back at him.

“Shouldn’t we wait for the sheriff?”, he asked.

Anglenna shrugged.

“I’ll be alright. My mother never had a tender hand when it came to teaching pain. Which is probably why I wasn’t even aware it was broken in the first place. The sooner we get it done, the sooner I can start looking for my cousin and young Udoorin, who needs medical care much more than I do now.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Young Thomas removed the cast from Lady Anglenna’s arm with practiced efficiency.

“Been cracking arms a lot?”, grinned Anglenna with frightened anticipation.

“Many times, my Lady. People tend to shrug off their injuries and end up here. It isn’t like I charge for my services or anything. In the end, they suffer more than they should, had they come to me in the first place.”, Thomas explained as he took the high lady’s slender arm and tightly bound it to the small table.

For a moment, he looked at the elf girl, then her arm then took out a piece of arm’s-length, wooden board and placed it on her arm.

“I don’t suppose it’ll help if I said you should eat more. I probably lack the years to advise a high elf.”

 

Anglenna snorted.

Which was when the young temple guardian drew out a heavy hammer with a broad head and smashed it, just right, on the high lady’s slender arm.

 

Anglenna gave a sharp, savage scream, and dropped limply on the floor!

 

“For that, I very much, and sincerely apologize, my Lady.”, he said quietly.

“You sure have a way with people, young Thomas. I hope you are not treating your young ranger lieutenant the same way.”, came a burly, rumbling voice.

“Sheriff Standorin..”, Thomas said, without looking back, as he unbound the ropes, pulled out several long, flat sticks and a thick roll of bandages from his robes. “..no one treats Morel Songsteel the same way..”

“Good answer.”, grinned Standorin.

“Dammit, Thomas!”, hissed Morel also from the door. “I told you I wanted to do it!”

“Language, love. We also agreed about confining it outside our home and the temple, in particular. And Yes. You did. But this needed tender accuracy.”

“I could do tender.. and be accurate.. You of all people should know that by now..”, she scowled.

“That I do, love. But your ‘tender’ is rather selective and probably doesn’t include the esteemed high lady. And you are horrible with hammers and maces!”, Thomas replied seriously.

“True, I suppose.. on both accounts.. I would have just hit her on the head with the hammer and be done with..”, she admitted freely.

 

Standorin coughed.

 

“It is amazing, the things people admit to what might constitute as a crime.. right in front of the town sheriff..”, he grinned.

“I am sorry, sir.”, replied Morel that clearly said she wasn’t sorry in the least. “But the things spoken between a man and his wife in the privacy of their home, or a temple, can not be used against them in a court of law, and this temple is our home! We even eat and sleep here and Thomas makes me pray sometimes, too!”

 

Standorin cocked an eyebrow.

 

“I wasn’t aware you were into the finer details of the law, Ranger Lieutenant Morel. I am.. pleasantly surprised.”

“Nothing to be surprised, there, sheriff. The first thing my Ranger Master Moorat taught me years ago, even before showing me how to track or forage, was, ‘If you are going to persist in being a delinquent, at least be smart enough to know the law so you don’t end up in jail like you did, should you be stupid enough to get caught again!’ —pretty much his exact words!”, Morel said with a shameless smirk.

 

Thomas snorted.

Standorin blew a fuming breath out of his nose.

 

“I knew it was a bad idea handing you over to that old, no-good bandit. Like master, like novice.”

“Come, love.”, Thomas said. “Straighten her to a sitting position, if you will. As much as you may dislike her, she is a noblewoman and the cousin of Princess Alor’Nadien ne, and shouldn’t be left lying on the floor. Then hold her shoulder up and straight while I pull from this end so we set the bones right before I recast the arm.”

“Nice.”, smiled Morel with an evil grin. “I get to watch her squirm in pain up close.”

 

High Lady Angrellen woke when they pulled her arm to set the bones.

She did not squirm, nor his she cry out again.

She just stared, somewhere off and at some unseen distance with blazing eyes.

And there was no satisfaction in Morel’s eyes, as she held and pulled, quite tenderly, at the high lady’s shoulder.

 

Huh!..

 

..though the sheriff, looking down at the two women.

Apparently, one had changed, quite a bit of late and the other had suffered, quite a lot, for quite some time..

 

“Ranger Lieutenant Morel.”, he said, after Thomas set and recast the high lady’s arm, and carefully put her back into bed. “If you would, please, go to the leader of the HWRM —the High Wood’s Resistance Movement and inform him, discreetly, if he would be kind enough to come here, preferably alone, on a matter of some urgency. We need to make sure this actually is the High Lady Anglenna, and not something else. We have had a few too many surprises sprung on us as it is, lately. Do not tell him anything. Just bring him here.”

“Why?”, asked Morel, looking down at the high lady. “This is the bitchy high lady from back then, she still is the bitchy high lady now. She has the same height and the same foot size, though she does not smell of her perfumes but that of sewer, even after we cleaned her up, and she weighs less, which is expected, considering she looks like she’s been through some rough, and has been comatose for three weeks or so.”

Sheriff Standorin frowned a bit.

“I do not question your assessment, Lieutenant. But she seems.. different.”

“Perhaps she is concussed?”, she offered. “I certainly want to concuss her. There are bound to be others!”

“No, love.”, inserted Thomas. “The esteemed sheriff is right. True that she has suffered quite a lot recently, both physically and emotionally, but I do not think she is concussed. She was coherent and fully awake. However, nothing she said nor her behavior as a whole, matches our first encounter with her. I saw genuine emotions in her; shame, regret, a sense of urgency, and the need to punish herself.”

 

Morel scowled at them both.

 

“You just want to run me off so you can talk in private!”

“The sheriff can say anything he wants to say right here and now.”, Thomas grinned at her.

“Very well.”, she fumed. “I am going to do this only because the esteemed sheriff asked nicely.”

 

Sheriff Standorin cocked both his eyebrows.

 

“I always ask nicely, Lieutenant. And not because this is your home.”

“I don’t recall you asking me nicely before you clubbed my lights out then dragged me off to jail when I was twelve, sir!”, she said hotly.

 

Apparently, aside from many other things, Morel was a good grudge bearer.

 

“I did ask you nicely. Several times. And warned you even, that should you continue, I would detain you. Your cousin, Ranger Lieutenant Laila was there, though she was a ranger novice at the time. You can ask her. She stopped after the second warning but you didn’t. I wasn’t aware my son tasted so good! He must have. Since you just wouldn’t stop chewing on his arm!”, Sheriff Standorin said with a straight face.

 

Thomas coughed.

Morel’s face, however, turned dark red, as she blushed furiously.. and in mortification. She turned and ran out of the room.

 

“Well..”, said the sheriff. “That went well..”

“Yup!”, said Thomas.

“I hope this little incident doesn’t come back at you.”, Standorin said.

“It is possible that it may but unlikely. However the people of Serenity Home want to remember her, she is dedicated not to return to that angry, bitter girl. And that is ‘wisdom’ in my book.”, the young temple guardian said proudly.

✱ ✱ ✱

So she won’t talk?”, asked Arthandos Yuleman, the Mayor of Serenity Home Town, and the person responsible for the wellbeing of nearly eighty thousand Arahkan and fifteen thousand Bari Na-ammen refugees and he was as tired as he seemed.

Tired, weary, and older.

“She talks.”, replied Sheriff Standorin with his low, rumbling voice.. “Just nothing of significance. She is excellent at dodging questions, excels at debating her point, and too refined for us to take offense at anything she says for us to openly force her to tell us the things she is hiding.”

“So she is a politician.”, grunted Arthandos.

“No, Arty. She is a very good politician. Besides being a powerful sorceress, which I suppose, is to be expected of her. She was trained by The Betrayer, after all, and on both accounts..”

“So we know nothing. Other than her claim about having ‘sent’ both the princess and your son here, by our calculation, at least four weeks ago.”, said Arthandos unhappily.

“Yes. About that.. I wanted to.. ask you a personnel favor..”, said the sheriff, looking down at his hands.

“You want us to send some of our very limited number of rangers and trackers out looking for them, without knowing where to look for.. in every direction!”, frowned the mayor.

“Something like that.”, replied Standorin quietly.

“Stan.. You are killing me!”, sighed Arthandos.

“Eh? Why?”, asked the sheriff, looking up at the mayor with a baffled expression.

“We are not talking about anyone here, man. We are talking about your son. Of course, you can send off some of the rangers and trackers. Any we can spare. You don’t have to ask my permission for that.” said Arthandos.

“It is a personal favor, Arty. Everyone out there has someone they care missing..”, mumbled the sheriff.

“You are missing the higher point here, man. He is your son, yes. But he is also the fiancee of the princess of Bari Na-ammen. He now represents more than you, me, this town, or the elves. He represents HOPE. The boy who came from a simple town, fought against all odds, and rose to become a king. And not just any king, mind you. He became the king of ELVES. His line will also be of KINGS and QUEENS!”, smiled the mayor expansively.

Standorin sighed.

“You just had to turn it into a political parade, didn’t you?”, he scowled.

“But of course, my dear Stan. That’s how I got away with all the irregular expenses you and Master Aager caused all these past years!”, he laughed.

“Whether he becomes a king or not is his prerogative. I just want my son back. Safe and sound. And I want his happiness. He.. when they were here, he was looking at young Lorna like I used to look at my Limnia. My boy found happiness and the will to do great deeds because of that girl. Just that is enough to make her special in my book.”, Standorin said seething silently as he fisted his hands. “He must come back. He is the only thing that is left to me from my Limnia, Arty. Do you understand that?”

“No, Stan. I don’t. I was never blessed by someone as special and luminous as Limnia. I was only cursed by having to put up with her brother Moorat!”, he replied sympathetically.

Then sighed.

“Is there anything we could do to make her talk? With her consensual cooperation, I mean. And what do you propose we do with her?”, he asked.

“We can’t let her go, not that she wants to leave, other than to get better as soon as possible so she could go and seek for her cousin and my son, which came as a surprise for me, from the way she phrases it. Or perhaps, the way she sees them. For some reason, she will not say her cousin’s name alone, but she speaks of them as one. Like they were a single entity. I can’t say I understand what that means, but that’s the impression I got. She did offer to help train anyone with a glimpse of innate affinity to magic, as a contribution to our war efforts. She will not talk about any of the group members we sent to Arashkan nor about anything that occurred there because, ironically, she does not trust anyone here, which is understandable, since she doesn’t know anyone here and considering what her mother did, she has no reason to. But I do believe her feelings for her mother are quite genuine. She does a good job not showing it, but I have been a sheriff for a good thirty, thirty-five years now. She burns with shame whenever the issue of her mother is brought up, down to her very core. Add her elfish heritage into that stew, you get a young, high elf noblewoman who will burn her enemies down to cinders. And not metaphorically in her case.”, Standorin said, trying to put as many words into as few sentences as he could.

“Yes. Elves can be like that. Good haters. When they hate, they won’t confine it with you, but they will take it up to generations to come, in human terms. Not surprising to hear an elf say, your great-great-great-great-something-great grandfather did this to us!”, snorted Arthandos.

“You are going to have to decide on what to do with her, I am afraid. She is way above my pay grade and to be honest, we don’t have the manpower to neither guard her against her own people, let alone her mother, nor anyone to spare to keep a track of her, considering she is a sorceress who has the skills to teleport!”, grimaced the sheriff.

“How about she stays where she is now. In the temple.”, Arthandos asked?

“No. The temple is crowded as it is, what with all the.. new guests.. young Thomas took under his protection. Yes, those succubi half-borns are all adults, but they are very much like children who just ran away from school! They keep to their rooms and play quietly during day hours and when Thomas is performing his sermons, but come evening, they board up all the temple windows and run around wildly, playing games, all the while screaming like sugar-loaded, over-hyped kids! We just can’t let them loose, either. Some of those girls are extraordinarily pretty. Hell, so are the boys! When Thomas first told me about them, I went to make sure they were as safe as he claimed they were. Thomas called them and they all fell in line happily, then he introduced them to me. But let me tell you, some of the girls were looking at me like I was food. I haven’t been that freaked in my life. It is interesting, though. They won’t harm nor try to seduce our young Thomas, and Bremorel hasn’t shown any form of jealously nor animosity against them. Those two must really trust and believe in one another. Then there is the fact that every night before they go to their dormitories, they all file down into than cavernous chamber where all the temple guardians are entombed and pray for Demos Lightshand!”

Arthandos stared at him.

“What? Why?”, he asked in astonishment.

“Because Thomas told them it was he, Demos, who trained and taught him to be kind, understanding, and to accept everyone who came to his temple. Hence they all go down and pray for his soul —every single night!”

Arthandos stared at him.. some more..

“Half-demons.. praying for the soul of a Temple Guardian of Light! The irony in that hurts my mind!”, he said, putting his face in his hands.

“I know, right?”, grinned Standorin. “Let me tell you this, though. Willy-nilly, the Orken changed everything. The Orken and that strange girl I fined the night of the celebration. The one with the raven wings, Miss Merisoul Xyrotwu.. Thomas refused to go into the details, ‘for otherworldly security reason’, he said, but all those half-borns were freed from Hell, and I mean actual, literal Hell, by that Merisoul girl, and are all willing to ‘sweat, bleed, and die for their Ascension’ —their exact words! Should we win the day when the Orken finally arrive, a great many things will have to keep on changing because we just can’t go back to what we were.”

Arthandos signed.

“I feel too old for this. Maybe I should start looking for some replacement as well. I hear you are.”

“There are many candidates who could replace me. I don’t have to dance around politics. If and when I see someone breaking the law, I tell them to come quietly. If they don’t, I club them quietly—”, Standorin said with a broad smile.

The mayor snorted.

“—then politely take them in. Being a mayor, however, requires too much political dancing for my taste where everything and everyone wants to complicate things like they were getting paid for it!”, the sheriff finished.

“Who do you have in mind, Stan? Not young Udoorin, that’s for sure, now.”, wondered Arthandos.

“Had it been before, I would have said Master Aager.”, admitted, Sheriff Standorin. “But things have changed. One sheriff was good and well for a town, even one as large and connected as ours. But that will not be enough. Most of the elves might return home to rebuild their lives. Though it will take centuries for High Woods to come anywhere near what it once was. And they will have all the support they can get from us. But Arashkan is beyond repair. Lady Anglenna didn’t say anything nor imply, but she had this, ‘smirking’ look in her eyes when I asked her what they were doing there, which gave me the impression that it will stay beyond repair for quite some time. All she said about it was, ‘We had to make sure the Orken could never use Arashkan as a base, nor fix the walls to stand a siege, so that is exactly what we did.'”

“That sounds.. ominous.”, said Arthandos.

“Yes, it does. And we still don’t know what we are going to do about the Orken that was camped west of Ritual Forest. The rangers, the dwarves, and the elves stationed there as lookouts all reported that one evening they were there, come morning they were.. gone! I am thinking they employed the same device they used to ‘ambush’ Arashkan.”, said the sheriff with a worried expression. “They could be anywhere by now..”

“Perhaps. But we are not without a wide variety of options, you know. We have the Arashkan military here, and Bari Na-ammen veterans, wizards, sorcerers, and rangers, and dwarves from Scowling Hills and Elder Hills, and gnomes from Tinker Hills. Not to mention the half-born. Why don’t we throw the problem at them, all separately, and see what they come up with?”, Arthandos offered.

Standorin mulled over that for some time. But not for long. His troubled face brightened and he grinned.

“You are a cunning man, Arty. And a man of the people. I shall draft separate papers with the problems we have in relation to the war and pass them out to each group’s representatives.”, he said.

“Only after you sent out people looking for your boy and the princess. And they don’t all have to be rangers or trackers. We have a lot of people here, most of them not doing anything. Pick from the lot that isn’t in training. Put one elven ranger per group. Try to mix them with dwarves and humans and impresses upon them the importance of cooperation. That should break the ice between the races.”, grinned the mayor.

“A man of the people, indeed.”, agreed, Standorin.

✱ ✱ ✱

High Lady Anglenna woke up to a hot, tingling sensation in her left arm. Something deep in her awareness told her that she should be under a long siege of grilling pain, but for whatever reason, said pain just wasn’t there. Only the hot, tingling sensation.

“You have been given certain medicinal drugs to ease your suffering, my Lady.”, said a quiet, handsome voice.

The high lady stared around dazedly, with groggy, blurred eyes, and barely noted that she was in a small, unadorned room and that she had seen, or perhaps been in before.

She tried to speak but whoever had drugged her, had apparently glued her lips as well because nothing came out except a wheezing breath. She gave up and closed her eyes again.

She did hear a soft pair of feet in armor come near, then heard the tingling of glass, and something was poured from one container to another.

“Water?”, the quiet, handsome voice offered.

The high lady tried for a nod, but she wants sure if she’d done it right.

She felt a strong but gentle hand under her head and neck and the hand carefully nudged her up to a slightly sitting position, and a glass touched her lips.

“Slowly, my Lady.”, said the voice.

Anglenna couldn’t quite place where, but she thought she knew that voice.

The voice helped her drink from the glass; cold, clear water, with forced small sips. Whoever this person was, Anglenna thought, knew exactly where his jurisdiction began and where it ended.

She opened her eyes again and looked up to see a familiar face.

 

Familiar and too close!

 

“Armathelius.. Riverblade..?”, she gasped.

The young-looking high elf had angular features much like the rest of his kind; a sharp nose, sharp eyes, sharp, arching brows, a sharp chin, and a distinct mouth. His hazel eyes were set somewhat deeper than usual and something in those eyes read; relief.

Armathelius didn’t say anything for some time. He just stared down at the high lady, carefully taking in all the details of her face. It was long enough that it made Anglenna uncomfortable.

“Sir Armathelius?”, she began..

..but the young elf carefully and gently lay her back down and removed his hand, got up, walked over to the door, opened it, and to someone outside he said, “Yes. This is High Lady Anglenna Sunsear of Bari Na-ammen. I can vouch for her identity and shall take any and all responsibility for her future actions within Serenity Home limits. I will personally see to her safety as well, should she deem it necessary.”

Anglenna heard some muffled voices from outside the door.

“Perhaps.”, said the young high elf. “But she is our people, and hence, within our defacto-jurisdiction, sir. I thank you for having informed me, even though you did not have to. We would never have known had you not. Please convey my personal gratitude to the esteemed and honorable mayor, Arthandos Yuleman, if you would, and tell him we shall address his concerns on this matter as soon as the high lady is back to her health and is able to present herself.”

The muffled voice said something short and curt and left.

Armathelius closed the door and turned to the high lady, and Anglenna noticed, through the hot, tingling sensation, and the groggy, blurry haze, there was something else in those deep hazel eyes; smoldering, boiling wrath.

“Are you well, my Lady?”, he asked, not coldly, but distantly.

 

Anglenna did not reply for a long moment.

When she did, her face was pale, drawn, and lost, and her voice was parched, wheezy, tired, and weary.

 

“You.. you misidentified me..”, she said.

The young Armathelius Riverblade stared at her.

“The line of Sunsear’s is dead.”, she continued, looking down into her hands..

“I am Anglenna Brightleaf.”


 

book 02 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups komedi modül role play savaş serenity serenity home the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

Evim yok..

Evim yok..

Timeline:

Dimwoods’daki wood elf köyü
(Tel’Shee dim’Ora) tekrar inşa edilirken,
Serenity Home’dan öncü destek gönderilir;
Bremorel Songsteel ve Thomas Dimwoods.

Ortak geçmişin doğurduğu bu iki insan, farklı kişilikler olarak kendilerini ortaya koymuşlardır. Kendilerini hedef alan baskınları farkındasız bir şekilde ortadan kaldıran çift, hedeflerine varmışlar ve elflerin köylerini müdafaası için gerekli eğitim ve önlemler konusunda talimatları verirken, iki farklı haberci, iki farklı yere gelir.

Bunlardan biri Bremorel ve Thomas’ın bulundukları wood elf köyüdür. Diğeri ise Serenity Home kasabasında bulunan karakol binasıdır.

Bu hikaye
Düş Kapanı“ından hemen sonra başlar ve
Birthright (18+)“ın ikinci yarısının geçtiği tarihlerde biter..

 

 

Sence tekrar gelecekler mi?”, diye sorar genç adam.

“Sence yarın güneş doğacak mı?”, diye acı bir şekilde cevap verir yanında duran genç kız.

Aradan sessiz ve gergin bir dakika geçer. Kız genç adama bakmaz. Ama anca duyulur bir sesle, “Özür dilerim..”, diye hafif bozulmuş bir ifadeyle ekler.

“Ben özür dilerim..”, der genç adam, temkinli bir şekilde.

 

Ormanda geçirdikleri en son baskının akşamında aralarında geçen konuşmadan sonra, iki gencin iletişimi gitgide kasılmış ve gergin bir şekilde kalmıştı. Thomas Dimwood konuşmasını büyük bir beklentiyle bitirmiş, ancak iş tam olarak da o noktada

“Aaaa.. ya ölürken, yada kızgın olduğunda adımı söyleyebiliyorsun demek.”, diye donuk ve acı bir şekilde mırıldanır Bremorel. Kız, garip bir duygu gitgeli içerisindedir sanki. Bir an hiddet içerisinde, bir sonraki an ise durağanlaşmış..

“..ve seni sevdiğimi söylediğimde!”, diye son şansını kullanıyormuş gibi bir sesle itiraf eder Thomas.

“Beni sevdiğini söylemedin..”, der Bremorel, aynı acı sesle.

“Çok acımasızsın!.. Ama seni.. seni ilk gördüğüm günden beri seviyorum Morel Songsteel.. Ve beni reddedeceksen, lütfen bunu dürüstçe bir sebepten dolayı yap.” ... sona ermişti zira İzci Onbaşı Bremorel, genç adamın niyetini reddetmemiş, ancak herhangi bir şekilde de onaylamamıştı.

İş öylece doruk noktasına varmış ve.. o kadar!

 

Kötü yazılmış bir aşk hikayesi gibiydi..

 

Ondan sonraki iki gün boyunca da izci kız baskınlara karşı ‘önlem’ bahanesiyle devamlı ve Thomas’dan olabildiğince uzakta iz sürmüş, akşam olunca da önden kamp kurmuş, sessizce kuru bir şeyler atıştırmış ve genç tapınak muhafızı kampa geldiğinde kızı çoktan uyumuş olarak bulmuştu.

Thomas, genç yaşından beklenmeyecek, sabırlı bir mizaca sahipti. Sırtındaki yaraya rağmen, bilinçli bir şekilde gün boyunca bir oraya, bir buraya koşup, parmağını kıpırdatamayacak kadar kendisini yorup, sonra da sızıp kalan kıza bakar. Biraz hüzün, biraz umut, biraz da, bastıramadığı, tedirgin bir heyecanla kızın, sarındığı battaniyenin altından kurtulmuş simsiyah saçlarını seyreder.. İçinden ona karşı bir hiddet hissetmek için herhangi bir çaba sarf etmez. En nihayetinde, olduğu ahmak gibi yıllarca, kız her kasabaya döndüğünde onu sessizce, edepli bir mesafeden, ama görünür bir şekilde takip etmemiş miydi? Kendisi kararını on beş yıl önce, daha altı yaşındayken vermişti. Kızın da ‘cevabını’ vermesine müsaade edecekti.

‘Evet..’, diye düşünür Thomas, ‘..cevabını!’

Çünkü Morel kararını çoktan vermiştir. Morel kararını asla geciktiren biri olmamıştır.. Sadece cevabını hemen vermemeyi tercih eden biridir, o kadar.

“Bana ‘hayır’ demek için onun da aynı on beş yılı olmasa da, en az on yılı vardı.. Birkaç gün daha bekleyebilirim.”, diye sesli bir şekilde düşünür genç adam.

 

Ya da bir on beş yıl daha..

 

Kalın, çelik kenarlıklı kalkanını çıkartır, kızın yakınındaki bir ağaca yaslar. Sonra sırt çantasının kayışlarını çözer ve onu da kalkanının yanına bırakır. Ardından hiç vakit kaybetmeksizin boynundaki kutsal simgesini avuçlar, bulundukları soğuk kamp yerinin çevresindeki muhtelif yerleri parmağı ile gösterir ve her işaret ettiği yerlere bir büyü yapar; bu, bir çok yaratığın yaklaşması halinde onu uyaracak bir büyüdür.

Sonra yavaşça eğilir, sırt çantasına topak halinde bağladığı kendi battaniyesini çözer, bundan dolayı yiyeceği potansiyel azarı, omuzlarından birini silkerek bir kenara atar, ve onu da kızın üstüne örter.

Thomas kalın yük kemerinin halkasından, ağır, zincirli gürzünü çıkartır ve olabildiğince sessizce yere oturur, sırtını kalkanına verir, altı yaşından beri her gece yaptığı gibi dua eder.

Ve her gece yaptığı gibi, bu huysuz, inatçı, asabi, belalı, güzel ve kendisinin bile farkında olmadığı kadar içli olan kızı da duasına dahil eder.

 

Ertesi sabah uyandığında kızın çoktan gitmiş olduğunu görecek, kendi battaniyesinin de katlanmış, yuvarlanmış ve sırt çantasına bağlanmış olarak bulacaktır..

✱ ✱ ✱

Tel’Shee dim’Ora’ya varmalarından sonra Morel kendisini tamamen işine vererek bir şekilde ulaşılmaz hale getirmiş, gün boyunca, aylar öncesi baskında yok olan köyden geride kalanlara pratik iz sürme, ok atma ve kılıç kullanmanın yanı sıra, köyün etrafında, içi sivri kazıklarla dolu, kalıcı bir hendek, yüksek, kalın odunlardan oluşan rampalı, setli ve katlı duvar yapımı konusunda talimatlar vermişti. Bunun dışında olabilecek her türlü izci tuzakları, kazıklı çukur ve özellikle büyük ‘hayvanlara’ uygun kamufle edilmiş kapan yapımını, uygulamalı bir şekilde göstermişti.

Bu esnada Thomas’da boş durmamış, uygun gördüğü elflere temel büyü tekniklerini göstermiş, onlar çalışırken, Morel’in yaptırdığı yüksek duvarları, büyülerle desteklemekle vaktini geçirmişti.

Her gün, sabahtan akşama kadar köy halkı, durmaksızın çalışmış iki hafta gibi kısa bir sürede ortaya tam anlamıyla etrafı tuzaklarla çevrili, büyülü, dev bir kirpiyi andıran köy ortaya çıkmıştı!

Evet, hiç şüphesiz bu köy, eski elf köyü kadar güzel değildi. Ama Orkenlerin tekrar gelmesi halinde, burayı tekrar savunmasız bulamayacakları da kesindi..

Yapılan tüm hazırlıkların sınanması ise çok sürmemişti.

On altıncı gün, genç bir haberci koşarak gelmiş ve köy alarmı verilmişti.

Orkenler tekrar geliyorlardı.

Ancak bu sefer küçük bir grup değil, sekiz müfreze olarak gelmekteydiler.

Elflerden hiçbiri, neden Orkenlerin hedefi olduklarını sorgulamamış, homurdanmamış, söylenmemiş, hepsi kendilerine tayin edilen noktalara gitmiş ve köylerini korumaya kararlı bir şekilde bekleyişe geçmişlerdi.

Orkenler de onları fazla bekletmemişti. Hiç şüphesiz daha erken ve yine köyü hazırlıksız yakalamayı ummuşlardı, ancak azımsanmayacak kadarı hazırlanan tuzaklarda ya ölmüş, ya da yürüyemeyecek hale gelmişti.. Bunu takip eden günlerde ise ilerlemeleri temkinli bir sürünüşe dönüşmüştü.

Köyden ayrılmasına izin verilen tek kişi ise Morel olmuştu. İzci kız, Orkenler yaklaştıkça, her an bir yerlerden çıkmış, bir tanesini öldürüp ya ormanda kendisini kaybettirmiş, ya da kendisini kovalayanları tuzaklara yakalatmıştı.

Bazen de, ormanın içinden sadece bir ok fırlatmış, bir can almış ve ortadan bir hayalet gibi kaybolmuştu.

Ve o her gittiğinde, bir kişi onun gidişini seyretmiş, aynı kişi onu dönüşünde de sessizce karşılamıştı.

Aradan geçen tek taraflı ve ızdıraplı dört günlük bekleyişten sonra Orkenler köyün etrafında belirmişlerdi.

✱ ✱ ✱

Sen neden özür diliyorsun ki?”, diye acı ifadesinden ödün vermeksizin sorar Bremorel.

“Özür diledim çünkü seni istemediğin bir duruma soktum ve her sana bir şey sorduğumda, senin asabiyetini tetikliyorum.”, diye sessizce cevap verir Thomas.

İzci kız, elindeki pis paçavrayla her bir yanına sıçramış Orken kanını silerken, “Asabiyetim için sana ihtiyacım yok..”, der, olduğunu sandığı kadar yorgun bir sesle.

Elflerle beraber günlerdir bu duvarları aşmaya çalışan Orkenlere karşı canlarını dişlerine takarak savaşmışlar, Orkenlerden çok can almış olmalarına rağmen, hayvanlar bir türlü geri çekilmemişlerdi. Belli ki son adama kadar saldıracaklardı.

Bu gün ise özellikle yoğun çatışmalar zinciriyle geçmiş, her yer kan ve daha beteriyle kaplıydı ve Orkenler şu an bulundukları nokta hariç, saldırabilecekleri diğer bütün duvarlara tırmanmaya çalışmışlardı. Kayıpları çok olmuştu, ama sebep oldukları kayıplar ise çok daha fazlaydı; elflerin üçte biri şu anda kutlu sahillerine, son yolculuklarına çıkmışlardı..

“Bu doğru..”, diye mutsuz bir şekilde tasdik eder genç tapınak muhafızı. “Öyle görünüyor ki bana hiç ihtiyacın yok.”, diye de daha sessiz bir şekilde ekler.

“Israrlısın..”, der Bremorel, Thomas’la durduğu kalın duvarların arkasındaki rampada.

“..bir o kadar da aptalsın!”, diye bitirir izci kız.

Thomas, Bremorel’e öylece bakar.

“Bu.. bu biraz ağır oldu sanki.”, diye bozulmuş bir sesle mırıldanır.

“Bu, yumuşatılmış hali. Ve benim asgari standartım..”

“Peki.. sanırım bundan dolayı.. sevinmeliyim?”

“Ortada sevinilecek pek bir şey yok, Tapınak Muhafızı. Etrafımız sarılmış durumda ve ne kadarını kesersek keselim, geri çekilmeyecekler. Elfler tahminimden bile daha mukavemetli çıktılar. Burası bir insan köyü olsaydı, birinci gün yenilmiş olurduk.. ve bunların neredeyse hiç birinin en temel silah eğilimleri dışında herhangi özel eğitim görmüşlüğü bile yok çünkü asıl savaşçılarını önceki baskında kaybettiler..”, der Bremorel, duvarın öbür tarafındaki karanlığa bakarak.

“Evet. Yaklaşık üç ay önce. Ama biz bundan bahsetmiyoruz, öyle değil mi?”, der Thomas. “Her nasılsa konu benim aptallığıma geliverdi..”

“Sana herhangi bir konuda ihtiyacım olabileceğimden dolayı mı, duymayı beklediğin cevabı istiyorsun?”

“Sen bir izcisin, Morel.”, der Thomas basitçe. “Teknik olarak hiç kimseye ihtiyacın yok!”

Bremorel kaşlarını çatar. Tapınak muhafızı sadece lafı ağzından almakla kalmamış, onu kendisinin ifade edebileceğinden çok daha isabetli söylemiştir.

Belki de tapınak muha— Thomas!.. Thomas sandığı ya da çocukça bir şekilde olmasını istediği kadar aptal değildir!

“Günlerdir kararımı bekliyorsun.. Halbuki, bir cevabımın olmayışı bile senin için başlı başına bir cevap olmalıydı.”, der Bremorel sıkılmış dişleri arasından. Kız bunu söylerken neden dişlerini sıktığını tam olarak kestiremez. Sadece sıkar.

“Hayır.” der Thomas.

“Hayır?”

“Hayır..”

“Ne demek, hayır?”, diye harlar Bremorel bir anda.

“Bayaa, hayır işte. Sessizliğin kararın değil. Sadece boyun eğmek istemeyişinin inadı. Kararını çok önceden vermiştin zaten. O yüzden yıllardır senin peşinden gelmeme izin verdin. Biliyorum çünkü peşinden gelen tek kişi ben değildim. Sadece ‘kalan’ tek kişi benim. En başından beri olduğu gibi.. Ve bu ‘müsamahanın’ sebebi de sadece durumumun sana eğlenceli ya da komik gelişinden kaynaklandığını sanmıyorum. Hiçbir şey o kadar uzun bir süre komik gelemez ve sen de hiçbir zaman o kadar acımasız olmadın.. Ya da sadece ben senin kişiliğini tamamen yanlış anladım..”, der Thomas omuzlarını silkerek.

İzci kız, kıpkırmızı bir suratla genç adama döner ve “Boyun eğmek mi? Sana mı?”, diye şiddetle tıslar.

Thomas buna uzun bir süre cevap vermez. Sadece gözleri alev almış kıza bakar.

“Benimle her konuda dalga geçtin ve ben bunlara fazla sesimi çıkarmadım çünkü gerçekte söylediklerinde ciddi olmadığına inandım. Ama beni şu anda itham ettiğin kadar seviyesiz olabileceğimi gerçekten düşünüyor olamazsın, Morel. Öyle görünüyor ki asabiyetin seni gerçekten kör etmiş. O kadar ki, kendi hislerine, kendi duygularına boyun eğmek bile seni rahatsız eder hale gelmiş. Kendine zulüm etmen senden çok beni yakıyor ve sen bunun farkında bile değilsin. Ama olsun. Sen olduğun sürece göz yummaya razıydım. Sana seni sevdiğimi söyledim çünkü bunu söylemeye korktuğum kadar can da atıyordum. Ama sen bana dürüstçe bir ‘hayır’ bile diyemedin. Bari yakarken dürüst ol..”, der hiddetli bir sükunetle Thomas, sonra arkasını döner, rampadan iner ve gecenin karanlığında kaybolur.

Bremorel olduğu yerde, feci bir tokat yemiş gibi öylece, kıpırdamadan kalakalır.

Thomas..

Yıllar önce yanlış bir anlaşılmadan dolayı saldırdığı, bunun sonucunda da kafasını kırıp hastanelik ettiği Thomas.

Yıllarca, evinin yolunu kaybetmiş bir kedi yavrusu gibi onu peşinden takip etmiş olan Thomas.

Yol boyunca dalga geçmesine rağmen insanüstü bir sabır göstermiş olan Thomas.

Ve yol boyunca defalarca onu iyileştirmiş, defalarca hayatta tutmuş olan Thomas..

En sonunda kırmayı başarmış mıydı çocuğu?

Bremorel beklediği hiçbir tatmini hissetmez zira böyle bir niyeti de, amacı da olmamıştı.

“Öyle görünüyor ki, yıllar benim salaklığımdan hiçbir şey azaltmamış. O zaman hiddetimle davranmış ve çocuğun kafasını kırmıştım. Yine hiddetimle davrandım ama bu sefer çocuğun tamamını kırdım!”

Birden aklına daha birkaç hafta önce gerçekleşen bir başka olay gelir..

 

Bremorel, elinde çeliği buzla kaplanmış kocaman kılıcıyla Merisoul’a acımasızca bakmaktadır. “Farkındasın değil mi? Seni şuracıkta öldürsem kimsenin haberi bile olmaz, seni küçük şırfıntı!”

Bremorel’in gözleri manyak bir ateşle yanmaktadır.

“Sana iyi niyetle gelmiş genç, bakir bir erkeği herkesin içinde kaba gücünle yerden yere vurarak rezil ettin. Sonra da onu başından savdın. Sen onu bitirmekle kalmadın. Sen onu kırdın! O artık adil bir av..”, diye mırıldanır Merisoul, yüzükoyun tüttüğü yerden.

“Ben onu kırdım çünkü sırf beni dansa kaldırdığı için havalara girdi. Ben kolay lokma değilim ve aradan geçen yıllar ona bu dersi öğretmemiş belli ki.”, diye burnundan solur Bremorel.

“Belli ki..”, diye onaylar Merisoul, kıvrandığı yerden. “Senin kolay lokma olmadığını herkesin bilmesi çok önemli olmalı. Kaç yaşındasın sen, sekiz mi?.. Ama dert etme. Ona dokunduğumda olay benim için bitmişti zaten..”, diyerek avucunu açıp Bremorel’e gösterir.

Bremorel önce kuşkuyla, sonrada şaşkınlık içerisinde Merisoul’un avucuna bakar. İblisin yanmamış neredeyse tek yeri avucunun içidir ama orada da stilize edilmiş gülü andıran bir mühür vardır. Mühür hala turuncu, kor ateşle tütmektedir!

Bremorel kaşlarını çatar. “Nedir bu?”, diye sorar.

“Bu.. bu aşkın mührüdür. Bizden biri, gerçek aşkın koruması altındaki birine musallat olduğumuzda şanslıysak sadece yanarız ve bunu aylarca taşırız. Şanssızsak zehirleniriz ve günlerce, bazen de haftalarca yatalak kalırız.. Çocuk aşık, sen salaksın ve ben de faturasını ödeyen aptalım!”, diye inler Merisoul.

(hikayenin aslı için bkz. A Bard’s Tale II, “Bremorel”)

 

 

..ve Bremorel fena halde utanır zira o iblis bozuntusu şırfıntı haklıdır!

Hayatında belki de ilk defa kendi kendine sorar Bremorel.

Kime neyi ispatlamaya çalışıyorsun ki? Sana değer veren tek kişiyi defalarca kırmış olmanın ötesinde ne elde etmiş oldun?

Mutlu mu oldun?

Seni salak şey.

Mutluluk, kaybetmenin ödülü..

Kazanmanın değil!

 

Evet, iblis bozuntusu haklıdır ama tam olarak değil;

Çocuk gerçekten aşıktır, kendisi de tam bir salaktır, ama faturasını sadece Mersoul ödememiştir..

Bremorel, o gece yarı iblis kızla arasında geçen konuşmadan sonra yaptığı gibi yine gencin peşinden gidip onun gönlünü almak için yönelir.

“Bu sefer benimle dans etmesi gerekmeyecek. Ya da gerekecek. Bu ona kalmış. Ama benim olacak..”, diye kaşlarını çatmış, dişlerini sıkmış, haşin ve kararlı bir sesle hırlar.

Tam dönüp çocuğun peşinden gidecekken, karanlığın içinden, ormanın derinliklerinden bir çıtırtı duyar..

✱ ✱ ✱

Ve gece muazzam bir ateş inmesiyle aydınlanır..

Neredeyse yetişkin bir meşe ağacı boyundaki alev, dikine bir şekilde, karanlığı delerek gökten iner ve içinde sakladığı iki yüze yakın Orkeni ifşa eder..

Orkenlerden hayret, şok ve toplu acı sesleri yükselirken Bremorel bir elini kaldırır, sonra ani hareketle indirir..

“ŞİMDİ!”

..ve rampanın arkasında sessizce bekleyen yüze yakın elf, tek bir vücut şeklinde oklarını salar.

Oklar kalın ağaç duvarların üstünden, alevlerle aydınlanan gecenin karanlığında, daha çok inleyen bir hayaleti andıran, ürkütücü, ölümcül bir köprü oluşturur ve Orkenlerin ortasına dökülmeye başlar.

Elfler üç vole daha gönderir ve Bremorel’in ikinci bir işaretiyle dururlar.

İzci onbaşı, elini ağzına götürür ve keskin bir ıslık çalar.

Köyün ortalarından bir yerden, yaşlı bir elf kadın, kavisli bir boynuzu kaldırır ve üfler.

Boynuzdan derin, uzun, hüzünlü bir nota yükselir, yanmakta olan ve oklardan dolayı delik deşik olmuş Orkenlerin çığlıklarını aşar ve ormanda yankılanır..

Yaşlı elf kadın boynuzu defalarca üfler ve Orkenlere karşı asıl saldırı başlar..

Ormanın derinliklerinden, günlerdir saklandıkları, üstleri örtülü çukurlardan iki yüze yakın dwarf peyda olur ve Orkenlere arkadan saldırırlar.

 

Gün doğduğunda, ormanda ölü Orken dışında düşman kalmamıştır.

✱ ✱ ✱

Efendi Argail”, diye saygıyla selamlar Thomas, kendilerine doğru yaklaşan dwarfların başındaki yaşlı cüceyi.

Yüzünde geniş bir sırıtışla yanlarına yaklaşır yaşlı dwarf. Sağında ve solunda duran daha genç dwarflara bir dizi emirler yağdırır ve yaralı elflere yardım ve saldırı esnasında köyün zarar görmüş yerlerinin tamiri için dwarflar dağılırlar.

“Sen Tapınak Muhafızı Thomas olmalısın. Küçük Magellam senden hep iyi sözlerle bahsetmişti..”, der yaşlı Argail.

Thomas bir an afallar. Fevkalade yaşlı olmasına rağmen önünde bir dağ gibi duran dwarfın neden bahsettiğini anlamaz. Neden sonra ‘küçük Magella’nın, Yetkin Tapınak Muhafızı Lady Magella olduğuna ayılır ve boğazından ‘hırk’ diye bir ses kaçar zira hiç bir hayatta, hiçbir koşul altında kendisinin Lady Magella için bu ifadeyi kullanabileceğini düşünemez.

“Umm.. Evet, efendim.”, diye biraz daha afallar Thomas.

Arkasından Bremorel ‘fırk’lar.

“Ve İzci Onbaşı Bremorel..”, der Efendi Argail, “Benim küçük meleğim senin hakkında da az şey anlatmadı; bir karanfil kadar güzel ve acı, bir keçi kadar da inatçı..!”, diye ekler mutlu bir şekilde.

Bremorel kıpkırmızı kesilir!

Thomas ‘fırk’lamaz çünkü kurallar bunu gerektirir; kızlar erkeklere ‘fırk’lar, ama erkekler bunu yaparsa kıyamet kopar ve bu durumun adalet ya da mantık eksikliği ile de hiçbir ilgisi yoktur. Bu da genç Thomas’ın gerçekte ne kadar bilge olduğunun en belirgin göstergesidir.

“Planınız muhteşemdi, Efendi Argail. Ve bir saat gibi işledi..”, der Thomas.

“Saat gibi işledi, çünkü saati kuran siz ikinizdiniz. Ve harika iş çıkardınız. İzci Onbaşımız en başta onların kendisinden nefret edecekleri kadar canlarını yakmış olması, sizin tükenmekte olduğunuzu sandıklarında hiç düşünmeden saldırmalarına sebep oldu.”, der Efendi Argail daha da sırıtarak, sonra Bremorel’e dönüp, “Genç bayan, bir izci değilde bir müzisyen olsaydınız, sergilediğiniz performansı seyretmeleri için bütün Scowling Hills’i toplardım.”, diye açık takdirini gizlemeden söyler.

Bremorel çok çabalar.. ama başaramaz..

..ve yüzü daha da kızarır!

“Plan sizindi.”, diye mırıldanır, utanmış bir şekilde.

“Aslına bakılırsa planın siparişini veren Şerif Standorin’di. Yapan da ben değil, küçük torunum Dridges Motherswolfie idi. Ben sadece önden gidip, sağa sola emirler yağdırmanın dışında avazım çıktığı kadar bağırırken birkaç kafa kırıp önemli görünmeye çalıştım, o kadar!”, diye kıs kıs güler yaşlı dwarf.

“Ama Orkenlerin son saldırısında ‘açık kapı’ bırakılması, en başından beri düşünülmüş bir şeydi ve onun mimarı ise Serenity Home Belediye Başkanı Arthandos Yuleman idi.. Zeki ve kurnaz adam şu Yuleman..”, diye itiraf eder Efendi Argail.

“Ama neden?”, diye biraz afallar Bremorel.

Buna cevap, Efendi Argail’den gelmez.

Thomas sessizce konuşur.

“Çünkü Serenity Home’da bir hain var. Ve o her kimse, edindiği bilgiler sadece belediye konsül üyeleriyle paylaşılan bilgilerdi. Buraya gelirken bize yapılan baskınlar da birer tesadüf değildi. İkimizde o baskınlarda özellikle hedef alınmıştık..”

Bremorel istemsizce sırtının sızladığını hisseder ve yüzünde nahoş bir ifade belirir.

“Açık bırakılan nokta.. Neyi ispatlamış oldu ki?”, diye hırlar.

YULEMAN HER KONSÜL ÜYESİNE FARKLI BİR ‘ZAYIF NOKTA’ BİLGİSİ VERMİŞTİ..“, der Thomas aynı sessiz ama hüküm verir bir ses tonuyla..

Bremorel her şeyi anlar zira bu küçük ‘OYUN‘, gerçekte bir konsül üyesinin de ölüm fermanı olmuştur!

“Bu nokta kimindi?”, diye ister istemez sorar Bremorel.

Thomas ona söyler.

Bremorel hayretle ona bakar. “O salak mı?”

 

Şerif Standorin’in, kasabasının güvenliği söz konusu olduğunda şaka yaptığı asla görülmemiştir. Bremorel bunu, onunla katıldığı sayısız operasyonda, defalarca görmüştür ve şerifin haberi alması halinde, hiçbir tereddüt göstermeksizin, makam ve mevkilere bakmaksızın harekete geçecek ve işi kökünden halledecektir.

Bremorel bundan adı gibi emindir.

 

“Sizin için özel bir mesajım var, Tapınak Muhafızı Thomas.”, der Efendi Argail, birden ciddileşerek.

“Bunu size daha önce iletebilirdim, ama yapmamayı tercih ettim. Bundan dolayı beni anlayacağınızı umuyorum ve sizden özür diliyorum. Korkarım, bundan bir hafta önce, Serenity Home Tapınağı Baş Bekçisi ve benim çok eski dostum Efendi Demos Lightshand vefat etti. Yatağında ve mutlu bir şekilde. Bana gönderdiği en son mektupta bunu açıkça belirtti ve ardında küçük Magellam ve senin gibi iki tane yetkin muhafız bırakabildiğinden dolayı da ne kadar büyük bir coşku hissettiğini, uzun satırlarında defalarca ifade etti.”, der Efendi Argail, yüzünde kederli bir ifadeyle.

“Demos çok iyi bir insandı. Onun sayesinde birçok yetim ev sahibi oldu. Birçok genç eğitim gördü. Serenity Home onun sayesinde her zaman huzurla nefes aldı. Kaybı Scowling ve Elder Hills için bile büyük bir eksiklik olacak.”, diye devam eder Efendi Argail, gözleri dolmuş bir şekilde.

Thomas beti benzi atmış bir şekilde olduğu yerde kalakalır.

Bir kaç defa bir şeyler söylenmeye yeltenir, ancak ağzından herhangi bir ses çıkmaz.

Uzun, zarif ama güçlü parmakları olan bir el ona doğru uzanır ve gencin parmakları arasına dolanır.

“Bize biraz müsaade edin lütfen, Efendi Argail. Bugün Tapınak Muhafızı için oldukça yorucu bir gündü”, der Bremorel, olağan dışı yumuşak bir sesle. “Ve.. kendileri Efendi Demos’u pek severdi..”

“Tabii.. Tabii.. Sizi anlıyorum.. İşin gerisini bizim çocuklar halleder..”, der kısık bir sesle Efendi Argail.

 

Bremorel, dona kalmış Thomas’ı nazikçe alır, ve kendilerine tahsil edilmiş olan küçük köy kulübesine kadar götürürken, arkasından Efendi Argail’in çıldırmışcasına gürlediğini duyar.

“Lillias! Senin ne işin var burada? Jeina! Bu kızın Scowling Hills’den ayrılması yasaklanmıştı! En son bir yere gittiğinizde sizi Kuzey Tundra’lardan toplamıştık ve sen bunun çıkmasına izin mi verdin?!”

“O bir mahkum değil ki, dede. Ve kendisi küçük kız kardeşim. Arada bi şımartılmayı hak ediyor bence.. Ayrıca yaptığı havai fişeklere bayalıyorum ve onları madenlerde onu kitlediğiniz zindan da yapamıyor!”, diye genç, yeşil gözlü sarışın bir dişi dwarfın muallak bir tonla cevap verdiğini duyar.

“O bir zindan değil!”, diye gürler Argail. “Ona tahsis edilmiş olan ofis!”

“Dede.. Yer altında, güneş görmeyen, penceresi bile olmayan, kapısında devamlı bir bekçi olan yere ‘zindan’ deniyor..”

“Biz dwarf’uz.. hepimiz zaten yer altında yaşıyoruz ve hiç bir yer güneş görmüyor ve hiç bir evin penceresi yok! Taşa bakan pencereler mi yapalım?”, diye cevap verir Efendi Argail delirmiş bir şekilde..

“Taşların üstüne balık resimleri çizebiliriz! Bu şekilde deniz manzaralı evlerimiz olur!”

“…”

✱ ✱ ✱

Ben.. ben özür dilerim. Benim bu halimi görmemeni tercih ederdim.”, diye mırıldanır Thomas, donuk bir şekilde.

Genç Thomas, küçük, sade köy kulübesine geldikten sonra bir köşeye sinmiş, başını kolları ve dizleri arasına gömmüş, dakikalarca kontrolsüz bir şekilde ağlamıştı. Yanı başından ayrılmayan izci kız ise onun elini bırakmamış, dolu gözlerle ve sessizce o da gencin yanında oturmuştu. Efendi Demos’u Bremorel’de yakinen tanırdı. Serenity Home’daki bütün yetim ve öksüzler Demos’u yakinen tanırdı.. Yıllarca yetimhaneye keyfi bir şekilde gelip giden deli, mütemadiyen kızgın, kötürüm bir kıza her zaman şefkat ve anlayışla yaklaşmıştı.

“Neden? Erkekliğinden bir şeyler eksilir diye mi korkuyorsun?”, diye bilinçli bir şekilde ‘fırk’lar Bremorel.

“Ben.. ben hiçbir zaman kendimi o kategoride görmedim.”, der Thomas, sessizce.

“Hiçbir zaman olmadın zaten..”, diye yapıştırır izci kız ve uyuşmuş bacaklarını germek ister gibi ayağa kalkar.

Thomas da elini tutan kızı ayağa kalkarken takip eder ama hafif alınmış ve kırılmış bir ifadeyle bakar ona.

“Neden her zaman beni—”, diye başlar ama izci kız araya girer..

“—Sen o kategoriden biri olsaydın, yıllarca peşimden gelmezdin. Gelseydin, ben de senin bir kaçık olduğunu düşünür, bulduğum ilk kuytu yerde de seni harcardım. Neden diğerlerinin birden beni takip etmeyi bıraktıklarını sanıyorsun? Beni takip eden diğerlerine ne olduğunu hiç düşünmedin mi? Bu konuda arkamda çok ‘leş’im var, Thomas..”, der Bremorel, hafif gülümseyerek.

Sonra sesi hayret verici bir şekilde yumuşar, “..ve neden sadece senin, kalan ilk ve son çocuk olduğunu.. Hiç mi merak etmedin?

Bugün burada yaptıkların.. Etkileyiciydi.. Ateş İnmesi büyün.. Lady’nin bile öyle bir şey yaptığını görmedim.”.

Thomas uzun bir süre ağzı açık bir şekilde Bremorel’in yüzüne, ve onun muhteşem yeşil gözlerine bakar zira bu, bu güne kadar ondan duyduğu ilk ve tek iltifat içeren cümledir.

“Umm.. Lady de yapabilir, sanırım. Ama onun ilgi ve ihtisas alanı daha farklı..”, diye biraz afallar.

Uzun bir süre sessizce seyretme sırası Bremorel’e geçmiş gibi, o da önünde duran gencin yüzünü süzer.

“Eee.. bundan sorra nereye?”, diye sorar izci kız.

“Umm.. bilmem. Nereye gitmemizi isterlerse, ya da nerede bize ihtiyaç duyulursa oraya, sanırım.”, diye, beklenmedik bir şekilde kurumuş bir boğazdan gıcırdayarak çıkar Thomas’ın sesi.

Ama Bremorel ona sadece bir salağa bakar gibi bakmaya başlar bir anda.

“Aaaa..”, diye ayılır Thomas. “Cevabını vermeye niyetlisin, galiba..”

“Ne olmasını istersin?”, diye son şanslarını kullanmaya başlar Bremorel.

Thomas omuzlarını silker.

“Altı yaşımdayken, seninle arkadaş olmaya can atıyordum. Şimdiyse.. se.. senin sevgim olmanı arzuluyorum.. çok!”, diye eline yüzüne bulaştırır genç tapınak muhafızı.

“Bu kadar mı?”, diye dürter Bremorel.

“Cesaretim buraya kadar, Morel. Bana yardım et. Lütfen. Benimle ortalarda bir yerlerde buluş. Her neresi olursa olsun, seçeceğin noktayı orta nokta olarak kabul etmeye razıyım.. Ama sen de bir adım at.. bana doğru..”, diye ezilmiş bir şekilde yere bakar Thomas.

Bremorel, önünde iki büklüm olmuş gencin haline ‘fırk’lamaz. Gülmez. Alay etmez..

Dahası, onun bu halini komik bile bulmaz.

“Ben yarım işlerden hoşlanan biri değilim Thomas Dimwood. Bunca yıl beni takip etmiş biri olarak, bu kadarını fark etmiş olmalısın..”, der ve genç adama doğru, tehlikeli bir adım atar.

“Ya hep, ya hiç, öyle mi?”, diye sorar Thomas ama gerçekte bu bir soru değildir. “Seni çok uzun bir zamandır sevdim. Çok.. Şu anda, elimi tutmuş olman bile benim için bir hayat dolusu hayalin gerçekleşmesi anlamına geliyor. Ama senin için bu yarım ise..”, der ve uzanıp kızın diğer elini de kendisi alır. “..diğer yarısını da istiyorum.. Tamamını! Sanırım burada işimiz bitti ve bizim de evimize dönme zamanımız geldi. Konuşacak ve.. paylaşacak çok şeyimiz var.”

“Benim evim yok.. Tapınak Muhafızı. Aslına bakılırsa, bana geri verdiğin düş kapanım dışında da bir şeyim yok!”, der hafif titrek bir sesle Bremorel.

“Senin her zaman bir evin vardı.. Sadece gelmeni bekliyordu, Morel Songsteel. Ve sahip oldukların, sadece bir düş kapanıyla sınırlı da değil.. Artık düşlerimizin kendileri ve birlikte kurabileceğimiz bir geleceğimiz var..”, der Thomas kararlı bir sesle ve önünde duran, yeşil gözleri alev almış, huysuz, inatçı, asabi, belalı, güzel ve kendisinin bile farkında olmadığı kadar da içli olan kıza doğru uzanır..

✱ ✱ ✱

Demek öyle..”, der Yuleman, omuzları çökmüş bir şekilde. “Yaptığımız planın bu kısmının gerçekte başarısız olmasını umuyordum.”

Yüzü çekilmiş, haşin bir ifadeyle Şerif Standorin, Serenity Home Belediye Başkanı Arthandos Yuleman ile özelde buluşmuş, ve habercinin getirdiği bilgileri onunla paylaşmıştı.

“Bizim çocuklar nasıllarmış, peki? Onlardan bir haber var mı?”, diye sorar Yuleman.

“Haberleri getiren koşucu, izci onbaşının bir kaç defa yaralandığını, ancak kılıcıyla ‘şarkı söyler gibi’ savaştığını anlattı —kendi sözleri, benim değil. Korkarım Efendi Moorat gururundan çatlayacak ve aylarca çekilmez olacak! Tapınak muhafızımız ise alanında beklenmedik bir başarı ve taktik zeka göstermiş. Bırak zincirli bir gürz kullanmasını, o çocuğun kütüphaneden çıktığını bile görmedim. Bir de gitmiş kendisini savaş taktikleri konusunda eğitmiş!”, der şerif.

“İnanılır gibi değil..”, diye onaylar Yuleman.

“İçimden bir ses, sanki yetimlerimizi daha yakından takip edip eğitmemiz gerektiğini söylüyor. Arashkan’a gidenlerin de neredeyse hepsi öyle. Ya bir yetim, ya da öksüz..

Senin anlayacağın ikisi de iyiymiş ve pek yakında geri döneceklermiş. Sanırım ayrıntıları geldiklerinde kendilerinden dinlemek zorunda kalacağız.”, diye anlatır şerif.

Yuleman, şerifin anlattıklarını başıyla onaylar, sonra asıl meseleye tekrar dönmek istemiyormuş gibi bir an susar. En sonunda bıkkın bir sesle konuşur.

“Ne yapacaksın?”, diye sorar Yuleman şerife.

Şerif kıpırdamaz.

İstifini, duruşunu, bakışlarını değiştirmez..

Ve sesini de çıkarmaz.

Sessizce Yuleman’a bakar.

“Bunu senden isteyemem Stan..”, diye samimi bir şekilde söylenir Yuleman.

Yuleman’ın özel çalışma odasında yanan tek mum, durumun vehametini vurgulamak istiyormuşcasına titreyerek yanmaktadır. Odanın kendisi, bulundukları belediye binası ve Serenity Home çoktan uyumuştur. Arada bir, uzaklardan bir yerlerden gelen baykuş ‘huu’ları ve çekirge cırlamaları dışında her yer sessizdir.

Şerif, uzun bir süre belediye başkanına cevap vermez.

Neden sonra başını hafif sallar ve, “Bu görevi alırken, karşılaşabileceğim her türlü olası şeyler konusunda uyarılmıştım..”, der sessizce. “Ama bu, içine düşmek istediğim bir durum değildi. Udoorin’in bunu öğrenmesi halinde, beni affedebilecek mi bilemiyorum. Ben.. ben bir daha onun yüzüne nasıl bakacağım, onu düşünüyorum. Hayatı boyunca ona şerefli, haysiyetli ve onurlu olmasını telkin ettim. Ama yapmam gereken bu şey.. hepsini yıkacak bir şey..”

“Udoorin artık bir çocuk değil. Bunu iki yıl önce, bütün yetkilerimi elimden alıp da köyü ayağa kaldırdığında göstermiş oldu.”, der Yuleman ciddi bir şekilde.

“O olayı hala dile getirebildiğine inanamıyorum, Arthi! Aradan iki yıldan fazla geçti ve sen inatla eskitemedin şunu bir türlü. Her fırsatta tozunu alıp önüme sürüyorsun. Udoorin daha bir çocuktu ve sorumluluk alsın diye onu arkamda vekil olarak bırakmıştım. Kimse olabilecekleri bilemezdi..”, der hafif alınmış bir sesle şerif.

Yuleman acı bir şekilde güler.

“Takılıyorum sadece, şerif. Ve takılmaya da daha uzun yıllar devam edeceğim. Ama işin aslı, o gün Udoorin ikimizin de yapamadığı bir şeyi başarmış oldu. Evet, bunu bilerek yapmadı belki ama, hepimizi, içinde bulunduğumuz tehlikelere uyandırmış oldu. Senden sonra harika bir şerif olacak o.”, der Yuleman.

“Hayır..”, diye cevap verir şerif sessizce. “..korkarım o bir şerif olmayacak. Onun kaderi.. çok daha uzaklarda.. ve yükseklerde..”

“Prenses?”, diye sorar Yuleman.

“Prenses..”, diye yanıtlar şerif, “..Udoorin açısından sadece olayları tetikleyen kişi oldu o kadar. Tıpkı Aager’in ısrarlı eğitimi o gün Udoorin’e yapması gerekenler konusunda tetiklediği gibi..”

Oda uzun bir süre daha sessizliğe bürünür.

“Fogstep..”, der Yuleman. “Onun bugün burada olmasını çok isterdim. O bu pis işi seve seve yapardı.”

Şerif başını sallar.

“Evet, yapardı. Ama asla seve seve yapmazdı bunu.”

“Hayret. Ben ondan böyle bir.. şefkat anlayışı beklemezdim.”, der Yuleman.

“Arthandos.. Sence Drashan’dan, öldürmekten zevk alan birini getirebilecek kadar mı ahmak biriyim senin gözünde?”, diye alınmış gibi gelen bir sesle konuşur şerif.

Yuleman sırıtır.

“O rolü en son yediğimde daha genç bir belediye başkanıydım, Stan. Ve beni çok iyi keklemiştin o gün.. Herkesin ortasında!”

“Güzel bir gündü.”, diye Standorin’de sırıtır.

Ama ikisininde sırıtışı uzun sürmez.

Şerif Standorin ayağa kalkar.

“Bu gece?”, diye sorar Yuleman.

“Bu gece..”, diye tasdik eder şerif.

“Ne yapaca— boşver. Bilmek istediğimi hiç sanmıyorum açıkçası..”, der kendinden bile tiksinmiş bir sesle Yuleman.

“Evet. Bilmesen çok daha iyi olur. Sen bu işten tamamen muaf olmalısın..”, diye onaylar şerif bıkkın bir şekilde. Sonra bulundukları loş odanın kapısına yönelir, sessizce kapıyı açar ve belediye binasından ayrılır.

✱ ✱ ✱

Ne.. ne oluyor?.. Şe.. şerif..? Ne demek oluyor bu?”, diye zorlukla konuşur genç adam, zira iri cüssesiyle şerif onu boğazından yakalamış, ağzını tıkamış, başına bir bohça geçirip gecenin karanlığında onu ormana getirmiştir.

Başından bohça, ağzından da pis paçavra çıkarılmış genç adam korkuyla şerife bakarken titremesine engel olamaz.

“Neden kendi halkını sattığını sormayacağım bile.”, der şerif sakince. “Çünkü sen, ihanetinle kaç kişinin hayatına mal olmuş olabileceğini hiç düşünmeyen, kaç bin kişinin ise hayatıyla oynadığının farkına bile varamayacak kadar düşüncesiz ve şımarık bir ahmaksın.”

“Bu.. bunu babam duyduğunda hepinizi mahvedecek!”, diye çığlar genç adam korkuyla.

“Baban asla sana ne olduğunu öğrenmeyecek. Kendisi de yarın şafakla birlikte artık bir konsül üyesi olmayacak. Kendi isteği ile istifa edecek, ya da onun başına gelecek olan, senin başına gelecek olandan pek de farklı olmayacak. Sanırım ikimiz de onun hangi tercihi yapacağını biliyoruz..”, der şerif.

“Be.. benim güçlü dostlarım var!”, diye daha da tiz bir sesle ağlamaklı bir şekilde kekeler genç adam.

Şerif gence soğuk bir şekilde sırıtır.

Sonra hafif kenara çekilir ve yerde yatan, boğazı boydan boya yarılmış, kukuletalı cübbesi kan içindeki bir cesedi gösterir.

“Bunun gibi mi?”, diye sorar gence, ürpertici bir sükunetle.

Genç, yerdeki ölü adama bakar ve fal taşı gibi açılmış gözlerinden onu tanıdığını anlaşılır.

“Gitmeden önce bu dünyada söylemek istediğin son bir şey var mı, genç Lucious Franderson? Pişman olduğuna dair.. Af ya da özür?”, diye sorar şerif.

“BUNU YAPAMAZSI—”

 

Genç Lucious dizlerinin üstüne çöker.

İki eliyle de, fışkıran kandan sırılsıklam olmuş boğazını tutar ama bu hiçbir işe yaramaz ve zaten bu hali de uzun sürmez..

Genç adamın açılmış boğazından birkaç hırıltılı, ıslak ses kurtulur, gözleri kayar ve olduğu yere yüzükoyun kapaklanır.

Etrafa hayatı saçıkırken bir-iki defa tepinir, sonra o da durur.

 

“Ben de öyle sanmıştım..”, der şerif, yüzünde acı, utanç ve tiksinti dolu bir ifadeyle.

“Ölürken bile şımarık ve ahmak!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Tel’Shee dim’Ora’dan ayrılma zamanı gelmiştir.

Elf halkının tamamı, Bremorel ve Thomas’ı uğurlamak için köyün barikatlı girişinde toplanmış, uzun vedalaşmalardan sonra elfler barikatı aralarken halkın arasından yaşlı bir elf kadın, topallayarak iki gence yaklaşır.

“Al bunları güzel kızım.”, der yaşlı elf kadın ve Bremorel’e küçük, ince elf işlemeli, silik pembe renkli ipek bir bohça uzatır.

Thomas durur, Bremorel ise hayretle yaşlı kadına bakar.

“Siz.. siz saldırı için savaş borusunu çalan cesur teyzesiniz!”, diye ünler izci kız.

Yaşlı elf mutlu bir şekilde gülümser.

“Evet, o bendim, kızım. Duyduğum kadarıyla sen de bir başka izci onbaşının yakın arkadaşıymışsın. Adı Laila. Kendisi ‘Wolvesbane’ adını hak etmiş.”, der kadın.

“Laila..? Evet kendisi kuzenimdir. Çok önemli bir görev için, oldukça uzaklarda şimdi.”, der Bremorel gülümseyerek.

“Sen.. sen onun kuzeni misin? Yoksa sen Seleina Sunstrider’ın kızı mısın..?”, diye hayretle bakar yaşlı elf, izci kıza.

Bremorel bir an çarpılmış gibi olur zira bu ismi.. annesinin ismini çok, ama çok uzun bir zamandır bir başkasının ağzından duymamıştır..

“Demek söylentiler doğruymuş.”, diye sessizce mırıldanır kadın içli bir şekilde.

“Söylentiler?”, diye tamamen şaşırmış bir ifadeyle sorar Bremorel.

“Bir ‘Silverdenú’un bize geri döndüğü..”, der yaşlı kadın ve istemsiz bir şekilde sarılır izci kıza.

Bremorel tamamen afallar.

Ve birden ayılıverir.

“Silverdenú.. Siz.. siz Laila’nın anneannesisiniz!”

“Evet, güzel kızım. Senin de.. Seleina Sunstrider, senin annen, elflere yakındı ama bir insan olduğu için Laila’nın annesiyle arkadaşlık etmesini istemedik ama yine de kızım annenden vazgeçmedi ve ikisi birbirinin can ve sır arkadaşı oldular. Halkımızın kör anlayışları yüzünden ikisini de iteledik. Ama ben onu kendi kızım gibi severdim. O çok iyi, samimi, sevgi ve hayat dolu bir kızdı..

Bizler senin annenden etkilendiği için kızımın bir insanla evlendiğini düşündük. Ve onu, Liala’nın annesini, Seraphim Silverdenú’yu, bir insanla evlendiği için dışladık ve o öldü..

Aradan yıllar geçti ama bu günahımızı Gökler unutmadı. Bizi ve köyümüzü yakarak cezalandırdılar. Elimizden yetişkin bütün gençlerimizi aldılar. Sonra da seni bize gönderdiler, ki hatamızı anlayalım diye. Ve sen, bir insan, dışladığım öz kızımın küçük yeğeni, buraya geldin, köyümüzü inşa ettin ve bizi, kendi kanın pahasına korudun.. Senin o duvarda çarpışırken defalarca yaralandığını gördüm. Buna rağmen düşmedin ve bizi terk etmedin..”, der yaşlı elf kadın ve hıçkırıklarla ağlamaya başlar.

Bremorel şaşkına dönmüştür ve ne diyeceğini bilemez.

Yandan Thomas yaklaşır.

“Evet. Siz onları dışlayarak büyük bir günah işlediniz, zira bunu yaparak en kıymetli şeyinizden de men edilmiş oldunuz; çocuklarınız.. Geleceğiniz! Bu ders size çok pahalıya mal oldu, ama hatanızı anladınız ve bundan dolayı da ödüllendirildiniz. Size geri verilen bir geleceğiniz var artık. Onların kıymetini bilin ve aynı hatalardan sakının. Bugün, burada, elfler, insanlar ve dwarflar bir oldu ve düşmanı yendi. Alınması gereken ders de buydu. Bu dersi gelecek nesillere anlatma sorumluluğu da size ait.”, der genç tapınak muhafızı, sert bir şekilde.

Yaşlı kadın daha da inleyerek ağlar ve Bremorel’e sımsıkı sarılır.

“Burası.. burası senin evin güzel kızım. Senin ve Laila’nın evi.”, der ve izci kızın eline ipek bohçayı tutuşturur.

“Bunlar benim kızımın, Seraphim’in çeyizliği idi. Onlar artık senin. Sevgili Laila’mız da bize geri döndüğünde, bir tane de ona hazırlamış olacağım..”


Dwarflar Scowling Hills’e geri döndüklerinde, yaşlı Argail Smitefast eline aldığı koca bir tokmakla ilk denemeyi kendi evinde yapar. Çarpık çurpuk açtığı deliklere kaba pencereler geçirir, sonra Jeina’yı çağırtıp, yeni açmış olduğu ‘pencerelerin’ taşa bakan yüzeylerine balık resimleri çizdirtir. Jeina büyük bir mutlulukla taşların üstüne her türlü balık, deniz kestanesi, koca deniz kabukları ve bir tanede, her nasılsa, yıllar önce karşılaştığı bir Tundra Elf’e çok benzeyen, beyaz, örme saçlı bir de deniz kızı çizer..

Sonuç beklenmedik bir şekilde tutar ve bir anda orman yangını gibi yayılır. Scowling Hills’den Elder Hills’e kadar bütün dwarf kadınlarından talep ve siparişler yağmaya başlar ve Jeina yıllarca en popüler dwarf olur. Küçük kız kardeşi Lillias ile beraber, neredeyse bütün dwarf evlerine pencere ve deniz, orman, dağ, bulut, göl ve çiçek bahçeli manzara resimleri yaparlar!.. Lillias’ın küçük bir önerisi üzerine tüm dwarf moda camiası tekrar çalkalanır ve iki kız kardeş, pencere ve manzara yaptıkları bütün evlere, ‘perde’ uygulaması için tekrar çağrılırlar! Bu çılgın moda yangının bir uzantısı da, hiç beklenmedik bir şekilde, Lady Magella’nın en küçük (ve en belalı) kız kardeşi olan Grugreth Twonutz’dan gelir. 

Kendisine bir kalkan siparişi geldiği bir gün, bitirdiği kalkanın üstüne, ablası Jeina’nın kendi ‘pencerelerine’ yaptığı deniz kızını çizer. Uygulama çok da başarılı olmaz ve daha çok abstre bir.. ‘şey’e benzer. Kalkanı almaya gelen dwarf, Grugreth’e “Bu ne?”, diye sorma hatasında bulunur.

Kaçık kız kaçık gözlerle dwarf’a bakar, sonra dalar..

Dwarf, Grugreth’ten yediği dayaktan hayatta kalan nadir kişilerden biri olarak popüler olur. Ama asıl dikkat çeken şey ise, kalkanındaki şekillerdir.

Bir anda Grugreth’in genelde boş olan demirci dükkanına, üstlerinde çizimler olması istenen yüzlerce yeni kalkan siparişi gelir. Bunu takip eden bir kaç yıl içerisinde, Scowling Hills ve Elder Hills’de penceresiz, perdesiz, manzarasız ve desenli kalkansız ev kalmaz..

 

book 01 books dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi modül serenity home tarihçe the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

A Bard’s Tale X
“Dorin’s Day”

A Bard’s Tale X
“Dorin’s Day”

Timeline:

Dış görünüşler aldatıcı olabilir. Toplum bizim dış görünüşümüze bakar ve ona göre bir fiyat ve bir de rol belirler.. Ve genelde de bu rolün gerçekte bize uygun olup olmadığı ile ilgilenmez.

Bazen toplumsal kalıplar bizi hiç istemediğimiz şekillere sokar. Ama en sonunda tercihi yapan bizizdir ve yaptığımız tercihlerin sonuçlarını da üstlenmemiz gerekir.

Bu, bir çocuğun kendisine biçilen rolün içine sıkıştırılmasına karşı verdiği farkındasız itirazın hikayesidir..

Bu hikaye, Serenity Home yangınından dört, dört buçuk yıl önce başlar ve hem daha gerisini, hem de daha ilerisini kapsar.

 

 

Omuzunda ki o iz ne?”

Genç adam soruyu duymasıyla kendisini, kıyısında yıkandığı büyük Arashkan gölünün dibinde bulması bir olur. Panik içerisinde suyun yüzeyine tepinerek çıkar ve ağzına, burnuna ve boğazına kaçan suları zorlukla ve boğuk öksürüklerle temizler.

Kıpkırmızı olmuş yüzünü, istifini bozmamaya çalışarak gizler. Genç adam, burnuna kadar suyun içinde öylece durur.

Yavaşça sesin geldiği yöne döner ve “Ummm.. hangi iz?, diye sorar.

“Özür dilerim. Seni irkiltmek istememiştim.”, der yumuşak sesiyle, gölün kıyısında duran kız.

“Sorun değil. Sadece roller biraz yanlış oldu.”, diye mırıldanır.

“Anlayamadım..”, der genç kız.

Udoorin, sadece bir kaç kulaç ilerisinde, suyun yanında çömelmiş kıza bakar. Kızı ilk gördüğü günden beri ondan gözlerini alamamış olması, her nasılsa onda yeni yeni fark ettiği ayrıntılardan hiçbir şey eksiltmemiştir. Onu ilk gördüğünde fark ettiği şey gözleri olmuştu. Gözleri ve gözlerinin rengi.. ve şekli.. ve o gözleri süsleyen kirpiklerinin ne kadar uzun olduğu.. ve o gözlerin ardında yanan ateşi. Udoorin, o sırada kızın gözlerinde gizlenmiş ateşin sebebini bilmiyor olsa da yine de fark etmişti işte..

Sonra onun ince, çok hafif çilli burnunu ve minik, kırmızı ağzını..

Seri cinayet silsilesi gibi bunları —ve daha fazlasını— ard arda fark etmiş ve elinde savurduğu baltayı bir anda savurmaktan vaz geçmiş ve öylece kız baka kalmıştı..

O günden sonra kızın görünüşünde, duruşunda, davranışlarında, duygu ve düşüncelerinde fark ettiği ayrıntılar git gide artmış ve Udoorin’in bunların listesini tuttuğu zihinsel defterini çoktan doldurmuş, şu anda ise mutlu bir şekilde on dördüncü koçandadır!

Udoorin bu sefer kızın siyah, kuzguni saçını her zamanki gibi örmediğini, hafif dağınık bıraktığını fark etmiştir —ki bu onu biraz şaşırtır zira kız asla düzgün olmayacak şekilde giyinmemiş ve davranmamıştır. Saçları da her zaman, büyülüymüş gibi ‘düzgün’dür. Bununla beraber, kızın ‘hafif dağınık’ halini takdir etmekten de kendisini alamaz.

Udoorin’in gözünde bu kızın her hali güzeldir.

“Umm.. normalde kızlar gölde yıkanırken, erkekler yanlışlıkla onlara tesadüf eder.. ‘Roller yanlış oldu’ derken bunu kastetmiştim.”, diye lafı biraz ağzında geveleyerek açıklar.

“Ben.. ben özür dilerim. Gidebilirim.. rahatsız olduysan.”, diye kız da biraz geveler lafı ağzında.

“Hayır. Lütfen gitme.. Yani.. kalma da.. yani.. kalma ama gitme de!”, diye tamamen afallar ve zihninde Aager’in ağzından kendisini “Avanaksın olm sen. Tam bi avanak!”, diye azarlar.

“Ben.. yanlışlıkla gelmedim aslında.”, diye hızlı bir şekilde itiraf eder Lorna.

Udoorin kıza öylece bakar.

“Yaralarını merak ettim ve belki bir şeye ihtiyacın olur diye düşündüm.”, der kız ve ne kadar kötü bir yalancı olduğunu ortaya koymuş olur. “..ve üzerinde zırhın da yok, silahların da.” diye gevelemeye devam eder ve kendi yüzü de kızarmaya başlar.

Udoorin daha da hayretle kıza bakar.

“Beni korumak için geldin..”, diye hayretini de, hayranlığını da, mutluluğunu da gizleyemez.

“Lady kimsenin yalnız dolaşmasını doğru bulmuyor. Ama kimse senin yalnız olup olmadığınla pek ilgilenmiyor..”, diye tamamen kızarmış bir yüzle cevap verir kız.

“Ummm.. Neredeyse iki haftadır yollardayız. Sim Town’a kokarak girmek istemedim..”, der. Sonra işin gerçeğini itiraf eder.

“Aslında Lady koktuğumu ve gidip yıkansam iyi olacağını, yoksa hayatımın geri kalanını yalnız geçireceğimle alakalı bazı tehditler savurdu!”, diye dürüstçe mırıldanır Udoorin. “Umm.. Yıkanmak istiyorsan gelebilirsin..”, diye önerir.. Genç adam bir anda söylediği şeye ayılır ve daha da kızarmış bir yüzle kekeleyerek ekler “Yani.. ben çıkabilirim.”, diye kızı kurtaracağına, kendisini de, onu da daha da batırır.

“Ben.. biz.. kızlar sonra.. akşam halledeceğiz. Sen keyfine bak!”, der Lorna ve o da genç adamı, kendisiyle beraber suda boğar..

Bir an ikiside öylece bakakalırlar.

Neden sonra Udoorin boğazını temizler, kız da ayılır gibi “Omuzundaki iz..”, diye tekrar sorar.

“Ummm..”, diye utanarak takılır Udoorin zira o izin anısını hatırlamak istemediği gibi, ize en başta sebep olan ve olayı tetikleyen şeyi söylemesi halinde, hemen ilerisinde, suyun kıyısında duran kızın üzerinde oluşturabileceği yanlış izlenimi de düşünür.

Udoorin bu kıza deli gibi vurulmuş olduğunun açık bir şekilde farkındadır. Ve ona yalan söylemek gibi bir şeyi asla yapmayacağına o an karar verir.

“Bu.. bu bir ısırık izi..”, der sessizce.

Lorna’nın iki kaşıda havaya kalkar ve hayretle “Isırık izi mi? Ne ısırdı seni?”, diye sorar.

“Umm.. Bremorel! Bir de bacağımın arkasında var. O da Laila’ya ait!”

A Bard’s Tale VIII, “Aager”

(alıntı.. aslı için bkz. Hikaye: A Bard’s Tale VIII, “Aager”)

Serenity Home kasabasının karakol binasında bir grup güvenlik görevlisi toplanmış, esas duruşta şerifin gelmesini beklemektedirler. Aralarından geniş omuzlu, uzun boylu bir çocuk, rahat bir şekilde duvara yaslanmış olan Aager’i fark eder. Sırasından ayrılır ve ona doğru yaklaşır. Tanımadığı bu adamın önünde dikilir, çatık kaşlarıyla ona pis bakışlar atar ve kaslarını şişirir.

Gürlü sesiyle “Sen de kimsin ve burada ne işin var?”, diye bela arayan bir üslupla önünde duran adama hırlar.

Aager hiçbir şey söylemeden iri gence bakar.

Genç, kendisinin kale alınmayışından hiç hoşlanmaz.

“Sana söylüyo—” Genç adam gerisini getiremez çünkü bir anda kendisini yerde bulur ve ne diyeceğini de hatırlamaz ama başında oluşmuş devasa bir ağrı ile olduğu yerde inlemeye başlar. Aager’in hangi ara belindeki copu çıkarıp kullandığını kimse görmez.. Bütün görevliler oldukları yerde kala kalmışlardır.

Karakol binasının kapısı açılır ve “Günaydın beyler.. “, diyerek şerif içeri girer..

..ve yerde yatan genci fark eder. Bir bakışta ne olduğunu anlar. Yüzünde keyifli bir ifade belirir ve yerde inleyen çocuğa yaklaşarak “Aaa..! Demek çoktan tanıştınız..”, der. Sonra diğerlerine döner ve “..ama bilmeyenler için, bu bey ‘Efendi Aager’. Kendisi bu sabah itibariyle benim sağ kolum oldu..”, der. Sonra Aager’e döner ve yerde yatan genci işaret ederek, “Bu da Udoorin. Kendisi oğlum olur. Sorumlulukların arasında, onu adam etmek de var. Deyim yerindeyse ‘eti senin, kemikleri benim. Bol şans!”

Aager sevimsiz bir ifadeyle yerde yatmış, kırılmış kafasını inleyerek tutan çocuğa yaklaşır ve onu adam etmeye başlar;

“Bir: sana müsaade edilmeden sırandan ayrılmayacaksın.. İki: kuşkulandığın birine cop mesafesinden daha yakında durmayacaksın.. Üç:  her kim olursa olsun, muhatabına her zaman ‘bayım’, ‘hanımefendi’ yada en azından ‘efendim’ diye hitap edeceksin.. Dört: ısıracaksan, havlamayacaksın. Aslına bakılırsa, hiçbir zaman havlamayacaksın! Beş: ölmediğin sürece yerde yatmayacaksın çünkü yerde yatarsan ölürsün..!”

Ayağa kalk Udoorin!” *, diye hırlar karalar içindeki adam.

“Eveet beyler, biz kendi işimize bakalım. Herkes bugünkü nöbet yerini biliyor sanırım.”, der şerif ve adamlarıyla karakol binasından ayrılır.

“..Sana ayağa kalkmanı söyledim genç adam!”, diye emrini tekrarlar Aager acımasızca.

“..Ka.. Kafamı kırdın kahrolasıca!”, diye inler yerde yatan genç.

Aager hiç sektirmez ve belinden çektiği copu tekrar gencin tepesine indirir. Genç bir çığlık atar ve yarılmış alnını tutar.

“Kahrolasıca ‘efendim‘!, diye düzeltir Aager ve “Ayağa kalk!”, diye tıslar yine.

Genç, zorlukla ayağa kalkmaya çalışır ama başına yediği iki darbeden sonra bu sadece gözlerinin kararmasına sebep olur ve olduğu yere yığılır. Kendinden geçmeden önce duyduğu son şey, karalar içindeki adamın “Sen öldün!”, diyen acımasız hırıltısı olur.

Bunu takip eden günlerde, Aager’in kimliği olmasa da, şerifin oğlunun kafasını kırdığı haberi yayılır. Karalar içindeki adam, bir orman yangını gibi çöker Serenity Home kasabasına. Ne zaman, nerede peydah olacağı asla kestirilemez, ancak iş kasabanın güvenliği ile ilgili olan her yerde ortaya çıkar ve kafası kırılan ilk kişi genç Udoorin olsa da, son kişi olmayacaktır. Belediye konsül üyeleri bu durumdan tedirgin olsalar da, Başkan Arthandos Yuleman ve Şerif Standorin geri adım atmazlar. Uzun toplantılar ve konuşmalardan sonra şerif söz alır.

“Beyler.. Serenity Home çok uzun yüz yıllardır bir köy ve bir kasaba olmaya alışmış durumda. Ancak bir şehir olmak istiyorsak, bazı alışkanlıklarımızın değişmesi lazım. Artık bir köylü gibi değil, bir şehirli gibi olaylara bakmamız gerekiyor ve açıkçası ‘eski güzel günler’i yad ederek bunu başaramayız. Oluşabilecek sorunlara şimdiden çözümler bulmuş olmamız gerekiyor. Oluştuktan sonra ‘yama işi’ bir kasaba için tatmin edici olsa da, bir şehir için yeterli olmaz. Etki alanımız Durkahan şehrinden Drashan’a, Rook Dağlarından, neredeyse Endless Watch’a kadar uzanıyor. Sizler bir şehrin idaresi için kendinizi hazırlamalısınız. Bizler de büyük bir şehrin güvenliği için uğraşıyor olacağız zira küçük düşünme zamanı sona erdi ve artık öyle bir lüksümüz de yok! “

Bu konuşma, bazı kırıntılar dışında Yuleman ve birçok konsül üyesince büyük destek görür. Buna Serenity Home Tapınak Baş Korucusu Demos Lightshand’den de destek gelince, işler bir anda hız kazanır ve Efendi Aager’in her yerde sessiz varlığı hissedilir. İşe, bütün ayrıntılarıyla kasabayı ve son otuz yılda adı kayda değer herkes hakkında bilgi edinerek başlar. Sonra kasabanın sınırlı muhafızlarının sayılarını kademeli bir şekilde arttırır ve sıfırdan eğitimleri için Elder Hills ve Scowling Hills’den özel eğitmenler getirtir. Kasabaya bağlı izcilerle olan kopuk ve gelişigüzel iletişimi bir standarta oturtur. Sonra da Ritüel Forest, Dim Woods, Oger’s Foot, Rook Mountains, Themalsar Harabeleri, Elder Hills, Scowling Hills, Silent Hills ve Tinker Hills hakkında ayrıntılı ve güncel bilgi için izcileri bu bölgelere gönderir ve gelen yeni bilgiler ışığında kasaba için oluşabilecek potansiyel tehlikeleri tespit eder.

Efendi Aager, yaptığı tespitlerle tatmin olup yerinde oturmaz. Bir yandan, aralarında uyanık ve eğitimli olanlardan birkaç kasaba muhafızını kendi idaresine kaydırır ve onları eğitirken, bir yandan da izcilerden aldığı bilgiler doğrultusunda yaptığı tehdit değerlendirmeleri sonucunda, söz konusu tehlikelerin ortadan kaldırılmaları için harekete geçer.

İlk operasyonu, Dim Woods’da uzun yıllar sorun oluşturan kurtlar ve ortadan kaybolan kadın ve kızlarla ilgili olur. Onun idare ettiği operasyon, Laila ve Morel adındaki iki genç izci kızın varlığı ile beklenmedik bir başarıyla sonuçlanır. Aager geri döndüğünde hazırlayacağı raporda bu operasyonu

 

Operasyon Kodu: Dim Woods — 001

“Dim Woods Kurt Kapanı Operasyonu”

“Bane’s Song Operasyonu”

BAŞARIYLA TAMAMLANDI

 

..olarak kayda geçecektir.

Yine mi?!”, diye homurdanır genç Udoorin yatağından. “Daha gün doğmadı bile. Bu ne hergün hergün!”

Udoorin son üç aydır olduğu gibi, yine odasının camının altında gelen bir tıkırtıya uyanmıştır.

“Milletin camını sevgilisi tıklatır, benimkine ise manyağın teki musallat oldu!”, der asabi bir şekilde. Sonra yorganını üstünden savurur, seri hareketlerle üstüne bir şeyler geçirir, darma dağınık odasının kapısını çeker, ardından hışımla çarpar ve dışarı çıkar.

“Yatağını paylaştığın biri mi var?”, diye hırıltılı sesiyle sorar, siyahlar içinde genç Udoorin’i bekleyen adam.

Udoorin durur..

Sonra, “Hayır yok! Olsaydı bunu sen biliyor olurdun zaten.”, diye söylenir Udoorin.

“Senin özel hayatın beni ilgilendirmiyor. Beni ilgilendiren senin mesleki hayatın..”, der Aager, üzerine alınmadan.

“Neden soruyorsun o zaman?”, diye nezaketsiz bir şekilde sorar genç adam.

“Her sabah odanın kapısını çarptığını duyuyorum. Boş bir odanın kapısını dramatik bir şekilde her sabah çarpıyor olmandaki ahmaklığa bir anlam veremediğim için soruyorum.”, der Aager, hafif omuzlarını silkerek.

“Sana çarpıyorum!”, diye dikleşir Udoorin.

“Aaaa.. ben odada yokken bana kapı çarpıyorsun. Cesursun genç Udoorin.”, diye sevimsiz bir şekilde sırıtır Aager, genç adama. “En azından ‘Kim o?!’ diye kafanı pencereden ahmakça bir şekilde dışarı uzatmıyorsun artık. On altıncı defa gırtlağını kestikten sonra bunu yapmayı bırakmış olman da bir başarı sanırım.. Hazırsan başlayabilirsin. Üç tur.. Bulman gereken üç şey var. Her biri, bir sonrakinin yeri hakkında ipucu barındırıyor.”

ÜÇ TUR MU?“, diye neredeyse haykırır Udoorin zira ‘tur’lardan her biri kasabanın etrafında tam bir tur koşmaya tekabül etmektedir. Yemiyormuş gibi bir kaç gün önce de adam, geceden sakladığı bir şeyleri bulması gibi saçma sapan yeni bir oyun icat etmiştir!

“Üç tur mu, ‘efendim‘!”, diye düzeltir Aager sessizce.

“Üç tur mu, EFENDİM?!“, diye isyanını yineler genç adam, ne var ki işin içine ‘efendim‘ girince istediği vurgu, hışmını kaybeder.

“Üç tur genç Udoorin. Başlasan iyi olur zira üç saatin var..”, der Aager.

“Lanet olsun.. Başınıza karga işeyesiceler!”, diye en son duyduğu küfrü savurur Udoorin.

“Lanet olsun, başınıza kargalar işesin, ‘efendim‘!”, diye onu da düzeltir Aager.

Genç adam koşmaya başlar ve kasabanın, Serenity Irmağına bakan çıkışına doğru, evlerin arasından kaybolunca, çocuğun çıktığı evin kapısı açılır ve ardından şerif belirir.

“Hiçbir gelişme göremiyorum.”, der sakince. Ama adamın fena halde üzgün olduğu bellidir.

“Neden öyle düşünüyorsunuz?, diye sorar Aager, şerife.

“Annesini kaybettikten sonra böyle oldu. Hiçbir şeye karşı ilgisi olmayan, tamamen umarsız çocuğun birine dönüştü. Ne yaptıysam günübirlik ilgi dışında kalıcı bir alaka oluşturamadım onda.”, diye sessizce kaynar şerif.

“Sorun da bu efendim.”, der Aager şerife.

“Ne gibi?”

“Ona acıyıp duruyorsunuz. Siz ona acıdığınız sürece de o değişmeyecek. Sizin acımanızın ona faydası değil, zararı dokunuyor. Ama üzülmeyin. Ben ona acımayacağım çünkü hayatımda kimse bana acımadı. Öyle ki, sorarlarsa tarif edemeyeceğim belki de tek şey budur.. Genç Udoorin benden yeterince acı çekince, hayatında ilk kez bir amacı olacak. Doğru seçilmiş bir amaç olmayacak bu belki ama, yine de onun için gerçek bir amaç olacak.. ve muhtemelen beni öldürmeye çalışacak!”, diye konuşur Aager.

Şerif, önünde duran adama hayretle bakar.

“Gerçek nefret bir günde oluşmaz. Zamana ihtiyaç duyar. Nefretin ne olduğunu bilmeyen biri, sevginin de gerçekte ne olduğunu bilmez — kıymetini de..”, der Aager kati bir sesle.

Şerifin gözleri kısılır ve sessizce “Sen nefreti çok iyi biliyor gibisin..”, der ona.

“Evet.. Çok iyi bilirim..”, der hırıltılı sesiyle Aager.

“Kimdi.. çok sevdiğin..?”, diye her şeyi bir anda anlamış bir şekilde sorar şerif.

Uzun bir süre cevap vermez Aager.

Neden sonra, “Kız kardeşim..”, diye fısıldar..

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager tahmininde doğru çıkar.

Karakoldaki ilk karşılaşmalarının üzerinden beş ay kadar geçmiştir ve Udoorin artık bu adamdan nefret etmektedir. Ve farkında olmadan onu devamlı gözleriyle takip etmeye başlar. Aager nereye giderse genç Udoorin, yanan gözlerle onun peşindedir ve zamanla adamın sabit bir güzergahı olduğunu fark eder.

Udoorin’in zihninde yavaş yavaş bir plan oluşmaya başlar. Plan hiç de çetrefilli bir plan değildir. İki arkadaşıyla buluşacak ve Aager’in evine dönerken kullandığı güzergahta uygun, kuytu bir noktada pusuda bekleyecekler ve adam geçerken Udoorin adamı yakalayacak, diğer ikisi de ellerindeki sopalarla adamın kaşını gözünü —ve neresine gelirse— yaracaklardı..

Udoorin, arkadaşlarıyla karanlıkta, sabırla Aager’in gelmesini bekler.

 

..ama Aager gelmez.

 

Genç Udoorin’in ısrarı üzerine iki saat daha bekledikten sonra arkadaşlarının canı sıkılır ve kalkıp giderler. Kendi canı da fena halde sıkılmış bir şekilde Udoorin’de evinin yolunu tutar. Karanlıkta biri “Sen öldün!”, der ve Udoorin kafasına yediği bir cop darbesiyle yere yığılır. Ertesi gün karakolda uyanır. Uyandığında karşı hücrede arkadaşlarını da, kafaları yarılmış bir şekilde bulur!

“Sanırım bugün yapacağın altı tur, yaptığın planın nerelerinde eksik ve hatalar olduğunu düşünmen için yeterli olacaktır. Dört saatin var!”, der Aager hırıltılı sesiyle.

✱ ✱ ✱

Bu olayı takip eden aylarda Aager, genç Udoorin’i sonuna kadar zorlar. Udoorin, kasabanın etrafında o kadar çok defa koşmuştur ki, o bölgeyi avucunun içi gibi bilecektir. Bunun yanı sıra babasının zoruyla kılıç eğitimlerini de almaya başlar, ancak çocuğun kılıca karşı hiçbir ilgisi olmaz. O sadece eline geçirdiği baltaları savurup bir şeyleri ikiye, üçe.. yada altıya bölmeyi tercih eder. Parçalar ne kadar çok ve ufaksa genç Udoorin’de o kadar mutludur.

Aager, Udoorin’in silah tercihi konusunda tarafsız kalır. Ona göre her silah, sadece birer silahtır. Kullanan iyi ise ölümcül, değilse ölü bir adamın yanında duran atıl bir nesnedir, o kadar.

Udoorin babası için kılıç kullanmayı öğrense de, babasına rağmen savaş baltalarını kullanmayı daha iyi öğrenir ve bununla beraber Efendi Aager’e karşı kendisini daha da cesur hisseder. Acı bir şekilde cesaretini ona karşı sınar ve cesaretin yalnız başına yeterli olmadığını en sonunda anlar. Udoorin, Aager’den gerçek anlamda nefret eder. Ondan ve onun her “Sen öldün!”, deyişinden..

Genç Udoorin on yedi yaşına bastığında Efendi Aager’le iletişimi değişmese de, ona bakış açısı tamamen değişecektir.

Oraya bir operasyon yapmamız şart”, der Efendi Aager.

O gün karakolda toplanmış Belediye Başkanı Yuleman, Şerif Standorin, tapınak temsilcisi olarak gönderilen Lady Magella adındaki, ciddi bakışları olan bir dişi dwarf, İzce Efendileri Davien ve Moorat ve onların en yetkin öğrencileri Laila ve Bremorel bulunmaktadırlar. O güne kadar Rituel Forest’daki Oger’s Foot’da yaşayan ogrelerle genelde huzursuz da olsa bir barış olmasına rağmen, bir ay kadar önce, aralarından azılı bir tanesi çıkmış ve önüne çıkan herkesi öldürmüş olduğu haberi alınması sonrasında, yakalanması için gönderilen İzci Efendileri Davien ve Moorat, ogre’i lanetli Themalsar harabelerinin kıyısına kadar takip etmişler, ancak daha ileri gitmemeyi tercih etmişlerdir zira kendisine Ogre Prinsh Cabot adını veren dev yaratık, ogre ve gnoll takipçileriyle beraber harabelere girmiş ve orada saklanmıştır.

“O harabeler sınırlarımızın çok dışında.”, der Yuleman, sessizce.

“O harabeler sınır tanımaz..”, der şerif burnundan soluyarak. Belli ki bu tartışmayı Yuleman ile daha önce defalarca yapmıştır.

“Haklısınız, şerif.”, diye alttan alır bir sesle konuşur belediye başkanı. “Ne var ki, o lanetli yer için ne bir kaynağımız var, ne de gönderebileceğimiz birileri.”

“Davien? Moorat?”, diye iki izci efendisine de bakar şerif, umutla.

“Zor olacak. Ama gerekiyorsa giderim—”, diye başlar Davien ama Moorat onun sözünü keser.

“Hayır. İkimiz de gitsek, hatta şerif bile gelse bu yeterli olmaz.”, der kati bir şekilde.

“Nereden biliyorsun?”, diye sorar biraz alınmış bir şekilde şerif.

“Bu basit bir matematik meselesi. Onlardan çok var. Bizden yok!”, diye omuzlarını silker, Moorat.

“Efendi Demos ne düşünüyorlar bu konuda?”, diye sorar şerif, dişi dwarf’a.

“Tapınak alınacak karara destek verecek ve elinden geleni yapacaktır.”, diye fevkalade politik, bir o kadar da muallak bir cevap verir Lady Magella.

Şerif kaşlarını çatar.

Moorat ‘fırk’lar.

Yuleman gülümsemesini bir elinin arkasında saklarken, Davien kahkahayı basar.

“Demos, ardında sizin kadar yetenekli bir tapınak koruyucusu bırakacağından eminim içi rahat olacaktır.”, diye yüzü kararmış ve iğneli bir şekilde konuşur şerif.

Efendi Demos’un, benim yeteneklerime ihtiyaç duymamanız için daha çok uzun yıllar yaşamasını diliyorum, şerif. Ne var ki İzci Efendi Moorat söylediklerinde haklı. Bu basit bir matematik meselesi. Denklemin diğer yanına yeterince ağırlık bulabilirseniz, gerekli olanın yapılması için ben şahsen geleceğim.”, der Lady ciddi ifadesinden hiçbir ödün vermeden.

Şerifin yüzü biraz daha kararır ama samimi bir sesle “Affınıza sığınıyorum Lady’im.”, der ve Aager’e döner “Themalsar Operasyonu için şimdilik beklememiz gerekiyor sanırım.”

“Belki de olaya bir başka açıdan yaklaşmalısınız, şerif”, der Lady Magella.

Şerif kaşlarını kaldırır ve “Ne gibi?”, diye sorar.

“Themalsar harabeleri için şu anda yapılabilecek pek bir şey yok. Ama aynı şey Oger’s Foot ogerleri için geçerli değil. Böyle bir şeyden cesaretlenip bir başka ogre’in de benzer bir çıkış yapmasını engelleyebilirsiniz. Themalsar’a gidemeyebilirsiniz, ama Oger’s Foot’a gizli bir baskın yaparak gerekli göz dağını verebilirsiniz. Hiç olmazsa bu şekilde, Cabot’un onlardan alabileceği olası destekleri de engellemiş olursunuz.”, diye aynı ciddi tavırla önerir Lady.

Şerif, Davien’e bakar.

Davien, Moorat’e bakar.

Moorat, Yuleman’e, o da geri şerife bakar..

Hepsi birden sırıtır.

“Hanımefendi..”, der şerif ve Lady Magella’nın önünde eğilir. “..Bilgeliğinizle yolumuzu aydınlattınız. EFENDİ Demos ardında sizin kadar bilge bir tapınak koruyucusu bırakacağından gerçekten içi rahat olacaktır.”, diye sırıtır.

✱ ✱ ✱

Kasaba sana emanet.”, der şerif. “Biz sadece bir hafta on gün olmayacağız.”

“Yada hepten gelemeyebilirsiniz de! Neden ben de gidemiyorum sizinle? Bremorel ilk operasyonuna, on beş yaşında katılmıştı.”, der acı bir şekilde Udoorin.

“İzci Morel, on iki yaşında eğitimine başladı. Ve yanında Kıdemli İzci Laila vardı ve o da kuzeninden neredeyse üç yıl önce eğitime başlamıştı. Sen daha ikinci yılında bile değilsin. Dahası, ikisi de Dim Woods’da doğdular. İkisi de ormancı çocukları”, diye nazikçe hatırlatır şerif, oğluna.

“Tamam yaa.. bacak kadar bir kıza güvendiğin kadar bana güvenmiyorsun..”, diye kapkara bir yüz ifadesiyle evden ayrılır Udoorin.

Şerif, derin bir iç çeker. Rahmetli eşi Limnia’yı kaybettiği günden beri onu her gün özlemiştir. Ama ona en çok böyle günlerde ihtiyaç duymuştur..

✱ ✱ ✱

Serenity Home kasabası boşalmış gibidir. En azından Udoorin’e öyle gelir zira babası, İzci Efendileri Davien ve Moorat, Efendi Aager ve hatta olabildiğince az yüzleşmeye çalıştığı Lady Magella’nın bile olmayışı, bir anda genç Udoorin’i başıboş bırakılmış hissini verir. Ancak Udoorin eskisi gibi boş bulduğu anlarda yaptığı gibi arkadaşlarıyla gidip takılmaz. Bu düşünce her nedense ona keyif bile vermez. Onun yerine yüzünde ciddi bir ifadeyle kasabanın girişini ve sekiz ayrı vardiye noktalarını teker teker ziyaret edip, muhafızların işlerini doğru yaptıklarından emin olur. Sonra Belediye Binasını ziyaret edip, babasının yokluğunda herhangi bir şeye ihtiyaç duyulması halinde kendilerini çağırmaktan çekinmemeleri konusunda bilgi vermek için Yuleman’i ziyaret eder. Ardından tapınağa uğrar ve yanlışlıkla arkadaş olduğu Thomas’ı ziyaret eder. Thoması’ı yığınla kitabın ortasında buluşuna şaşırmaz. Ne var ki, okuduğu kitapların belirgin bir kısmının savaş ve savaş taktikleri hakkında oluşlarına çok şaşırır.

“Nedir bunlar?”, diye sorar ona Udoorin.

“Tapınağımızda ‘ışık’ ve ‘hayat’ı temsil eden iki yetkin muhafız var; Efendi Demos ve Lady Magella. Ancak ‘savaş ve taktikleri’ üzerine hiçbir temsilcimiz yok. Bu boşluğu kapatmaya karar verdim.”

Udoorin buna şaşırır. “Tapınağın savaşla ilgilendiğini bilmiyordum”, der.

“Tapınağımız hayatın her safhasıyla ilgilenir. Ve bu da sadece olan şeylerin sonuçlarını avutmakla sınırlı olmamalı. Bir yarayı iyileştirmek, yada bir yetime bakmak bizim görevimiz. Ama ben, yaranın yada yetimin en başta oluşmasını engellemek taraftarıyım..”, der Thomas ciddi bir sesle.

Udoorin ‘fırk’lar.

“Efendi Aager gibi konuştun..”, der.

“Ne gibi?”, diye merak eder Thomas.

“Herkese ‘efendim, bayım yada hanımefendi’, diye hitap edeceksin. Kimseye cop mesafesinden daha yakında durmayacaksın. Yere düşersen, ölmediysen yerde kalmayacasın. Karşındakinin kafasını kırsan bile bunu saygılı bir şekilde yapacaksın..”, der Udoorin, Aager’in hırıltılı sesini taklit ederek.

“Aaaa.. Efendi Aager çok zeki bir adammış. Dahası, söyledikleri bu kitaplarda okuduklarımla özde aynı. Tek fark, onun söyledikleri kişisel tecrübelerden kaynaklanıyor gibi —ki bu da onun geçmişini düşünürsek normal bir şey.”, der Thomas düşünceli bir şekilde.

“Nasıl yani?”, diye sorar Udoorin zira konuşmasından Thomas’ın, Aager hakkında bildiği bir şeyler olduğu bellidir.

“Herkese ‘efendim’ diye hitap ederek, muhatabına saygı göstermiş, dolayısıyla onu sakinleştirmiş ve bir sorun çıkmasına engel olmuş oluyorsun. Cop mesafesinden uzak kalarak, kendine gelebilecek bir saldırıyı, dolayısıyla bundan dolayı oluşabilecek potansiyel yaralanmaları engellemiş oluyorsun. Yere düştüğünde, yerde kalmayarak da, ölümü engellemiş oluyorsun. Çok mantıklı tavsiyeler.”, diye didaktik bir üslupla açıklar Thomas.

Udoorin, Thomas’a alık alık bakar.

Gerçekte sorduğu şey bu değildir ama Efendi Aager’in yıllardır ona öğretmeye çalıştığı şeyleri inatla öğrenmemeye çalıştığı gibi sebeplerini de merak etmemiştir. Dahası, Aager’in kendisini de hiç merak etmemiştir.

..Ve genç Udoorin hem buna bozulur, hem de utanır. Yıllardır o melanet adama karşı hissettiği nefret dışında, gerçekte onun hakkında hiçbir şey bilmemektedir. Nelerden hoşlandığı, hangi yemekleri tercih ettiği, geçmişi, sevdikleri.. —hiçbir şey!

‘Lanet olsun! Adamın nereden geldiğini bile bilmiyorum!’, diye geçirir aklından.

Nefret ettiği adam ise aynı süre içerisinde onun hakkında bilinebilecek her şeyi öğrenmiş, bütün işi ve gücünün arasında bir de onu eğitmekle uğraşmış, yetmiyormuş gibi onun ilgisini uyandırsın diye saçma salak oyunlar bile icad etmişti..

“Onu sormadım. Ben, Efendi Aager hakkında söylediklerini kastetmiştim.”, der Udoorin canı sıkılmış bir şekilde.

“Aaaa.. Umm.. Bu bilgiler tapınağa ait gizli bilgiler Udoorin. Kimseyle paylaşamam. Ama şu kadarını söyleyebilirim ki, o adamın çektiği acıları, bu kasabadaki bütün yetimleri toplasan içini dolduramaz.”, der Thomas kati bir ifadeyle.

Udoorin olayı hafife alır ve üstünü kapamaya çalışır. “Ve ‘savaş taktiklerinin’ belirli bir kızla herhangi bir alakası yoktur herhalde?!”

Thomas bir anlığına durur. Sonra sessizce “Ona olan ilgimden haberdarsın demek..”, der.

Genç Thomas boy, kilo ve yapı olarak Udoorin’den çok daha eksiktir, ancak Thomas ondan iki yaş daha büyüktür. Ve zamanın çoğunu tapınak yada kütüphanede geçirmiş olması, onu çok daha ağır başlı biri yapmıştır.

“Ona olan umutsuz ilgin, laf arasında geçmedi değil.”, der Udoorin sırıtarak.

Thomas, Udoorin’in mutluluğunu paylaşmaz. “Adımı bile bildiğini sanmıyorum. Ve ben, olduğum salak gibi, ne zaman o çıktığı devriyelerden kasabaya geri dönse, trajik bir vakıa gibi peşine takılıyorum ve ağzımı açıp tek kelime bile edemiyorum. Eminim beni bir tür sapık yada kaçık sanıyordur..”, der içine kapanık bir şekilde.

“Bilmem. Ama sanmam da. Bree’yi rahatsız ediyor olsaydın, EMİN OL seni yine hastanelik ederdi..”, der Udoorin mutlu bir şekilde.

“Bence ona ‘Bree’, diye hitab etmemelisin.”, der Thomas ciddi bir ifadeyle.

“Neden? Bu onun hoşuna gidiyor ve yıllardır da kullanıyor.”, der Udoorin omuzlarını silkerek.

“Hayır. Bu sadece onun geçmişte yaşadıklarının üstünü toprakla örtmesine sebep oluyor.. ve aynı geçmişle yüzleşmesine de engel oluyor. Sen onun yüzeysel halinden dolayı onu cesur sanıyorsun. Evet, o fevkalade cesur bir kız. Ama sandığın sebeplerden dolayı değil. Onun kadar içli bir kızın geçmişinden kaçması yada üstünü örtmesi sağıklı değil!”, der Thomas.

“Bree mi içli bir kız? Eminim biri ona bunu söylese kafasını kırardı..”, der Udoorin gülerek.

“Bu da o kızı ne kadar az tanıdığını gösteriyor. Aç gözlerini biraz ve etrafında olup bitene bak Udoorin. O kızla arkadaş olmana rağmen gerçekte onu ne kadar az tanıyor olman üzücü bir durum. Annenden sonra babanın neler hissettiğini hiç düşündün mü? Efendi Aager’i olduğu kişi yapan geçmişini hiç merak ettin mi? Hiç sorma zahmetinde bulundun mu? Yada herhangi birinin, herhangi bir konu hakkında neler hissettiğini merak ettin mi? Sen iyi birisin Udoorin. Ama bir o kadar da bencilsin. Kaybının sana bir takım özel haklar verdiğini sanıyorsun. İşin aslı, herhangi bir özel hak vermiyor sana.”, der Thomas sert bir şekilde.

Udoorin balyoz yemiş gibi öylece durur. “Bu.. bu biraz ağır olmadı mı? Seni arkadaşım sanıyordum.”, der bozulmuş bir sesle.

“Ben zaten arkadaşınım. Sadece diğer ‘arkadaş’ların gibi sırtını sıvazlamayı reddediyorum. Onlar sen düştüğünde seni kaldırmazlar. Ve arkandan konuşmaktan da geri durmazlar. Sırf kendini iyi hissedesin diye sana yalan söylemem ama arkandan da konuşmam. Yere düştüğünde de seni orada bırakmam.”, der Thomas aynı ciddiyetle.

Bir anda muhabbetin tadı kaçmış gibidir Udoorin için. “Hadi sana kolay gelsin.”, gibi bir şeyler geveler ve tapınaktan ayrılır.

Thomas’la aralarında geçen bu konuşma, gerçekte Udoorin’in ayılmasına sebep olan en belirgin tetikleyici olayların başında yer alıverir. Belirgin olmayanları ise daha sonra fark edecektir.

Bozulmuş bir şekilde tapınağın merdivenlerinden inerken, kasaba girişi bekçilerinden biri ona doğru koşarak gelir.

“Şerif Vekili Udoorin, size ihtiyaç var.”, diye soluk soluğa konuşur bekçi.

‘Şerif Vekili mi? Bu benim için bile yeni..’, diye geçirir içinden Udooorin..

..ve bir anda ayılır.

Babası ‘Kasaba sana emanet’, derken sırf oğlunu teskin etmek için öylesine konuşmamış, gerçekte onu resmi vekili olarak bırakmıştır!

Belli ki bugün genç Udoorin için ayılma.. ve utanma günüdür.

Udoorin, babasının soğukkanlı tavrını taklit ederek “Ne oldu? Özlü bir şekilde anlat.”, der.

“Kasabaya yarım düzine atlı yabancı geldi. Kendilerini tüccar olarak tanıttılar ama atları ve semerleri dışında ellerinde herhangi bir mal yok. Bize, şüpheli herhangi bir şeyle karşılaşmamız halinde size haber vermemiz söylenmişti. Baş bekçi de sizi bulmam için beni gönderdi.”, der adam hala nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde.

Udoorin’in kaşları çatılır. “Kasabanın herhangi bir ticarethanesine uğradılar mı?”, diye sorar.

“Hayır efendim.”, der bekçi. “Sadece biri Efendi Tinkerdome’a uğradı. Diğerleri kasabayı geziyorlar. Efendim.. bilmiyorum ama bence bunlar tüccar filan değiller. Biraz.. biraz Efendi Aager’e benziyorlar!”

“Karakola git, oradaki bekçileri topla. İkisi handa beklesin. Diğerleri nazikçe bu ‘tüccarlara’, ticaret bölgesi dışında kalan yerlerin yabancılara kapalı olduğunu ve işleri olmadı zamanlarda handa kendilerini rahat ettirebileceklerini söylesinler. Sorun çıkarırlarsa tutuklayın ve hana götürün, karakola değil. Gerçekten tacirlerse, karakola götürülmeleri halinde olay gereğinden fazla büyür.”, diye açıklamalı talimat verir.

Bekçi, Udoorin’e selam verip karakol istikametine doğru koşmaya başlar ve gözden kaybolur.

Udoorin bir an durur. Kasabaya tüccarların gelmesi olağan bir durumdur aslında. Ancak Başkan Yuleman’ın aldığı kararlar doğrultusunda, ziyaretleri kasabanın ticaret bölgesi ve oradaki hanla sınırlıdır. Efendi Aager gibi giyinmiş birilerin kendilerini tüccar olarak tanıtıp sonra kasabayı gezmeleri olayı içine bir ateş düşürür ve sesli bir şekilde küfür eder. Tam ihtiyaç olduğu anda neden babası da, Aager’de olmaz ki kasabada.

Udoorin çıktığı tapınağa tekrar girer ve Thomas’ın kaldığı küçük odasına dalar; “Arkadaşım olduğunu söylerken ciddi miydin?”, diye sorar ona.

“Ben yalan konuşmam. Bunu fark etmiş olmalısın artık Udoorin.”, der Thomas kati bir ifadeyle.

“Silahın var mı?”, diye acil bir sesle sorar Udoorin.

Thomas buna şaşırır. Bir kaşı kalmış bir şekilde “Umm.. zincirli bir gürzüm var. Neler oluyor?”, diye merakla sorar Thomas.

Udoorin, Thomas gibi bir kitap kurdunun zincirli bir gürzü olmasına şaşırır. Thomas önünde duran masadan kalkıp yatağının yanında duran iri sandıktan, neredeyse on altı inçlik bir sapın ucunda uzun bir zincir, zincirin ucunda da elmas dökümlü ağır külçe demiri olan bir gürz çıkartır.

“Oha! Bu ne?!”, diye ünler Udoorin.

“Bu, bir zincirli gürz.”, der Thomas ciddi bir şekilde.

“Zincirli gürzün ne olduğunu biliyorum. Sende ne işi var?!”, diye hayret içerisinde sorar genç adam.

“Ortada bir beraberlik olacaksa, bir denklik de olmalı!”, der muallak bir şekilde Thomas ama daha fazla da bir açıklama getirmez. “Şimdi.. Sorun nedir?”

“Kasabaya bazı yabancılar gelmiş. Senden tek istediğim, arkamı kollaman. Ve o aleti çok zorunlu olmadıkça lütfen kimsenin kafasında kullanmaman!”, der Udoorin ve Thomas’la beraber tapınaktan ayrılırlar.

Gün batımına sadece bir saat kadar kalmıştır. Udoorin, yanında Thomas ve iki bekçi olduğu halde ticaret bölgesindeki hana doğru giderler. Bekçiler, Efendi Tinkerdome ile görüşmeye giden adam dışında diğer beş kişinin handa olduklarını, ancak kendileri hakkında hiçbir bilgi vermediklerini rapor ederler.

Udoorin düşünceli bir şekilde ‘Babam ne yapardı acaba?’, diye geçirir içinden. Sonra ‘Babam burada değil. Önemli olan benim ne yapacağım..’, diye mırıldanarak olayın sorumluluğunu üstlenmesi gerektiğini anlar.

Thomas’la beraber hana gelen Udoorin, hanın penceresinden içeri bakar ve kendisine olayı ilk haber eden bekçinin, ‘adamlar Efendi Aager’e benziyorlar’dan ne kastettiğini daha iyi anlar zira adamların hepsinin siyah, kalın cübbeleri vardır ve kukuletaları çekilmiş bir şekilde yüzlerini gizlemektedirler. Beşi de hanın kapısına yakın bir yerde ve kapıyı da, diğer masaları da görebilecekleri bir açıyla oturmaktadırlar.

“Thomas. Düşüncelerin nedir?”, diye fısıldayarak sorar Udoorin.

Thomas biraz daha pencereden içeridekileri seyreder. Kaşları çatılı bir şekilde “Bu hoşuma gitmedi. Ama neyse ki han boş. Bence tek başına git içeri ve sorgula onları.”, diye geri fısıldar.

“Tek başıma mı?”, diye biraz tedirgin bir şekilde sorar Udoorin.

“Tek başına olduğunda niyetlerini senden korkmaksızın ortaya koyma ihtimalleri daha büyük.”, diye analitik bir sesle cevap verir Thomas. “Biz kapının ve pencerelerin dışında bekliyor olacağız nasıl olsa.”

Udoorin yutkunur. Baltasını yanına almadığı için kendi kendisine lanet eder ama elinde bir baltayla adamların yanına gitmesi halinde onlara baştan yanlış izlenim vermiş olurdu zaten.

Udoorin önce belindeki copu sonra da Aager’den kopya ettiği gibi, çizmesinin içine soktuğu hançerin hala orada olup olmadığını kontrol eder, derin bir nefes alır ve içeri girer.

✱ ✱ ✱

İyi akşamlar beyler.”, diye yaklaşır Udoorin, olabildiğince sevecen bir şekilde ama babasının böyle durumlarda sergilemeyi çok iyi yaptığı ‘nötr gülümseme’ olayını beceremez. “Serenity Home’a hoş geldiniz. Ben şerif vekili Udoorin.”

Masalarında oturan beş adamda hafif bir kıpraşma olur. En yakında oturan bir tanesi temkinli bir ses tonuyla “İyi akşamlar şerif vekili. Size nasıl yardımcı olabiliriz?”, diye hırıltılı, boğuk bir sesle konuşur.

“Güzel bir gündü bugün. Dışarıda da keyifli bir hava var. O cübbe ve kukuletalar için içerisi biraz fazla karanlık ve sıcak değil mi sizce de?”

“Bizler basit tüccarlarız, şerif vekili. Ve kendi halimizde duruyoruz. Kimseye de bir zararımız dokunmuyor.”, diye lafı uzatmak ve rahatsız edilmek istemediğini ima eder bir şekilde konuşur adam.

“Anlıyorum. Ne var ki bu güzel kasabamızın güvenliğini herkesin paylaşabilmesi için, o başlıklarınızı çıkarmanızı rica edeceğim. Kasabama gelenlerin, neden kendilerini birer tüccar olarak tanıtmalarına rağmen hiçbir ticarethaneye uğramadan yabancıları ilgilendirmeyen yerlerde dolaştıklarını ister istemez merak ediyorum.”, der Udoorin aynı sevecen üslubuyla.

Her ne kadar babasının tarzını pek tutturamamış olsada, onun ifadelerini harika bir şekilde mimiklemeyi başarır Udoorin.

“Bizler özel bazı ticaret sendikalarını temsil ediyoruz. Ve gerekli anlaşmalar yapılmadan kimliğimizin ortaya çıkmasını sakıncalı buluyoruz.”, diye kızgın bir şekilde hırıldar adam.

“Eveeet. Eminim bu açıklamanız büyük şehirlerde etkili olsada bizimki gibi taşra bir kasabada fazla bir ederi yok. Başlıklar ve cübbeler, beyler..”, diye mutlu bir ifadeyle yineler Udoorin.. ve Aager’in neden herkese ‘efendim, bayım yada hanımefendi’, diye hitap edilmesi gerektiğinde bu kadar ısrar ettiğini o anda daha iyi anlar. Birisine düz, kaba hakaretlerdense, saygılı bir şekilde yerin dibine geçirmek gerçekten çok daha eğlencelidir!

Adamlar bir an kıpırdamadan dururlar.

Neden sonra bir diğeri, “Bence şansını zorluyorsun çocuk!”, diyer tehditkar bir sesle tıslar.

“Aaaaa.. almak istediğim cevap buydu!”, der Udoorin ve Aager’i bile gururlandıracak bir hızla copunu çıkardığı gibi en öndeki adamın suratına geçirir ve hiç sektirmeden kendisini tehdit eden adamın da alnını yarar.

İki adam da oldukları yerde yığılırken, Udoorin, farkında olmadan Aager’den aldığı onca eğitim devreye girer ve içsel bir refleksle cop mesafesinden çıkar —ve bu onun hayatını kurtarır! Geriye kalan adamlardan ikisi bellerinden çektikleri uzun, sevimsiz hançerlerle ileri atılmışlar, ancak Udoorin’in geri çekilme manevrası ve oturdukları masadan dolay öylece, ellerinde bıçaklarla ileri doğru uzanmış bir şekilde kalakalmışlardır.

Udoorin, aynı sükunetle geri gittiği gibi bir adım ileri gelir ve masanın üzerinden kendisine uzanmış ellerden birini tuttuğu gibi aşağı doğru büker.. ve adamın kolunu aksi istikamette kırarken copuyla da boşta kalan diğer adamın suratına geçirir. Aynı hareketin ivmesiyle copunu tekrar savurur ve kolunu kırdığı adamın alnını da kırar!

Son adam yerinden fırlar ve camı parçalayarak dışarı atar kendisini.. Camın önünden, ağır, nahoş bir külçenin havada dönüş uğultusu ve hemen ardından etli-kemikli bir şeye darp etme sesi gelir.

Hanın kırık penceresinden “Bu tamamdır!”, diye Thomas’ın heyecanlı, sırıtan sesi duyulur.

Udoorin önünde yatan dört adama da bakar.. sonra yaptığı şeye ayılır ve içinden ‘Şimdi boku yedik! Babama bu olayı nası açıklıycam şimdi?!’, diye geçirir.

Genç Udoorin bunu düşünürken sayıları artmış bekçilerle beraber Thomas’da içeri girer. Bekçiler hayretle camdan seyrettikleri olayı yakından görünceler, daha da bir etkilenmiştirler. Thomas ise, bütün olağan ciddiyetini kaybetmiş, heyecanla Udoorin’e yaklaşır. “Bu.. bu muhteşemdi Udoorin. Bu kadar iyi dövüşebildiğini bilmiyordum. On saniye bile sürmedi. Sekiz.. En fazla sekiz saniye sürdü.. Harikaydın!”, diye frensiz bir şekilde konuşur.

Udoorin ise olmasını beklediği sevinci hissetmez. Belki de yıllarca Aager’le olmanın verdiği içsel bir dürtü ile bekçilere, “Bunları donlarına kadar soyun, kelepçeleyin ve karakola götürün. Sonra da hangisinden tam olarak ne çıktı listesini görmek istiyorum. Şerif ve Efendi Aager döndüklerinde bu konuda bilgilendirilmek isteyeceklerdir. Bunlardan bir tane daha vardı. O nerede?”, diye sorar.

“En son Efendi Tinkerdome’un dükkanındaydı.”, der bekçilerden biri.

“Siz ikiniz. Benimle gelin. Thomas?”, diye sorar Udoorin.

Thomas elinde zincirli topuzuyla “Geldim!”, der ve şerif vekilinin peşine takılır.

✱ ✱ ✱

Merhaba genç Udoorin. Yeğenim Gnine senin hakkında hep iyi şeyler söylüyor. Bu saatte seni buraya getiren nedir?”, diye sorar Efendi Nimbletyne Tinkerdome, kapısına dayanmış Udoorin’e.

Udoorin biraz tedirgindir zira Efendi Tinkerdome, Serenity Home’un ileri gelenlerinden biridir ve kasabanın gelişiminde onun icatları sıkça görülmektedir.. Söz gelimi, şu anda kasaba sokaklarını aydınlatan sokak lambaları, bu mucit cücenin marifetidir.

“Umm.. Merhaba Tinkerdome amca. Şu anda şerif vekili olarak burada bulunuyorum.”, diye biraz afallayarak konuşur Udoorin.

“Şerif vekili haa? Güzel, güzel.. Bunu duyduğuma çok sevindim. Gnine.. evladım.. duygun mu? Genç Udoorin şerif vekili olmuş. Sen de bi şey olsan da bizi gururlandırsan artık..”, diye içeri seslenir Efendi Tinkerdome.

Buna gelen cevap ise, Gnine’ın mel’un kahkahası olur. “Seni işletiyordur amca. Hangi salak Udoorin’i vekil yapar ki.. Onu vekil yaptıkları gün benim de uçtuğum gün olurdu..!”

Kapıdan bunu açıkça duyan Udoorin’in yüzü kararır ama yinede istifini bozmaz. Yarın Gnine’ı tek eliyle o küçük kafasından tutup, kasaba duvarının üstünden Serenity Irmağına atmayı içeren güzel bir konuşma yapacaktır.

“Onun kusuruna bakma.”, der Efendi Tinkerdome. “Daha yaşı küçük ve kurtlarını dökemedi!”, diye açıklamaya çalışır.

‘Yaşı küçük mü? Yuh! Edepsiz bücür yirmi beş yaşında.. bunun neresi küçük?!’, diye geçirir içinden Udoorin.

“Önemli değil efendim.”, der bozuntuya vermeden. “Bugün kasabaya bazı yabancılar geldi. Tüccar olduklarını iddia ettiler ama kendilerini sorguladığımızda sorun çıkardılar ve biz de kendilerini gözaltına almak zorunda kaldık. Bunlardan bir tanesinin sizinle konuşmak için geldiği görüldü. Kendisi burada mı?”

“Hmmm..”, diye düşünceli bir ifadeyle konuşur Efendi Tinkerdome. “Evet, biri geldi buraya bugün ve bir icat için sipariş verdi ve sonra da gitti.”

“Gitti mi? Ne zaman gitti?”, diye biraz paniklemiş bir sesle sorar Udoorin.

“Üç, belki üç buçuk saat kadar oluyor gideli.”, diye cevap verir Tinkerdome.

Birden Thomas, Udoorin’i kolundan tutar ve “Udoorin.. Karakol!”, diye ünler..

Udoorin ayılır!

Hızlı bir şekilde “Verdiğiniz bilgilerden dolayı teşekkür ederiz, Efendi Tinkerdome.”, der Udoorin ve yanında Thomas ve bekçiler olduğu halde karakola koşarlar.

✱ ✱ ✱

Genç Udoorin o gün neden babasının ve Efendi Aager’in bazı işleri başkalarına bırakmadıklarını ve ısrarla başında durduklarını anlar; Thomas ve bekçilerle karakola geldiklerinde, yakalanan adamların başında nöbet tutan bekçilerin hepsini yerde, bayılmış bir şekilde bulurlar. Bekçilerin hiçbirinde herhangi bir darbe yada yara izi yoktur ama hepsi kendinden geçmiş gibi uyumaktadır.

..ve parmaklıkların arkasındaki beş ‘tüccarı’, boğazları kesilmiş bir şekilde, kendi kanları içinde kıpırdamadan duruyor olarak bulurlar.

Thomas sessizce nöbetçileri inceler. “Bunlar bir büyü ile uyutulmuşlar. Sonrası malum sanırım. Nöbetçileri aradan çıkardıktan sonra, zaten baygın yatan şüphelilerin işini bitirmesi bir dakikasını bile almamıştır.”, diye yorumlar.

Udoorin fena halde kızmıştır. Babası ona ilk defa bir iş vermiş, o ise işi eline yüzüne bulaştırdığını hisseder.

Diğer bekçilere döner ve içinde saklayamadığı hiddetiyle “Hemen, alarm verin. Kasabayı kitliyoruz. Kimse dışarı çıkmayacak, kimse içeri alınmayacak. Başkan Yuleman’ı uyandırın ve acilen buraya gelmesini rica edin. Kimse sokağa çıkmayacak. O piç kurusu ya hala burada, yada çoktan kasabadan ayrıldı. Ayrıldıysa yapabileceğimiz bir şey yok çünkü onu sadece izciler bulabilir. İzci protokollerini de ben bilmiyorum. Bunu sadece şerif, Efendi Aager ve Başkan Yuleman biliyorlar. Ama hala buradaysa onun bulunması şart. Yedek bekçiler dahil herkesi uyandırın. Dört kişilik gruplar halinde, gerekiyorsa ev ev arama yapacağız.”, diye hırlayarak emirler yağdırır.

Etrafındaki bekçiler bir an ona bakakalırlar.

NE BEKLİYORSUNUZ, YÜRÜYÜN..!“, diye gürler Udoorin ve tüm bekçiler bir anda koşturmaya başlar.

 

Elindeki yüz otuz iki sayfalık raporu büyük bir sabırla okuyup bitiren Şerif Standorin, raporu hemen yanında duran Efendi Aager’e uzatır ve önünde, hazırda duran oğlu Udoorin ve bekçilere bakar.

Şerif okuduğu yüz yirmi sayfa fazlalığı olan rapordan sonra ne diyeceğini bilemez. Hemen yanında duran Efendi Aager ise, gülmemeye çalışarak elindeki kalın raporu gözden geçirir.

Bütün raporu bitirdikten sonra Efendi Aager “En azından ayrıntılı olmuş.”, der.

“Öyle görünüyor.. İyi iş çıkarmışsınız, beyler. Temkinli davranıp, hızlı bir şekilde karar almış ve uygulamışsınız. Hepinizi tebrik ediyorum. Şimdi.. müsaadenizle şerif vekili ile özel olarak konuşmam gerekiyor.”, der şerif.

Bekçilerin hepsi düzgün adım karakoldan çıkarken bir kaçı Udoorin’e cesaret vermek ister gibi genç adamın omzuna dokunur.

Karakol boşalınca “Bu olay.. tek kelimeyle hayret verici.. Öncelikle sıfırdan eğittiğin bekçilerden dolayı seni tekrar tebrik etmem gerekiyor Efendi Aager. Eski hallerinde olsalardı, kendilerini tüccar olarak tanıtan bu şahıslardan asla şüphelenmezlerdi. Ama asıl önümde duran bu delikanlı için seni tebrik ediyorum. Udoorin, oğlum, ben senin yaptığın bazı şeyleri yapmaya cesaret edemezdim.. İnanılır gibi değil. Köy alarmını devreye sokmuşsun. Bu muazzam bir cesaret ister. Ev ev arama yapmışsın. Bu rapora göre sorguya çekmediğin adam kalmamış neredeyse..!”, diye istemsizce kıkırdar şerif.

Udoorin ilk defa babasının kıkırdadığını duyar!

Dahası, Udoorin ilk defa Efendi Aager’in ‘fırk’ladığına da şahit olur!

“Yanlış bir şey mi yaptım? Kasabada cirit atan manyağın teki vardı..”, diye bozulmuş bir şekilde homurdanır Udoorin.

Şerif dayanamaz, başını önünde oturduğu masanın altına kadar eğer ve kahkahalarla gülmeye başlar.

Efendi Aager boğazını temizler. “Udoorin.. İlk tutuklamadan sonra yaptığın şeylerin hepsi için Belediye Başkanı Yuleman’dan özel izin almış olman gerekiyordu. O yetkiler belediye başkanına ait. Şerife değil!”, diye Aager açıklar ama o da gülmemekte zorlanır.

Udoorin olaya ayılır.. Ve neden Başkan Yuleman’ın son bir haftadır ona ters ters baktığını en sonunda anlar.

“Neyse..”, diye kendisini toparlar şerif. “..olan olmuş artık. Bir ara gidip Yuleman’dan özür dilerim, olay kapanır.”

Sonra yavaşça yerinden kalkar ve oğluna sarılır. “Beş’e bir.. ve hepsini sadece elindeki bir copla bitirmişsin. Seninle gurur duyuyorum oğlum.”, diye fısıldar şerif.

“Aslında birini Thomas.. Thomas Dimwood halletti. Israrı üzerine kendisiyle ilgili bazı ayrıntıları rapora girmememi rica etmişti.”

“Rapor.. sanırım nasıl rapor hazırlanması gerektiğini sana göstermeyi ihmal etmişiz. Efendi Aager. Bize eski raporlardan bir tanesini getirebilir misin? 1732 no’lu rapor. Sanırım iyi bir örnek teşkil edecektir.”, diye gülümseyerek rica eder şerif.

Aager, karakolun arka odalarından birine gider. Bazı çekmecelerin açılıp kapanma sesleri duyulur. Sonra geri gelir. Aager’in elinde tek sayfalık bir rapor kağıdı mevcuttur. Aager kağıdı Udoorin’e uzatır..

Heeeey.. Dorin..”, diye yumuşak bir şekilde seslenir Lorna, suyun içinde öylece kendisine bakarken kalakalmış genç adama.

“Çok.. ben çok özür dilerim.. Lorna. Bir an dalmışım..”, diye afallar Udoorin.

Lorna Feymist, genç Udoorin’e ışıldayan gözleriyle bakar zira gerçekte ilk karşılaştıklarında gördüğü kişi budur.

“Evet.. Ama nerelere gittin? Arada, bir hikaye boyu boşluk oluştu sanki.”, diye gülümser ona.