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Surgical Strikes

Surgical Strikes

Timeline:

Lords and ladies, representatives and delegates of all races, and many places gather at Serenity Home to work on strategies against the Orken onslaught.

Yet the once peaceful town is attacked by unknown assassins targeting many of the gathered representatives.

A total disaster is averted but not without cost. Some of the representatives are wounded, some are slain.

Many Arashkan refugees are also killed..

 

This story takes place shortly after
Extreme Planning..
(Part Two)

 

 

Sheriff Standorin sat in the dimness of his home, his face in his hands, fingers spread, and elbows on his knees, staring at the fire. There was a silent, murderous reflection in his eyes, hiding between his calloused fingers, not unlike a man behind his own bars. To say the least, Standorin Shieldheart was angry for he had buried many people in the past two days, some of them he had known for many years, and some hadn’t even lived as many years. 

At that very moment, he wanted to be the young and foolish man that he’d been, many years ago. The age his son, Udoorin had been..

 

..and just kill some things?

 

True, he had been reckless and foolish when he’d run off back then and had done quite a number of jobs, guarding merchant caravans mostly, but he had tried his hands on bounty hunting too. That had had its moments; tracking down the bad guys, apprehending them, dragging them back, turning them over to the local sheriffs, and collecting his share of the bounty..

Accept not all his jobs had gone smoothly.

Sometimes the caravans he guarded got raided, and sometimes the people he’d tracked down just wouldn’t come quietly no matter how polite he’d been or how obvious the outcome of any aggression would end.

It seemed like some people just begged to die!

 

The only problem with that was, Standorin just didn’t like killing.

 

Two days ago, however, that had changed and his deadly gaze pierced down at the small stack of parchments scattered on the floor, some crumbled in wrath, some savagely shredded, and a few lay gazing back at him; the final tally of the attack..

..one thousand six hundred and seventy-eight dead, mostly Arashkan refugees; men, women, children, and elderly, and eight thousand nine hundred and fifty-five wounded..

It had been a good thing they had started doing drills soon after the first batch of refugees had appeared just so everyone would know where they would be and what they would be doing to avoid chaos when the Orken finally arrived.

Standorin remembered one of his bounty hunter partners from back in the day, tell him that no plan ever survived the first encounter.

Apparently, he had been right then, much like he had been right, now; most of the deaths had occurred due to panic-induced trampling.

 

“They were my responsibility.”, he snarled silently.

 

“Yes.”, said a soft, cultured voice in the dim.

Standorin flinched.

He hadn’t heard the voice come.

At all.

“Would you like a whip? Perhaps for self-flagellation..”, offered to soft voice.

“I do not do levity.”, Standorin snarled.

 

The voice paused.

 

“You would chastise your friends, rather than politely accept simple levity? Or the offer of comfort?”, the voice asked, not quite taken aback nor appalled, but very slightly hurt.

Standorin fumed.

“Why are you here, Liaison?”, he growled.

 

The voice paused again, this time for a bit longer.

 

“I would have thought we’d had a semblance of understanding, sir.”, the voice replied, putting the barest of emphasis on ‘sir’. “Perhaps I was mistaken. But then, I merely came here to see how you were, and to offer what comfort I may. It would seem you are fine exactly as you want to be; sad, sorry, and alone and require no comfort, for what is not wanted, can not be given. I shall see you on the morrow, which should be in a few hours.. to hand in my resignation, hence shall I be no longer a distraction for you.”

 

..and as silently as she had come, Liaison Constance was gone.

✱ ✱ ✱

There was a hesitant knock on the door and Thomas rose his head from the parchment he’d been reading in the dim room lit by a single candle and put it on the small stack on his table; the latest death tally..

“Could have been worse.”, the young woman standing right behind him said quietly. “Not even Ranger Master Moorat escaped unscathed. Thanks to you and your guardians, the dwarves, the elves, and the rangers many are alive today.”

“Many are not.”, replied the senior temple guardian in a destitute voice. “I became a temple guardian precisely to avoid this sort of thing ever happening.”

“Please, Thomas. Don’t be like that.”, the young woman said.

“Don’t be like what?”, Thomas asked.

“Don’t be like me..”, the young woman replied seriously. “Bitter and angry. I.. I am trying.. very hard.. and I never want to go back to that girl. You helped me be better.. be more.. If you succumb, what would I do? Yes, I am being selfish, but angry and bitter is me. Never you. I need you to be never bitter and angry, Thomas. I need you to be strong on this front for me.”

Thomas looked up at the young woman who was staring down at him, her long, coarse black hair framing her beautiful face and he saw a slight shimmer in her very serious eyes.

 

Bremorel Songsteel never showed her feelings.

 

Perhaps an amendment was in order there; Bremorel Songsteel always showed her feelings, just never her soft and vulnerable side.. Even Thomas had barely seen that side of her. He’d always known she was kind, gentle, and more, all locked up, tight, and very deep down, and with infinite patience, he had reached in and bit by bit, he’d surfaced the real girl, the real Morel, out..

Tonight, however, and for whatever reason, she had volunteered to bring it all out.

Thomas skimmed through a long list of possible reasons, then with the realization of his own arrogance, he discarded them all.

 

His Morel had volunteered and that was all that mattered and that was all there was to it.

 

He smiled up at her.

“You are so beautiful.”, he said honestly.

“You keep saying that like it’s true..”, frowned Bremorel with a faint blush.

“And I shall keep on saying it until you believe me.”, he replied.

“So you will stop when I believe you?”, she asked with an amused expression.

“No. I will then continue saying it until you believe yourself.”, he said seriously.

 

Bremorel didn’t snark.

Nor did she snort.

One thing she had learned about the man she was looking down on was that he was honest.

 

“That might take a while.”, she said. “I guess you will just have to work on me until then.

“I shall.”, he promised.

Bremorel leaned in and kissed him, then walked over to the door and opened it.

 

Perigren Ostlanna Temez and Hannah Vir were standing in front of the door. While Hamna Vir was staring at her own feet with an ugly shiner and a black eye, fidgeting, Temez was looking at Bremorel, the pair of her antler-like horn broken and missing, with dead, soulless eyes.

“We..”, stammered Hamna Vir. “..we came to apologize, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel. To you and to Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood on behalf of the half-born for the problems we caused..”

Footsteps approached and Thomas appeared behind Bremorel.

“..Meri.. Merisoul Xyrotwu was dear to many of us. We.. we went out of control when we found out about her for she was the best of us.”, she mumbled.

 

Bremorel stared at her, then at Temez, who just stood there.

Then, at the mention of her BFF, large tears appeared in her eyes and silently ran down her beautiful face.

The half-born had never learned moderation. Hence their emotions tended to be on the extreme and the news of Merisoul Xyrotwu had hit them hard;

Their reaction to it had been.. quite, but not quietly, unprecedented!

 

Bremorel reached over and quietly hugged her.

 

“This is life, mirima Temez. Our loved ones die, one by one and we live to suffer their absence. Fools are we Mortals for not making each day worth its weight in love and care. Fools are we all, for forgetting the ones that are still with us, also. You, my dear, are mirima. Merisoul blessed you with that burden for she knew only you could carry it.. Prepare yourself and those under your care, for that, is the only way you may avoid more of the same.”

 

“The ranger lieutenant speaks with much wisdom, Temez.”, Thomas said sternly, but not unkindly. “We are about to go to war. The enemy is brutal and has no choice but to slay us all. For them, there is no retreat. You and your kin, I am thinking, know the Orken better than most. Hence you know when I say, they will not be routed, that I speak the truth. Merisoul Xyrotwu had more than the half-born as her friend. In what small time she had amongst the Mortals, she touched the lives of everyone around her. Where she went, she moved and changed things. Where there were dead hearts before, they became alive and nurtured. What was stagnant, became running and fresh again. And what was angry, became forgiving. Wherever she went, she brought compassion. These are the things with which we must remember her, for Mortal or nons, it is these, that is eternal.”

 

In Bremorel’s arms, Perigren Ostlanna Temez broke down and started crying like a little girl..

 

“Darling Demos taught you well.”, Hamna Vir said. “I shall help remind our mirima Temez and our kin of these when they forget. Come, mirima. Yours can not be allowed to see you like this anymore.”

With tenderness quite unexpected of her, Hannah Vir took the broken and devastated Temez and steered her away.

 

“What you said to her.”, Thomas said after the two half-born girls had gone. “It was brutal.. and it was beautiful.”

Bremorel smiled at him.

“Yours was better.”, she objected.

“Mine was merely the truth, and educational. Yours.. yours was.. wisdom.”, he said with unveiled admiration. “You could have been talking to me and I would have taken every word you spoke, to heart.”

“Every word was said with you at heart.”, she replied with a bright red face.

✱ ✱ ✱

You are up early.”, Aager said when he entered the new kitchen of their new home.

“Oops!”, yelped the skinny young girl, almost dropping the big pan she could barely lift and full of raw eggs she had cracked for a grand omelet. “I am sorry. Did I wake you?”

“You? No. I have no idea how you manage, but you never wake me when you get up, prepare breakfast, then come back to me. I must admit, I.. *cough* love it.. waking up to your beautiful eyes every morning.”, Aager said, his voice trailing off towards the end.

 

Inshala beamed.

And jumped him.

And promptly hit him with the pan!

 

Aager staggered and Inshala went into panic.

“I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry!”, she moaned.

Aager stood where he was, his hands holding his head and eggs dripping all over him.

“I am so sorry, my Aager!”, she said with a voice on the verge of crying.

Aager started laughing.

The skinny girl just stared at him.

“You.. you tricked me!”, she fumed.

Aager laughed some more; just two days ago, he had fought scores of assassins and gotten off almost unscathed, just to be hit over the head by a kitchen pan.. full of eggs!

“Are you really alright? I am so sorry.. I just can’t control myself sometimes.”, Inshala said with earnest sincerity.

“Best morning, ever.”, Aager replied grinning.

Inshala pouted.

“I ruined your morning.”, she said unhappily.

“How about you go back to bed and restart your morning, and I clean up myself and the mess here, then we both prepare breakfast.”, he offered.

“Or you could come to bed with me?”, Inshala counter-offered, her face suddenly brightening.

“As much as I would want that, I can’t.”, he said.

“Ow? Why not?”, Inshala asked.

“The bloody midget makes too much noise!”, he growled. “And she keeps waking up at odd hours and starts tinkering things. She thinks she is being quiet about it, but she totally lacks subtlety.”

Inshala made a funny, snorting sound.

“She is very cute, though. But if you will not return to bed with me, there no point in me going back, though I must admit, the new mattress is awesome!”, she said happily.

“Yes. It is.”, Aager admitted grudgingly. “And it would be even better if you wouldn’t insist on putting my old, thread-bear mattress on top of it!”

“But.. that was yours, my Aager. I feel happy and safe when I sleep on that one.”, she objected.

“Love, please. Even I didn’t like my old mattress that much. The only reason I ever truly wanted to sleep on it was when you came. No point in clinging to it. Mother Ganiste did us a grand favor by bringing our old house down, really. Now let’s start with the breakfast. Not only is that bloody midget noisy at odd hours of the night, but she is also noisy when she is hungry. I can’t fathom how her friends can stand her!”

Inshala giggled and picked up the pan and started washing it, thoroughly, in her washing dish.

“She’s so cute, though.”

“So are rabbits. You don’t see rabbits making this much noise. And she has a truly foul mouth, and that’s coming from a Drashan!”, Aager growled and wiped some of the eggs off his face and he also went over to the washing dish.

“Seressa is nice. She has a pretty smile and a beautiful heart.”, said Inshala and took a towel, wet it in the bucket sitting next to the washing dish, reached up, and started cleaning Aager’s egg blotched face.

“And just weird..”, he said sourly. “..And all the pinks! My eyes hurt!”

“She cried when she saw our cherry tree in bloom and kept mumbling something about ‘Grade Nine’, though I have no idea what that was about. She just went up to the tree and hugged it for hours!”, she said with a slight frown.

“Like I said; just weird..”, Aager confirmed.

“And Master Brom?”, she asked while she repeated wiping his face a few more times.

“Something is off about him.”, Aager mused as he stood still and let the skinny little girl do her thing.

“Ow? How so?”, Inshala asked.

“The way he looks at you. Yes he is very polite and I am sure he is honestly sincere about everything he says to you but that look is like he is someone with unhealthy secrets.”

“Do you think he means us some harm?”, she asked, though her voice said she clearly did not believe that.

“I doubt.”, Aager conceded. “Hobbits are notoriously polite people. Whatever his issues are, they are seriously bothering him.”

“What about the white elf? She was awesome in the fight. I saw her cut one of the bad men from head to hip!”, she said and took another towel but this one she did not wet. She dried his face and beamed up at him.

“She looks like she went through a grinder—”, he replied with a slight frown. Then he saw Inshala’s happy smile, and he returned it in kind. More so by leaning down and kissing her.

Inshala blushed.

“—and came out the other end harder.. tougher.”, he said.

“Lady Nadine is nice.”, Inshala thought aloud. “She has much worry, though.”

“Yes. Many dark worries.”, prompted Aager.

“Dark worries? That is so true!”, she exclaimed as if getting the answer to a question she knew was there, but just didn’t know how to formulate. “It’s a good thing Mother Alisia returned back to Durkahan, though I wanted her to stay some more.”

Aager snorted.

“And Moira. But I thought Mother Alisia and Lady Nadine were looking for some excuse to fight. That’s why Moira insisted on sitting out in the garden all day for two days, even though it is freezing outside.”

Aager snorted again, as he went over to a basket and grabbed some eggs, placed them on the counter, went back for some more, and put them on the counter as well for Inshala.

“Would you mind slicing some tomatoes? And clean some onions? About a dozen or so. And wash some potatoes for me? I think I will make mashed potatoes with onions and fried tomatoes with the eggs.”, she asked.

“Of course.”, Aager said as he went for several other baskets, these with tomatoes, onions, and potatoes.

He cleaned and washed them all, thoroughly, to Inshala’s satisfaction, and started cutting them as per need.

“Smile.”, Inshala said.

“Hmm..?”, Aager asked as he eviscerated the tomatoes, kidney-shot the onions, and started strangling the potatoes.

“Smile, my Aager.”, she repeated. “That is what makes food delicious. The salt, the herbs, the spices are a mere excuse.”

Aager stated at her.

“I am serious.”, she said earnestly.

“I am sorry, love.”, Aager replied seriously. “I shall henceforth politely kill these tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and any other fruit or vegetable that comes my way.”

✱ ✱ ✱

There was a polite cough outside the tent and Udoorin woke up groggily, his face marked with odd pillow lines.

Udoorin loved everything about his queen, Lorna. Or Alor’Nadien ne, as he would start calling her when referring to her. At least in public. But some elf-thingies, he just did not understand.. at all.. and some, he outright disliked.. very much.

For example, whenever he so much as poked his head out of his tent, every single elf in sight stopped whatever they were doing, put their right fists on their hearts, and murmured;

 

“Mere Estel Aranië..”

 

He didn’t mind the.. salute.. per se.

What was with the murmur, though?

Perhaps someone was sleeping and they didn’t want to wake them up.

Then there were the low, backless chairs.

Really, now!

Why in the Great Heavens would someone even invent a chair that was that close to the ground?

And young King Udoorin didn’t even want to contemplate on the kind of demented mind where anyone would make a chair, and not put a back on it. How hard could it be?

He had tripped and fallen over those silly chairs so many times, he’d ended up kicking several of them across his tent.

Turns out, those chairs were bloody hard on toes when you kicked them!

He had given up trying to remember just how many times he had forgotten there were no backs on the chairs, and he had leaned back to topple over in what was likely going to end up as some hilarious elve’s gossip;

“Saw our king the other day. Fell off his chair again and his ass was staring at us..”

“Me too! Then he tripped and stubbed his toes! Bit of a lummox, isn’t he? The Queen could have done better. Oh, well..”

 

Udoorin growled.

If anyone talked about him that way, he was going to break some heads!

 

But the most annoying was the bed they had given him.

For Udoorin, a bed should comprise of a mattress with clean sheets of linen or possibly cotton, a blanket or two, depending on the season, and a feather-stuffed pillow. And when someone said, king’s bed, it should refer to its size and not how elaborate it was, dammit!

His current bed did not have a nice, itchy blanket. It did not have cotton sheets, nor did it have feather-stuffed pillows.

Lady Lenna had told him what they were, though which was which, he’d have to remember to write them down next time. Only that somethings were silk, some were velvet, and the bloody pillows were stuffed with something he’d never heard of before and they were all embroidered with silver threads—

 

—explaining the odd pillow lines on his face!

 

“My King?”, said a baritone, handsome voice from behind the tent’s partition.

“Lord Armathelius.”, Udoorin said with a slightly irritated tone. “You don’t really have ‘king’ me every time you come in here, you know. Just call me Udoorin. I have been called by it enough many times that I am bound to recognize it.”

“I am afraid that is never going to happen, my King. Should someone overhear me referring to you otherwise, they might get the wrong idea about your well-earned credentials and mayhap test their boundaries, a something that should never be trespassed nor ventured, forcing me to skewer them to prove just how mistaken they were. Seeing as how short we already are on men as it is, wasting said men on such pointless and very much avoidable end seems wiser.”, Lord Armathelius said in a seamless, single breath.

“Bet you gave serious effort to memorize that just to annoy me.”, grumbled Udoorin.

“As a matter of fact, I merely repeated Lady Anglenna verbatim, when she said it to Queen Alor’Nadien ne when her Highness asked her cousin to call her by her name.”, the voice said with an amused tint.

Udoorin grunted and got out of his odd, and distinctly uncomfortable bed, splashed some of the scented water from the ornate washing dish sitting on the stand next to his bed on his face, put on his clothes that had been tossed everywhere, a habit he knew would probably drive Lorna crazy when they finally did get to share the same tent.

Then he put on his boots, and piece by piece, his armor, picked up his numerous axes and swords and knives and the shield he’d been carrying around for nearly a year now, though he’d never used, and finally his helmet.

He stomped his feet a few times to make sure everything settled in and drew the flaps of the partition aside to see Lord Armathelius Riverblade and his awesome armor standing in a ‘polite’, ready stance.

 

Udoorin did not understand Armathelius.

 

He always seemed polite. But the elf had a truly unreadable face. He never rose his voice, he never showed any form of excitement, he never seemed irritated or angry, and he certainly never laughed.

Udoorin was never sure if his choice of words or the way he phrased them were some kind of dry sense of humor or he was punning him.

The only time he saw any life on his otherwise totally expressionless face was whenever Lady Lenna, Lorna’s cousin, walked in. And even then, he would show absolutely no apparent reaction nor overt recognition whatsoever.

Only two things Udoorin had noticed that told him something was going on between the two;

One, he would become even more still, silent, and expressionless, if that was even possible, and two, he would take a quick glance, without turning his head, first to his right, then his left, and then his eyes would follow her for the duration of eight or ten breaths before everything about him would return back to his ‘normal’ expressionless self.

 

Udoorin wasn’t sure if the elf dude didn’t trust Lady Lenna and was merely making sure the area was secure and the former High Lady wasn’t up to something..

..or he was checking her out!

 

Lady Lenna, on the other hand, outright refused to acknowledge even his existence, let alone engage in any civilized conversation with him. And the look she gave him could only constitute; 

“I shall see you burn in Hell, and even carry the wood for it!”

Udoorin wondered just what the poor elf dude had done to draw Lenna’s ire so furiously.

And when it came to ire, Lenna just didn’t do halves. 

Apparently, Udoorin figured, Armathelius was a good commander, a great swordsman, an excellent archer, though not on Laila’s scale, and probably had many other excelling qualities, but not very smart where Anglenna was concerned.

 

“On a side note, you really should consider moving into your Queen’s tent. It would make things much more convenient for all of us, if not for the two of you. You are, after all, husband and wife for these past three days, now.”, Lord Armathelius said.

“Yes, Alor’Nadien ne and I are husband and wife, but I want a public wedding where everyone sees us getting married. I do not want any snark remarks haunting her.. ever! We wed, and both you and Lady Lenna have witnessed, but that was a promise made to one another. I shall not abuse her trust.”, Udoorin said sternly.

 

Lord Armathelius mused over that for a moment.

 

“I admire your stance to protect not only the Queen’s person but also her honor.. I do, however, feel the need to remind you that our ways are not human ways. Your promise to our Queen and her promise to you are indeed, truly binding in every possible way, on every possible level and no one can say otherwise nor gainsay it.”, Armathelius said.

“Both she and I agreed on this, Lord Armathelius.”, Udoorin grated.

“Since you have both agreed on it, I am sure everything will be fine, my King. Though also I feel the need to point out, have you considered what people might say or think as to why a king, newlywed, is not sleeping with his queen but prefers to sleep alone, in another tent?”

“What’s that supposed to mo mean?”, the young man growled.

Lord Armathelius stared at his very young human king for a moment before answering.

“You, my King, are a decent man. And your feelings for our Queen are.. artlessly genuine. This I know upon at least three occasions; the first was when Queen Alor’Nadien ne summoned the ghost of the accursed Themalsar as a gift to her father, you drew your weapons, in the presence of a Ri and challenged him, and his whole retinue, should they try their hands against her. Two; many elves of Bari Na-ammen never approved of a human as our Rise, yet some of us admired her and saw all the things she tried to do for us. Hence the elves here honor and rever enRise Nadine Graciousward and she has approved your claim to our Queen. And three; when you and our Queen returned to us hurt and weary, both of you were leaning on one another and even in your moment of delirium, you would not give her up.”

Udoorin scowled.

“Yes, so?”

“Many have seen your dedication to our Queen, my King. But many more have not and in truth, very few know the true extent of your care for our Queen. When you spend your days, and nights, apart from your legally wedded wife, it tells them you went after a young and naive girl, taking advantage of her infatuations to have access to the throne!”, Lord Armathelius explained calmly.

 

A dreadful silence settled in the tent and Udoorin’s face went totally black.

 

“The Hell with the throne!”, he snarled something awful. “And the Hell with anyone who thinks I ever wanted it. You can have it. I know for a fact neither did my Lorna ever wanted it! And seeing as none of you truly understand what is at hand, it’s no wonder the Orken stomped right over Bari Na-ammen. It was full of fools!”

 

In retro respect, it was possible Udoorin should not have said that last bit. If Lord Armathelius’s face could have shown any expression, this was it. His brows crossed, his deep-set eyes blazed, his lips pressed tightly and his whole stance became cold.. almost frigid.

 

“That.. was uncalled for, my King..”, he hissed through tightly clenched teeth.

“And attacking me, and by my proxy, attacking my Lorna, was? At which point did you, or any of your elves think I was a soft, fluffy gentleman, Lord Armathelius? At which point did you think I, or my Lorna, ought to ‘bend’ for your collective conformity? None of you did anything when she was forced to abandon her only home, even though she was the Chosen Heart of your High Woods. Every day since then, she has fought tooth and nail, and with sweat and blood as her witness, to prove her mettle. And she has thus saved the lives of countless, yet unborn, when she brought down Themalsar —the mad priest his father couldn’t be bothered to slay even with his whole army behind him. The Orken has suffered countless of their numbers because of her and because of Lady Lenna when we made sure Arashkan couldn’t be used as a base by them, and you want to judge her and me? I do not have any personal ill feelings for you, Lord Armathelius, but I abhor what you elves did to her. And please remember that the only contribution the elves have thus provided was running away and letting their kingdom burn!”

 

Lord Armathelius stood there thunderstruck..

..and totally crushed.

 

“And while at it..”, Udoorin growled. “..you might want to remind your elves that the only reason you have a Queen from the line of Feymist, is because I have agreed I would be by her side for as long as I was alive and because my Lorna is a kind and forgiving girl. Know also that should you, any of you, mistreat her again the way you did, you can kiss your Aranië goodbye because that is how much I care for her, and how little I care for your elves!”

✱ ✱ ✱

How are you feeling?”, Hamna Vir asked as she gently shifted the sleeping Dar Derune in her arms to a more comfortable position.

“You know how I feel.”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said sitting in her bed in one of the tiny dormitory rooms in the Serenity Home Temple. Her face was drawn, pale, lost, and listless as she idly played with her broken antler-horn.

“Yes. I do. All half-born do. But I suppose it is the Mortal thing to ask.”, Hamna Vir shrugged.

“How is he?”, Temez asked her, looking up at the limp form of Dar Derune.

“He.. can’t sleep.. Not since.. Merisoul..”, Hamna Vir replied quietly and her sharp feature softened. “He drops asleep because he can no longer stay awake.”

“How are the others?”, Temez asked.

“Wounded and hurting. This was our first test and we all utterly failed it..”, Hamna Vir mumbled as she gently brushed the little boy’s hair with one, slender hand.

“I am sorry. They were all so happy to be here. Happy and very, very fragile. Had I shown them any leadership..”, murmured Temez.

“Enough!”, hissed a voice and the door to her dormitory opened to reveal a very blotchy-faced Demelze. “I can’t stand this. I.. I can feel all of you! And all of your hearts are screaming! It is driving me insane!”

“Demelze. Please. Leave them alone.”, said another voice, this one resonant and charismatic, and Hal Mali appeared behind her.

Demelze’s eyes flared and she turned around and blazed up at him.

“You don’t get to tell me what to do, Hall!”, she very nearly spat.

“I believe I do.”, Hal Mali said.

“When did you decide on that?”, the diminutive, fiery, redhead sneered at him.

“When I carried you around, in my arms, twice, I might add, out and back into this town..”, he replied with a straight face.

“I had no say in that!”, spat Demelze.

“..and when we ran around the forest chasing one another. I believe you had a say in that..”, Hal said cooly.

Demelze glared at him.

“..and when you said you enjoyed it.”

“Of course I enjoyed it. We ran in the forest free and not stuck in this temple for weeks and weeks!”, she blazed.

“I do recall offering to carry you out, in secret, so we could play some more, and you said you would very much like that and that you could do that forever and that it was so much fun.”

“Yeah, so?”

“I said I would need your consent for that and you said, ‘Sure, why not!'”

“Yeah, so?”

Hamna Vir snorted.

“You, Demelze, are an idiot and you just got served!”, she said with a waspish snicker.

“What? Why?”, the flaring girl asked, suddenly looking much less sure of herself.

 

Hal Mali cleared his throat and smiled and it was a brilliant, very handsome smile.

 

“That, my dear Demelze, was my claim. You gave your consent, freely, and forever!”

 

Demelze just ogled at him as Hamna Vir snorted again.

Even Temez hiccuped a stifle.

 

“Well, bugger!”, Demelze said as her shoulders slumped. “I am stuck with a buffoon!”

“You don’t even know what a buffoon is.”, Hamna Vir snarked.

“Yes I do!”, she glared at her. “It’s a four-legged Mortal-whatsit!”

“Perhaps you are referring to a baboon?”, Hal Mali offered gently.

Hamna Vir snickered some more.

“Whatever. Same difference!”, Demelze spat.

“No, my dear Demelze. A buffoon is a ridiculous Mortal. A baboon is the four-legged Mortal-whatsit.”, Hal Mali explained.

“And you are both!”, Demelze said with extreme prejudice. “And I am not going down without a fight!”

“But of course. I wouldn’t want a mate who couldn’t fight.”, Hal Mali replied with a smile.

 

Temez sighed.

Hamna Vir snickered.

 

“Nice! A mating fight!”, she said happily.

“Really? You want to do this now?”, Temez asked with resignation.

“Yes!”, flared Demelze, without taking her seething eyes off Hal Mali. “You are the leader of Escape. You must officiate as a witness, and judge the outcome.”

“You will never see me coming, Demelze. You know that right?”, Hal Mali warned.

“Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Haa..”, she laughed at his face and sneered at him. “I don’t need to see you coming, boi. I can feel you wherever you are.”

“Very well. Down to the crypts, then. And no using Pixie Dust.”, Hal Mali said.

“Afraid?”, Demelze grinned viscously at him.

“Of course. I wanted my mate to be strong, smart, cunning, willful, dangerous, and better than me. And you are it.”, he replied honestly.

“Just for that, I shall not burn you down to cinders.”, Demelze said with a flushed face.

“No, no. I want you to give your all because I want your all. Agreed?”, the handsome half-born said.

“Ow, I like this.”, laughed Hamna Vir with delight. “If you don’t want him, there are plenty others who do, Demelze. I mean, I would, had I not had my heart set on someone else.”

“Shut up, Hamna Vir.”, Demelze glared at her balefully. Then she turned to the leader of the Escape. “Coming, Temez?”

 

Temez sighed again, got up and out of her rickety dormitory bed, took her broken antler-horn, and followed the fiery Demelze, the calm Hal Mali, and an eager Hamna Vir, who was still clutching at her Dar Derune, down to the crypts under Serenity Home Temple to judge the outcome of the first ‘Mating Duel’ —a ritual to see if the intended mates were worthy of one another.

 

What would Darling Demos think, she wondered.

What would her BFF, Merisoul Xyrotwu, think?

 

Bet she would have loved it..

✱ ✱ ✱

This is the best breakfasts I have had since I left Bowling Hills, Lady Inshala.”, said Brom admitted as he wiped his hands on the clean towels she had brought with the large platter full of fruits.

Aager had wordlessly grabbed the platter from her. It wasn’t hard to see she was having a hard time carrying it with her skinny arms.

 

It would seem, whatever she had parted and sacrificed at Themalsar to bury it, wasn’t coming back and it was these little things that Aager noted and consequently broke his heart to see.

 

“It’s alright.”, she had whispered. “They shouldn’t see you doing house chores.”

“I shall be accused of doing the chores in my own home and helping my mate?”, he’d whispered back. “I wasn’t aware there were such fools.”

“Dim Woods men expect so.. from their women.”, she had mumbled.

“Fools are they should they think they are beneath such chores and see them fit only for the women who share their lives and their bed, and bear their burdens and their children. I am a bloody Drashan and we cut men who mistreat their women and we do not feel remorse afterward.”, he had growled back.

 

“Tell me, Miss Cinotnacra Gocelap.”, Nadine Graciousward was saying. “How did the Academy treat you? Did you like it there?”

“I.. uhhmm.. It was alright.. I guess..”, mumbled. “A bit constricting though.”

 

Brom was silently wiping his hands and was neither looking at Tonic nor the ‘the most beautiful woman in the kingdom’, as he had referred to her once. Seressa and Cora were both staring at them, though. Seressa with a questioning expression as she ate one, single grape after careful inspection, for some reason, then another, while Cora bit savagely into an apple as she inspected the former human queen of the elves with interest as to how she dressed, how she behaved, how she mimed her hands so gracefully, and how she phrased her words. It was an educational experience for her on whole many levels and was, in fact, part of her plans on rebuilding her New Ironfrost. Much like she had very carefully studied Arashkan as a city, its structure, its workings, its people as a whole, she was now studying Nadine Graciousward.

In all candor, the mother of Queen Alor’Nadien ne Feymist was an excellent study when it came to learning everything one would need to know about nobility, grace, elegance, commanding presence, and being a powerful woman without ever swinging a sword, which sort of baffled Cora a bit. True, Seressa never swung a sword either, but she at least did carry one; a beautiful and ornate rapier.. which Cora had thought was some sort of a knitting needle when they had first met!

Aager was showing no interest in the matter as he pealed the apple he had gotten from the fruit platter, and at some level, he didn’t really want to know. Inshala, on the other hand, was staring at the cute gnomic girl with endearing and enthralled, baby owl eyes.

 

“Constricting? That is a bit odd. And peculiar. Of all the places in the kingdom, I would have thought Melshieve would have provided the most freedom to her students.”, Nadine said, carefully studying the scruffy-looking gnomic girl who was, for some reason, squirming before her.

“They didn’t let me take the classes I wanted.”, Tonic said quietly, staring at her own lap.

“That wasn’t the order I gave them.”, mused Nadine with a slight frown.

“I.. What?”, spluttered Tonic.

“Come now, my dear. I know who you are.”, the former queen of Bari Na-ammen said with an amused expression playing around her perfectly shaped lips.

“I.. have no idea what you are talking about!”, spluttered the gnomic girl.

“For Heaven’s sake, girl!”, Brom said with an exasperated tone.

“Cinotnacra Gocelap? Is that the best you could do? Say your name backward? Your demented uncle was much better at deceit than you are. Which is expected, and a good thing, really.”, Nadine said with a beautiful smile. A smile that, among those gathered around the low table, only Aager and Inshala had seen before; on the face of Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, her daughter.

 

Tonic mumbled some things unintelligible as she blushed furiously.

 

“Your name is not Cinotnacra Gocelap?”, blurted Inshala with fascination while Aager stared down at the little gnomic girl with rare amusement.

“No, my dear child.”, Nadine said smiling at her. “This pretty young gnome lady is Arcantonic Palecog. Or rather, Arcantonic Mordanon, to be more precise. The very niece of Arcanton Mordenon himself.”

Inshala stared at her then at Tonic with a totally baffled expression.

 

“Who is that?”, Inshala asked Aager hastily as if not wanting to miss the next line in a soap opera.

“Arcanton Mordanon. We saw his wanted posts when we were in Sim Town, on our way to Arashkan, remember? Worth five hundred thousand gold.”, he replied back.

“That is many gold?”, she said a bit unsure.

“That is many, many gold, love.”

 

“Any particular reason you would reveal her identity like this?”, Cora said suddenly, and a bit coldly.

“Only because we are among friends, my dear. No need to get riled up.”, Nadine said with a stern, motherly smile. “I had strict orders her true identity would never be revealed at the Academy, so no one would harass her due to her uncle. I had gone so far as threatening to send anyone that did, right next to her uncle!”

“I.. didn’t know that.”, mumbled Tonic.

“Did you know they placed a ‘Watchful Eye’ on her? Do you know just how dangerous that spell is? And illegal?”, Seressa said staring at Nadine with a very piercing glare.

“Of course, my dear Seressa. It was placed on my orders.”, Nadine replied calmly.

“Why? Why would you place such an erratic and violent spell on a little gnomic girl?”, Seressa blazed in a very un-Seressa-like way.

“The Watchful Eye I had placed on Arcantonic, here, was not the cheap kind, my dear girl. It was the high-end version. Not so erratic, but exponentially more violent.”, Nadine said smiling at the very tall, very dark girl in pinks, though her eyes said otherwise.

“But.. why? Why put in on a little girl in the first place?”, asked Seressa, quite angry now.

“Seressa. Please..”, blubbered Tonic.

“No, girl. I want to know why she had placed such a demented and deadly spell on you.”, Seressa blazed. “What would have happened had she stepped out of line, or done anything stupid, as young kids often do?”

“To my dear Arcantonic? Nothing.”, said Nadine, still smiling.

 

Seressa stared at her.

So did Tonic.

Brom had no idea what the bloody hell a Watchful Eye was, but it sounded dangerous, so he was kind of curious.

Cora was much on the same boat as Brom, just with less idea than him.

Aager seemed like he wanted to be anywhere but here, possibly taking Inshala along, just so they wouldn’t be part of this ‘family’ drama.

Inshala, on the other hand, was enthralled by the verbal and emotional duel going back and forth, probably because she had never really witnessed a family drama before.

 

“I don’t understand.”, Seressa said confused.

“What is there not to understand. Ahh.. Perhaps you thought I placed the Watchful Eye to keep tabs on dear Arcantonic. My dear girl, that is not only wrong, it is also abhorrent. You watch over your children. You do not watch them. And you certainly do not zap them every time they do something foolish, which they are going to do, and are expected to do.”, she replied.

“Then.. why did you had it placed?”, Seressa asked, now totally dumbfounded.

“To make sure no one came after her because of her uncle, dear Seressa. I would have thought a smart, inspired, and extremely imaginative girl such as yourself would have figured that out by now.”, Nadine said.

“But.. what would have happened had anyone did come after her?”, Seressa asked in a distinctly diffident tone.

“They would have gotten three warnings to back off, and if they didn’t, they would have promptly gotten disintegrated.”, Nadine Graciousward replied calmly as she reached over and nipped herself a tiny tree of grapes from the fruit platter.

 

Seressa just ogled at her.

“Holy crap!”, Tonic blurted.

“Bit of an overkill, perhaps.”, murmured Brom. “No pun intended.”

Cora didn’t say anything.

Aager hadn’t planned on being part of this conversation in the first place, so he didn’t say anything either.

Inshala, however, was looking at Nadine with this funny expression.

 

Nadine looked down at Brom and without smiling, she spoke.

 

“When someone threatens your loved ones, dear Master Brom, you warn them to back off, if at all. Should they persist, you destroy them —utterly! That way, you do not have to worry about them ever again, and you have just told any and everyone else who might have similar ideas exactly what to expect.”

“I concur.”, Aager said quietly and inadvertently, remembering what Lady Granma, Grana Maarva, Lady Alisia’s mother, and Moira’s grandmother had said to him when he had gone to her to speak about his intentions to marry Inshala.

“YESS!”, hissed Inshala savagely, to everyone’s surprise.

Nadine looked at those around the table for a moment. Then to Cora, she said, “I heard rumors about your people, my dear Cora. Tell me. What would you do, if you had the chance to save them?”

“Anything.”, Cora said simply.

“And you, my dear Seressa? What would you do, if someone came after your pair?”

“I would destroy them.”, Seressa said viciously. “Like, unload EVERYTHING I had!”

“And you, Master Hobbit?”, Nadine asked.

“I already destroyed them.”, Brom replied, looking down at his own hands.

“There you have it.”, she said. “I made the mistake of not destroying those that came after my daughter and look where that brought us; the total annihilation and destruction of Bari Na-ammen, and causing me to almost lose my beloved child.”

 

Nadine Graciousward looked at all the youthful faces before her with the satisfaction of having learned them a valuable lesson. Then slowly she rose.

 

“My dear, dear Inshala. The winds and seasons, the eagle and the crow, and the leaves and the blossoms have spoken your name. You are, truly a treasure to be had. I have enjoyed my stay here and look forward to visiting you, should you have me in your beautiful home again, which is exactly what this place is; a home.”, she said with a beautiful smile.

Inshala beamed at her with blurry eyes and promptly hugged her.

Then she looked down at the scruffy little gnomic girl who was staring guiltily at her.

“It isn’t all that hard to see you have something to say, my dear Arcantonic. Perhaps you would say it before I left, which must happen in a short few minutes. I do have some people to see and summoning circles to arrange for fast transportation between other cities and this town. A dreary job and a true drudgery, to be sure, but it must be done.”

“I am sorry I called you all those names, Lady Nadine!”, Tonic blurted. “When you got me out of that place, I wanted so much to stay with you, but you took me back to my parents, who had sold me out to my uncle in the first place. I felt so betrayed and abandoned.. again!”

“My dear, dear girl. I did not give you back to your parents because I thought you belonged there. I gave you back to them because I had no home. I still don’t. What I did have, was many, many enemies and that was the only place where you would be safe until you were old enough to attend the Academy where I had granted you with a full scholarship and the one place where my enemies would never seek me out, as our connection was unknown to any but you.. You had already suffered much, and with me, you would have never returned from that dark place I had gotten you out of. This I say with all the candor of my heart.”, she replied as she knelt down and hugged the scruffy-looking little gnomic girl. “And I doubt you could have said anything more than I have already said to myself over the years, my dear.”

“But.. why didn’t you tell me these things? Why keep it all a secret? Why not tell me the scholarship came from you?”, Tonic asked with shame.

“For the same reasons I mentioned above, my dear. You were already going to be black-sheeped for your blood relation to your uncle. But it would likely be limited to slander. If your connection to me were known, many would have come after you, just to hurt me, if nothing else. When I said I had many enemies, I did not exaggerate in the slightest. As for your scholarship, I wanted you to grow up and be something on your own. Or make something out of yourself, whatever you wanted to be.. without being in the shadow of anybody else nor feel any obligations. Nor even to me.. You already were going to suffer for the sins of your uncle. The least I could do was to prepare the conditions where you would make a name of your own and be free.”

“That.. is beautiful..”, Inshala whispered.

Seressa approached the former queen of Bari Na-ammen and did an exquisite curtsy.

“I apologize for my abrasive manner, Lady Nadine. I.. lose control when anyone threatens my pair.”, she said with her illustrious and cultured voice.

“And that is what a good pair should do, my dear. You are smart, beautiful, and kind. Three things seldom found in one person. Yet you are smart, beautiful, kind, loyal, and strong. Five things found in only a unique person. I wish Master Brom, dear Cora, and you were there when I, Delia Karakash, and diverse others had gone after that demented little midget. Your presence would have made a world of difference.”

 

Seressa looked down and at her bare feet, possible to hide her face.

Brom stared somewhere off to the north and east.

Cora started chewing at one of her fingers showing a sudden interest in the tribal designs and patterns on the hand-woven rugs.

 

“My uncle..”, Tonic mumbled. “..is he still alive?”

“I suspect he still is, my dear..”, Nadine said brightly. “..and burning quite comfortably in Hell..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Hamna Vir did not like this town. Hamna Vir did not like Mortals. Hamna Vir did not like the half-born either. In all candor, Hamna Vir did not like anything or anyone.. except her beloved and beautiful little Dar Derune. So when she was told she would be replacing the tall, alluring, kind-hearted Constance as the new liaison, she had taken a leaf out of her sister-kin, Demelze’s book, and laughed at Perigren Ostlanna Temez with glaringly exaggerated laugh and with scornful abandon. She had, at least, been more believable with her laugh than Demelze had ever been.

Finding out Temez hadn’t been joking about the idea, which hadn’t really been an idea in the first place but a command, had not helped either.. at which point Hamna Vir had become vocal.

 

Very, very vocal!

 

It had been, to everyone’s collective amusement, that Temez had sternly told her that it was about time she too did something for the upcoming war, as opposed to sitting around all day playing games and cuddling Dar Derune. After all, monopolizing the boy was not nice and there were many other sisters who also wanted to cuddle him!

Hence, with a very infuriated, surly, and sullen expression clearly etched all over her face and attitude, she had come out of the Serenity Home Temple and was now walking over to the sheriff’s office, hissing and cussing at everyone looking in her direction. To make things worse, if that was possible, her inflammatory words were not some primitive Mortal swear words, but actual ‘curses’..

Not to anyone’s surprise, Thomas would likely be called upon to patiently remove any number of unexpected and quite cantankerous curses, hexes, and jinxes from various town citizens!

When Hamna Vir came to the sheriff’s office, she hadn’t bothered to knock on the door and politely ask to be let in, but had knocked the door down in her, very creepy way; the thick, steel enforced door that had been there for generations had literally rotted away and crumbled down, it’s steel frames bent and caked with reddish-green clumps of rust.

It had been, perhaps, quite unfortunate that Guard Anderson has been the one closest to the door at the time, who had learned his lesson from the former liaison, Constance, and the sprite, Biberbell, to be polite. Neither of his previous encounters, however, had prepared him for a Hamna Vir.

Seeing the door suddenly come crumbling down on him, the young Arashkan recruit had thought the worst, particularly after the bloody attack that had occurred merely three days ago, and had gone for his sword.. and had promptly gotten himself cursed, hexed, and jinxed, dropping his sword and poking himself in the foot, stumbling back in pain, crashing into the spear racks and collapsing the whole rack, along with the score or so spears on top of him!

The remaining guards had backed off, though they’d kept their hands on their clubs.

 

Hamna Vir hadn’t even given the young man, moaning under heavy rack and score or so of spears, a second glance when she had sullenly glided over to the sheriff and introduced herself;

 

“Berete Hamna Vir, reporting for duty as the replacement liaison.”, she hissed!

“Welcome, Liaison Berete Hamna Vir.”, Sheriff Standorin said calmly to the sullen girl with the sharp features and black and somewhat shredded clothes.

“Tell me what I must do Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, so I may do it and go back!”, the new liaison scowled in a surly and abrasive manner.

“Do you have somewhere to be, Liaison Hamna Vir?”, Standorin asked politely.

“I was happy where I was, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. But because of you, I am forced to be here and against my will.”, she further hissed.

“I.. see..”, the sheriff said.

“No. You don’t!”, Hamna Vir snapped. “You were supposed to have been nice to our Constance Alure Smithen. Yet you broke her heart. Do you know how hard it is for my kind to have a heart? Seeing as you don’t have one yourself, I doubt you do.”

“It isn’t that simple, young lady.”, Standorin said as calmly as he could manage.

“Do tell, which part wasn’t simple?”, Hamna Vir glared. “Constance is, indeed, one of the best of us. She had a spark in her heart! And for the sake of that spark, she sacrificed what was most precious to her. And you, sir, smothered that spark. Well done! In one stroke of Mortal stupidity, you have destroyed her, ruined my day, and you still have the audacity to claim, it isn’t your fault?”

“Liaison Hamna Vir. I do not think this is any of your business. You are here to act as a liaison between my department and the half-born.”, Sheriff Standorin fumed.

“Which is precisely what I am doing; liaisoning between this silly place and my kin!”, flared the sullen girl.

Stadorin smoldered where he sat. But in a demented way, he knew the surly girl glaring at him was right. Technically, she was ‘liaisoning’ right this very moment!

 

He sighed.

 

“Everyone. Take a five up at the watchtower. Someone help Mr. Anderson and see to his foot. He is bleeding all over the office.”

The guards helped poor Mr. Anderson up and dragged him up the stairs leading to the roof and to the newly finished watchtower.

Soon enough, the sheriff’s office was empty except for the sheriff himself and the new liaison.

 

“There are many things I do not know, nor understand, Liaison Hamna Vir. I would be grateful if you would be kind enough to explain them to me?”, Standorin asked politely.

“You are Mortal, hence doomed to die ignorant. I do not know what ‘kind’ is, seeing as I came from Hell, and having seen just how you have thus treated our Constance, I do not think you would be as grateful as you say you would, and I double-doubt you even know what it means!”, she replied unmercifully.

 

Standorin fumed some more.

 

“Perhaps.”, he said agreeably. “Tell me what this spark is.”

“You, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, must understand, we, the half-born, were made, for the sole purpose of sowing dissension among Mortals. To that end, Mortal men and women were taken from their homes and against their will. The men were forcibly mated to lustful succubus and eaten once the deed was done. The women were raped, repeatedly, over and over, and consequently impregnated by the vilest incubus, many times.. to make my kind. We, all of us, were thrown into very deep, very narrow pits that we could sit or stand, but never stretch and lie when we were born and fed with the feces of Mortals. Most of us did not survive. Perhaps one in a few hundred did.. Those of us that did were never let out of those pits until we were at the edge of our puberty. Then we were taken to dark, horrible places where we were given extensive education and training as to how to deceive, manipulate, seduce, and effectively slay Mortals. Those of us that couldn’t, were fed to demons, alive, and right before our eyes, their remains burned and put into the very ink we used, as an ingredient. Every time we dipped a feather into an inkpot to take a note, we knew, in every drop, one of our brothers or sisters was in it! We were treated in the vilest ways imaginable to make sure all semblance of good and empathy was dried out of us.. So when I say, the ones that are here are the elite of the Seeds of Dissension, I mean that in the most literal, and horrible sense possible..”, Hamna Vir said with dead, morose eyes.

 

Standorin stared at her, a sick expression etched on his face.

 

“We were made so we may never have or feel, not only empathy, compassion, love, or any form of attachment, but to simply never have or feel anything. In the great scheme of things, however, something happened and one of us got free. You met her; a Merisoul Xyrotwu. You did fine her, after all. She made a daring plan and she got us all out. She made us free, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And paid for it with her life.. She gave us the chance to live, and to choose, and in time, hope to feel. We, the half-born, can ‘sense’, ‘hear’, and ‘read’ emotions around us. All of us, all the time. But we can not feel them ourselves. When we show anger, it is not your Mortal understanding of anger. It is the wrath of Hell, in the most literal sense. When we show love and care, it is, in actuality, a mere emulation of the real thing learned via our extensive training. What you Mortals take for granted, is a matter of miracle for us, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Do you understand that?”, she asked in a cold, void of all emotions kind of voice.

“I.. think so.”, Standorin said quietly.

“No. You do not. Because you can not. The moment of your birth.. it marks an event of happiness by its very nature, for lo.. a new life has come to be.. You start attaining emotional satisfaction in your mother’s womb. We have not and we never did. Our birth was marked as a curse about to be let loose upon Mortals for the sole purpose of ending you Mortals in the name of our demon masters. This very day, we had a mating ritual. Two of our kind fought for the right to bond for life; Demelze and Hal Mali. They fought to kill one another to reach the height of their Hell’s wrath in hopes of holding just short of slaying each other in order to get a glimpse of compassion and, perchance, understand and feel love that would bind them for life. Hal Mali was burnt down to crisp and Demelze was bleeding from so many stab wounds that my kin was still washing the place off the bloodstains and the cinders when I left the temple to come here!”

 

Standorin just stared at her.

 

“Merisoul Xyrotwu spent years and years to understand her heart. She did everything to attain that one, single purpose. And when she finally did, a spark gave birth in her heart. It was when she had sacrificed her very existence to save a Mortal. The very moment of her comprehension, however, also marked the moment of her end as well. As sad as it may be to have lost our beloved savior, she depicted the true symbol of our freedom; the half-demon who escaped all her masters and, among all the half-born, became the first to Ascend, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart..

..With her help, Perigren Ostlanna Temez became the first to be mirima —free!..

..And amongst the Escape, Constance Alure Smithen was the fist to have attained a spark. You must understand, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, when you look at Mortals, you see potential, whatever flavor that potential may be or entail. Would you like to know what we see when we look at Mortals? Food! We see food! Even though we all forswore our most basic needs and desires when we decided to abandon our sinful ways and our demon masters and opted to come and help you in your war, many of my kin still looked upon you as food, when you first came to meet us. She didn’t. She looked upon you with only wanting.. as a mate, and willy-nilly, she bloomed a spark.. in her heart. She did everything to attain your good graces and you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, smothered her spark. Good job! I am so tempted to ask; dude, what is wrong with you?!”

“Perhaps all these should have been explained to me before..”, mumbled the sheriff, feeling decidedly ashamed.

“Yes. Because we escape from Hell on a regular basis and know perfectly well what is going on and what is happening to us, as opposed to it being our first time!”, snarked Hamna Vir with heavy sarcasm. “We just came to your Mortal coil several weeks ago, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Do expect everything we see, we do, we feel, we observe, and we think we comprehend to be uniquely new for us. That is our excuse. What is yours?”

 

Standorin knew he was on his last few feet. He didn’t back down, but he certainly did not give excuses either.

 

“Sacrifice. I heard talk about this before. When we found Constance, half-dead, near the shores of Arashkan River, several hours to the east, last week..”

“And you never bothered to find out what it was? Duuude! Really.. What is wrong with you? Is this how you Mortals treat your women? Is this why we escaped? Is this why we took the real risk of being hunted down by our demon masters?”, Hamna Vir spat viscously.

“I did ask. She wouldn’t tell me. She is very good at dodging when she wants to..”, mumbled Standorin with frustration.

“No. She is very good at being considerate, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Something you clearly lack. Sacrifice, by its nature, is giving up something you truly care about and that is truly yours, in order to attain a greater goal. All of us half-born have common traits. But we also have unique skills. Hers.. hers was negotiation and the ability to bring people together and make the impossible, possible. So when I say, you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, must be monumentally obtuse to have rebuked her thus thoroughly, I am being very, very polite about it..”

Standorin scowled.

“She is exceptional with her martial skills when it comes to close-quarter combat and with her pike, in particular. All of us have horns, of one variety or another..”, she said, then grabbed hold of her tail and showed it to the sheriff. “I also have this tail. Some few others of my kind have it also. She has wings.. And she could fly, with exceptional speed and grace..”

The sheriff stared at her.

“I never saw her wings.”

“Very, very few of us have wings and can fly. Merisoul did. Though hers were broken when they threw her down into her pit when she could barely crawl. Of those that do, even fewer could actually hide theirs and sprout them at will..”, Hamna Vir said with great vehemence.

“I do not understand.. What does any of this have to do with sacrifice?”, Standorin asked, baffled and somewhat taken aback.

“You asked us to find your lost Orken army, we felt compelled to go out of our way to find them. That, however, was a group effort. But because you were also seeking your lost son, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, she felt compelled to find and bring him back, safe and sound.. We had found an alchemical way to unveil the Orken army, but we needed many, many pixies and sprites to give us their dust, as part of the main ingredient. And we had found where your son and his pretty mate were. The answer to both, to our dismay, was at Gull’s Perch, and the Lady who owns it!”

 

To say Sheriff Standorin was a pragmatic man, was a bit like saying water was, ‘somewhat’ wet. True, he would always keep his options open, and never really engrave them on stone, it’s just that, said options were quite limited, and not so much as readily discardable, per se, but neither were they readily available. Considering the events of the past six months or so, however, that gap in his ‘options’ had ‘somewhat’ widened. Hence when the name Gull’s Perch popped up, he did feel a certain sense of dread wash over himself.

 

“What did she sacrifice to the Lady of the Perch?”, he blurted.

“The thing that was most precious to her, and what made her unique among us, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart..”, Hamna Vir said quietly. “..Her wings.”

 

Standorin stared at her, and a terrible pang of guilt grabbed hold of his heart.

 

“To get back your son, she chose to sacrifice her wings. When Titania refused, she sacrificed them anyway, to bargain for all the sprites and pixies in Gull’s Perch and Ritual Forest to come here, a something that would never have happened, and has never been heard of before, just so she could help us, and you, in particular, to find your lost Orken army.”

✱ ✱ ✱

I blew it.”, Sheriff Standorin said with glum frustration. “She did everything to get a smile out of me, just a smile, mind you, and I blew it. Indeed, what is wrong with me?”

Standorin Shieldheart was sitting on his couch, late that night, staring at the fire once again. He looked around and noted his home was a mess, with unwashed dishes everywhere, clothes crumbled and tossed here and there with torn or dog-eared parchments with various reports stacked on all available surfaces and the house itself seemed like it could use a good airing.

Strictly speaking, Standorin was a very organized and disciplined man. His sense of perfection, coupled with his need to impose ‘do it right, or just don’t do it at all’, had driven his deceased wife, Limnia Karya, quite perplexed at times, and the only reason she hadn’t made a scene over his exasperating tendency for arbitrary ‘neatness’ was due her being a stoic-hearted woman.. and because of her fondness and love for him.

This.. mess.. however, was something new and very unlike him. It was as if the culmination of all his losses, all his disappointments, and all his heartaches had finally ganged up on him and were taking their vengeance upon him —with compounded interest.

 

“Maybe I should just march up at the temple and demand to see her.”, he mused, then killed that thought when he contemplated how Thomas would react to that; something about jurisdictions and ‘No, means, no!’

 

Deep in his dark thoughts, Standorin contemplated the past few days.. then weeks.. and finally, his life, going as far back as his younger days, particularly after being ‘brought back’, if worded politely, ‘dragged back’, if phrased more accurately, by the rangers Moorat and Limnia to Serenity Home.

After his many experiences during his guarding duties on merchant caravans and as a bounty hunter, he had inevitably learned many of the King’s Laws. Particularly those pertaining to crime and civil order. Hence, he had applied to the position of ‘sheriff’ of the town and in a mere year or two, the job had been his.

The fact that he had worked day and night, quite tirelessly, and in his very orderly and disciplined way, along with his good knowledge of the King’s Laws, had played a great role in getting the job.

In secret, though, Standorin knew, his knowledge of the law had been due to his stints as a bounty hunter and his sense of order and discipline had been part of his ‘character’ all along. The only true reason he had worked day and night, and quite relentlessly, was to capture the affection of that ugly guy’s, Moorat’s, beautiful elder sister, Limnia; the woman who had ultimately captured him on any number of levels.

For nearly a year, Limnia had ignored ‘the boy’, as she referred to Standorin, being some years older than him. But Standorin had been ‘politely’ relentless in his approaches to her as well and finally, and quite miraculously, Limnia had caved in and they had married. Limnia had always been a very bold, outspoken, and strong woman. When they had been alone, however, and only when she’d been with her ‘young’ husband, she would revert to a much girlish persona, and that particular aspect of her had been at the very core of their love and happy marriage as much as her, otherwise ‘known’ attitudes. Standorin would do everything in his power to make her safe and happy because he had loved her that much, and she would be her soft side for him in all regards because her young husband made her feel loved and safe so much so that she could leave her ranger and elder sister ‘skin’ outside her home.

It was quite possible, even her brother Moorat had never known that side of her. After all, he had wondered what Standorin had found in his brisk, rather abrasive, and ofttimes heavy-handed elder sister! True, Moorat had never out right told him just how stupid he thought he was. Not to his face anyway. But he had left no doubt about just exactly what he thought about the young sheriff either. That had changed, however, when the young sheriff showed his skills once they had started tracking down various bandits that had plagued the south of Serenity Home.

All that, and all his happiness, however, had been crushed and quite abruptly, when she had taken ill, and after months of struggling, had died. And with her death, so had somethings.. many things.. in Standorin’s life had passed away and been buried with his wife.

Years later, he would meet a strange, tall, beautiful, alluring, calm, demure, and dignified woman with two, slender horns knock on his door and call upon him; Liaison Constance.

 

As if on queue, the door to his two-room house knocked.

 

Within the space of three weeks, and merely by her classy demeanor, her considerate attitude, and her moderated smile, she had managed to start a fire in his heart. A fire he hadn’t felt for the past sixteen years. And that fire had downright scared Standorin. And filled him with guilt, shame, and not a small sense of betrayal for his Limnia.

And all that had culminated to a breaking point when the bloody assassins had attacked his town, the refugees, the representatives, and the delegation, resulting in the death of nearly two thousand people and leaving almost nine thousand wounded in its wake.

Standorin had, quite unreasonably, blamed his emotional storming state with Liaison Constance as a distraction and hence, the cause of his inability to prevent the attack.

Deep down, though, he knew he was wrong on both accounts. The attack had been very well planned like it was, quite literally, ‘doomed to succeed’, and Liaison Constance had certainly not been a distraction for him. The only reason most of the delegation had survived had been due to the diversity of the people among the delegation who had earned their place by sweat and blood in the first place.. As for the liaison, she had shown exceptional professionalism during her work hours in the sheriff’s office and when they were out on a date, she would always have her demure smile and be a warm and confident listener. She would never speak out of turn and certainly never say foolish things, and when she spoke her mind, she would say it with considerate deliberation.

And considering how beautiful and appealing Constance had been in her curving physique, she had never once used that aspect of her arsenal to ‘capture’ him.

The truth, as Standorin understood it, was that the Liaison had wanted him. But as much as she would want to have him admire her for her appealing beauty, she wanted his honest love and certainly his respect, more. Particularly for her working mind, her calm and demure character, and her tender and caring heart..

 

..the heart that had a spark, as the new and rather surly Liaison Hamna Vir had explained.

 

“And I snuffed that right out of her.”, he seethed quietly.

 

The door knocked again.

 

Standorin contemplated whether he should open it or not. His men knew never to come knocking when he was home, unless something dire was at hand, even so, at that very moment, he just didn’t think he could take any more bad news.

He sighed, got up, and grabbed his heavy club, in case there was a dire situation at hand, or even if there wasn’t and he would use it on the idiot who had come to pester him during his private moments of misery.

 

“Uhhmm.. Hello, father.”, Udoorin mumbled.

“Boy, what are you doing here this late at night?”, he asked with a frown.

“Really? Dad? You are asking me why I am up late at night?”, Udoorin said in an exasperated voice.

“Good evening, father.”, said another, quiet, soft voice, and Queen Alor’Nadien ne Feymist appeared from behind Udoorin.

“My Queen.”, Standorin said with a slight bow.

“Please.”, Lorna very nearly begged with a furious blush. “The father of my King bows to no one. And for you, I shall always be just Lorna.”

“That is.. very kind of you to say..”, Standorin admitted with a flushed face.

“I.. We.. just came to visit you before we left.”, Lorna said quietly.

“Left? Are you going somewhere?”, Udoorin’s father asked, with one eyebrow cocked.

“Yes. May we enter? This will be better if we sat and talked.”, Lorna said carefully.

“By all means, do. But.. I have been a bit behind on my house chores of late. The house.. is a bit of a mess at the moment..”, he mumbled.

“It’s alright —ow my!”, Lorna exclaimed when she entered.

Udoorin, however, was more than utterly shocked. He had never seen this house this messy. To phrase that correctly, he had never seen this house messy!

“Udoorin, love, do call Lady Anglenna and Lord Armathelius. I am sure they have been tailing us and think we do not know.”, Lorna asked her husband kindly.

“Of course.”, Udoorin grinned and dashed back out.

“Uhhmm.. What do you have on your mind, Lorna?”, the sheriff asked but before she could answer, Udoorin returned with the Lady Anglenna, Lord Armathelius, and his awesome armor.

“Father, if you would, please, do sit down. Perhaps you would be kind enough to liven up the fire? It is, rather chilly this night.”, Lorna said with an encouraging smile.

“Cousin, Lord Armathelius, shall we get started?”, Lorna said with a merry expression.

Anglenna looked at her, then at the messy house, and sighed in total defeat.

Lord Armathelius just stared at his Queen, then at Anglenna with a very much confused expression, then with an “Ahh, of course, my Queen.”, he said as comprehension dawned on his face and he started towards the cups and plates and parchments scattered everywhere as Lorna bent down and started picking up the crumbled and tossed clothes.

“What? What are you doing?”, Standorin asked with a terribly embarrassed face.

“Helping our father out.”, Lorna said with an even more beautiful smile. “Udoorin, dear. I am sure there is a bucket here somewhere. We will need some water.”

“Of course.”, Udoorin grinned again, grabbed the two wooden buckets sitting next to the door, and ran out, once more, to draw some water from the water pump in the small garden.

“This is highly irregular.”, Standorin said quite mortified.

“No, Sheriff Standorin.”, Anglenna replied happily. “This is payback for all those long hours of grueling questions you afflicted upon me when I was ill.”

“I was very polite to you about it, Lady Anglenna. I am sure you understand that.”

“Yes. I do. I also understand you need some help.”, she said, then turned to her cousin and, very sternly, she added, “Lorna dear, please leave the cooking to me, if you will.”

“What? I thought father would enjoy a hot soup. Or perhaps even a stew!”, exclaimed Lorna.

“Not made by you, dear. I will do the soup, the stew, and the laundry, you do the dishes, and young Udoorin and Lord Armathelius can clean the fireplace and the rest of the house. I am sure we can find some suitable cleaning amenities here.”, she said cooly.

“This is truly unprecedented.”, Standorin fumed.

“My Lord Sheriff, your efforts on behalf of all the refugees, Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen have not gone unnoticed. True, we all suffered in this last attack. But had it not been for your enforced training programs, I surmise our total losses would have been catastrophic by proportion.”, said Lord Armathelius.

“Those training programs were the mayor’s idea.”, objected Standorin.

“Perhaps.”, agreed, Armathelius. “But Arthandos Yuleman had you to rely on, and he was right to do so.”

“Lord Armathelius. If you plan on giving long-winded and quite pompous speeches, please do so outside. Otherwise, grab a bucket and one of these cloths and start scrubbing!”, Anglenna burned the elf lord!

 

It was perhaps two hours later, and a bit past midnight when they had all settled down in front of the newly cleaned out fireplace; a sour-faced Anglenna sitting on the couch next to Armathelius, Sheriff Standorin sitting in a chair, King Udoorin sitting on the floor and on a threadbare rug with Queen Alor’Nadien ne sitting, also on the floor, with her back resting in his arms, and all with numb, shriveled hands.

“First of all, I thank you all for what you did and I dearly hope this does not go out and become public. Otherwise we will have quite a scandal in our hands and be a laughing stock for the next few generations.”

“It’s alright, dad. Really. After all the things you did for me..”, Udoorin said as he held his wife and queen tighter in his arms.

“Very well. Now, then. Where are you going on the eve of the war?”, Standorin asked.

 

For a moment, nobody said anything and of the four, only Lord Armathelius had a very disapproving expression. Lady Anglenna’s face was, not quite as disapproving, so much as it was of defeat and exasperation. Udoorin had a grid, and with a soft blush, so did Lorna.

 

“Lorna, love. Perhaps you should say it. Less likely he will trash us if he heard it coming from you.”, Udoorin offered.

“Sheriff Standorin. My Dorin and I have been studying the area extensively in the past few days and have put together all the intel gathered over the past several months and a bit more. The sources of said intel are; the rangers of Serenity Home and Bari Na-ammen, and thanks to the contributions of Agent Largo Summersong, ARIS, along with what information Tactical General Dridges Motherswolfie sent us and the lingering gossip of the ogres, the fey, and nature, courtesy Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane and her team of druids, shamans, and witches, and the distilled efforts of the half-born on this matter. You have already seen most of these reports yourself, sans what the ogres, the fey, and nature had to say about the matter. However, you have had your hands full as it is, so we marked out several locations and our suspicions, and forwarded them to the tactical general, Dridges Motherswolfie, and she concurs with us. We believe we have narrowed down the location of several of their key Grunt Generals, along with their Blood Shamans.”

 

Standorin gave her daughter-in-law a very steady gaze, for it was quite apparent what she and his son had in mind.

 

“We have sketched out several of these locations and the safest possible routes leading to them. We have also put together several surgical strike teams that will head out on search and destroy missions.”, she said softly. “Should we succeed, we will have broken the Orken army’s backbone, and come spring, they will be sorely disoriented, even if they are able to replace all their losses.”

“How many teams are there and who are on these teams, Lorna?”, Standorin asked calmly. “I take it you and my son are in one?”

“Yes, father. There are five teams. Ours will be the second team and will comprise my Udoorin, I, and my cousin, Lady Anglenna. The other teams shall be as follows; The first team shall have Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel, and Perigren Ostlanna Temez of the Escape. The third team will be made up of Master Aager Fogstep, dear Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, and Lady Lilly Venom. Team five will compass, to our surprise, Lady Seressa Wraiven and Miss Cinotnacra Gocelap of the Academy of Melshieve, along with Cora Sleet from the Great Northern Tundras, and Brom Bumblebrim of Bowling Hills.”, Lorna listed.

 

Standorin frowned. He knew most of the people involved, personally or by reputation. The last four, he knew only because they had been at the meeting three days ago. Something was going on here but he wasn’t quite sure what.

 

“You are missing team four.”, he said staring at his beautiful and graceful daughter-in-law.

Alor’Nadien ne Feymist smiled up at him.

“Team four is comprised of Liaison Berete Hamna Vir and another of the half-born. But we thought they could use an experienced and well-rounded leader, and very much hoped you would volunteer, father; Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”

 


 

arashkan şehri dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül savaş serenity serenity home the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

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 Gocelap. 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..

“..Be 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 corporal 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 man 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 Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” IX

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” IX

Timeline:

Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.

Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..

 

Bu hikaye,
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” VI ‘in
devamıdır..

 

 

15.07.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Temmuz ortası.
Ritual Ormanları..

 

Yaşlı adamın aradığı şeyi bulması biraz zaman alır. Aslında bunun için tanıdığı küçük fey’lerden yardım istemek zorunda kalır zira genç hobbit isteyerek olmasa da, istemeyerek hafif bir ‘ayak’ izine sahiptir.. Parmak boyunda kanatlı küçük fey perileri yaşlı adamın etrafında uçuşurken büyük bir işi başarmış olmanın verdiği mutlulukla vızıldarlar. 

“Onu buldum, Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig!”, diye sivrisinek gibi tiz bir sesle çığlar bir tanesi.

“Onu önce ben gördüm, Whimsi Lola!”, diye cızıldar bir diğeri.

“Ahahahahaaa.. İkinizde hatalısınız..”, diye gülmeye başlar üçüncüsü.

“Nedenmiş o?”, diye hayretle sorar Whimsi Lola..

“Çünkü ben onu ikinizden bile önce gördüm!”, der gururla üçüncüsü.

“Aslına sen de hatalısın Biberbell!”, der dördüncüsü.

“Nedenmiş o?”, diye hayretle sorar Biberbell..

“Çünkü senden önce ben gördüm!”, diye güler dördüncüsü Biberbell’e..

 

..ve aralarında kavga etmeye başlarlar!

 

Yaşlı adam esefle elini yüzüne götürür, sonra derin bir nefes alır.

“Hanımlar.. Beyler.. Lütfen.. Sizler gibi olgun ve yetişkin fey’lere hiç yakışmıyor bu didişmeniz..”

“Ama önce ben gördüm!”, diye tekrarlar kendisini Whimsi Lola.

“Hayır ben gördüm!”, der diğer üçü koro halinde..

 

..ve tekrar kavga etmeye başlarlar.

 

“Whimsi Lola, Biberbell, Kindernest ve Little Dimple! Hepinize şeker sözü vermiştim, öyle değil mi?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“EVET!”, diye haykırır dördü de birden.

“O zaman senden başlayalım Biberbell. Ne gördün?”

“Ayak izleri.. Çok küçük, muhtemel bücür bir şeye ait. Ama dwarf değil. Onların ayakları devrilmiş kütük gibi! Elf de değil. Onlarınkiler çok ince.. İnsan hiç değil, çünkü onlarınkini bulmak için bizi çağırmazdın! Evet. Kesinlikle farklı bi şeyin ayak izleriydi bunlar..”, diye mutlu bir şekilde vızıldar Biberbell.

“Ne oldu peki ayak izlerine?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Ne mi oldu? Hiç bi şey olmadı.. Öylece duruyorlardı..”, der Biberbell aklı biraz karışmış bir ifadeyle.

“Nereye gidiyorlardı ayak izleri?”, diye biraz daha açıklamalı sorar yaşlı adam.

“Uhhmm.. Öylece duruyorlardı, Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.. Ayak izleri sahibi olmadan hiç bi yere gidemezler ama ki!”

“Şapşal!”, der Whimsi Lola, Biberbell’e..

“Neden ki?”, diye sorar peri ona hayretle.

“Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig, ayak izleriyle ilgilenmiyor. Nereye gittikleriyle ilgileniyor!”, diye küçümseyen bir ifadeyle bakar ona Whimsi Lola.

“Nereye gittiği gördün mü peki?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“İşte tam şuraya!”, der Whimsi Lola ve doğuya işaret eder.

“Güzel—”, der yaşlı adam ve o istikamete doğru yürümeye başlar.

“—Sonra şuraya.”, der ve güneye işaret eder.

“Teşekkür ederi—”, der yaşlı adam.

“—oradan da şuraya..”, der ve eliyle geniş bir daire çizerek batıyı, sonra da kuzeyi gösterir.. ve tekrar doğuya işaret eder.

“Sen tam bi aptalsın, Whimsi Lola.. Kumse Böceği kadar aklın yok senin!”, der Kindernest, ve Whimsi Lola’ya acımaklı bir ifadeyle bakar.

“Alındım.”, diye somurtur Whimsi Lola.

“Sen ne gördün peki?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Ayak izleri her yerde, Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig. Avımız pek kurnaz çıktı. Ahahahahaa.. Ama beni kandıramadı. Ayak izleri bir kokarcaya tesadüf etmiş. Aralarında muhteşem bir mücahele gerçekleşmiş ve sanırım kokarca kazanmış!”, der Kindernest gururla.

“Hmmm.. Bunu duyduğuma.. üzüldüm.. yada sevindim..”, der yaşlı adam. “Ayak izleri nereye gitti muharebeden sonra?”

“Bilmem. Ortada kızgın bi kokarca vardı Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig!”, der parmak kadar peri, bu her şeyi açıklıyormuş gibi.

“Sizler..”, der Little Dimple ve üçüne de tiksintiyle bakar. “Üçünüzün de 3 puanlık zekanız var!”

 

Bunun üzerine üçü de düşünceli bir ifadeyle susup hesap yapmaya başlarlar.

 

“Bu o kadar da kötü değil ki.”, der Biberbell. “9 puan eder!”

“Hayır şapşal!”, der Kindernest. “36 eder bence!”

“Ahhaaa.. neden sizin puanlarınız o kadar düşük belli oluyor!”, diye ünler Whimsi Lola.

“Nedenmiş?”, diye sorar ikisi de.

“Çünkü 9 da değil 36 da.. TAM 333 EDER!, diye sırıtır ikisine de..

Little Dimple ağzı açık bir şekilde üçüne de bakakalır..

“Sen ne buldun, Little Dimple?”, diye pes etmek üzere olan bir sesle sorar yaşlı adam.

“Ben bunların ayak izlerinin peşine takıldığını görününce peşlerinden gitmedim çünkü üçü de aptal bunların!”, der bilmiş bir ifadeyle.

“Ne yaptın peki?”, diye sorar küçük bir umutla yaşlı adam.

“Ben mi..?”, der Little Dimple. “Ben onların geri döndüklerinde kendilerini rezil etmelerini bekledim.. Nasıl? Haksızmıymışım?”

 

Yaşlı adam, Efendi Cathber, hiç sesini çıkarmadan kemer niyetine beline bağladığı sicimden sarkan küçük keseciklerden birisine uzanır ve içinden dört adet limon, ahududu, çilek ve nane şekeri alır ve tekrar didişmeye başlayan küçük, parmak boyundaki perilere uzatır.

Dört peri de serçe ‘cık’laması gibi küçük birer çığlık atıp şekerlere dalarlar.

Dördü de bir avuca sığacak fey tarafından imha edilmiş Cathber, aradığı şeyi kendi kendisine bulmak için yola koyulur.

 

“Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.”, diye seslenir, ağzı gözü mora boyanmış ve yapış yapış olmuş Whimsi Lola.

“Cathber, kafî..”, der yaşlı adam.

“Neden? Artık Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig değil misin?”, diye hayretle sorar Whimsi Lola.

“Ne vardı, Whimsi Lola?”, der bezmiş bir sesle Cathber.

“İlgini çeker mi bilmiyorum ama, aha şu tarafta oturmuş ağlayan küçük bi çocuk vardı..!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Bulunması hiç de kolay biri değilsin, delikanlı.”, diye homurdanır yaşlı adam. “Ve bunun bana ne kadar pahalıya mal olduğunu söylemeyeceğim bile.” 

Brom Bumblebrim, gözlerini siler, burnunu çeker, boğazını temizler ve..

..öylece çömdüğü ağaç kütüğünün üstünde kıpırdamadan oturmaya devam eder. Birkaç defa akıllı bir şeyler söylemek için yeltenir ama akıllıca hiçbir şey gelmez aklına.

Geldiğinde de söylemek istemez..

“Sorun değil, sorun değil. Önemli olan seni sağ salim bulmuş olmam.”, der Efendi Cathber ve gelip kendisi de devrilmiş kütüğün üstüne oturur, sakince uzun, ince bir pipo çıkartır, belindeki sicime bağlı keseciklerden birini aralar ve içinden çıkardığı tütünü pipoya doldurur. Tütünün kafi derecede sıkışmış olduğunu kontrol etmek için birkaç defa içine çeker, sonra sessizce bir şeyler mırıldanır ve pipo tütmeye başlar.

Uzun bir süre yaşlı adam ve genç hobbit sessizce otururlar ve genel anlamda ‘hiçbir şeyi’ seyrederler.

Neden sonra genç hobbit tekrar boğazını temizler ve boğuk bir sesle mırıldanır.

“Senin pipo kullandığını bilmiyordum, Efendi Cathber.”

“Aaaa.. Evet.. Bilmiyor olman normal, zira çocukların yanında kullanmıyorum. Kötü etki oluşturmasın diye..”, der yaşlı adam ciddi bir ifadeyle.

“Ne değişti?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

“Sen..”, der yaşlı adam. “..bana ‘büyük’lerin oyununu oynadığını gösterdiğinde..”

Genç hobbit bıyık altı yapılmış bu iltifata bir şey söylemez.

“Hikayende boşluklar var olduğunu görmek çok da zor değildi. Ama itiraf edeyim, delikanlı, bunların daha ziyade kimseyle paylaşmak istemediğin, bir goblin fosseptik çukurunda saklanmak zorunda kalmış olmak gibi utanç verici şeyler olabileceğini düşünmüştüm. Titania? TITANIA?!“, diye hayretle söylenir yaşlı adam. “Bırakın kendisini görüp konuşmuş olmayı, bir çok ölümlü onun varlığından bile haberdar değil.”

“Keşke benim de hiç haberim olmamış olsaydı..”, diye mırıldanır Brom.

“Neden? Bu büyük bir onur.”

“Onurun bana bir faydası yok, Efendi Cathber. Onurun, kaybettiğime de bir faydası yok..”

 

“Sen kaybettiğinin, gerçekten gittiğini mi sanıyorsun?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Gitmedi mi?”

 

“Gidenlerin de kaybolduğunu mu düşünüyorsun?”, diye devam eder Cathber. “Kaybettiğimizi sandığımız şeyler, sadece merkezimizde kendimiz olduğumuz sürece gitmiş olurlar. Merkezimizde gittiğini düşündüğümüz kimseler olduğunu farzedersek, sence gerçekte kim gitmiş oluyor, o zaman?”

Brom başını kaldırır ve alık alık yaşlı adama bakar.

 

“Merkezimize onları, sevdiğimizi söylediğimiz kişileri koyduğumuzda, gerçekte biz onlardan gitmiş oluyoruz.. Peki onlardan biz gittiğimizde, kayıp mı olmuş oluyoruz? Bana hala buradasın gibime geliyor Efendi Hobbit, zira burada değilsen, ben kendi kendime konuşuyorum şu anda ve açıkça da bir deliyim! Yaşlılara ‘deli’ demek, ayıptır..

Brom, acayip bir şey yemiş gibi bir ifadeyle yaşlı adama bakar.

Efendi Cathber ise kıkırdar.

“Hadi kalk. Yola koyulsak iyi olacak. Hava kararmadan arbalet mesafesinden çıkmış olmak istiyorum”, diye sırıtır, genç hobbit’e.

“O kadar kızdılar, demek!”, der Brom homurdanarak.

“Uhhmm.. Kızmak.. oldukça hafif kalıyor. Ben olsam, ağızdan köpürmek, yemekhaneyi yerle bir etmek, masa-sandalye ele geçirilebilecek ne varsa paramparça etmek —gibi ifadeler kullanırdım. Ama bunların hepsi olumlu sonuçlar. Bir dwarf kızdığında sessizce duruyorsa bu iyi değildir.”

“Neden?”

“Kızdığı şeyi içine atıyor demektir. Bu sağlıklı değil.. Bizim için..”

“Margaret hanım sözünde duracak mı?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Evet. Annem sözünde duracak, çünkü sözünden döndüğü duyulmuş değil!”, diye neredeyse hırlar bir ses ve arkalarından ayak sesleri yaklaşır.

“Shit!”, diye küfreder genç hobbit.

“Makul, ama isabetsiz!”, der bir başka ses ve buna bir üçüncü ses kıkırdar.

 

Dridges Motherswolfie, Britney ve Dritmey Tosser ikizleri eşliğinde yaklaşırlar.

“Benimle ağız dalaşına geldiyseniz, hiç havamda değilim.”, der Brom kaşları çatılı bir şekilde. “Bana dalacaksanız, buna hemen başlayın, zira sizinle hiç uğraşacak halde değilim!”

 

Dridges olduğu yerde durur.

İkizler de küçük kız kardeşlerinin arkasında dururlar.

Üçü de kaşlarını çatarak küçük hobbit’e bakarlar.

 

“Bende ‘Efendi Cathber’ var. İstediğiniz kadar kaşlarınızı çatabilirsiniz.”, der Brom alt çenesini öne çıkartarak!

“Hadi yaa..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam.

“Dwarf’lar hakkında gerçekten kötü ve hor şeyler düşünüyor olmalısın, Efendi Hobbit.”, der en sonunda Dridges.

“Dwarf’lardan sadece kötü ve hor şeyler gördüm, Dridges hanım.”, diye cevabı yapıştırır Brom.

Dridges durur. Sonra derin bir nefes alır ve sakin bir sesle konuşur.

“İlk karşılaşmamızda doğru davranmadım, Efendi Hobbit. Özür dilerim. Geri almam mümkün değil. Ama almak isterim; Ben Argail Smitefast kızı Margaret Madish kızı Dridges Motherswolfie..”, der sessizce.

“Ben de Argail.. Off yaa.. Onunkiyle aynı işte.. Son kısmını Britney Tosser diye değiştir, yeter!”, der Britney.

“Benimkini de onunkiyle aynı yap. Hatta sonunu bile değiştirmene gerek yok, ‘B’ yerine ‘D’, ‘N’ yerine ‘M’ koy, yeter..”, der Dritmey.

“Burada ne işiniz var?”, diye sorar yaşlı Cathber.

“Aslında birkaç tane işimiz var, Efendi Cathber. İlki, gideceğiniz belirli bir mesafeye kadar size eşlik etmek, ikincisi, kız kardeşlerimizden ikisini bulamıyoruz. Onları arıyor olacağız. Üçüncüsü ise biraz daha kişisel.. Efendi Hobbit’in.. bizler hakkındaki oluşmuş yanlış izlenimlerini.. belki düzeltebilmek..”, diye sıkılgan bir ifadeyle mırıldanır Dridges.

“Pratik ve alicenap bir yaklaşım.”, der Efendi Cathber. “Annenin haberi var mı peki burada olduğunuzdan?”

Dridges biraz daha sıkılgan bir ifadeyle cevap verir.

“Biz.. Uhhmm.. Merkeze bildirdik.. Eminim onlar da anneme bildireceklerdir.”

“Yürü, kız.”, diye dürter Britney, ikizini. “Annemin mevcut halinde bizi burada bulmasını mı istiyorsun?”

“Bence Brit haklı. Buradan ivedilikle tüysek iyi olacak.”, der Dritmey ve tedirgin bir ifadeyle arkasına bakar.

“Efendi Cathber, isterseniz bu konuşmanın devamını sonraya bıraksak.. Örneğin iki gün kadar sonraya!”, der Dridges ve ikiz kız kardeşleriyle beraber koşmaya başlarlar.

“Gençler.. ve yaptıkları akıl almaz şeyler..”, der yaşlı Cathber esefle ve Brom’un omzuna dokunur, ve dwarf kızların arkasından yürümeye başlar.

Brom Bumblebrim, tam bir dakika boyunca olduğu yerde durur..

“Lanet olsun..”, diye hışmeder..

..sonra o da kızların arkasında koşmaya başlar.

✱ ✱ ✱

Yani birisinin yaptığını bütün bir halka mı mal etmemiz gerekiyor, Efendi Brom? Bu halkın tamamına haksızlık olmuyor mu?”, diye sakin bir şekilde konuşur kamp ateşinin başında Dridges Motherswolfie. 

Brom sesini çıkarmaz.

En başta bunun akıllıca olabileceğini düşündüğü için bu taktiği kullanmayı tercih etmiştir ama Dridges ısrarlıdır. Aslına bakılırsa Dridges hem ısrarlıdır, hem de inatçı, dik kafalı, dediğim dedik, söylediğini sonuna kadar savunan, sonu geldiğinde de vurup öldüren, sonra da öldüğünde emin olmak için birçok defa daha vuran bir kızdır.

Sorun; kız öldüğünden bir türlü emin olamadığı için konudan geriye kalan cesedi gömmektense, vurmaya devam etmektedir!

“Bana destek olun, kızlar, haksız mıyım?”, diye, yetmiyormuş gibi bir de ikizleri de işin içine katmaya çalışır. Neyse ki Efendi Cathber’in bilgeliği, Dridges’in inadından daha engindir ve ne zaman kamp kursalar, yaşlı adam yorgunluktan şikayet edip, hemen gidip yatmayı tercih eder.

Brom, oturduğu yerde ‘uyuya kalmış’ taklidi yaparsa bununla paçayı yırtıp yırtamayacağını düşünür.

“Bana bakma.”, der Britney. “Ben önüme silahla biri çıkarsa, önce vurup, sonra soru sormayı tercih ederim.”

“O ne dediyse..”, diye Dritmey’de ikizini destekler.

Dridges buna da alınmaz, sükunetini koruyarak konuşmaya devam eder.

“Annem sözünde duracak ve kendisine verilen süre içerisinde Gulls Perch’e gidecek ve orada kendisine verilecek ceza her ne ise, buna da katlanacak. Bir anneden daha fazla ne istenebilir ki?”, diye söylenir. “Bizler de, bize gösterilen yere bir tane karakol kuracağız ve dönüşümlü olarak nöbette duracağız. Sanıyorum on beş günde bir gerçekleşir bu dönüşüm. Daha azı pratik değil, daha fazlası ise erzak sorununu doğurur.”

“Hmm hıh..”, diye muallak bir ses çıkartır Brom.

“Sonra da sanıyorum ağabeyim için bir ferman çıkartılacaktır. Belki Palantine’dan kafa avcıları bile çağrılabilir. Bu işi kendi içimizde halletmeyi tercih ederdim ama zaten dışarı saçıldı..”

“Hmmpphh..”

“Ardından ben Niketix’e dedim ki, ‘Torkan’a ilgin varsa git söyle. Seni beğendiyse gelsin ve annemden istesin. Güçlü ve niyetli mi diye, annemle babamın yaptığı gibi aranızda bi dövüş yaparsınız, ikiniz de hoşnut olursanız, bu iş tamamdır!”

“Hpphhnnmm…”

“Efendi Brom!”, diye fena alınmış bir şekilde ünler Dridges.

“Hhıh? Ne?”, diye kendine gelir Brom.

“Beni dinlemiyorsunuz bile..”, der kız.

“Ben.. evet.. dinlemiyordum..”, diye itiraf eder genç hobbit.

“Sizi anlamıyorum, Efendi Brom..”, diye inler kız.

“Neden? Neyimi anlamıyorsunuz?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Gösterdiğim bütün çabaya rağmen, sizin gösterdiğiniz ilgisizlik, hayret verici..”, der Dridges.

“Hanımefendi..”, der Brom bezmiş bir sesle. “Sizin ilgi göstermeniz, benim de aynı şeye benzer bir ilgi göstermemi gerektirmiyor. Sizi ben çağırmadım, kendiniz geldiniz. Dahası, son altı gündür durmaksızın bana bir şeyler anlatıp duruyorsunuz. Ama anlamadığınız şey, benim söylediklerinizle ilgilenmiyor olmam. Bunun anlaşılmayan tarafı nedir? Bir şeyi yeterince ısrar etmeniz halinde bir savaşı kazanabilirsiniz ama bu bir savaş değil, ortada da bir ordu yok. Anneniz de, sizler de onurlu olabilirsiniz —kendinizce.. ama en nihayetinde bu beni ilgilendirmiyor. Sizin onurunuz, yada eksikliği, benim sorunum değil, sizin sorununuz. Bunu anlamanız gerek.”

Dridges bozulur.

Fena halde.

Kızcağız gerçekten bu inatçı hobbit’in gönlünü alabilmek için sağlam çaba göstermiştir, ama belli ki bunun için 1 yıl, 6 ay ve 28 + birkaç gün geç kamıştır..

“Onu.. O kızı.. Gerçekten sevmişmiydiniz?”, diye sorar beklenmedik bir şekilde.

“Bunun sizi ilgilendirdiğini pek sanmıyorum, Dridges hanım.”, der Brom resmi ve soğuk bir ifadeyle.

“Susacağım, Efendi Hobbit. Ama bana onu anlatırsanız. Susacağım ve bir daha da açmayacağım bu konuyu..”, der kız samimi bir ifadeyle.

Brom’un bu konuyu kimseyle konuşmak gibi bir niyeti yoktur.. Hele bir dwarf’la.. Ama tam bunu ona söyleyecekken, küçük çadırında uyumuş olması gereken yaşlı Cathber’ın paslı sesi duyulur.

“Muhteşem Gökler adına, evlat. Anlat da sussun artık!”

İkizler ‘fırk’lar.

Brom uzun bir süre sessizce önündeki ateşe bakar.

 

Neden sonra ağzından,

“Aremela Berrybush..”

..kaçar.

 

“Bambaşka bir varlıktı. Saf bir hayal gücü, tertemiz bir kalbi, güçlü bir farkındalığı ve sessiz bir sevgisi vardı.. Nasıl anlatsam.. ‘ılık’ bir ruhtu onunkisi.. Ne soğuk ve mesafeli, ne de yaklaştığında yakan cinsten.. Dokunuşu da kalbi gibiydi.. Huzur veren, ama aynı zamanda süzülen.. Devamını isteten.. Sanki çölün ortasında, kurumuş dudaklara dokunan ilk yudum gibi.. Ve her zaman ‘mutlu’ idi. En kötü anımızda, canımızın en acıdı zamanlarda bile.. Mutlu ve hayat dolu. Şekere bandırılmış çilek gibiydi. Enfes ve.. tarifsiz..

Yanında olduğu ve olmadığı arasındaki fark, o kadar hissedilirdi ki..

Eksik kaldığım yanlarımı yüzüme vurmadığı gibi, kendi zayıflıklarını da benden saklamadı çünkü kendisinin, benim zayıflıklarımı örteceğine güvendi. Tıpkı kendi zayıflıkları konusunda onun da bana güvendiği gibi.. Boş bir kupayı dolduran şerbet gibiydi.. ama doldurduğunda, kupanın varlığına anlam veren bir şerbet..

Sonra.. birden alındı elimden.. Avucumdan akan suyu tutmaya çalışır gibi tutunmaya çaşıltım ona ama akıp gidiverdi..

Bunun.. hangi kısmını anlamanı bekleyebilirim ki? Hangi ceza, hangi karakol, hangi ferman telafi edebilir ki bunu, Dridges hanım? Senin söyleyebileceğin ne olabillir ki beni iyi hissettirsin? Onun yokluğu karşısında dwarf’lar için ne hissettiğimin gerçekte ne önemi olabilir ki?

Özrün, haklın ve onurunuz için gösterdiğin çabaya ilgisiz kaldığımı söylüyorsun. Aremela Berrybush yok artık ve senin halkın da, onurunuz da umrumda değil..”

Brom Bumblebrim ateşin başından kalkar ve sessizce kendi küçük çadırına gider.

 

“Wow.. Eridim, kız..”, der Dritmey.

“Wow.. Aynen..”, diye mırıldanır Britney.

“Ben..”, der ve tökezler Dridges.

“Annem bundan bulsun bi tane bana, anında satarım seni, kız!”, der Dritmey.

“Oha..”

“Buna ‘şah-mat’ derler, kızlar. Bir ozana, elinden alınmış sevgisini soramazsınız. Bu ahmaklığı yaptığınız anda, onun duyguları ve sözleri altında ezilmeyi de hakketmiş olursunuz. Şimdi gidin ve yatın, bu yaşlı adam da uyusun artık!”, diye Cathber’in paslı sesi gelir çadırından.

✱ ✱ ✱

Bu olayı takip eden günler, inatçı bir sessizlik içerisinde geçer ve Efendi Cathber bu acıklı duruma ‘sesini’ çıkarmasa da, yüzündeki ciddi ifadeden, onunda mutlu olmadığı bellidir. Genç Brom ise olaya mutlu yada mutsuz, herhangi bir gözle bakmaz. Kararlı bir umarsızlıkla yoluna devam eder.

Sessizliğe sadece ikizler pek uyum sağlayamazlar. Sanki arada bir neden sessizce yürüdüklerini unutmuşçasına, sonu kıkıdılarla biten bir şeyler konuşurlar.

Onuncu güne gelindiğinde yeni bir fırtına, beklenmedik bir hızla oluşmaya başlar ve Efendi Cathber kızlara durmalarını ve kendilerine gösterilen yerde beklemelerini söyler.

İkizler bunu sorgulamazlar ama Dridges bunun nedenini sorar.

“Çünkü, sevgili Dridges, Efendi Brom ile yapmamız gereken bir iş var.”, der Cathber.

“Ama neden? Bizim yapamayıp da onun yapabileceği ne olabilir ki?”, diye kaşlarını çatarak sorar Dridges.

“Çok şey var, sevgili Dridges.”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam sabırlı bir şekilde.

“Ne gibi mesela?”, der dwarf kız inatçı bir ifadeyle.

“Sanırım bunun cevabını birkaç gün önce verdi sana..”, diye taşı gediğine koyar Efendi Cathber.

Driges susar.

Asık bir suratla kız kardeşlerinin yanına gider.

“Kızım, her şeye de bulaşman gerekmiyor.”, der Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye katılır Dritmey. “..Onların bizim her işimize karışmaları halini düşünebiliyor musun?”

Britney kıkırdar.

“Görmek isterdim ama..”

“Neden bizi dışlıyorlar ki?”, diye alınmış bir ifadeyle sorar küçük kız kardeşleri.

“Dridges..”, der Dritmey. “Sen gerçekten iyi niyetli ve harika bir kızsın. Ama daha gençsin, halkımız dışında neredeyse hiç başkalarıyla karşılaşmadın ve onlarla doğru dürüst bir iletişimin olmadı, dolayısıyla bazı şeyleri bilmiyorsun ve anlamıyorsun.”

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Britney.

“Ne gibi?”, diye daha da alınmış bir şekilde sorar Dridges.

“Ne gibisinin bir önemi yok, ve zaten olayın püf noktası da bu. Şu anda sen bizim komutanımızsın. Onların değil. Ne Efendi Cathber’e, ne de Efendi Brom’a emir verebilirsin.”, diye açıklamaya çalışır Dritmey.

“Evet.”, diye onaylar Britney.

“Onlara hiçbir emir vermedim ki.”, diye itiraz eder Dridges.

“Dahası..”, der Dritmey ve devam eder. “Her ikisine de, nezaketen bir şeyin sebebini sorman dışında, hiçbir konuda sebep göstermelerini talep edemezsin. Bunu anlıyor musun?”

“O ne dediyse..”, der Britney. “Ayrıca şu gördüğün karabulutlar sana ne söylüyor?”

“Yağmur yağacağını?”, diye azıcık hicveder Dridges.

“Bu doğru.”, der Britney. “Bizim üzerimizde ne var peki?”

Dridges bir elindeki çelik çerçeveli kalkana, diğer elindeki enli kılıca, giydiği örme çelik zırha, sonra da ablalarının ellerindeki koca balta ve onların üzerindeki zırhlara bakar ve ayılır.

“Aynen..”, der Dritmey. “Her ne yapacaklarsa, bunu o fırtınanın içinde yapacaklar. Bize açıklama yapmaları gerekmiyor çünkü biz gerçekte onların grubunun bir parçası değiliz. Kendi kendimizi, muallak sebepler göstererek onlara yamadık. Bize, ‘gidin artık’, derlerse de gitmez durumunda kalırız. Bunu dememelerinin tek sebebi de gösterdikleri nezaket.”

“Tamamen..”, diye ikizini onaylar Britney. “Sen iyi niyetlisin ama bazen biraz falza zorluyorsun. Her şey zorla düzelmez. Efendi Hobbit’in bizimle olan sorunu ‘varlığımızla’ değil, ‘yokluğumuzla’ hallolacak bir durum, gibime geliyor.”

“Hiçbir şey yapmayacak mıyız yani?”, diye sorar Dridges.

“Yaptık zaten.”, der Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Dritmey. “Onlara eşlik etme sebebimizi söyledik. Ortada olmayan tehlikelere karşı onları koruduk ve özrümüzü diledik. Sonuç itibariyle Efendi Brom’un özrümüzü kabul edip etmemesi tamamen ona kalmış.”

“Akıllı konuştun, kız.”, der Britney.

“Aynen..”, der Dritmey.

 

Tam o sırada ileriden, kara bulutların olduğu yerden beklenmedik bir ışık harlaması, hemen ardında da keskin ve dehşet bir patmala sesi gelir..

..üç dwarf’da, gökten inen dev bir yumruğun kendilerini yapıştırmış gibi yere çakılırlar.

 

“Kör oldum!”, diye panik içerisinde çığlık atar Britney.

“Sağır oldum!”, diye inler Dridges.

“Aynen..”, diye bağırır Dritmey!

 

Efendi Cathber topallaya zıplaya yürüyüşüyle, Brom da elinde tuttuğu, daha yeni ‘çarpılmış’ yıldırım asasıyla geri döndüklerinde üç kızı da yere yapışmış, gözleri kamaşmış, kulakları sağır halde bulurlar. Yaşlı adam alt dudağını büzüştürerek yığılıp kalmış kızlara bakar.

“Sanki uyarsamıydık?”, diye mırıldanır.

Brom ise pis bir sırıtışla süzer ıslak toprakta kıvranan dwarf’ları ve..

“Çaylaklar!”, diye güler acımasızca.

✱ ✱ ✱

Gerçekten uğramak istemediğinden emin misin?”, diye sorar yaşlı Cathber. “Serenity Home güzel bir kasabadır. Huzur içinde yaşamak isteyen herkese de kapıları açıktır. Genelde efendi ve naif insanların, azımsanmayacak kadar da half-elf’in yaşadığı bir kasaba. Hatta bir iki tane gnome, birkaç tane de dwarf bile yaşıyor orada. Senin gibi zeki bir hobbit için burası iyi bir tercih.” 

“İlgin için teşekkür ederim, Efendi Cathber.”, der Brom. “Ancak huzur kişinin içinde varsa, nerede yaşadığının pek az önemi olabilir. Bunu Serenity kasabasını ve çevresine sağladığı huzuru küçümsediğimden değil, benim daha gidip görmem gereken yerler var olduğunu hissettiğim için söylüyorum. Belki bir gün yolum düşer ve uğrarım buraya..”

“Yine kendi aralarında biz yokmuşuz gibi konuşuyorlar.”, diye alınmış bir şekilde söylenir Dridges. 

“Demek kabul ettin en sonunda..”, der Cathber mutlu bir şekilde.

“Efendi Cathber ve Efendi Hobbit’in, ikimiz arasındaki konuşmalara burunlarını soktuğunu görüyor musun hiç?”, diye sorar Britney.

“Anlamadım?”, der Brom.

“Hayır görmüyorum. Kim ikinizin dırdırı arasına girmek ister ki?”, diye sorar Dridges.

“Efendi Brom.. Lütfen..”, der yaşlı adam.

“O ayrı bir mesele ve konumuzun da dışında.”, diye cevap verir Dritmey sırıtarak.

“Belki.. Olabilir.. Daha tam emin değilim..”, der Brom.

“Aynen..”, diye kıkırdar Britney.

“Gezdiğin ve gördüğün, diyeceğim ama sanki her geçen gün bana daha çok; ‘Gönderildiğin ve gösterildiğin’, gibi gelen olaylardan sonra, emin olman için daha neyi beklediğini merak ediyorum..”, der Efendi Cathber nazikçe.

“Hayret verici bir şekilde samimiler.”, der Dridges düşünceli bir şekilde. “Rivayetlere göre Efendi Cathber kimseyle özel bağ kurmazmış. Çok uzun yaşayan insanlarda oluşan bir sorun bu sanırım.”

“Haklısın. Muhtemelen.. Ama haklı olmakla bu olası gerçeğe boyun eğebilmek, iki tamamen farklı şeyler.”, diye cevap verir genç hobbit.

“Bence bizi dahil etmiyorlarsa, bunun bir sebebi olmalı.”, der Dritmey.

“O da var.”, diye makul bir şekilde kabul eder yaşlı Cathber.

“Evet.”, der Britney. “Efendi Cathber bize nazik davranıyor ama sorumlulukları, yalnızlığını aşıyor. Ve hiçbirimiz bunu anlayacak kadar para almıyoruz!”

“Hadi geri dönelim..”, diye önerir genç Brom. “Bu konuşma fazla karıştı birbirine..”

“Aynen..”, der Dritmey.

✱ ✱ ✱

İzci Efendisi Davien.”, diye nazikçe selamlar yaşlı Cathber, uzun boylu, yakışıklı, sarı-kumral saçlı half-efl’i. “Görüşmeyeli biraz zaman oldu.”

Küçük grup Serenity Home kasabasının uzak tarlalarınının kıyısından teğet çizmeleri üzerine beş gün geçmiştir ve üç dwarf kız akıllanmış olarak güvenli bir mesafede beklerken, yaşlı Cathber ve genç hobbit bir fırtına daha avlamışlardı. Sonra, genel yön olarak doğuya, ormanda zigzaglar çizerek yollarına devam etmişlerdi.

Bu süre boyunca aralarındaki kasılmış hava biraz olsun yumuşamıştı. Bunun en belirgin sebebi, Dridges’in sözünde durması ve ikizlerin anlatacak çok hikayeleri olmasıydı. Belli ki bu iki kız gerçekte kaş çatıp, balta sallamak kadar dedikodu, abuk hikaye ve kıkırdamayı sevmekteydiler. Beraberlikleri o kadar uzun olmamış olsa da Brom ikizlerden hoşlandığını kendi kendisine itiraf eder. Gerçekte genç hobbit’in Dridges’le de bir alıp veremediği yoktur ve kız önceki ısrarlı halini bırakınca, onun da cana yakın, samimi ve doğal bir cazibesi olduğunu kabul eder. Üç kız, hobbit’in içini döktüğü o geceden sonra, askeri bir imtina ile her akşam kamp yerini önceden hazırlamışlar, ateşi yakmışlar ve yemeği de pişirmişlerdi. Üç dwarf da, yük olmak değil, sessiz bir anlaşma varmış gibi kendi yüklerini çekmeye başlamışlardı. Dahası, genç Brom bunu çok daha sonra fark edecektir, kızların imtina ile seçtikleri kamp noktaları ‘kolay müdafaa edilebilir’ yerlerdi ve kendi aralarında dönüşümlü olarak da nöbet tuttuklarıydı!

Gün içerisinde de Dridges onlara hep yakın bir mesafede dururken, ikizler ise gittikleri yol boyunca, ellerinde dev baltalarıyla, kendi özel zigzaglarını çizdikleriydi.

İşin bir başka ilginç yanı da, üçü arasında kimin ne yapacağına her zaman Dridges’in karar vermesiydi. Ve kız bu durumu kendi çıkarına kullanmamış, ablalarından istediği herşeyi önce kendisi denemiş, güvenliğini ve pratikliğini sınamış, ancak ondan sonra onları bir emir olarak vermişti. Brom hayretle kızın devamlı ne nasıl optimize edilebileceği üzerine kafa yormasını, akşam olduğunda ve kamp kurulumu ve yemek işleri bittiğinde, kızın küçük papirüs parçalarına, üstüne fevkalade muntazam dörtgenler, halkalar ve uzun, yön çizgileri çizişini seyretmişti.

Genç hobbit bir gece dayanamamış ve sormuştu kıza ne yaptığını..

“Bu, dört kol saldırı düzenidir. Buna karşı kullanılabilecek müdafaa taktikleri oldukça sınırlıdır; düşman sana ne atarsa dişlerini sıkarsın ve düşmanın sana atabileceği etkili cephanenin, senin adamlarından önce bitmesini umut edersin.. Ben buna karşı uygulanabilecek etkili, can ve mal kaybı açısından düşük masraflı, optimal bir kuşatma kırıcı taktiği geliştirmeye çalışıyorum, Efendi Brom.”

“Yaaa..”, diye anlamış gibi başıyla onaylamış, muallak bir cevap vermiş.. ve tüymüştü Brom. Kim bilir.. Kız o karma karışık şemayı anlatmaya karar da verebilir di, genç hobbit’e!

Bu süre içerisinde Brom aklına takılan bir başka mevzuyu konuşmak için Efendi Cathber’a yanaşmıştı ama bunu, fırtına avına çıktıklarında, dolayısıyla yalnızlarken sormuştu.

“Onlara söylemedin.”, der Brom.

“Neyi kime söylemedim?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Fırtınada ne yaptığımızı..”

“Aaa.. Hayır söylemedim ve senin de bundan kimseye bahsetmemeni rica edeceğim.”, diye temkinli bir şekilde cevap verir Efendi Cathber.

“Neden? Güvenilir kızlar, gibime geldiler.”, der Brom hayretle.

 

“Onların sadakatlerini sorgulamıyorum, Efendi Hobbit. Ama ve en nihayetinde geri döndüklerinde üstlerine gördüklerini rapor etmek zorunda kalacaklar ve birincisi, burunlarının dibinde böylesi yıkıcı bir potansiyelin olduğunu öğrendiklerinde, kendileri de aynısından isteyecekler ve ben, bana verilmiş kalan günlerimi fırtına peşinde koşarak geçirmek istemiyorum. İkincisi, bunu sadece Heavens Hand için yapıyorum çünkü orada gerçek ihtiyaç var. Üçüncüsü ise, kızlar.. ve muhtemelen rapor verecekleri şahıslar güvenilir olsalar da, o kadar bin dwarf’un hepsinin aynı oranda ağızlarını sıkı tutmalarını beklemek iyimser bir şekilde ‘hayal perestçe’ bir beklenti olurdu. Dahası, bize bahsedilen baskın, biraz fazla iyi planlanıp uygulanmışdı. Baskını yapanların, vardiyalardan ve muhafızlardan haberdar oldukları belliydi. Bunun en belirgin göstergesi, çalınan belgelerin nerede olduklarını bilmeleriydi.. Orasının ne kadar büyük olduğunu düşününce, bunu görmesi çok daha kolay oluyor..  Bunları bize söylemediler tabii, ama söylemelerine de gerek yoktu, öyle değil mi? Bu yüzden Elder Hills’e ilk vardığımızda o kadar hırçın ve paranoyak davrandılar..”

Efendi Cathber’in bu sonuç odaklı, pragmatik ve birazda ürkütücü yorumu, genç hobbit’in dünyada olup bitenleri görebilmesi açısından iyi bir ‘çuvaldız’ etkisi yapmıştı.

 

“Merhaba, Efendi Cathber. Evet, sanırım en son görüşmemiz üzerine iki yıl, dört ay ve bir kaç gün geçmiş olmalı..”, diye yüzünde mutlu ve muallak bir ifadeyle cevap verir İzci Efendisi Davien.

“Davien..”, der yaşlı Cathber. “Sanırım, dedikten sonra bu kadar kesin bir süre veremezsin.”

“Özür dilerim. Etrafımdakiler, biraz aptal olduğumu düşününceler hepimiz daha mutlu oluyoruz.”, diye cevap verir Davien ciddi bir şekilde.

Efendi Cathber kıkırdar.

Brom’un ise tek kaşı kalkar ve hayretle izci efendisine bakar zira bir yıl kadar önce, haydut kampında onu ilk gördüğünde, kendisi de onun biraz saf ve.. uhhmm.. aptal olduğunu düşünmüştür.

“Moorat bunu biliyor mu?”, diye sırıtır Cathber.

“Bildiğini sanıyor. Ama onun bildiğini benim bildiğimi sandığını sanmıyorum!”, diye cevap verir İzci Efendisi Davien aynı ciddiyetle.

Yaşlı adam tekrar kıkırdar.

“Ne işin var burada peki?”

“Sizi bekliyordum, Efendi Cathber. Yaşlı Tapınak Baş Muhafızı Demos Lightshand, bir görü uykusuna yattı ve sizin olacağınız yeri gördü rüyasında. Beni çağırıp seni bulmamı ve Oger’s Foot’a gitmeniz gerektiğini söylememi söyledi..”, der Davien yine muallak ifadesine bürünerek.

Buna tek kaşını kaldırarak cevap verir Cathber.

“Elçiye zeval olmaz. Bana sizi bulup bunu size söylemem istendi, o kadar.”, der izci efendisini.

“Ne kadar vaktim var?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam canı açıkça sıkılmış bir şekilde.

“Demos bu konuda pek bir şey söylemedi. Ama sorunun oradaki oger’lerin matronu ile alakalı olduğu izlenimini edindim.”

“Demos’un Oger’s Foot ile ne gibi bir alakası olabilir ki? Onun ilgi ve yetki alanı içerisinde bile değil..”, diye burnundan solur yaşlı adam.

“Değil zaten. Ama oger’ler bazı saldırılarda bulunmuşlar ve sanıyorum yaşadıkları tepelerin darlığından şikayet ediyorlarmış.”, der Davien. “Şerif Standorin’in kılıç eli kaşınmaya başladı yine ve Serenity Home Belediye Başkanı Yuleman, oger’lerle yeni bir çatışmanın başlamasını istemiyor. Olaylar ivme kazanamadan belki siz müdahale edebilirsin diye sizi bulmamız istendi. Moorat izcileriyle seni aramaya gittikten sonra ben de Demos’a gittim ve seni bulması için ondan ricada bulundum. Bu şekilde ormanı bir ucundan diğerine koşmak zorunda kalmamış oldum.”, der Davien ve sırıtır. “Moorat eli boş döndüğünde yüzündeki ifadeyi görmek ilginç olacak!”

“Ne kadar vaktim var?”, diye sorar Cathber. “Elimde bitirmem şart olan bir işim var ve onu yarıda bırakamam..”

Davien omuzlarını silker.

“Bu ay sonuna kadar bir şeyler yapılmış olsa iyi olur. Yoksa Şerif adamlarını —ve bizleri toplayıp Oger’s Foot’a yürüyecek.”

Yaşlı Cathber burnundan solur.

“Standorin’i severim. Ama her şey, her zaman kılıçla çözülemez..”

“Size katılıyorum, Efendi Cathber. Çoğu zaman oklarla çözülebilir!”, diye ciddi bir ifadeyle cevap verir Davien.

Yaşlı adam ona fena pis bir bakış atar.

“Hey!..”, der Davien sırıtarak. “Ben sadece aptal bir izciyim..”

“Serenity Home’a geri dön ve Yuleman ile konuş. Beni bulduğunu ve işi halledeceğimi, ama bunun için bir aydan daha fazla zamana ihtiyacım olduğunu söyle. Dediğim gibi, elimde bitirmem gereken bir işim var ve onu yarıda bırakamam.”

Tam o esnada çalılar büyük bir gürültüyle açılır ve küçük, sıska bir kız koşarak gelir yanlarına. Kızın, uzun koyu kahverengi saçları, masmavi gözleri ve uçları hafif sivri kulakları vardır. Kızın üstünde, belki daha o sabah temiz ve pek şirin olan elbisesinin her yeri yırtılmış, üstü başı toz, toprak ve çamur içerisindedir ve elleri, kolları ve sıska bacakları da yara ve berelerle doludur!

Kız nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde söylenir.

“Koştum, İzci Efendisi Davien amca! Ve hepsinden de önce buldum!”, der ve sırıtarak küçük yumruğunda sımsıkı tuttuğu, içi saman çöpleriyle dolu pis bir çorabı gösterir.

“Küçük Laila!”, diye ünler Davien. “Senin ne işin var burada?”

“Bu sabah, izci acemilerine bu çorabı ilk bulanın, sizin çırağınız olmayı hakkedeceğini söylediğinizi duydum. Bütün izci acemilerinden önce buldum ve getirdim!”, der küçük Laila gururla sırıtarak.

“Bu harika bir beceri. Beni ormanın ortasında nasıl buldun peki?”, diye hayretle sorar Davien.

“Bu beni biraz düşündürdü çünkü sizi bulamazsam, çorabı bulmuş olmamın bir anlamı kalmamış olacaktı, onun için önce sizi bulmalıydım İzci Efendisi Davien amca. İzci Acimelerinin yanından ayrıldıktan soran sizin Demos babamızı ziyaret ettiğinizi gördüm ve belki o bilir diye gidip ona sordum. Demos babamız da bana sizin nerede olabileceğinizi söyleyince ben de koşup çorabı aradım ve onu da buldum. Sonra da buraya koştum!”, diye nefes nefese anlatır kız..

Davien, ağzı açık bir şekilde kızın pratik, çözüm odaklı düşünme şekline hayret eder.

 

Yaşlı Cathber kıkırdar.

“Küçük kız, senin Moorat’e çektiğin numarayı sana yapmış!”

Brom ‘fırk’lar.

Arkada bekleyen üç dwarf kız ise alık alık küçük, sıska kıza bakarlar.

 

“Bence bir sonraki İzci Çırağına, potansiyel olarak da gelecekteki İzci Mareşaline bakıyoruz.”, der Efendi Cathber.

Küçük Laila’nın yüzü güneş gibi aydınlanır ve daha da gururlanarak sırıtır..

✱ ✱ ✱

Bu hiç iyi bir zamanlama olmadı bizim için, Efendi Hobbit.”, der yaşlı Cathber kaşları çatılı bir şekilde. “Sanıyorum biraz acele etmemiz gerekecek ve..”

“Ve?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Ve korkarım birlikteliğimizin de sonuna yaklaşıyoruz..”, diye bitirir yaşlı adam yüzünde mutsuz bir ifadeyle.

Genç Brom hayretle yaşlı Cathber’e bakar.

“Neden ki?”, diye sorar ister istemez. “Fırtına avıyla işimiz bittiğinde, Oger’s Foot’a yine beraber gideriz.”

“İlk girişimiz sadece bir ziyaret idi ve gerçekte Reise Grulganiste’nin de üstü kapalı uyarısıydı. Belli ki durum göründüğünden çok daha ciddi ve her ne kadar becerikli olsanız da, Efendi Brom, kızgın oger’ler bir hobbit için sağlıklı bir yer değil. Oğlu Cabot eline geçen her fırsatı değerlendirmek isteyecektir ve inan bana, o vahşinin eline geçen bir fırsat olmak istemezsin!”, der Efendi Cathber fena kızmış bir şekilde.

“Demek beraberliğimiz sona erecek.”, der Brom boğuk bir sesle.

“Beraberliğimiz asla sona etmeyecek, delikanlı. Sadece birlikteliğimiz sonra erecek.”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam nazikçe.

“Aradaki farkı göremiyorum, Efendi Cathber.”, der genç hobbit kırık bir ifadeyle.

“Aradaki fark; sevgi, saygı ve dostluk ile ayrılmamızda, Brom Bumblebrim. Ve beraberliğimiz süresince paylaşıp bir birimize kazandırdıklarımızda.. Ve doğrusunu söylemem gerekirse, ki söylemekte hiçbir maruzat görmüyorum, ben çok şey kazandım, daha da çok şey öğrendim.”, der Efendi Cathber.

“Benden ne öğrenmiş olabilirsiniz ki?”, diye sorar Brom.

 

“Yalnızlığın, sandığım kadar eğlenceli ve tatmin edici olmadığı öğrendim. Yediyüz küsür yıl kadar geç olsa da bunu fark etmiş olmam bence önemliydi. İnsan, yeterince yalnız kalınca, zamanla başkalarına ‘harcanabilir’ gözüyle bakmaya başlayabiliyor. Özellikle de benim yüklenmeyi seçtiğim sorumlulukları göz önünde bulundurduğumuzda.

Ve benim evimi tamir ederek, bana evimin.. ve Tamara’mın sıcaklığını hatırlatmış oldun. Geri dönüp baktığımda, sevgilim ve eşim Tamara’nın asla benim hayatımı bu şekilde geçirmiş olmamı taship edeceğini düşünüyorum. Evet, bazı şeyler benim için artık çok geç artık. Bir eş ve çocukların —içinde mutlu insanların olduğu bir ev.. Ama en azından evime geri döneceğim ve döndüğümde de içinde en az bir kişi, tam olarak mutlu olmasa da, mutmain olacak.

Bu kulağa sadece küçük bir avutma gibi gelebilir. Ama, ve gerçekte bu farkın ne denli büyük olduğunu da sadece senin gibi bir hobbit fark edebilirdi, ve önemli olan da bu..

Ve son olarak, insan benim kadar uzun yaşayınca, görülebilecek her şeyi gördüğünü, bilinebilecek her şeyi öğrendiğini, duyulabilecek de her şeyi duyduğu yanılgısına düşebiliyor. Sen, Efendi Brom, bu yaşlı adama, ölmeden önce bu konuda ne kadar da yanılmış ve eksik olduğunu göstermiş oldun.. Bunun kıymetinin bir karşılığı yoktur!”

Brom Bumblebrim, yaşlı adamın bu itiraflarını biraz sevinç, ama daha çok garip bir iç burukluğu ile dinler, zira Efendi Cathber’in söyledikleri şeylerin hepsi, yaşadığı o uzun hayatın sonunun da yaklaştığını ima etmektedir.

 

“Bana ağıt yakma, Efendi Hobbit. Ağıt, bir kaybın göstergesidir. Ben, uzun ve dolu bir hayat yaşadım. İstediğim şeylerle dolu değildi belki ama, yine de, ve en azından başkalarının mutlu, sağlıklı ve en önemlisi de; güvenli bir şekilde yaşamaları için uğraştım. Bana ağıt yakarsan, bütün emeklerime de ağıt yakmış olursun.. Hadi gel.. Burnum yeni bir fırtına kokusu alıyor..”

✱ ✱ ✱

11.09.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Eylül ortası.
Sonsuz Beyaz..
(Büyük Kuzey Tundraları)

Genç Brom’un, yaşlı Cathber’le vedalaşması acıklı bir sahnedir ve ilginç bir şekilde de genç hobbit’le ilk karşılaştıkları o ıslak gecede, Arashkan ırmağının kıyısında kamp kurduğu yerde gerçekleşir.

 

“Sevgili Brom.. Seni ilk aldığım yere tekrar bırakıyorum.. Sana acılarını unutmanı söylemeyeceğim. Bunu senden isteyemem.. ve açıkçası istemem de. Bizi biz yapan kazançlarımız değil, kayıplarımızdır, zira bir şey bizim için bir kayıp ise, o şey bizim için değerlidir. Seninle geçirdiğim ayları unutmayacağım ve seni her zaman sevgiyle hatırlayacağım.”

Brom ne kadar istediysede, bir türlü ağzından bir şey çıkmamıştı. Sadece dolu gözlerle yaşlı adama sarılmış ve öylece adamın uzaklaşmasını seyretmişti.

Dridges ve ikizler de bir kenarda durmuş göz yaşları içerisinde yaşlı adamın gidişini izlemişlerdi.

 

O akşam Dridges, Britney, Dritmey ve Brom sessiz bir kamp kurarlar ve pek az konuşup erken yatarlar.. En azından Brom ve ikizler yatar. Üç kız, kendi aralarında belirledikleri sıralamaya göre Dridges nöbette durur.

Brom sabah ilk ışıkla uyandığında, kahvaltının çoktan hazır olduğunu görür ve burnunu büzüştürür, zira niyeti kendi yoluna, kuzeye doğru koyulmaktır ve bunu da yalnız başına yapmak niyetindedir..

Genç hobbit kahvaltısını yaptıktan sonra Dridges’e döner.

“Sizler ne yapmayı düşünüyorsunuz? Ben kuzeye gideceğim.”, der sakince.

“Bu hayret verici!”, der Dridges mutlu bir şekilde. “Zira biz de kuzeye gideceğiz..”

Brom kaşlarını çatar.

“Ben bayağı kuzeye gideceğim.. Çok kuzeye..”

“Sorun değil, Efendi Brom. Biz de muhtemelen biraz daha fazla kuzeye gideceğiz.”, diye gülümseyerek cevap verir kız.

Brom, daha bi çatar kaşlarını.

“Sizin ne işiniz var kuzeyde?”

“Britney, kız kardeşlerimizin izlerine rastladı geçen gün. Onların peşinden gidiyor olacağız. Beraber gitmemizi istemiyorsanız, bunu açıkça söyleyebilirsiniz, Efendi Brom, alınmamaya çalışırız..”, der Dridges güzel gülümsemesini sergileyerek.

Yandan ikizler kıkırdar.

Brom kaşlarını daha bi çatmak ister ancak tampon çoktan duvara dayanmıştır! Kızlar, kendisinin onlara ‘git’ diyemeyecek kadar nazik olması üzerine plan yapmışlardır ve aynı planla onu köşeye sıkıştırmayı da başarmışlardır.

Kızlar gerçekten bazen fena pislik yapabilen varlıklardır!

Genç hobbit sesini çıkarmadan küçük çadırını toplar ve sırt çantasına tıkıştırır.

Kampı dağıtan ikizler de hazır bir şekilde beklerler ve Dridges’in bir işaretiyle ikizler önden koşmaya başlarlar..

✱ ✱ ✱

Bir açıdan genç Brom’un üç dwarf kız kardeşle olmuş olması iyidir. Kendi evindeyken yalnız takılmış olması onu fazla rahatsız etmemiştir bugüne kadar ama zaten kendi küçük dünyasını doldurduğu sıcak şöminesi, annesinin yadigar fincanları, tüten çaydanlığı, mutlu kurabiyeleri, kitapları, Lir’i ve..

“Muhteşen Gökler adına!”, diye ünler Brom. “Hayatımı hoşuma gittiğini düşündüğüm ve bana keyif veren eşyalarla doldurmuşum ve gerçekte yalnız, zavallı bir hobbitmişim!”

“Efendim?”, der Dridges hemen arkasından.

“Uhhmm.. yok bişi..”, der Brom hemen, ve biraz da utanarak.

“Benimle konuşabilirsin, biliyorsun, değil mi? Seni yargılamam, seni ısırmam, seni horlamam.. Aynı istikamette gittiğimiz günlerimiz sona erdiğinde de zaten bir daha görüşme ihtimalimiz de olmayacak, dolayısıyla yapmayacağımı söylediğim şeyleri yapsam bile sana ne zararı dokunabilir ki?”, diye sorar kız.

“Isırma kısmı hariç.”, der Brom.

“Isırma kısmı hariç..”, diye onaylar Dridges. Sonra muzurca gülümser. “Ama duyduğum kadarıyla bazı erkekler bundan hoşlanırlarmış..”

“Bazı kızlar da hoşlanırmış!”, der ikisinin de arkasından bir ses —Britney.

“Ben hoşlanırım.. Beni istediğin zaman ısırabilirsin, Efendi Hobbit!”, der onun da arkasından Dritmey!

 

Brom kaçar!

 

Ve arkasından kahkahalarla.. ve acımasızca ikizlerin güldüğünü duyar.

“Siz ikiniz..”, der Dridges esef dolu bir sesle. “Adam olmazsınız!”

“Adam neden olalım ki?”, diye sorar Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Dritmey. “Neden adam olalım ki? Bak.. adam kaçtı!

 

“Onların kusuruna bakma.”, der Dridges, tıkanmış hobbit’e yetiştiğinde. Kızın üzerinde kalkanı, iri, enli kılıcı ve ağır örme zincir zırhı olmasına rağmen Brom’un peşinden koşmuş ve tıkanmış olmak bir yana, nefes nefese bile kalmamıştır. “Eğlenmeyi seviyorlar ve canları sıkıldı, o kadar. Şimdi düşündüm ve sebebini anladım sanırım.”

“Ne.. neyin sebebini anladın..”, der genç hobbit soluk soluğa.

“Biz bir şeylerle karşılaşırız diye devamlı nöbet ve devriye yapıyoruz gece gündüz ama bir kaç hayvan dışında hiç bi şey yok! Bunun sebebini anladım sanırım..”, der kız.

“Neymiş sebebi?”

“Efendi Cathber.. Kaç yüz yıldır bu ormanları bi aşağı, bi yukarı dolanıyor ve sanırım bundan dolayı da ‘tehlikeli’ pek de bir yaratık yok ormanda.. Var olanlar da kendilerine çeki düzen verip kimseye bulaşmıyorlar.”, diye açıklar Dridges. “Ama bu konumuzun dışında sanırım. Biz senden ve anlatmak istediğin şeylerden bahsediyorduk.”

“Biz böyle bir şeylerden mi bahsediyorduk?”, diye hayretle kıza bakar Brom.

Kız bir omzunu silker.

“Bahsetmek üzereydin.. ikizler gelmemiş olsalardı.”

Brom ‘fırk’lar.

Bu kız gerçekten ısrarlıdır.. ve tuttuğunu bırakmaya da niyeti yoktur.

Genç hobbit önündeki seçenekleri değerlendirir; ya kızı öteleyecek ve gereksiz yere kalbini kıracak, yada konuşacak ve hiç olmazsa başından ‘güvenli’ bir şekilde savacak.

Bununla beraber Brom, kızın asabi biri olduğuna inanmaz. İnatçı, dik kafalı, ısrarcı, çabuk alev alan, evet.. Ama asabi yada kontrolden çıkabilecek biri değil.

Pes etmişçesine derin bir nefes verir Brom.

“Hayatım.. Geri bakıp düşündüğümde ne denli boş olduğunu anladım. Az evvel ünlediğimde bunu fark etmiştim.”

“Bana boş biri gibi gelmedin, Efendi Brom.”, der kız samimi bir sesle.

“Brom.. sadece Brom, kafî.. Ben sanıldığı kadar efendi değilim.”, der Brom.

“Peki o zaman, Brom.. Ama sana bu şekilde sadece sen istediğin için hitap edeceğim. Efendi olmadığına inandığım için değil.”

“Bunu da nerden çıkartıyorsun? Sana efendi olduğum izlenimini hangi ara verdim?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

“İlk karşılaştığımızda.. Beni yerin dibine geçirdiğinde..”, der kız sessizce.

“Seni yerin dibine geçirdim ve sen benim ‘efendi’ olduğumu o zaman mı anladın?”, diye alık alık bakar kıza Brom.

“Evet. Beni yerin dibine geçirdin çünkü tanışmamızdan önce sebeplerin vardı. Tanışmamızda ise ben de sana zaten var olan sebeplerini destekleyecek her malzemeyi verdim ve bunun karşılığında da hakkettiğimi aldım. Ama sen beni yerin dibine geçirmekle yetindin. Beni göme de bilirdin ama bunu yapmadın. Nerede durman gerektiğini bildin. Gerçekte efendi biri olduğunu işte o zaman —daha doğrusu üzerinde biraz düşününce anladım, zira iş bana kalmış olsaydı, ben kendimi çoktan gömmüş olurdum.. “, der kız biraz utanmış bir şekilde.

 

Brom’un tek kaşı ister istemez kalkar.

Kızın bakış açısı, açıkçası biraz çarpıktır.. ve fazla iyimserdir.. Ama oradadır ve ikizlerin onun için ‘gerçekten iyi niyetli bir kız’ olduğuyla ilgili söylediklerinin belki de boş olmayabileceğine ayılır.

 

“Beni hala kazanmaya mı çalışıyorsun, Dridges hanım?”, der gülümseyerek.

“Ben sana Brom diye hitap edeceksem, sanıyorum Dridges de kafî gelecektir. Ancak asıl konumuza dönersek, neden kendi hayatının boş olduğunu düşündüğünü merak ediyorum. Beraber geçirdiğimiz bu bir ayda öğrendiğim kadarıyla ta Bowling Hills’den buraya kadar yürüyerek, beklenmedik bir çok şeyi görerek ve daha da çok şeyi yaşayarak gelmişsin. Benim gördüğüm sadece iki yer var; Scowling Hills —ki orası doğduğum yer, ve Elder Hills, eğitim aldığım yer..”

“Neden bir taktik generali olmaya karar verdin?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Ben vermedim. Dedem bu kararı verdi ve bana, halkımızın ve geleceğimizin buna şiddetle ihtiyacı olduğunu söyledi. Dedem ‘öylesine’ konuşan biri değildir ve bir anda üstüme böyle bir sorumluğu yükleyince, bana da kabul etmekten başka pek de seçenek kalmamış oldu. Gerçekte ben resim çizmeyi çok seviyordum ve hepimizin aldığı genel savaş eğitimi dışında da kılıç kullanmak gibi bir niyetim de yoktu. Ben.. kan dökmeyi sevmiyorum.. Başkasının yüzünde acı gördüğümde bu beni rahatsız ediyor.. Ve birilerine rica da bile bulunamıyorum artık çünkü herkese emir vermem gerekiyor.. Şimdi ise kendi öz ablalarıma emir vermem bekleniyor benden. Bunun bana ne kadar ağır geldiği ise hiç sorulmadı bile. Ablalarımın bundan mutlu olmaları ise daha da ağırıma gidiyor. Hiçbir kız, ablalarına emir vermemli..”

“Deden, Efendi Argail, biraz fazla mı ciddiye alıyor bazı şeyleri?”, diye kenarından sorgulamaya çalışır Brom.

 

“Önceleri ben de öyle düşünüyordum. Ama geçtiğimiz yıllarda, aldığım eğitim sürecinde, bize gelen istibaratlarda ve özellikle de bize karşı yapılan baskında, gerçekte onun kendisini ne kadar gemlediğini düşünmeye başladım. Bizler güzel ve rahat ortamlarda yaşamaya alışmışız. Halbuki bunun bizim çabalarımızla hiçbir ilgisi bile yok. Efendi Cathber, dedem.. ve unutulmuş birçok büyük insan, dwarf, gnome ve elf’lerin yapmış oldukları büyük fedakarlıkların üzerine oturmuş, onların canları ve kanları pahasına verdikleri emeklerin keyfini çıkartıyoruz, o kadar. Ve dedem haklı.. Bir şey gerçekten yaklaşıyor.. Büyük bir şey.. İsimsiz ve gözün göremediği bir şey. Bunu sadece çok, ama çok küçük bilgi kırıntılarını bir araya getirdiğimizde görebiliyoruz. En azından çok azımız. Ben daha göremiyorum. Sadece o şey, her ne ise, içimi ürpertiyor o kadar. Gün geldiğinde, kılıcımı, kalkanımı, zırhımı ve zamanla alacağım madalya ve apoletlerimi bir kenara atıp, tekrar resim çizeceğim. Ama önce bunu hakketmem ve gerekli güvenli ortamı da hazırlamam gerekiyor..”, der Dridges.

“Biraz karanlık bir tablo bu, sanki.”, diye söylenir genç hobbit.

 

“Karanlık zaten. Ama biz de zaten buna karşı hazırlık yapıyoruz. Diğer ırklar ne yapıyorlar bilmiyorum. Ama biz —ki burada ‘biz’ derken, sadece dwarf’ları kastetmiyorum, Ritual Ormanlarında yaşayan herkes, Serenity Home, Tinker Hills, bir zamanlar Silent Hills ve bütün bunların çevresinde yaşayan halklar, bilerek yada bilmeyerek, bilinçli veya bilinçsiz bir şekilde bu amaca çalışıyorlar. Otuz bin dwarf’u besleyip giydirmek, eğitip sağlıklı tutmak kolay bir iş değil.. Ve beni de o otuz bin ve buna bağlı olacak daha bir çok, yüzlerini bile görmediğim, ve muhtemelen de görmeyeceğim, sadece gömeceğim hayatların nerede nasıl ölmelerine karar verme işi için yetiştiriyorlar!”, der Driges, Brom’a bakarak ve konuşmanın kendi payına düşne kısmını bitirir..

“Olaylara bu açıdan bakıldığında, kendi hayatımın gerçekten boş olduğuna kati olarak inanmış durumdayım, Dridges..”, der Brom sırıtarak.

“Dridges.. Dridges!”, diye Britney’in acil sesi duyulur ileriden.

Dridges, Brom’a bir defa daha bakar, sonra ablasının seslendiği yöne doğru koşar.

 

“Ne oldu..?”, diye sorar Dridges.

Dritmey, elinde bir şey tutmaktadır. Yuvarlak ve renkli boncukları olan bir şey.

Dridges, ablasının elindeki şeye bakar ve ayılır.

“Bu onun—”, der hayretle.

“—saç tokası, evet.”, diye bitirir Britney, hemen yanında.

“Neredeler peki?”, diye sorar Dridges etrafa bakarak.

“Bilmem.”, der Britney. “Ama burada kamp yapıldığına dair bazı izler var. O iki şapşalın kamp kuracak kadar pratik eğitimleri olduğunu bile bilmiyordum!”

“Ne yöne gitmişler peki?”, diye sorar kız kardeşi.

“Emin değilim. Ama kuzeye yönelmişler buradan. Geri zekalı kuş beyinliler. Ne işleri var burada ve neden kuzeye gidiyorlar ki?”

“Eee..? Ne yapacağız şimdi? Devam edecek miyiz?”, diye sorar Dritmey.

Dridges bir an düşünür. Sonra başını sallar.

“Hayır, geri döneceğiz. Zaten gelmiş olmamız gerekenin çok daha uzağına geldik. Buranın kuzeyi Themalsar Harabeleri ve dedemden izinsiz annem ve babam bile gidemezler oraya..”

“Ne yani? Onları kendi başlarına mı bırakacağız?”, diye hayretle bakar kız kardeşine Britney.

“Onlar zaten kendi başlarına ve bizim gitmemiz yasak olan yere gittiler. İzin almadan onların peşinden oraya gidemeyiz. Hazırlanın, geri dönüyoruz. Bunu anneme bildirmeliyiz. Sonra da dedeme hızlı kurye gönderip emirlerini beklemeliyiz.”, der kız kardeşi.

“Dridges!”, diye ünler Dritmey.

“Bu bir emirdir, Birinci Sınıf Er Dritmey!”, diye tıslar Dridges.

Birinci Sınır Er Dritmey.. ve ikizi, Britney, hayretle küçük kız kardeşlerine bakarlar. Sonra ikisinin de kaşları çatılır ve haşin bir ifadeyle ikisi de selama durup, “Emredersiniz Onbaşı Dridges!”, diye dişeri arasından hırlarlar ve dönüp koşmaya başlarlar.

İkisi de Brom’un yanından geçerken, ona da selam verirler.

“Kendinize iyi bakın, Efendi Hobbit. Bizden kurtuldunuz en sonunda..”, diye sırıtır Britney.

“Aynen..”, diye onaylar Dritmey, kendisi de sırıtarak..

..ve pek kısa bir süre içerisinde de ormanda, ağaçların arasında kaybolurlar.

“Sizden o kadar da kurtulmak istemiyordum aslında..”, diye mırıldanır genç hobbit.

“Bunun duyduğuma sevindim, Brom.”, der Dridges. “Başta senin fikrini değiştirmek için çok uğraştım ve sanıyorum, bunun karşılığında sadece başını ağrıtıp canını sıkmayı başardım. Ama daha sonraki tek amacım arkadaşın olabilmekti.”

“Ve korkarım olmayı da başardın, Dridges..”, der Brom.

“Bunda korkacak bir şey gerçekten yok, zira ben ısıran kızlardan değilim.”, diye gülümseyerek cevap verir Dridges.

“Eminim ısırsaydın da bu iyi niyetle olurdu.”, der Brom ve o da gülümser. “Kendine iyi bak, Dridges. Seni tanımak kolay olmadı, ama tanıdığım için de memnunun.”

“Sen de kendine iyi bak, Brom. Seni tanımak kolay oldu zira kendini ifade etmek istediğinde bunu çok iyi yapıyorsun.. Zor olan güvenini ve saygını kazanmaktı.”, diye gülerek cevap verir Dridges, sonra kalkanını sırtına atıp sıkıca bağlar, enli kılıcını kontrol eder..

..ve Brom’a sarılır.

“Duygularını benimle paylaştığın için de teşekkür ederim. Bunun benim için anlamını bilemezsin, zira dwarf’lar duygularını paylaşan bir halk değildir.”, der ve dönüp ablalarının arkasından koşar, bir kaç dakika sonra, o da gözden kaybolur.

✱ ✱ ✱

Brom’un, yalnızlıktan gerçekten hoşlanmadığını anlaması sadece üç gün sürer. Bu kendisini, Ritual Ormanlarından ayrılmasıyla daha da belirgin bir şekilde gösterir. Efendi Cathber ile geçirdiği bir yılı aşkın süre ona kendini daha iyi tanımasına sebep olduğu gibi, kendisi hakkında bilmediği bir çok şeyi de fark etmesini sağlamıştı.. Genç hobbit, engin Ritual Ormanlarını, Themalsar Harabelerinden sadece üç-dört günlük bir mesafade bırakır ve harabelerin olabildiğince uzağından geçmeye karar verir. Bu karar onu Endless Sea denizinin kıyısına kadar getirir ve sebebini bilmese de, kuzeye yönelir. Halbuki kuzeyde hiçbir şey yoktur.. Sonsuz Beyaz dışında.. 

Gulls Perch’in doğusunda karşılaştığı çok eski şehir kırıntısına benzer bir yıkıntıyla burada da karşılaşır ve o zaman kulak misafiri olduğu iki kızın konuşmalarında olduğu gibi, bu şehir de hayattayken sanki bir kıyı şehri değil, bir zamanlar bir ticaret yolu üzerinde duruyormuş izlenimi veren bir şehirdir.

Brom, bu haraberlerde fazla oyalanmaz. Zorunlu olarak geçirmek durumda kaldığı bir gece dışında da harabe şehri hemen terk eder. Themalsar’a olan uzaklığına rağmen, bu şehir.. aslına bakılırsa bu bölgenin tamamı ‘ölü’ gibidir. Dahası, her an o ‘ölülerin’ toprağı deşip çıkacağı hissi veren uğursuz bir arazidir.

 

Genç hobbit titrer ve olabildiğince hızlı adımlarla..

..kar’a basar!

 

Brom Bumblebrim, hiç farkında olmadan Büyük Kuzey Tundra’ları sınırlarına gelmiştir. Genç hobbit önce soğuk, buz gibi kara bakar, sonra başını kaldırır ve gözlerini ufukta gezdirir.

Brom, uzaklarda.. çok uzaklarda, sislerin arasında gizlenmiş, hayal meyal görünen uçsuz bucaksız dağlara bakar..

Buranın, daha önce görmediği bir berraklığı var gibidir.

 

Berraklığı,

Vahşiliği,

Ölümcül soğukluğu,

Acımasızlığı,

‘Yürü yada öl!’, diyen kati kuralları,

Gizemi,

İçsel, hayvanî bir yanı..

Uçsuz,

Ve bucaksız..

Muhteşem bir beyazlığı vardır..

Brom, evinden ayrıldığı geceden şu an’a kadar bu gerçekleşmediyse, ikinci adımını attığında hayatının tamamen ve tekrar değişeceği hissine kapılır..

..ve kalçasında, tam olarak göremediği yerinde, nazik bir sızı hisseder.

“Ben de ne zaman kendini göstereceğini merak ediyordum..”, der sessizce.

Genç hobbit, aynı sızıyı tekrar hisseder.

“Ne? Geri mi dönmemi istiyorsun yoksa? İstemiyorsun.. Peki o zaman ne istiyor— Aaaa.. Bu tercihi bana bırakıyorsun.. Beni buraya kadar sürükledikten sonra, bu seçimi bana bırakıyor olman biraz geç değil mi? —ki bu da olayın tamamını dile getirebileceğim en nazik hali..”

 

Brom durur ve kısılmış gözlerle tekrar Büyük Sonsuz Beyaz’a bakar.

 

“Aremela Berrybush..”, der sessizce ve aradan geçen zamana rağmen içinin hala cızladığına..

..memnun olur!

“Ona olanlardan dolayı seni suçlamamalıydım..”

 

Brom, içinde zonklayıp ağrıyan şeyi, yeni ve.. olgun bir hüzünle karşılar ve ufuktaki sisli dağlara bakmaya devam eder..

..ve daha önce zihninin derinlikerinde başlayan bir şarkı, uzun yolculuğunun da bitmek üzere olduğunu, son kıtalarıyla hatılatır kendisine sanki..

 

 

 

Time.
 
Never gentle,
and never kind.
It is what tells us
that the moment we are born,
we have started dying..
It is there,
it is inevitable,
it is unyielding and
unforgiving.
Tic by toc,
it graves away,
leaving less than what we were.
Whatever we have built,
it shall down.
Whatever we have done,
it shall sow..
One would think we’d give life
the meaning it deserves..
 
Time.
 
It is the link between places, spaces,
events, and relations
by the simple expedience of
relating the past to the future..
It gives meaning..
 
Time.
 
This song!

 

 

 

Gerçekte uzun yolculuğu bitmek üzeredir. İki yıl önce kendisini evinden, sıcak şöminesinden, annesinin kıymetli fincanlarından, mutlu kurabiyelerinden, kitaplarından, pek sevdiği bahçesinden, güllerinden ve en nihayetinde de huzurundan alınıp, ta buraya kadar getirilmiştir. Buna rağmen devam edip etmeyeceği ise garip bir şekilde ona bırakılmıştır.

Sanki birileri ona..

“Seni buraya kadar getirdik.”

“Sana dünyada neler olup bittiğini, dahası..”

“..nelerin olabileceğini gösterdik..”

“Sana korkunç..”

“..ve muhteşem şeyler gösterdik..”

“Sana bu dünyada pek az ölümlünün bildiği sırları fısıldadık..”

“En önemlisi ise, sana aşkın naif çileklerini tattırdık.”

“Ve sana aşkla birlikte gelen en büyük kaybı ve yıkımı yaşattık..”

“Seni aldık, seni eydik, büktük..”

“..sonra da tekrar doğrulttuk..”

“Artık hazırsın..”

..demektedir.

 

Brom Bumblebrim derin, buz gibi, içinde Sonsuz Beyaz olan bir nefes çeker..

..ve ikinci adımını atar.

Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları, bu hikaye ile sonra ermiş bulunuyor. Genç Brom, bundan sonra asla tahmin edemeyeceği kişilerle karşılaşacak, hiç beklemediği olaylarla yüzleşecek ve farkındasız bir şekilde de, küçük bir hobbit’in, bütün bir krallığın tarihini nasıl etkileyebileceğini göstermiş olacak..


 

book 05 books dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi role play serenity home tarihçe the plot thickens tundra walkers

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VII

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VII

Timeline:

Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.

Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..

 

Bu hikaye,
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” VI ‘in
devamıdır..

 

 

16.05.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Mayıs ortası.
Ritual Ormanları..

 

Güzel, naif bir aile.. Ve kızları, küçük Morel, pek şeker bi şeydi. Muhteşem bir hayal gücü var. Bana büyüyünce, teyzesini öldüren kurtlara karşı savaşan ateşli bi savaşçı olacağını söyledi. Sonra da beraber oynadığımız teatral hikayede şövalyeyi canlandırdı.”, der Brom sessizce.

Yaşlı Efendi Cathber eşliğinde Brom, ertesi sabah erkenden Dim Lodge’dan ayrılmışlar ve geniş çaprazlar çizerek batıya yönelmişlerdi. Oduncu köyünden ayrılmalarından sonra yaşlı adam sabırlı bir sessizliğe bürünmüş ve inatla ilk konuşanın Brom olmasını beklemişti sanki.. Yaşlı adamla yeterince uzun bir süredir beraber olan genç hobbit, adamın bu hamlesinin farkına varır ve karşıt bir sessizlik içerisine girer ancak yedi yüz küsür yaşındaki ‘hafif deli’ adamın ezici sabrı karşısında yenik düşer.. Yada yenik düşmeyi tercih eder, çünkü nezaket bunu gerektirir!

Yaşlı Cathber ise sessizliği ilk bozan Brom’a bu konuda bir şey söylemez, sadece kendi kendisine gülümsemekle yetinir —çünkü kendisine tekabül eden nezaket de bunu gerektirir..

“Eee..?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam. “Sevgili küçük Morel şövalyeyi oynadıysa, sen kimi canlandırdın?”

 

Brom derin, esef dolu bir nefes verir.

“Hikayenin sonda kurtarılan prensesi!”

Yaşlı adam kıkırdar..

 

“Teyzesi.. Seraphim.. Gerçekten kurtlar mı öldürdü onu?”, diye yine sessizce sorar Brom.

Esefle dolu nefes verme sırası yaşlı adama geçmiş gibidir.

 

“Seraphim Silverdûne.. Tel’Shee dim’Ora’ – Nurturing Heaven, buranın hemen batısındaki orman elf köyünde doğmuş, peri kızı gibi bir elf’di.. Başından kum gibi dökülen altın saçlı, gülümsediğinde güneş gibi açan, ince ruhlu, tertemiz bir kalbi olan, cesur, gördüğüm nadir kızlardan biriydi ve küçük Morel’in annesi, Seleina’nın da pek yakın arkadaşıydı.. Sanırsın ki elf’ler elf’lerle, insanlar da insanlarla birlikte olurlar.

Seraphim mantar, Seleina’da biberiye toplarken ormanda hasbel kader karşılaştılar ve beklenmedik bir şekilde, iki topluluk da komşu olmalarına, ticaret dışında da hiçbir etkileşimleri olmamasına rağmen arkadaş, dost, sırdaş ve ‘kız kardeş’ oldular.

Ormancılar bu durumu pek de umursamadılar. Bu onların çok da tahammülkar olmalarından değil, işleri dışında pek az şeyle ilgilenmelerinden dolayıydı. Elf’ler ise.. Elf’ler, Seraphim’in bir ‘insan’la arkadaşlık etmesini hiç hoş karşılamadılar ve ona yaptırım uygulamaya kalktılar. Ama o bunlara boyun eğmedi ve arkadaşı ve sırdaşı olan Seleina’dan vaz geçmedi ve en nihayetinde de tabusal uzaklaştırmaya mahküm edildi..

Ahmaklık..

Zavallı Seraphim buruk bir şekilde evinden ve elf’lerden ayrıldı ve Dim Lodge’a ve Seleina’nın ailesiyle beraber yaşamaya başladı.. ve Aramsis’in ağabeyi olan Darien’e vuruldu.. Darien ise Seraphim’i ilk gördüğü andan itibaren gözü başka hiçbir şey görmez olmuştu zaten. Bir anlamda, bir ailenin iki çocuğu olan iki erkek kardeş, bir başka ailenin iki çocuğu olan iki ‘kız kardeş’le evlenmiş oldular..”

Efendi Cathber uzun bir süre sessizliğe bürünür.

“Sonra ne oldu?”, diye merakla sorar Brom.

 

“Sonra.. Seraphim ve Darien’in, Laila adında fevkalade güzel bir kızları oldu ve Seraphim kendi köyünden uzaklaştırılmasından beri ilk defa, ve bir anne olarak tekrar bir güneş gibi parlamaya başladı.. Genç Darien’i görmeliydin. Sanıyorum gururdan biraz daha kasılmış olsaydı, kırılıp ortadan ikiye bölünecekti.. Eşi ve kızını o kadar seven gördüğüm nadir erkeklerden biriydi ve bence gurulanmakta da haklıydı.. Kardeşi Aramsis ve Seleina ise o kadar şanslı olmadılar zira zavallı Seliena iki defa düşük yaptı. Sevgili, küçük Morel’e ebelik yapmamın da sebebi biraz bundan kaynaklanıyordu. Sevgili Seliana’yı pek seviyordum ve kendi elde edemediğimi onun sahip olmasını çok istiyordum..”

“Darein ve Seraphim’in kızı, Laila.. ona da mı sen ebelik yaptın?”, diye sorar Brom.

Cathber’den buna uzun bir süre cevap gelmeyince Brom kahkayı basar.

“Muhteşem Gökler adına, Dim Lodge’da ebelik yapmadığın biri var mı, senin?”, diye gülerek sorar genç hobbit.

“Lütfen, Efendi Hobbit.. Öyle deyince kulağa hiç hoş gelmiyor. Dim Lodge oduncuları dünyanın en naif insanları sayılmazlar. Ancak oradalar ve benim açımdan pek önemli olan bir görevi icra ediyorlar..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam.

“Nedir o görev?”

“Dimwoods elf’lerinin, kendi dünyalarına çekilip çevreleriyle, dolayısıyla da dünyanın geri kalanıyla da olan etkileşimlerinin kesilmesini sırf varlıklarıyla engellemiş oluyorlar.”, diye açıklamaya çalışır Efendi Cathber.

“Dur bir dakika..”, der Brom ve kafasında hızlı bir hesap yapar ama denklemin bir sonuca varması için gerekli bir hanesi eksiktir. “Dim Lodge, ne zamandır orda duruyor?”

“Bayadır.. Neden sordun?”, der Cathber biraz temkinli bir şekilde.

“Ahhaaa! Hiçbir yerin ortasındaki o köy.. Themalsar savaşından sonra kuruldu, öyle değil mi?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Evet.. Ne olmuş ki? Themalsar savaşı oldukça uzun yüz yıllar önce oldu.. Ve o köyün kurulduğu yer de ‘hiç bir yer’ değil.”, diye alınmış sesle cevap verir yaşlı adam.

“O köyün kurulmasını sen sağladın!”, diye ünler Brom birden.

“Ben.. uhhmm.. bu konuda bazı şahsiyetleri.. ikna etmiş olabilirim.. zamanında..”, diye, cılız, utanmış bir ifadeyle söylenir Cathber.

“Muhteşem Gökler adına! Bu ormanda elinin değmediği bir şey var mı?”, diye hayretle sorar genç hobbit.

“Vardır, herhalde.. Orman mütemadiyen nefes alan ve değişken bir bütündür.”, diye geçiştirmeye çalışır yaşlı adam.

“Ama neden?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

“Uhhmm.. sorduğun soru biraz muallak, Efendi Hobbit. Biraz daha spesifik sorarsan sanki kendimi daha az utandırmış olacağım.”, diye söylenir Cathber.

“Peki o zaman.”, der Brom. “Neden orada, hiçbir yerin kıç kıyısında bir köy kurdurttun ve neden her yerde parmağın var?”

 

“Uhhmm.. Öncelikle, ‘hiçbir yerin kıç kıyısı’ ifadene alındım. O bölge ağaç bakımından fevkalde verimli bir bölge. İşlenen ağaçlardan elde edilen kerestelerden ev, mobilya, at arabası, gemi, silah, mancınık ve daha bir çok şeyde kullanılabilecek üç farklı ağaç türünün uyum içerisinde yetiştiği bir bölge. Diğer sebebini zaten söyledim. Elf’ler biraz fazla kendi içlerine kapanmaya başlamışlardı. Themalsar Savaşında bunun zararlarını çok acı bir şekilde gördük. Kimse kimseyle konuşmuyordu. Kimse kimseye inanmıyordu. Kimse kimsenin sıkıntılarını umursamıyordu.. Ve düşman bu durumu aleyhimize çok iyi bir şekilde kullandı. Savaş bir – iki yılda lehimize bitebilecekken, dört – beş yıl sürde ve neredeyse aleyhimize bitiyordu.. O savaşın bugün bile kaç ‘on bin’ hayata mal olduğu bilinmiyor.. Ben sadece bunun bir daha tekrarlanmasını istemiyordum ve ellerimi havada sallayıp hayıflanmaktansa bu konuda bir şeyler yapmaya karar verdim, ve yaptım da. Neden her şeye burnumu sokmamla alakalı soruna gelirsek, bu.. şimdi cevap verebileceğim bir soru değil, Efendi Hobbit. Belki bir gün. Sadece şimdi değil.”, der Efendi Cathber ve genç Brom bu yaşlı adama, yaptıklarına, uzak görüşlülüğüne ve, bir anlamda, acımasızca alıp uyguladığı kararlara hayret eder.

“Hikayenin devamını dinlemek istiyor musun, istemiyor musun?”, diye biraz utanmış, biraz da deşifre olmuş olmanın verdiği rahatsızlıkla söylenir yaşlı adam.

“Tabi ki dinlemek istiyorum.”, der Brom ister istemez.

 

Laila doğduktan sonra Seraphim’in ailesi için işler biraz değişmeye başladı. Çocuklar ve torunlar.. bazen bir topluğun tüm inadını kırabiliyorlar. Ne kadar ilginç, öyle değil mi? Bir bebeğin, dünyadaki en aciz varlığın, böylesi muazzam bir etkisi olabilmesi.. Halbuki, Seraphim’e yapılanlardan dolayı elf’lerle şahsen görüşmeye gitmiştim ve söylediklerim bir kulaklarından girip diğerinden çıkmıştı.. Sevgili Seraphim’in geri dönmesine izin vermediler. Ama o kızcağız da artık dönmek istemiyordu. Dim Lodge’da bir evi, aşık olduğu bir erkeği ve yepyeni bir dünyası olan bebek Laila’sı vardı.. Neden geri dönsün ki? Bebek Laila büyümeye başlayınca elf’ler de ister istemez bazı kıpraşmalar oldu. Kızın kendi öz kültüründen tamamen kopuk, daha da kötüsü, annesine yapılanlardan sonra, elf’lere düşman olarak büyümesini istemiyorlardı ve en sonunda, küçük Laila’yı da getirmesi koşuluyla Seraphim’in ailesini ziyaret etmesine müsaade ettiler..

Dediğim gibi..

Ahmaklık..

O kız yaz demeden, kış demeden dört yıl boyunca neredeyse her ay küçük Laila ile birlikte iki gün süren o yolculuğu yaptı. Nevarki bir seferinde Seraphim’in babası hastalandığı için, elf’lerle ticaret yapan küçük bir grupla çıktı yola. Hava fevkalade soğuk olduğu için de Laila’yı almadı yanına. Ve yolda kurtların saldırısına uğradılar. Gruptan ağır yaralanmış bir şekilde sadece iki kişi kurtulabildi ve ne yazık ki Seraphim kurtulanlar arasında değildi.

Elf’ler cenazenin kendi köylerinde yapılmasını istediler —oldukça da yüzsüzce bir şekilde. Zavallı Darien ormancılarla elf’ler arasında bir sorun çıkmasın diye büyün hiddetini içine attı ve buna sesini çıkarmadı. Laila’yı kardeşi Aramsis ve  teyzesi Seleina’ya bıraktı ve elf’lerin köyüne, cenazeye gitti. Seliena o an hamileydi ve kız kardeşine olanlardan ötürü de tam anlamıyla perişan olmuştu. Cenazede elf’ler Seraphim’e olanlardan dolayı Darien’i suçlamaya kalktılar ve genç Darien’de onlara bir ormancı olmanın ne demek olduğunu harika bir şekilde göstermiş oldu. Tabii bu güzel Seraphim’i geri getirmediği gibi üzüntüden mahvolmuş Seleina’nın da düşük yapmasına sebep oldu. Zavallı kız. Elf’ler, dostu, sırdaşı ve kız kardeşi olan Seraphim’in cenazesine gelmesine izin verilmedikleri gibi, kızcağız bir de bebeğinden oldu.

Darien o kışı Dim Lodge’da kızı, küçük Laila ile geçirdi, ilk bahar geldiğinde de nesi varsa toplayıp Dim Lodge’dan ayrıldı ve kızıyla beraber Serenity Home’a yerleşti. En nihayetinde ve ahmakça inatları yüzünden elf’ler hem kızlarından, hem de torunlarından oldular.. oldukça da onursuz bir şekilde.. Bütün bunlar yetmiyormuş gibi, elf’lerle ormancıların arasınının da ciddi bir şekilde açılmasına ve nefret odaklı sürtüşmelere sebep oldular. Sadece bu olayla, aralarında barış ve iletişim olması için verdiğim yüzlerce yıllık emeği neredeyse yok ettiler.

“Bu.. çok acıklı bir hikaye..”, der Brom sessizce ve düşünceli bir şekilde.

“Evet, Efendi Hobbit. Acıklı ve trajik bir hikaye. Aynı zamanda da ahmaklığın nelere mal olduğunu gösteren bir hikaye. İlginçtir, güzel Seraphim’in ölümünden sonra tam dört yıl boyunca neredeyse hiç durmaksızın Nurturing Heaven’a yağmur yağdı..”, der Efendi Cathber kindar bir sesle.

“Bunu senin yaptığını biliyorlarmıydı peki?”, diye sorar Brom ister istemez.

“Tahmin ettiklerinde eminim ama evim onların köyünden sadece bir gün mesafede olmasına rağmen bir kere bile bu konuda gelip benden bir talep yada ricada bulunmadılar. Sanıyorum yapacak başka işlerim olmasaydı, bugün bile o yağmur devam ediyor olurdu.. Elf’ler ‘başlarına geleni’ sabırla çekmeyi tercih ettiler ama dört yılın sonunda tarlaları da, ekinleri de tamamen mahvolmuştu ve ironik bir şekilde de Dim Lodge oduncularına muhtaç kaldılar.”, diye ekler Cathber, yüzünde haşin bir sırıtışla.

 

“Laila!”, diye ünler genç Brom birden. “Darien onu bir izci olarak yetiştirilmek üzere İzci Efendisi Davien’e vermek istiyordu!”

“İlginç..”, der Cathber ve dibinde yürüyen genç hobbit’e tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde bakar.

“İlginç olan nedir?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Senin bundan haberdar olman! Özellikle de bunun oldukça.. hatta fevkalade spesifik bir bilgi olduğunu düşünürsek..”, der yaşlı adam..

Brom birden gafına ayılır ve susar.

Efendi Cathber gülümser.

“Sorun değil, sorun değil.. Anlatmak istemiyorsan anlatmazsın, olur biter. Ama yolumuz uzun ve konuşmak daha keyiflidir.

 

Genç hobbit uzun bir süre sessizliğini korumayı tercih eder. Ama en sonunda başından geçenleri bu yaşlı ve ‘hafif kaçık’ adama anlatmaya karar verir. En azından bir kısmını.

Brom ilk ısırılışının ayrıntılarına girmez. Aslına bakılırsa ısırıldığı hiçbir durumdan bahsetmez ve olayı ‘içime doğdu’ yada ‘hobbit’lere özel bir yeti’ olarak geçiştirmeyi tercih eder. Nedenini kendisi de bilemez ama içinden bir ses, sanki bundan kimseye bahsetmemesi gerektiğini söyler ona —en azından şimdilik.

Genç hobbit evinden ayrılmasını, kuzeye, zigzaglar çizerek gidişini, yolda karşılaştıklarını, günlerce takılıp kaldığı haydut kampını ve Şerif Standorin, İzci Efendileri Davien ve Moorat’in o kampı basmalarını, oradan kaçışını, Croaking Mire’da başına gelenleri, pis ve bulanık suyun içine düşmesini, orada karşılaştığı dehşet yaratık ve ‘Muhafız’ kısmını atlayarak anlatır. Benzer bir şekilde Tinker Hills’e ‘uğradığını’, oradan da Miasmire’da yaşadıklarını, ‘merakından’ ve ‘hazır gelmişken’ görmek için Gulls Perch’in kenarından ‘teğet’ geçmesinden bahseder. Son olarak da Arashkan Irmağının kenarında kamp yapmak için durmasını ve yaşlı adamla karşılaşmasını, ‘İşte tam o sırada da siz çıkageldiniz!’, diye anlatır ve hikayesini bitirir.

“Bu.. fevkalade bir hikaye Efendi Hobbit.”, der yaşlı Cathber. “Ve bunu benimle paylaştığın için teşekkür ederim.”

Brom tedirgin bir şekilde omuzlarını silker. Yaşlı adamın, anlatığı hikayeye inandığından emindir. Yaşlı adamın, anlatığı hikayedeki boşlukları fark ettiğinden de emindir. Ama bunları sorgulamamasından dolayı da memnun olur zira hikayesini, böylesi sansürlenmiş olarak anlatmış olması bile kendisi için büyük bir adımdır..

 

Cathber ve Brom, iki gün sonra Tel’Shee dim’Ora’Nurturing Heaven’a varırlar.

Yaşlı adamın kendisine Seraphim Silverdûne’ün trajik hikayesini anlatması sonrasında, elf’leri ve köylerini çok merak ediyor olmasına rağmen genç Brom oraya uğramak noktasında isteksizdir. Cathber ondaki bu isteksizliğini gördüğünde, ilginç bir şekilde onu zorlamaz, benzer bir isteksizlikle kendisi de gitmez. Onun yerine güneye, yaşlı adamın evine doğru yönelirler..

✱ ✱ ✱

 

Uhhmm.. Senin evin bu mu?”, diye tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde sorar genç hobbit, önünde duran harabeye bakarak. Sonra söylediği şeyin kulağa nasıl gelebileceğine ayılır ve düzeltir..

“Bu mu senin evin?”

..diye!

“İlkini tercih ederdim, Efendi Hobbit..”, der yaşlı Cathber alınmış bir şekilde.

“Ben.. özür dilerim.. Ne dediğimi bilmiyorum.”, der Brom utancından kıpkırmızı olmuş bir suratla.

“Sorun değil, sorun değil. Benim gibi yalnız başına yaşayan deli bir berduşun, herhangi bir hobbit’in eviyle kıyaslanabilecek bir evi olması mümkün değildi zaten.”, der esefli bir sesle.

“Yani..”, deyiverir Brom ve daha da kızarmış yüzünü elleri arasında gizler.

“Bu yaşlı adamı daha fazla yerin dibine geçirme istersen!”, der Cathber biraz kızarak.

“İstemem. Söz.”, diye cılız bir sesle cevap verir genç hobbit.

 

Genç Brom, yaşlı adamın evine bakar ve içi cızlar. Evin kapısı yarı açıktır ve sarkık vaziyettedir. Çatısı çökmüş ve kiremitleri dökülüp her yere saçılmıştır. Duvarlarında bariz delikler vardır ve çöken çatı yüzünden de evin küçük pencereleri de dışa doğru pörtlemiştir..

 

“Uzun zamandır gelmemiştim buraya.”, der yaşlı adam sanki kendi kendisine konuşuyormuş gibi. “Evi dahi olsa, insanın geri dönmek için bir sebebi olmayınca.. eh.. bu hale geliyor işte. Bu da sana bir ders olsun Efendi Hobbit. Bir erkeğin ‘çatısı’ vardır ve sadece o çatının efendisidir. Bir evi ‘ev’ yapansa kadındır. Eminim bu ifademden hoşlanmayacak birileri olacaktır ama önce yedi yüz yıl benim yaşadıklarımı yaşasınlar, benim gördüklerimi görsünler, bende olmayanları da kendi hayatlarından çıkarsınlar, ondan sonra gelip bana vaaz etmeye kalksınlar!”

Yaşlı adam, yan yatmış açık kapısını doğrultur ve yerine oturtmaya çalışır. Çok kısa bir anlığına bunu başarmış gibi görünür ama kapı çatırdar.. ve tamamen çürümüş bir şekilde yere dökülür.

“Hmmm..”, der Efendi Cathber. “Sanırım bu sefer biraz fazla uzak kaldım. Kaç yıl oldu? Dört mü, beş mi? Hayır, sanırım altı yada sekiz yıl ama on iki olma ihtimali daha fazla sanki.. Tamam. Buldum.. On altı sene! Evet. Sanırım biraz fazla uzak kalmışım..”

 

Brom hayretle adama bakar ve kendisinin evinden, bırakın on altı seneyi, altı ay bile uzak kalabileceğini düşüne—

Genç hobbit hayretle olduğu yerde kalakalır zira evinden ayrılalı iki yıl ve dört ay geçmiştir bile!

Brom tam anlamıyla şok olmuş bir şekilde, öylece durur..

İki yıl, dört ay!

Bu.. bir hobbit’in evinden, bahçesinden, çiçeklerinden, annesinin yadigar fincanlarından, şöminesinin sıcaklığından, kitaplarından ve keyifli tembel hayatından uzak kaldığı ve belki de hiç duyulmamış bir süredir..

Bu basit hesap.. ve sonucu, genç hobbit’in bir anda korkmasına sebep olur. Sanki erişilemez, yıkılamaz, içsel ve kendisini bir hobbit yapan en temel tabularının yıkılması anlamına geldiğini hisseder. Ve ısırılmasına da tamamen bir başka açıdan bakmasına sebep olur.

 

“Öylece orada duracak mısın, delikanlı? Yoksa gelip biraz işin ucundan tutacak mısın?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam umutsuzca evine bakarak. Sonra adamın yaşlı omuzları çöker, ve evinin kapısından ayrılır.

“Gel, Efendi Hobbit. Herhangi bir şeye başlamak için biraz geç oldu. Bu gün burada kamp kuralım. Yarın, tazelenmiş bir şekilde kalktığımızda bakarız. Şayet en ufak bir umut ışığı görürsek, işe başlarız. Umut yoksa güneye, yolumuza devam ederiz..”, der yaşlı adam yenilgiyle.

Brom sesini çıkarmadan gider, kuru çalı çırpı ve dal toplar ve ufak bir ateş yakar. Sonra yakınlardaki bir çayırdan su getirir ve yaşlı adamın sepetinden biraz patates, biraz patlıcan, biraz da mantar çıkartır, gözü bir anlığına, aylar —neredeyse bir yıl— önce, ilk bu sepeti açtığında gördüğü ve bir şekilde hala tap taze kalmayı başarmış olan çileklere takılır, daha önce defalarca olduğu gibi yine gözlerini kaçırır, sepetin kapağını kapatır ve tekrar ateşin başına gelir. Sırt çantasından küçük kamp tenceresini çıkartıp içine önce su koyar, sonra da patatesleri, panlıcanları ve mantarları doğrayıp tencerenin içine atar ve kaynamasını beklerken de çadırını çıkartıp kurar.

Bütün bunlar olurken yaşlı Cathber ise devrilmiş bir ağaç kütüğünün üstüne oturmuş, kayıp bir ifadeyle evinden kalan harabeye bakar.

Genç Brom, yemek hazır olunca iki tabağa yemeği boca eder, tabaklardan birini sessizce yaşlı adamın yanına bırakır, diğerini ise kendisi alır, ateşin başına oturur ve yemeye başlar.

Ateş başında geçen her gece, muhabbet gecesi değildir. Bazıları sadece sessizce geçirilen gecelerdendir ve belli ki bu gece, o gecelerden olacaktır..

Brom, bir yandan yemeğini yerken, bir yandan da yaşlı adamı seyreder ve bir anda adamın yüzündeki ‘kayıp’ ifadenin derinliklerine ulaşıverir;

Bu yaşlı, mazbut, hafif deli gibi görünen ve tamamen bir berduş hayatı yaşayıp bu uçsuz bucaksız ormanı, içinde yaşayan ağaçları, bitkileri, hayvanları, insanları, elf’leri, oger’leri, dwarf’ları ve genç hobbit’in daha görmediği ve muhtemelen de hiçbir zaman haberi bile olmayacak varlıkları korurken o kadar çok şeyinden vazgeçmiştir ki..

Adam, hayatında sevdiği tek kadını, beraber katıldıkları büyük bir savaşta gönderildiği afaki bir misyonda kaybetmiş ve bir daha bir başka kadının sıcaklığında huzur aramamış, devamlı görüp gözettiği ormanı dolayısıyla pek az uğradığı evi de artık bir harabeye dönmüştü..

Bu yaşlı ve yalnız adam şu anda bile belki sadece bir şeyi düşünmekteydi;

“Elime ne geçti?”

Yaşadığı 740 küsur yıl sonunda ve bütün yaşadığı ve yaşattıklarına karşın gösterebileceği hiçbir şeyi yoktu. Ne bir hayatı, ne bir sevgilisi, ne bir anıtı, ne de emeklerinin mirasıçısı olabilecek bir çocuğu..

Brom, kendi evinde, keyifli şöminesinin başında, annesinin antika fincanından çayını yudumlarken okuduğu kitaplarıyla yalnızlığın keyfini çıkarmasına karşın, ve çok da aceleye getirmemesi koşuluyla yine de bir gün güzel, mutlu bir kız bulma, ve zamanı gelince de çocukları olacağı umuduyla yaşamıştı. Yaşlı Cathber için ise bu asla olmamış ve belli ki artık olma ihtimali de yoktur..

✱ ✱ ✱

Yaşlı Cathber, çekiç seslerine uyanır. Gece geç saatlere kadar oturmuş, sonra da derin bir hüzünle, öylece ateşin yanına kıvrılıp yatmış, şimdi de şiddetli bir baş ağrısıyla gözlerini açar ve etrafına bakınır. Sabah bitmek üzeredir ve öğlenin gelmesi de an meselesidir. Cathber ıkınarak kalkar ve, “Nedir bu gürültü böyle? Yaşlı bir adama kimsenin saygısı kalmadı mı artık?”, diye kış uykusundan erken uyanmış bir boz ayısı gibi asabice homurdanır.

“Günaydın, Efendi Cathber!”, diye genç hobbit’in aşırı mutlu sesini duyar ve sabahları ‘şirin’ kalkan gençler hakkında tam olarak ne düşündüğünü söylenmeye başlar.

“Kahvaltın, ateşin hemen yanında. Evinin arkasında biraz üzüm buldum. Hala hayatta olduklarını görünce toplayıp onlardan da koydum tabağa!”, der Brom aynı ‘şirin’ sesiyle.

Efendi Cathber yine homurdanır ama adı geçen tabağı görünce ister istemez susar. Tabağın yanında duran bir kova suyla ellerini ve yüzünü yıkar, sonra da oturup genç hobbit’in onun için hazırladığı kahvaltıyı yemeye başlar. Kalan son üzümleri de bitirince biraz kendine gelmiş gibi etrafına bakınır ve..

..öylece kalakalır.

Yaşlı adam hayretle evinin, yerine yeniden monte edilmiş kapısına, sökülüp, tamir edilip, tekrar yerlerine takılmış olan küçük pencerelerine,  kırılıp dökülenlerin yerinde yeni, doldurma tahta ve odunlarla kapatılmış duvarlarına bakar.

Başını kaldırdığında ise genç hobbit’i çatıda, kiremitlerle uğraşır halde bulur.

“Sen.. ne yapıyorsun evime?”, diye sorar hayretle.

“Bir şey mi dediniz, Efendi Cathber? Çok uzaktasınız. Dediğiniz şeyleri duyamıyorum.”, diye abartılı bir şekilde bağırır Brom.

Cathber kaşlarını çatar.

Tekrar ıkınarak ayağa kalkar ve genç hobbit’in üzerinde çalıştığı çatıya yaklaşır.

“Sana, evime ne yaptığını sordum.”, der yaşlı adam biraz asabice.

“Dün akşam siz, sabah olunca ‘en ufak bir umut ışığı varsa..’, demiştiniz..”, der Brom.

“Evet, demiştim.”, der yaşlı Cathber.

“Bende en ufak bir umut ışığı gördüm ve siz biraz yorgundunuz dün akşam, bende sizi uyandırmadan başlamaya karar verdim. Korkarım ben bir marangoz olmadığım için bazı yerleri ahşaptan ‘vitray’ tekniği kullanarak kapattım. Bir ara ormancılardan gelip onları düzgün ve kalıcı bir şekilde tamir etmelerini istemeniz gerekecek. Eminin rica ederseniz, buna gönüllü olacak bir kaç tanesi çıkacaktır. Kiremitlerin bazıları da kullanılamaz halde kırılmışlar. Onların yerine de az ileride ki çayın kenarında bulduğum geniş ve yassı taşları yerleştirdim ve aralarını da içine saman karıştırılmış çamurla kapattım. Gönüllü gelecek ormancılardan onları da tamir etmelerini isteyebilirsiniz.”, diye cevap verir Brom.

Cathber biraz daha kaşlarını çatar ama bir şey demez.

Yaşlı adam sesini çıkarmayınca Brom biraz rahatlamış bir şekilde tekrar kiremitleri çakmaya başlar. İşi bittiğinde kayarak aşağı atlar.

“İçeriyi de biraz süpürüp temizlersek, oturulabilir bir hale getirmiş oluruz. Müsait olduğunuzda ormanın bu tarafında ufak bir yağmur yağdırırsanız, nereler akıtıp sızdırıyor, görmüş oluruz.”, der. “Sonra da bahçeyle uğraşırız. Ben marangoz olmayabilirim ama bahçe olayından çok iyi anlarım.”

“Neden?”, diye sorar Cathber.

“Ne, neden?”, diye anlamamış gibi Brom’da yaşlı adama sorar.

Cathber, genç hobbit’e sessizce bakar.

Brom omuzlarını silker.

“Ben bir hobbit’im, Efendi Cathber. Bu ne demek biliyor musun?”, der ciddi bir sesle.

“Bu oldukça muallak bir soru Efendi Hobbit—”, diye başlar Cathber ama Brom araya girer.

“Bir hobbit, üç temel elementten oluşur, Efendi Cathber.”, der aynı ciddiyetle. “Birincisi; tembelliği, ikincisi; konforu.. üçüncüsü ise; EVİ! Bu üç elementin olduğu her yerde mutlaka bir hobbit vardır!”

“Bunun benim evime yaptıklarınızla alakasını kuramadım, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde.

 

“Siz tembellik nedir bilmezsiniz ve tembelin halinden de anlayamazsınız, Efendi Cathber. Bildiğinizi sandığınız şeye de gerçekte tembellik denemez. Konfor ise bugüne kadar sizin yakınınızdan bile geçmemiş belli ki.. Dolayısıyla sizden asla doğru düzgün bir hobbit olmaz! Ama bir ev, Efendi Cathber.. Herkesin ‘evim’ diyebileceği bir yeri olmalı.. Ve sizinki yıkılmış. Bir hobbit olarak, tembel fakiri olmanıza tahammül edebilirim. Konfor yoksulu oluşunuza da müsamaha gösterebilirim. Ama buna—”, der genç hobbit ve evi gösterir. “—sessiz kalmam mümkün değildi!”

Yaşlı Cathber alık alık önünde duran hobbit’e bakar ve söyledikleri şey zavallı adamcağızın zihnini çarpıtır!

Neden sonra mırıldanır.

“Uğraşınız için teşekkür ederim, Efendi Brom. Ama nadiren uğradığım bir yerdi burası..”

“‘Kimin kime faydası dokunur, kimin kime yardımı olur hiç belli olmaz bu dünyada..’ Bunlar sizin sözlerinizdi.. Zamanı gelince hepimiz, istesek de, istemesek de gideceğiz. Ama bir hobbit olarak son dakikama kadar tembel ve konforlu bir şekilde ve şu anda içinde olmasam da yine de bunun eviminde olmasını istiyorum. Gerçekte siz nadiren buraya uğramıyorsunuz, Efendi Cathber. Siz, buraya gelmemek için çaba gösteriyorsunuz..”

✱ ✱ ✱

Bunu takip eden iki hafta boyunca genç Brom ve yaşlı Cathber evin tamiri ve bahçe düzenlemesiyle uğraşırlar. Bittiğinde evin hala herhangi bir hobbit’in eviyle kıyaslanacak durumu yoktur, ama üç temel elemente de sahiptir; tembelce ve konforlu bir şekilde oturulabilir ‘ev’..

“Hmmph!”, diye homurdandır yaşlı Cathber, göreceli bir konforla yanan küçük şöminenin önünde çarpık sandalyesinde oturmuş, elinde bir kenarı çatlamış eski fincandan sıcak çayını yudumlarken.

“Ne oldu?”, diye sorar genç hobbit, kendi oturduğu yerden, ayaklarını şömineye doğru uzatmış, bir başka fincandan kendi sıcak çayını hüpletirken. Genç hobbit’in fincanı çatlak değildir ve yaşlı adamın fincanı ile aynı setin parçası da değildir. Bu fincan, ortalama bir alıcının gözünde sadece burun kıvırtacağı kadar yıpranmıştır. Bir antikacı ise, üstünde bir zamanlar incelikle işlenmiş, pembe varak çiçekleri görecek ve fincanın yüzlerce yıllık ve paha biçilmez olduğunu, ağzı sulanarak itiraf edecektir —en azından kendisine!

“İtiraf etmeliyim ki bu yağmur altında ıslanmaktan daha keyifli.”, der adam.

“Di mi ama?”, diye keyifle sırıtır Brom ve çayından bir yudum daha hüpletir.

“Fazla rahat..”, der Cathber ve kendisi de çayını yudumlar.

“Ahhaaa..”, der genç hobbit. “Zamanla alışacağından eminim. Ama her ‘ilaç’ gibi, bunun da işe yaramasına izin vermelisin..”

Yaşlı adam ‘fırk’lar..

..ve aralarında duran küçük, iğreti tehpanın üzerindeki kil tabaktan bir kurabiye daha alır.

“Hamur işinden, bahçeden anladığın kadar anlıyorsun. Bu kurabiyeler harika. Hele onları bir fırında değil de bu acınası şöminede yaptığını düşününce..”

“Tembeller, dünyadaki en kuvvetli hayal gücüne sahip insanlardır..”, diye kendisi de kurabiyelerden bir tanesine uzanır, hafif çayına bandırır, sonra yemeye başlar.

“Eminim bunun için mantıklı bir açıklaman vardır.”, der Cathber.

“Tabii.”, der genç hobbit, tekrar sırıtarak. “Tembel olmaya devam edebilmek için, ‘bunu en çabuk ve en kestirme yoldan nasıl yaparım da tekrar şöminemin önünde mutlu bir şekilde oturabilirim?’ düşüncesinin üstesinden gelemeyeceği bir hayal gücü yoktur bu dünyada..”

Yaşlı adam kıkırdar.

“Teşekkür ederim, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber. “Bunca yıldan sonra ilk defa ‘evim’ oldu.. Evim ve baktığımda rastgele çalı çırpı yerine düzenli bir ‘bahçem’..”

“Ben teşekkür ederim, Efendi Cathber. Sayenizde kendi başıma asla göremeyeceğim şeyleri gösterdiniz bana.”, diye samimi bir şekilde cevap verir Brom.

 

Cathber bunun üzerine sessizleşir.

Şömineden mutlu çatırtılar gelir.

Dışarıda hava kararır.

Uzun bir süre fincan, hüpletme ve kurabiye ‘kıt’latması dışında hiçbir ses duyulmaz.

 

“İstersen..”, der düşünceli bir şekilde yaşlı adam, neden sonra. “Seni evine gönderebilirim..”

“Ne? Nasıl yani?”, diye irkilir genç hobbit birden ve elindeki antika fincanı neredeyse düşürür.

“Benim ne olduğumu sanıyorum ki artık tahmin etmişsindir. Hoş, gizlemek için özel bir çaba da sarf etmemiştim doğrusu.”, der Efendi Cathber.

“İlk karşılaştığımızda, fırtınayı çağırdığınızı söylediğinizde bazı kuşkularım oluşmadı değil. Ayrıca burası için devamlı ‘ormanım’ ifadesini kullanmanız, başlı başına bir ilamdı.. Ama siz mevzu etmediğiniz için ben de nezaketsizlik etmek istemedim.”, diye itiraf eder genç hobbit.

“Bundan dolayı ayrıca teşekkür ederim.”, der yaşlı adam. “İstersen.. kapımın önündeki çınar ağacından, senin evinin bahçesindeki çınara bir kapı açabilirim. Teknik olarak hedef ağaca dokunmuş yada en azından onu görmüş olmalıydım, ama beraber olduğumuz bu son bir yıl boyunca bahçenden ve bahçendeki ağaçlardan, ve özellikle de çınarından o kadar çok bahsettin ki, görmüş gibi ayrıntılarını zihnimde canlandırabiliyorum.”

Brom hayret.. ve özlemle oturduğu yamuk sandalyede kalakalır.. Konuşmak için bir kaç defa ağzını açar ama herhangi bir ses çıkmaz.

Dahası, hemen yanınada peyda olan garip.. ve biraz da ürkütücü bir ‘hissin’ varlığına ayılır ve o his ona bu tercihin tamamen kendisine ait olduğunu ve önündeki ‘dönmek’ ile ‘devam etmek’ arasındaki iki seçenek ona kati bir şeyler söyler.

Geri dönerse evine, sıcak şöminesine, annesinin yadigar fincanlarına, kitaplarına, kıtır kurabiyelerine, ve muhtemelen de tembel, konforlu evinde mutlu bir şekilde yaşayıp gideceğini..

Devam etmesi halinde ise, evinden ayrıldığı geceden beri karşılaştığı bütün şeylerin aynısını ve çok daha fazlasını yaşayacağını, dahası bir gün geri döndüğünde, evine dair adı geçen şeylere kavuşmasına rağmen, muhtemelen bir daha mutlu olmayabileceğini söyler ona..

 

Brom Bumblebrim, kendisini dikkatle izleyen yaşlı Cathber’a bakar.

“Neden ben?”, diye soruverir.

Yaşlı adam, ona sessiz bir dakika boyunca bakar. Sonra gözlerini kısarak cevap verir.

“Sorunu yanlış kişiye soruyorsun, Efendi Hobbit. Ama düşünmen gereken asıl şey, sorduğun soru da değil.”, der ona.

“Nedir peki düşünmem gereken şey?”, diye sorar Brom kayıp bir sesle.

Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig sırıtır.

“ÇÜNKÜ sen..”, der.

Genç hobbit kaşlarını çatar.

“Hiç bi şey anlamadım.”, der hafif gıcık olmuş bir ifadeyle.

Yaşlı adam omuzlarını silker, yanında duran tabaktan bir kurabiye daha alır, kendi çayına bandırır ve ağzına atar.

“Ben de anladığımı söylemedim zaten!”, diye kıkırdar.

“Hiç yardımcı olmuyorsunuz, Efendi Cathber..”, diye homurdanır Brom.

 

“Sana bir seçenek verdim, delikanlı. Sanıyorum, sadece bu seçeneği sana sunmuş olarak bazı şeyleri anlama fırsatı da doğurmuş oldum. Gerisini senin düşünmen lazım.

Ben, bana verilen seçeklerden, bunca yüz yıl sonra ‘Elime ne geçti?’, diye sorulduğunda vereceğim cevap, ‘Hiç bir şey!’ olacak. Ama zaten yaptıklarım da asla benimle ve benimelde edeceğim kazançlarımla ilgili olmadı. Yaptıklarımı, ‘yaşadığımız dünya, ve bu dünyanın geleceği’ için yaptım.

Ben göçüp gittiğimde ve üzerinden yeterince zaman geçtiğinde bu dünyada kimse beni hatırlamayacak. Ama beni hatırlamayacak ‘özgür kimseler’ de olmuş olacak!”

Genç hobbit, muallak olduğu kadar da ‘kocaman’ olan bu cevap karşısında tökezler. Brom kendisini hiçbir zaman önemli biri olarak görmemiştir. Ancak evinden ayrıldığı geceden beri karşılaştığı şeyleri düşündüğünde; Croaking Mire’deki dehşet yaratığı, onun bu dünyada serbest kalmasını engellemek için binlerce yıldır başında nöbet tutan ‘Muhafızı’, büyülü korumaları dolayısıyla kimsenin giremediği Sessiz Gnome’ların köyünü ve orada yaşadıklarını, Gulls Perch’e girmesine ‘izin verilmiş’ olmasını, dünyada hayatta olan pek az ölümlünün oturup ‘muhabbet’ ettiği anne Titania’yı, onun vadisini kurtarmak için verdiği mücadeleyi ve bunun için yapmaz zorunda kaldığı şeyleri, güzel, saf ve olağanüstü Aremela’sını, ve garip bir ‘tesadüfle’ bu yaşlı adamla; yedi yüz kırk küsur yıl önce Themalsar’da savaşmış olan Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig ile karşılaşmasını düşünür.

 

“Göster bana.”, der sessizce.

Yaşlı adam ‘hımpf’lar ve yavaşça yerinden kalkar. Ağır adımlarla küçük kulübenin kapısını açar ve kararmakta olan akşam ışığında bile güzel görünen bahçesine çıkar.

Genç hobbit ise sessizce onu peşinden takip eder.

Yaşlı adam bahçesinin kenarındaki koca çınarın yanına geldiğinde nazikçe ağaca dokunur.

“Benden daha yaşlı bildiğim tek sen varsın. Tamara ile senin gölgende karşılaşmıştık, hatırlıyor musun?”, der yaşlı adam. Sonra Brom’a döner ve kıkırdar. “..Ve ilk kavgamızı da o zaman yapmıştık! İkimizde bu kıymetli ağacın hediye edeceği bir ‘asa’nın peşindeydik. İkimiz de asayı istiyorduk ve ikimizde hakkımız olduğunu düşündüğümüz o asadan vazgeçmek istemiyorduk. Tamara.. ateşli bir kızdı.. Ateşli ve inatçı.. Ben de inatçıydım ama sanırım onun kadar yakıcı bir güzelliğe sahip değildim!”

Brom, yaşlı Cathber’in eşinden bu kadar ‘mutlu’ bir şekilde bahsettiğine ilk defa müşahade eder.

“En sonunda ona, asayı alabileceğini, benim ise yeni bir asa için iki yüz yıl bekleyebileceğimi ve bunun sorun olmayacağını söyledim.”, der yaşlı adam ve dolu gözlerle gülümser. “Asayı o aldı. Ama ben de onu almış oldum! Hayatımda yaptığım en değerli, ve en güzel takastı bu..”

Brom gülmek ister ama nedense sadece kendi gözlerinin de dolduğunu hisseder.

“Senden küçük bir ricada bulunacağım, Tamara; bu delikanlının evine bir kapı açman. Geçtiğimiz bu bir yılda hayata dair unuttuğum o kadar çok şeyi bana farkında olmadan hatırlattı ki.. Ve bükülmüş evimi tekrar ayağa kaldırdı. Bence eve dönmek istiyorsa, bunu hakketti..”

Brom, yaşlı adamın ağaca eşinin adıyla hitap etmesini hayretle karşılar ve bir anda bu dünya hakkında ne kadar az şey bildiğini anlayıverir. Dahası, adamın neden evine dönmek istemediğine de ayılır.

Genç hobbit, Efendi Cathber’in ağaca neden ‘Tamara’ diye hitap ettiğini anlamaz. Ama her eve döndüğünde yada her kapısını açtığında ilk gördüğü şeyin o ağaç olması bu yaşlı adamı ne denli kahredebileceği konusunda bazı tahminleri vardır. Genç hobbit, kendisinin de bir gün bir ağaca ‘Aremela’ diye hitap edip etmeyeceğini düşünür..

Yada..

..yeleğinin pek az kullandığı iç cebinde sakladığı toğumları, hobbit evinin arka bahçesine ektiğinde yetişeceğini umduğu çileklere..

Aremela..

..diye mi hitap edecekti?

 

Yaşlı çınar birden esner gibi gerilir.

Ve gövdesinde, bir insanın eğilerek, bir hobbit’in ise hoplaya zıplaya geçebileceği bir gedik açılır..

Brom hayretle gediğin içinde Bowling Hills’i, sonra Greener Kasabasını, en sonunda da evinin güzel bahçesini, bahçesindeki ağaçlarını, çiçeklerini ve ailesinin ona bıraktığı güllerini ve.. evini görür..

Genç hobbit göz yaşları içerisinde dizlerinin üzerine çöker..

..zira Brom Bumblebrim kararını çoktan vermiştir.

 

Evet.

Bir gün evine, sıcak şöminesine, kitaplarına, annesinin yadigar fincanlarına, mutlu çörek ve kurabiyelerine, bahçesine ve güllerine geri dönecektir. Döndüğünde ise mutlu olup olmayacağı kati değildir. Ama evine tekrar ayak bastığında, iç cebinde sakladığı çilek tohumlarının, o tohumlar için verilen hayatın ve yapılan fedakarlığın hakkını da vermiş olarak dönmüş olacaktır.

 

“Gördüm ve teşekkür ederim, Efendi Cathber.”, der Brom sessizce.

“Gitmeyeceksin.”, der yaşlı adam ve bunu bir soru olarak sormaz.

“Bir gün, evet. Daha değil.. Evim ve tembel konforum hiçbir yere gitmiyorlar. Ama ben şimdi gidersem, elime bir daha geçmeyecek, ve belki de sadece küçük bir hobbit’e ihtiyaç duyulabilecek fırsatları da kaçırmış olacağım.”

 

Efendi Cathber, yüzünde belirmiş bir kahırla yavaşça kapanan gediği seyreden küçük dostuna bakar, ve  gülümser.

Bir elini genç hobbit’in omzuna koyar ve, “Bilgelik sana erken yaşta gelmiş, Efendi Hobbit.”, der nazikçe.

✱ ✱ ✱

Genç Brom, yaşlı Cathber’le bir kaç gün daha kulubede kalırlar. Sonra da tekrar ‘fırtına avı’ için yola koyulurlar. İş daha bitmemiştir ve bir hobbit, başladığı işi yarıda bırakmaz. 

“Evinize tekrar döneceğinizi umuyorum, Efendi Cathber. Ve bunun için de sizden bir on altı yıl daha beklememenizi rica ediyorum.”, der Brom.

“Bu yolculukta bir şeyler öğrenen tek kişi sen değilsin, delikanlı.”, der Cathber sırıtarak. “Bana tembelliği olmasa da,  evimin kıymetini ve konforunu göstermeyi başardın. Ki bu da beni üçte iki hobbit yapıyor.”

“Bu kabul edilebilir bir oran, efendim.”, diye başıyla onlar genç hobbit.

Cathber kıkırdar.

“Sırada neresi var?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Sırada güneydeki komşularımız var; Elder Hills dwarf’ları..”

“Aaaaa.. Dwarf’lar.. Bu iyi..”, der Brom kaşları çatılı bir şekilde.

Yaşlı Cathber’in tek kaşı kalkar.

“Neden?”

Genç hobbit’in suratında haşin bir ifade belirir.

“Çünkü onlara söyleyecek bir çift lafım var!” 

Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları
A Bard’s Tale XIV “a Bit of a Bite” VIII ile
devam edecek..


Brom Bumblebrim, hiç farkında olmadan bu yaşlı ve yalnız adama, sadece bir kaç ay sonra ve çok uzaklardan bir çocuk gönderecektir..

Bu çocuk boynuzlu doğacak ve bundan dolayı annesi taşlanarak köyünden kovulacak ve saklandığı ormanda da yaralarından dolayı ölecektir. Anneyi ve kasılmış kolları arasında tuttuğu ve hala hayatta olan küçük bebeğini birisi bulacaktır. O kişi de Efendi Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig’in kendisi olacaktır.

Yaşlı Cathber hayretle ‘kendisine sunulan’ bu bebeği alacak ve asla sahip olamadığı bir şeyi, kızı ve emeklerinin mirasıçısı olarak yetiştirecektir.

Efendi Cathber bu kıza ‘Tanrı’nın izniyle’, anlamına gelen ‘Inshala’ adını verecek ve bu küçük, sevimli yaratık büyüyecek, hem babası, hem de efendisi olarak gördüğü Cathber’in ölümünden sonra Rituel Ormanını sahiplenecek ve ‘bir sonraki nesil’ olarak onun mirasını devam ettirecektir..

Bu hikaye için bkz. “i, inshala. i, belong” 

 

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A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VI

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” VI

Timeline:

Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.

Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..

 

Bu hikaye,
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” V ‘in
devamıdır..

 

 

11.11.7589 B.Y.S (-18 Yıl)
Ekim ortası.
Ritual Ormanlarının güneyi..

 

Teşekkür ederim.”, der genç hobbit kayıp bir sesle, kocaman gagasını ona doğru eğmiş dev martıya ve elindeki küçük keseciği yeleğindeki pek az kullandığı iç cebe güvenli bir şekilde yerleştirir. 

Martı sırtından inen küçük yaratığa yeni doğmakta olan güneşin silik ışığında kara gözlerle bakar, sonra başını göğe kaldırıp uzun, acıklı bir bando borazanını andıran sesle gaklar ve tekrar eğilip hobbit’e bakar.

Brom, her nasılsa martının o gaklamasında ve kocaman, kapkara gözlerinde esef ve hüzün görür ve ister istemez tekrar gözleri dolar ve omuzları hıçkırıklarla hoplamaya başlar.

Martı, önünde acınası bir kahırla duran küçük şeyi sessizce süzer, sonra gagasıyla onu nazikçe dürter.

“Hayır. İyi değilim ve iyi olmak gibi bir niyetim de yok. Ama bu da senin sorunun değil zaten..”, diye, göz yaşlarına karışmış hıçkırıkları arasında söylenir küçük hobbit. “Anneye, beni buraya getirmene izin verdiği için teşekkür ettiğimi söyle lütfen. Bir daha görüşür müyüz bilemiyorum. Belki bir gün.. Kızlara da kendi aralarında didişmeyi bırakmalarını tembih et. Hayat böyle çocukça şeyler için fazla kısa.. Ve.. .. o kadar, işte..”

Gulls Perch’e adını veren dev martı tekrar hüzünle gaklar, gagasının ucuyla ve nazikçe küçük hobbit’in başına iki kere ‘pıt pıt’lar, sonra döner, biraz uzaklaşır, neredeyse onar yardalık kanatlarını açar, bir kaç defa çırpar ve havalanır..

..ve güneye, evine, Gulls Perch’e doğru gözden kaybolur.