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

Extreme Planning..
Part One

Extreme Planning..
Part One

Timeline:

It is time for strategic planning.

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

“My thoughts, exactly.”, chuckled Nimbletyne.

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

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

 

The woman sighed.

 

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

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

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

 

Nimbletyne shrugged.

 

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

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

 

Nobody answered.

 

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

Biberbell fumed!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

The Mortal froze..

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

“—Sugar Cane Juice—”

“—GIMME!”, Biberbell piped!

 

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

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

 

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

 

Standorin wordlessly poured her another.

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

 

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

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

 

There was a moment of awkward silence and Constance sighed.

 

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

Standorin stared at the tiny thing snoring on his desk!

“Well..”, he said. “That went well..”

 

The other large man snorted.

The sheriff scowled at him.

 

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

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

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

Constance sighed again.

“What?”, he asked.

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

“Yes, so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constance sighed once more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Udoorin barely avoided a snort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Udoorin coughed.

 

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

 

Udoorin coughed again.

 

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

Standorin scowled some more.

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

 

Armed and naked!

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Lilly Venom frowned.

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

Lilly’s face soured.

Dammit!

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

 

Then she sighed.

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

And this was hers to pay.

 

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

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

 

Then she sighed again..

What was done, was done.

Some people earned their place peacefully.

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

 

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

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brom lost his grin and sighed.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

“Maybe.”, Brom cautioned.

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

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

The dwarf shrugged.

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

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

Tonic snickered from behind.

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

The dwarf snorted.

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Lovely pinks, by the way..”

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

 

And pulled apart the partition..

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

 

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

..and she was totally out.

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

It broke his heart to see her like this.

She was a princess, dammit!

No.

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

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

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

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

 

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

His Lorna was awesome, like that..

 

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

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

And that was downright killing him.

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

 

“Mere Estel Aranië..”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Something was decidedly going on here, Udoorin had conceded.

 

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

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

 

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

 

“What?”, he said.

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

Udoorin frowned.

And it hit him.

 

She was thinking of leaving him!

 

That’s why she was sorry.

A terrible expression came over his face.

 

Not ugly.

Not furious.

Just plain, childish fear.

 

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

..and left.

 

“I apologize for the carpet.”

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

 

Udoorin felt drained.

Tired physically, mentally, and emotionally.

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

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

Hence, he turned direction and headed north.

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

 

Heart.

 

That’s when he felt the sizzle again.

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

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

 

“You look troubled.”

He heard a voice say.

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

And no..

He wasn’t surprised to see Bremorel.

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

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

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

“Well, I am, so all is fine.”

“Is Thomas still alive?”, he asked.

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

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

Bremorel laughed.

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

 

Udoorin felt thunderstruck!

 

“When? How?”, he spluttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bremorel laughed again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ranger lieutenant shrugged.

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

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

Bremorel paused there.

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

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

Udoorin staggered.

And stumbled.

“How? How did it happen?”, he asked.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Bremorel scowled at him.

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

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

Bremorel’s face turned black, now.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

The three just stared at him.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Anglenna gave him a sour look but caved.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

..and she took off with an impressive dash.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

“Leaving you?”, Lorna very nearly gasped.

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

 

Lorna did not reply for the longest time.

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

 

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

 

Udoorin froze and stared at the gentle girl in amazement.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Alor’Nadien ne flinched..

..and broke down.

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

 

..but Udoorin was there.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“This was not our bargain, dear child.”

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

The rich, throaty voice sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Udoorin’s frown deepened.

“And what did she want from you?”

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

 

The young man froze.

 

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

“We.. we will.. should we wed..”

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

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

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

“Dorin.. please..”, she pleaded.

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

“D.. Dorin.. S.. Stop..”, she begged.

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

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

 

Udoorin just stared at her.

 

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

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

 

Udoorin fumes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lorna just stared at him.

 

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

 

Lorna sighed.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Like, right now?”, she spluttered.

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

 

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

 

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

Anglenna pursed her lips before answering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Anglenna sighed.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will tell you later.”, she smiled.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Futile?”, the tiny girl asked.

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

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

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

“How so, Mother?”

“You now have a smart mouth!”

 

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

 

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

Even if said hubby was the Winter Knight of Mab.

 

Chieftain Grulganiste shuddered.

 

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

 

Grulganiste growled and rose and stared around.

 

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

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

 

Grulganiste grunted and looked around.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Inshala smiled.

It was a beautiful, happy smile.

An accomplished smile.

A smile that said;

Something wonderful has happened here..

I brought peace to a troubled soul.

I did that!

 

Inshala opened the door to her home and wide.

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

 

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

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

..and sighed.

An ogress she may be.

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

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

 

..and promptly got stuck!

 

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

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

 

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

 

Chieftain Grulganiste froze..

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

“Whoo?”, replied the baby owl.

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

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

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

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

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

“When?”, she blurted!

“Uhhmm.. when what?”, asked Udoorin.

“When did you two—”, she began.

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

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

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

“Our scents?”, the young man stumbled.

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

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

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

Lorna also blushed.

Udoorin coughed.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Butchered words?”, Lorna asked.

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

 

Udoorin froze.

 

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

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

“More? More what?”

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

 

Lorna smiled.

 

“I do not understand.”, Udoorin complained.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Udoorin scowled down at her while Lorna smiled in defeat.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Udoorin cocked an eyebrow at her.

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

Lorna smiled, leaned into him, and whispered.

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

 

Udoorin stared at her.

 

“You can’t be serious!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

..HUGE!

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Chieftain Grulganiste—”, Liaison Constance stepped in.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Hush, girl. This is grown-ups talking.”, Grulganiste told her briskly. Then she turned to the sheriff. “Two of my ogres will be arriving from the forest. They will have white flag poles on their backs and some sacks with them. I will be unhappy if they were hindered. You will allow them here and to my daughter’s sad home.”

“What will they be bringing, if I may be so bold as to ask?”, Standorin inquired politely.

“A bit of this, and a bit of that..”, the giant ogress replied evasively.

 

Standorin cocked an eyebrow.

Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth sighed.

 

“They hold my daughter’s dowries, young man. Something that is truly none of your business!”, she fumed.

Standorin coughed.

“Mo..mother? I don’t have any dowry..”, Inshala said, her face burning even brighter.

“No. You don’t, because you are a foolish little girl, and seeing as how that sour old Cathber lived in that pathetic little chicken shed he called home, I didn’t think he would have thought about dowries. Hence, I have been preparing it since the day he first brought you to me.”, Grulganiste said grimly.

Standorin’s mouth curved at the corner.

“You are a very cunning woman, Chieftain Grulganiste. Even though everything you said about my arrogance was true, all you wanted was a free pass for your ogres to the town! All you had to do was ask, you know. I may have an itchy hand with my sword, but I am not totally unreasonable.”, he said with a poorly hidden grin.

Grulganiste scowled at him.

“I am the chieftain of Oger’s Foot, boy. I do not ask. I demand.. And the things I said were correct and had to be said. Are we at an agreement, sheriff of Serenity Home, or shall we break spoons?”

Standorin didn’t know what ‘breaking spoons’ meant, but it wasn’t hard to guess.

“Chieftain Grulganiste, I shall send two rangers to escort your ogres to Lady Inshala’s house. I will have to ask your ogres to stay in her garden until the end of the meeting, though. This meeting will call upon many people of many races and places. There is no need to risk frictions.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about them, young man, for they will have their work cut out for them. And they better have it finished by the time this meeting is..”, she fumed balefully.

“One more thing, Chieftain. Should anything happen during the meeting, I would like you to take Lady Inshala and yourself to her home and stay there.”, Standorin informed.

“You want me to run and hide in a broken down chicken shed?”, Grulganiste blazed.

“Chieftain Grulganiste. This is my town. I am the host, and you are the guest here. And the safety of my town and my guests is of utmost importance to me. And I can not do my job if all the guests are running around and doing as they please. You are a guest here, but you are not the only guest.”, the sheriff said, then he looked down at Inshala and grinned. “And as a personal favor to Lady Inshala’s mate, you should make sure she stays there as well..”

 

Inshala’s face looked mortified because she’d had no intentions of running home nor staying there at all.

 

“That.. was not nice, my Aager.”, she fumed in her mind and heard a growling chuckle in return.

“You.. you are laughing at me!”, she said heartbroken.

“No, love. Only making sure you do your part as I have kindly asked of you.”, Aager said.

“Don’t I get any say in this?”, she pouted.

“No, love, you do not. You told me you wanted my respect and my trust. This is where you show me yours —by deed.”

“You think I do not show you respect and trust?”, she asked somewhat downcast.

“Love. I have the utmost respect and trust in you and never have I ever doubted yours.. But town security is not something that can be done alone. It involves hundreds of people; guards, rangers, the elves, the Arashkan militia, the dwarves, and quite a few others that must know where they must be and what they must do, act as a whole, and in cooperative coordination. I have absolute trust that you can take care of yourself, and me, but you do not know any of the security protocols. Young Udoorin does, yet he is still not part of it, because he too, is a guest today. This, you must see. This, you must understand. And this, you must accept.”, Aager replied briskly and succinctly.

 

“Come, girl. Let’s find ourselves a seat before all the good ones are gone!”, Grulganiste rumbled.

 

Aager thought he heard a lot of huffing and puffing and mumbling about putting live Kumse Beatles into someone’s pockets before her voice was gone.

✱ ✱ ✱

The meeting of possibly every leader of every race, people, city, community, circle, near and far, and every important figure, head, or chief was a crowded, confusing, chaotic, and a bit of a messy business. The central conference room had been opted to be used for the meeting out of convenience as it was the largest room available for the job. There were many lanterns hanging on the walls, but the main source of light was the great chandelier with scores of burning candles made brighter by the use of cleverly placed reflectors —a gnomic ingenuity, thanks to no other than Nimbletyne Tinkerdome, crafted and placed many years ago. The center of the room was left open to anyone who would want to get up and speak, and tables surrounded the room in one big circle, all covered with white table cloths. Many flower pots were placed on the tables at military intervals, along with large, flat bowls full of fruits, decanters full of cool cider, and brass cups. Food would also be served shortly after sundown and adjacent rooms were prepared and available for private forums and strategic planning. All in all, Aager, who was responsible for the security of the building, suspected if half the guests survived, it would be a win!

And he had good reasons to expect so..

The dwarves did not want to sit next to the high elves, for one. They might fight alongside them, and against a common enemy, sure, but they did not want to sit next to the pointy-eared, condescending, stuck-ups!

The high elves, in a similar line of thought, did not want to sit next to the dwarves, the gnomes, who were pointing at them and snickering, the woodsmen, the bandits, the shacksmen from the tar pits of Stinking Shacks just northwest of Ritual Forest, and certainly not next to the bloody pirates of Drashan, and decidedly not with the ogres.

The wood elves didn’t mind the dwarves, but they really seemed like they wanted to make a scene about the ogres in an —as dramatic a way— as possible and preferred to stay aloof of their high elf brothers and sisters.

The Drashan pirates outright refused to sit next, or anywhere near the Endless Watch representatives, who, surprisingly wanted to get as near to them as they could —with cutlasses and poniards —and possibly a galleon’s deck catapult of two!

The Koruxan knights all seemed quite distraught as they didn’t want anything to do with any of this bunch!

The two representatives of the Academy of Melshieve looked around a bit dazedly. Or rather, one of them looked around quite dazed and in a dreamy way —an extraordinarily tall young girl with sharp, pointy horns, dark as a starless night-sky skin with long, loose, pink hair wearing rather scandalous pink dress skirts. The other one, a midgety little gnomic girl with many pouches, a heavy wrench tucked in her belt, and with carelessly pulled up, scruffy reddish brown hair, who, for some reason, kept throwing covert but guilty glances at Nadine Graciousward. The neatly dressed little hobbit sitting beside her had a polite expression on his face though he seemed like he was watching everything and everyone from a third person’s view, rather than his own. Sitting next to them was a tall, lithe, elf girl who was very nearly pale as her long, thickly braided, glossy white hair, many swirling and spiraling, dark, marine-blue tattoos on her arms and shoulders, and with a frosty, no-nonsense expression on her face.

 

There were also many familiar faces among the representatives.

Sheriff Standorin himself had taken a seat and..

..Liaison Constance was sitting next to him, also with a polite and interested smile on her face and..

..Perigren Ostlanna Temez, the leader of the Escape, had settled right beside her. She did not smile. She looked pale and soulless, like someone who had something most precious and dear to her taken away and most unfairly. She just sat where she did, silently and still with one of her antler horns broken and missing. The only sign of life was her eyes, as dull as they were, seemed to look at every single person in the crowded room individually, and singularly..

Next to the leader of the Escape, was the senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, with two of his younger guardians standing right behind him.

Lady Magella sat with a diffident expression on her face, next to her grandfather, Argail Smitefast, a mountain of a dwarf, her mother, Margaret Madish, one of her brothers, Harakoon Evilscowl, a dwarf true to his name, her aunt/uncle, Yor Whatoo, and one of her sisters, Lamideth Doncross, as the representatives of Scowling Hills.

Dridges Motherswolfie was also there, waving at the hobbit across with Britney and Dritmey, the Tosser twins, also grinning at him, and Nikelix CarverLady Magella’s sisters, along with another of her aunts, Marideth Brave, representing Elder Hills.

A coldly grimacing Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman..

..her eldest daughter, Moira Alisia Jean Hooman, who had an expression that said, ‘Why me?’, in an existential sense..

..and the sour captain, Fardashi, who was likely going to head-butt the person responsible for the sitting arrangements, because sitting next to the first lady of Durkahan was no other than the former queen of Bari Na-ammen;

Nadine Graciousward, herself, who was politely smiling, and Master Nimbletyne Tinkerdome, who was, for whatever reason, eyeing the little gnomic girl from the Academy of Melshieve.

The appearance of Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth in the room did cause a bit of a ruckus as pretty much everyone, except for the sheriff, and interestingly, the same hobbit, went for their weapons. The fact that the relatively tiny girl, Inshala had reached as high as she could and was holding her hand, had made the scene all the more incomprehensible.

A low cough and a ‘settle down’, warning from the sheriff hadn’t put them at ease, but certainly put them to shame and.. well.. ‘settled them down!’

It was at that moment when the queen of the high elves, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, walked in with her very new husband and king, Udoorin Shieldheart, flanked by Lady Anglenna Brightleaf, Lord Armathelius Riverblade, Aager Fogstep, and appearing next to him like magic, Bremorel Songsteel..

Queen Alor’Nadien ne was simply radiant and every bit as queenly as she was promised. A promise, given not only by her beauty but by her calm, serene, commanding, but not quite demanding, aura.

King Udoorin, on the other hand, just scowled.. silently. A protracted tactic he had decided to adopt for the whole of the meeting and for as long as he could. After that, he was of the opinion; LET THE AXES TALK!

 

Bremorel gave a cursory glance into the room, picked out the former Agent Largo, dressed quite elegantly as some lord, and mingling amongst the other lords and emissaries. It took a while for Aager to spot his sister, Lilly Venom, though.

 

“What the..”, he silently exclaimed.

 

She was up on the vast, candle-lit chandelier, holding on to its thick chain with her slender legs snaked around it, staring at everyone, upside down! And because of all the bright candles and the reflectors, she was literally cast in total shadows in the center of the bloody thing!

“Damn..”, Aager thought. It must be burning hot up there. The creepiest part was, the chandelier never budged, nor swung..

And he would never have seen her, had he not known she was in this room somewhere.

He somewhat grudgingly admitted, her sister, Lilly Venom was much better than he was when it came to hiding and ambush, which, in a way, made sense; Lilly was an assassin, through and through and he was not.

But, really, girl?

The meeting was likely to last past midnight and she would be hanging, upside down, in the middle of scores of candles, for at least ten hours and possibly until the next dawn.

 

Queen Alor’Nadien ne and King Udoorin went over to Nadine Graciousward and the half-elf girl gracefully hugged her mother.

“I see you have finally come to terms with your destiny, my daughter; lived, suffered, and overcome. You, my darling, were the only accomplishment your father and I managed to do right, even if we messed up so horribly at the end. And you, young man, have stood by her at her best, and at her worst, and are still here. You must truly love her. Do be never as I and my husband were. That would be a shame.”, Nadine said and hugged the bearish man who was flushing furiously.

“Hey, you.”, said Moira from two seats over.

“Hey, you.”, grinned Udoorin. “I heard there was a family squabble back at Durkahan. I am happy you set things right and are here again.”

“Not without quite a bit of help from Master Aager and my sister Inshala.”, Moira grinned back.

“That’s what friends are for.”, replied the young man. “Lady Alisia, it has been a great pleasure and delight to have met you and your daughter, here. May I introduce the Queen of Aranië, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist.. Alor’Nadine ne. This is Lady Moira’s mother and the First Lady of Durkahan, Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman, and the wife to late Delia Karakash Hooman.”

Alor’Nadine ne reverenced gracefully at her and smiled.

“I have heard so many beautiful things about you, my lady. Your daughter, Lady Moira always shined bright as the sun and lit our way through dark and dread by her very presence. Just for that, I shall cherish you and her for the rest of my life.”

“Thank you, dear. You are as kind and graceful as my daughter described.”, Lady Alisia inevitably smiled back.

Lorna beamed at her.

“I see you have met my mother.”, she said with a flushed face.

“Yes. I have.”, Lady Alisia said with a slightly grim expression.

“I know this meeting will last quite a bit. But when it is over and before you leave, I would be much honored if you and Lady Moira would be kind enough to visit us in our camp, just outside the town —as a personal favor?”, Lorna asked.

Lady Alisia looked at the beautiful young girl for a moment, as if seeking something on her face. Then she smiled.

“Of course, dear. We would be delighted to visit you and yours. I dread these meetings, to be honest. I would rather decisions be made and in haste, hence we get to the fighting part and cleanse our lands of this Orken infestation.”

Udoorin grinned.

“Spoken like a true Durkahan lady.”

 

Bremorel didn’t go directly to stand behind Udoorin but steered towards her husband, Thomas. She motions him over and took him, by the hand, to where the two representatives of the Academy of Melshieve were sitting. She nodded at the very tall, very dark girl in pinks, and at the scruffy-looking gnomic girl then came to stand before the hobbit!

“Master Brom Bumblebrim!”, she smiled at him.

The bushy-haired hobbit, Brom Bumblebrim, stared up at the pretty girl, and at the confused-looking man, she was holding with a death grip.

“Uhhmm.. Hello? Do I know you, my lady? Ranger, by the looks of it.. And a corporate at least, or possibly a lieutenant.”, the hobbit said.

“Very astute, Master Hobbit. How did you guess.”, she asked, grinning at him.

“You have the air of accomplishment and confidence that only well-earned achievements can give, my lady.”, the hobbit, Brom, said politely.

“I am impressed more now than I was impressed before, Master Brom.”, Bremorel said, then turned to her husband. “Thomas, I would like you to meet the esteemed Master Brom Bumblebrim.”

“Pleased to meet you, Master Hobbit.”, Thomas said politely, though still confused.

“Thomas, this is the first guy I have ever kissed!”, the ranger lieutenant said, her grin even wider.

“Come again?”, asked the gnomic girl, ogling at the tall ranger-girl, then at the hobbit.

“I.. see..”, Thomas said carefully.

The hobbit coughed.

“I am sorry, young lady, and I know this makes me sound like an arse but, have we met before?”, he asked with a flushed face.

 

The very tall, very dark girl in pinks was eyeing the ranger-girl and the hobbit with a neutral expression..

..while the pale elf girl with the glossy white, braided hair was staring at the hobbit too, though with bemused eyes and pursed lips.

 

“Morel.”, said Bremorel. “Daughter of Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine..”

 

Nothing but stumbling out of his chair could have described the hobbit’s reaction!

He got back on his feet and stared up at the pretty girl..

..and his eyes blurred.

 

“Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine.. Ow. My. Good. Heavens! My dear, dear girl.”, he said quietly, hopped on the table, and hugged Bremorel.

“I am so, so sorry for what happened to your parents. It broke me when I heard about them. For unrelated reasons, I had met with some of the dwarves at Scowling Hills, and Lady Magella, who is sitting right over there, claimed she knew you and told me about it. I was devastated..”, he said with an equally hushed tone. “They were good people. And look at you, now. Wow, you have grown and become the beautiful young woman I knew you would be, even back then.”

“You are kind to say so, Master Brom.”, Bremorel replied, also hugging the hobbit. “You were a great inspiration for me and kind enough to suffer a little girl’s adventurous games with dolls.”

“It was the best game I played, my dear Morel.”, smiled Brom as he drew back.

“And possibly the only game where you played the princess in distress?”, Bremorel smiled at him.

“I didn’t mind being the princess for you, my darling. Being saved by your fearsome knight was as entertaining as it was educational for me.”, the hobbit replied, wiping his eyes.

“Will you be staying? I would love to have you and your friends over for dinner.”, she offered.

“Our schedule is out of my hands, my dear girl. And this meeting will likely be quite binding. But I shall do my best. You are the only one I dearly enjoyed having met, during my long travels with Master Cathber, all those years ago.”

 

Several tables over, Inshala’s ears prickled at that..

 

“And where shall we be seated, Master Aager?”, Lorna asked in a low whisper to the lean man in dark leathers.

“Technically, you and Udoorin, here, are the only king and queen present. Everyone else is either lords and ladies or various representatives. As long as you do not sit next to the Drashan pirates, because that would totally give the wrong message to the rest of the whole of the kingdom, and not next to the lord representative of Endless Watch, which will very much alienate the bloody Drashan pirates, you are free to sit wherever you want. We can seat you next to your mother, Nadine Graciousward if you like?”, Aager offered.

“As much as I would want that, no. Sitting next to her will tell everyone I am under her shadow. As sad as it may be, she no longer holds any official capacity, hence, she represents only herself, and that inevitable shall be interpreted as self-interest.”, she replied as she mused for a very brief moment as more representatives started filing in.

 

“There.”, she said.

 

And with Udoorin by her side, she calmly walked over to the singular ‘person’, sitting alone and with the exception of the disproportionately tiny girl seated next to her, three seats in either direction were empty.

Inshala waved at them happily and then patted the seat next to her and motioned her hubby over with a grin filled with hidden trepidation—

 

Her Aager didn’t know about the house yet!

 

—and with her king, the queen of the high elves and  Aranië started in that direction and sat right next to Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth!

 

And just then the mayor of Serenity Home, Arthandos Yuleman entered..

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, Lords and Ladies, emissaries and representatives, welcome to our humble town of Serenity Home.”, the old, raspy voice of the mayor was heard as everyone settled down.

He looked around with worn, tired eyes and smiled.

“Shall we begin?”



 

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups komedi modül savaş serenity the plot thickens Whispers; A Cabal

Out of the Gull.

Out of the Gull.

Timeline:

The time for war draws near.

Friends come and so do the foes.

 

Yet, the stance of some is unknown,
for friend and foe is a matter of perspective..

..and side.

 

For nature has neither and holds neither..

 

 

The beginning of this story
goes as far back as
Vivid Visions,
Temporal Insanity,
“I believe this belongs to you..”
and ends after
Kumse Beetles and Pixie Dust!

 

 

The undead were relentless. They came at them moaning, howling, and did they come at them shrieking!

And side by side with the dearest man of her life, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, fought, tooth and nail, and did she deny herself of her heritage, for, at that very moment, she was not the princess of the high elves, but the Queen of Death, herself..

And behind them, her cousin, Anglenna Sunsear, rained her own kind of death and destruction and she was immaculate at it, as she had been in everything she did. Deep down, Alor’Nadien ne had always admired her cousin’s cool and somewhat aloof demeanor as she had, when she had been, but a tiny little thing, yearning to go and knock at her aunt’s door in Bari Na-ammen and beg her to give permission so her cousin would play with her.

 

The irony in that was lost to all but herself.

 

Alor’Nadien ne had never yearned to actually play with Anglenna, so much as she wanted to observe her..

..and be awesome like her!

The games had been a mere excuse and sort of a bonus..

..and she had had the chance to make someone eat her cakes, her cookies, and her pies, though, looking back, said cakes, cookies, and pies shouldn’t have had raw onions because she’d thought they made her pies crunchy. Her cookies also shouldn’t have had baby powder because she’d thought cookies ought to have that white thingy on them, nor should her cakes have had her mother’s hand cream because she’d strongly believed all cakes just must have whipped cream on them..

Yet, her cousin Anglenna had eaten them anyway, which, in later years, told her several things;

That her cousin had preferred her, quite horrible, hideous, even, cooking skills, coupled with her highly creative ingredients, than to spending time with her own mother..

That she must have enjoyed her little baby cousin’s presence, even against the prodigious, one hundred and fifty years age disparity..

That deep down, she had, in fact, been fond of her and cared for her, looked out for her, and perhaps most important of all, believed in her, even against all of her own mother’s indoctrinations..

That she would make her the queen she, Alor’Nadien ne, had never yearned to be, whether she wanted it or not..

And that she had, at some point, stopped seeing her as merely her cousin, but started viewing her and ‘that young man’ as one, and had started protecting them both..

 

Alor’Nadien ne was not sure why all these had crossed her mind at that point, but at some subconscious level, she felt that they all meant something.. something more that changes in characters, or choices, or perspectives, but change..

..in a sense that could only be defined as ‘total’.

 

And that was when she had come face to face with the Draugr, the undead monstrosity her cousin, Anglenna had warned her about. Unwittingly she’d stared at the soulless creature’s voids, where there were supposed to have been eyes and seen..

..Abyss.

 

Alor’Nadien ne blacked out.

But she did not back down.

 

With the savagery of a High Woods lynx, she slashed and hacked her way through the undead until there was only the Draugr.

She did not hesitate.

With her near three-yard long glaive and the thirty-inch deathly steel, she stabbed it..

..in the heart.

And for a bare moment, she felt the death throes of that heart carried all the way from the deathly blade, down the long shaft of her glaive, and in her hands.

She thought she felt something familiar about that final tremor in that heart..

 

And then she came around.

Staring in horror at the fallen and bloody form of her Udoorin.

 

It all went sideways after that and try as she might, Alor’Nadien ne just couldn’t remember anything.

Only that it had been she, who had slain her love.

And in her post-madness insanity, there had been that howling scream of some churning wind, followed by a brilliant flash of light..

..and that’s it.

 

She was no longer down in the stinking sewers of the once glorious city of Arashkan.

✱ ✱ ✱

Sheriff Standorin stood silently as he stared down at the rickety bed, and the tall, alluring figure lying in it with a horrible expression on his face.

Much like all the other dormitories in the temple, this small room was also comprised of a single bed, a chair, a nightstand with a washing dish, a lockless box for personal effects, and..

..that’s it.

The only variation to these had been the addition of extra beds in most of the other rooms since the arrival of the half-born, making the already small dormitories rather cramped, though the new, otherworldly guests never complained. For them, this was Heaven, as opposed to their previous ‘Hellish’ pits..

 

The tall, alluring girl, Constance, had tiny beads of sweat on her contorted face, her brows frowning, her bright red lips pressed together and though her eyes were open, there was a glossy shimmer about them; pained and somewhat glassy, as tears ran down and disappeared in her long and disheveled black hair.

She was trying, very hard, to put on a ‘happy’ front, but was failing quite miserably.

As much pain as she was in, she still managed to be quiet and dignified about it and the only other sign that would have given her apparent pain away, was her fisted hands, blessedly hiding under the itchy blanket that covered her up to her chest.

She managed to turn her head to make sure they were alone, then unclenched her lips and tried for a smile.

 

“There.. really isn’t any cause.. for such ruckus, dear Sheriff.. Standorin.. Shieldheart.. And.. I do not believe.. my actions merit.. such a scowl..”, she whispered.

 

Sheriff’s face became even more horrible.

“What did you do?”, he growled in his deep rumbling voice.

 

Constance stared at him, her gaze glassy and a bit off.

“We gave an oath.. Sheriff. To sweat.. to bleed.. and to die, to attain.. our Ascension. I have bled.”, she said with a forced smile.

 

“And now.. I am sweating..”

 

“I am not very good with levity, Miss Constance.”, scowled Standorin, as he fumed.

“Then I shall refrain.. from it..”, she smiled even more, though she had closed her eyes tightly and her frown bespoke of much pain.

“Sheriff Standorin..”, said a shy, soft, earnest voice from the door. “You should go. Constance needs rest and time to mend.”

Standorin turned to the door to see the small Inshala standing there. He inadvertently scowled at her as well, causing her to flinch, but she refused to back down. Blushing furiously, she held her ground. “Sir. Please. What she is going through is a delicate matter and requires tender care. If you are willing to give her that, you may stay. If you wish is to intorodate her, you really should leave, because she is hurting and is in much pain.”

“Intorodate?”, the sheriff asked a bit baffled.

“My Aager knows what it means. You may ask him later if you wish.”, she replied, blushing even more.

“I only want to know what is going on here. She was fine two days ago when she suddenly disappeared and this evening she was found, lying unconscious and beat, in the dirt, several miles away from the village. If there is a crime done against her, the felons must be found and face the harshest of punishments!”

“No crime was done here, Sheriff, sir.”, Inshala said, quietly. “What has befallen her, is something she has brought upon herself.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”, the sheriff growled.

“I.. I am very sorry, sir. That is the best I can explain.”, she struggled. “I do not have the right to say any more for.. certain other.. people are involved.. Should she wish it, she may share it with you. But her sacrifice is not mine to reveal. Now, she needs to rest and mend.”

“People? What other people? What sacrifice? What the heck is going on here?!”, Sheriff Standorin very nearly blared.

“Sherif Standorin.”, said a young, sharp voice, and Thomas Dimwood appeared behind Inshala. “You will refrain from such demanding attitudes and you will not raise your voice in my temple. And you will respect the privacy and sanctity of my guests and those under my care. Must I remind you that the Temple of Light is not under your jurisdiction? You, on the other hand, are in mine, now, as you are not even a guest, but a visitor. I do not want to have to remove you from my grounds, but if I must, I shall.”

 

The room’s temperature suddenly plummeted and an ominous silence spread.

 

“That was a tad uncalled for, young man.”, Standorin growled.

“So is your attitude towards my guests, the Ritual Guardian, Liaison Constance, and your free reign of my temple.”, replied Thomas cooly.

“Old Demos would never have taken that tone with me—”, the sheriff said scowling fiercely.

“You would never have done what you just did, had our Father, Demos were alive, Sheriff. Perhaps you imagine his absence gives you some leeway?”, Thomas said and his tone had taken a frosty edge now.

“Dear, Thomas..”, came the brittle voice of Constance as more tears came down her closed eyes. “..please. Friends should not fight over such technicalities. I and my brothers and sisters are new, here, in this Mortal coil, but we watch and we learn; I am certain the esteemed sheriff means no disrespect to your, your guests, nor your sanction. He.. he is merely worried.. Which is understandable and was my doing.. I shall.. tell him.. what he wants to know, and what he needs to know, also.”

“I agree.”, came Inshala’s small voice as she stared at her own feet. “I really am sorry, sir. I can say some things, I can not say some other things. There are forces in this world and.. other places.. that are beyond understanding and mustn’t be put to words on a whim for they may hear, and bring their retribution upon us. Please, sir. You must accept what I say, and stop there. I apologize for making this harder for you to understand but I am young and silly and I lack words.”

 

Standorin stared at Constance, then at the little girl, Inshala, then at Thomas, who was staring back at him, not quite as coldly as before, merely as adamant and immovable as him.

 

“I apologize for my attitude, Temple Guardian. I overstepped my boundaries in my moment of pique.”, the sheriff rumbled, though it was rather obvious, he was quite furious the way the young man had ‘man-handled’ him the way he had.

He then he walked over to the door, dropped on one knee before Inshala and with a much softer voice, he said, “And I apologize to you as well, again, and twice; once to the Ritual Guardian, and once you, dear Inshala. You have been nothing but good to this town and the refugees and probably doing more than I can see and comprehend. It would seem I am out of my debt here and trying to understand things quite beyond me, much like, it would seem, I am doomed to kneel before you and apologize, time and again, every time I turn around.”

 

Inshala’s face smoldered.

She was so embarrassed, she seemed like she was looking for some tiny hole to hide in.

So she did the only thing she could think of.

She hugged the huge, kneeling, man and hid her face there!

 

“Please do not kneel like this again, sir. Not to me, not to anyone. Decent and honorable men should bow to no one. Your son, Udoorin, never did, accept that one time when he was trying to learn me what it meant to love. He was always nice and polite to me. My Aager shows respect to everyone but feels only for very few and you are one of those few.”, she spoke from where she hid her face.

 

Sheriff Standorin blushed.

“Well, I—”, he faltered.

“—Lost?”, offered Thomas with a grin.

“I suppose I did..”, he sighed.

Then he kindly parted with the little girl, got up to his feet, and looked at the two of them.

“I would like to stay here with our Liaison until she gets better and is able to return to her duties. Lady Inshala, I would be grateful if you would go and inform Master Aager, that until such time as I am able to return to my duties, he will take over my duties as the acting sheriff, effective immediately.”, he said.

 

“Uhhmm.. Your sheriff is telling me somethings to tell you, but I have no idea what he just said, my Aager.”, Inshala whimpered in her head.

“What did he say, love?”, came Aager’s voice.

“He told me to tell you that you are something something acting something sheriff, escaping immediately!”

“Shit!”, Aager cursed vehemently. “As if I didn’t have enough on my plate..”

“AAGER FOGSTEP!”, gasped Inshala.

“I am sorry, love. Not in a very good mood today. I just can’t seem to teach this lot why we go for the jugular instead of the kidney in an ambush. I guess some people just like the drama of watching a violently struggling victim in an abhorrent amount of pain who is likely to manage a scream while he is kicking around in massive spasms as opposed to silently lowering him down with the least struggle while he quietly bleeds out!”

“Ow.. Tigers always go for the jugular! Nature is the best killer!”, Inshala said enthusiastically. “But I think your sheriff just wants to stay with Liaison Constance until she gets better.”

“Ahh.. that sounds.. familiar..”

“Ow, my.. I suppose it does, doesn’t it? Where are you? He told me to GO AND TELL you, so I think I must go to you, mustn’t I? I mean, I can’t just tell him, I just told you!”

“Yes, that would be hard to explain. Might as well come, love, perhaps we could take an early break and go home?”, Aager offered.

“I’d like that.”

 

“Alright. I guess I will go now, then?”, Inshala said with an exaggerated and guilty sort of tone and left.

 

Standorin stared after her, shook his head, then turned back to Thomas.

“Liaison Constance is a member of my office.”, he continued. “I must make sure she stays as part of my office, well and healthy, hence I invoke my right to sanction, Temple Guardian Thomas, and I believe anyone who invokes such sanction must be admitted without question or hindrance.”, he said and grinned at Thomas.

The young senior temple guardian frowned.

“I see you have been reading jurisdictional and temple laws, Sheriff. A bit out of your way, isn’t it?”, he mused.

“The esteemed Liaison has made me aware, I have been lacking in that area. Hence I took the time to remedy it. Now, if you will..”, the sheriff said and let it hanging..

“Very well, sheriff. I shall send some food to both of you soon enough.”, Thomas conceded.

“I would like to pay for them.”, Standorin said.

“We do not charge here, sheriff.”, reminded the young temple guardian.

“No, you don’t. But as small an amount as it may be, I am sure it will go somewhere better than where I’d have spent it. Accept it as a tithe, if you will. Unless you want two of your guests under your care to starve.”, Standorin said sternly.

Thomas frowned.

“What is it about you Shieldhearts and your obstinacy, I wonder.”, he said.

“It’s all about the Heart, really. The Shield, we use to bash out the obstinacy from young men! Now, if you will, I have a young Liaison to care for.”

✱ ✱ ✱

She is waking up.”, whispered a petulant voice.

“She is an early riser. But then, she’s been falling asleep where she kneels, crying all day.”, replied another voice, also in a whisper, though this one was soft and sounded like she laughed a lot in her normal merry voice. “It breaks my heart seeing her like this, day after day and it’s been weeks. I’ll admit, her boy is sort of cute, in a puppy-eye way, but the bushy thing he’s got on his face irks me.”

“Ow, yes, Temessa. It totally creeps me out! Did you bring her something to eat? I brought her my best peaches yesterday, she didn’t touch them.”, the petulant voice said.. petulantly.

“It is possible she might not like peaches, Yamara. Some Mortals do not and it even irks them. It has to do with the hair on the peaches, I think. A bit like how the boy’s bushy face irks us.”, explained Temessa in her hushed voice.

“That was not a nice thing to say, Temessa. My peaches are delicious. She didn’t eat your apples, either, if I recall.”, Yamara said in a hurt voice.

“True. But my apples are always dark and red and sweet and juicy. Just like me! Some Mortals prefer the hard and sour kind.”, shrugged Temessa.

“She didn’t touch Cherriot’s cherries, Shyad’s grapes, Kardenymp’s quinces, nor Veraminks’ berries. She is Mortal. She must be hungry by now. She will suffer scary visions and horrible dreams and die if she doesn’t eat soon.”, Yamara said a bit freaked.

“Maybe that’s why she is so skinny?”, Temmessa mused. “I wish Aremela were here. She’d know a way to make her eat and stop crying. She was the only one among us to very nearly understand Mortals.”

“It has been nearly twenty years since she’s been gone, Temessa.”, Yamara reminded her, though she said it with a very slight tremor in her own voice.

“Yes. But she was my friend and we always had the bestest fun when she was with us.”, Temessa signed.

“That’s true.”, Yamara admitted grudgingly. “Even though she snitched me to Mother, once.”

“She didn’t snitch you, Yamara. She told Mother, yes, you were being rude to everyone and, yes, you did charr Cherriot’s cherries because I snitched you to Mother and Mother asked her if this was true!”, Temessa replied simply.

Yamara made an unhappy noise.

“Did you know Mother was thinking of talking to that Blom Bundlebim Hobim so he would write all his adventures? That way, everyone will remember Aremela Berrybush!”, Temessa said suddenly.

“Ow, wow! Will we be in it, too?”, Yamara asked eagerly.

“Probably. I mean, we were there when they met, weren’t we?”

“Yes, we were. We are going to be so famous!”, Yarama beamed.

“Shhh! She is opening her eyes.. She has lovely eyes. Like dew grass after a spring rain.”, Temessa said with an adoring tone.

“Yes. But she also has dark circles around them and her face is swollen. She must eat.”, Yamara observed critically.

“Good morning, Yamara. Good morning Temessa.”, whispered Lorna..

 

..because that was the only strength she had left in her;

A whisper.

 

Temessa and Yamara just stared at her.

 

“Sweet Alor’Nadien ne. We have brought you new apples, peaches, grapes, cherries, and berries this morning. We give these to you freely and Mother knows this.”, Temessa almost pleaded.

“Yes, she does, even though she told us we could bargain for them if we wanted to. Please accept them. We already lost many of our sisters here some time ago to some villainous dwarves and it has made us very sad. We do not wish a pretty Mortal to die, as well.”, Yamara begged.

“I am sorry for your loss, dear Yamara. But it’s alright. Once my beautiful Udoorin is gone, I shall take my leave and die elsewhere. That way, I shall not ruin the sanctity of your beautiful valley.”, Lorna replied hoarsely.

“Please, pretty Alor’Nadien ne. Eat at least one peach or one apple, or even some grapes and cherries and even some berries. Before Mother comes and asks you again.”, Temessa said, this time actually pleading.

“I thank you both and your sisters. You have been nothing but kind and generous to me. My answer to Mother will be the same as it was yesterday, and the day before that, and I shall carry your kindness to my grave.”, Lorna breathed rapidly..

..and vaguely realized this rapid breathing was a new symptom.

 

Yes. Her time was coming to a close and.. rapidly..

 

The fact that she had survived as long as she had, was likely to her connection to the Spirit of High Woods. But like her woods, she too was ending.

At least she would get her moment to say farewell to her Udoorin one last time before she crawled out of Gull’s Perch.

And with that thought, she looked down at the strange,  quartz-blue, crystal-like coffin she was leaning where she lay, and where she’d woken, day after day, and fallen asleep, night after night..

..where, under layers of the quartz-blue crystal, lay the young man she had slain in her moment of insanity.

She could see his unmoving face, peaceful, yet oddly faceted and fractured in the crystal and the bloody hole that was his heart.

She remembered that moment they had first met.

In her anger, she had charged at the people that had come bursting into the room, down in the dungeons below the ruins of Themalsar, her dark, smoking glaive raised.

Whether it had been a matter of luck, initiative, skill, destiny, or fate, the young man had reached her before she could swing her blade.

He had reached her with both of his great battle-axes already at the end of their radius, and just about to cut into her slender neck.

But in his moment of madness, he had stopped, both blades nicking at her. He had stopped and opted not to slay her. And furiously blushing, he had grinned at her and said;

“Uhhmm.. Hello. I am Udoorin.”

She hadn’t.. In her madness, she had stabbed him, in the back and in the heart..

 

Inevitably, her eyes teared.

 

“I am so, sorry, my Udoorin. Today, I shall beg her again; mine life for yours. Perhaps today she will see reason.”, she whispered. “For if she will not, I am afraid you will be staying here for a while, but I shan’t. I feel the claws of death and I am all but spent. I deserve what is upon me. Should you wake, please think not too unkindly of me, for I loved you..”

“With all my heart..”

 

Heart.

 

And that single word broke her all over again.

 

“Dear child. How long shall this mourning last?”, asked a rich, throaty, mature voice asked.

“Will you not see reason?”

 

“Oops. Mother is here!”, hissed Yamara. “Better scram!”

“Right..”, agreed, Temessa and the two girls, one dryad, the other a fire nymph, took off in a haste.

 

“Your offer is beyond me, Mother Summer. And isn’t a choice I may adopt on my own. It involves him, his life, his future, and his line. Should I make that choice for him, never shall he gaze upon my face again. But at least he shall stay here and.. live.. forever..”, Lorna sobbed.

“My dear child, he may stay here, but not forever. One day, he may rise. Mortals have always been thus unpredictable. Have you given any thought as to what he will do, should that happen? His father, his friends, and you, the spark of his life, all gone and past, centuries over. Perhaps you think this a wise course of action and a mercy on his part. I do not. Mortals do not cope well when their loved ones leave. But in time they learn to live with it, for time prepares them for such losses and fills the gaps they leave. However, they never cope when they are suddenly made aware, all their loved ones are dead and gone and centuries ago. I have witnessed this before. And he was not even a Mortal, but a fey. It drow him mad; a once noble of a Court became the vilest of us all. I believe he haunts this world still.”, replied the rich, mature voice.

“Mother Titania. I beg of you.”, Lorna pleaded, her eyes tear-stricken, her voice already near hysteria. “Take mine life and give it to him. Give my beat so he would live..”

“My dear, girl, you did not do this to him. The madness of Draugr-kin is not a fairy tale. It is as infectious as it is corrosive.”

“But it was I who did this to him.. I stabbed him in the back. I destroyed his beautiful heart. I do not deserve to live when he is dying.. Take my beat. Please. Take it, and give it to him..”, Lorna wept.

“I do not take lives on a whim. And never from a Mortal who has done me no wrong. This is something the Queens may not do. This is the Law of Nature. Much like I may not give, without balance. This is who we are, and this is what we are.. A life for a life was my wont. But not yours for his. Mortals always do rush to give what they do not know. But then, how could they? You have never lived it all!”

“M.. Mother, please.. Just take it.. I give it freely..”, the beautiful princess of High Woods begged.

“You will give your life for him, and expect him to accept that, do you? Perhaps you think too little of him, after all.”, mused Titania.

“Give it to him. He does not have to know..”, Lorna cried.

“You wound want a Queen of the Fey to lie? Will that not destroy my own reputation?”, the Queen of Summer asked mildly.

“You will not take my life for his, but you would take the life of my unborn child?”, Alor’Nadien ne wept. “What will he think of me when I have given away his child?”

“Your child shall live long and happy, dear girl. She shall be the Summer Lady. The time nears when Mortals shall require all the help they can get. I am summer, and I may not mingle among Mortals. The Summer Lady can. She will have her Summer Knight to defend and protect her. And she will be much loved and honored among us. Your daughter will help shape the world and aid Mortals free us of the foul demon infestation. I have seen it. And have I also seen, how the lack of the two Ladies has caused the end of one cycle after another. This, you must know, and this you must understand, for this was why your great ancestors, Terandel Solace, Sinderel Tranquil, and Elorellen Feymist abandoned their homes to come this far and settle where they did; to prepare the Mortals for the day they would grow and gather to fight and end the demon infestation. Know this, young Alor’Nadien ne; the demons are coming. Gullem the Damned is preparing to move against the Humans at Heaven’s Hand and the elves at Tranquil even as we speak. And they will bring the numbers to overrun them.”, Titania said calmly, then paused as if considering, and arriving at some monumental realization herself.

“Know also that your arrival here was not by chance. Of all the Mortals that have ever come to my sacred sanction, only two did appear by the whims of fate. One, to cleanse my valley of uncouth Mortals bent on lustful greed and to make it whole again, for which both he and I paid a terrible and costly price. You, dear child, are the other.”

“He.. If he must know. He must agree..”, Lorna moaned.

“He must not.”, the Queen of Summer said kindly.

“Why? Why shouldn’t he know?”, cried the princess.

“My dear, dear child, as much as he loves you, cherishes you, cares for you, and honors you, he is still Mortal and can not see beyond his years. Not now, not in his lifetime. Humans are not mentally equipped for such impartial decisions, hence they must not be put to task with such a verdict. Know though, shall he be long gone by the time I come to collect my charge. Willy-nilly, this bargain is between you and I, dear child.”

“And should I fail to make a choice?”

“Then he will rise, one day, and mourn, for the first thing he sees, shall be your remains and thus he shall rage, for there shall be nons he has known left; his home and his town and everyone he has thus loved and cared and cherished shall be long gone and beyond his reach and beyond his comprehension, also. He shall come to realize that he is not mere alone but in a world forever gray for him. He shall roam the lands, never to feel love, nor luster, for what he feels, he feels only for you. Thus shall his rage be without equal, and in his unquenching madness, shall he sin and slay, and thus shall he be hunted, slain over, and thrown in a pit where there shan’t even be a stone to mark his grave..”, Titania said with a certain finality.

 

Lorna’s vision darkened, her heartbeat hammered harder than she could ever remember, her mind swirled, she was breathing harshly now.

 

“Dear child. I would ask you to take my offer. Should you prolong it any further, I am afraid, there will not be anything of you left that can regain any health. The things you feel now are the accumulation of your self-imposed hunger, fatigue, irregular slumber, and your heart-felt devastation over the course of weeks. It is time, child. Know, though, I do not make such an offer lightly, nor have I ever made this offer to any Mortal in this cycle and not because I have deemed Mortals unfit, but nons have I found a Mortal worthy.”

 

Alor’Nadie ne never realized a whole day had passed just in that single conversation.

✱ ✱ ✱

What is wrong, love?”, said Berete Hamna Vir, her voice very worried, as she came and sat next to the little boy. “You have been sitting here in the dark all night. I know it is quiet and serene down here, but you should come and play with us.”

The little boy, Dar Derune didn’t move. He just sat where he was and staring off, somewhere, far, far away, and beyond the cavernous crypt.

“Here. I brought you your favorite sam-wish. And I managed to grab two sugar canes for you.”, the girl with the sharp features said in hopes of raising some kind of response from the boy.

“I am not hungry Hamna Vir.”, mumbled the boy and sniffed.

“You.. Have you been crying, love? Yes, you have. I can see the streaks on your face. Why are you crying, my baby mate? Did someone hurt or upset you?”, asked Hamna Vir and a frown appeared on her face.

 

The boy sniffed again, then, just like that..

..he climbed into her arms and started to cry with heartbreaking sobs.

 

“Ow, my dear, dear baby. What is wrong? Please tell me. You know you can. And we two have never had any secrets.”, Hamna Vir pleaded as her own eyes blurred as she fiercely hugged the little boy.

“She.. she..”, sobbed Dar Derune. “She’s gone!”

“Ow, love. She was gone but she’s back. Constance is back. Yes, she is hurt, but she will be alright.”, soothed Hamna Vir.

“No.. Arezme.. She is gone!”

 

Hamna Vir froze.

 

“What do you mean, she’s gone?”, she whispered.

“I have been looking in on her every day to make sure she was alright, ever since she entered the Door.”, sobbed the boy.

“But.. why?”, asked Hamna Vir.

“Because.. because I can see, Hamna Vir. And I saw a spark in her heart that day when we walked out of the Door and gave our oaths, and she went in.. The spark all Mortals have, yet none of us do. The spark of a Mortal’s heart! That is how I knew she was the first amongst us! And this evening, when I looked at her again.. I saw her spark.. bloom! Then the bloom spread and spread and became incandescent. It.. its light was so bright, it almost burned me. And just like that, it was gone. I can not see her anymore, Hamna Vir..”

“I can not see Arezme, I can not see our Merisoul.. There is only light.. Brilliant, burning light.. She’s gone!”

 

..and Dar Derune broke down in her arms and cried, uncontrollably, like the little boy that he was and spluttered.

 

“What are we going to tell mirima Temez? They were BFF!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Are you feeling any better?”, Sheriff Standorin asked.

“Will you return to your duties if I said I was?”, replied Constance with a weary smile.

“Master Aager is a trustable man. I am sure he is handling things just fine.”, Standorin said, trying for a smile himself, but not quite getting there.

“It has been days, you have been here, dear sir. What ails me will wear off, given enough time.. Just not in my lifetime, I am afraid.”, the tall, alluring girl said. “Apparently, some things end up being much more costly than we ever anticipate. I feel almost Mortal in my folly.”

“You speak in words, I do not really understand, Liaison Constance.”, Standorin said with a frown. “But I will ask you one thing because I am hoping it will be something I shall comprehend.”

“You wish to know why I asked you out.”, Constance said. It wasn’t a question so much as it was a statement, really.

“Well.. Yes..”, the sheriff admitted with a flush. “I mean, I am quite older than you. Shouldn’t you find someone your own age, perhaps? Someone young and.. handsome?”

 

Constance closed her eyes, drew one of her slim hands out from under the itchy blanket and placed it on her forehead, and sighed.

 

“What is it about you Mortals and age? It is merely a number that signifies how many years ago you were conceived and absolutely nothing else. It tells me nothing about who you are, about what you have done in those years, nor about what entails you. Tell me, sir, does that number truly encapsulate you? Does it tell me your accomplishments? Or how decent and caring and how honorable you are? Would it matter if I were to tell you it has been five hundred and thirty-two years since I was conceived?”

 

Standorin gulped.

 

“I.. wouldn’t have thought you were a day older than twenty-five, ma’am..”, he mumbled. “Are you really—?”

Constance sighed again.

“Years pass differently where I come from, Stan. Yes, by your Mortal years, I guesstimate I am five hundred and thirty-two. By our standards, I am twenty-eight— which still tells you nothing about me. Not of my sins nor my deeds. Nor why I and my kind chose to abandon the only place we were perpetually abused but would never stand out. And it certainly does not tell you why I chose to date with you, does it?”, she asked wearily.

“No. I suppose it doesn’t.”, Standorin conceded.

“I promise, I will tell you. Only if you would but help me get out of this bed and wash up, as I am, very likely, quite unseemly, and perhaps even help me change. And then maybe you could take me out for lunch, or dinner? I honestly do not know what time of the day it is as these rooms have no windows. I must admit, I am quite famished. Perhaps you would go as far as a dare and we could eat at your place? I have studied Mortal cooking some. Maybe I could try my hands on it. Should you honestly like it, we can eat that. If I fail, I suppose we can go someplace where I can embarrass myself less. We can then sit there and talk or perhaps take another long walk, though, as tired as I am, you might end up carrying me back.. I leave the choices to you. In the end, I shall never take what you are unwilling to part. All I would ever want from you is to know I have someone to lean on, and that someone would make me feel mildly wanted. Should you agree, however, I would like you to expect, and accept, similar trust and care from me.”

 

Standorin gulped again.

 

“We.. could eat at my place.. though it hasn’t been touched by a woman for many years. But only if I cook while you rest. I.. can’t invite you and make you cook. That would be just wrong.”, he said, both flustered and abashed.

“I am in your care then, Standorin Shieldheart.”

 

Sheriff Standorin was a man of his word. As embarrassed as he was, and with a very flustered face, he helped the tall, alluring girl out of the rickety bed and sat her on the simple wooden chair, brought the washing dish over and with strong, calloused hands, he washed her slender hands and arms, her very appealing face, her slim neck, ran his wet hands over and through her long, silky black hair, and went as far as washing her proportionate, narrow feet, all without any sensual implications, but with tender care, and Constance silently watched his face with a demur blush but refrained from even the smallest smile.

The tall, alluring girl was a surprisingly perceptive and considerate creature.

Then, he went over and opened the door, and to the red-headed, bewitching little girl who had been silently sitting there with a naughty smirk on her face and an ear on the door, he said, “Young Demelze.. It isn’t nice to eavesdrop. But since you are here, I would consider it kindness on your part if you would bring the esteemed Liaison a brush, a pair of shoes, and a dress appropriate to her station.”

The smirking girl blushed furiously, jumped on her feet, and took off, while she mumbled to herself;

“Blistering Bloody Imps!”, she cursed. “Busted!”

 

He turned around to see Constance smiling at him.

“Uhhmm.. Is there something amusing?”, he asked a bit gruffly.

“No, no.. Merely admiring how aware you are of your surrounding even under duress.”, she replied. “Demelze won’t be able to decide whether she should be embarrassed for getting caught or feel happy you remembered her name, even though you met her only once.”

“Occupational hazard, I suppose. And I have been a lawman for quite a number of years. And.. I wouldn’t define.. uhh.. washing you a matter of duress, really.”, he replied uncomfortably.

 

There was a knock and the sheriff turned around and opened the door again to see the same red-headed, bewitching girl holding a long, elegant dress, a pair of high pumps, a hairbrush, and an odd expression stuck somewhere between a flush, a wicked smile, and a pout as if the girl just couldn’t decide on which one she should settle.

 

“Thank you. I would be happy if you would also compile a detailed progression report on the Pixie Project and have it ready by tomorrow morning.”, he said as he took the dress, the pumps, and the brush, but left her expression where it was.

Demelze squinted at him and the wicked smile on her face disappeared.

“Homework? Really?”, she said in disgust.

“You are a fully grown woman and require no homework, young lady. But Master Aager will need said report as soon as possible, and you seem like a person given to details. Unless I am totally mistaken, of course.”, Standorin said with a straight face.

Demelze’s squint turned into a distinctly deploring pout. With seething vehemence, she spun around and started marching away, all the while stomping her tiny feet!

Constance gave out a refrained, bubbly laugh.

“You have a unique way to deal with people, sir.”, she said.

“Let’s get one thing straight.”, the sheriff frowned a bit. “I would rather you didn’t ‘sir’ me when we are alone.”

“But we are in a temple, and your official standing puts you in a ‘sirly’ disposition, as silly as that sounds.”, she replied with a smile. “Though I am open to suggestions as to what you would rather I call you on a regular basis, other than Stan.. sir.”

 

Standorin fumed a bit.

Limnia Karya, his beloved deceased wife, had never played these games with him. She had been a ranger, and a decidedly practical, no-nonsense sort of woman, though, in all candor, she did act like a much younger girl when they had been alone. Then he remembered something Aager had told him about never to compare and once Standorin gave it an even cursory thought, he came to the conclusion that the young man had been right; one, they were not some fruit, vegetable, or furniture, but people, both distinct and both unique, and two, comparing was doing them both much disservice.

 

Silently he put the brush and the pumps on the bed and came near the young woman and just stood there.

It took a bare moment for the tall, alluring girl to comprehend the pause. With a shy blush, she turned around and..

..let her dress fall.

 

Standorin stared at the rather slender, curving back of the tall woman, gruffly cleared his throat, then, with decidedly clumsy hands, he helped her put on the new dress, from head to feet. 

Then, while he was down there, he reached over to the bed, grabbed the pumps, picked her feet, and put the high-heeled shoes on them, each and one at a time, as Constance watched him, silent and still.

 

“I would like to touch your hair.”, she whispered down at him. “A girl may not be tortured thus thoroughly and not be given even a crump of surcease.”

 

Sheriff Standorin didn’t say anything.

He just stood kneeling where he was, as he did the tiny clasps on the pumps and long, slender fingers ran through his hair and a sensation he hadn’t felt for nearly twenty years rippled down his spine.

 

“Stan.. Stan will do, for now, Constance..”, he whispered back.

✱ ✱ ✱

Something woke Sheriff Standorin from a deep slumber. He felt slightly groggy and looked around to see he had fallen asleep on his couch that was facing the fireplace in his two-room home.

The fire had died down to a smoldering kindle, giving a low, red-orange cast and gave the young, beautiful face sleeping peacefully on his chest a whole, different kind of glow, as Constance breathed quietly at his face, her body limply sprawled across his.

Standorin tried to recall at which point he had fallen asleep but failed. He remembered having cooked something that involved diced beef, fried onion rings, and mashed potatoes, along with some chilled apple cider. Then he and the tall, alluring young woman had taken their plates and drinks and sat on the couch and quietly talked, while they stared at the fire dancing in the grate.

The sheriff had been quite surprised and had felt not a small amount of embarrassment coupled with some guilt when he’d found out how much he’d had to say.

Standorin had never really been the talk and laugh, type.

She, on the other hand, had kept silent most of the time and had only spoken to inquire about things she couldn’t quite understand or relate because she would lack the individual reference points.

At some point, though, she had fallen completely silent and with a certain sense of frustration, the sheriff had noticed, she’d dozed off.

He berated himself on a number of levels at that point, foremost for being a boring man to have made a girl literally fall asleep in the middle of a conversation.

Then he came to the ultimate, logical explanation; Constance had gone out of her way, for the past few days, and quite beyond, to put up a ‘good’ front for his sake, making light of her pain and extreme fatigue until they both had come crashing down on her with compounded interest.

Ahh.. that was when he had taken her into his arms, and sort of leaned back..

..and had fallen asleep, with her pillowing her head on his broad, rumbling chest.

 

Then he remembered something had woken him.

He wasn’t quite sure what it had been, but he thought it sounded like an animal in pain.

He heard a careful knock on his door just then and very carefully, and with no small amount of unexpected revelation and resignation, he slid the young woman off himself and stretched her on the couch and into a more comfortable pose.

For a man his size, he padded over to the door with surprisingly quiet steps and opened it to see Aager Fogstep standing there and behind him, his little mate, Lady Inshala.

Standorin immediately knew something was wrong for the young man lacked his leather hood and half mask, his face was stricken, contorted, even, and the little girl was holding on to him from behind and sobbing into his back.

“What is it Master Aager?”, he asked in his low, rumbling voice.

“You.. you had better come, sir.”, Aager growled through clenched teeth.

Standorin cocked an eyebrow.

“Where are we going?”, he asked.

Aager paused for a moment before speaking again.

“Is.. is the Liaison here, sir?”, he asked.

“Yes. She is.”, Standorin said with a frown.

“We.. we will need her as well, sir.”, Aager replied with a decidedly determined voice.

“Why? If I might ask. She is still recovering from her.. predicament and is sleeping at the moment. I would rather we didn’t wake her.”, the sheriff said, his frown deepening.

“She is the Liaison, sir.”, Aager grinded his teeth. “And we will need her to do her job, right now, and fast.”

“What is going on, young man?”, Standorin asked, fuming a bit now.

 

Aager paused again. When he spoke this time, Standorin was astonished, for he heard a certain tremor in his voice.

 

“The leader of the Escape, Perigren Ostlanna Temez, has gone.. feral, sir. She.. and quite a number of them are breaking and burning everything that gets in their way. Thomas, Morel, and the other temple guardians have managed to get as many of the children out as they can but they are fighting amongst themselves now and against Thomas, Morel, and the temple guardians. Thomas has asked you to bring their Liaison to speak in our steed and perhaps find a way to defuse the situation before it goes any further and make sure the remaining children are not injured or worse.”

Standorin stared at him.

“They gave their word. Their oath. Why would they break their oath and risk everything they have forsworn?”, he fumed angrily.

“They.. they didn’t break their oaths, sir. They merely received some quite distressing news and.. they are hurting.. Apparently, they do not know moderation when they are upset.”

“What news? What could possibly have happened to have riled them enough to risk everything they gave up to come here?”, Standorin asked harshly.

“Perigren Ostlanna Temez just found out she lost her BFF, sir.”, Aager replied quietly and Inshala hugged him even tighter and her sobs grew louder.”

“BFF?”, asked the sheriff, a bit baffled.

“Best Fiend Friend, sir. You see, Perigren’s BFF was no other than Merisoul Xyrotwu, and she and Ranger Lieutenant Laila and Master Gnine had all gone to Silent Hills together. I don’t know how, but they just found out that Meriso.. they found out.. that they..”, he said as he tried to gulp down the lump rising earnestly up his throat. “That Merisoul is gone!”

“I.. see..”, said Standorin silently. “I.. did not know her very well. But she was the nicest felon I apprehended in my entire life.”

“She was my friend..”, came Inshala’s sobbing voice. “She was always nice and always alone. She saved me. She helped and saved everyone!”

 

It was apparent, nothing else intelligible was going to come from her anymore and not any time soon.

 

Aager turned around and hugged her tightly and held his scourging stance for as long as he could as a low, infuriated scream escaped him.

 

WHAT DID YOU DO AGAIN,
YOU STUPID, STUPID GIRL!

I DIDN’T SEND YOU WITH GNINE AND LAILA
TO KEEP THEM SAFE.

I SENT THEM WITH YOU TO KEEP YOU SAFE!

 

 

Then..

..with rage unseen in Serenity Home,

..he howled at the night sky..

..and winter spread in jagged, sharp, spiking icicles..

..as cobblestones popped, cracked, and shrapneled..

..and brittle-blue, chilling frost covered everything..

..a hundred yards..

..in every direction.

✱ ✱ ✱

Two figures stumbled into view two days later from the east and up the banks of Arashkan River, both leaning on the other and both with severe, grim, lived, suffered, and ‘paid in full and done’, expressions on their faces.

 

Liaison Constance Alure Smithen
with a happy, serene face standing next to a grim
and relieved Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart..

 

..and an eager and joyous
Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane
standing next to an also grim, but relieved
Aager Fogstep was waiting for them.

 

Right behind them, another pair stood,
Anglenna Brightleaf, her face drawn
and on the very verge of an emotional breakdown and
an awed Armethelius Riverblade..

 

..and another;
Bremorel Songsteel, relieved, smiling,
and wanting to scream with elation and
Thomas Dimwood, calm and adamite.

 

 

AND JUST BEHIND THOSE,
FIFTEEN THOUSAND HIGH ELVES STOOD IN RIGID,
SILENT, SOLEMN MILITARY FORMATION, AND BURNING
WITH RIGHTEOUS EXALTATION, AS THEY WAITED
FOR THEIR KING AND THEIR QUEEN.

 

 

And Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist came
with Udoorin Shieldheart..

 


 

arashkan şehri book 07 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups komedi role play savaş serenity the plot thickens

Kumse Beetles
and
Pixie Dust!

Kumse Beetles
and
Pixie Dust!

Timeline:

With the unexpected help of the half-born, Anglenna finally finds the possible whereabouts of the missing Udoorin Shieldheart and Princess Alor’Nadien ne;

 

The Gull’s Perch…

 

..the home of the Summer Fey
and Queen Titania, herself!

 

This, however, presents issues on its own,
as Mortals, in general, are banned from the Perch,
and half-borns, being part demon, in particular,
are never allowed to even come near
the sacred valley of the Summer Queen..

 

This story takes place shortly after
The Liaison.
and starts at the end of
The Discovery.

 

 

A depressed and depleted procession oozed down the dim halls of Serenity Home Temple as Perigren Ostlanna Temez lead her brothers and sisters down the long, spiraling stairs and into the dim cavernous crypt. 

With a grim expression on his face, Hal Mali followed her as he dragged a pale and drained-looking Cee Lingerith Demelze by the hand.

And right behind them, Hamna Vir slouched with a stubborn expression on her sharp face, as she fiercely hugged the little, slumbering Dar Derune in her arms.

“I could walk.”, came Dar Derune’s slurred voice as his head bobbed back and forth.

“I know you can, love.”, Hamna Vir said kindly, but the fire in her eyes told otherwise. She was a savage, bitter half-born to begin with, and the fact that no other than Titania, the Summer Queen, had backhanded her little Dar Derune just a few moments ago and from as far away as Gull’s Perch, had been like a slap on their collective faces. Sort of like a wake-up call, that there were things much, much more powerful than they were in this Mortal world after all, and that fact, so casually displayed, had hit them all quite hard, quite literally. And that it had been their little Dar Derune on the receiving end had made Hamna Vir, in particular, quite vexed which was putting it rather lightly, for at that very moment, the girl with the sharp features had nothing but murder in her eyes and that it had been the Summer Queen, a being way out of their league for any kind of retribution or retaliation had merely added to the insult.

“You are pulling too hard..”, whimpered a glazed Demelze.

“Ow. I am sorry, Demelze. My bad.”, said Hal Mali and with a swift scoop, he grabbed her, spun her up with a flip, and landed her in his powerful arms. “How’s that?”

“You are just taking advantage of my moment of weakness Hal Mali.. and I am liking it!”, she said, her words garbled and stumbled over each other as she smiled at him with a sloshed and woozy face.

“Aren’t you a darling?”, Hal Mali smiled back.

“I am, aren’t I?”, Demelze swooned.

“Too bad you are not going to remember any of this when you come around.”, he fumed to himself.

“Why don’t you just ask her out Hal?”, Temez asked from ahead.

“Hal? Why do you call me Hal, Perigren Ostlanna Temez?”, asked Hal Mali, a bit confused and hurt. “Have I ever upset or disappointed you in any way that I am not aware of and warrant such admonishment?”

“Never, love. But I have noted the Mortals refer to one other by shortening each other’s names. Thought perhaps we could also try it so we do not stand out when we finally come out in the open.”, she replied.

Hal Mali mused over that, as he unwittingly hugged the befuddled Demelze closer to his chest.

“Let’s see if I have understood this correctly; they not only butcher one another, they also butcher each other’s names?”

“Yes. But do not ask me why, dear. Apparently, either they do not give much importance to names, or they do not believe names have power, or they are merely ignorant. I have been studying them, but I have yet to uncover the exact reasoning behind them. Take Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel for example. Rarely have I heard anyone call her by that name. They summon her by saying only Bremorel. Young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, on the other hand, calls her fondly as Morel. I have witnessed on one occasion where someone referred to her as just ‘Bree’. She, herself, never calls her mate by his full name either, and summons him as Thomas.”, Temez tried to explain.

“That is heresy, that is.”, Hal Mali said with an ugly face. Then thought for a moment. “Or maybe not. You, my brothers, and my sisters rarely call me Hal Mali Volent Pierce. Much like we rarely call Demelze or Hamna Vir by their full name, either, and it has nothing to do with the power the name has as a whole, but everything to do with practical efficiency.”

“I think you just answered a rather vexing dilemma, dear. You are indeed as practical as you are efficient.”, smiled Temez wanly.

“If any of you calls me Vir, I will haunt you in your dreams until you wet yourselves!”, hissed Hamna Vir.

“We shall pick up this practice but only those of us who want to, and if they are comfortable with the idea. Henceforth, you may call me only Temez.”

“Well. I would rather everyone called me Hal Mali. But I will try my best not to retaliate should any of you calls me Hal. Is that acceptable?”, Hal Mali said dubiously.

“Perfectly, dear.”, Temez smiled again. “Which brings us back to my previous question; Why don’t you ask her out? It’s quite obvious you like Demelze. Actually, pretty much all of us have noticed your rather transparent interest in her. She’d make a troublesome but fiery mate. You would never get bored of life..”

Hal Mali signed.

“Am I truly that obvious?”

“When it comes to Demelze, yes, dear.”, smiled Temez.

“Yup!”, said Hamna Vir.

“Yea..”, slurred Demezle vaguely but it wasn’t clear as to what she was agreeing for her eyes were closed and her slender, diminutive figure danced limply at each step Hal Mali took down the long flight of stairs.

Hal Mali sighed again.

“No point.”, he said a bit depressed. “Demelze despises me.”

“No she doesn’t.”, objected Temez.

“Yes, she does.”, Hamna Vir inserted from the back.

“Hamna Vir!”, said Temez reprovingly.

“What? She does despise him and you know it!”, she snapped irritably.

Temez sighed this time.

“Girl, you are never going to understand the hearts of Mortals nor men if you just say everything that comes to your mind.”

“I have no interest in Mortals and the only heart that matters to me is sleeping over my shoulder. And I don’t say everything that comes to my mind. If I did, I would have said, Demelze makes fun of Hal Mali whenever he’s not around!”, Hamna Vir said waspishly.

Hal Mali’s face deflated and became mournful as he drew Demelze even closer to himself.

“Hamna Vir, dear.”, Temez said.

“What?”

“Do shut up—”

“Why?”

“—just about, NOW?

 

Hamna Vir scowled and gave Temez her best searing gaze.

 

“It’s alright, Perigren… uhhmm.. Temez.. Really. I wasn’t aware she went as far as punning me but I had my suspicions. Guess we don’t all get what we want and that’s the same whether we are in Hell or in the Mortal coil.”, Hal Mali mourned. “I will just have to be happy with the short few moments while she is nice to me like this and in my arms.”

“Don’t be sad, Hal.”, Temez tried to comfort him. “I learned a saying among Mortals that people change. I am not certain if that includes us, but my guestimation is that it does because we all did change. We were in Hell just last month, learning how to sow dissension among Mortals. Now we are among said Mortals and are actually helping them. Had you said then, I would never have believed Demelze would have done what she did for a Mortal’s son, but here we are, and here she paid her trial in pain.. a lot of it.. Give her the chance to change, Hal. I think she deserves that much.”

“Yea, Hal. What she said!”, inserted Hamna Vir with a scowl.

 

The long, spiraling stairs ended and the little group came to a large, steel-lined, heavy-looking double door.

Temez pulled at one of the rings on the door and opened it, revealing a deep, cavernous chamber lined with five hundred years of deceased temple guardians lying in their enclosed, unadorned sarcophagi. Silently, they walked up to the far end and stood before the one that had ‘Demos Lightshand’ chipped on a plaque and fit into its side.

Then they all knelt, Hal Mali still holding Demelze in his arms and Hamna Vir hugging Dar Derune in hers, closed their eyes, and prayed.

 

“Darling Demos.”, Temez whispered. “Again, we have come to thank you, for it was your kind heart that made Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood to also be kind and to accept us at our direst moment of need. Here, he has given us food and shelter, and here, he protects us from unwanted eyes and the ire of sinful men. We have come, today, in hopes of finding wisdom in your presence for we are hurting and we do not know what to do..”

“She means, we are screwed!”, mumbled Hamna Vir from behind, causing Hal Mali to snort.

 

There was a dormant silence while Temez signed in frustration.

Her BFF —Best Fiend Friend, Merisoul Xyrotwo had given the responsibility of their brothers and sisters to her, but hadn’t told her how it was supposed to be done. True, all of them had had extensive training pertaining to Mortals and their ways but said training had gone as far as the Erinyes, Autie Irine had understood them, which was at best, at a most basic level and ‘targeted’ in its sensual in nature. The ‘real world’, as ironic as that sounded, had turned out to be much, much more complicated than any of them had anticipated. They had been here merely a month or so and under the protection and sanction of a temple guardian and Temez sorely wondered what would happen when the said sanction would end, and she had no doubt that in the end, it would because eventually, everyone would have to go their separate ways. The fact that the young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood had accepted them in the first place had been a grand gesture of just how much he trusted her BFF, even though he barely knew her and she’d once tried to ‘eat’ him and consequently gotten struck by the temple’s protection and branded because the young man had been sorely in love!

 

Temez gritted her teeth.

 

She would hold on!

And hold all her brothers and sisters together and in one piece, safe and sound, just until her Arezme Ara Serraphym, or Merisoul Xyrtwo as Mortals knew her, returned. Then she’d be free to go and find her own young man. The one she had ‘eaten’ many years ago and subsequently had gotten herself burned.

It had come as a colossal surprise to her when she’d found out the ‘boy’ had lived, though damaged.

The ‘eaten’ never survived!

Temez did not understand why that had happened. As far as she knew, it shouldn’t have happened like that at all; the boy to have survived, and her getting burned like that..

Had the boy fallen in love with her, and not just smitten by her rather ravishing countenance and blatantly wanting figure, but truly fallen in love with her in the space of a few, short, heartbeats?

Was that even possible?

As incomprehensible as that sounded to her, apparently, such a senseless infatuation had been, in fact, quite possible.

 

“Come on, doll.”, she fumed and pleaded with her eyes closed. “Please come back and fast. Your brothers and sisters direly need you..”

✱ ✱ ✱

This is rather impressive, Liaison Constance. I don’t remember the last time this office looked so tidy.”, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart said, though just a tad grudgingly.

Constance tried very hard not to, but failed.. and beamed at him.

“Would you like to see how the new filing system works? Perhaps a demonstration is in order.”, she offered.

“Very well. Master Aager, do get me the drunkard fight involving Franderson vs. Kor’gral, our orc blacksmith apprentice if you will.”, he said.

Aager checked on the relatively short alphabetic list in his hand, got a reference number, cross-referenced it with a second list and got a second reference number from that, then went over to one of the newly crafted ‘drawer shelves’, the one with the second number, pulled it open and ran a quick glance and tugged out a specific scroll and gave it to the sheriff, with a mild grin.

The sheriff cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Alright. Unknown Strangers vs. Udoorin case, then, if you will!”, he said.

Aager repeated the same process but went to a different drawer shelf and pulled out a rather thick roll of many scrolls and brought them over to him.

Standorin gave him a suspicious look.

Constance beamed some more.

“Master Nibletyne Tinkerdome vs. Moorat Maelstrom!”

Aager gave it to him.

“Franderson vs. Demons Lightshand!”

Aager grinned and brought that one over too, in under fifteen seconds.

“Morel and Liala vs. Udoorin, Dervel and Lucious!”

Aager didn’t even bother with the lists nor the drawers for that one. He just pulled it out of his pocket!

“What the..?”, the sheriff said scowling at him.

“Thought you’d ask for that. Had it ready at hand, sir.”, Aager grinned.

“Very well.”, Standorin said, fuming at him. “I will admit this filing system of yours seems to work..”

“..as opposed to looking for a specific case file for more than half an hour at times.. Sir, you really ought to give the Liaison a bit more credit.”, Aager said, meaningfully.

Standorin gave him one of his best scowls, cleared his throat, then turned to the tall, elegant half-born in her long, not quite conservative, but decidedly refrained dress, and said, “Thank you very much for your filing system, Liaison Constance. I… we.. could talk it over lunch, perhaps? I am sure the mayor could also make use of a similar system installed in his offices..”

“But of course, sir. I will have to see their needs and how they segment their files first though.”, Constance said, smiling happily. “In fact, I would like to go see the mayor on this matter at once, If you wouldn’t mind. I shall also drop by the temple to see how things are going with the project you ordered and report its progress to you.”

“Thank you, Liaison Constance. I shall await your findings eagerly.”, Standorin replied with a flushed face.

 

After the tall half-born girl took her leave, Aager turned to the sheriff and looked at him with amusement etched all over his face.

I shall await your findings eagerly?— Really, sir? That one was a tad overdone, don’t you think?”

“I am out of practice, young man. I haven’t dated anyone since.. well.. for a good dozen years and more. Not to mention, Limnia and I never did this dating thing. We just took long, eager walks in the woods, went on patrols together, and counter-ambushed bandits! And we both enjoyed it.”

“I went after many fools, myself, with my Inshala, sir. We even fought against a treacherous paladin lord together and I saw the exhilaration in her face. But at the end of the day, it is when we are going home, arm in arm, that I see her skip and hop and glow because with me and home is the only place that she can truly be herself, and with her and home is the only place that I can truly be myself. Don’t get me wrong, sir. Whatever makes people happy. But intimacy beats them all.”

“After this war. And should we win, I am dead set on firing you, young man..”

Aager cocked an eyebrow at him.

“..just so you could become a poet!”, snorted the sheriff.

“Never happen, sir. Ow and, a ‘business lunch’ doesn’t count as a ‘date’, just so you know..”, Aager said with another grin.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?”, the sheriff growled.

“I do, and I am off. Noon-trainees!”

✱ ✱ ✱

This is the problem we have been having, Lady Inshala ‘le Fey’ Frostmain Bolgrig Hoo—”, Temez was saying, deep down in the crypts under the Serenity Home Temple.

“Please, dear Temez. Just Inshala will do, even though it despairs me as well when Mortals do cut names and words the way they do. When we are alone, please call me Inshala.”, the pretty little half-fey said with a smile.

 

Temez had taken a liking to Inshala quite immediately when they had first met several days ago and when she, Inshala, and Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel had played a cunning game of catch against Lady Lilly Venom, her ‘hubby’, Largo Summersong, and his son, D.D. Dexter Summersong, who was, somehow not Lady Lilly Venom’s son, which only made sense because he was older than she was! Just that information had made Temez feel concussed all by itself and learned her just how much she and her kin were out of their debt when it came to their pitiful knowledge of the Mortal coil.

 

“Alright..”, said Temez, trying very hard to suppress a shudder. This name cutting was something they really needed to get over, but their inner, demonic core just refused to accept such blatant use of names.. After all, misuse of names could and often did cause very volatile results.. But at least this girl, Inshala, seemed to understand their plight. Perhaps it was due to the fact that she, too, was a half-something.. a fey..

“..Inshala..”, she continued. “..We were able to enchant grinded sand, kibbled light wood, certain cosmetic powders, and even flour with fire, thanks to Demelze, here, to light up under specific conditions, such as coming in contact with magic auras. Magically attained invisibility, to be exact. Our dilemma is, the powders, the sands, and the flour works but for an extremely short duration, as the material immediately settles, and hence, becomes part of the said invisible creature, or area. If we use what we have at the moment during battle, or to sprinkle it in an area where we suspect and Orken army is hidden under the veil of whatever device they are employing, it will hardly be visible during daylight, and barely be discernable during night hours. We need something, a plant or herb that we can grind that can stay afloat long enough to be practical and at the lightest magical ‘fragrance’, so to speak.”

Inshala frowned a bit as she tried to digest the issue at hand, and at a certain level, she felt relieved, for when Aager had told her she was being ‘officially’ invited here to meet with the half-born, she had dreaded that she, herself, might be put to task on some social-thingy, which she knew she was sorely lacking. This, however, was something that had to do with knowledge, something that she was good at, as opposed to something she constantly banged her head against her mental walls to comprehend.

 

As dire as the problem was, Inshala grinned!

 

And all the half-born, some one hundred plus of them silently watched her, all so very curious about this ‘very pretty’, ‘also a half-something like us’, and quite famous, Ritual Guardian-girl,  as though expecting some sort of miracle to appear at the wave of her slender hands.

At that very moment, Inshala remembered something her Aager had said, though she had vaguely understood.

 

“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity.”, she said with a well-hidden smile.

Well, perhaps it wasn’t so well-hidden, as she was grinning when she said it. Aager hadn’t grinned at all.

Her Aager was awesome like that, she thought!

 

A murmur of awe spread amongst the half-born as Hal Mali grinned as well and with open admiration, while Demelze ‘oooow’ed, and Hamna Vir ogled at her.

“She.. she said that so smoothly!”, she exclaimed in a hushed voice.

“Awesome.”, someone whispered.

“Awesome.”, someone else repeated in agreement..

..and the word, ‘awesome’ rippled in low, hushed, and awe-struck whispers among the half-born!

 

Inshala beamed.

 

“Tell us!”, Temez asked eagerly, her own face flushed with excitement.

“Here.”, the little half-fey said and produced a tiny little pouch from one of her many tiny pockets hidden in her dress robes.

Temez carefully took the pouch, undid the knots, and looked into it to see some very fine, dark-red powder.

“What is this wonderful thing?”, she asked.

“Kumse Beetle shells, grinded down into a fine powder. I use it to season the food I cook and it tastes delicious!”, Inshala replied happily.

“Hal..”, she said. “..do your thing, please, dear. And Demelze, love. See if you can enchant this powder the way you have been practicing.”

“Sure.”, Hal Mali said..

..and suddenly vanished!

“That is awesome!”, Inshala said looking at where the young, pretty half-born man had just been.

Demelze took the pouch from Temez and carefully dumped its content into a small iron pot scorched with burnt marks, sat on the floor, closed her eyes and her pretty face frowned in concentration. Soon enough, the dark-red powder began to smoke.

“Careful, love.”, whispered Temez. “You are going to burn it.”

 

Demelze frowned more and the smoke dissipated.

And then, with a sharp flash of light, the iron pot poofed and Demelze opened her eyes, beads of sweat running down her face.

 

“Done.”, she said with a sniff and wiped her brows.

 

Temez reached down and took a pinch of the ‘enchanted’ dark-red powder and looked around.

“I am here, Temez. Standing just a foot in front of you.”, came Hal Mali’s voice.

Temez flung the powder in his direction!

The powder clung onto something barely discernable as someone’s arm, as it glowed, once, twice, then died.

Temez felt her shoulders slump.

“It didn’t work?”, Demezle asked, totally flustered.

 

A low murmur of consternation and despair rippled amongst the half-born.

 

“It worked.”, Inshala said confidently.

“How?”, Temez asked.

“The powder is still there and is still visible if you look closely.”

Temez, Demelze, and quite a number of others leaned over and stared at where they presumed Hal Mali was.

“She’s right.” Hal Mali’s voice was heard. “The powder is still there and try as I might, I can’t incorporate it with my shadow-aura! This is fascinating!”

“Indeed.”, mused Temez. “But.. it won’t be of any practical use if it isn’t visible from a far-off distance. Perhaps you can pour more power into the powder, Demelze?”

“I can. But it still won’t work. Either the powder will charr, or it will blink a few more times and that’s it. Unless we find a way to preserve the magic I infuse into the powder, we are, again, at a standstill.”, Demelze said somberly, an expression quite unexpected and unprecedented on her otherwise mischievous, naughty, and smirking face.

 

They all fell silent and mulled over that, and the cavernous crypt was suddenly very still. It was quite a disconcerting sight, really.

 

“Whimsi Lola!”, Inshala exclaimed suddenly!

 

The half-born all turned to look at her.

Inshala blushed a bit when she promptly became the focus of attention of so many ‘people’.

 

“I have never heard of a plant or herb by that name.”, said Temez dubiously. “Has anyone heard of this herb?”, she called to the crowd at large.

The half-born shook their heads and any number of ‘No’s and ‘Nopes’ echoed in the crypt.

“No, no.”, said Inshala hastily. “Whimsi Lola is not a plant or an herb. She is a sprite! A fey! She uses her own pixie dust from her wings to enhance her spells! That’s what we need.”

Temez looked at her curiously.

“And where may we find this Whimsi Lola sprite-fey and what would she want for her pixie dust?”

“Hmm.. That may be a problem. She is not here. But many of her friends are.. However, the fey folk, and the little ones, in particular, will not come here; too many Mortals and too much iron here, nor will they go anywhere near.. uhhmm..”, Inshala said, then faltered in embarrassment.

“Demons?”, Temez offered.

“Uhhmm.. Yes.. I am sorry.”, Inshala apologized immediately.

“Why are you apologizing, Inshala? You didn’t make us. You had no hand in our foul existence whatsoever. Never apologize for the things you didn’t do. Never.”, Temez said sternly.

“I.. was trying to be polite..”, the fey-girl faltered some more.

“This is not something to be polite about, my dear. We are what we are. We are sorry for having been made. But we are not, however, sorry for existing and we shall never apologize to anyone for that, and neither should you. We are our own now, just like you are your own..”, Temez said with harsh defiance. “Now. About this pixie dust thing. How and where may we get some?”, she asked, all business-like!

Inshala was a bit surprised at how strong-willed the Temez girl was and how she was not sorry for what she was, even if she hated being what she was.

And she felt a certain shame, there. Unlike Temez, she had loathed herself very nearly all her life for what she was or what she thought she was and had always believed her existence had been one, colossal mistake. Looking at these half-borns who had braved out of literal Hell, she promised herself to be braver and certainly to never feel guilty for being.. 

..which had been what her old Father, Cathber, and later, her Aager had been telling her all along.

 

“Well..”, she thought. “..Apparently I am just a stupid little girl.”

 

“Umm.. perhaps we could go near the forest just up north and I could call a few of the small fey-folk and bargain for some of their pixie dust?”, she said hopefully. “Then we can mix this powder with the pixie dust and gorgeous Demelze, here, can enchant it and we can test it on Hal Mali, maybe?”

“Ow.. She said I am gorgeous!”, whispered Demelze happily.

“Your offer is sound, Inshala, but not practically possible. We may not leave this temple. Not yet. I have left it a few times but carefully and only to observe the area just around the temple, and that one time when we played catch. Only Constance leaves and that is because she is our designated Liaison with the Mortals. This.. ‘test’.. however, is not her area of expertise. Is there any way you may be able to bring this dust to us?”

“I am afraid not. Pixie dust loses its potential soon after the sprite or the pixie removes it from his or her wings. Otherwise, the forest would be sparkling everywhere they went and all the time.”

“Perhaps there is a way.”, offered Hal Mali quietly as he stepped out of his ‘shadow-aura’ and became visible again.

“Do tell, dear.”, Temez asked him

“I can go out unseen.”

“Yes, dear. But you alone will not be enough. Demelze needs to go with you and Inshala.”

“I.. she can come with me.. I can hide her as well.”, he mumbled.

“I am not going anywhere with you, Hal!“, sneered Demelze. “And you can not hide me and we both know it!”

“I can.”, Hal Mali said quietly. “If I carry you in my arms..”

 

Demelze just stared at him for a moment.

“Incoming..”, murmured Hamna Vir.

 

And Demelze burst out laughing.

“Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Hah. Haaa!”

“That’s a very convincing laugh, that is..”, Hamna Vir barbed. “Can you get any more vapid, Demelze?”

“Shut up, Hamna Vir!”, spat the fiery little succubi half-born.

“What did I ever do to you, that you would hate me so much, Demelze?”, Hal Mali asked with a hurt voice.

“I saw the way you look at me, Hal! Even when we were in Hell!”, Demelze scorned at him.

“Yes. Because I find you attractive. Hence the looks.”, the handsome half-born admitted plainly. “How would you rather I look at you?”

“Never?”, scoffed the girl.

“Demelze!”, Temez very nearly snapped. “You will refrain from such attitude at once! We are all we have, here. There’s no one else to look after us but us.”

“But, Temez—”

“You will go with Hal and with Inshala and do this. For us and for yourself. Hal has looked after many of us and took a beating and burning for you at the hands of Autie Irine at least once that I know of. You may not like him, but you will show him the respect he deserves!”, Temez cracked like a whip.

 

Demelze froze.

 

“When? Why?”, she asked.

Hal Mali did not reply for a good while.

Then murmured.

“I would really rather you hadn’t told this, Temez.”

“Good done, unknown, must become known sometimes, dear. And we are running out of time. Even if this works, we must find a practical way to make it so Mortals may use them, and we must make many, many of them.”, Temez said, but not unkindly.

“Why? When?”, asked Demelze, her voice somewhat subdued.

“When.. you.. when you failed to turn in your Mortal Studies paper in our first year, I switched mine as yours and deliberately got caught with another paper of my own to avoid suspicions. And that other time when I found out Auntie Irine was going to punish you when she found out you had punned her behind her back and I deliberately tripped and fell and knocked her down. She was so angry with me that she forgot all about you..”

“What? Why? You think I couldn’t have taken a beating from that bitch?”, sneered Demelze.

“She had her fire barb whip with her..”, replied the young Hal Mali quietly..

..and an ‘owww’, chorused among the half-born.

“Fire barb whip hurts a lot because its burn is not only physical but psychic as well, and it leaves permanent marks. I.. didn’t want you to carry such ugly marks on you..”

 

Hamna Vir approached him and quietly hugged him.

I will thank you for what you did for her, Hal Mali, even if Demelze is a bitch and too vain to thank you.”

“Demelze is only scared.”, said a small, vague voice, and everyone turned to see Dar Derune sitting a short distance away, playing with some plain wooden blocks, next to a sarcophagus. “What she feels, she feels much more intensely than any of us. That is how beautiful her heart is..”

 

Hamna Vir parted Hal Mali and came up to him and with blurry eyes, she scooped up the boy and hugged him fiercely.

 

“Demelze?”, Temez asked, looking at the burning girl.

 

“I will do this. For Mali..”, she said with a stricken face.

✱ ✱ ✱

You found them?”, Constance gasped. “Why didn’t you tell me, dear?”

“We found about it just today, love.”, Temez replied and there was a tired quality about her.

“What’s the matter, Temez?”, the tall, alluring half-born asked.

“We.. me and Hamna Vir shared what Demelze went through when she cleansed the Anglenna Sunsear elf. It wasn’t fun. Gave me a very unique insight into what our brothers and sisters must go through, each with their unique abilities. I burn. But that is something I did to myself. She.. she burns so much hotter whenever she feels something —anything. Suffice to say, I can remember only one other occasion that hurt this much and that was when my old Master burned me when Merisoul and I first came up with the plan to get away from Hell.”

“I am sorry to hear that, dear. Where is the boy, then? Where is the esteemed sheriff’s son?”, Constance asked.

“East of here, some two or three days travel, there is a place called Gull’s Perch. They are there, though we could not figure out why they landed there and not in this town as the Anglenna Sunsear elf did.. I asked a bit about it to the Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel, and my findings are quite dire.”

“Gull’s Perch. Why do I know that name?”, mused Constance.

“You should. It is one of the places that we were warned never to go near, during our Mortal geography studies. And you can see it from here on a clear day, easy.”

“Titania!”, Constance gasped in horror!

“Hush, dear. Not so loud. We don’t want her to hear us, now do we?”, Temez warned.

“But how? How do you know they are there?”, the tall half-born girl asked slightly panicked.

“Dar Derune. He looked into the elf girl and sifted through her memories and saw our query. Then he did his thing and found them at the Perch. The Mistress of the Perch did not appreciate his intrusion and backhanded him, our Dar Derune, all the way from the Perch!”

Constance just stared at her.

“Is he alright?”

“He will be. Hanna Vir has been hovering over him like a Mortal hen mother!”

“Dear Hamna Vir..”

“Yes, yes she is.”

“Should I go and tell the esteemed sheriff about this?”, Constance asked.

“No. Mortals are not allowed in there, dear. Telling him where his son and the princess will only rile him and he will go there with iron and that will only win him the ire of the Summer Queen. And should he go there to bargain, he will be left out of his debt. He is a good and decent man but woefully unequipped for such a meeting. We must find something to bargain in his stead. Something She would want and only we may provide.”

“I may have something she may want.”, Constance said quietly.

“No, dear. Whatever She may want, we must all give. It must be a collective effort, not individual, for such singular bargains can only end in misery.”, Temez said with a tone that had a certain finality to it.

 

And that marked the first time a half-born chose to disagree at an individual level.

Constance Alure Smithen nodded..

..evasively.

And changed topic!

 

“Did the Winter Knight’s mate, Lady Inshala arrive?”

“Yes, she did. And she is a lot more smarted and wiser than she lets on. I suspected a cunning mind in her when she, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel, and I were playing catch against Lady Lilly Venom, her mate, and her mate’s son. The plans I made were twisted and convoluted and made us win. The ranger lieutenant’s plans depended more on stealth and ambush, and they also made us win. Lady Inshala’s plans were neither. Her plans were rather simple and straightforward but surprisingly efficient. Of all the games we played, the ones she planned ended the quickest and the other team never knew what hit them. Even I didn’t understand we’d won!”, Temez said with some residual surprise.

“Her hubby, the Winter Knight shows similar traits. Neither seems interested in showing off but goes straight for the source of any given problem.”, Constance mused. “Though I suspect what he accomplishes by dread, she does by care!”

“Very astute, love. Very astute, indeed. She, Hal Mali, and Demelze went to the forest just up north to work on the project we have been working on.”

“You sent two of us out? Let alone Demelze with Hal Mali? She.. doesn’t really like him all that much and does tend to make a lot of noise when he’s around.. I hope you know what you are doing, dear.”, the tall girl asked a bit surprised.

“Hal Mali went under his guise. And we.. convinced.. she should be carried by him and take advantage of his special talents..”, Temez said lightly.

 

Constance made a very strange noise that sounded truly unlady-like. Something between a snort and hiccup!

 

“I am sorry I missed that.”, she said with a brilliant smile. “No, wait.. you didn’t tell Demelze about what Hal Mali did back in Hell and that he got a beating for her, did you?”

Temez sighed.

“Yes, yes I did, love.”

“Ow..”, Constance said with a bemused expression as her bright red lips made a perfect imprint. “That must have put a dent in her self-esteem.”

“It did. Or maybe not. We are demons, love. And we are humans, as well, and we all react to fear, surprise, excitement, anger, and love in different ways. Demelze being Demelze, merely goes to her usual extremes.”, Temez said thoughtfully. “What will you do for the rest of the day? Did the esteemed sheriff like your new archiving and filing system?”

“I believe he did. Albeit a tad grudgingly. But in time he will get to appreciate it more, when he can find any given file in under ten seconds, as opposed to spending half an hour to find them. And every time he does, he will remember me. And every time his men do, he will feel a certain pride.”, replied Constance with a happy face. “I should head out now. There are so many things I must learn and so many more people I must meet. Just so they learn to see our kind, if for nothing else.. I shall also carefully hint that more of our kind will arrive to help them in their coming battle.”

“Very good, love. You truly were made for PR and would have been wasted in Hell.”, Temez said admiringly.

✱ ✱ ✱

Constance calmly stepped out of Serenity Home Temple and looked up and east. It was a clear day that day, quite unexpected of the season. She could see the storm clouds loaded with sleet, snow, and hail, but they seemed to sort of skim far and around this odd town and its surrounding fields. She had overheard the pretty ranger lieutenant, Bremorel Songsteel, talking in hushed voices with her young husband, the senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, about reports of savage and violent weather, quite unheard of, occurring far to the west, beyond Scowling Hills and the name Inshala had cropped up any number of times, with nothing short of awe, during those conversations.

It seemed everyone was doing everything they could.. and more.. Eventually, whatever these Mortals did, or however they did them, time would come and they would have to face their consequences. Quite dire ones. Even a creature of Hell such as herself knew, when one dabbled with certain things, even if for a good cause, there would be consequences.

When she had first arrived to meet the sheriff’s men in the small courtyard, she had ended up ‘demonstrating’ her skills with her nearly twenty-feet long pike on a young and overly enthusiastic man. There had even been bets.

After the duel, as short as it had been, was over, the bets, owed and owned, were being passed around, she had heard one of the guards snicker, “Payback is a bitch!”, as he took his winnings with a grin.

“Well..”, Constance murmured, still looking east, and the Gull’s Perch, a vertical, single ‘rock’, some half a mile at its base, reaching up and up and fading off among the clouds. It was a beautiful, awe-inspiring sight and the tall, alluring girl admired it.

 

Truly admired it.

 

“..as unlady-like, as it may sound, yes, I believe payback is a bitch!”, she said.

And with a sub-sonic boom, she shot up, high and swift!

 

At several hundred feet, she finally lost velocity, and for a bare, spectacular moment, she stood in the air, still, silent and majestic..

..and plummeted back to the earth!

 

With a sharp bank, she spread her arms, and a pair of dark, black-brown eagle wings suddenly sprouted out of her slender back, and like her slim arms, they spread out and wide..

..and she speared, not unlike a bird of prey, and with a shrill shriek, towards east, and the Perch!

✱ ✱ ✱

Lady Inshala!”, exclaimed Perigren Ostlanna Temez with surprise. “You are back!”

The little fey-girl face flushed shyly but her face was glowing with an accomplished grin.

“We did it, Temez. I called a few of the little folk and told them what we wanted, but they refused when they saw Hal Mali and Demelze. I told them they were my friends and that they were here to help protect the forest. They mulled over that for a bit then they decided perhaps they were, indeed, ‘maybe-friends’ but wanted something in return for their pixie dust. I asked them what they would want and they told me many things, but we didn’t have any of the things they wanted with us. Then they asked if we had any candy. Demelze said they didn’t have candy, but that she had something even better, and gave them sugar canes. They looked at the sugar canes, took one each, and tasted them. My ears still hurt because they all squealed with glee and just dropped on the ground gnawing on the canes.”, Inshala told her impromptu story with a seamless giggle and Temez just ogled at her, quietly mesmerized.

“When they were done with the sugar canes, they were so out of it, they were slurring and just waved their tiny hands and said, ‘Take.. Take what you want!’, so we took some of their dust and mixed it with the Kumse Beetle powder, Demelze infused it with her fire and enchanted it, then she threw it on Hal Mali and he was all glowing red and sparkly!”, she finished, her eyes alight with accomplishment.

 

Temez stared at her some more.

 

Then shook her head to come around.

Wow, the little girl had an encapturing way to tell her stories. She, herself, was a succubi half-born and knew how to enthrall. After all, it was her base thing. But this girl said what she said with some odd, bubbling, earnest, and genuine sincerity!

“Where are Hal and Demelze?”, she asked.

“Well, Hal Mali was still glowing and sparkling and quite unhappy about it, and Demelze couldn’t come back alone because she said she wasn’t wearing her correct Mortal dress for the occasion, though I am not sure what she meant by that. She did laugh at Hal Mali a lot, though, which made him angry so he started chasing her in the woods so she started running and screaming in delight!”, Inshala replied with an ‘out-of-breath’, bubbling voice.

 

Temez sighed.

 

“They are like sugar-loaded kids! Will they be alright?”, she asked, a bit worried.

“They should be. I drew a big circle and laid a camping spell and told them not to leave the circle. As long as they stay in it, not many will notice them. When the pixie-effect fades, Hal Mali can return with Demelze.”

“I hope they behave. This is not a good time for dire mistakes. That said, I am thrilled that our efforts have not been in vain. Thanks to you, we can now mass-produce this ‘pixie-effect’. We now have to find a way to make them practically useful for any Mortal to be able to use them. We also will need a lot more of your Kumse Beetle powder and the pixie dust.”, Temez mused.

“I can get you the Kumse Beetle powder. I could ask my Aager to ask his mayor, Artanboss, to ask the refugees to look for them in the forest. The pixie dust will still be a problem though. Convincing two or three sprites or pixies in one thing. Asking hundreds of them is another. We.. we might have to ask the Summer and Winter Queens..”, Inshala said a bit worried.

 

Temez looked at her for a moment, then smiled, a tad brittle. She was worried too but was trying very hard to hide it.

 

“Thank you, Inshala. You have helped us much today. Should you ever need any help, please don’t be shy.. And.. do thank your.. mate on our behalf, if you would?”, she said sincerely.

“I will, dear Temez. Merisoul was my friend. I.. I was afraid of her when we first met. But she was so sweet and pretty. And always answered the questions I asked her. She.. never judged me for what I am, and from her, I learned to accept who I am.. And.. she saved my life, once, very nearly ending her own. Thanks to her greatness, I found the time to know my Aager and be with my Aager. That would never have happened if it weren’t for her.”, Inshala said quietly and hugged Temez, and inadvertently, their horns clashed!

 

They stood looking at one another, then burst out laughing.

 

“We will need permission from one of the Queens should we want more of the pixies and the sprites for the amount we require, dear Temez.. Thinking a bit over it, I am now sure of it.. Only they can order them to come to us in such great numbers..”, said Inshala somberly.

 

And that cut right through their merry moment.

✱ ✱ ✱

Constance swooped down from the cold, moist clouds and noticed the sun had gone lower than she had expected. Soon, it would be gone altogether and she’d be forced to fly in the dark. True, she wasn’t afraid of the dark, and up to a certain point, she could even see in it, even if it were in some odd shades of violet. At the screeching speed she was flying, however, being able to see that ‘certain point’ became somewhat moot, as she would only have a bare second or two before registering she was about to smash into something and die a horrible, total body-shattering death!

The lovely, alluring girl was also an optimistic soul, though. She believed an honest and generous smile could solve more problems than displaying her other, rather.. magnetic features.. as those tended to cause more complications than they seemed to solve. She also believed in being punctual and prompt.

Constance was not an obsessive girl, strictly speaking, but merely well-organized and quite dedicated at whatever she did, and also had the uncanny ability to recognize similar attitudes or patterns in others.

Which was likely why she had noticed the esteemed sheriff of Serenity Home the first time he had come to see them and the young senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, had introduced all the half-borns to him.

Yes, one might argue that all the other half-born girls had also noticed him, since, other than the senior temple guardian himself and his dozen or so junior guardians, who were all ‘off limits’, the sheriff had been the only Mortal male specimen they had been in contact outside of Hell. But the other girls had looked at him with.. well.. either as a curio or simply as something ‘edible’.. The sheriff was, after all, a handsome man, even if he was a bit older than average, as Mortal years went.

Constance, on the other hand, had noticed another quality about him; he had stood before each and every single one of the ‘a hundred and plus something’ number of them as if memorizing their individual faces and names, had politely nodded at them, and bid them a formal welcome to the town and should they require anything, that they were welcome to ask, and that he would do his best to acquire said needs, but to be patient about it, as the town was under the threat of imminent Orken attack. That, for Constance, pointed to the fact that Standorin Shieldheart was indeed a very organized, disciplined, and dedicated man.

The fact that he was also handsome and well into his mature years had been sort of a bonus.

 

Constance was also a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl..

 

Suffice to say, none of the above had anything to do with the setting of the sun nor would it help her should she fly into something and end herself quite abruptly, and certainly had nothing to do with the matter at hand.. But Constance liked to go over things in her mind when she flew, which didn’t happen as often as she wanted. An uncharitable person might think she was daydreaming. Constance would, quite strenuously, disagree with such unkind assumption since (a) it was not day, so much as it was evening now, and (b) girls did not daydream but had intricate, multitasking minds, hence they went over things which had happened, things which might happen, and even things that had already happened but how they should have actually happened..

 

That sure explained why they lived longer than their male counterparts and being Mortal or not made little to no difference.

 

“Alright.”, she mused as she went over her mental TO-DO list;

 

Find Her.
Talk to Her.
Give Her.
Get the boy.
Get the girl.
Come back.

 

“There. Everyone happy at the cost of a little pain and loss.”

 

“I doubt, dear.”, said a rich, throaty, and enthralling woman’s voice.

And a long, jagging streak of lightning came down from the clear dusk sky!

 

Constance yelped and banked right and the lightning very nearly tore through her.

Another jarring streak of lightning lit the dimming sky and the half-born girl did a sharp left turn and escaped with a singe.

 

“Stop! Please! I come in peace!”, she yelled in panic.

“No, dear girl. You only come. You are a demon, and can not come in peace, nor can you bring it here with you..”, replied the same rich voice.

“No, I am not a demon! I come in good faith and only desire to help the Mortals..”, she screamed and a swirling, columnar hurricane jabbed down from the sky, all the way down to the forest below.

“Did you not come from Hell, my dear?”, asked the throaty voice.

“Yes. Yes, I did, but..”

“There you have it, then. You, dear girl, are clearly a demon, you can not have good faith, and helping Mortals can never be your intention, nor be part of your true agenda..”, said the voice..

..and another shaft of lightning forked down, and this one zapped the half-born girl quite savagely as more wildly dancing hurricanes came down like some demonic fingers, tearing at everything they grasped..

“My mother was a Mortal!”, shrieked Constance, her face distorted with pain for she felt something hurt dreadfully at her hip.

“I feel sorry for her, but dabbling with the damned is never wise. Every Mortal knows this.”

Constance did another sharp turn and escaped the next strike.

“She.. she was taken.. by Mortals!”, begged the girl.

“Yes. Mortals with sin in their desires, deceit in their minds, and greed in their hearts tend to do that. Which is why I banned them all. But demons were never welcome.”, said the throaty voice.

“T.. Titania?”, Constance gasped.

“Yes, dear child. I have been watching you for some time now. I had hoped you would veer from your course, but apparently, you are not as smart as I had hoped you would be.. And now you are in my domain.. and in my jurisdiction..”

Constance took a dive, the wind shrieking as she attained her combat velocity, then spun, at a whip lashing speed, and flew straight towards the Perch..

..and more hurricanes stabbed down mercilessly, and Constance slammed right into them!

With a shriek lost in the howling, swirling and enraged, dark purple-gray fingers tore into her and shredded her and tossed her!

Constance dropped out of the sky like a moot rock..

..and with a last-minute display of aerial agility, she took a sharp, right-angle turn and shot up again!

“You are a persistent one, aren’t you?”, Titania said, and three more flashes of lightning came jarring down simultaneously.

 

With a determined expression on her face, Constance banked, right, then left, then left again, barely avoiding the deadly, jarring shafts and the wrathful fingers piercing down everywhere now.

 

“Mo.. Mother Titania.. Please.. I.. We are not all demon.. We are also human. I beg of you. I truly come in peace..”, she pleaded as tears ran down her face and were whipped away by the savage wind. “I speak the truth..”

“You must see the irony of a demon claiming to speak the truth, child. And a succubus, no less. Truth or lies, it matters little, as willy-nilly, the means to ends matters not to your kind.”

“I am Constance Alure Smithen, Mother.. Thus I have given you my name and claim nothing in return.”, she very nearly blubbered for the jagging streaks of lightnings came seamlessly now and the desperate half-born was zig-zagging mindlessly through them.

“Impressive. Perhaps you hoped, by giving something, you would get something back. Surcease, perhaps? Bargains do not work like that, dear child. I must want something from you for you to offer something else in return.. I do not!”

“I merely come to inquire as to the health of two Mortals, Mother! They are dear to some in the town called Serenity Home, just west of here.”

“Ahh.. Perhaps I may consent to give you that.. for your name, even though I have not asked for it. The princess of the homeless elves is indeed, here. She is healthy, though her health deteriorates as days go by and is quite troubled, for she has dire decisions to make for her mate-to-be, who is dying. I have put him in stasis to buy him time, whilst the princess makes her choice or comes to terms with his dire predicament. It appears, someone put a hole in the boy’s heart with iron.”

“Is.. is there nothing I can do to help? Nothing at all? Her people desperately need their princess and his father and his friends desperately need him.. For them, I am willing to give that which is most precious to me!”, Constance asked as she felt her heart plummet for a hole in the heart with iron only meant one end, and little did it matter if they were Mortal, fey, or demon..

“And what may that be, my dear?”

Constance told her.

 

There was a pause as Titania seemed to mull over something for the lightnings and the savage hurricanes ceased!

 

“As intriguing as your offer is, child, the princess of the homeless elves must be the one to make the choice I have offered her as said choice pertains to her own future, the future of her mate-to-be, and their line.. There is, literally, nothing anyone else may do, for she came here, with her mate-to-be, unsummoned and uninvited, though quite unintentional, also.. Should you still want to help the Mortals you claim to want to help, however, perhaps there is some room there for bargains for you have managed to garner my admiration, if not curiosity.. Settle down Constance Alure Smithen, the child of a Mortal woman and a demon father.. I would like to take a closer look at your offer and further test your mettle.. and see if your claim is worth a bargain.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Sheriff Standorin!”, exclaimed the young guard as he burst into the sheriff’s office. “Come. Quick! You.. you had better see this!”

Slowly and calmly, the sheriff of Serenity Home rose from his seat, buckled on his sword over his shoulder as he looked at the young, excited guard.

“What is it young man?”, he rumbled, giving an assessing glance at him.

“I don’t know how to describe it, sir. Lights.. Hundreds and hundreds of them. And they are all coming here!”, the young guard said with an awestruck face.

“Lights? What lights?”

“I don’t know, sir. You must see them yourself!”, the young man said, almost jumping where he stood.

Standorin mumbled something about young and easily excitable kids but waved at the guard to lead the way.

 

The two walked over and all the way to the north gate of the town while other guards ran back and forth with already lit torches and lanterns as evening slowly settled, just to see the multitudes of refugees, all on the other side of the stone bridge that stretched over the Great Arashkan River, and all of them were standing still and staring north..

..where there were hundreds and thousands of sparkling lights hovered amongst the trees bordering the Ritual Forest and quite luminous in the settling evening.

 

“What is this?”, Standorin asked, somewhat disturbed.

“We.. I do not know, sir. Ranger Masters Devien and Moorat have gone to check, but they have not returned yet.”, replied the young guard in a hushed voice.

“Where is  Master Aager—?”

“—Here, sir.”, replied a growling voice and Aager Fogstep appeared next to him as if summoned by magic!

“What is this?”, the sheriff repeated his question.

“I am not quite sure, sir.”, Aager said in his low voice.

 

“Are you seeing this, love?”, he silently cast his own question at Inshala.

“I want to. But there is a whole crowd of people standing in front of me and I can’t get past them.”, she replied. Then with a sigh, she added. “And they are pushing at one another.. I don’t want to get trampled.”

 

Aager turned to the guards standing nearby and growled at them.

“You! Form two lines, one on each side of the road and make a gap. We cant have a crowd plugging the town’s main entrance!”

“Yes, sir!”, the guards replied hastily, saluted the right hand of the sheriff, and guards started pushing the people back and to the side of the road leading in and out of the town.

 

“That was very smart!”, Aager heard Inshala’s admiring voice.

“People should know better not to mob the town entrances by now.”, he fumed.

“They are only curious, my Aager.”

“A stupid excuse for trampling each other. This could be a diversion for an attack!”

“Very true. Almost there..”, she replied and indeed, she appeared next to him.

 

They both stared at the odd, sparkling phenomena for some time until Inshala said a bit awed, “Pixies.. and sprites! Many of them.. Thousands!”

Sheriff Standorin turned to her and asked.

“Are you sure, Lady Inshala?”

 

Inshala flinched.

She just couldn’t help it.

Big, large men scared her!

 

Standorin must have noticed this as well, for his always-stern face softened a bit and he knelt down before the little girl and spoke in a low, calm voice, though it still rumbled.

“I apologize wholeheartedly, sweet Lady Inshala. I meant neither to upset you nor to abuse your good sensibilities. You are a wonder to us all, beautiful beyond words, and your wisdom leaves us in shame.”

 

If anything could have sufficed a good blush, this was it!

 

Inshala turned bright, bright red, and covered her face with her slender hands.

“You.. you have put me to shame with your honest and kind words, sir. The lights you see are fey folk. I would plead your men to not harm them. If they have come here and in such great numbers, there must be a good reason. If you would, please tell your men, and the people all around to make room, for they will not come any near, as things stand now.”

Sheriff Standorin smiled at her, then slowly rose.

“Master Aager, if you will, inform all the guards to put away their iron and clear the way, from all the way here to the fey. No one is to stand near them, get near them, hinder them, or harm them.”

“Yes, sir.”, Aager said with a curt salute and growled orders.

 

Soon, the town’s northern entrance, the bridge, and the refugees near the woods were all cleared and a historical first occurred; the tiny, sparkling lights, the small fel-folk hovered towards Serenity Home..

 

It was an inspired progression..

..as each luminous globe carried a tiny, humanoid creature inside, or perhaps, the globes of light were there because of the tiny, humanoid creatures..

..and they bobbed, back and forth, left and right, and up and down with easy leisure and leaving a long trail of sparkling pixie dust from their tiny, barely discernable wings and entered the town and slowly but surely, they gathered before the Serenity Town Temple where the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel.. and Perigren Ostlanna Temez met them, as Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, and Aager Fogstep also stood nearby.

 

A tiny, tooth-pick sized creature came forth, and with demanding attitude, she spoke;

“I am Biberbell and I speak for my kin and the rest of the fey-folk gathered here, and we have come upon the command of Titania, the Summer Queen, and in retaliation, Mab, also, the Winter Queen, in hopes to partake our pixie dust much needed for the defense of this Mortal town.”, she piped.

 

Thomas, Bremorel, and Temez just ogled at the tiny thing.

 

“We have been promised satisfactory accommodations and.. CANDY!”, she squeaked.

“Uhhmm.. Candy?”, Thomas blurted a bid dumbfounded.

“Yes. Candy! But we will settle for sugar canes, too.”, she buzzed, paused, then added..

“LOTS AND LOTS OF SUGAR CANES!

..with a very lustful expression on her tiny face as she rubbed her hands together, barely refraining from a possible;

 

“GIMME!”

 

“Said conditions can be arranged, Biberbell. But we have not made any bargains with either of the Queens.”, Thomas replied with a very much freaked expression on his own face.

The tiny sprite turned to Perigren Ostlanna Temez and said with nothing short of a patronizing tone.

“The bargain has already been struck, and the debt paid in full and done.”

“Who? Who has bargained with the Queens and who has paid in full and done?”, demanded Temez.

“How should I know, demon? I am not privy to the details of what the Queens do!”, Biberbell sniffed at her.

“Ask a Constance Alure Smithen!”

“Ask her what it means; Wings for Wings..”

 


 

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“Choose, Witch!”

“Choose, Witch!”

Timeline:

Soon after Aager Fogstep and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane arrive at Serenity Home from Durkahan City, they are confronted by a mysterious, hooded man and are expected to meet him the other day.

 

This story takes place the next day after
A ‘Warm’ Warning.

 

 

Inshala had woken up early that morning and snuck around the single-room house —her home, tiptoeing so as not to wake up the man sleeping soundly on the hard, threadbare mattress they shared and sneaking in a twenty by fifteen ‘room’ was a dare, all on its own, without waking up the most guarded and wary man in perhaps, several hundred miles in any direction.

But Inshala was just that good!

Having lived all her life mostly alone and in the wilds, a person learned to be quiet.

Or die quick.

 

Very silently, she snuck to the only door of the house, carefully opened it, and peaked outside to make sure there wasn’t anyone around to see her, as she wore only a simple, cream-white, hip-high shirt-gown, which did look more like a man’s shirt, really, and pretty much displayed her skinny legs, all the way up to her slender hips..

Satisfied, she slipped out of the house and into the garden behind. There, she very slowly drew water into a rickety wooden bucket using the old, squeaky pump, which wasn’t as easy as it sounded, considering how skinny she was, and how it shrieked every time she pulled at its lever!

When the bucket was full, she went back in and returned with a basket holding two apples, four green peppers, two hand-full of grapes, two tomatoes, half a dozen tiny onions, and two potatoes. All of these, she washed using the water from the bucket and quite vigorously.

 

Not content, she washed all of them again..

And again!

 

With an obsession that went all the way back to her younger days when she’d thought she was some unclean demon-spawn and had thought, or perhaps, zealously believed washing herself over and over and over again until her skin was rashed and likely bleeding, now.

In later years, her thoughts had become of two, in this matter. After she’d met Aager, who was hopefully still sleeping inside, however, she had finally concluded that perhaps —like, maybe— she wasn’t so unclean and not really a demon-spawn.

In all candor, she hadn’t yet attained that level of clarity, or wisdom, where she just wouldn’t care even if she was, in fact, a demon-spawn and it was what one chose to do, and consequently became, that mattered, rather being born as something that one’s opinions was never taken into account, nor were you ever confided.

 

That wisdom would come in time.

Like, many years later..

Just not yet.

 

Suffice to say, the idea of she being unclean had faded, drastically so, but her obsession for cleanliness and washing things over and over and over had, apparently, stuck!

 

Hence, with cold, weary, and shriveled hands, she returned back into the house and put all the fruits and vegetables on the small but sturdy table next to the tiny fireplace. She gave a cursory glance at the pots and pans that were available at hand, which weren’t all that many, really; a small jar full of cooking oil, two crock-pots containing some butter and some white cheese, a number of tin containers with coffee, various teas and herbs, one small iron pot for stew, a dingy copper pan, a small, water boiling pot, and her own addition, a set that comprised of two, flat, wooden plates which were called dinner plates, as she’d found out later when they were in Durkahan, two wooden bowls, and two wooden cups, all of which she herself had painstakingly carved in secret after she and Aager had come to better know one another, and when they were back at Arashkan, and a pair of forks and spoons, and several knives.

 

She picked up the smallest of the knives, the wooden-handled one, and peeled one apple, and sliced it in four. She took the other apple and sliced it in eight, but without peeling it. She also peeled the potatoes and cut them into very neat and very thin slices and cleaned the tiny onions then went over to the tiny fireplace and with a small wave of her hand, she lit the fire. She picked up the copper pan, careful not to make any noise, she poured some of the cooking oil in it, then lined the sides of the pan with the sliced apples, followed by potatoes, and in the very center, she put the onions. And with equal care, she placed it on the grate of the fireplace. Then she returned to the table, took out the two dinner plates, and spooned some butter into both and a rich slice of the white cheese as well. With sharp, practiced motions, she cut the tomatoes without letting the juice —one of the advantages of being mated to Aager; all his knives, kitchen or otherwise, were always very, very sharp, and placed them next to the cheese. Then she speared the green peppers with one of the longer knives, walked over to the fireplace, and held them in the fire, one pair a bit more than the other because Aager liked his food a bit on the burnt side. She placed the green peppers, now spotted with black charrs, and lay them next to the sliced tomatoes, and held her breath!

 

Aager had just stirred!

 

Hastily, she went back to the fireplace and withdrew the pan, and put a bit more than half the onions and the potatoes, and all the four slices of peeled and fried apples into his plate, and the eight, not-peeled ones into her own because Aager liked his apples peeled and once peeled, apples turned mushy when you tried to fry them, hence the slices had to be larger. She, on the other hand, liked her apples with their peels! As an encore, she placed the grapes, in a sort of pyramidical formation, and next to the green peppers.

Then she took out the two wooden bowls, turned them upside down, and placed them over the dinner plates to keep dust and bugs out of the now ready breakfast, cleaned the table off the peels, took out the water boiling pot, ghosted back out, filled it with water, skimmed back in and hung the pot over the fire and dumped a spoon.. no.. two spoons.. wait.. was it one, or two spoons?

This was the one thing she could never remember;

The number of spoons of coffee that went into the small pot.

Possibly because she never drank coffee. It smelled wonderful, like awesome-wonderful, but once, and only once had she drank it. Back when her Father, Cathber had still been alive.

Turned out, coffee had quite the opposite effect on her, than it had on her Father —or any other human for that matter.

 

It had made an eleven-year-old Inshala totally, unimaginably, and roaring drunk!

 

It had been a learning experience for both herself and her Father that day.

Hence, Inshala preferred her herbal teas in the mornings but she wouldn’t make a fuss if they weren’t available. Aager, on the other hand, would forgo his breakfast, but not his coffee!

 

All done and ready, she quickly heated her slender hands near the fire, then her tiny feet, and with a very self-conscious blush, she turned around, pulled up her simple, cream-white, hip-high shirt-gown she used while she slept, and heated her embarrassingly small, cup-sized, bare butt as well, because Aager tended to get riled when her hands, her feet, and even perhaps her butt, was cold, as one never quite knew where hands went when the mind was asleep, usually ending up where they wanted to be without bothering to ask the mind!

 

Apparently..

 

Just the other day, she had woken up with one of her slender hands in his hair, and the other in his shirt, touching his lean, spring-coil chest marred and marked with whip marks and numerous stab wounds!

She had been so embarrassed.

But with a very guilty and a very, very red but decisive face, she had kept her hands where they were.

 

The deed had already been done, right?

Inshala had figured, should Aager decide to trash her for it, she’d at least have fully earned it!

 

That’s how her mind worked; if she was going to get trashed, she should do her best to thoroughly deserve it.. as odd, somewhat scary, and illogical as that sounded.

 

Back to the topic at hand, then?

When Aager found her hands, feet, and possibly her butt, were cold, he spoke in his ‘quiet’ voice because he thought she wasn’t taking care of herself.

That was one of the very few things he did not tolerate when it came to Inshala.

 

Well.

It seemed like everyone had their perks, quirks, and oddities and it mattered very little how much you loved and cared for them, or how desperately they loved and cared for you.

But all of that went only as far as one could find a way around them.

Evidently..

 

With her hands, her feet, and her butt comfortably warmed up, she snuck back to the threadbare mattress and slithered her way into his arms, and started to watch his face..

 

With quiet, excited anticipation..

..and inadvertently, she breathed, softly, into his face.

 

Aager frowned.

Perhaps he was having a bad dream again.

Aager often had bad dreams.

Inshala had watched him ever since they had met in the woods, some six or seven months ago, and knew when he was having a bad dream.

Then his eyes opened.

They didn’t flutter.

They opened suddenly and alertly, without any sign of sleep or grogginess.

It was quite creepy, really.

But Inshala had found it amazing.

Possibly because when she woke up, she was much like this silly bear that’d just woken up from his winter sleep; dizzy, groggy, confused, stupid, and at times, panicked, even.

 

She smiled.

Because she wanted him to see ‘this’, the first thing he opened his eyes..

 

“You have pretty eyes.”

 

Aager said solemnly.

After quietly staring at her.

 

“Yeesh!”, thought Inshala. “Totally worth a trashing.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Meet you at the Guest’s Inn at, say, when the town bell hits twice afternoon?”, Aager asked. He had cleaned out his perfectly prepared plate and was now sipping his hot, bitter coffee, quietly wondering at what point had the little girl slipped out of their dingy mattress and prepared the breakfast and returned back into his arms and whether or not to tell her she didn’t have to prepare the breakfast because he didn’t think she was some serving maid.

“I don’t prepare anything because I am a serving maid, my Aager.”, Inshala said with a flushed smile, as if having read his mind, which, in all likeliness, she had.. “I prepare them because I do not think you should go to work to keep us all safe and do it hungry.”

“Some would argue your point.”, Aager mused.

“You are not ‘some’ to me, my Aager. And I prepare it because you have asked me to care for myself. Which is what I am doing. Caring for you is caring for myself. And I like cooking.”, she replied with an even bigger smile. “Besides, this is our home. And ‘some’ has no say here. Only you, and me, get to speak in our home.”

“Well, when you put it that way, someone just lost the argument!”, Aager smiled.

“As for the hour, I think we should meet here and go to this Guest’s Inn, place.”, she said.

Aager cocked an eyebrow.

“When we return here..”, Inshala explained. “..we have returned ‘home’ where we are at our best. We are filled and refreshed with our ‘home power’ here. And we shall go and meet them fully armed, with the least taint of the day, hanging on us.”

“That is.. a rather deep perspective of looking at it.”, Aager admitted a bit astonished.

“Will you fight the Summer Knight?”, she asked a bit tentatively.

“I have no desire to fight anyone. We have enough enemies on their way.”, he growled. “But I shall not bow to any demands, should he be foolish enough to make them. What will you do today?”

“I have been asked by the elves of High Woods to kindly meet with their druids and the druids, shamans, and witches of Ritual Forest to lead them.”, Inshala said unhappily. “I don’t want to lead anyone. I am too young for that. But the request was made by your mayor, Artanboss—”

“Arthandos, love.”, Aager corrected her kindly.

“Yes, him. He sent word to our Bremorel to find me and tell me about this. What should I do? I have more than enough work, bargaining with Mab and Titania so they would cooperate..”, she said like she wanted to cry. “I mean, they can barely tolerate one other in even in my secret Silent Forest. Now I bargain with Mab so she would refrain from her usual winters, and beg Titania so she would breathe life and warmth to these lands so the refugees will not freeze and die, and neither wants to give consent without wanting something from the other! They only agreed thus far because I told them, should either refuse, Mab can live her best winters when the Orken bring their destruction and kill all her Winter Feys and I told Titania that she could enjoy her summers once the same Orken totally burn her Perch and kill her nymphs and dryads who live there.”

Aager splurted some of his coffee!

“You threatened Mab and Titania?”, he stared at her, somewhat aghast and about to laugh.

Inshala’s face went red.

“I.. might have.. just a little..”

Aager laughed.

“That was awesome, love.”, he said happily. “But I think you should lead all the druids and witches and whatnots of both parties as you are the only one among them that have seen the bigger picture and look out what’s best for the world and the people in general, rather than their individual self-interests. Though I think you should make sure you have their oaths that they will follow your lead, should they want you to lead them.”

“I don’t want any more responsibility and you want to bind them to me with oaths?”, she pouted.

“We all must do what we must, love. And we are all running out of time.”

Inshala pouted some more and Aager put his bitter coffee down, leaned over the small table, and kissed her pretty pout.

“I am off, love.”, he said with one of his rare smiles. “It has been a wonderful night, a delicious breakfast, and even a better kiss. I will meet you here at the second toll of the bell, afternoon.”

And left.

 

Inshala stood where she sat, a demure, happy smile on her face.

Then she blinked.

“Ow no..”, she moaned. “I forgot to ask him if the coffee was alright.”

Then paused.

“I forgot how many spoons I put.. Again!

✱ ✱ ✱

Will you honor us, Lady Inshala?”, asked an elderly elf in some old and saggy brown robes.

“I will honor everyone who comes in peace.”, replied the little girl, blushing furiously, for the elf bowing before her was at least one thousand five hundred years older than her. “Sir. Please. I am the Ritual Guardian, for the forest has spoken. But I lack the years and the wisdom for such respect.”

“No, Ritual Guardian. The forest has chosen you, precisely for those reasons. Mortals may choose as their wont. Nature chooses to her need.”, said the elderly elf and there was a rumble of agreement among the other druids, both elf and human, young and old, and the few shamans, all standing in a huge, rune laid circle, far out of the town, and all staring at her in wonder, something Inshala found quite uncomfortable and rather embarrassing.

The witches at the back, a score or so in number, all wearing masks or veils, however, stood silent.

Inshala looked back to make sure the two rangers were still there; Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel and Ranger Master Moorat, who had been assigned to her for the duration of this meeting, though whose idea it had been to assign them to her in the first place, she didn’t know, though she had some implicating suspicions about it. She and her hubby, Aager, would have words about this later, at length..

“It wasn’t me, love.”, she heard Aager whisper in her mind.

“It.. it wasn’t?”, she asked a bit baffled.

“As much as I would claim my hand in this, I have no jurisdiction over the rangers of Serenity Home. Yes, they are bound to report to me, but I can not give them orders, and I can even prove it!”, Aager said and gave Inshala the impression that he was smiling.. sort of smugly.

“I would like to see how you can prove that, all the way from the sheriff’s office, my Aager.”, she replied with a little sniff.

“Morel.”, Aager said.

“What about her?”, she asked a bit confused.

“Is she scowling and fuming?”

“Well. No. She looks.. happier than I remember her from our time at Themalsar.”

“There you have it, love. Had I given her the order, she’d be glaring and breathing fire, because both she and her cousin, Laila, very much dislike me and hate it when I order them around.”, he said, the impression of his smugness more apparent now.

“They would have liked you if you hadn’t inperodated.. incarocated.. imperomated—”, she said and faltered.

“Uhhmm.. Interrogated them?”

“Yes, that..”, she said blushing furiously. “In that tent when they were wounded after their fight against the wolves, all those years ago.”

“Wait a minute.”, Aager said. “How could you possibly know about that?”

 

A long, ‘oops’ sort of silence settled over the conversation.

 

“You.. you got your knife back that evening, didn’t you?”, she mumbled, her blush turning into a very hot flush now.

“That.. that was you!”

“Yes.”, Inshala replied with a very small voice.

“I knew it! I KNEW IT! AND THOSE IDIOTS INSISTED ON NOT TELLING ME ANYTHING!, Aager fumed. “And you were there all along..”

“Well, I only joined the attack against the wolves when they both were hurt because they didn’t know me and I was in my saber-tooth tiger form and feared I would either be a distraction or a source of fear causing them to attack me as well.”

“And it was you who healed them and washed and braided their hair!”

“My master did most of the healing. But yes. I did wash their hair and braided them as well. I am sorry my Aager, but they were wearing their hair wrong!”

“And.. you were at the tent afterward as well?”

“Well.. not inside the tent.. Just outside. They were hurt so badly and I know hurt very well and felt so sorry for them and wanted to be sure they were alright. That’s when you came and started intorodating them..”

 

Inshala got the distinct impression that Aager was ‘victory dancing’ in her head!

 

“Umm..”, she said. “If I’d known you were this curious about it, I promise, I would have told you about it before. But many things happened after we met in the forest years later, and..”

“And?”

“And I didn’t want to scare you..”

“Scare me?”

“Well. I did follow you around when you and my Father, along with the hunters and rangers had gone to kill the rabid wolves, and later, when we were following those bad men that had killed my Father and burned your town. It.. makes me look.. scary.. I would have been scared if someone snuck around behind me like that..”, she said, a bit mortified.

“Love. Being followed around and stalked by you was one of the better things that has ever happened to me.”, Aager admitted freely. “As for why Bremorel and Moorat are there, I might have an idea as to who sent them to safeguard you.”

“Who?”

“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Udoorin’s father.”

“That was very nice of him but.. he wouldn’t have known about this meeting..”

 

Aager coughed.

 

“I might have mentioned it to him and insinuated that keeping the Ritual Guardian —our Ritual Guardian— safe and sound was of utmost importance..”, he replied, not without a small amount of smug.

“Ow, my Aager.”, Inshala sighed. “You could have just told me, you know. I am not a disagreeable girl, after all.”

“No, love. You are not. But that meeting isn’t only a happy gathering between druids and witches. It also concerns the rest of us. Think of Bremorel and Moorat as representatives of Serenity Home.”

“I do not mind Bremorel is here, my Aager. But Ranger Master Moorat is.. scary.. And he is scowling at everyone!”

“That’s Moorat for you. But he is a good man at heart. I think. His sister was Sheriff Standorin’s wife, and Udoorin’s mother. She became very ill when Udoorin was at a very young age and died. Moorat and the sheriff are always scowling because they still miss her.”, Aager said quietly.

“Owww.. That is so sad. I shall speak of this matter with him after this meeting. I sense he has words to say and they have been inside him for many years now.”, Inshala promised.

“Do be careful, love. Moorat might be a good man, but he doesn’t have all that good manners and his mouth is rather foul.”

“I doubt he can add any more to what I have already heard from the woodsmen in my youth, my Aager, but I shall be careful.”

 

A moment of smoldering silence fell and Inshala immediately regretted what she’d just said.

 

“One day, love, and soon, I believe you and I are going to visit those woodsmen up north.”, Aager said with a too steady voice.

 

“No need, my Aager. Really. Nothing good can come from such a visit. What is done is done. I did what I did and went near their homes to fix their broken and hurt animals when my Father clearly warned me not to. And just as he warned, I made their sins, my sins. I do not regret my choices, nor the consequences of my choices. I do regret theirs, for I was the cause of it. The woodsmen there always live in fear because their lives might end at any time and without warning; the tree they cut might fall on them and crush them, a wild animal might attack and eat them, a marauding band of orcs or goblins, or worse might raid them and slay them.. They suffer the harshest of winters and could easily die, frozen and brittle.. Being so far away from help has made them wary of everyone and everything that isn’t them. Yet they still are there, because there, they are free and no one tells them what to do. Vengeance, my Aager, is merely a lazy form of grief..”, she said mutely.

Aager did not reply for some time. When he spoke, his voice was kinder, though as steady and even as it had just been.

 

“You, my Inshala, are a wonder, you are. I shall not go after them. But should they come after you as they did before, I shall not allow you to suffer their sins again.”

 

That said, Inshala felt Aager’s presence leave..

 

She sighed and turned to the men and women, elf and human, all much, much older than she.

“I shall accept your offer to lead, but not your offer to command. We, druids and shamans, are free. From nature, we take only what we need, and we return back to her willingly. That is who we are. And that is what makes us, and no ill-begotten Orken nor their foul demon masters may take this away from us. Should you acknowledge my lead, I shall require your consent. We are free. But we must work and work in concert to stay free. Will you all concur on this?”, she asked quietly.

 

There was a murmur of awed surprise as the druids stared at the little girl in wonder.

Yes. The forest had chosen her as her guardian, and this was the reason. Her wisdom was merely the excuse.

One by one, they approached her and bowed, declaring their devotion and allegiance.

“Thank you all.”, Inshala said, looking down at her own small palms, very much embarrassed. “Let us all, then, gather our collective wisdom and put them to words at the first toll of this very night, and see what knowledge we have, where we are most needed, and what we may do about them.”

The druids and the shamans all nodded and quietly left.

 

When they were gone, only the witches remained.

 

Someone grunted in disgust behind her and that was the only sound she heard from Ranger Master Moorat.

One of them, a very elderly, crooked old hag of a woman with a gnarled old cane took a few steps forward.

“We are not some tree-hugging druid or some simple-minded shaman, little girl.”, she said and Bremorel’s soft, throaty voice immediately riposted!

“Careful, witch. Should you try and insult the Ritual Guardian, I shall personally make sure it’s the last thing you do.”

“We are not afraid of you, nor your kind, Bremorel Songsteel.”, spat back the old witch.

“I do not require your fear of me nor my kind, hag. You can frisk or frolic while I cut you for all I care. Know this, however, you might get away from the Ritual Guardian, for she is kind and forgiving and has a great heart, but there is no place on earth you can run nor hide from me nor my kind. And should you want to test us, you shall never see us coming. Only die by our steel. And we shall bring the full might of the Temple Guardians upon you, also!”, she replied coldly.

 

A grim silence fell over the witches, for nothing the ranger lieutenant had said was bravado. She had pronounced exactly what she would do. Period.

 

“Ranger Lieutenant.”, Inshala said quietly. “Please. We are all here under the threat of total annihilation by the Orken. We need each other, more than ever.”

The old witch stared at her for a moment, her veil shuffling rapidly.

“Your master, Cathber, did us great disservice by banishing our kin from the Ritual Forest. This needs to be addressed.”

“My master banished your kind from Ritual Forest because your elders sided with Themalsar during the first war. And along with his warlocks did they bind the spirits of the fallen, tormenting them and driving them mad and sent them against the elves, the humans, the dwarves, and the gnomes.”, Inshala replied mutely. “Those spirits, bound and mad, stayed there for eight hundred years, howling in despair. I felt them all, as I brought down that mad priest’s temple down. And after so many centuries, were those poor spirits finally free.”

“What’s done is done. We can not be held responsible for the deeds of our ancestors. We must be allowed to return to our lands.”, the old witch snarled.

“The land is not yours. It never was. Land and sky belong to nature.”, Inshala said. “We all are mere guests, here.”

“Then there is nothing to speak here. We shall take our leave and return to our homes in exile.”, the witch declared.

“Return or stay. That is yours to decide. But should you persistent on the mistakes of your elders and join the enemy as they did before, I shall make sure you will be the last of your kind for nature hates demons because they are foul and they are evil, yet they are also not of this world. You and your kin, however, are, and nature abhors more, that which so thoroughly betrays her own world.”, Inshala said and there wasn’t a trace of a threat in her voice. She said it as it was and as a matter of fact.

“You give us nothing, yet want everything. You give no carrot, yet you show us the stick.”, hissed the hag.

“I do not do carrots, nor do I do sticks. I am nature. I balance. And balance does not offer bribes nor favors. Should you want to live in a world free of demons, you must bleed for it, just like the rest of us, for I have offered nothing to the druids, nor the shamans, much like nothing was offered to me.”

“A challenge!”, another witch said from behind.

A murmur rippled among the witches.

“Yes. A challenge, then.”, said the old hag.

“A challenge for what?”, Inshala asked.

“A challenge of yield to see if you are fit to be the Ritual Guardian!”

 

Inshala paused for a moment.

 

“I did not choose to be what I am. I was chosen.”

“So you say. Face one of our kind and prove yourself!”, cried the old witch triumphantly. “Should you lose, you shall step down and will no longer be the Ritual Guardian, and we will be allowed to return to Ritual Forest.”

“Nothing of what you just said made any sense, and the fact that you do not understand what being a Ritual Guardian is or the workings of the world around you, is proof that you shouldn’t be dabbling with any magic, let alone with spirits. But it is apparent you will not understand even should I explain it to you because you are not here to understand. You are here to make demands for the things you want but do not deserve and without wanting to bleed or sweat for them. So I will ask only what would entail should I win?”, she asked calmly.

“What would you want?”, the old witch asked.

Inshala didn’t miss a beat.

“You, all of you, shall join our fight against the Orken and their demon masters for so long as they remain a threat and be bound to someone of my choosing, and never shall you ensnare any spirits to torment them ever again. Should any of you break this agreement or fail to uphold it, you will die, all of you, by your own spirits. This is my carrot!”

 

A dead, choking silence fell over the witches and Inshala heard a pair of elated snorts from behind her.

 

“Girl, if that was the carrot, I don’t ever want to see what you would do with a stick.”, snarked Bremorel.

 

“We.. we shall decide whom to send..”, the old witch said with a deflated voice.

“I shall await your choice. Now, I have other matters to attend.”, Inshala replied and calmly rose, and left the circle.

 

“I am not sure what just happened, girl, but what you just did was dangerous.”, Bremorel said with a frown. “Witches are bitches and not a good lot. I’d rather they didn’t help us.”

“If they do not help us, they will help the enemy, dear Bremorel. Yes, witches can be bothersome, and dangerous, but they must know their place. And for them to know that, they must first learn it, then earn it. My Father had very good reasons for banishing them and it would seem, after all these centuries, they still haven’t learned neither their place nor any humility.”, Inshala replied.

“Lady Inshala is right.”, Moorat said with a vicious scowl. “As much as I detest them, you don’t want them hating you more than you hate them. In his very long life, Master Cathber did many great things. Kicking the witches out of Ritual Forest was one of his best, though.”

 

Inshala flinched.

She didn’t know this Moorat and he was a scary man.

 

“Would you give us a moment with Ranger Master Moorat, dear Bremorel? I must consult him on a personal matter.”, she said tentatively.

“Of course.”, Morel replied, though she did give her a queasy look.

Moorat was a broad-shouldered man but not very tall and he still looked down at the little girl. His ranger outfit seemed harassed and make-due, but a closer inspection would reveal, they were, in fact, immaculately kept, just like his bow and the great sword he carried across his shoulder.

He did, however, have a truly evil-looking face.

“You display wisdom beyond your years, young lady. I am impressed. Reminds me of someone I knew, once.”, he said in his harsh voice.

“Thank you, sir.”, replied Inshala a bit shyly.

“Ah. I merit a ‘Sir’, now do I?”, grinned Moorat and his already evil-looking features became even more sinister. “This should brighten Stan’s day!”

 

Inshala flinched again.

 

“I.. I don’t think you are as you seem.”

“No, little girl. I am exactly as I seem.”, growlaughed the ranger master!

“Would you say dear Bremorel is a good person?”, she asked.

“A bit silly at times. And can start a fight in the blink of an eye, but yes, I would say she is a good girl. The best greenhorn I ever had. Well, not anymore. She’s a lieutenant now.”

“Greenhorn?”, Inshala asked, inadvertently reaching up to touch her own horns.

“Ahh. Bad choice of words there. I meant student.”

“There you have it, then, sir.”, she replied.

“There I have what?”, Moorat asked a bit confused.

“At the hands of a decent man, good becomes better. At the hands of a lecher, bad becomes worse. I heard people tell of her sad story and how she lost her parents and how she was after that. I look at her now and I see a dear sister; smart, full of life, and fiercely loyal to her friends and I would like to think you had a hand in that.”, she said quietly.

 

Moorat stared at her..

..and blushed!

 

“Well.. maybe.. no one needs to know, though. Are we clear on that, young lady?”, he said flustered and uncomfortable.

“Your secret is safe with me, sir.”, she said and very quietly, she added. “I.. am sorry about your sister.”

 

Moorat stumbled.

 

“I.. yes.. well.. thank you for your concern..”

“You must miss her dearly.”, she said with the same hushed tone.

“Many who knew her, miss her dearly.”, replied Moorat with a similarly low voice.

“Udoorin was my friend and was always kind and polite to me. I do not remember my mother. She died when I was barely born. But I would very much like to hear who his mother was. I.. would be much in your debt and be honored if you would tell me your sister, Limnia Karya.”

“You know her name?”

“I did not, sir. But to those who know how to listen, the earth we walk.. she speaks us certain names for she does not forget those who do much harm and trample it in hubris, nor does she forget those who are much loved and softly have walked it..”, she replied.

“Limnia.. my dear sister.. did walk it softly..”, whispered Moorat, staring far into the distance. “..and was something else. And I couldn’t even tell her how much I loved her before she died..”

 

 

It was long past the first toll of the bell that afternoon when Inshala returned back to the town, accompanied only by a silence Bremorel.

When they entered Serenity Home, the ranger lieutenant gave her a hug and told her to come over for dinner some time, and if she really must, that she could also bring her hubby, Aager, along too, but that it was perfectly fine and she wouldn’t be vexed at all if she didn’t..

Inshala smiled at her and simply said, “We belong.”

Bremorel stared at her with this look on her face and said, “Well, that must suck!”

Inshala smiled again and started towards home.

It was nearing the second toll afternoon and she didn’t think she should keep her hubby waiting.

✱ ✱ ✱

What’s the plan of action, here?”, Aager asked in his growling voice.

“Plan of action? Those are too big words for me, my Aager. I am but a simple girl who needs ranger escort to find her way to a meeting. Perhaps we should stop by the temple and ask Bremorel to join us, again.”, said Inshala with a mischievous spark in her eyes.

Aager fumed a bit but didn’t bite back.

“I am sorry.”, he said. “I wasn’t trying to be bossy nor was it my intention to patronize you.”

“My Aager. I never mind it when you want to boss me, nor patronize me. Because you never do them out of whim, nor to feel good about yourself. But I need your respect and your trust as much as I want your love and your care. I have your love for I can feel it. I have your care for I see it. But you must show your respect and your trust by your deeds. It is true I am not as smart as you are, but if I must fall, then I should fall because one day, I surely will. It is the nature of Mortals to fall and hurt themselves. That is how we learn to look where we are going. I am young and silly and have fallen many times, and still, I forget to look where I step, so to speak, but if that is the only way for me to learn, then I deserve to keep on falling until I don’t.”, she replied kindly.

“That is asking a lot, love.”, Aager said, still fuming.

“To ask for your respect and trust?”, Inshala asked a bit baffled.

“No. To let you risk so many falls..”

Inshala smiled at him.

“Sometimes, I will fall, my Aager. And sometimes you will. We both are still very new at belonging and have a lot to learn. As for the matter at hand, I think it would be better if you do all the talking since this is a matter between the Winter Knight and the Summer Knight. I will only speak should you require some vital information perpaiming.. perkaiming.. per—”, she sighed with a flustered resignation. “I forgot the word!”

“Pertaining?”, offered Aager.

“Yes, that.. perpaiming the fey and the courts..”

 

They walked in amiable silence for a bit and Inshala looked up to see the vague visage of the Gull’s Perch, lost in the distance and mists. It was several days travel away, but still looked beautiful; a single vertical rock-like mountain, some half a mile at its base and climbed up and up and disappeared in the clouds.

She sighed and Aager nudged her.

“What’s up?”, he asked.

“The Gull’s Perch.”, she replied simply.

The Winter Knight looked up too and stared at the majestic scene.

“What of it?”, he asked.

“It’s been quite some time I haven’t been there. The last time I was, my Father was killed because I was busy playing with the fey that live there. Things could have turned out very differently had I been at home and not there.”

Aager didn’t really know what to say to that. It appeared, guilt was something that logic just couldn’t wash off. So he did the next best thing; he reached and held the little girl by the waist and pulled her tightly to himself, and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

“Give it some time, love. It won’t fade, but it will be tolerable.”

Inshala leaned closer to him and the Guest’s Inn came into view.

“Should something start here, I want you to leave and go home, please.”, he said in his growling voice.

“And you truly think I will abandon you?”, Inshala replied with a frown.

“You won’t. But you can’t be seen, nor be part of a direct conflict between the two opposing knights. I am thinking neither Mab nor Titania will appreciate that. I don’t want you to lose all your good standing with either court.”, he said seriously.

Inshala did one of her funny snorts!

“I love it when you try to get me out of harm’s way using this thing you call logic. Has it ever worked?”

“Every time.”, Aager said blandly. “Because you are a smart and sensible girl.”

“Ow.. I like where this heading.”, Inshala smiled.

“And I am not the sort of guy who falls for just any pretty face. The girl I love must also be sensible, logical, and can see reason when it’s offered to her..”

“..and has the strong will to ignore it when she deems it necessary!”, she finished smugly.

 

Perhaps it was time for Aager to sigh.

So he did..

 

“Do not worry my Aager. You know I shall do my best not to hinder you. Just like I know you will do your best not to bind me, and just like we both know neither shall abandon the other, no matter the cost. I may live with the wrath of Mab and Titania. But I have no desire to live alone nor to live without you.”

 

 

Aager pushed the door of the Guest’s Inn and scanned the large room full of tables, chairs, and stools, to see the inn was void of people. Even the bar and the bar attendants were gone. He looked up to made sure the stairs leading up were clear, and entered.

It was perhaps the only time he had seen the inn this empty.

Accept for the one table near the center and next to one of the shuttered windows. The inn’s saloon was not dark, per se, but it was decidedly dim.

He looked at the occupied table and saw a figure in dark brown robes, a hood, and a full face mask. The man didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons on him, though Aager knew robes could be deceiving and could hide any number of nasty and pointy things. The man didn’t seem to be large nor tall, but only gave the illusion of size due to the robes, the hood, the mask.

And he wasn’t alone.

A lithe figure sat next to him. She wore a tight, dark purple dress-skirts, a polished steel bodice-girdle emphasizing her rather shapely breasts, several necklaces, all accessorized with dozens of multi-colored beads, any number of bracelets with similarly colored grains, and her long, slim fingers were decorated with more rings than she had digits and though her face was covered with a heavy veil, she gave the distinct impression that she was the kind of girl who was comfortable with her own figure but very much liked to be further appreciated for it..

 

Without further due, he pushed the door wider and stepped aside as Inshala walked in and gave the inn a quick glance herself. She silently nodded at him and they both ghosted towards the only occupied table.

Aager let Inshala slide into the double bench and took his place next to her where she would face the well-accessorized girl, and he would face the man in his dark brown robes, pulled up hood and mask —the Summer Knight.

The four sat there for a long moment as everyone tried to assess their counter-part.

To Aager’s surprise, though, it wasn’t the man in the dark brown robes who spoke first.

“What’s she doing here? Why is she even here?”, asked the girl sitting next to the Summer Knight.. quite viciously.

“I am the Ritual Guardian. I am here as the moderator.”, Inshala said simply.

“I do not recognize this self-imposed title. I do not recognize the Ritual Guardian!”, she hissed.

“Your recognition is neither required nor deemed. Your ignorance of the world you live in, however, is a bit worrisome.”, Inshala replied quietly.

“I doubt you are in any position to lecture me, little girl.”, the girl spat waspishly.

“You are as small as I am.”, Inshala said, trying not to snort.

“I am older than you are!”, the girl hissed.

The Summer Knight sighed.

“And your age has not brought you the wisdom it has promised. Perhaps you should wait a few more years?”, Inshala smiled happily.

“I could take you any day, any time!”

“I don’t think so, Witch!”, Inshala replied calmly.

 

A choked silence fell over the spat.

 

“Perhaps we should go and come back some other time.”, Aager said in his ‘quiet’ voice. “As much as others might enjoy a good catfight, I don’t, and neither do I have the time for it..”

“I am sorry, Sir Knight.”, Inshala said, a bit flushed. “I was not name-calling her. I was merely defining her for what she really is; a witch! And she is trying to rile us so she could bring her spirits into play and axe this meeting which she knows she is not a part of. She is not fey, she is not a vassal of either court, let alone Summer, and is recognized by neither, and hence, unhappy, which is understandable. By refusing to recognize my title, she hopes to gain a seat at this table as someone who does not have a title herself. What she does not comprehend, is the importance of this meeting. She wants recognition, yet she defies the same from others. Much like the rest of her kind, she turns a deliberate blind eye to the title of Ritual Guardian, which I did not bestow upon myself, as it is not a Mortal whim, and hence, can not be self-imposed, as she is also ignorant of what it entails, much like she is interfering a business between forces as great as Mab and Titania, for each knight here represents one or the other, while she represents no other than her own self-interests.”

 

Aager did not turn to look at her, though he very much wanted to. That had been one awesome smack-down and he could literally feel the veiled girl seething with hate.

He just stared at the man sitting across from him.

 

“You asked me why I was here and I have given my reason. Why are you here?”, she asked the girl in the dark, purple dress skirts. “If you so wanted to be part of this meeting, all you had to do was to ask nicely.”

“I am here to make sure you stay out of this meeting and do not cheat!”, the girl said viscously.

“Unlike you, I am actually part of this meeting. You may consult the Queens on this matter if you like. I hold Mab’s personal favor and am bound to Titania due to my druid’s circle. Also, I carry fey blood. Hence, I do not cheat, nor do I require it. Had you known fey, you would also have known it is quite not possible for us to lie. We leave such despicable acts of vile deceit to Mortals.”, Inshala replied with a prim little sniff.

“I.. am sorry for that last part, my Aager.”, she said abashedly.

“No, no. By all means do what it is you are doing, love. Smack her down to your heart’s content. I am enjoying this.”, came Aager’s mirthful voice.

“Please, my Aager. This is important. I have to learn this witch where she belongs amongst us and that she and her ilk are not above others and neither are their actions beyond consequences. A something they have failed to learn after all these centuries when they sided with Themalsar during the first war. Should they want back into the ‘fold’ they must earn it. And to earn it, they must first respect the living and the spirits they enjoy tormenting.”

“I am content, love. Really. By destroying her, you are destroying the summer boy for me.”, he replied smugly.

“Aager Fogstep!”, she replied reprovingly. “He is not the summer boy. He is the Summer Knight.”

“A knight, he may be. A boy, he certainly is. Something about him tells me I should know him.”

Inshala signed.

“When will Mortals ever learn to use their noses?”

And that little reprimand hit Aager over the head and he suddenly figured out what it was that he had sensed about the boy;

 

Flour!

 

The boy smelled of flour.. and pastry!

“Dervel Stratler..”, he stated.

And noted the man in the dark brown robes, the hood, and the mask stiffen.

“I.. beg your pardon?”, he stammered.

“How is your father?”, Aager asked with an amused tone, from behind his own half-mask.

“I have no idea what you are talking about!”, the Summer Knight stammered some more.

“I challenge you!”, hissed the veiled girl.

“On what grounds? You hold no title of your own. You represent no one other than yourself, and you have nothing to bargain that I would want, should you lose.”, Inshala said a bit baffled.

“I represent the witches of Ritual Forest!”, snarled the girl.

“You want to interfere?”, Aager asked the very young Dervel, mildly. “Or would you rather I did. Because as much as I am the Winter Knight, I also represent the law here and will not have an open fight on my watch. I will take her and you into custody and throw you both to jail and keep you there until such time you are both brought before the mayor whilst he rules a judgment for causing public disturbance during a time of war.”

 

The Summer Knight didn’t say anything.

But Aager got the impression he wanted to be anywhere but here at that very moment.

 

“Should I win, you shall accept the same stipulations to step down and no longer be the Ritual Guardian, and we will be allowed to return to Ritual Forest.”, the witch bit savagely.

“What is a spupilation?”, Inshala asked quickly.

“Stipulation, love. It means, condition.”, replied Aager.

“Well, why doesn’t she just say that?”, she fumed.

“Love, she really wants this fight and isn’t going to back down. She is vicious and really wants to hurt you. Should that happen—”

“No, my Aager. You may not interfere in this matter. At this moment, you are the Winter Knight. Should you interfere, Mab will not be happy. And this is something I must do. We need all the help we can get. Including the witches. Because if we don’t get them on our side, the enemy will get them on theirs, exactly the way it happened at Themalsar. I want them to see and to recognize the excuse I am presenting to them to give them their place amongst us.”, Inshala said desperately. “Please..”

 

Aager seethed.

 

“Very well. You have my love and my care. Now I ‘deed’ to show my respect and trust.. by doing nothing..”

“You are here, my Aager. That is something all on its own.”, she replied with a smile.

 

“Then I put forth the same stipulus.. stickilus.. stimelus..”

“Stipulations, love.”

The veiled girl laughed.

“You can’t even pronounce a simple word, yet you claim to be the Ritual Guardian?”, she snarked.

“I claim nothing. But I can pronounce your full name, Be’heire Crowfeather, the daughter of an outcast wood elf witch, much like yourself.”

 

The veiled girl, Be’heire Crowfeather, shut up!

 

“It shall be a duel to yield and you, all of you, shall join our fight against Orken and their demon masters for so long as they remain a threat and be bound to someone of my choosing, and never shall you ensnare another spirit to torment them ever again. Should any of you break this agreement or fail to uphold it, you will die, all of you, by your own spirits —these were the exact conditions I put forth earlier and they still stand and you and all your kind will abide by these stipumations. Should I win but your ilk refuses to acknowledge you as their champion, I shall assume they have broken the agreement and will call upon all the elves, the rangers, the dwarves, the ogres, the wild, and the fey to bring down their judgment upon you!”

 

Be’heire froze where she was.

 

“Honey, please.”, said Dervel. “This really is unnecessary and quite pointless.”

“I disagree..”, Be’heire hissed between clenched teeth.

 

The Summer Knight signed again.

 

“Let’s go!”, the witch sneered and got up.

“Very well.”, agreed, Inshala, and also rose.

“Not in my town.”, Aager said quietly.

“Have your precious town, Knight!”, Be’heire sneered and stalked out of the inn, followed closely by Inshala.

 

Dervel sat where he was and his shoulders slumped noticeably.

 

“Well..”, he said. “That went well..”

“I have never blamed another man for his choice in women, young man.”, Aager noted. “But yours seems to have issues.”

“She is normally a very kind and sweet girl. She is an outcast, though, both from her own people and Ritual Forest and by no other than Lady Inshala’s master, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig himself. I would agree that his reasons were very much justified, but his banishment did leave behind many discontent witches, all of whom have a chip on their shoulders. Be’heire is young. Very young, even by elf standards, but quite powerful and always feels the need to prove herself. I really hope this does not turn any uglier than it already has.”, the young man said honestly.

“If she hurts my Inshala, I will kill her. You know that right?”, Aager said and there wasn’t a tint of a threat in his tone. He had merely stated a simple fact.

“That’s why I am here, I suppose. To make sure that does not happen.”

“I will kill you too, then.”, Aager said, with the same exact tone.

“I suppose you will try. But I must warn you. Starting a war between the courts is not a wise course of action. Not now, anyway.”, Dervel said carefully.

Aager shrugged.

“I care little for the courts, and this is not a Winter-Summer issue anymore. It is one man avenging his woman. If you can’t do that for yours, then you are not much of a man, young Dervel.”

“You represent the law, Aager Fogstep. You are not above it—”

“You misunderstand me, boy. I shall slay her and you, then sit happily in my jail for the remainder of my life!”, Aager replied coldly.

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala came to a stop in the center of a clearing, somewhere not too deep in the Ritual Forest. The trees surrounding the clearing were brittle with cold, and snow blanketed everything in sight. A large boulder stood, sticking vertically out of the frozen ground somewhere a bit to one end of the clearing and she went and stood near it and waited. 

Soon enough, Be’heire appeared on the other side of the nearly fifty feet long and forty feet wide relief, scowling at her.

“Go ahead, Ritual Guardian. Let’s see what you got!”, she sneered at the half-fey.

“Very well, Be’heire. I would have wished we settled this peacefully. The true enemy approaches as we speak and they will not care if I am a druid, and neither will they show mercy because you are a witch. They will slaughter us with equal abandon.”, Inshala said sincerely.

“We are past talking, little girl.”, Be’heire spat.

“No. We are not. There have been no crimes done between us. No notable insults have been lashed that demands any retribution or rebuke. We are, at this very moment, at an agreeable standstill.”, Inshala corrected.

“You are just like your old master. Talk and talk and talk and nothing else. He was a fool. And so are you!”, the witch said with vehemence.

Inshala frowned a bit.

“Why would you bring my Father into this. He is not here and you are too young, by eight centuries, to have known him properly, if at all..”

“I could summon his spirit anytime and—”

Be’heire Crowfeather never got to finish that particular sentence.

In the blink of an eye, giant grasping vines stabbed out of the ground sending dirt and debris and covered everything, a hundred feet in every direction, and they kept growing!

Be’heire yelped and jumped to avoid being ensnared and yelped again as she stepped on sharp, thick thorns, three inches each, sticking out of the frozen ground. She gritted her teeth and summoned her bound spirits and sent them after the fey girl she could barely see through the cacophony of wild growth.

The angry spirits shrieked and speared at Inshala, who just stood there staring angrily at the witch.

“You and your ilk never learned when to stop at foolish. I may not tutor all your ilk, but I shall do this one favor to you. You may not respect me when I am done, but you will respect the world you live in and the spirits you bind..”

 

..and stepped right into the large, vertical rock!

 

The spirits slammed the boulder, shrieking and clawing at it to no effect..

..just as Inshala got out of the other side of the rock and released another spell.

The spirits went after her again but she stepped back into the rock!

 

One of the trees, right behind Be’heire came alive, and with a wide swing of its branches, it struck the witch, sending her sprawled deeper into the gnarling, thorny vines. Be’heire shrieked in pain as her head spun from the savage attack of the tree coupled with all the stabbing thorns and one of the entwining vines had gotten a very painful grasp of one of her ankles and had started twisting it at a very disorienting angle.

“Yield, Be’heire.”, Inshala said sternly, as she stepped out of the rock. “I could bring much lightning and great fires upon you, right now, yet I have not.”

 

Be’heire cast a spell and flew!

 

Just to be slammed, very hard, back down and into the frozen ground by the thick, thorny vine twisting her ankle. Something snapped and she howled in pain as her eyes teared and she lost control of her spirits.

With shrieks of mad triumph, the spirits went after their tormentor!

“NO!”, snapped Inshala. “You may leave in peace and be free, but you may not afflict your madness upon another Mortal, even though she may deserve it.”

The mad spirits hovered over the tear-streaken witch, clawing at the air, an inch away from her face.

But slowly, they drew back..

..and faded away.

 

And Be’heire pointed a finger at Inshala and snarled.

“DIE!”

A beam of pure, black darkness shot out of her finger and slammed at Inshala..

 

Far away, back at Serenity Home, and in the Guest’s Inn, Aager Fogstep felt an awful sense of dread wash over him.

For a long, dreary moment, he felt his own heart stop!

He tried to breathe but nothing happened.

His vision blurred and the inn’s dim saloon darkened..

..then the dim returned, his vision cleared, his heart fluttered and started to beat again, and the sense of dread was gone.

 

Aager Fogstep, the Winter Knight..

..exploded!

 

And the Summer Knight never knew what hit him..

One moment he was calmly sitting across the man in his dark leathers, the next, he was hurled across the room as a savage blast of sonic winter slammed him right into the wall, at the far end of the inn!

And the Winter Knight was upon him, a shimmering, ghostly blade put to task right at the Summer Knight’s throat..

“Wha— What are you doing?”, Dervel exclaimed.

“You have broken faith between the courts!”, he snarled, his eyes burning with blue, arctic flames. “Your woman cast a death curse upon the Ritual Guardian during a duel of yield! I warned you what I would do should she harm my Inshala. Hence shall I start with you!”

 

Young Dervel started, quite horrified as the Winter Knight drew blood.

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala staggered as the tree of life she tendered deep in her soul shuddered and trembled and many of its beautiful, purple-green leaves shriveled and died.

She gasped for breath and felt her heart flutter and the afternoon sun dimmed down to a pin’s point as she felt herself drown.

 

“INSHALA!”, screamed a voice in her mind and she thought she knew that voice.

And with something akin to panic, she held on to that voice, her Aager’s voice, and pulled herself up..

..and the light returned back to the forest.

 

“You.. you cast a death curse in a duel of yield?”, she asked the bleeding and squirming girl, shredded in the thorny vines.

“I.. am so sorry, Inshala.. I swear.. I didn’t mean to!”, she whimpered.

“You did mean to, Be’heire. You can not cast a death curse without intent, for one is the prerequisite of the other. You broke the agreement, the rules of the engagement and you broke faith. And now, not only your life, but the life of your beloved man hangs in balance.”, she asked unable to comprehend what the girl bleeding in the thorns had just done.

“What was it that was so important that you would want to take the life of another, Be’heire? What did I do to you or your ilk that you would release your death curse on me?”

“Your.. your master ruined us. He and his druids leveled our homes and burned our fields. He banished us from our lands.. We were left homeless.. We were made outcasts..”, the witch moaned bitterly.

 

“You never learned. Only blamed. Your ilk sided with the vilest of men and the foulest of fiends and demons and caused death by the thousands and brought unimaginable suffering upon Mortals at Themalsar. Yet you still refuse to face the consequences of your actions. Your ilk must learn to own their sins, should you want a place among Mortals. But you, Be’heire, what you did had nothing to do with what your ilk did. You are too young to have seen nor lived their suffering. Your reason is merely an excuse for your misdemeanor and that excuse has nothing whatsoever to do with you for none of the witches that were ousted are alive today. You never suffered, and never were you troubled as an outcast, seeing as how you live, quite comfortably, in Serenity Home, for which the rest of us shall fight for, bleed for, and die for, and only you and your ilk will not..”, Inshala replied, her voice not unkind, but she hammered the stranded witch with them.

“What.. what would you know of suffering, girl?”, Be’heire sneered at her.

 

Inshala just looked at the witch.

Silently and still.

Then, she undid the thin straps of her dress and let it fall on the frozen ground, displaying her skinny, gaunt form.

 

Be’heire ogled at the little, naked girl.

 

Slowly, Inshala turned.

And the witch stared, quietly horrified, at the little half-fey’s whip riddled back..

 

“What.. what is this?”, she gasped, her eyes wide open.

 

“This is called suffering, Be’heire. The kind that speaks for itself. The kind that does not need to be aired and used as an excuse for my own self-interests. I made mistakes and came too near ignorant Mortals and met the consequences of my folly at their hands. I learned, at the age of eight, that everything we do has consequences, and that we must face them and own them. And so must you. I am the Ritual Guardian, Be’heire, yet those that left these abhorrent scars upon me still live, as do their sons and daughters because I chose it so even though I had the right to extract my vengeance from them. You, Be’heire, you spurned your misplaced hate upon me. You deliberately tried to kill me by leveling a death curse at me and in a duel of yield without cause nor reason.. Thus I call upon you to face your own judgment, Be’heire Crowfeather. You and all your ilk will join us and fight against the Orken and their demon masters so long as they remain a threat. And just like us, shall you bleed and die for this cause.”, she said with a steely voice and a long, thorny whip made of vines appeared in her hand. “Or I shall return your misdemeanor in kind and you shall die by my hand, right now.. And so shall your beloved mate, at the hands of the Winter Knight.”

Be’heire Crowfeather stared at the skinny, naked girl in total fear.

 

And Inshala’s voice cracked like a whip.

“Choose, witch!”

✱ ✱ ✱

What’s up, girl? You look beat!”, asked Bremorel when the little girl found her near the forest, training a new batch of Arashkan survivors.

Inshala sighed.

“I need your help to find Ranger Master Moorat, dear Bremorel. And I need you to be there so he doesn’t.. get too angry with me..”, she said and she sounded as tired as she looked.

“Sure. But why? Did he say something to hurt you?”, Bremorel asked. “If he did, you shouldn’t take it too seriously. He says things, but he doesn’t mean them.”

“No, no. He was very kind to me.”, Inshala said hastily.

“Huh.”, the ranger girl said with some surprise. “Sorry I missed that. Come, he should be on the other side of the river.”

“Thank you.”

“Tis alright, gurl.”, Bremorel said, giving her a big grin.

Then she blared!

“MAL! TAKE OVER! AND THAT BLOODY TARGET DUMMY HAD BETTER BE RIDDLED WITH ARROWS WHEN I GET BACK!”

And grinned again.

“I so love smacking rookies..”

 

 

“Ranger Master Moorat, sir. The Ritual Guardian would have a word with you.”, Bremorel said after a crisp salute.

“What are you doing here, Bree? Don’t you have a batch of your own to train?”, scowled Moorat.

“I do, sir. But Lady Inshala, here—”, she began.

“Just, Inshala, please.”, Inshala said in a small voice.

“I am sorry, girl. Between us and when we are among friends, just Inshala will happen. When you are in your Ritual Guardian-thingy, you are Lady Inshala, and I’ll bash in any face that says otherwise!”

“Told you Bree was my favorite student.”, grinned Moorat. “Now. What can I do for you, young lady?”

Inshala paused for a moment before she spoke as if deciding on how she should phrase what she wanted to say.

Then she took a deep, pained breath and spoke.

“Ranger Master Moorat. The witches have agreed to join us in our fight against the Orken.”

“That was quick. And great news.. I think..”, Moorat said dubiously.

“I have given their command over to you.”

 

A dead silence settled and Moorat displayed the ugliest face, anyone, in a thousand miles in any direction had seen!

Bremorel held her breath for as long as she could, then snorted.

 

“Why.. would you do this to me?”, he asked Inshala with a blackened face.

“You, sir, know the witches. Well enough to hate them and be wary of them. You are also the best qualified to know where to make the best use of them. You will sweat them, and bleed them, and be it necessary, kill them, should they stray from their given oaths. They have many skills, not unlike yours, and they know how to curse and to bring down destruction. They will be under your command until they learn ‘respect’ and earn their place amongst others.”

Moorat stared at her, feeling a bit freaked.

“Learn respect? They will never learn respect!”, he scoffed.

“Then they shall stay under your command for a very, very long time, sir.”, she said with a wan smile.

“And I believe one of them will have something to show you.”, she added quickly.

“You don’t do anything by half, do you, young lady.”, Moorat said in a deflated tone.

“No, sir. I don’t. But I do pity the other half.”

✱ ✱ ✱

Inshala woke up to something. She wasn’t sure what it was and she felt groggy and sleepy and stupid and very, very tired. Apparently, a save from a death curse left one a lot to be desired.. As opposed to outright dying..

She had come home late that night, arm-in-arm with her hubby, the Winter Knight, and just collapsed on the threadbare mattress and curled into a little ball.

Aager had stared down at her, thinking just how close she had come face to face with death, and how he had very nearly killed a seventeen-year-old boy!

He pressed his lips together in a grim expression as he pulled off his dark leather hood, his half-mask, his armor, and his weapons and put them neatly on one side of the mattress where he could easily reach for them. Then he picked up the sleeping girl and sort of pulled the blanket from under her, laid her back on the mattress, and covered her with the itchy thing.

Then he went over to the fireplace and lit it using the flint and iron sitting next to it, grabbed the small iron pot, got outside, drew some water using the old, squeaky water pump, and filled the pot, returned inside, and set the pot over the fire. He peeled some potatoes, a large onion, and several carrots and killed them into small pieces, and dumped them into the pot. Then he pulled at the cooking oil and poured some of it into the pot as well, sprinkled a few pinches of various herbs and the one Inshala called Kumse Beetles, though he wasn’t sure if she was making a pun or if she was being literal. Aager thought, perhaps not every single thing had to be known between mates and lovers. A girl should have some secrets, right?

He sat next to the fire, and the red-orange light from the fireplace danced and gave a harsh, angry cast on one side of his face and hid the other as he stared at the curled shape of the girl sleeping drained just a few feet away..

..and he thought about the events of that day and what they would entail in the long run.

Indeed, Aager hadn’t made any friends that day.

At all.

He had very nearly sliced open young Dervel’s throat, from ear to ear in his madness..

 

He signed and checked in on the now boiling pot. Just a few more moments and the carrots should be soft enough. Potatoes were easy. It was always with the carrots.

 

Silently he rose, picked up the two, hand-carved bowls and checked each for any chips or cracks. Carving plates wasn’t an easy job and certainty hadn’t been for the skinny little girl. Yet she’d carved them, just for him and herself. Aager had never been a materialistic type, but for some reason, these bowls, and the other two wooden plates had turned out to become precious to him.

He unhooked the iron pot out of the fireplace and dumped some of it into either bowl, produced two spoons, and dug into one while he waited for the other to cool off. He tended to ignore the blistering heat of the food he ate, but Inshala became whimpery and teared up and pouted when she burned her mouth.

He slurped the last of the juice of what remained of the stew, got up, and went over to the threadbare mattress with the other bowl, still steaming.

He sat next to the girl and set the bowl next to himself and carefully, he picked her up and sat her in his lap and close to his lean, spring-coil chest and with a small nudge, he whispered.

“A bit of a bite before you totally wink out, love. C’mon. Open up.”

When she didn’t wake, he gave her another gentle nudge.

This one got a response, though not very intelligible.

“Iam hngry but Iamalso vrysleepishhh!”, she whimpered, her words slurred.

“Yes, yes, I know you are, but you shouldn’t sleep with an empty stomach, either. Open up. C’mon. Just a few spoons..”

Inshala opened up and mechanically chewed as the Winter Knight spoon-fed her..

..until the bowl was empty.

 

Apparently, Aager didn’t like doing things by half, either.

 

He settled her back down, went outside with the bowls, the spoons, and the iron pot, and in the dead of night, and the freezing cold, he gave them all a quick wash and returned back inside and put them all in their proper place..

..and slumped under the blanket himself.

And with some innate instinct, Inshala squirmed a bit and nudged her little butt until she was comfortably snuggled up to him and he enclosed her in his arms and now, her skinny back was leaning against his chest..

 

It had been a few hours later that Inshala had come around, not quite sure what it had been that had woken her up. She was still lying next to Aager but was facing him..

..and both her hands were in his shirt, one touching the spring-coil muscles of his lean chest, the other, running down his marred back!

Inshala blushed a bit and looked up at Aager’s face to see if he was awake and was going to be mad at her but he was still asleep and seemed.. at peace..

“The deed is done.”, she thought happily, tinted with a certain sense of guilt and shame.

“The hands want what the hands want and go where they want!”, she said nodding with confirmation at her own, very ‘logical’ explanation in her mind.

 

It was then she realized.

What it was that had woken her.

 

It hadn’t been the warmth she felt inside the palms of her slim hands as she held them in his shirt but a certain other, ‘calloused’ warmth that spread, like some deep, smoldering fire, from her own chest, and around her once buxom, now sad and small breasts, and down.. way down the small of her back

Inshala gasped with petrified astonishment and with unyielding, throbbing exhilaration..

 

It was his hands..

..and they were, right now, in her shirt.


 

book 06 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity the plot thickens

A ‘Warm’ Warning

A ‘Warm’ Warning

Timeline:

Sometime in near future.

And back at Serenity Home.

Early one evening..

 

This story takes place a bit over a month after
The Oathbreaker (Part Four)
on the same night, and right after 
Unintentional Adaptation.

 

 

Aager Fogstep, the right hand of the town sheriff, the head of SIS —Serenity Intelligence Service, and unbeknownst to any but the willing few; the dreary Winter Knight and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Mistress of The Grove, the wont of Mab and Titania, the Lady of Durkahan and the Ritual Guardian walk side-by-side, indeed, arm-in-arm, worn and tired of a long day’s hard accomplishments.

The quiet young woman, somewhat abashed and with the small smile of an unspoken achievement clearly etched on her face, walks with light steps next to the silent, spooky man in his dark, sinister-looking leathers, hood, and mask. The girl inadvertently does this little skip-and-hop thing every once in a while for she has her hair down and her awesome rams horns are in full display; the source of her smile, her skip, and her elation.. and one of great consternation, fear, dread, dismay, and anxiety —each distinct, now, and finally overcome, accepted, and acknowledged.. The man on the other hand seems alert and distracted at the same time. His steps are steady, careful, and ready to pounce. His distraction, hidden under the hood and mask, is perhaps due to the unaddressed nature of the hope he hankers, as they head for the little, single-room lodge assigned to him years ago, and that the girl with the light, happy steps next to him would also call, ‘home’..

“Thank you.”, he whispers in his growly and gravelly voice.

The girl turns and gives him a look of shy elation.

“You are welcome. But, why?”, she asks.

The man clears his throat.

Fighting and consequently bleeding, many times, has never been a matter of trepidation for him.

This girl..

This little girl, and trying to express his feelings, for her or otherwise, however, has always felt like an uphill battle for him.

A battle he knows he would win, should he but dare.

She certainly wills, with all her heart and mind, that he would.

 

Dare.. and win..

 

“I suspect you know why..”, he says carefully.

“I do. But I like it more when you voice it. Reminds me of Katana, my saber-tooth.”, she replies quietly.

“You like my voice because I sound like a cat?”, he asks a bit amused.

“My cat was not just any cat.”, the young girl retorts with mock fire. “She was a great, six hundred pound tiger, with a massive jaw that could take a man’s head whole and still have room for dessert, and awesome paws that could cave in an ogre’s belly, flat! And I find the viscous similarities between the two of you quite.. intoxicating! I am sure, or at least I very much hope you find something in me that makes you remember things you liked. Perhaps that is why we find something akin in one another.”, she says happily.

“How do say things like that and claim not to understand people?”, he asks with unveiled wonder.

“I claim nothing other than you, my Aager —for as long as I can.. Some things are clear to me. People.. and this.. social-thingy.. is just not one of them.”, she replies with resigned remorse.

“Fair enough.”, somewhat agrees, Aager. “Though you are wrong about my finding something akin in you that reminds me of something else that I once liked.”

“Ow.. How come?”, asks Inshala with a small pout.

“The answer to that is quite elementary in its simplicity.”, he says with a well-hidden smile.

“Ow?”

“You are unique!”, Aager admits, and freely.

And without even needing to turn, he feels, through their bond, how the young woman blushes.

“That.. is beautiful to hear.”, she stammers.

“You like?”, he asks, with a very un-Aager like tone. A tone that he would never, like never ever, use with anyone but the girl in his arm.

“I.. love!”, she smiles, blushing even more.

“I thanked you..”, Aager says, rewinding a bit back. “.. because of your brevity. And for not hiding what you are, for I wish you never to be my personal secret, but known to all, and that we belong.”

“I must thank you for that, even though I know you will not let me. But we both know I would never have come here, let alone display myself the way I have, had it not been for you.”, she admits and smiles even more.

“Perhaps. But this is your moment. Not mine. And..”, he says and freezes in his pace.

As if on cue, so does she.

“What is it?”, she asks peering into the night.

“I.. am not sure..”, admits Aager with a slight frown. “I sense.. an equal.. but not.. at the same time..”

“You sense quite correctly.”, says a deep, muffled voice from the night.

“Show yourself, if your intentions are honorable!”, grows Aager Fogstep, his hands clear and at his sides and Inshala standing, not precisely behind, but with the exact amount of space and distance he would need to draw his swords for a swing, a parry or an unrestrained thrust..

“That, coming from you, I find a bit ironic, Sir Knight.”, says the muffled voice.

“I sense.. Summer.”, whispers Inshala, a bit baffled.

“I greet you, Lady Inshala, and I mean you no harm.”, comes the voice.

“But you mean harm to whome I belong!”, she says staring hard into the night.

“That is but for him to decide.”, declares the muffled voice with an intense and implied voice.

“What is this?”, asks Aager in her mind.

“I am not sure, my Aager. I have a guess, but I would rather he introduced himself, lest I give him power he may not have.”, replies the young woman in his.

“Dammit!.”, very nearly blazes Aager with frustration. “Apparently, running around all day fixing issues and defacing potential political outbreaks, training three different parties for the upcoming battle, and corking security gaps as an encore, is not enough.. I would like one moment.. ONE SILENT MOMENT IN PEACE with you and alone, dammit!”

“I am sorry, my Aager. This is my fault.”, whispers Inshala guiltily.

“How is this your fault?”, he asks, still frustrated.

“You are the Winter Knight because of me.”, she says in a small voice.

“Inshala.. To this day, I have done many things that I have come to regret, and shall likely end up doing more.. Dying for you to live, however, was never one of them.”, he almost lashes back.

“But..”, Inshala tries to object.

“Also to this day, never have I banned nor barred you of anything, have I?”, he steams.

“No, my Aager. Never.”

“Well, now I have. Never shall I hear another word of regret to the choices I made with regard to you. Because when you cast doubt in my choice, you cast doubt on what I feel for you.”, he says, and not without wroth.

Inshala falls silent, whether it is perhaps due to shock of how her Aager has just addressed and admonished her, or because she is afraid, is not clear. When she speaks, however, it is due to neither.

“I.. am sorry, my Aager. It was thoughtless of me to question you and your feelings, for I know it isn’t easy for you to speak them, yet you have.. For my sake.”, she says with shame in her voice.

“Inshala. Please. There really isn’t any reason to go there.. Much like you have made peace with some of the things in your life, your past, and your choices, I have thus done so. If being Mab’s hatchet man is the way to keep you and safe, peace, then, is upon me.”, he says, though not unkindly.

“You want me to cry, don’t you, my Aager..”, pouts Inshala.

“Not for me, and not tonight..”, he says as he smiles..

..and turns to face the man, hidden in the night.

With a low, distant, and arctic voice, the Winter Knight growls..

“Who are you, and what do you want? I have run a full day of petty mortal errands and am tired. I have another long day full of such errands waiting for me tomorrow, which is in mere few hours, and hence have I but little time to spare for late-night theatrics, and none for drama. Either come out and spill your wont, or go. Suffice to say, move or I shall move through you, should you truly want to test me tonight, for you are between myself, my lady, and my home, in the middle of the night, and in my town..”

“Oh, my.”, giggles Inshala and mimes a tiny, virtual fist into the air —in his mind.

“I think he just ate earth! You go, Winter Knight!”

“You go, WHAT? Where did you even hear that?”, asks Aager both surprised and amused.

“I am sorry. I have no idea what I just said.”, bubbles the young girl a bit embarrassed. “I heard young Master Cümeyt say it, but I am not sure what it means! He did make it sound like a ‘cheer’, though!”

Aager laughs.. silently..

“It is ‘dirt’, by the way, love..”,  he inserts, stifling another laugh. “Not, ‘earth’..”

“But.. isn’t dirt, well, dirty?”, wonders Inshala a bit confused.

“The best thing about dirt, you never want to eat it more than once, love”, Aager says, not without a certain amount of vicious satisfaction. The man in dark leathers, hood, and mask wears what he does for three, rather distinct reasons, and none of them has anything to do with drama;

One, the obvious reason; for better cover in the dark.

Two; Aager has an astute sense of smell, particularly for bad ones..

And three; a dark hood, along with the mask, has the practical capacity to fend off fools.

 

There is a moment of chagrined silence and Aager gets the distinct impression that whoever it is hiding in the night, is perhaps a tad new at whatever he is at..

 

“Very well.”, the muffled voice says. “Meet me at the Guest’s Inn tomorrow at noon.”

“Afternoon!”, Inshala counters.

 

Another silence ensues.

 

“Why? Why would you back this evil man, Lady Inshala?”, he asks quite perturbed.

“My Aager is no evil man. He has proven his mettle. Yours is yet to be seen, Sir.”, she replies the young girl with stern command.

Aager’s eyebrows shoot up.

It isn’t the first time his Inshala has gone out of her way to defend him, and it certainly feels.. surprisingly ‘awesome’.. to be.. safeguarded?.. by someone you dearly loved, but the verbal dual here is a subtle one and in a realm, he is not yet accustomed nor has had much privy to.

“Afternoon, then. I shall consent to this request for your sake, Lady Inshala.”, the muffled voice says.

“You shall do no such thing, Sir. I owe you nothing and have promised you nothing. And I shall owe you no debt! ‘Afternoon’ is a neutral time, neither too warm nor too cold.”, Inshala says, equally sternly.

 

A sigh of resignation is heard followed by the slightest shuffle of feet and the muffled voice is gone.

 

“Alright.”, Aager muses, staring into the night. “That wasn’t odd or anything. Your thoughts, love?”

“I.. I am not certain..”, Inshala frowns slightly.

“It’s alright. Your halves are better than my nons!”, smiles the sinister-looking man.

“You are in an unexpected mood this night, my Aager. And I can’t even claim any crafty skills on my part.”, smiles back the young girl.

“First of all, I apologize, wholeheartedly, for my harsh words earlier. You deserve better than that. But I would much rather we put my choices and their reasons well behind us. They are done and gone. Going over them makes neither of us happy, but puts both of us in despair. Agreed?”, he says quietly.

“And I apologize for bringing it up in the first place, though I got what I deserved for it. I shall submit to your wishes on this matter, my Aager, hence, yes. Agreed.”, she replies staring somewhat at her own feet.

“Please, don’t do that.”, Aager says.

“Don’t do what?”, she asks.

“You did nothing wrong. Don’t look down. As a matter of fact, never look down!”, Aager pleads.

Inshala looks up, her face is slightly pink.

“You will not even let me suffer my own follies.”, she says with a flustered pout.

“The pout can stay. It looks sweet on you.”, smiles the man in dark leathers.

Inshala does a very unladylike snort, causing Aager to laugh.. out loud!

“Well. How about that. I laughed. Can’t remember the last time I did that. I guess I do owe my mood to crafty skills on your part.”, he says with an amused tone of voice. “As to what that was all about, I believe you do have some thoughts on the matter.”

“Yes. And deep down, I believe you have as well, my Aager..”, replies the young girl, suddenly looking at him with intense eyes.

Aager cocks an eyebrow and thinks..

..and the thing that has had him itching somewhere at the back of his mind suddenly dawns.

“Yes, my Aager. Nature is balance. Winter will follow Summer and Summer dies when Winter arrives. Much like Summer will melt and defrost Winter upon her arrival..”, she says softly.

“Damn..”, he blurts. “He is.. double damn.. the Summer Knight? My opposite?”

“That is my thought. I believe he wanted to keep that to himself and perhaps use it as a levelidge.. lefedirge.. leafer—”, she blunders and her face turns pure red in self-disgrace.

“Leverage?”, Aager offers kindly.

“Yes. That..”, says the young girl, her face still burning with frustrated shame.

“But he gave himself away.. Ahhh, that’s why you argued about ‘noon’. It is likely he will be at the peak of his power at noons and at summer times. That was very ingenious of you the way you refused him and moved the time of the meet to afternoon.”, says Aager admiringly for even though the young girl hadn’t quite won him an advantage, she had, instead, stripped any his opposite might have gained, just by changing something that had seemed so trivial.

Inshala blushes some more.

“I suspected.. the moment you said, ‘sensing an equal, but not, at the same time..’, and when he called you, ‘Sir Knight.’ Only fey would know you for what you are.. And the vassals of either court. I felt no fey vibes from him. He seemed.. mortal.. and something else.. perhaps some sort of affiliation I am not aware of.”

“How come there is suddenly a Summer Knight now and what does that entail?”, asks Aager, with a ‘should-I-be-concerned?’ frown.

“Nature is balance, my Aager. Both Winter and Summer have a ‘Mother’ known as Mother Winter and Mother Summer, and then they have the Queens, Mab as the Winter Queen, and Titania as the Summer Queen. Both courts are also supposed to have a ‘Lady’, but there hasn’t been a Winter Lady for ages forgotten After she lost her own daughter some unknown millennia ago, Mab refused to take another as the Winter Lady, causing the Summer Lady wane, and eventually fade away..  There was the potential for a new Summer Lady, but she was slain at Gull’s Perch by some ruffians a year or two before I was born, which is why there has been a ban on mortals, and why there is a dwarven outpost there, guarding the Perch’s entrance ever since.. I believe there were some dwarves among the ruffians and Titania blamed their kin at Scowling Hills and forced them to build the outpost and safeguard the valley as payment for their kins’ sins against her daughter. Whether the death of her daughter was a coincidence, or it was because Mab would still not take a new Winter Lady, I do not know.”

Aager listens to the young woman in amazement as she explains the monumental goings-on that no mortal would know.

“There also hasn’t been a Winter Knight since the last one was slain by a mighty wild fey, who was actually a noble in Mab’s court once, many, many millennia ago. And Summer failed to produce a knight of their own during that time. It isn’t a coincidence that they would do so now, almost the moment you chose to become Mab’s Winter Knight. For there to be balance, nature compempates.. compendates—”, she pauses, her face flushed with embarrassment again. “Help me, please..”, she pleads..

“Compensates?”, offers Aager as he puts one hand over her small shoulder and gently turns her to face him.

“Conpendates.. That..”, blubbers the girl, her face burning red. “I hate this. I am so stupid. I lack so many important words, and I am supposed to be the Ritual Guardian and fill my Father’s shoes..”

“Hey.. Don’t be like that.. Please.. We promised to be stupid together, remember? At least you know what you are talking about. I don’t even know where to begin to even understand.”, he says kindly, and gently pulls her into his arms.

Inshala just stands there, burning with embarrassment on any number of levels now.

“You are so awesome.”, he adds quietly.

“Awesome like.. Madina? Or awesome like Moira?.. Or perhaps awesome like Laila? Laila is awesome and cool, though I am not sure what that means.. I mean, she has a nice, warm heart. And I think that De-De-Dexter boy likes her. I saw him give her, as an example of how his trainees should act and behave, just the other day.”, she mumbles.

“Madina, Moria, D.D. Dexter and even Laila aside, I would say, awesome like Inshala.”, he says. Then thinks for a moment, nods, and repeats. “Yep. We shall thus call it, Inshala-Awesome!”

Slowly he releases her, and they are once again, arm in arm, walking in the night, towards ‘home’..

 

. . .

 

“She is pathetic.”, says the skinny, vixen girl, hidden further in the night, and quite waspishly.

“She is what she is, love. And she holds great favors from both the courts. It is not wise of you to speak ill of her, nor to go out of your way to taunt her. She is good people..”, replies the man with the muffled voice.

“And the man. His attitude. Such arrogance.. Perhaps a nice hex will fix that for him..”, she sneers after the two.

“You shall do no such thing, love. There is no point in starting a war here when there is another war right on our doorstep. I merely wanted to meet him and warn him not to abuse his powers. We shall meet on the morrow.”, he says sternly.

“You are afraid of him.”, sniffs the girl with disdain.

“No one in his right mind would be uncautious of him, love. Mab chose carefully, as she always does. Don’t let your pride get the better of you.”

The girl sniffs again, and haughtily, with her small, perky nose.

“I bet, I could best her!”, she declares.

“Perhaps.”, says the man. “But you will not go up against her. She is the Ritual Guardian.”

“So?”

“Suppose you best her. What then? Who will take up her burden?”

The girl shrugs.

“Will you?”, the man asks, looking at the skinny girl.

“Why would I? It is a folly burden that offers little to no reward. She is as foolish as her Father was..”

The man with the muffled voice signs. The slight girl standing so agitated next to him is a fun, life-loving girl, but she does have her moments of pique, and they did tend to get the better of her indeed, and she is quite a single-minded girl who lives for silly challenges..

..which was how they had met, really.

“Come. We have much to do ourselves..”, he says, in hopes of distracting her. “Thousands of mouths to feed..”

“I think I want to know what they talk when they are alone.”, she says, squinting after what little she could make of the two, distant figures walking away, arm-in-arm.

“No.”, says the man even more sternly this time. “You don’t..”

..And picks up the skinny girl, by her waist and carries her off, literally, as she kicks and squirms and laughs with delight..

“Will you feed me too, Sir Knight?”, she snickers viciously..


 

book 06 books dungeons and dragons duygusal groups karakter analizi komedi modül role play serenity

Promise To Be
Stupid Together

Promise To Be
Stupid Together

Timeline:

It isn’t the life-threatening moments
that makes us realize the value
of those we love..

 

Not always.

 

Sometimes it is the silly things..

..such as coloring pictures
in a children’s book..

..with crayons.

 

This story takes place several days after
The Oathbreaker (Part Four)
and after Aager Fogstep
and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane
defeat the tyrannic oathbreaker;
Lord Tarakadahan Karkashi
in a very bloody duel to the death.

 

 

Aager Fogstep held Inshala close and tightly to himself for she was in mourning and because her soft warmth was the only thing that kept him from screaming in pain. The little girl held a sad, broken piece of dry twig in her small, delicate hands —the only discernable part left of what was once a giant walking tree; Snare! True, Snare had never been a ‘nice’ tree, but rather a vicious, sour, and one old cuss of a monster. He had, however, kept the little girl safe and company during their stay at Arashkan, before the city’s fall, hiding in plain sight among other trees, deep in Heaven’s Park, and had helped both her and Aager in their numerous encounters.

This last fight, however, had just been once too many for him. The tyrannic lord, Tarakadahan Karkashi, had come down on the grumpy old bark like ten thousand axes and smashed him into the ground. And now, his tiny mistress held the only bit of what was once a grumpy, eighteen-foot tall monster..

“When we.. get out of this stupid.. arena..”, Aager grinded his teeth. “I want you to go with Lady Alisia and Moira..”

Inshala looked up at him through her tear blotched face.

“No. You are hurt. I need to—”, she started.

“Inshala. Don’t argue with me. Not now.”, he cut in harshly. “This is an excellent opportunity for someone to take advantage of and make an attempt on your mother’s life.. Or Moira’s.. Or yours.. You must watch over them as they watch over you.”

“But.. What about you?”, she asked with a pleading voice.

“I hold no power in this city, love. I am a nobody here. I am not of the nobility and I carry no titles. I am not even a squire, let alone a lord. Not that I would want to be one. Ever..”

“..The only person that would have benefited from my death is dead! Anybody else coming at me will gain nothing from my demise. You, on the other hand, hold the city in your hands and it will take but one fool to ruin everything we gained today should he attack you, your mother, or Moira.”, he said through his gritted teeth.

The pain of his dislocated shoulder was getting at him and trying to rationalize why he wanted her to go, rather than to stay and watch him suffer was taking every ounce of his remaining strength.

“Please. Do this for me.”

“I will—”

The great gates leading in and out of the arena parted with a booming echo, smoldering any objections the little girl might have said, and Lady Alisia, followed closely by Lady Moira, Captain Fardashi, and half a dozen guards came running at them.

“Okay. I am going to let go of you now. You mustn’t show them any tears because everyone is watching you. Be strong and go with your mother.”, he hissed quietly.

“Sir Aager..”, Lady Alisia called as she stared at him, and at the little girl holding a piece of twig, with unveiled awe.

“Lady Alisia..”, Aager greeted the First Lady of Durkahan with a barely contained voice behind his leather half-mask. “..Lady Moira. If you would be kind enough to escort Lady Inshala to your quarters whilst she could rest. She has had a trying day.”

Lady Alisia ogled at the bloodied, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers.

“Please..”, added Aager with emphasis and giving a quick glance at the watching crowd.

Lady Alisia’s face lit with comprehension.

“Of course, Sir Aager. Daughter, please come with me. We must get you out of those bloody clothes at once. I believe a nice hot bath, a meal, and sleep will do wonders to you.”, she said as she held the little girl close to her, nodded at Aager.

And with Moira on the girl’s other side, they started back towards the arena gates as the guards fell in formation around the women.

For a moment Aager was left behind and he gave some serious thought to whether he should just surrender to gravity and fall where he stood.

 

“Ahem..”

..said a gravelly voice from behind him.

 

The fact that he hadn’t even heard that someone was actually standing behind him without his notice was definitive proof that the man in dark leathers was about to lose it soon.

“I’d love to give you a hand and carry you out, but that would totally ruin your ‘cool’.. And I am not sure I’d even get the hand back!”, he recognized Fardashi’s amused voice.

“That was one hell of a fight, young man. Hard to be impressed when you get to a cussed old age like mine but, what can I say, I am impressed. Good thing I didn’t tell you to buzz off the night you two came at the city gates. Will you be able to make it until we get out of here? People with nothing better to do love watching the victor drop dead after a good show!”, the old captain said lightly. A bit like the way he spoke right before he had smashed in the castle guard commander’s face in, about a week ago.

“I think so.”, grinded Aager, and took a stubborn step forward.

✱ ✱ ✱

Stand guard here.”, commanded Fardashi at the guards, pointing at the door. “I must see to the Ladies than make sure the rest of the city is all well and good.”

Just before he left, however, he paused, gave a thoughtful look at the door, frowned a little, and quietly added, “Whatever happens, don’t enter the room!”, he warned.

The guards looked at their captain, then at the door, and hastily nodded.

 

Aager stood in the darkness of his room. The one he had been given shortly after their arrival at the inner castle of Durkahan city. It was barely ten strides in either direction with two, separate, single-beds, a small chest at the feet of each bed, a decent-sized cupboard, a high, rectangular table complete with a large washing pan, two blocks of soap, and several neatly folded rough, gray towels and one, slit of a window that seemed to stare gloomily at the arse end of a rigid, stone tower rather than at the city, but it still seemed cavernous compared to his tiny, one-room house back at Serenity Home. That house at least had had a larger window —two, in fact, now that Aager had a moment to think about it. Not that he preferred large windows —or any window, and he certainly had never fancied homes with scenic views, but that house —his home— had had them anyway; an easy to climb in and out window with a view to one of the town’s mildly busy streets. The other, he’d boarded the day he had moved in, years ago, because it had provided too big a security flaw for his taste, and because it was a window, it also provided a natural security ‘gap’.

He grimaced in pain at the jarring irony there;

Security GapOpen Window!

Apparently, Aager thought, he had a bit too much free time in his hands, since he had the luxury for such delinquent ironies. But there was a point to that irony.. and the boarded window now. It used to open to a rather picturesque view of the back garden. Not so much picturesque since Aager had moved in, as it was full of dead plants and ugly, barbed, and thorny weeds. But should his Inshala come to Serenity Home, he could open that window while she did some things nice with that garden. And perhaps they could share responsibilities at that point as well; he could keep an eye on the street side window like he always had, and she could cover the garden side!

Alright, the man in dark leathers, hood, and mask thought. There was something genuinely wrong with that thought!

He doubted anyone in that town ever ‘covered’ their windows with the metaphorical fanaticism as he did.

Or rather, no one else..

 

He shrugged —his other shoulder.

 

At least with both windows open, his home would be ‘sunny’.. Unlike how this chamber would ever be..

This chamber was dark at noon, pitch at night, and was slightly on the musty side.

More like a lair.. or a den, really. Men like him did not have suits or chambers.. They had lairs!

 

Just how he preferred it..

 

Or rather..

..just how he should have been preferring it, as awkward as that phrasing sounded!

 

But for whatever reason, however, he did not.

Yes, he had come here every night, washed off the day’s dirt here, slept here, and ate here, quite laconically, too —many times. For the same, ‘whatever reason’, however, that just didn’t seem to ‘cut’ it anymore. He felt ‘blank’.. more than empty, here. A blank he had come to recognize very slowly and growing recently.

He stared at the dark walls of the chamber, all the while sweating profusely in pain.

Carefully he chose a specific stone.

Not that it mattered, but focusing on something, in particular, had always given him a sense of purpose. And that purpose, now, was not going to be fun..

At all..

Slowly, he walked up to the stone he had selected and stared at it with baleful eyes.

“I am sorry, love.”, he growled with pure, unadulterated self-loathing, swung his shoulder once, twice..

..and smashed it into the stone and wall!

 

A horrid, meaty crack was heard by the guards outside followed by a feral roar of pain..

..and something stumbled over and the room fell silent.

 

Somewhere two floors above, Fardashi ran back into Lady Alisia’s quarters, his sword drawn, when he heard the single, shrill scream of a girl in savage pain!

✱ ✱ ✱

And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late one night, several days later. The proceedings, the meetings, the strategic plannings, and the secretive, impromptu ‘hallway’ chats on how they should mobilize the Durkahan Army, and which route they would take to reach Serenity Home in time were taking their toll on him. He felt like the sore merchant of some vast trading company, bargaining for rights of free passage through man-eating local’s lands.. without getting et!

 

..or possibly the CEO of some bank trying to stay afloat during an economic crisis!

 

“I am coloring this book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, Inshala replied from where she lay on the thick, pale beige carpet. Aager knew it was pale beige because the guard who had brought it had told him so like it held some significance and in all likeliness, it probably did. Just not for Aager..

..in any way that would be significant.

But then, this whole carpet thing was a new addition to his chamber/lair/den and seemed disturbingly out of place.

Feral beasts like him did not do carpets, nor cushions or loveseats..

Alright, there weren’t any loveseats in his chamber now either, and Aager did not really want to know what a loveseat was, but there were any number of colorful cushions, thrown on the said, pale beige carpet.

Aager scowled at the thick, soft, comfy thing and its fluffy little companions, and they scowled back at him..

..with compounded smug smirks because they knew they had won, and there was not a buggery bum he could do about it!

He certainly wouldn’t have asked for them, had it been up to him. But the young girl had taken a habit of bringing things her new brother, Cümeyt, or her new sisters Madine and Maira, and even Moira would give her, to here, and either play with them or draw pictures —on the cold, stone flour.. Hence, Aager had asked one of the guards if he would be kind enough to bring in a carpet, for Lady Inshala’s benefit.

And a cushion or three, while he was at it..

 

Or even if he weren’t kind enough!

 

Aager did not recall having put any such emphasis, but the thick, soft carpet had arrived within ten minutes followed by the half a dozen or so cushions..

And now, said Lady Inshala was here, lying flat on her little tummy, her skinny legs swinging up with lazy contentment and coloring what appeared to be some sort of flower in the book with little, colorful sticks scattered around.

 

“Crayons”, Inshala had told him with knowledgeable accomplishment.

They were called crayons.

 

The sinister-looking man in dark leathers thought that sounded suspiciously like a fancy name for some kind of deathly and dermal poison!

 

Then there was this coloring-book-thing!

 

Aager had never seen a book that could be, or even should be, colored before. Would have been a surprise if he had. He wasn’t sure if anyone back at Drashan had ever seen one, either.

Drashan aside, why would he?

And what was the point of buying a book, and books weren’t cheap, then doing all the work by coloring it yourself, anyway? Apparently, some smart artisan was making a lot of money by openly cheating his customers!

The nerve some people had in this world..

What kind of a demented idiot would even buy—

 

Aager opted to stop making combustive, mental commentary at that point.

Whatever he was about to say about said idiot, one of them was already here, and apparently, he was about to be the other by joining her! 

 

“Would you like to join me for some? Before I am called back to sleep in my room?”, she asked smiling up at him.

It was quite obvious this coloring thingy was something she had liked a lot, Aager noted, because not only did the young girl seem happy, but she also appeared content. And there was a distinct sense of serenity about her, which made her glow in an altogether new kind of beautiful.

“Maybe..”, smiled Aager as he pulled off his dark, leather hood, undid his mask, and tossed them both on his bed. Then unbuckled his leather armor, and his belt, ridding himself of his swords and daggers, and carefully set them aside.

“You want me to pout, don’t you?”, asked the girl honestly.

“Very much.”, replied Aager in kind. “You could win just about any argument with me using only the pout.”

“But.. I do not want to argue with you. Arguing is not nice. It tarnishes some things between people. And I think it becomes a habit in time and people start doing it without noticing anymore.. They argue about everything, and they do not recognize, both love and respect are now gone!”, she said..

..with a pout!

 

Aager was astounded, once again, at the depth of the young girl’s insight. Particularly when taking into account that this girl never had anyone to have argued anything in her past, save one, venerable old man, to have observed, and consequently, gained such insight. 

 

“We are not doing this on the table, why? Seems easier on the knees.”, he asked as he knelt down across the little girl and on his stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, stared at the flower in the book, which he assumed was some kind of a rose, picked up one of the red sticks, and carefully started to fill one of the pedals.

“I am not sure.”, Inshala replied.

Aager cocked an eyebrow.

“How so?”

“When.. when we sit around a table, the table is standing between us. That makes me feel like I am alone.”, she said, frowning slightly.

“We could sit next to one another, perhaps?”, he offered.

 

“We could. I suppose. But.. that feels like we are only friends.. Like Ranger Corporal Laila, or even Master Gnine are my friends.. I like friends and I like that they are my friends. And I like that Alor’Nadien ne and Udoorin are my friends. And how Lady is my friend. And Merisoul and even Anglenna are my friends. I want you to be my friend too, but not like them. I do not know the words. You should not be my friend like they are my friends. When we lie down on the floor like this while doing things or talking, however, it feels like we are actually sharing something.. and more than just these pictures and more than just words..”, she said, struggling to correctly phrase her mind.

Then she went a bit pink. 

“And.. and our faces are much closer when we are lying down and coloring these pictures.. And I can watch you from this close, as well!”, she said with a blush.

And now Aager had both his eyebrows cocked up, for this insight did not belong to a little girl.

At all!

 

They colored the flowers and some other things that Aager was not always sure as to what some of them were. But they did it anyway and in content silence..

..for two hours straight.

 

He asked what color he should use when he wasn’t sure and the girl would look around for the appropriate stick, pick it up, hand it over to him, and say, “This!”, every time, with a happy, accomplished smile.

It was during those two hours Aager had the opportunity to think, or perhaps, contemplate on certain things.

He threw careful glances at the girl as she savagely colored the flowers, the stems, and the leaves, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses in the coloring book with child-like fervor.

He looked down at his own workmanship and noted his seemed more like he was dissecting the flowers, the sun, the clouds, the bees, and the bugs, and the dears, and the houses with jugular accuracy, waiting to be labeled and placed into their corresponding jars!

It was just about then, a number of things dawned on him.

 

One

The little girl was deliberately, or maybe the correct word would be, ‘inadvertently’, acting like a little girl because for the first time she had a genuine mother, a grandmother, three sisters, and a little, overtly smart, mischievous brother and hence she could afford to.. let go?

Or perhaps, drop her guard.

A something, Aager thought, was quite encouraging to see, yet altogether sad —in a way.

 

Two

Thanks to young Master Cümeyt and the emo girl Madina, though Aager still did not quite understand what the buggery bum an ’emo’ was, she, Inshala, was catching up to everything she had missed during her own childhood, both because such entertainments had never been available to her, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they had been, seeing as how solitary and dangerous a life she had lived.

 

Three

He himself was pretty much in the same rickety boat as she was, dammit! When people looked at his Inshala, they saw a traumatized little girl, all the while thinking he, Aager, was the steady one and that at least he was ‘alright’.

Lying face down, coloring silly flowers and dears and bees and bugs, Aager Fogstep realized he was not alright. He realized he had never been alright, but always skirted at the edges of suppressed, angry insanity all his life. Coming to Serenity Home had been a blessing, certainly, but in a way, and unwittingly to be sure, that had merely diluted his very unhealthy mental status. Or camouflaged it, to put in a more astute perspective.

 

Four

This little girl, Inshala, had come to his room, much like every other night, and shared everything she had seen, learned, felt, and experienced that day with him until late hours, in effect, making sure he healed as much as she did. Bit by bit, she was freeing herself from her fears, her desperations and her losses, all the while seeding her desolations with her mom, her grandma, her sisters and brother, while making new friends, and learning and experiencing the things left missing all her life. And by coming here, she was sharing her joys with him, in affect, bringing whole new norms into his life as well, even if only by proxy.

The beauty of it was, there was never been any deliberation in her actions at all. Only instinctual need to make him feel as good as she was feeling, and the irony in all of that was not lost on Aager.

Inshala was giving him surcease, just by being here and being herself!

 

And Five

Aager loved it!

 

Unequivocally.

Irreversibly.

Without any doubt.

All of it.

 

And knew, at that very moment, why he had felt thus ‘blank’ of late.

For he had just recognized, with quiet fervor, that he could no longer tolerate her being just a ‘part’ of his life..

He wanted to be all of hers!

 

“You seem.. odd tonight. Lost in thought and distracted and your hands are drawing without consulting you.”, whispered Inshala, staring into his eyes.

“I am odd every night.. And distracted much of late.”, replied the man in dark clothes, a tad gruffly.

“A gold coin for your thought?”, she smiled. “I have a gold coin. I think.. I could go and get it if you like.”

“I doubt my thoughts are worth a gold, love.”, Aager said quietly. “But I will share them with you. Just as soon as I understand them myself. I promise.”

“I could ‘pout’ them out of you, you know!”, giggled the girl.

“I think you have been with Master Cümeyt for far too long, love..”, mourned Aager.

“He has shown me so many interesting things. Did you know there is more gossip going on here, in this place, than among the fey at Gull’s Perch? You would think a city full of paladins would have a bit more honest people!”, she said a bit disturbed.

“Ow? Is there some theft going on? That kind of behavior should be discouraged.”, said Aager with a frown and felt no guilt or shame, whatsoever, at the fact that being a thief was what he had started his long line of an uncouth carrier in the first place. But thieving had never really been any more than a stepping stone for him. Sort of something he’d had to endure in a ‘just do it’ sense until better options had presented themselves. If anyone he’d known had been an outright thief, it had been that Darly Dor kid —which did also explain why he had disliked him so much..

“No, no.. Nothing like that. It’s just something I learned, that many people are sleeping in someone else’s room and few wake up where they are supposed to!”, mumbled the girl as she slapped her tiny feet together for emphasis as she totally drowned a sunflower in dark purple with vehemence.

“People are strange sometimes. I wouldn’t worry too much about it. And I am not sure that’s the color for that picture, love.”, said Aager, pointing at her page. 

“It isn’t. I am just angry. That is why it is purple. My sunflower is angry too!”, she said unhappily.

“Ow? Why are you angry? Did something happen?”

“I do not know.”, came her frowning voice in his mind. “I am sorry. You are tired and have been keeping me company when you should be sleeping and now I am afflicting you with my silly!”

“True. I am tired. But doesn’t ‘keeping company’ work the other way around as well? And let’s not go to ‘silly’, please. I haven’t even begun my daily ranting yet!”, he replied in an amused tone. “Now tell me, what has gotten you riled up?”

“I do not know.”, she repeated. “I am put out that people don’t wake up where they should, yet I am doing the same thing. I go to sleep in my room, but wake up here all the time.. Is something wrong with me?”

“Uhhmm..”, said Aager, not sure as to what he should say or how he should respond, really, so he tried for a casual sort of tone. “I.. do not think what you and they are doing is quite the same, love.”

“How so?”, she asked glumly.

“Well..”, he began but faltered. “..Possibly because when you come here every night, I call your name, every time, but you don’t hear my voice. You truly are asleep. You come, you stand before my bed, hold out your arms, and just.. stay there. Took me by surprise the first time you did it, and even more, when I finally figured out what it was you demanded.”

“I.. I demanded something from you? I shouldn’t be making demands from you! That is not nice! And in my sleep, too? What did I demand?”, she asked in a depleted voice.

“A hug.”, replied Aager kindly.

 

Inshala’s face turned bright pink.

 

“I..”, she stammered. “I thought I came here and just slept in the other bed, to keep you company, though I honestly do not remember ever getting up, nor walking here..”

“That.. might have been partly my doing. Not the coming here. The waking up in the other bed.. After I’d give you your silent demand, you wouldn’t move but make this funny noise.. like when cats see a bird or a squirrel..”, said Aager honestly and Inshala dropped her coloring sticks and just buried her face in her skinny arms..

“I think, or felt, to be more precise.. you wanted to.. cuddle up and sleep next to me.. But something about your base, honest character wouldn’t let you.. Not without my express permission.. And because you weren’t really awake, I wouldn’t give you that permission because it would be wrong.. Which is why I would pick you up, and tuck you away in the other bed. You’d make a bit of a fuss in there but eventually, go still.”, he said kindly.

 

“This is so embarrassing. I do not remember the last time I was this—”, she mumbled in a muffled and horrified voice.

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about, Inshala. We both want, what we want. Apparently, you decided to actually do something about it, without ever knowing.”, he said thoughtfully.

“But.. what do you want?”, she asked, her face still buried in her arms.

 

And, there it was..

The simple question that was the core of what they had been, what they were, and what they would become for one another.

To simplify that even further; what they had, and what they could have..

So simple..

..a question.

 

What did he want?

What did he want?

And what did he want?

 

The small nuances in the same question made all the difference, to be sure, but the only thing he was certain of was the answer to the question that actually preceded this one;

 

Did he want?

 

To that, he said, yes.

Not because he was mentally sure of anything.

But because the blank in him was telling him exactly that.

Or rather, he had the blank, because he no longer could tolerate the lack of certain things..

..or a certain someone.

 

And something clicked in his mind.

 

Six

Aager decided, then and there, to shut up..

..and do something about the blank in his soul.

 

“Come, love.”, he said with a deliberate, casual tone. “It’s getting late. I’ll escort you to your room. I believe most of our plannings and meetings are done, but a few crucial details are left. They will need me wide awake for them in the morrow.”

 

The young girl accepted his offer to take her to her room gracefully.

Not that it would matter.

She’d be back in a few, anyway..

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager dropped off the strangely beautiful, deeply sincere, shyly honest, and unconventionally his Inshala to Moira’s former room with a gentle kiss, then left..

But not back to his own room.

He decided to have one meeting before going there and for some oddly existential reason, this one would be much more important than all the meetings he had done for the last eight or ten days.

He dashed silently through the torch-lit corridors and long halls of Durkahan’s inner castle and skid to a halt before the one door he would have never expected to have knocked.

 

“Aager Fogstep to see Lady Granma on an important matter —if she is available.”, he said quietly when a young, feminine voice asked who it was, upon knocking on the door.

A moment of surprised silence ensued, but it didn’t last long.

“Come, boy..”, he heard the old, cackling voice of Granma.

Aager slowly opened the door and entered the dimly lit room of the very old woman —the mother of Lady Alisia.

The room was comfortably decorated with many chairs holstered with velvets in subdued colors, a long, comfortable-looking, dark maroon divan, and cushions, several deep, soft rugs, a large, old wardrobe, any number of shelves with books, delicate porcelain cups, vases, and many other delicate curios, and a small table covered with cream-colored laces, all of which gave the distinct impression of ‘been there, done that and I have the aged wisdom to prove it’ feel to them.

The old woman was sitting in a large, rocking armchair, delicately holding a cup with something steaming in it.

“Tea, boy?”, she asked in her wheezing voice but didn’t wait for him to reply. She motioned a hand and Moira’s younger sister, Lady Maira produced another cup from the shelves and poured him his tea, while the Granma watched the sinister-looking man settle down.

“Sugar? Honey? Milk, Sir?”, Lady Maira asked politely, though it was apparent she was not very comfortable with the idea of being just her and her grandmother in the same room with this man.

“None for me, Lady Maira.”, Aager growled with his gravelly voice, inadvertently making the girl flinch.

“Honey. Put honey in his tea, girl. Methinks he will need it.”, snickered the old woman.

“Ma’am..”, said Aager, sort of as an excuse to start from somewhere.

The old woman snickered again.

“You didn’t come here to Ma’am me this late, boy. ‘Granma’ will suffice. I have heard it enough many times to respond to it by now.”

“I came.. to..”, stammered Aager. “I was hoping for a private talk.. on a private matter, Lady Granma.”

 

“Well, now.. Lady and Granma.. You truly must be desperate, boy. But polite. Good qualities to start a conversation. Maira, dear, why don’t you take the night off. You don’t have to sit up late every night for my sake, you know. Do tell Alisia I said that, if you would, please. I am old. Not invalid, nor senile. She can attend to me personally when I am, rather than send her daughters..”, she huffed.

“Are.. are you sure, Granma?”, Maira asked tentatively, giving a sidelong glance in Aager’s direction. “Will you be alright?”

“I am alright, dear. And quite safe with Sir Aager here, seeing as he is the only trustable man left in Durkahan.”, she said steadily.

“I shall not keep Lady Granma up for long, Lady Maira.”, promised Aager quietly so as not to scare the girl any further.

“Then I leave my grandmother in your tender care, Sir Aager.”, she replied politely, bent down, kissed her granny, curtsied Aager, and regally left the room.

“I hope I didn’t scare her too much.”, mumbled Aager.

“My daughter and my grands don’t scare too easily, boy. Managed to give them that much at least. Though they did botch the job when Tarakadahan happened.”, said Granma, staring at him thoughtfully. “Now, what’s on your mind, young man? You truly must be desperate to have come to me for wisdom. People seldom do, anymore.”

“Their loss, I am sure..”, Aager said. “It is true that I am desperate, but I do not believe my choice of wisdom was faulty.”

“Very good, young man. Polite, and honest in his praise. No wonder that poor, skinny girl cares for you so deeply.”, she replied. “I suspect this has to do with her?”

“Uhhmm..”, stammered the sinister-looking man and.. squirmed.

 

Aager.. squirmed!

 

“Speak, boy. Wisdom must be given direction to make sense.”, said the old woman sternly, surprising Aager a bit.

 

The man in the dark clothes took a slow sip from his honeyed tea, sort of to wet his throat, then started talking..

 

“I.. am not sure where to begin.. I.. deeply care.. for Inshala..”, he whispered. “Before I met her, my life was only about work. And the safety of the people who I knew nothing about, and who knew nothing about me. But I did it anyway.. As payment for my past sins. Then I met her.. while tracking the miscreants in the vastness of Ritual Forest, who ran and hid inside the old Themalsar ruins. We spent weeks in the cursed halls and dungeons of that mad man’s temple, fighting and bleeding on a nearly daily basis.. Then we faced Themalsar himself.. I almost died when he cursed me, Inshala got banished and then he dropped his demons on Lady Moira and the others.. We were.. desperate.. Dying, really.. But somehow, possibly by sheer stubbornness and a good dose of dumb luck, we did it.. We slew the mad priest who had plagued those lands for over eight hundred years., though we still couldn’t do anything about his deathly ruins, which would always be a gathering place for evil, as it did on at least four occasions, causing the death of tens of thousands of people.”

Lady Granma did not say anything, nor did she interrupt the whispering narration of the man sitting merely a few feet away. Silently, she listened to his desolate recollection of the historical event that had, perhaps unwittingly, changed the world.

Aager had just remembered what had happened after that.. and the ten days he had spent watching over the girl he’d come to love and honor, constantly making sure she was still breathing and still alive, every moment of those ten days, day and night..

Inadvertently, he shuddered.

 

One day, it was likely he would get over the terrors of those ten days..

But not anytime soon.

 

Slowly, he took another sip and continued.

 

“When we got out, she, Inshala, just stared at us and smiled, and just like that, she took the responsibility of kings and queens, great generals and armies, and buried the sins of men and the ruins of Themalsar, deep into the earth, and brought forth life —a whole forest of it, upon the dead and desolate land that was Themalsar, sacrificing everything that was precious for her. Everything that defined her.. She gave away what she was.. for the sins of men..”, whispered Aager in a desperate voice. “And now, I feel lost.. She comes to my room and together we color these silly pictures with colored sticks —with crayons, and I have never felt anything thus fulfilling in the entirety of my life, Lady Granma. What’s worse, we are going to a desperate war and she will follow me there, right into the bloody field.. I.. I do not know what to do, yet I feel so empty.. so blank.. without her.. I want her to be with me, for the rest of my life, and I want to be there, with her, for the rest of her life.. And yet, she is so young.. Do.. do I even have the right to ask such a selfish wont from her?”

 

The room seemed to hold its breath as Aager fell silent again.

Then Granma took things into her hands and dismantled everything!

 

“You are aware, that you are speaking to a woman who married at the age of fourteen, right, boy?”, she said with a toothy smile.

Aager ogled at her.

“And the same woman whose mother married when she was twelve! My father was barely sixteen himself and could barely hold up a shield.”, she continued with a cackle. “My mother was playing hopscotch with her friends when my grandfather called her inside and they wed her with my father who was nursing a bloody nose because he had just been fighting with some other boys at the time. Then the wedding was done, in under ten minutes, my mother returned to her game and my father went back to return the compliment done to his nose and had his lip split for his efforts!”

Aager snorted!

“Life is not how we define it, boy. That is base arrogance. Yes, they fought and so did I and my beautiful man, who had the soul of a shark, and was a brigand in bed! We did all sorts of silly things and fought over even sillier things and it took us years to understand what being married truly meant. But when we did, we were thick as thieves after that. Children marry at an early age in Durkahan, and for many reasons varying from the need for soldiers to farmers and artisans because we constantly feed our troops who safeguard the vast lands around the Demon Plains just north of here and Heavens Hand to stave off the evil that is constantly trying to overrun the Demon Wall, with logistics, soldiers, masons, and both armor smiths and weapon smiths, knowing should we fail, Heavens Hand will fail, and then the kingdom will fall. Other cities might have the luxury to live otherwise, but we do not. Boys and girls tend to marry quite after their twenties at Koruxan, while it varies greatly in other cities, and our dear little Inshala is not a human girl. Judging her by our standards is a poor way to repay her due respect. Not to mention the fact that she is a bloomer. I could see what she sees when she looks at you. You might see a little girl when you look at her and try to be honorable for all you like, but she sees a ‘mate’, when she looks at you! True, she has not grown in a society, hence, she lacks the things she should know and do, which refrains her from fully blooming. But you should also note; none of that is her fault.

Think of this when you are deciding whether she is too young or not; she sleeps in her room, wakes up in yours!

I am guessing, she does not do this because she needs a father figure. It is possible you filled such a gap, before, and at the beginning. But that is not the case anymore and has not been so for quite some time now, and I believe the delay was only due to her lack of social mingling; she just couldn’t correctly define what you were to her because she never had the appropriate social references. When it came to boys and men, that only meant being chased, caged, and whipped!

It is commendable and quite remarkable that you have managed to be as honorable as you have and never taken advantage of her, seeing as how honest, sincere, earnest, and pretty she is. Just for that, you have my respect. Methinks, however, playing with fire every walking moment of your day, and ‘not walking’ moments of your nights, and not expecting to eventually burn, or burn out, is foolishness, and you don’t look like a fool to me, boy.”

 

Aager stared at the old woman with astonishment. He had expected her to be mildly straightforward, certainly, but what he had gotten was a whole herd of Moxes trampling over him!

 

“You think.. I should ask for her hand?”, he asked carefully.

“And here I thought you were a smart man.”, muttered Lady Granma with exasperation. “We are past hands, boy. Ask her whole, already!”

 

Aager dropped the cup!

 

“Tell me, boy..”, the old woman asked. “When is the correct time to kill? You should know. It’s quite your area of expertise. Right up your alley, as they say..”

 

Aager paused for a moment.

This was something quite off-topic, and not exactly a ‘table conversation’ kind of thing to ask, nor answer, for that matter..

 

“I.. do not understand what you mean, Lady Granma.”, he replied carefully.

“Let me dummy that down for you then, young man.”, she said with a slightly disappointed tone.

“What happens when you stab too late?”

“You have missed your opportunity and are likely bleeding to death now.”, he replied.

“And what makes you think love is any different when it’s too late?”, she asked, staring deep into his eyes.

 

Aager Fogstep picked up the porcelain cup off the thick carpet, slowly rose, and spoke in his gravelly voice.

 

“Thank you, Grandmother. Your wisdom, it would seem, is quite sharp and well earned.”, he said a bit flustered.

“Sit, boy. We are not done yet!”, Granma ordered.

 

Aager sat.

Promptly.

For a moment he wasn’t quite sure what to say. Finally, a low, harsh, and bitter whisper escaped him.

 

“I can not think of a life without my Inshala. I shall ask for her hand from Lady Alisia. I dearly hope she gives her to me, and with her blessing..”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about Alisia, young man. She yearns for a wedding.”, replied Granma with a snicker.

“Thank you for the tea.. and your insight..”, he said honestly.

“Do not wait for a day or three. Ask her hand in the morning, and have the wedding afternoon. The moment you forget to mention that, Alisia will turn the whole thing into a parade. Thrust me, boy, you don’t want that.”, Lady Granma warned with a smile. “Nothing short of an ambush will save you!”

“You have a very interesting way of laying things out, Lady Grana Maarva!”, Aager said, quite intrigued.

“I do, don’t I?”, she replied with another snicker. Then her face turned serious all of a sudden. “You will take care of my granddaughter, yes?”

“As tenderly as I can.”, replied Aager.

 

Granma stared at him and something deep inside her squinting eyes lit up..

 

“Tender is good.. But do not overdo it. Inshala is a flower, but not a wilting one. She will cry easily because she has never had the benefits of social moderations in her life. She also knows pain intimately and does not fear it. She has, methinks, figured early in life that, much like being tired after a long, happy run, being hurt and suffering pain is merely one of the natural outcomes of any venture —as sad as it is that she has come to that conclusion, and at such an early age, really is.

What she fears is not pain, but one of two things that very much matter to her. This, I have seen in her. She listens to everyone around her, and carefully asks the things she does not understand, even things that are trivial or just silly. I am guessing my mischievous grandson Cümeyt and my hair-brained granddaughter Madina are giving your Inshala a crash course in many things she has missed, and possibly on things it would have been perfectly alright for her to have totally missed.”

“Yes. Buggery bum!”, said Aager with a short snort.

“Heard that, did you? Madina’s favorite for this month. Drives her mother crazy every time she uses it. And now she has learned it to young Inshala, who, willy-nilly, also uses it when her mother is there and is totally innocent of her deed. You can imagine the snickers all around, and there’s nothing much Alisia can do about it. I haven’t had this much fun in the last three decades..”, cackled the old lady.

Aager grinned.

“Her responses are oddly early or late, though. It is like she is miscounting her turn to speak, but eager to blend in..”

“Huh.”, grunted Aager. That had never happened when she was with him.

 

It dawned on him that it hadn’t because she trusted him to see her flaws and correct them appropriately, and for some reason, that made him feel happy.

Funny how it was always the little things!

 

“..For whatever reason, your little Inshala absolutely fears not being comprehended!

This she dreads mindlessly and can not shrug off nor ignore. My guess is, it is because she has been judged, and consequently punished for being something she is not —her whole life, precisely for that reason.

Somehow, she sees the absence of respect not so dissimilar to being misunderstood, hence, she fears this also. It is possible she strongly believes; ‘the misunderstood’ can not have respect.. Ignoring her wonts and desires —and likely her strengths as well— for the sake of your own conformity and providence and for something she can, and is willing to bear and endure will do her injustice on both accounts and give her the impression, quite clearly, I might add, just how little you really understand her, thus, how little respect you have for her! My man had faults. Too many to name here and now. But one thing he was never at fault nor lacking was, he showed me his love the way I wanted it, and I laughed every time he did a funny, even though he was a lump when it came to humor! Give her what she wants, boy. And let her give you the love you need to fill in your blanks.. Life is too short for stupid, and we are all going to war and some of us are not going to come back! Live with the regrets of loss. Not with the regrets of never having had the balls!”

 

Aager stared at his feet.

Wow!

The sinister-looking man in his dark clothes felt singed.

That had been one, classy thrashing he’d just received from Lady Grana Maarva, and she hadn’t even been trying!

Also, she wasn’t done yet..

 

“Being polite and honorable is good and well. I am guessing, is how you have been treating her all along. Polite and honorable are indeed, good qualities, boy, but not at the expense of the people around us. Delia did the honorable thing, and good thing he did too —got himself killed by his own. Don’t get me wrong. I adored and respected that boy. He made my Alisia deliriously happy and I am sure that was a mean trick for him.. My Alisia was quite the petulant girl when she was young. Then my Moira did the honorable thing; landed herself in the dungeons. And then my Alisia decided to be honorable and good, and almost married the animal who killed his own brother and her husband. No one sought the wisdom of this old woman, which would have been; hire cutters, put a bounty on his head, poison his well, hex him, drop a loose flagstone on him, push him down the stairs, or whatever.. just kill him, already!

 

Aager blinked!

 

“My Alisia did disappoint me, back then. Of all the things she could, and should have done, she chose defeat because that animal had threatened her with her children.. You see, boy, when someone threatens you and yours, you do not bargain to bed them. You simply have them killed! “, she finished pleasantly.

 

Damn.

Though, Aager.

Good thing this old lady had been on their side.

 

“What you and your pretty little girl did was more than save our collective sorry hides. You, Sir Aager, and Inshala, in particular, remembered Alisia what it was to be a noblewoman, and the First Lady of Durkahan again. And when I say ‘Inshala in particular’, I do not emphasize it because you were less than her, but because she came here as not as a savior like you, but as the scared little sister, the lost daughter, and the awesome granddaughter!”

 

The old lady fell silent after that as if telling him she was done learning him her wisdom.

Aager stood up, respectfully nodded at the old woman then ghosted to the door.. and paused..

 ..as a moment of unexpected, and quite a retrospect insight dawned upon him.

 

“Would you..”, he asked, looking at Granma over his shoulder. “..know a Lady Daniella, perchance?”

 

Grana Maarva stared at him for a piercing moment.

 

“Now why would you ask me about Daniella?”, she asked sharply.

“No particular reason. Overheard a conversation between a young man, Udoorin Shieldheart, and Lady Moira once, right after we had come out of the Ruins of Themalsar and before my Inshala permanently sank it into the depths of the earth.”, he said.

“Why would Daniella’s name be mentioned at all?”, Granma asked intently.

“From what I gathered, she is the great-great-something-grandmother of the young man..”

“That so? And never did they figure, he and my Moira were cousins, then?”

 

Aager turned and stared at Lady Grana Maarva.

Granma chuckled.

 

“You see, Daniella was my mother’s younger sister and a fiery, rebellious girl she was. She detested the nobility and married a promising young captain named Samdorin Shieldheart and together they left Durkahan and settled somewhere far off to the east..”

“Serenity Home!”, Aager blurted..

“No one will blame the beautiful Princess of Bari Na-ammen to have taken a simple country oaf for a king!”, said Lady Grana Maarva with a check-mate snicker.

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager Fogstep lay in his bed, staring blankly at the stone ceiling, back in his ‘lair’..

..and quietly waiting.

It was past midnight and he was exactly twenty-five years and one month old now. Normally, that wouldn’t have been remarkable for him. People who lived on a daily, ‘today, I have survived again’ basis, cared little about their age.

This particular night seemed special, however.

Or rather, this particular day.

There seemed a sense of freshness, and perhaps that of ‘expectation’, in the air. Much like how children felt when they learned their father was alive and coming home..

..from a long, depleting war.

 

“Huh.”, mumbled Aager. “That was a bit dramatic. Couldn’t have related to something brighter, something happier, could you?”

 

The door to his den opened and in a particularly pretty, pale lavender nightgown with white, frilly fringes that barely covered her slender hips and nothing else, Inshala walked in.

She didn’t wait at the door to look inside, nor pause for her eyes to adjust to the dark chamber.

She entered as she’d opened the door.

And with silent, naked feet, she ghosted around Aager’s bed until she bumped her, somewhat knobby knees, to his bed and just stood there with little to no expression on her face. What was there, however, seemed on the bare edges of distress.

 

Slowly she rose her skinny arms and held them outstretched and with her palms facing one another.

She had been like this ever since Moira had given her room to her, and gladly, but Aager suspected the whole idea had been Lady Alisia’s.

True, she had done it to preserve her new daughter’s dignity and avoid possible, slandering gossip. But she had, perhaps unwittingly turned ‘the girl who hangs around that sinister-looking man all day’, into ‘the girl who sneaks off into that sinister-looking man’s chamber at nights!’

Aager sighed and put the esteemed Lady Alisia aside, sat up, and stared at the girl.

He stared at Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane and quietly called her name.

The girl’s brows crested slightly, then she made a small, distressed noise.

She looked so very pretty, but sad..

..or perhaps ‘unhappy’, was closer to defining her distress.

She seemed like someone yearning to be somewhere, was allowed to come thus near, just not permitted to touch her wont.

It was a cruel way to punish someone, and unwittingly as it may have been, that was exactly what was being done to her.

Silently, he got out of his bed, came around behind her, pulled her to himself, and enfolded her, and her outstretched arms in his.

She seemed so small in his arms like that and Aager wasn’t a large man, to begin with. A stab above average in height, and an edge broader at the shoulders, certainly, but altogether, a lean man, really.. A man, made of tightly woven, cord-like spring-muscles. More so since he had accepted Mab’s offer and taken the Winter Mantle.

Everything seemed more vivid, detailed, and alive since the Mantle, including his deadly attire, and his not-so-dissimilar desires..

In fact, everything was more since the Mantle!

His moments of happiness, and consequently, his moments of wrath. Which was exactly what he had dished out on Karkashi, in the arena..

And Inshala had found her solace in a man like him, of all people.

A good-for-murder, only Mab would have deemed worthy of her Mantle..

Inshala, on the other hand, had found her peace with him and in her beautiful gray eyes, he saw her storms, and her demons back off and scatter.. and he only needed to be near.

Was it, then, too much for him to ask just as much of her?

To stave off and scatter his demons?

And perhaps find solace too?

No.

Not perhaps.

And certainly not for his demons.

For he had already found his solace in her and that had happened before the Mantle.

The scattering of his demons was merely ‘collateral damage’, per se.

Because Aager Fogstep was always honest with himself.

With her, he had been nothing less.

 

Slowly, and with great care so as not to wake her, he picked the little girl, as he always did, and tenderly lay her in the other bed. And with nothing less than honest desire, he looked at her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, quite visible under her revealing nightgown, and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, her long eyelashes, her slightly frowning brows, her cute, perky nose, her plush, cherry-red lips, her beautiful, curving horns, and her long and scattered silky hair..

And he wondered.

For an inevitable moment.

Whether this little girl knew.

Just what kind of a stirring effect she had on him..

But that was it, wasn’t it?

Other than some vague insight at an instinctual level, the little girl truly had no idea.

Only suppressed hope that the man, Aager, somehow found her appealing.

And that was also his fault.

Both that she didn’t know, and that she would think so little of herself..

Perhaps it was time, he thought, he really ought to tell her.

Then.

With a destitute sigh.

He reached down.

And covered her tiny feet, her smooth, bare legs, her slender, naked hips, her small, palm-sized butt, her slim waist, her little tummy, and her appealing, nubile, baby-pink breasts, still visible, still calling from under her revealing nightgown, all the way up to her skinny, bare arms, slender neck and her diminutive, somewhat angular face, with his own blanket.

He watched as the girl did a sad little whimper and struggled to free herself from under her covers.

Inshala, it would seem, displaced her blankets quite frequently. A something he would look forward to tending in the near future..

..and mayhap, in the far future as well.

He bent down and kissed her forehead, then her beautiful, curving horns, and soothed her long, silky hair until she calmed, and with a depressed sigh, went still.

For a long time, Aager listened to her sated breaths, then gave a similar, depressed sigh of his own, silently ghosted to the large wardrobe, pulled out a spare blanket, and went back to his own bed.

 

Lying in the dark, and staring at the ceiling of his den, he asked.

“Do you want me thus much, Inshala?”

 

No reply came.

Only soft, steady breathing..

..and a barely discernable, sleepy little sigh.

 

It was possible he had a barely discernable smile of his own on his face when he finally drifted off to sleep. He was twenty-five years and one month old now, the girl he loved was barely an arm’s length away, and today seemed to promise a whole new beginning.

✱ ✱ ✱

And what do we have here?”, asked Aager, entering his chamber/lair/den, late that night and stared down at the little girl lying on her tummy and on the pale beige carpet with her legs swinging lazily as she furiously colored what he thought was a woodsman’s lodge with a garden full of flowers, bushes, trees, a raccoon, a dear, a bear, and an eagle, or maybe it was a hawk, or likely a crow. A picture, he thought, was a bit on the pretentious side and would likely end with the bear killing the dear and raccoon destroying everything in the lodge and possibly knocking down a candle and setting the whole thing on fire!

“I am coloring this new book that Master Cümeyt was kind enough to give me.”, she said, looking up and smiling at him from where she lay. “He insists I am getting better so he gave me this one and swore on his ancestors that this one was for pros!”

“I could see how this one is indeed for pro’s.”, said Aager with a straight face, as he pulled off his dark, leather hood and mask off and tossed them on the bed.

“I told him he did not have to swear at his ancestors and that I would have believed him anyway because brothers and sisters never lie to one another.”, she said happily. “But he just stared at me with this funny face and he was like, ‘Ow, like never ever?’, and I said, ‘Of course, never ever, because brothers and sisters must trust one another, and he was like, ‘Well, that’s a buggery bum. Where’s the fun in that?'”

“That boy..”, growled Aager, while he undid the buckles to his dark leathers, pulled them off, and put them neatly on the bed as well. “..will either go far or go to jail, someday..”

Inshala giggled.

“Then he tried to explain what pros meant and I asked him why he cut the other half of a perfectly nice word, and he said, ‘Cuz that’s what pros do, sis!'”

Then she sighed.

“The rules of cities and families are confusing and many.”

“That they are.”, he agreed and loosed his heavy belt and removed his swords, daggers, and knives, and carefully set them aside.

“And of course, I am confused now. I wanted to ask you, then and there but decided against it. You were in a meeting with the pigwigs.. or maybe it was the bigwigs, I am not sure which because both Cümeyt and Madina started laughing and giggling when I said pigwigs and neither of them made any sense after that and I was like, ‘This is a buggery bum of a situation only my Aager could untangle’, but you were at the meeting with the pigwigs.. So then I was like, ‘Girl, you must stop, like, now! You are like this clumsy bear cub that just stepped on a wasp’s nest and is now running around in silly circles with all the angry wasps on your tail!’

I did tell him, I would rather he never cut the other end of my name, though. Or anybody else’s. Can you imagine Inshes, Cüms, Mois, Mais, and Mads and Fards running around all day? I mean, we wouldn’t even have to be running, and we would still look funny and silly!”

Aager snorted.

“I would rather you all didn’t run around all day as Moi’s, Mai’s, Mad’s, Fard’s, and Insh’es, either. That would be awkward, indeed. And funny. And silly.”, he said with a smile, settled on the thick, pale beige carpet and on this stomach, pulled off his heavy leather gloves, grabbed a brown coloring stick, and started one all the tree trunks, and the lodge.

Inshala giggled again.

“Master Cümeyt thought it was funny, and silly too. So he laughed. In fact, he laughed so hard, we had to stop playing for a while. But his laugh was also very squeaky and funny, so I laughed too. Then Madina laughed because she thought we were funny and because I make this snorty noise from my nose when I laugh. Then mother came and grounded us because there was an important meeting going on with the pigwigs and we were making so much noise and being irresponsible! That sort of annoyed Granma so she and mom started arguing. Granma told mom the pigwigs wouldn’t even be having their buggery bum meetings if it hadn’t been for us and we could hear them all the way from our room and Cümeyt, Madina, and I thought that was a bit unfair of mom to have grounded us when they were making so much noise themselves.. I did also wonder why we had been grounded. I mean, we were already sitting on the ground. But I decided to let that pass too, as things were confusing and funny, and silly enough as they were and I thought maybe not asking would make me look more like this ‘pros’, rather than the clumsy bear cub! After all, I thought, I could always ask you.. when you are not in a meeting, and not busy, and not resting..”, she finished with a pout, as she picked three shades of blues and started on the sky!

“You could ask me now.”, he offered.

“No..”, Inshala said with a happy, yet slightly distracted voice. “..You are busy in a ‘resting-meeting’ now, with me.”

 

Aager laughed.

He just couldn’t help himself.

 

Yes, the story Inshala had just told was mildly entertaining, but it was the artlessly innocent, earnest, and seamless ‘commentary’ way she told it, followed by the unexpected conclusions that made it cute, adorable, and funny. What was more, was that Inshala was not telling her stories with the intention to entertain.

She was just telling them.

The way she saw them and comprehended them. It wasn’t all about her stories and how entertaining, or even fascinating they were.

It was how she delivered them..

 

When Aager told a story, he said it like he was giving an intelligence report; short, succinct, to the point, and with professional deliberation. It would start at point A, and end at point B, using the shortest, straightest, two-dimensionally linear path, and A would always keep B in his LoS —Line of Sight because that’s how much his A’s would trust his B’s!

 

Inshala’s recollection of events never went from point A to point B. They certainly never followed a straight nor a linear path because there were C’s, D’s, E’s, F’s, G’s, and a whole flock of other letters both related and sometimes, not so related, to consider, hence, were all brought into her telling, because outright discarding them was obviously not nice, and probably rude as well, as she told the events of her day in her soft, seamless, and ‘slightly confused’ narrative voice where she took point A into her small, delicate hands and bloomed it!

From there, things could only branch or ripple out, seeming to go every which way without any purpose or destination. She would reach point B, but never in an ‘eventually’, sense.

Her point B’s were neither here, nor there, but stressed in her telling and you just had to be deliberately dense or outright lacking any form of sentient perception or insight to have missed it thus thoroughly, or it came from an angle that had little to do with what she was talking about in the first place but ended up being oddly relevant.

The curious part of it all was the fact that things THUS FAR FROM THE POINT and LINEARLY NON-TWO-DIMENSIONAL were the very same things Aager Fogstep had truly, and unequivocally hated..

..until he’d bumped into one, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane.

The counter-amazement to this was in the dilemma of how Inshala would rather be straightforward, to the point, and succinct like Aager had been all along, only if she could.

 

Aager certainly wished to never see that!

 

“I didn’t want to tell Master Cümeyt, but the real reason why I thought he shouldn’t cut names in half like that was because names have protective power of their own, and cutting them in half removes that protection..”, Inshala said after a while.

“I didn’t know that.”, admitted Aager.

“Not many do. This is why it is unwise to name certain evil beings. It might irk their interest and bring them upon us. Not something anyone would want, and it will give them power over us. This is also the reason why we shy from calling those we love by their name, I think. We already feel helpless against them and we fear we might succumb to them all the way, should we call them by their name, “, she explained quietly.

“Huh.”, said Aager. “Is that why you didn’t use to call me by my name before?”

“Yes.”, she replied honestly.

“But you are saying it now.”, Aager stared.

“Yes.”, she said again, her voice a bit smaller.

“What changed?”, he asked.

“Nothing changed.”, she answered in a tiny, abashed voice. “I have decided to succumb all the way..”

 

In silent contemplation, the two turned the picture around as per need and colored the lodge, the garden, the bushes, and the trees, the raccoon (who, against all expectations, behaved itself), the dear, the bear (which indignantly refused to kill and eat the dear), and the hawk, in unified trans, passing the crayons back and forth for the next two hours.

 

“Inshala?”

“Hmmm?”

“You once asked me when I would see you as a girl and not a baby —like a woman..”

“Yes?”

 

“Would you like to be my woman? My wife?..”

“..And be stupid together for life?”

 

Just like that.

Aager Fogstep proposed.

✱ ✱ ✱

Aager Fogstep, the silent, sinister-looking man in his dark leathers, hood, and mask, the Winter Knight of Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness, and Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman, the Lady of Durkahan, the Ritual Guardian, the Mistress of The Grove of Titania, the Queen of Mother Earth and Summer, married the very next day, just a bit after ambushing Lady Alisia and asking her blessing, and for the hand of her new daughter.

The wedding took place in Lord Delia Karakarsh’s own small, private chapel in the inner castle of Durkahan City where Ladies Moira, Maira, and Madina happily attended, while the young Master Cümeyt held the tail end of the pretty bride’s long skirt, merrily skipping and hopping behind her and punching the air with a victorious fist and shouting;

“Yeesh! You go, girl!”

 

Seated at the rear, one Lady Grana Maava smirked while her daughter, Lady Alisia, dabbed her eyes as she watched her Inshala join, in health and in sickness, up in the sky and down in the ground.. and for life, with the silence, spooky man, Aager Fogstep..

 

The ring Aager gave Inshala was handcrafted by the best gold and glass smiths Durkahan had to offer and was made specifically for her; a slim, extraordinarily elegant circular glass, quite indestructible, with a forest of very tiny, life-like flowers and vines, and even tinier motes of what appeared to be fireflies captured in it and smoothly framed with gold —all intricately molded and flecked with emerald, ruby, and diamond dust, and with both red and green copper.

Inshala’s ring to him was a simple, very dark, quite thick, blue-black thing with two fiery orange bands running around it’s surface. And between the seemingly burning bands, was a poorly scrabbled etchings that must have taken the skinny little girl hours to have carved.

 

To • My • AAGRR • I • Belong

✱ ✱ ✱

Far, far away to the east and in the dark, silent depths of the vast Ritual Forest was a rundown and abandoned derelict. Standing right outside that small, sad, and desolate hovel was an ancient oak with less than half her leaves and weighted down with snow.

A warm, happy breeze soothed unseasonably from the west and caressed the brittle branches of the old, nearly-petrified tree and the ancient oak shuddered, felling more of her remaining leaves. A sharp, precipitous crack echoed in the forest and the ancient tree split in two. With a great sigh of relief, Tamara whispered.

“She is safe, she is loved, and she belongs. You may rest in peace now, my love..”

And after some three fulfilling millennia of breathing life into her forest, the ancient oak toppled over and crashed with a resounding boom, adding to the derelict..

Tamara gave another sigh.

“You be good, now, Ritual Guardian..”

She said.

And died.


Tamara was the beloved wife of Master Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig who was Inshala’s surrogate father and master. Tamara was killed some eight hundred years ago, during the first Themalsar War. At least on one occasion, Master Cathber was known to have called or referred to the great old oak tree standing mighty in front of his tiny hut as Tamara.. Whether he was calling the oak, Tamara in reference to the day they met and right in front of the old tree, or he is being literal is unknown, as the only two people involved, Master Cathber and Lady Tamara, are both dead.

 

What Inshala etches on the dark, blue-black carbon-alloy iron ring may, or may not be a misspelling of Aager. She does know the secret runes and glyphs of druidic, and perhaps a spatter of elvish, but does not know how to read nor write common. Cümeyt and Madina are tutoring her some (possibly on Lady Alisia’s orders) and she has come far. Interestingly, the first word she asked to be taught how to write was not her own name.

Whether she does a typo mistake on the ring, or she has etched it so with deliberation is unclear. She does confess, much later (in the story: A ‘Warm’ Warning) how Aager reminds her of her saber-tooth tiger, Katana.

Hence, the possibility of the typo; AAGRR!

 

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” 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.

. . .

“Kes şunu!”, diye hırlar Brom ve kalçasının, tam da göremediği yerini sıvazlamaya başlar. “Benden ne istiyorsun bilmiyorum ve açıkçası artık umurumda da değil. Hayatımda bana verilmiş en güzel, en muhteşem şeyle tanıştırdın, sonra da aldın onu elimden.. Senden ne kadar nefret ettiğimi bilemezsin. Git ve bir başka salak bul kendini eğlendirecek. Senin yüzünden evimin mutluluğunu kaybettim.. Senin yüzünden hayatımda görmek istemediğim şeyler gördüm.. Senin yüzünden aklıma bile gelmeyecek korkular yaşadım.. Senin yüzünden en çok sevdiğim bir şeyimden oldum.. Senin yüzünden bu dünya hakkında ne kadar saf ve temiz düşüncem varsa hepsini kaybettim.. Ne bok istedin benden ki beni böyle sınayıp süründürdün? Kime ne yaptım? Kime ne zararım dokundu da beni seninle lanetlediler.. Defol git.. Ve beni bir daha da rahatsız etme..”

 

Brom Bumblebrim, Gulls Perch’den onu sırtında taşıyarak getiren dev martının gitmesinden sonra Ritual Ormanlarının güneyinde, Arashkan ırmağı kıyısında kamp kurmuş ve iki haftadır da burada öylece, amaçsız bir şekilde yatıp kalkmıştı. Gündüzleri ırmaktan balık avlamış, geceleri de küçük ateşinin başında oturmuş, elinde annesinin yadigar Lir’inden sabit iki nota dışında hiçbir şey çalmadan durmuş ve uykusuzluktan sızıncaya kadar öylece, kıpırdamadan, sessizce ağlamıştı..

..taki kalçasından, tam da göremediği yerden, tanıdığı sızıyı hissedinceye kadar.

Genç hobbit’in bu ani ve beklenmedik harlaması karşısında, beklenmedik yerlerde ve istenmeyen zamanlarda onu ısırıp duran ne idüğü belirsiz şeyden herhangi bir tepki gelmez.

 

Tepki gök yüzünden gelir!

 

Büyük, yer sarsıcı bir patlamayla homurdanır Ekim bulutları ve bir anda yağmur yağmaya başlar..

Yağmur, bardaktan boşalır gibi değil, dev bir fıçıdan boşalır gibi yağmaya başalar!

“Yağ lan!”, diye avazı çıktığı kadar çığlar Brom. “İstediğin kadar yağ, lanet olasıca şey! İstersen al ve götür beni sularında.. Ama sana bir daha boyun eğmeyeceğim..!”

“Canın bir şeye sıkılmışa benziyor, evlat.”, der tiz, paslı bir ses sırılsıklam gecenin karanlığından.

“Evet!.. Ne?.. Kim var orda?!”, diye bir elinde babasının eski kılıcı, diğerinde de amcasının küçük, antika gürzü olduğu hande fırlar ayağa genç Brom.

“Ahaa.. Haşin bir genç! Ama o silahlara gerek olacağını da pek sanmıyorum, delikanlı.. Benim kadar bükük ve yaşlı bir adamı korkutarak kendini utandırmak istemiyorsan, tabii..”, der adam ve Brom’un ateşi yağmurdan sönmüş kampına adamın ağır, topallayan ayak sesleri eşliğinde paslı kıkırtısını da duyar..

..ama yine de silahlarını indirmez.

“Yazık.”, der adam. “Birileri senin insanlığa olan inancını fena halde köreltmiş..”

Gece, yumuşak bir ışıkla aydınlanır ve Brom beş – altı yarda ilerisinde sesi kadar yaşlı bir adam bulur.

Adam ağır, temkinli hareketlerle kendi etrafında döner ve Brom’a gülümseyerek konuşur.

“Gördüğün gibi bu yamuk asa ve daha da yamuk beden dışında bir şeyim yok. Şimdi.. Senin gibi iyi giyimli bir hobbit’in buralarda ne işi var ve neden bu kadar kızgınsın?”, diye merakla sorar yaşlı adam.

Brom, uzun bir süre yağmur altında sessizce yaşlı adamı, bir elinde tuttuğu asasını ve diğer elinde duran puslu ışığı süzer.

Adamın kafası neredeyse keldir. Olan saçları, sakalları gibi aklaşmış, birbirine karışmış ve beline kadar da uzanmaktadır. Adamın üzerinde ise tiril, pejmürde bir cübbe ve bir kaç küçük kesenin tutuşturulduğu, kemer niyetine bağladığı sicim dışında herhangi bir mal varlığı yok gibidir.

 

Gök tekrar gürler.

Gece aydınlanır.

Yağmur daha bir hışımla yağmaya başlar.

Yaşlı adam ise genç hobbit’in bir karar vermesini bekler..

 

“Kimsin sen?”, diye sorar Brom tekrar.

“Yaşlı ve mazbut bir adamım, o kadar. Ormanın bu taraflarında biraz işim vardı ve senin bağırtılarını duyunca belki bir yardımım dokunur diye geldim.”, der yaşlı adam.

“Bir fey gibi konuşuyorsun.”, der Brom kaşlarını çatarak. “Adını vermediğin gibi, muallak cevaplarla geçiştiriyorsun..”

“Aaaa.. Feylerden haberdar olacak kadar gezmiş ve görmüş bir delikanlı.. Yada ağzı yanacak kadar..”, der adam ve tekrar kıkırdar.

Brom sessizce ve ırkına hiç de yakışmayan bir huysuzlukla olduğu yerde durur.. ellerinde silahlarıyla..

“Öyle olsun bakalım, delikanlı.”, der yaşlı adam ve omuzlarını silker. “Sakıncası yoksa ben kendi işime bakacağım o zaman. Bu fırtınayı güvenli bir şekilde buraya çağırmam biraz zamanımı aldı ve boşa gitmesini istemem. Sen de istersen seyredebilirsin..”

Adam topallaya zıplaya garip bir yürüyüşle Brom’un ilerisinden geçer ve yaklaşık elli yarda sonra durur. Elindeki yamuk asayı aldığı gibi yere saplar..

..ama asa yerinde durmaz ve devrilir.

Adam zorlukla eğilir ve asayı yerden alır. Ikınarak tekrar yere saplamaya çalışır ama asa yine yerinde durmaz ve düşer.

Adam esefle asaya bakar.

“Evlat. Orada durup yaşlı bir adamın kendisini rezil etmesini daha ne kadar seyredeceksin?”, diye sorar, paslı sesiyle.

Brom adama bakar, sonrada uyuz bir ifadeyle ona doğru yürümeye başlar.

“Yaşlı bir adama gözlerini yuvarlamamalısın, delikanlı. Bu neredeyse bütün ırklarda ayıptır.”, der adam genç hobbit’e.

Brom ise burnundan soluyarak yerdeki asayı kapar, kılıcıyla yeri eşeler, asayı içine saplar, sonra asanın dibine yakında bulduğu taşlardan dizerek olduğu yerde durmasını sağlar ve “Hangi ırkta ayıp değil?”, diye sorar somurtarak.

“Bilmek istemezsin, delikanlı..”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam.

“Gece karanlık. Gözlerimi yuvarladığımı bile görme ihtimalin yok!”, diye asabice söylenir Brom.

Yaşlı adam kıkırdar.

“Neredeyse bütün ırklardaki bütün gençler kendilerinden bir iş yapmaları istendiğinde gözlerini yuvarlarlar!”

Brom kaşlarını çatar.

“Ee.. naapıyoruz burada?”, diye sorar.

“Biz mi? Biz bi şey yapmıyoruz, delikanlı. Ama geri çekilsek iyi olur.. Biraz daha.. Evet.. Biraz daha.. Aslında çok daha gerilesek sanki daha iyi olur.. Kulaklarını da kapatırsan iyi olur.. Kulaklarını kapatıp ağzını açarsan pek daha iyi olur!”

Brom, yaşlı adamla yere saplanmış asanın neredeyse yüz yarda gerisinde, ağızları açık, kulakları tıkalı bir şekilde öylece yağmurun altında dururlar.

“Naapıyoz böyle yaa?!”, diye geçirir genç hobbit, içinden ve yaşlı adama, bir sonraki hamlesi ne olacağını kesitirilemez bir deliye bakar gibi onu yan yan süzer.

 

Gök bir daha gürler.

Gece bir ufuktan diğerine kadar aydınlanır.

Kapkara bulutların arasından çaprazlamasına tek dal bir yıldırım, müthiş bir hızla dikinine iner..

..ve göz harlatan bir kıvılcım yağmuruyla asayı vurur!

 

Brom, gözleri tamamen kamaşmış bir şekilde öylece dizlerinin üstüne çöker..

Tekrar görmeye başladığında yaşlı adam yanına çömelmiş, ona bir şeyler söylemektedir ama ne etrafında uçuşan parıltılardan adamı görebilir, ne de çınlayan kulaklarından söylediklerini duyar.

“Aaaaa.. Güzel.. Sanırım tekrar duymaya başladın.. İyi misin, delikanlı? Değilsen de zamanla olacaksın.. İşin püf noktası, üzerinde fazla düşünmemek ve yapacak kendine bir şeyler bulmak..”, der yaşlı adam genç hobbit’e gülümseyerek.

“Sen.. sen neden benim gibi sağır ve kör olmadın?”, diye boğuk bir sesle sorar, Brom.

“Yaşlılığın nadir avantajları, evlat.. Gözlerimi kapatmayı akıl edecek kadar bilge, ve senin kadar iyi duyamayacak kadar da sağır!”, der adam ve tekrar kıkırdar.

Brom yüzünü buruşturur..

Yaşlı berduşun her şeye verecek ‘kıkırtılı’ bir cevabı var gibidir.

“Kampın mahvolmuşa benziyor, genç efendi. Benimkisi hemen yakınlarda. İstersen bana misafir olabilirsin. Beğenmezsen de yarın tekrar buraya dönersin ama bunu tavsiye etmem.”, der yaşlı adam.

“Neden?”, diye sorar Brom temkinli bir şekilde.

“Korkarım bu şimşek ve sonrasında düşen yıldırım, hemen batımızda bulunan Serenity Home kasabasına bağlı izcileri ayartmış olacaktır. İzci Efendisi Davien’e tesadüf edersen sana bir kaç soru sorup bırakacaktır. Ancak Moorat’e tesadüf etmen halinde seni hayatından bezdireceğinden emin olabilirsin.”

Genç hobbit, bu iki izci efendilerinin isimlerini duymuştur. Genç hobbit bu iki izci efendisini, Serenity Home kasabası şerifiyle birlikte, bir kamp dolusu haydutu ortadan kaldırmalarını canlı olarak, oldukça da yakından seyretmiştir.

“Öyle olsun bakalım.”, der biraz huysuzca. “Bu gece için misafirin olurum ama yarın için söz veremem.”

“Yarın için ben de söz veremem.”, der yaşlı adam ve Brom, adamın pek de kamptan bahsetmediği izlenimine kapılır.

“Bu fırtınayı çağırmaktan bahsetmiştin..”, diye yoklar yaşlı adamı Brom.

“Öyle mi dedim?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam ve ormana, muhtemelen kendi kampı olan yere doğru yürümeye başlar.

 

Genç hobbit, sırt çantası, yıldırım dolayısıyla düşürdüğü silahlarını ve kampından geriye kalan ne varsa kapar ve garip, topallaya hoplaya yürüyen yaşlı adamın peşine takılır.

 

“Evet. Öyle dedin.”, der Brom kati bir sesle.

“Eh.. İlk akıl gidermiş, derler..”, der adam ve sırıtır.

“Eee?”, der Brom ve işin peşini bırakmaz.

Yaşlı adam temkinli bir şekilde etrafına bakınır, sonra da sıkılgan bir sesle konuşur..

“Heavens Hand nerededir, bilir misin, evlat?”, diye sorar.

“Evet.”, der Brom. “Durkahan’ın oldukça kuzeyinde, Korduba’s Watch’ı geçince..”

“Aaaaa.. Coğrafyasını bilen, okumuş bir delikanlı. Tarihini de bilebilirsen sana sorunun cevabını veririm..”, diye mutlu bir şekilde cevap verir yaşlı adam.

 

Brom tekrar kaşlarını çatar.

Yaşlı adamın sorulan sorulara bir türlü açık cevaplar vermeyişi, aslına bakılırsa, herhangi içerikli bir cevap vermeyişi, son bir ayda yaşadığı duygusal tahribattan sonra genç hobbit’te olağan dışı bir sabırsızlık, hatta tahammülsüzlük ve asabiyet oluşturmuştur.

 

“Neden sorduğum sorulara bir türlü cevap vermiyorsun?”, diye huysuzca sorar.

“Neden böyle bir beklenti içerisindesin?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Kampına geldin, kim olduğunu, ne yaptığını ve fırtınayı sordum ama beni kör ve sağır etmen dışında da hiçbir cevap vermedin!”, diye neredeyse hırlar Brom.

“Aaa.. Birisi yanlış tarafından kalkmış sanırım.. biri-iki ay önce..”, der yaşlı adam sonra derin, sessiz bir soluk verir ve devam eder. “Öncelikle, kampına misafir yada davet edilmediğim için gerçekte misafirin de olmadım. Kendince muhtemel haklı sebeplerden ötürü de olsa, yine de bana silah çektin. Sana üzerimde silah olmadığını göstermiş olmama rağmen silahlarını indirmedin, dolayısıyla ben de kampının etrafından dolaştım. Sana adımı vermemi gerektirecek nezaket koşullarını bana sunmadığın için, ben de sana adımı verme gereği görmedim.

Sana bir hobbit’in burada ne işi olduğunu sordum, ama buna da bir cevap alamayınca, bende yapmaya geldiğim kendi işimle uğraşmaya karar verdim.

Seni kulaklarını kapatman ve ağzını da açman konusunda uyardım. Açıkçası bu uyarılardan sonra gözlerini açık bırakacağın aklımın ucundan bile geçmemişti.. Sanırım kulaklarını yeterince sıkı kapatmadığın için anlık sağır, gözlerini açık tuttuğun için anlık kör, ağzını da söylediğim gibi açmadığın için de kendi bedensel iç basıncın, yıldırımın oluşturduğu dış basınçla dengelenmedi ve tahmin et, hanginiz kazandınız?”, diye mutlu bir şekilde paslı sesiyle açıklar yaşlı adam.

 

Brom’un yüzü daha da kararır çünkü adam haklıdır. Teknik yada nezaket; her halükarda haklıdır.

 

“Brom.. Brom Bumblebrim..”, der neden sonra kaynayan bir sesle.

“Tanıştığımıza sevindim, Brom-Brom Bumblebrim..”, der yaşlı adam sırıtarak. “Benim adım da Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.. Ama sen bana bunlardan sadece bir tanesini kullanarak hitap etsen de olur. Aslına bakılırsa öyle olmasını rica edeceğim.. Karşılaştığım bazı yaratıklar tamamını kullanmakta ısrar ediyorlar ve her defasında duyması, söylemesinden bile daha acıklı oluyor..”

“..Fey’ler gibi..”, diye sokuşturur araya Brom.

“Ahhaaa.. Evet, fey’ler gibi..”, der yaşlı Cathber ‘en sonunda anlayan birisini buldum’ der gibi!

“Asadan ve Heavens Hand’den bahsediyorduk.”, der Brom ve bu garip, tek düze hali kendisini bile biraz şaşırtır.

“Hayır, genç Brom, daha başlamamıştık. Ama merak etme, çok heyecanlı bir hikaye. Bununla birlikte, sanırım ikimizde bir gece için yeterince ıslandık. Önce biraz ısınıp kuruyalım, karnımızı da biraz doyuralım sonrasında hala ayık istek, sana anlatırım.. Ve işte geldik.”, der yaşlı adam ve tamamen çam dallarından örme, daha çok bir kunduz yuvasını andıran ve yaşlı adamın sadece beline kadar gelen küçük, kubbeli bir ‘şeyin’ yanına gelirler.

“Hmmm..”, diye sesli bir şekilde düşünür adam. “Pek de misafir beklemiyordum açıkçası. Sanırım bu ikimiz için biraz küçük. Ama merak etme. Sanıyorum bu konuda bir şeyler yapabilirim..”

Yaşlı adam ellerini kaldırır ve Brom’un çıkaramadığı bir dilde bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.

 

Aradan biraz zaman geçer.

 

“Hiç bi şey olmuyor..”, der Brom neden sonra.

“Hiç bir şey olmuyor da ne demek?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.

“Her ne yapıyorsan, bi işe yaramıyor!”, diye açıklar Brom.

“Bu.. biraz utanç verici bir durum..”, der Cathber. “Bir de şunu deneyelim bakalım..”

 

Aradan biraz daha zaman geçer.

 

“Hala bir şey olmuyor..”, diye mırıldanır genç hobbit.

“Bu.. gerçekten beklenmedik bir durum. Normalde bunun işe yaramış olması lazımdı!”, der yaşlı adam alınmış bir sesle.

“Ne yaptığını bildiğinden emin misin?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Ne münasebet! Tabi ki ne yaptığımı biliyorum!”, der Cathber, tamamen alınmış bir sesle.

Sonra yine bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.

 

Aradan biraz daha vakit geçer ama yine bir şey olmaz.

 

“Bu.. gerçekten çok garip.”, der yaşlı adam hayretle kendi ellerine bakarak.

Brom acımasızca ‘fırk’lar.

Sonra sırt çantasını yere bırakır, içinden küçük, katlanabilir çadırını çıkartır ve kurmaya başlar.

Fena bozulmuş bir Cathber, kaşları çatılı bir şekilde küçük hobbit’in kendi çadırını kurmasını seyreder.

Sonra arkasını döner ve daha bir azimle tekrar bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.

“Hayır!”, diye kendi kendisine söyleniyormuş gibi konuşur birden. “Anlaşmamız böyle değildi. Ben size olan yükümlülüklerimi yerine getirdim. Sizin de kendi payımıza düşeni— Ne demek koşullar değişti?! Hangi koşullar değiş—? Hayır, hayır tabiki size kızgın değilim. Neden size kızgın ola—? Aaaa.. sanırım şimdi anladım. Tamam, olur böyle şeyler.. Sorun değil, sorun değil.. Ateşi yakın bari.. Yaşlı bir adama yağmurlu bir havada kuru dal aratmakla uğraştırmayın..”

Brom, bir yandan bu ‘zır deli’ adamın söylediklerine kulak kabartırken, bir yandan da çadırını kurar. İşi bittiğinde yaşlı adamı, etrafı taşlarla çevrilmiş bir ateşin başında bulur. Ateşin hemen ilerisinde ise kayda değer bir miktarda ve düzgünce dizilmiş kuru dal ve odunlar durmaktadır.

Brom ister istemez ateşe yaklaşır.

Yanına geldiğinde yaşlı adamın ince çubuklara balık, patates, domates, patlıcan ve mısır geçirdiğini görür. Adam çubuklara geçirdiği yiyecekleri imtina ile ateşin yanına dizer, bunların bazılarının iyice kızarmalarını beklerken, bazılarının ise sadece hafif renklerinin değişmelerini bekleyecek kadar ısıtır.

Brom’un bir anda ağzı sulanır.

“Öylece durup seyir mi edeceksin, Efendi Hobbit? Yoksa gelip bunları yiyecek misin? Bu kadar şeyi tek başıma yersem sanırım bu benim yaşımdaki birisi için hazımsız bir gece olurdu..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam.

 

Brom ateşin başına çöker ve ellerini ısıtır biraz, sonrada kendisine uzatılan çubuklara geçirilmiş balıkları, patatesleri, domatesleri, patlıcanları ve son olarak da mısırları yer.

 

Yaşlı Cathber yemek boyunca sesini çıkarmaz ve kendisi de yaptığı yemeklerden tadımlık ısırıklar alır. Sonra biraz abartılı bir şekilde esner ve gözlerini ovuşturur.

“Aaaahh.. Bu yaşlı kemikler benden uyumamı talep ediyorlar. Sen istersen ateşin başında takılabilirsin.”, der ve hemen ileride duran kuru dal ve odunlara işaret ederek, “Gördüğün gibi gece seni sıcak tutacak kadar yakacak odunumuz var.”

“Ne?”, diye sorar Brom. “Bu kadar mı?”

“Anlayamadım? Doymadıysan şu sepetin içerisinde biraz daha var yiyecek bir şeyler.”, der Cathber ve odunların hemen yanında duran bir sepete işaret eder. “Ama korkarım çubuklarla geçirip pişirmeyi kendin yapmak zorunda kalacaksın..”

“Hayır, onu sormuyorum. Konuşacak bir şeylerimiz yok muydu?”, diye biraz asabîce sorar genç hobbit.

“Benim söyleyeceklerim bekleyebilir, Efendi Hobbit. Senin söyleyeceklerin ise bir barut fıçısının içinde ve patlamaya hazır gibi.. Sanıyorum patladığında ikimizin de orda olmamasını tercih edeceğim. Söylemeye hazır olduğunda, ben de dinlemeye hazır olmuş olacağım. Sen dinlemeye hazır olduğunda, ben de söylemiş olacağım..”, der Cathber ciddi bir gülümseyişle, sonra kalkar ve küçük, çam dallarından yapılmış kulübemsi çadırına gider.

 

Brom adamın arkasından sessizce kaynar.

“Kaçık, zır deli, yaşlı berduş!”, diye burnundan soluyarak söylenir.

 

Genç hobbit’in zihninin derinliklerindeki bir ses, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig ismini bir yerlerde duymuş yada okumuş olduğunu ona hatırlatır ama o isimle bağdaşan sadece bir kişi vardır ve o kişi bir ‘insan’dır ve rivayetlere göre sekiz yüz küsur yıl önce gerçekleşen Themalsar adındaki kaçık bir papazın ordularına karşı yapılan savaşta bulunmuştur..

Brom inançsızca ‘fırk’lar.

Birincisi bu adam, yaşlı olmakla beraber bir insandır ve bırakın sekiz yüz küsur yıl yaşında olmayı, anca ayakta durabilmektedir. İkincisi ise orijinal Cathber’in kendisi de bir insandır ve onun da sekiz yüz küsur yıl yaşamış olması mümkün değildir. Brom, bu adamın, tanınmış birisinin adını alarak kendince şöhret peşinde koşan bir kaçık olduğunu düşünür.. yada ortada nesilden nesile geçen bir kült vardır ve her nesilde birisine bu isim bahşedilmesi dolayısıyla bu adamın adı, tarihi kişilik olan orijinal Cathber’in adıyla aynıdır.

 

“Çattık..”, diye homurdanır Brom ve kalkıp düzgün bir şekilde dizilmiş odunların yanında duran sepetin saman saplarından örülme kapağını açar ve içine bakar.

Sepetin içinde her şey ilginç bir şekilde ayrı ayrı kase yada bohçaların içinde durmaktadır; kapalı bir kasenin içinde tuzlanıp kurutulmuş bir düzine balık, ayrı ayrı bohçalanmış patatesler, patlıcanlar, domatesler, mantarlar, mısırlar, fasulyeler ve..

 

..Brom olduğu yerde çakılıp kalır..

 

Küçük bir çanak dolusu, kırmızı-pembe çilek..

 

Brom sepetin başında ne kadar durur bilemez zira zaman onun için durmuş gibidir..

“Hayır yaa..”, diye sessizce inler. “Unutmak üzereydim..”

 

Belli ki genç hobbit hiçbir şekilde unutmak üzere değildir..

 

Uzaklarda bir yerde gök tekrar gürler.

Orman kısa bir anlığına aydınlanır ve kendisini sessizce seyredenlere acıklı bir sahneyi sergiler.

Öylece, durduğu yerde, Brom Bumblebrim hıçkırıklarla ağlamaktadır..

✱ ✱ ✱

26.04.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Nisan sonu.
Ritual Ormanları..

 

Daha hızlı, daha hızlı, genç hobbit. Fırsatı kaçırmak üzereyiz!”, diye, bir yandan topallaya-zıplaya koşarken, bir yandan da paslı sesiyle seslenir yaşlı Cathber. “Bu fırtına biraz aceleci çıktı ve korkarım içini dökmek için sabırsızlanıyor..” 

Brom yine sırılsıklam olmuş bir şekilde durmak bilmeyen yaşlı adamın peşinden, nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde, elindeki yamuk asa ile koşturur. Genç hobbit, Ritual Ormanlarına geldiğinden beri devamlı ıslak gibidir sanki ve aklı başında herkes gibi kendisi de yağmur altında ‘terlemekten’ hoşlanmaz.

“Geliyorum, geliyorum..”, diye bağırır homurdanan kara bulutların altında koşarken.

Aslında gece olmasına daha saatler vardır ama hem bu ormanlığın yoğun ağaçları, hem de gök yüzünde yuvarlanan koyu bulutlar sayesinde genç hobbit açısından gece olsa da değişen bir şey olmazmış gibi gelir.

Brom tekrar gök yüzünden boğuk homurtuları duyulmaya başlar ve birkaç yüz yarda ileride yaşlı Cathber’in ona doğru, “Acele et, delikanlı.. Acele et, geliyor!”, diye elini salladığını görür.

Sırılsıklam olmuş hobbit, biraz daha hızlanır, yaşlı adamın yanına gelir, haftalar önce adamın kendisine verdiği çapayla yeri kazar, asayı açtığı deliğe saplar ve toprağa tesadüf eden ucunu iyice kapatıp yerine sabitler..

..ve kaçar!

 

Genç hobbit, ilk tecrübesinden sonra aynı acemiliği tekrarlamak gibi bir niyeti yoktur ve kendisi gibi çoktan uzaklaşmış yaşlı Cathber’in yanına, kocaman bir çınarın arkasına pineklemiş, ellerini kulaklarına sımsıkı kapatmış ve ağzını da açabildiği kadar açmış bir şekilde bekler.

 

Gök yüzünden ve kapkara bulutların arasından duyulan homurtular şiddetlenir ve birden, sağır edecek bir şiddetle ‘hapşırır’..!

Brom koskocaman bir çınarın arkasında saklanmış, dahası gözlerini de sımsıkı kapatmış olmasına rağmen yine de ‘beyaz’ görür..

Tekrar gözlerini açtığında gündüz biraz aydınlanmış gibidir ve yukarından, gök yüzünden bir – iki defa daha hoşnutsuz homurtular duyulur, sonra yağmur başladığı gibi bir anda kesilir!

 

“Bunu daha ne kadar yapacağız?”, diye biraz bıkmış bir sesle söylenir Brom. “Neredeyse üç aydır ormanın güneyinde bir oraya, bir buraya koşturup fırtına avlıyoruz!”

“Fırtına avlamak.. Bu çok hoşuma gitti, genç Brom.. Sen gerçekten kelimeler için yaratılmış bir varlıksın, ve bu dünya için de bir zenginliksin!”, diye kıkırdar yaşlı adam.

 

Brom kaşlarını çatar..

 

Gerçekte Brom somurtkan biri değildir. Olur olmaz her şeye kaş çatan da bir hobbit olmamıştır hiç bir zaman. Aslına bakılırsa kaç çatmak, hobbit’lerde sık görülen bir mimik de değildir.

Bu kaş çatma olayı, onda sonradan peyda olmuş bir alışkanlıktır..

Bir kaç ay öncesinden itibaren..

..Gulls Perch’den ayrılmasından sonra..

..Sevgili, güzel, saf, temiz ve olağanüstü Aremela’sının ölümünden sonra.

 

“Asıl soruna dönersek, bu ‘fırtına avı’, gerçekten çok önemli. Sana anlattıklarımı hatırla. Heavens Hand, mebus iblislerle bizim aramızda duran tek şey. Evet, Tranquil elf’leri ve Dwarwick dwarf’ları da bu konuda Heavens Hand’e devamlı yardım ve destek gönderiyorlar ama, en nihayetinde, orada savaşıp hayatlarını veren insanlar krallığın gerisinde yaşayan diğer insan ve ırkları da koruyorlar. Onlar olmazsa yada bir gün orası düşerse, bu insanlığın sonu olur. Bizim de onlara birazcık olsun yardımlarımız dokunmalı, öyle değil mi?”, diye mutlu bir ciddiyetle anlatır yaşlı Cathber.

“O kısmını anladım da, bu yıldırımların ne işe yaradığını hala anlamış değilim. Dahası, bu lanet olasıca asa nasıl oluyor da bunca yıldırımdan sonra hala tek parça halinde durabiliyor?”, diye bıkmış bir ifadeyle sorar Brom.

 

Genç Brom, kaş çatma olayının yanı sıra, bir kaç başka yeni huy daha edinmiş gibidir; bıkkınlık, yılgınlık, hoşnutsuzluk, umarsızlık ve genel anlamda ciddi bir ‘bitse de gitsek’ tavrı içeren keyifsizlik ve buradaki ‘gitsek’ kısmı ise spesifik bir olayla sınırlı değil, sanki genç Brom bunu ‘hayatın kendisi’ için değerlendirmektedir..

 

“Nereye savurduğunu bilmeden lanet okumamalısın, genç Brom. Lanetler hafife alınacak şeyler değildirler..”, der Cathber nazikçe.. ama sesinde altı çizili bir ciddiyet de vardır sanki.

“Uhhmm.. özür dilerim. Lafın gelişi..”

“Korkarım, lanetlerde ‘lafın gelişi’ de olmaz, Efendi Hobbit.”, der yaşlı adam. “Bunu bir çoklarından fazla senin bilmen gerekir.”

“Ne demek istiyorsun?”, diye biraz fazla haşince sorar Brom.

“Asa parçalanmıyor çünkü bilge bazı şahıslar ve mucitlerin hazırladığı ve şahsımın bile anlamadığı karmaşık bazı kimsaysal solüsyonlarla yıkanarak yapısal olarak güçlendirilmiş bir asa bu. Yamuk oluşunun da keyfî değil, kondüktörel olarak bir gereklilik olduğu aynı şahıslar tarafınca ısrarlı bir şekilde tekrarlandı bana.”, der yaşlı Cathber ve genç hobbit’in haşin sorusunu harika bir şekilde saman altı eder. “Yıldırımların ne işe yaradığına gelirsek, bu bizim hiçbir işimize yaramayacak çünkü onları kendimiz için toplamıyoruz. Bana gelen haberlere göre ‘düşman’ saflarında beklenmedik ve olağan dışı bazı hareketlenmeler varmış. Heavens Hand efendileri, benim gibi mazbut ve naif olmakla beraber bazı özel becerileri olan şahsiyetlerden, Demons Wall’un müdafaası için böylesi yıldırım asalarının gerektiği konusunda isteklerde bulundular. Sanıyorum ki bu asalardan başka ormanlarda şahsım dışında yapanlar da var. Bu asaları İblis Duvarına yerleştirdiklerinde hem oradaki mevcut büyülü muhafazaları, devamlı insan gücü aratmaksızın besleyecekler, hem de yaklaşan iblisleri, benim tahminime göre en az iki bin yarda gibi etkili bir mesafeden vurabilecekler.”

Brom, iki bin yardayı duyunca ister istemez tırsar zira bu gerçekten fevkalade etkili ve bir o kadar da ürkütücü bir mesafedir. Bu, Endless Watch surlarındaki, uzun menzilli Drashan korsan gemileri için özellikle imal edilmiş anti-kalyon mancınıklarının bile etkili mesafesinin neredeyse iki buçuk katıdır!

“Oha!”, diye geçirir Brom içinden ve bir anda ıkınarak ve isteksizce yaptığı işin gerçek potansiyeline ayılıverir. Yaptıkları bu iş, teorik yada sonuçları itibariyle muallak ve idealistçe yapılan bir iş değil, Heavens Hand’deki bir demircinin, askerlerin kırılmış silahlarını yada zırhlarını tamir etmesi kadar ‘pratik’ sonuçları olan bir emektir..

Genç Brom yaptığı işin mutlak tekabülünü tam olarak kavramış olmasada duydukları, ona olan umarsız tavrını silmeye de yetecektir.

Cepheden aylarca mesafe uzaklıkta olmasına karşın, oradaki mücadeleyi birinci elden etkileyecek ve sayısız hayatı da kurtarma potansiyeli olan bu ‘basit’ gibi görünen ‘fırtına avı’, bir anda onun için yeni farkındalıklar ve beklenmedi bazı algı kapıları da açıverecektir.

Ve genç hobbit bu düşünce silsilesinin sonuna ve ilgili sonuçlarına vardığında, yaşlı Cathber’in ışıl ışıl gözlerle ve sessizce kendisini seyreder halde bulur.

Brom, bu adamın kim olduğu konusunda kati bir sonuca varamaz —hafif kaçık, daha çok da bir deli olması dışında..

..ama onun ‘normal’ bir deli olduğunu da düşünmez.

 

“Eee..? Sırada hangi fırtına var?”, diye sorar..

✱ ✱ ✱

Bunu takip eden aylar boyunca yaşlı Cathber, Brom’u, Ritual Ormanlarının etrafında, içinde, altında ve üstünde.. ve fırtına peşinde, durmaksızın koşturur. Genç hobbit’in yaşlı adam hakkında git gide artan kuşkuları, yeni bir fırtına peşinde koşarken tesadüf ettikleri Themalsar Harabelerine ulaştıklarında kesinleşir. 

Yıldırım asasını topraktan söküp çıkartan Brom, Cathber’i yanında değil, onu orman sınırının dışında bulur. Yaşlı adam, kayıp bir ifadeyle kuzeye ve doğuya bakmaktadır..

..kıpırdamadan ve öylece.

 

“Cathber?”, diye soran bir ifadeyle yaklaşır Brom, yaşlı adamın yanına.

“Zaman, bazı şeyleri tahammül edilir hale getiriyor, genç Brom Bumblebrim. Ama asla silip atamıyor.”, der yaşlı Cathber.

Brom, bu lafın üzerine olduğu yerde kalakalır.

“Burası.”, der Cathber sessizce. “İşte tam burası.. ve 740 yıl, 6 ay ve 11 gün önce..”

“Anlamadım..”

“268,570 ve bu gün.. Eşimi kaybettiğim yer, ve üzerinden geçen zaman, delikanlı..”

Brom hayret yaşlı adama bakar.

 

“Bunca zaman sonra bile o kadar çıplak bir şekilde hatırlıyorum ki.. Themalar ve habis orduları, Grandeleren ve elflerini kuşatmıştı ve bizler —Arashkan ordusundan insanlar, Elder Hills’den dwarflar, Silent Hills’den gnomelar, bulup buluşturduğumuz ne kadar dost, fey, melek varsa canımızı dişimize takmış, elimizden gelen her şeyi yapıyorduk.. O gün bize Göklerin göndereceği bazı habercilerin geleceği söylenmişti. ‘Bir yanlışı düzeltmek için..’, dediler.. Bunun ne demek olduğunu yada ne anlama geldiğini hala çözebilmiş değilim ama emir yukardan.. çok yukardan.. Göklerden gelmişti ve bize gelecek olan haberciler için yol açmamız gerektiği söylendi.. Biz de açtık.

Bu.. bu bize çok pahalıya mal oldu.. Bir çok hayata.. Bir çok kadın dul kaldı o gün.. Bir çok erkek de yalnız.. O gün eşim ve sevgilim olan kadın da haberciler için yolu açanlar arasındaydı.. Halbuki Gökler onu bir melek olarak sıf benim için bu dünyaya indirmişlerdi!

 

Evet, Efendi Bumblebrim. 

 

Aradan 268,570 ve bu gün geçti ve ben onu hala özlüyorum. Niyetimiz savaştan sonra yerleşip beraber bir hayat kurmaktı. İkimiz de çocukları çok seviyorduk. İkimiz de çocuklarımız olsun istiyorduk.. Ama Themalsar onu benden aldı ve aradan 740 yıl geçmiş olmasına rağmen asla çocuklarım olmadı..

 

Acısı dindi mi?

Hayır.

Sadece bulandı..

 

Bana yalnız geçireceğim 740 yılımı takas etmemi isteseler, onunla geçireceğim basit bir hayat için gözümü kırpmadan ‘Alın. Yüz yıllar sizin olsun. Bana onunla geçireceğim 40 yılı verin yeter.’, derdim.

İşin en acı.. ve güzel yanı nedir biliyor musun, genç Brom?

Yıllar geçtikçe onun yüzü, hatırası, dokunuşu ve dudaklarının tadı.. daha da güzelleşiyor olması..

Bunları neden sana anlattığımı merak ediyorsan söyleyeyim..

 

Benim yaptığım hatayı yapma..

 

Kayıplarımız kaçınılmazdır. Bir ölümlü olmanın en güzel yanıdır bu; bir ölümlü olmamız.. ve kayıplarımız..

Fey’lerin biz insanlara neden gıpta ettiklerinin sebebi de gerçekte budur; sınırlı olan zamanımızda yapabildiklerimiz.

Tok, açın halinden anlamaz.

Ölümsüz de ölümlünün yaşadığı sevgileri, tutuşan duyguları ve aldığı zevkleri asla tadamaz..”

Yaşlı Cathber ve Brom, sessizlik içerinde ormana geri dönerler..

..ve genç ozan aylar.. çok aylar sonra ilk defa Lir’ini tekrar eline alır.

Sessizce söylediği şarkının sözleri ona geliverir..

 

 

 

Time.
 
You cannot fight it,
you cannot resist it,
beat it, wound it nor slay it.
You can only yield to it..
 
Time.
 
It is cunning,
it is stingy, ruthless, pitiless
and sparse.
It turns a spark into a fire, and fire into ash.
It grinds mountains to dust.
It gathers trickles into oceans.
It gives birth to rebellions and liberties
and brings down empires..
It gives meaning to patience,
diligence, and vigilance.
It is the key to mortality
and the lock to eternity.
It precedes
and postcedes..
One day we are,
one day we are not.
It is hope and it is despair..

 

✱ ✱ ✱

Bu olaydan sonra Brom için ‘yaşlı adam’ birden ‘Efendi Cathber’ oluverir ve Efendi Cathber onu daha kuzeye, Büyük Kuzey Tundra’larının girişine kadar götürür ve ikisininde ıkınarak tırmandıkları bir dağın kıyısından bembeyaz tundraları gösterir, orada yaşayan barbar kabileleri ve sürülerinden, kocaman buz devlerinden, muazzam kar ayılarından, vaşaklarından, büyük, beyaz ejderlerden ve daha bir çok başka harikalardan bahseder. 

Efendi Cathber, genç hobbit’i yıldırımların peşinde koştururken güneye, sonra çaprazlamasına tekrar kuzeye, sonra yine güneye indirir ve beraber Oger’s Foot denen yere getirir ve Brom bu süre içerisinde farkında olmadan günleri, haftaları ve ayları saymayı bırakıverir ve yaşlı adamla geçirdiği zamanı tekil ‘an’lar olarak ve hayatında daha önce hiç olmadığını kadar ‘ayık’ bir şekilde yaşar. Sanki zamanın geçişiyle ilgili kaybı, etrafında olup bitenlere karşı oluşan yepyeni bir farkındalıkla takas etmiştir.

Evet, zaman önemlidir zira geçişi, ve bu geçişe bağlı olarak, ‘bitti’ —gibi bazı kaçınılmaz sonuçları vardır. Ama genç hobbit için içerik ve algı, yüzeysel olarak kaybedilen zamana fazlasıyla değerdir..

 

“Evet, Efendi Hobbit.. burada dikkatli olmamız gerekecek..”, diye uyarır yaşlı Cathber.

“Neden ki?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Çünkü burası Oger’s Foot ve bu tepelerin sakinleri biraz heyecanlı.. aslında ‘tez canlı’ tiplerdir.”, der Cathber.

“Neden ki?”, diye tekrarlar genç hobbit.

“Çünkü burası Oger’s Foot.. Buranın sakinlerinin kim olduklarını konusunda bir tahmininde bulunabilirsin —ve ‘sakinleri’ derken bunu da olabilecek en geniş anlamda kullandığımı da ifade etmek isterim.”, diye sırıtarak açıklar yaşlı adam.

“Oger! Muhteşem Gökler adına.. Burada oger’ler mi yaşıyor?”, diye çığlar Brom.

“Çok uzun yüzyıllardır..”, der Cathber ve kıkırdak.

“Bu inanılır gibi değil.. Oger’lerin burada yaşamasına nasıl müsaade edebilirsiniz! Onlar fevkalade vahşi ve tehlikeliler..”, diye inler Brom ve bir anda korkuyla her yere bakmaya başlar.

“Müsaade, biraz kuvvetli bir ifade oldu, evlat. Hiç kimse, bir başkasının yaşam hakkı üzerinde ‘müsaade’ gücüne sahip olmamalı. Onlar çoğumuzdan önce buradaydılar.. Serenity Home’dan bile önce.. Geçinmeyi bilen.. ve isteyenler olduğu sürece de, genel olarak kaleme alınmamış bir barış da var insanlarla oger’ler arasında. Ve tabii, onları buradan atacak bir gücün olmayışının da söz konusu barışda bir etkisi vardır eminim.”, diye ekler yaşlı adam gülerek.

“Ama rivayetlere göre Themalsar Savaşından sonra gerçekleşen neredeyse tüm ayaklanmalarda oger’ler de yer almışlar.”, diye itiraz eder Brom.

“Aaaaa.. Ama söz konusu ayaklanmalarda insanlar da vardı.. Onlardan dolayı bütün insanları da mı suçlayalım?”

 

Brom buna da itiraz etmek ister.. Gulls Perch’de olanlardan sonra genç hobbit’in insanlara da, dwarf’lara da hiç bir inancı yada itimadı kalmadığı gibi, onlara karşı içsel, gizli ve pek de azımsanmayacak bir nefret de beslemiyor değildir —ki bu da bir hobbit için biraz hayret verici bir durumdur..

 

“Neyse ki yanımızda sizin gibi tanınmış, meşhur bir şahsiyet var..”, diye mırıldanır en sonunda.

Yaşlı Cathber buna kıkırdayarak karşılık verir.

“Bana olan inancın onure edici genç hobbit, ama eminim kaynayan bir kazanın içinde en az senin kadar iyi pişeceğimdir!”

 

Brom uzun bir zamandır yapmadığı, yapmaktan da imtina ettiği bir şeyi yapar..

.. kaşlarını çatar!

 

“Veee, sanırım fırtınamız da burada..”, der Cathber mutlu bir şekilde ve birden gök homurdanmaya başlar..

✱ ✱ ✱

Neden buraya fırtınalarını getirdin Kadber? Size saldırmadık. Sizlerden kimseyi kaçırıp yemedik.. Atalarımızın suçlarını çoktan bize ödettiniz!”, diye gürler neredeyse dört yarda boyundaki iri kaslı, iri omuzlu, iri göğüslü ve iri kafalı dişi oger, yüzünde fevkalade çirkin bir ifadeyle. 

Bir düzine yarı-devin yeri göğü sarsarak varlıklarını gelmelerinden önce ilan edeceklerini sanırdınız.. En azından genç Brom’un kati beklentisi buydu. Fırtına ile gelen yıldırımı ‘topladıktan’ sonra birden ve hiçbir ön uyarı olmaksızın peyda oluvermişlerdi oger’ler; ellerinde kocaman kılıçlar, gürzler, taştan oyulmuş ‘sopalar’, beraberlerinde getirdikleri, her biri neredeyse yirmişer kiloluk ‘fırlatma’ taşlarlarıyla..

 

“Merhaba, Reise Grulganiste..”, der Efendi Cathber sakince. “Seni ve aileni böylesi harika bir günde görmek ne güzel.”

‘Reise Grulganiste’, Cathber’e fena pis bir bakış atar ve korku içerinde titreyen zavallı küçük hobbit, gerçek ve etkili ‘kaş çatmanın’ ne olduğunu anlayıverir.

Cathber bu manzara karşısında ivedilikle taktik değiştirir.

“Çağırdığım bu küçük fırtına ile sizi rahatsız ettiysem özür dilerim. Ama sizi temin ederim ki bunun sizinle bir ilgisi olmadığı gibi size karşı da yapılmış bir şey değildi..”

“Bunu göreceğiz, Kadber! Geçen yıllarda bize hep hediyelerle gelmemiş olsaydın, seni şuracıkta pişirirdim!”, diye kapkara bir ifadeyle hırlar ‘kadın’.

“Bunu yapmış olmanız hepimiz için acı bir gün olurdu..”, der yaşlı Cathber.

“Neden? Bunu yapmayacağımı mı düşünüyorsun bükük insan!”, diye kendi kişisel fırtınasıyla hırlar Reise Grulganiste.

“Aaaa.. hayır, efendim.. Benden et çıkmaz ve dişlerinizin arasına takılmış kemiklerim bütün gününüzü mahvederdi de ondan.”, der yaşlı adam kıkırdayarak.

Reise Grulganiste bu cevabı komik bulduysa da bu hiç bir şekilde yüzüne yansımaz!

“Peki, peki.. Belli ki bugün ters yanımızdan kalkmışız. Olur böyle şeyler.. Ama merak etmeyin, Yüce Reise.. size yine elim boş gelmiş değilim!”, diye deklere eder Efendi Cathber.

“Bize ne getirdin, bükük insan?”, diye burnundan solur Grulganiste.

“Saygıdeğer ve eşsiz namınıza yakışır bir hediye; size Efendi Ozan’ı getirdim!”

 

“Ne?!”, diye dehşetle küçük, korku dolu bir çığlık atar Brom!

 

“Bu mu? Bu yaşından sonra çocuk mu yaptın kendine bükük insan? Hangi kuş beyinli kadın senin gibi huysuz bir adamdan çocuk ister ki?”, diye horlayan bir sesle yaşlı adama bakar.

“Ben.. buna biraz alınmadım değil, doğrusu Ganiste! Benim peşimden koşturduğun zamanları hatırlıyorum! Bütün orman, benim için söylediğin ağıtlardan dolayı aylarca uyuyamamıştı!”, diye fena halde alınmış bir şekilde mızmızlanır yaşlı Cathber.

 

Reise Grulganiste buna sadece haşin ve acımasız bir kahkaha ile cevap verir.

 

“O üç yüz yıl önceydi, bükük insan! O zaman kafanda saç, bacaklarında da et vardı!”

Efendi Cathber, kıpkırmızı bir suratla burnundan solur.

“Bu çok acımasızca oldu, Ganiste! Senin kalibrendeki bir kadına hiç yakıştıramadım doğrusu..”

“Benim kalibremdeki kadınlar, kalibreli erkeklerden hoşlanırlar, Kadber!”, diye pis bir sırıtışla cevap verir Reise.

“Görüyorum ki ölümcül espri anlayışından hiçbir şey eksilmemiş, Ganiste.. Şimdi. Burada durup beni horlamaya devam mı edeceksin, yoksa işimize mi bakacağız?”, diye rezil olmuş bir ifadeyle konuşur, yaşlı adam.

“Ben devam etmeye meyilliyim, bükük adam..”, diye cevabı yapıştıtır koca oger.

“Meyilliyim..?”, diye hayretle ünler Brom bir anda.

 

Ortam bir anda sessizleşir.

 

Reise Grulganiste, kapkara olmuş bir suratla önce Brom’a, sonra Cathber’a, sonra da tekrar Brom’a bakar..

Brom yutkunur ve olduğundan daha da küçülmeye çalışır..

Koca ‘kadın’ arkasını dönmeden birkaç emir yağdırır ve yanındaki oger’ler birden kendilerine yapacak bir şeyler bulmaya giderler.

Grulganiste uzun bir süre burnundan soluyarak Brom’a ve Cathber’e yakıcı gözleriyle bakmaya devam eder.

 

“Nerden buldun bu küçük şeyi?”, diye hırlar kadın.

“Aslına bakılırsa, o beni buldu dersem daha isabetli olur —ki bu da uzun ve konumuzla pek de alakalı olmayan bir hikaye.”, der Cathber.

“Ne var? Nooluyo yaa?”, diye tiz bir sesle fısıldar Brom.

“Fark ettin.”, diye cevap verir Cathber.

“Fark ettim? Aslında sadece biraz yadırgadım, o kadar. ‘Meyletmek’, insanların bile günlük konuşmalarında kullandıkları bir ifade değil..”

“Ve sana göre ‘aptal oger’lerin’ hiç kullanmaması gereken bir şey bu, öyle mi?”, diye yüzünde nahoş bir ifadeyle bakar Grulganiste, küçük hobbite.

“Aptallık, ırklara özel bir şey değil, hanımefendi.. Kişisel tercihlere ve davranışların sonuçlarına özel bir hal..”, diye açıklar Brom.

“Gerçekten, nerden buldun bunu?”, diye tekrar sorar Reise.

Cathber omuzlarını silker.

“Dediğim gibi.. ikimiz de bir birimizi tanımıyorduk ve oldukça alakasız koşullar altında karşılaştık. Sonra Efendi Ozan bana nezaket gösterdi ve bana eşlik etmeye karar verdi.”

“Sana neden nezaket göstersin ki? Sen haşin, acımasız, duygusuz ve kalpsiz bir adamsın, Kadber!”, diye hışmeder Grulganiste.

“Alındım.”, der Cathber.

“Efendi Cathber?”, diye temkinli bir şekilde sorar Brom.

“Bu.. öhöm.. sorunun cevabını daha sonra konuşsak..”, diye bozuntuya vermemeye çalışarak cevap verir Cathber.

“Beni reddetti!”, diye hışmeder Reise Grulganiste. “Aylarca peşinden koşturdum, beraber ölümcül maceralara atıldık ve en sonunda beni terk edip gitti!”

“Bu.. biraz abartılı ve önemli bazı ayrıntıları eksik olan bir hikaye değil mi, Ganiste?”, diye alınmış bir ifadeyle konuşur yaşlı adam. “Sana hiç bir söz vermedim. Benimle gelmeni istediğimde, gelecek reise olarak Oger’s Foot dışındaki dünyayı daha yakinen görmeni ve tanımanı istedim, o kadar. Bu şekilde oger’lerin mütemadiyen başkalarının kötü emellerine alet edilmelerini, dolayısıyla da öldürülmelerini engellemeyi ummuştum. Sen potansiyeli olan, zeki, uyanık, karizmatik, gelecek vaadeden, fevkalade de çekici ve güzel bir kızdın —bana öyle bakma lütfen, genç hobbit. Her ırkın güzellik anlayışı ve standartları farklıdır. Onları yargılamadan önce onların standartlarını bilmen gerekir.. Lütfen bu elzem bilgilerden mahrum bir şekilde sen de aynı hatayı yapma..”, der Cathber biraz sinirlenmiş bir şekilde.

“Yapmam, efendim..”, der Brom ‘fırk’layarak.

Yaşlı Cathber esef dolu bir nefes verir.

“Seni reddetmedim, Ganiste. Kalbini de kırmak istemedim. Ama görmen gereken şeyleri de görmüş olman gerekiyordu.. Benden istediğinin sevigiyi sana vermedim çünkü o sevgim bir başkasına aitti. Sana o kötülüğü yapamazdım..”, der Cathber ve bunu söylerken de yüzünde hiçbir tereddüt yada utanç yoktur.

 

Reise Grulganiste yine uzun bir sessizlikle ikisini de süzer.

 

“Gelin benimle..”, der emri vaki bir üslupla. “Konuşacak şeylerimiz var.. ve bana getirdiğin bu küçük şeyin marifetlerini görmeye can atıyorum!”

Brom, tamamen tırsmış bir şekilde yaşlı Cathber’in peşine takılır ve ikisi de koca Reise Grulganiste’nin arkasından, Oger’s Foot tepelerinde yaşayan devlerin köyüne doğru yola koyulurlar..

✱ ✱ ✱

Neden beni bunlara veriyosun, Efendi Cathber?”, diye cılız bir sesle inler genç Brom. “Bende sanıldığı kadar et yok! Bu gördüklerinin çoğu tatsız koli köpüğü!” 

“Ahhaaa..!”, diye mutlu bir ifadeyle ünler yaşlı adam. “Kendi lezzetini bu kadar hor görmemelisin, Efendi Hobbit.. Ve oger’ler iş yemeye gelince fazla nüans aramazlar!”

“Yok daha neler!”, diye homurdanır Reise Grulganiste. “Ben yemeklerimde nane, kekik, karabiber, zencefil, karanfil, çörek otu, susam ve safran kullanıyorum.”

“Bence aklına gelen bütün baharatları rastgele sıralıyorsun..”, diye kıkırdar Cathber.

“Bence şansını fazla zorlama istersen yaşlı adam..”, diye yapıştırır Reise..

“‘Bükük adama’ ne oldu?”, diye soru verir Brom birden.

“O seyredenler için kullandığım şey, zira ve gerçekte arkadaşın Cathber, bükük ötesi, sirke gibi bir adamdır!”, diye söylenir Reise Grulganiste.

Brom ister istemez kahkayı basar.

“Bu.. hayret verici bir durum!”

“Neden? Oger’lerin espri anlayışı olamaz mı?”, diye burnundan solur Grulganiste.

“Aaa.. Hayır.. Hayret verici olan, sayenizde Efendi Cathber hakkında öğrendiklerim..”, diye kıkırdayarak cevap verir Brom.

“Bu.. uhhmm.. hakkımda duyduklarını başka yerlerde tekrarlamazsan, pek sevineceğim, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber esefli bir sesle.

“Bilmem. Karşılığında ne vereceğine bakar.”, der Brom sırıtarak.

Reise Grulganiste ‘fırk’lar.

“Sevdim bu küçük adamı, Cathber. Günün sonunda yemeyebilirim bile!”

 

Brom susar!

✱ ✱ ✱

Neler oluyor Ganiste? Seni fazla tedirgin gördüm..”, siye sorar Cathber sessizce. “En son neredeyse 140 sene önce seni bu kadar tedirgin gördüm.. Ondan önce ise neredeyse iki asır oldu aynı tedirgin gözlerle bana bakıyordun.. İlk ayaklanmaya katılmayı reddettiğinde daha genç, ateşli bir kızdın ve dikkatimi çekmeyi de başarmıştın.. İkincisine katılmayı reddettiğinde ise senin farklı olduğunu anlamıştım..”

“Buraya eski anıları yad etmeye mi geldin, yaşlı adam..”, diye yukardan bakar Cathber’e dev kadın. “Olanlar oldu, ölenler de öldü.. Annem, babam, amcalarım, teyzelerim, erkek ve kız kardeşlerim.. Aileme dair hiç kimsem kalmadı o sefil papaz ve çağrıları yüzünden..”

 

Reise Grulganiste, yaşlı Cathber ve genç Brom’la birlike, insan standartlarına göre kocaman, hobbit standartlarına göre ise devasa oger köyüne geldikten sonra reise adamlarının bir kısmını tekrar devriyeye, bir kısmını nöbet yerlerine, daha sonra çağırdığı başkalarına da gerekli gördüğü bir düzine emirler verip göndermiş, sonra da üçü, Grulganiste’nin dev çadırına girmişlerdi.

Brom, bu kocaman kadının çatırını, ilginç bir şekilde ‘derli toplu’ bulmuştu. Çadır, yere atılmış ve çoğunluğu geometrik desenlerden oluşan hasırlar, kocaman, kalın yüylü kürkler, ocakta pişirilmiş, ve yine çoğunluğu geometrik desenlerle süslenmiş çanak ve çömlekler, çadırın ortasına gömülmüş, etrafı düzenli taşlarla çevrili büyük bir ateş çukur ve yere düzenli bir şekilde ‘atılmış’ minderler, ve kürklerden oluşan bir de yer yatağından oluşmaktadır.

 

“Hayret verici, öyle değil mi?”, diye Brom’un aklından geçenleri dillendirir yaşlı adam, çadırın içine girinceler.

Brom ise herhangi bir yorum yapmamayı tercih eder zira ‘ev sahipleri’ biraz alıngan biridir ve onu ezecek kadar da büyüktür!

“Benim klübemden bile daha temiz ve derli toplu..”, diye ekler Cathber.

“Senin, klube dediğin o acınası çöplükte ancak standartları olmayan fareler yaşar.”, diye horlar yaşlı adamı Grulganiste.

“Ganiste.. Lütfen..”, der Cathber. “Bu kadarı biraz fazla oldu artık. Hışmını birkaç kademe aşağı çeksen, diyorum. İkimizde yaptığım şeyleri neden yaptğımı, yapmamayı tercih ettiğim şeyleri de neden yapmadığımı biliyoruz. Beni yerin dibine geçirerek olmazlardan bir olur çıkmayacağını pek ala biliyorsun..”

Reise Grulganiste sessizce yanan bir ateşle Cathberi süzer.

Neden sonra burnundan soluyarak konuşur.

“Öyle olsun bakalım Cathber.. En azından şimdilik.. Ama bunun karşılığına ölümümün senin elinden olmasını isityorum!”, diye haşin bir sesle konuşur.

Brom hayretle önce Reise Grulganesti’ye, sonra da Efendi Cathber’a bakar.

“Kabul.”, der Cathber kısaca. “Şimdi.. bana neler olduğunu anlatacak mısın? İlk defa buralara yıldırım toplamak için gelmiyorum. Ama seni, beni bekler hande görmek, başlı başına mutlu bir karşılaşma olmakla beraber, beklendik değil.. Tahminim, fırtınanın geldiğini gördüğün anda fırladığın gibi, kısa zamanda bulabildiğin bütün adamlarınla geldin..”

“Bunu nereden bilebilirsin ki?”, diye oldukça hoşnutsuz bir ifadeyle sorar Reise.

“On iki? Gerçekten Ganesti.. Şimdi gerçekten alındım..”, der Cathber kızmış bir şekilde.

“Onlar sağlam adamlardır.”, diye itiraz eder Grulganesti.

“Buna şüphem yok.. Ama beni.. yakalamak için yeterli değiller ve bunu ikimiz de biliyoruz.”, der Cathber.

Brom ise kenarda durmuş, bu iki alakasız kişinin, biri yaşlı ve hafif kaçık, diğeri ise dev bir oger’in bu küçük, sözlü düellosunu izlemektedir.

Reise Grulganesti derin bir soluk verir.

“Beni yine mat etmeyi başardın, yaşlı adam.”, der hafif kızmış, hafif takdir eder bir ifadeyle.

“Seni mat etmekten asla keyif almadım, Ganiste. Öyle de bir niyetim olmadı hiç. Ve senin için söylediğim her şeyi de inanarak söyledim.”, der yaşlı Cathber sessizce.

“Öyle olsun, Cathber. Evet.. ‘Çağrı’ tekrar başladı..”, der Grulganesti ve bu sefer yüzünde belirgin bir korku peyda olur.

“Themalsar daha kaç bin can istiyor?”, diye burnundan solur Cathber.

“O değil.”, der Grulganesti.

Cathber’in bir kaşı kalkar.

“Bu.. başka bir şey..”, der Reise sessizce.

“Kim?”, diye sorar Efendi Cathber.

“Bilmiyorum. Sadece çağrısını duyuyorum.. Geceleri.. ve rüyalarımda.. Çok uzaklardan ve çok daha derinlerden..”, diye fısıldar dev kadın.

Cathber hayretle Reise Grulganiste’ye bakar.

“Bu sesin sahibi o kaçık papaz değil, Cathber. Bu.. çok daha tehlikeli.. Çok daha sinsi.. Çok daha karanlık..”, der Grulganesti korkuyla. “Ve..”

“Ve?”, diye sorar yaşlı Cathber.

“Ve çağırdığında, gerçekten çağırdığında reddedebileceğimi sanmıyorum, Cathber.”

“Reddetmelisin, Ganesti. Halkına neler olduğunu çok iyi biliyorsun..”

“Halkıma neler olduğun senden çok daha iyi biliyorum, yaşlı adam. Ama o sesi duyunca benim bile kanım kaynıyor.. Üstüme zırhlarımı geçirmek ve elime kılıçlarımı alıp kan dökesim geliyor, Cathber.. çok kan dökesim geliyor..”, diye dehşet içerisinde tıslar Oger’s Foot devlerinin Reisesi..

“Ve sen burada, o sese karşı gelmek istiyorsun..”, der bir başka ses..

..ve çadırın girişi aralanır.

Brom, hayatında görebileceği en büyük yaratıkla karşılaşır.

 

Oger’ler, yapı olarak ‘büyük’ yaratıklardır. Büyük, geniş, kalın, kaslı, yıkıcı ve oldukça da acımasız. Ama içeri giren oger, genç Brom’un daha önce gördüğü sayılı ogerleri ‘naif’ kılacak kadar iri cüsseli, kaslı, kalın ve acımasız suratlıdır!

 

“..dahası, bir de bu küçük sümüklü böceklerle iş birliği yapıyorsun..”, diye neredeyse tükürür gelen muazzam yaratık.

“Buraya izinsiz girebileceğini kim söyledi sana, Cabot? Çık dışarıya, yada benimle yüzleş.. Beni devirebileceğini düşünüyorsan, kafa diye taşıdığın o taşı seve seve omuzlarından ayırırım!”, diye hırlar Reise Grulganiste.

“Seninle yüzleşeceğim, Grulganiste. Ama bugün değil. Seninle yüzleştiğimde erkeklerin, benim kullarım olacak. Kızların benim kadınlarım olacak. Hayvanların da beni ve benim tebamı besleyecek. Ve o güzel kellende benim çadırımı süsleyecek.. Zamanın yaklaşıyor, Loşka—!”

 

—Cabot hangi ara çadırdan fırlatıldığını göremez.

Brom hiç görmez!

 

Elinde dev kılıcı olduğu halde koca oger’i gırtlağından tutup kaldırmış olan Reise Grulganiste, kılıcının kabzasıyla Cabot’un suratına bir.. iki.. üç.. dört.. beş..

 

Brom saymayı bırakır.

 

..vurur ve ağzı, burnu, kaşları yamulmuş ve kan içerisinde kalmış Cabot, Reise Grulganesiti’ye öylece, sırıtarak bakar.

“Hadisene, yaşlı kadın.. Yap şunu!”, diye ıslak hırıltıyla güler Cabot. “Ama yapmaktan acizsin, ve bu da senin sonun olacak!”

Reise Grulganesti, koca oger’i aldığı gibi yirmi yarda ileri fırlatır ve Cabot büyük bir gürültüyle yere çakılır. Etrafındaki diğer oger’lerin kahkahaları arasında yavaşça doğrulur, ve suratında oluşmuş çirkin bir sırıtışla oradan uzaklaşır..

 

Grulganiste çadırına geri döndüğünde Cathber sesini çıkarmaz. Dev kadın geometrik şekillerle süzlü bir kasede ellerine ve yüzüne bulaşmış kanı temizler, sonra sessizce başka çanaklardan, kaplardan ve sepetlerden çıkardığı et, sebze ve pirinçten, kendince bir şeyler hazırlamaya başlar. Hazırladıklarını koca bir kazanın içine boşaltır, onu da çadırın ortasındaki gömme ateş çukurunun üstüne yerleştirip seri hareketlerle ateşi yakar.

Cathber bütün bu süre içerisinde gıkını çıkarmaz. Sessizce konforlu bulduğu yastıkların üstüne bağdaş kurup oturur. Brom da ayak altında en az bulunabileceğini düşündüğü bir yere siner.

Kazandaki yemek kaynamaya başlayınca Grulganesti bir kaç tane küçük kase ile kazanın başına gelir ve kaselerin içinden aldığı bir şeyleri, koca çimçikleriyle yemeğin içine atmaya başlar.

“Nane ve kekikten koymazsan sevinirim.”, der Cathber.

Grulganiste, yaşlı adama bakar.

“Kekiğin sağlıklı olduğunu söyleyen sendin.. Naneyi de sevdiğini hatırlıyorum.”, der Reise tek kaşı kalmış bir şekilde.

“Naneye bayılırım. Kekik de sağlıdır.. Ama artık yiyemiyorum.”, der yaşlı adam.

“Neden?”

“Röfle..”, der Cathber biraz utanarak. “Dokunuyor!”

Reise Grulganiste hayretle yaşlı adama bakar, sonra derin, gırtlaktan gelen, acımasız bir kahkaha atar.

“Muhteşem Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig röfleye mi yenik düştü?”, diye gülmeye devam eder.

“Hayır, sevgili Ganiste.. Her ölümlü gibi ben de yaşlılığa yenik düştüm, o kadar.”, diye alınmış bir şekilde burnunu çeker Cathber. “Ve sanıldığı kadar da ‘muhteşem’ biri değilim.”

“Evet.. değilsin..”, der Grulganiste sessizce. “Ama Rituel Ormanlarına çok faydan dokundu.. Bana ve halkıma da.. Çoğu bunu anlamamış, daha fazlası ise asla bilmeyecek olsalarda. Ve arkanda senin mirasını devam ettirecek bir çocuğun bile yok.. Sanırım en yazık olan kısmı da bu. Hayalinde ki bir kadın için nesilsiz gideceksin, Cathber.”

“Evet.”, der yaşlı adam benzer bir sessizlikle.

“Buna değdi mi peki?”, diye sorar Grulganesti.

“Hiçbir şey kaybettiğime değmedi, Ganesti. Sen.. sen benim seni terk ettiğimi düşündüğün için bana bunca zamandır kızgınsın.”

“Evet. Hala da kızgın olmaya devam ediyorum, yaşlı adam.”

“Ama ben seni asla terk etmedim. Zira hala buradayım. Seni her zaman korudum ve kolladım.. İnsanların buraya gelmelerine kaç defa engel olduğumu bile hatırlamıyorum. Bütün bunlara rağmen yine de kızgınsın.. Aradan 740 sene geçti.. Halbuki benim ne kadar kızgın olduğumu hiç soran olmadı..”, der Cathber.

Grulganesti buna bir şey demez.

Biraz sonra da çıkardığı geometrik desenli kil tabaklara, kazandaki yemekten boca eder ve önce Brom’a, sonra Cathber’a, en sonuncusunu da kendisine alır.

 

Gece boyunca Reise Grulganesti ve Cathber sessizce konuşurlar. Brom ise aralarında geçen konuşmaları hayretle takip eder. Sonra, Cathber’in ricası üzerine rahmetli annesinin Lir’ini çıkartır, seri bir şekilde tellerini ayarlar..

..ve çadırdaki herkesin özlemlerine ve kayıplarına hitap eden şarkılarından çalmaya başlar..

 

Demek farkı bildiğini sanıyorsun
Gökler ve cehennem,
Mavi gökyüzü ile acı arasındaki.
Yeşil tarlalar ile
Soğuk çeliği?
Bir gülümseme ile duvağı?
Aralarındaki farkı söyleyebilir misin?

 

Ve sana takas etmeni söylediler mi?
Kahramanlarınla hayaletleri?
Ağaçlarla sıcak külleri?
Serin rüzgarları sıcak havayla?
Değişimle soğuk konforu?
Ve sen tasas ettin mi
Savaşta rol almak için
Bir kafesin içinde başrolü oynamayı?

 

Ne kadar, ne kadar isterdim ki burada olasın.
Biz ikimiz de birer kayıp ruh idik
Küçük bir balık çanağında yüzen,
Art arda yıllarca,
Aynı hikayeyi yaşayarak.
Ne bulduk sonunda?
Aynı eski korkuları.
Keşke burada olsaydın.

✱ ✱ ✱

Neden geldik buraya? Gerçekten neden geldik? Bu devasa ormanların bir çok yerine gittik, bir çok yerinde fırtına avladık, ama Oger’s Foot gerçekten gerekli miydi?”, diye sorar Brom ertesi gün tekrar yola koyulduklarında. “Aslına bakılırsa yaptığımız işin ehemmiyetini kavramış olsam da, bütün ormanı neden dolaştığımızı hala anlamış değilim. Oturup bir yerde art arda fırtına yakalasak da olurdu gibime geliyor..” 

Oger’s Foot’dan ayrılmalarından beri oldukça sessiz kalmayı tercih eden Efendi Cathber, yeni uykudan uyanmış gibi etrafına bakınır, “Hmmm..?”, diye söylenir, sonra “Aaaa.. Evet.. Nedenler ve nasıllar.. Öncelikle fırtına çağırdığımda kati varış noktası her zaman kestilemiyor. Dahası, bunlar naif fırtınalar değiller, Efendi Hobbit. Art arda aynı noktaya çağırılırlarsa hem orayı talan ederler, hem de erozyona ve sele sebep olurlar.”, diye açıklar.

“Ee olsunlar.. Boş bir ormanda bunun kime zararı var ki?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.

“Boş bir orman mı—?”, diye birden ağzı açık bir şekilde Brom’a bakar yaşlı adam. “Boş bir orman da ne demek? Bir orman asla boş olmaz. Ortada bir orman varsa, mutlaka orada yaşayan bir şeyler vardır, delikanlı! Ormandan beslenen ve ormanı besleyen.. Erozyon, ormanı ve orada yaşayan diğer canlıların uzun vadede ölmesine sebep olur. Sel ise her şeyi silip götürür.. Biz farklı yerlere fırtına çağırarak, bu hasarı engellemiş oluyoruz.. ve ormanın her yerini de sulamış oluyoruz. Sen bahçeni sularken tek bir noktasını saatlerce mi sularsın? Tabii ki hayır.. Her noktasını, gerekli olduğu kadar sularsın.. Boş bir ormanmış!”

Brom ağzını kapatır ve bunu yakip eden yarım saat, kırk beş dakika boyunca yaşlı adamın non-stop azarını dinler.

Adamcağız nefes almak için durduğunda ise araya giriverir.

“Ama hala neden Oger’s Foot’a geldiğimizi söylemedin..”

Yaşlı adam kaşlarını çatar.

“O kadar azarı boşuna mı yaptım şimdi?”, diye söylenir burnundan soluyarak.

“Hayır, efendim. Ama sorumdan saptırmaya da yaramadı..”, der Brom ve sırıtır.

Yaşlı adam tekar kaşlarını çatar ve fazla zeki hobbit’lerle, bundan dolayı başlarına gelebilecek belalar ve genel olarak saygısız gençler hakkında bir şeyler mırıldanır.

“Evet, sanırım oraya gitmemize gerek yoktu. Ama seninle ilk karşılaşmamızdan bir süre önce Ganesti.. Reise Grulganesti, beni görmek istediğine dair bir mesaj göndermişti. Kendisi, gördüğün üzere güçlü bir savaşçı olmasının yanı sıra aynı zamanda da bir shaman. Dolayısıyla ilginç bazı büyülere de hakimiyeti var. Ancak daha önce de bana benzer mesajlar gönderip beni gafil avlamaya çalıştığı için, ayağımı sürtmeyi tercih ettim. Ama yine de, eski günlerimiz hatırına ‘geçerken uğrayayım’, dedim.”

“Sana.. uhhmm.. özel bir ilgisi var gibi..”, der Brom ve gülmemek için çaba sarf eder.

“Bu hiç komik değil, delikanlı. İllaki bilmen gerekiyorsa, evet, onu ilk yanıma aldığımda genç, ateşli, atletik, inatçı, hırçın, gözü çabuk dönen, ama ilginç bir şekilde de şefkat dolu bir kızdı..”

“O dev kadına ‘kız’ diye hitap edince bu biraz garip olmuyor değil..”, der Brom kıkırdayarak.

“Ön yargılarının seni kör etmesine izin veriyorsun, Efendi Brom. Karşılaştığımız şeylerin kendi kişisel tanımlarımıza uymak gibi dertleri olmayabilir. Ganesti’yle ilk karşılaştığımda iki buçuk yardalık bir boyu vardı, haşindi, vahşiydi ve eline geçirdiği harcamayı seven bir kızdı.. Ama alternatifleri olabileceği kendisine gösterildiğinde, söz konusu alternetifleri seçmeyi kendisi tercih etti —ki bu da tanıdığım bir çok ‘insan’dan daha bilge biri yapıyor onu. Onunla bir çok maceraya, bir çok da zorlu kavgalara giriştik. Kendisi kaç defa hayatımı kurtardığını hatılamıyorum bile.. özellikle de yarı ölmüş halimi göz yaşları içerisinde defalarca taşımak zorunda kaldığını düşünürsek.”

“Ne oldu peki? Neden ayrıldınız?”, diye merakla sorar Brom.

“Hiçbir şey olmadı. O büyüdü.. ve fazla bağlandı bana. Bu, onun için iyi bir şey değildi. En azından o zamanlar ben öyle olmasını, onun için uygun görmedim.. Onun, kendi halkından kopmasını istemiyordum. Kendisi için uygun biriyle aile kurmasını istiyordum ve o kişi de ben değildim. Onu Oger’s Foot’a getirdim ve sonra da ayrıldım. Nevarki Ganesti inatçı bir kız. Ve çok duygusal.. Yıllar sonra, istemeyerek de olsa evlendi.. Ama beni tekrar bulmak için çaba sarf etmekten de asla vaz geçmedi. Geçen yıllarda da bunu bir kaç defa başardı ama yakalayamadı..”, der yaşlı adam.

“Peki senden talep ettiği şey.. O neydi? ‘Ölümümün senin elinden olmasını istiyorum..’, dediğinde..”

“Bu onların kültüründe bir nevi onurdur. Bir oger bunu sadece iki kişiden ister; onurlu düşmanından yada sevdiği kişiden.. Oger’ler yatakta, hasta ve yaşlanmış olarak ölmeyi acziyet ve zayıflık olarak görürler.”

Brom hayretle yaşlı adama bakar, ama ona, Reise Grulganesti’nin onurlu düşmanı mı, sevdiği kişi mi olduğunu sormaz.

“Cabot? Grulganesti’nin onu öldüreceğini sandım.. Ve açıkçası da bunu yapmasını bekliyordum.. ‘Loşka’ orkça bir kelime.. ve pek de hoş bir anlamı yok, yanlış hatırlamıyorsam..”, diye sorar.

“Yanlış hatırlamıyorsun, Efendi Hobbit. Loşka oldukça ağır bir hakaret.”, diye onaylar Cathber.

“Peki neden öldürmedi onu? Öldürmesi için elinden geleni yaptı gibi sanki..”

“Cabot, sadece Grulganesti’yi sınadı. Zayıflığını hem kendi gözleriyle görmek, hem de herkese göstermek için.. Ve korkarım bunu da başardı.”, der Cathber, düşünceli bir şekilde.

“O zaman sorumu tekrar sormak isterim; neden Reise Grulganesti, Cabot’u öldürmedi?”

“Ganesti, Cabot’u öldürmedi, genç Brom, çünkü Cabot onun oğlu!”

✱ ✱ ✱

Sessiz ol, Efendi Brom. Korkarım yine geliyorlar ve bu sefer kokumuzu da aldılar..”, diye fısıldar yaşlı Cathber, sonra kemer niyetine beline bağladığı sicime asılı küçük keselerden bir tanesinin bağcıklarını çözer ve onu yanında, kendisi gibi yoğun çalıların dibine sinmiş hobbit’e uzatır. “Al şunu, ellerine, kollarına, yüzüne, üstüne ve bacaklarına sür.”

“Nedir bu, Efendi Cathber? Çok kötü kokuyor.”, diye kesenin ağzını açmış, içine bakarak sorar Brom.

“Uhhmm.. bilmek istemezsin, delikanlı..”, diye geçiştirmeye çalışır yaşlı adam.

“Gerçekten.. Nedir bu? O kadar kötü kokuyor ki anlatamam..”, diye kokudan gözleri yaşarmış bir şekilde sorar genç hobbit.

“İllaki bilmen gerekiyorsa; kokarca pisliği, nezara böceği ve sahile vurmuş deniz kaplumbağası leşi..”, diye açıklar Cathber.

“Ve sen bunu her bi yerime sürmemi istiyorsun, doğru mu?”, diye hayretle sorar Brom.

“Seni, bilmek istemeyeceğin hususunda uyarmıştım, delikanlı.. Şimdi. Sür çabuk yoksa fırtına avlama günlerimiz bugün burada, acıklı bir şekilde sona erecek!”, diye keskin bir sesle fısıldar, Cathber.

Brom derin bir nefes alır, iki parmağını kesenin içine sokar, sonra da parmaklarına bulaşmış iğrenç kokulu ‘şeyi’ yüzüne, ellerine, kollarına, üstüne ve başına sürer ve bütün bunları yaparken de habire öğürüp durur.

“Ağzına ve gözüne deydirme sakın. Gözlerini yakar, tadı da.. hiç güzel değil.”, diye uyarır yaşlı adam.

 

Brom kusar!

 

“Bu.. bu gerçekten çok kötü kokuyor..”

“Öyle de olması gerekiyor, zira bu şekilde senin kokunu bastırmış olduk.”, der Cathber.

“Bu kadar kötü kokması gerekiyor muydu ama?”, diye inler genç hobbit.

“Aslına bakılırsa evet. O kokunun ne kadar kötü olduğunu düşünürken, bir de bu tarafa gelen kurtlar için ne kadar kötü kokacağını bir düşün. Bu kokuyu bir kere kokladıktan sonra, cehennemden kaçar gibi kaçacaklar burdan..”, der Cathber sırıtarak.

Brom, kesedeki iğrenç kokulu şeyle işi bitince onu Cathber’a geri uzatır. Yaşlı adam keseyi Brom’dan imtina ile alır, sonra da belindeki sicime geri bağlar.

“Eee.. sen sürmeyecek misin?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Ne? Neden benim de sürünmem gerekiyor ki?”, diye hayretle sorar yaşlı adam.

“Senin kokun ne olacak peki?”, der Brom.

“Benim kokum mu? Sen buradayken benim kokumu nasıl alsınlar ki?”, diye kıkırdar Cathber.

Brom kaşlarını çatar.

“Birimiz yeterliydi, delikanlı.. İkimizin de kötü kokması gerek miyor, öyle değil mi şimdi ama?”, diye kendisini açıklar masum bir sırıtışla.

“Madem bu kadar kötü kokuyor, neden onu hemen şuraya, çalıların önüne dökmedik?”, diye inleyerek söylenir genç hobbit.

“…”

“Ben.. uhhhmmm.. Bak bu aklıma hiç gelmedi işte!”, diye itiraf eder yaşlı adam. “Ama olaya bir de olumlu yanında bak.”

“Neymiş olumlu yanı?”

“Artık yıldırımımızı yakalarken rahatsız edilmeyeceğiz.”, der Cathber makul bir şekilde.

Brom biraz daha çatar kaşlarını.

“Kurtların kışın dağlardan indiğini duymuştum. Ama şu anda hava o kadar soğuk değil. Kar da yağmıyor. Bunların burada işi ne peki?”, diye sorar.

“Tam olara emin değilim.”, der Cathber. “Ama bu, onların zamansız dağlardan ilk defa inişleri değil. On.. Belki on iki yıl kadar önce başladı bunların dağlardan inmeleri. Sebebini daha çözemedim. Belki de bir şey onları kendi yerlerinden ettiği için, onlar da buraya gelmek zorunda kaldılar. Dağlarda yeterince yiyecek bulamadıkları için de devamlı aşağı, ormana inmeye başladılar. Bunu bir ara araştırmam lazım.. Sorun, inlerinin benim bölgemin dışında kalıyor olması..”

“Senin bölgen?”, diye sorar Brom..

 

..ve tekrar kusar!

 

“Sen iyi misin, evlat?”, der Cathber ve genç hobbit’in sırtını sıvazlar.

“Tabii ki.. iyi değilim..” der Brom..

 

..ve bir daha kusar!

 

“Nazik bir miden varmış.”, der yaşlı adam.

“Ben bir hobbit’im, Efendi Cathber. Benim her yerim naziktir!”, diye haşin bir şekilde cevap verir Brom.

“Shhh..”, diye birden uyarır Cathber. “Geliyorlar..”

İkisi de oldukları gibi kıpırdamadan, öylece dururlar çalılıkların arasında.

Uzaktan, belki iki yüz yardalık bir mesafeden uluma sesleri, gürleyen bulutların arasından duyulur.

“Hay shit..”, der Brom “Sanırım kokumuzu aldılar..”

“Çok ayıp, Efendi Hobbit, ama isabetli..”, diye onaylar yaşlı Cathber.

 

Uluma sesleri daha da yaklaşır..

Yüz elli yarda kadar..

 

Brom belinden babasının eski kılıcını çeker.

 

Yüz yarda..

 

Brom sırt çantasına uzanır ve içinden amcasına ait küçük, antika gürzü de çıkartır.

 

Elli yarda..

 

“Bunların işe yarayacağını düşünüyor musun, delikanlı?”, diye merakla sorar yaşlı adam.

“Oger’lerin aksine, ben zamanım geldiğinde yatağımda ve huzurlu bir şekilde gitmek istiyorum, Efendi Cathber. Ne bir savaş alanında, ne de aç kurtlara yem olarak..”, der genç hobbit haşin bir ifadeyle..

..ve bir daha kusar!

“Evet.. sanırım bu sonuncusuydu, zira çıkaracak içimde başka bir şeyim de kalmadı artık!”

 

Kurtlar her bir yanı sarar..

 

Brom tek bakışta düşman sayısını belirleyebilecek, kestirebilecek yada değerlendirebilecek eğitimi almış bir izci değildir. Kendisi, yimser bir tahminle, ‘beş ile on yada onbeş arası’, gibi afaki ifadelerle yetinmeyi tercih eden bir ruhtur. Sayılar daha fazla ise ‘çok’.. biraz daha fazla ise, ‘o kadar çoklardı ki’, bunun üstünde ise, ‘ufuktan ufuğa uzanıyorlardı’, dibi dramatik ifadeler kullanbilecek kapasitesi de vardır çünkü, ve en nihayetinde Brom bir hobbit’tir ve aynı zamanda da lisanı abartı üzerine sanatlaştıran bir ozandır. Dolayısıyla etraflarını saran kurtların sayısı her ne kadar ‘ufuktan ufuğa kadar’, olmasada, ‘şimdi boku yedik’, diyebileceği sayıdadır!

 

Kurtlar büyük bir hevesle çalıların etrafında koşmaya başlarlar ve birden çalılar aralanır, koskoca bir kurt, kafasını çalılardan içeri sokar.

Brom evinden ayrılmasından sonra ödü neredeyse patlayacak kadar korkmuş olduğu anlar çok olmuştur. Ancak ölümle ‘burun buruna’ bu kadar literal anlamda geldiği hiç olmamıştır ve koca bir boz kurduyla ‘burun buruna’ gelmek bambaşka bir tecrübedir.

“Eeeeep!”, diye bir ses kaçar küçük hobbit’ten ve kurt ileri atılır ancak çalıları aşamaz ve burun buruna kaldığı küçük, yarım lokmalık hobbit’in kokusunu derin derin içine teneffüz etmek zorunda kalır.

Brom, içsel bir uyanışla kulaklarını kapatır.. ve bu da isabetli olur..

Kurt, avazı çıktığı kadar ve acıyla karışık, aşağılanmış bir çığlıkla kaçmaya çalışır, nevarki çalılara takılmış olduğu için bunu başaramaz.

Gece, bir kurdun dehşet vıyaklamalarıyla inler ve bir anda bütün sürüye yayılır.

Sürü kaçar.

Kurt kusar!

✱ ✱ ✱

Efendi Brom. Bu inadınızı biraz yersiz ve —kusuruma bakmazsan— biraz da bağnazca bulduğumu ifade etmeliyim. Bütün ‘insanlar’ kötü değildir. Belli ki geçmişinde karşılaştığın bazıları kötü çıkmış olabilir. Ama bu hepsini kötü kılmaz ki..”, der yaşlı Cathber sabırla. “Muhteşem Gökler adına, ben de bir insanım.. En azından genel kanaat bu yönde!”

“Siz bir istisnasınız, Efendi Cathber.”, diye somurtarak mırıldanır Brom.

“Benim de demek istediğim bu işte. Yeni insanlarla karşılaşırsan, yeni istisnaların oluşmasına müsaade etmiş olursun. Kimin kime faydası dokunur, kimin kime yardımı olur hiç belli olmaz bu dünyada..”

“Yeni istisnalar istediğimi de kim söyledi? Size böyle bir isteğim olduğuna dair bir izlenimi ne zaman verdim?”, diye inatlaşır genç hobbit.

“İnatçı, aptal ve huysuz gençlerden çektiğim..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam. “Öyle olsun bakalım, delikanlı. Benim işim ne kadar sürer bilemiyorum. Hazır bu civarda olduğumuz için, Dim Lodge’a bir kaç gün buralarda olacağımı bildiren, baykuşla bir mesaj göndermiştim. Odunculardan birisinin üstüne ağaç devrildiğini ve durumunun da kritik olduğunu söyleyen bir cevap yolladılar. Genç bir bayanın da doğumu yaklaşmış, lütfen gelip doğumu gerçekleştirip gerçekleştiremeyeceğimi sordular. Oduncuyu anlarım da, bir doğuma neden beni çağırırlar ki? Ben ebe değilim..”

“Eee? Gidecek misin? Doğuma yani..”, diye sorar Brom.

“Gideceğim tabii.. Çağırdıkları anda beni külfet altına sokmuş oldular ve bunun farkında bile değiller. Sen de gelsen iyi olurdu. Kemik nasıl yerleştirilir, doğum nasıl yaptırılır, bunları bilmek hayatı anlamak açısından çok önemli olabiliyor.”, der yaşlı adam.

“Beni oraya götürtmek için her türlü yöntem, taktik ve şantajı denemeye niyetlisin, öyle değil mi?”, diye sorar Brom uyuz bir ifadeyle.

“Tabii. Buna seni bir kurbağaya çevirip cebimde götürmek de dahil ama işin o noktaya gelmemesini tercih ederim. Ayrıca eminim bizi iyi besleyeceklerdir. Oduncular biraz kaba insanlardır ve batıl inançlıdırlar ama cömerttirler aynı zamanda. Hele senin gibi naif bir ozan onlar için büyük bir lüks. Eminim hayatlarında hiç ozan görmemişlerdir. Kendini onların bu fakir lüksünden esirgeyecek kadar mı büyük görüyorsun. Bende seni zengin ruhlu biri sanırdım!”, der Efendi Cathber.

Brom yaşlı adama fena pis bi bakış atar.

“Bu.. fevkalade bel altı bir taktikdi, Efendi Cathber..”, diye burnundan solur.

“Tamamen öyle idi!”, der Cathber sırıtarak.

 

Brom, Efendi Cathber’in acıdan kıvranan zavallı oduncunun yamulmuş omur iliğini iyileştirmesini hayretle izler. Yaşlı adam oduncunun yanına gelir gelmez elinin bir hareketiyle odada ne kadar mum varsa aydınlanmış, bir başka hareketiyle de yarı ölü oduncunun yanında bekleyen herkes sessizliğe bürünmüştü. Yaşlı adam sessiz bir mırıldanmayla dakikalarca ellerini yüzükoyun yatırılmış adamın kanlı sırtında gezdirirken, oduncunun sırtından iç gıcıklatan kemik çatırtıları gelmeye başlamış ve adam çığlıklar atarak kendinden geçmişti. Yaşlı Cathber işini bitirdiğinde kan izleri hala durmasına karşın, adamın parçalanmış sırtı pürüzsüz, omuriliği ise düzleşmiş olarak, sakin ve derin bir uykuya dalmıştı. Olayı seyredenler ise hayretle kala kalmış, önce yatan oduncuyu kontrol etmişler, sonra da ağlayarak yaşlı Cathber’e sarılmışlardı. Genç oduncunun eşi, ağabeyi ve annesi, art arda teşekkür etmişlerdi yaşlı adama.

Bir sonraki durak ise, genç hobbit’in görmek istediği bir şey değildi; bir doğum!

Avazı çıktığı kadar bağıran yeni bebek geldiğinde, genç hobbit’in yüzü kerpiç gibi olmuş, gözlerinden yaşlar akarak yaşlı adamla beraber evden ayrılmışlardı.

“Bunu gördükten sonra kadınlara acıdım doğrusu. Bu hayatımda gördüğüm en ürkütücü şeydi.”, der titrek bir sesle.

“Hepsi bu kadar zorlu olmuyor, delikanlı. Bebek ters dönmüş olduğu için biraz uğraştırdı. Ama özde haklısın. Her doğum, potansiyel iki ölümü de beraberinde getirir. Buna rağmen kadınlar çocuklarına aşk ötesi bir sevgiyle bağlanırlar. Tarifi olmayan bir sevgidir bu. Evet, Efendi Hobbit, Kadınlar, bambaşka varlıklardır.”, diye sessizce cevap verir yaşlı adam. “Hadi gel. Senin içine sıcak bir şeyler koyalım. Kendine gelmiş olursun..”

“Beni gerçekten, neden getirdin buraya?”, diye sorar Brom.

“Seni buraya özel planlar yaparak getirmedim, evlat. Ben buraya geliyordum ve gerçekleşen şeyleri muallak birer cümle olarak geçiştirmektense, senin de birinci elden görmeni istedim. Neredeyse bir yıla yakın bir süredir bu ormanlarda fırtına avlıyoruz. Bu başlı başına eğlenceli olmakla beraber, bizi dünyanın geri kalanından da biraz fazla koparabiliyor. Kafamızı dinlememiz ve belirli bir iç huzura kavuşabilmemiz açısında bu fevkalade faydalı bir şey. Ama aynı zamanda da yüzleşmemiz gereken duygularımızla hesaplaşmamıza da engel olmuş oluyor —ki bu da doğru değil, kendi akıl sağlığımız açısından.. Ve sen daha kaybınla yüzleşmiş değilsin, Efendi Hobbit.”

“Sana kaybım hakkında hiçbir şey anlatmadım. Nereden—?”, diye başlar genç hobbit.

“Efendi Brom Bumblebrim. Lütfen. Ben yaşlı olabilirim, ama bunak değilim. Kimse beni aşırı zeki olmakla övmedi. Ama aptal olmakla da suçlamadı. Fey’lerle iletişimi olan tek kişi de sen değilsin.”, der yaşlı adam nazikçe.

“Madem biliyorsun, neden soruyorsun?”, diye biraz huysuzca sorar Brom.

“Bildiğimi söylemedim ki.”, der Cathber.

“Fey’lerle konulabildiğini söyledin..”

“Fey’lerle konuşabiliyorum, evet. Aralarında senin başına gelenleri bilenlerin de olduğunu biliyorum. Ama hiçbirisine sormadım.”

“Neden?”, diye biraz şaşırmış bir şekilde sorar Brom.

“Çünkü, delikanlı, bu senin sırrın. Senin kaybın. Senin acın.. Onu anlatmaya hazır olduğunda, ben de dinlemeye hazır olacağımı, sanıyorum ilk karşılaşmamızda söylemiştim sana ve koşullar hala değişmiş değil. Senin derdini ve başına gelenleri merak etmiyor değilim. Ama arkandan iş çevirecek kadar değil. Bu hem hoş bir davranış değil, hem de doğru bir davranış değil.”

 

Brom buna cevap vermez. Sadece susar. Beraber geçirdikleri bir yıla yakın sürede yaşlı adama duyduğu saygı, bir anda katlanır.

İlginçtir ki bu yaşlı, muhtemelen de biraz deli olan adama duyduğu saygı, en nihayetinde adamın ‘hiçbir şey’ yapmayarak kazandığı bir saygıdır. Ama yaşlı adam o ‘hiçbir şeyi’, bilinçli olarak yapmamayı tercih etmiştir ve belli ki genç Brom’un ihtiyacı olan da budur..

 

Yaşlı adam bir elini genç hobbit’in omzuna koyar ve, “Haydi gel.”, der. “Önce bir şeyler yiyelim. Neredeyse ikiye bölünmüş bir omuriliğini iyileştirmek bunu beceremediyse, bir doğum beni acıktırmaya yetti!”

Brom ister istemez ‘fırk’lar.

 

Yaşlı Cathber, rastgele bir ev seçer ve yüzsüzce kapısını çalar. Yirmi beş yaşlarında, genç bir adam kapıyı açar, yaşlı adamı görünce yüzünde belirgin bir sırıtış peyda olur ve içeri girmesi için onu buyur eder.

“Efendi Cathber..”, der genç adam. “Evimi şereflendirdiniz. Lütfen, buyrun.. Seleina, misafirlerimiz var..” 

“Teşekkür ederim genç Aramsis. Gecenin bu saatinde sizlere yük olduğumdan dolayı beni maruz görürsünüz diye umuyorum.”, diye gülümser yaşlı adam.

“Lafı bile olmaz, Efendi Cathber.. Sizlere kapımız her daim açıktır. Buyrun lütfen.”, der genç Aramsis ve her ikisini de içeri alıp ateşin hemen yanındaki masaya oturtur.

“Sevgili Cathber..”, der yumuşak bir ses ve uzun boylu, esmer güzeli, genç bir kadın gelir ve yaşlı adama sarılır. “Seni tekrar görmek ne güzel.”

“Sevgili Seleina. Bakıyorum her gördüğümde daha bir güzelleşiyorsun. Bu kurallara aykırı değil mi?”, diye sırıtır Cathber.

Seleina içten bir sesle güler.

Sonra Catherber’in arkasında saklanan Brom’u görür.

“Bir hobbit! Şimdi çok kızdım sevgili Cathber. Kendi gelişiniz hususunda bizi uyarmadığınız gibi, buraya bir hobbit getireceğinizi de söylemediniz. İkinizi birden nasıl ağırlayacağız şimdi? Bu fazla büyük bir onur!”, der kız gülümseyerek.

Brom.. buna biraz şaşırır.

“Bizi tanıştırmayacak mısın?”, diye imalı bir şekilde sorar Seleina.

“Aaaa.. tabii.. Aramsis, Seleina, bu gördüğünüz, fevkalade uzak yerlerden gelmiş, çok gezmiş, daha da çok görmüş, ırkının naif bir örneği, Efendi Brom Bumblebrim.. Efendi Brom, bunlarda benim pek sevdiğim Aramsis ve harika eşi Seleina.”, diye tanıtır Cathber.

“Uhh.. Menun oldum.”, der Brom biraz çekinerek.

“Bugün şanslı gününüzdesiniz, Efendi Cathber. Kül altı pişirilmiş harika bir hindimiz var.”, der Seleina.

“Ahhaa.. bunun şansla hiçbir ilgisi yok, sevgili Seleina. Bütün gün evinizi gözetledim, ve hindinin kokusunu alır almaz da geldim!”, der sırıtarak.

Buna Aramsis’de, Seleina’da kahkahalarla gülerler.

 

“CATHBER EBE GELMİŞ!”

..diye küçük bir ses çınlar odada ve Brom’un içmekte olduğu elma şırası burnundan fışkırır.

“Moreel..”, der Seleina, kıpkırmızı olmuş, gülmemek için çırpınan bir suratla. “Senin uyumuş olman gerekmiyor muydu?”

“Ama anne yaaa.. Cathber Ebe’nin sesini duydum ve uyandım!”, der miniminnacık, fevkalade şirin, iki yaşlarında, annesi gibi esmer saçlı bir kız.

“Moreel..”, diye gülmemek için neredeyse inleyerek söylenir Seleina. “Cathber amcaya, ‘Efendi Cathber’, diye hitap etmemiz gerekiyor.” 

“Ama o benim ebem değil mi?”, diye saf bir şekilde sorar küçük kız.

Brom gülmemek için kıvranır.

Efendi Cathber ise bozuntuya vermemeye çalışır.

“Ama sen bana, onun seni de doğurttuğunu söylemedin mi?”, der küçük kız ve zincirleme bir kazayı da başlatmış olur.

“Ben..”, der Seleina, kıpkırmızı olmuş bir şekilde. “..elma turtalarını getireyim!”

 

Genç Brom yemekten sonra gece boyunca Efendi Cathber’in, Aramsis ve güzel eşi Seleina ile konuşmalarını dinler ve uzun saatlerden sonra bir şey dikkatini çeker.

Bu küçük aile, gerçekte fakir bir ailedir. Ancak genç Aramsis’in eşini ve küçük kızını deliler gibi sevdiği her halinden bellidir. Seleina’nın eşine ve kızına olan sevgisi ise ancak kendisinin buna ekleyebildiği kadarıyla baskın gelmektedir. Küçük Morel ise hayretle Brom’u seyretmiş, sonra kendi kafasında nasıl bir hesap yaptıysa, onu kendince ‘dengi’ olarak görmüş ve löp diye hobbit’in kucağına atlamıştı. Cathber-Aramsis-Seleina kendi aralarında bir üçlü oluştururken, gerçek muhabbet, Brom ile Morel adındaki o miniminnacık kız arasında geçmişti.

Küçük Morel, aklına gelen her şeyi, hiçbir moderasyon yapmaksızın, minik yüzünde ciddi bir ifadeyle genç Brom’a anlatmıştı. Sonra onu elinden tutup odasına, oyuncaklarıyla oynamaya götürmüştü. Gerçekte küçük kızın bütün oyuncakları ev yapımıdır ve bir oduncunun elinden çıkma olduğu açıkça görülmektedir. Buna rağmen kız onları Brom’a verip beraber oynarken, ikisi de engin hayal güçlerini devreye sokmuş ve kaba ahşap oyuncaklar bir anda perilere, şövalyelere, ejderhalara, prenslere ve prenseslere dönüşüvermişlerdi.

Kızın uykusu geldiğinde ise Brom’a sarılmış, onu sesli bir şekilde yanağından öpmüş, sonra da annesi eşliğinde yatağına gitmişti. Brom’un en son duyduğu şey, küçük kızın uykulu bir şekilde söylendiği mızmızı olmuştu..

“Ama anne yaa.. Hobim’e düş kapanımı göstermeyi unuttum ama ki!”

 

Bu..

..her nasılsa,

..genç Brom’a,

..yaşlı Cathber’in bahsettiği,

..duygularıyla hesaplaşma vaktinin yaklaştığının ilk habercisi olur.

Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları
A Bard’s Tale XIV “a Bit of a Bite” VII ile
devam edecek..


Yıllar sonra artık İzci Yüzbaşı Bremorel Songsteel olarak bilinen küçük Morel, Brom Bumblebrim’le karşılaştığında onu hatırlayacak ve eşi Thomas Dimwood’a onu “Öptüğüm ilk erkekti!”, diye tanıtacaktır..

 

Yaşlı Cathber, eşinin ölümünden bahsederken, gerçekte bunun ‘ileriki’ bir zamandan, Themalsar Savaşında, bir yanlışı düzeltmek için gönderilecek olan Brom Bumblebrim ve arkadaşlarını güvenli bir şekilde o zamanlar bir prens olan Grandaleren’in yanına getirmek için düşman saflarında bir gedik açarken uğradıkları karşıt baskında öldürüleceğini bilmiyordu!

 

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A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” V

A Bard’s Tale XIV
“a Bit of a Bite” V

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” IV ‘ün
devamıdır..

 

 

07.09.7589 B.Y.S (-18 Yıl)
Ağustos ortası.
Gulls Perch..

 

Brom Bumblebrim, Gulls Perch’in önünde mışıl bir berraklıkla şapırdıyan göletin kıyısında oturmuş, çıplak ayakları suyun içinde, omuzlarında ise havlu niyetine sarındığı battaniyesi olduğu halde, kenarda duran ıslak elbiselerinin kurumasını beklemektedir. Ağustos ayında olmaları dolayısıyla hava sıcaktır, ama burada, bu güzel orman, gölet ve hemen ilerisinde çınlayarak akan şelale sayesinde hava naif bir serinliktedir..

Brom göletin kenarına bırakılmış bir ahşap kase dolusu çileği, bir başka kase dolusu enfes görünümlü kirazları, hatta pürüzsüz ve lekesiz kıpkırmızı elmaları, sapsarı armutları, mis gibi kokan şeftalileri ve tam zamanında toplanmış üzümleri, yüzünde kararlı bir ifadeyle umursamaz.

Brom, mazbut yemini etmiş bir tapınak muhafızı gibi ileri ve uzaklardaki bir noktaya bakar sadece..

“Pssst!”, diye yumuşak sesli biri seslenir genç hobbit’e sessizce, ama Brom dişlerini sıkmış, inatla ufukta seçtiği noktaya odaklanır.

“Pssssst!”, diye tekrarlar kendini aynı ses.

“Neden ona ‘pssst’ diyorsun? Adı ‘Pssst’ mı?”, der bir başka yumuşak ses.

“Hayır kız, dikkatini çekmeye çalışıyorum.”, diye açıklar birinci sesin sahibi.

“Pek işe yaramıyor gibi. Sana hiç bakmadı bile, Yamara.”, der ikinci ses.

“Bence biraz aptal da ondan.”, der Yamara.

“Ona aptal dersen, tabi bakmaz.”

“E sen söyle o kadar biliyorsan, Temessa..”, der burnunu çekerek Yamara.

Temessa göletin içinde, görünen kısmı itibariyle çıplak omuzlarını silker.

“Ona adını sormalısın, bence. Onun cinsi, kızların kendilerine isimlerinin sorulmasından hoşlanırlar.”

“Huh!”, der Yamara. “Neden acaba? Adına ihtiyacım yok ki?”

“Bilmem. Dikkatimizi çektiklerini sandıkları içindir, her halde.”

“Pssst.. Bodur.. Adın ne senin?”

“Hayır, hayır. Bir erkeğe bodur, bücür, sıska, çiroz, çirkin, zayıf, şişko gibi fiziksel engellerini yüzlerine söyleyemezsin. Buna fena alınırlar.”

“Ama doğru. Bu şey bodur işte!”

Brom ufukta aradığı şeyi bulmak üzeredir ama bulmamayı tercih eder ve içinden mırıldanır.

“Ben bodur değilim yaa.. Hobbit’im! Bunun anlaşılması ne kadar zor olabilir ki?”

“Olsun. Onlara aptal olduklarını söylediğinde de alınırlar ama o kadar değil. Özellikle boylarıyla yada yüzleriyle ilgili şeylere daha çok alınırlar.”

“Bak bu konuda biraz haklısın..”

“Bu çok saçma.”

“Olabilir. Örneğin sen çok güzelsin Yamara.”

“Evet. Öyleyim.”

“Ama biraz aptalsın da..”

“Eee? Noolmuş?”

“İşte böyle. Sana aptal dediğimde alınmadın bile. Ama çirkin olduğunu söyleseydim hemen gider anneye şikayet ederdin.”

“Ederdim, tabii. Çünkü bana çirkin demen hiç hoş değil!”

“Şimdi anladın mı neden onlara da bodur diyemeyeceğini?”

“Hayır!”

Brom ‘fırk’lar.

“Senin yolun biraz uzun, kızım.”

“Verdiğim şeftalilere dokunmadı bile.”, diye fena alınmış bir sesle söylenir Yamara.

“Belki şeftaliyi sevmiyordur.”, diye önerir Temessa.

“Hayır, şeftaliye bayılırım. Eminim senin şeftalilerinde yumuşacık ve enfestir ama onlara dokunursam başıma gelecekleri bilmek bile istemiyorum.”

“Hmm.. Benim elmalarıma da dokunmamış.”, diye kendisi de alınmış bir ifadeyle söylenir Temessa.

“Elmalara da bayılırım. Bkz. yukarıdaki açıklama!”

“Cherriot’un kirazlarına, Shyad’in üzümlerine ve Kardenymp’in ayvalarına da dokunmamış.”, der Yamara.

“Evet. Aynı sebepten dolayı.”

“Veraminks’in çilekleri de olduğu gibi duruyor.”, diye ekler Temessa. 

“Belki aptal Aremela’nın çilekleri midesini bozmuştur ve artık istemiyordur!”, der Yamara bir anda.

“Hayır, onun çilekleri muhteşemdi ve burada işim bitince anneden o çileklerin, varsa çekirdeklerinden isteyeceğim..”

“Senin karnın mı bozuk?”, diye sorar Yamara.

“Değil. Karnım bozuk değil.”

“Belki de şu dindar tiplerdendir. Hani bi sefer geldiydi de hiçbirimiz onu elde edenediydik..”

“Kim?”

“Bilmem. Feyspeck miydi, Farstep miydi neydi!” 

“..Aaa, evet hatırlıyorum. Anne ile konuşmaya geldiğini söylemişti. Anne onunla da konuştu ama bununla konuştuğu gibi konuşmadı onunla.. Çok daha ciddi ve resmi bi görüşme oldu. Sanırım M-Teyzeden haberler getirmişti.. Geldiğinde bizi gördü, pek güzelmişsiniz dedi, bize şeker verdi, sonra da gittiydi.”

“Canım şeker çekti!”

“Benimde. Anne şekerin bizim için zararlı olduğunu söyledi ama çok güzel tadı var şekerlerin!”

“Hay shit. Benimde çekti şimdi canım..”

“Siz ikiniz ne yapıyorsunuz burada?”, der bir üçüncü ses ve göletin içinden masmavi, ışıl ışıl parıldayan, upuzun saçları, yakıcı, gökyüzünü hafif çekik gözlerinde yakalamış, sahibesi olduğu çilekler gibi küçük, kırmızı-pembe dudaklarıyla Aremela belirir. “..Ve bunları kim koydu buraya?”

“Şeftalileri ben koydum.”, der Yamara.

“Elmaları da ben..”, der Teressa.

“Cherriot, kirazlarını getirdi, Shyad’de üzümlerini. Kardenymp de geri kalmamış olmak için armutlarını getirip bıraktı. Bu şey senin çileklerini yediği için, belki benimkileri de yer diye Veraminks’de kendi çileklerini getirdi.. Aptal kız.. Bu bodur şey çoktan çilek yedi ki!”

“Ama neden getirdiniz. Anne onu bana verdi zaten ki! Benim şeyimi çalmaya mı çalışıyorsunuz?”

“Öncelikle ben bi ‘şey’ değilim. Hobbit’im.. Ho-bit!”

“Hayır, Aremela. Anne seni ona verdi!”, der Yamara ve acımasızca güler.