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Extreme Planning..
Part Two

Extreme Planning..
Part Two

Timeline:

It is time for strategic planning.

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

“Shall we?”, offered Yuleman.

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

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

The hobbit sitting next to them coughed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

A terrifying silence settled in the room.

 

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

 

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I believe that leaves us..

..as the only viable option.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The sheriff cleared his throat and stood up.

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

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

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

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

Standorin turned to Margaret Madish.

“Stone.”, Margaret said simply.

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

“Depends on the mountain.”, she replied.

“Rook Mountain rock!”, growled the chieftain.

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

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

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

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

 

Chuckles were heard from the dwarves.

 

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

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

 

Dridges went red.

The Tosser twins went black!

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Argail coughed.

 

Sheriff Standorin looked at Margaret again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The gnomic girl gave her a very baleful glare.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“You what?”

*More incomprehensible mumbles*

 

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

 

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

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

“Yes. Very much.”, smile Seressa.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Nimbletyne Tinkerdome mulled over the Liaison’s explanation.

 

Seressa sighed.

“You are such a dork, baby girl.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Tonic gave her a rather guilty look.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

..and the room went up in total chaos!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aager fumed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inshala giggled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“..Stay safe!”, he shouted.

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

..and Anglenna, Armathelius, and Lorna vanished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

..newly built and freshly painted!

 

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

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

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

Grulganiste scowled down at the tundra elf for a moment.

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

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

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

Then she turned around and ogled at her home..

..and darted inside.

 

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

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

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

And then, there was the garden..

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

Inshala was enthralled..

..and thoroughly shocked.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Every time.”, came Aager’s voice.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

There was a moment of precipitous silence.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Probably not.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Chieftain Grulganiste scowled down at her for a long moment.

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Garishka and Grawl beamed at her.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Then sighed.

 

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

 

She had never said he was a bad person..

..like ever.

Only that he was not a good person.

 

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

What was there to claim otherwise?

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Aager thought not.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Huh.”, Aager grunted.

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

“Huh.”, Aager repeated himself.

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

 

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

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

He hadn’t noticed that..

 

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

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

 


 

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

Extreme Planning..
Part One

Extreme Planning..
Part One

Timeline:

It is time for strategic planning.

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

“My thoughts, exactly.”, chuckled Nimbletyne.

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

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

 

The woman sighed.

 

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

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

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

 

Nimbletyne shrugged.

 

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

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

 

Nobody answered.

 

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

Biberbell fumed!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

The Mortal froze..

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

“—Sugar Cane Juice—”

“—GIMME!”, Biberbell piped!

 

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

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

 

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

 

Standorin wordlessly poured her another.

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

 

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

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

 

There was a moment of awkward silence and Constance sighed.

 

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

Standorin stared at the tiny thing snoring on his desk!

“Well..”, he said. “That went well..”

 

The other large man snorted.

The sheriff scowled at him.

 

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

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

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

Constance sighed again.

“What?”, he asked.

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

“Yes, so?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Constance sighed once more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Udoorin barely avoided a snort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Udoorin coughed.

 

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

 

Udoorin coughed again.

 

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

Standorin scowled some more.

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

 

Armed and naked!

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Lilly Venom frowned.

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

Lilly’s face soured.

Dammit!

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

 

Then she sighed.

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

And this was hers to pay.

 

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

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

 

Then she sighed again..

What was done, was done.

Some people earned their place peacefully.

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

 

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

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brom lost his grin and sighed.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

“Maybe.”, Brom cautioned.

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

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

The dwarf shrugged.

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

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

Tonic snickered from behind.

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

The dwarf snorted.

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Lovely pinks, by the way..”

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

 

And pulled apart the partition..

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

 

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

..and she was totally out.

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

It broke his heart to see her like this.

She was a princess, dammit!

No.

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

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

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

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

 

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

RISE ALOR’NADIEN NE!

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

His Lorna was awesome, like that..

 

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

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

And that was downright killing him.

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

 

“Mere Estel Aranië..”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Something was decidedly going on here, Udoorin had conceded.

 

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

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

 

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

 

“What?”, he said.

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

Udoorin frowned.

And it hit him.

 

She was thinking of leaving him!

 

That’s why she was sorry.

A terrible expression came over his face.

 

Not ugly.

Not furious.

Just plain, childish fear.

 

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

..and left.

 

“I apologize for the carpet.”

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

 

Udoorin felt drained.

Tired physically, mentally, and emotionally.

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

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

Hence, he turned direction and headed north.

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

 

Heart.

 

That’s when he felt the sizzle again.

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

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

 

“You look troubled.”

He heard a voice say.

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

And no..

He wasn’t surprised to see Bremorel.

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

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

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

“Well, I am, so all is fine.”

“Is Thomas still alive?”, he asked.

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

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

Bremorel laughed.

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

 

Udoorin felt thunderstruck!

 

“When? How?”, he spluttered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bremorel laughed again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The ranger lieutenant shrugged.

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

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

Bremorel paused there.

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

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

Udoorin staggered.

And stumbled.

“How? How did it happen?”, he asked.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Bremorel scowled at him.

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

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

Bremorel’s face turned black, now.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

The three just stared at him.

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Anglenna gave him a sour look but caved.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

..and she took off with an impressive dash.

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

“Leaving you?”, Lorna very nearly gasped.

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

 

Lorna did not reply for the longest time.

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

 

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

 

Udoorin froze and stared at the gentle girl in amazement.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Alor’Nadien ne flinched..

..and broke down.

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

 

..but Udoorin was there.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“This was not our bargain, dear child.”

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

The rich, throaty voice sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Udoorin’s frown deepened.

“And what did she want from you?”

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

 

The young man froze.

 

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

“We.. we will.. should we wed..”

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

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

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

“Dorin.. please..”, she pleaded.

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

“D.. Dorin.. S.. Stop..”, she begged.

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

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

 

Udoorin just stared at her.

 

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

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

 

Udoorin fumes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Lorna just stared at him.

 

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

 

Lorna sighed.

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Like, right now?”, she spluttered.

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

 

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

 

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

Anglenna pursed her lips before answering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Anglenna sighed.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Will tell you later.”, she smiled.

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Futile?”, the tiny girl asked.

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

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

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

“How so, Mother?”

“You now have a smart mouth!”

 

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

 

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

Even if said hubby was the Winter Knight of Mab.

 

Chieftain Grulganiste shuddered.

 

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

 

Grulganiste growled and rose and stared around.

 

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

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

 

Grulganiste grunted and looked around.

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Inshala smiled.

It was a beautiful, happy smile.

An accomplished smile.

A smile that said;

Something wonderful has happened here..

I brought peace to a troubled soul.

I did that!

 

Inshala opened the door to her home and wide.

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

 

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

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

..and sighed.

An ogress she may be.

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

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

 

..and promptly got stuck!

 

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

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

 

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

 

Chieftain Grulganiste froze..

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

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

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

“Whoo?”, replied the baby owl.

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

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

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

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

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

“When?”, she blurted!

“Uhhmm.. when what?”, asked Udoorin.

“When did you two—”, she began.

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

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

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

“Our scents?”, the young man stumbled.

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

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

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

Lorna also blushed.

Udoorin coughed.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Butchered words?”, Lorna asked.

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

 

Udoorin froze.

 

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

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

“More? More what?”

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

 

Lorna smiled.

 

“I do not understand.”, Udoorin complained.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Udoorin scowled down at her while Lorna smiled in defeat.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Udoorin cocked an eyebrow at her.

 

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

 

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

✱ ✱ ✱

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

Lorna smiled, leaned into him, and whispered.

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

 

Udoorin stared at her.

 

“You can’t be serious!”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

..HUGE!

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

“Chieftain Grulganiste—”, Liaison Constance stepped in.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

“Hush, girl. This is grown-ups talking.”, Grulganiste told her briskly. Then she turned to the sheriff. “Two of my ogres will be arriving from the forest. They will have white flag poles on their backs and some sacks with them. I will be unhappy if they were hindered. You will allow them here and to my daughter’s sad home.”

“What will they be bringing, if I may be so bold as to ask?”, Standorin inquired politely.

“A bit of this, and a bit of that..”, the giant ogress replied evasively.

 

Standorin cocked an eyebrow.

Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth sighed.

 

“They hold my daughter’s dowries, young man. Something that is truly none of your business!”, she fumed.

Standorin coughed.

“Mo..mother? I don’t have any dowry..”, Inshala said, her face burning even brighter.

“No. You don’t, because you are a foolish little girl, and seeing as how that sour old Cathber lived in that pathetic little chicken shed he called home, I didn’t think he would have thought about dowries. Hence, I have been preparing it since the day he first brought you to me.”, Grulganiste said grimly.

Standorin’s mouth curved at the corner.

“You are a very cunning woman, Chieftain Grulganiste. Even though everything you said about my arrogance was true, all you wanted was a free pass for your ogres to the town! All you had to do was ask, you know. I may have an itchy hand with my sword, but I am not totally unreasonable.”, he said with a poorly hidden grin.

Grulganiste scowled at him.

“I am the chieftain of Oger’s Foot, boy. I do not ask. I demand.. And the things I said were correct and had to be said. Are we at an agreement, sheriff of Serenity Home, or shall we break spoons?”

Standorin didn’t know what ‘breaking spoons’ meant, but it wasn’t hard to guess.

“Chieftain Grulganiste, I shall send two rangers to escort your ogres to Lady Inshala’s house. I will have to ask your ogres to stay in her garden until the end of the meeting, though. This meeting will call upon many people of many races and places. There is no need to risk frictions.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about them, young man, for they will have their work cut out for them. And they better have it finished by the time this meeting is..”, she fumed balefully.

“One more thing, Chieftain. Should anything happen during the meeting, I would like you to take Lady Inshala and yourself to her home and stay there.”, Standorin informed.

“You want me to run and hide in a broken down chicken shed?”, Grulganiste blazed.

“Chieftain Grulganiste. This is my town. I am the host, and you are the guest here. And the safety of my town and my guests is of utmost importance to me. And I can not do my job if all the guests are running around and doing as they please. You are a guest here, but you are not the only guest.”, the sheriff said, then he looked down at Inshala and grinned. “And as a personal favor to Lady Inshala’s mate, you should make sure she stays there as well..”

 

Inshala’s face looked mortified because she’d had no intentions of running home nor staying there at all.

 

“That.. was not nice, my Aager.”, she fumed in her mind and heard a growling chuckle in return.

“You.. you are laughing at me!”, she said heartbroken.

“No, love. Only making sure you do your part as I have kindly asked of you.”, Aager said.

“Don’t I get any say in this?”, she pouted.

“No, love, you do not. You told me you wanted my respect and my trust. This is where you show me yours —by deed.”

“You think I do not show you respect and trust?”, she asked somewhat downcast.

“Love. I have the utmost respect and trust in you and never have I ever doubted yours.. But town security is not something that can be done alone. It involves hundreds of people; guards, rangers, the elves, the Arashkan militia, the dwarves, and quite a few others that must know where they must be and what they must do, act as a whole, and in cooperative coordination. I have absolute trust that you can take care of yourself, and me, but you do not know any of the security protocols. Young Udoorin does, yet he is still not part of it, because he too, is a guest today. This, you must see. This, you must understand. And this, you must accept.”, Aager replied briskly and succinctly.

 

“Come, girl. Let’s find ourselves a seat before all the good ones are gone!”, Grulganiste rumbled.

 

Aager thought he heard a lot of huffing and puffing and mumbling about putting live Kumse Beatles into someone’s pockets before her voice was gone.

✱ ✱ ✱

The meeting of possibly every leader of every race, people, city, community, circle, near and far, and every important figure, head, or chief was a crowded, confusing, chaotic, and a bit of a messy business. The central conference room had been opted to be used for the meeting out of convenience as it was the largest room available for the job. There were many lanterns hanging on the walls, but the main source of light was the great chandelier with scores of burning candles made brighter by the use of cleverly placed reflectors —a gnomic ingenuity, thanks to no other than Nimbletyne Tinkerdome, crafted and placed many years ago. The center of the room was left open to anyone who would want to get up and speak, and tables surrounded the room in one big circle, all covered with white table cloths. Many flower pots were placed on the tables at military intervals, along with large, flat bowls full of fruits, decanters full of cool cider, and brass cups. Food would also be served shortly after sundown and adjacent rooms were prepared and available for private forums and strategic planning. All in all, Aager, who was responsible for the security of the building, suspected if half the guests survived, it would be a win!

And he had good reasons to expect so..

The dwarves did not want to sit next to the high elves, for one. They might fight alongside them, and against a common enemy, sure, but they did not want to sit next to the pointy-eared, condescending, stuck-ups!

The high elves, in a similar line of thought, did not want to sit next to the dwarves, the gnomes, who were pointing at them and snickering, the woodsmen, the bandits, the shacksmen from the tar pits of Stinking Shacks just northwest of Ritual Forest, and certainly not next to the bloody pirates of Drashan, and decidedly not with the ogres.

The wood elves didn’t mind the dwarves, but they really seemed like they wanted to make a scene about the ogres in an —as dramatic a way— as possible and preferred to stay aloof of their high elf brothers and sisters.

The Drashan pirates outright refused to sit next, or anywhere near the Endless Watch representatives, who, surprisingly wanted to get as near to them as they could —with cutlasses and poniards —and possibly a galleon’s deck catapult of two!

The Koruxan knights all seemed quite distraught as they didn’t want anything to do with any of this bunch!

The two representatives of the Academy of Melshieve looked around a bit dazedly. Or rather, one of them looked around quite dazed and in a dreamy way —an extraordinarily tall young girl with sharp, pointy horns, dark as a starless night-sky skin with long, loose, pink hair wearing rather scandalous pink dress skirts. The other one, a midgety little gnomic girl with many pouches, a heavy wrench tucked in her belt, and with carelessly pulled up, scruffy reddish brown hair, who, for some reason, kept throwing covert but guilty glances at Nadine Graciousward. The neatly dressed little hobbit sitting beside her had a polite expression on his face though he seemed like he was watching everything and everyone from a third person’s view, rather than his own. Sitting next to them was a tall, lithe, elf girl who was very nearly pale as her long, thickly braided, glossy white hair, many swirling and spiraling, dark, marine-blue tattoos on her arms and shoulders, and with a frosty, no-nonsense expression on her face.

 

There were also many familiar faces among the representatives.

Sheriff Standorin himself had taken a seat and..

..Liaison Constance was sitting next to him, also with a polite and interested smile on her face and..

..Perigren Ostlanna Temez, the leader of the Escape, had settled right beside her. She did not smile. She looked pale and soulless, like someone who had something most precious and dear to her taken away and most unfairly. She just sat where she did, silently and still with one of her antler horns broken and missing. The only sign of life was her eyes, as dull as they were, seemed to look at every single person in the crowded room individually, and singularly..

Next to the leader of the Escape, was the senior temple guardian, Thomas Dimwood, with two of his younger guardians standing right behind him.

Lady Magella sat with a diffident expression on her face, next to her grandfather, Argail Smitefast, a mountain of a dwarf, her mother, Margaret Madish, one of her brothers, Harakoon Evilscowl, a dwarf true to his name, her aunt/uncle, Yor Whatoo, and one of her sisters, Lamideth Doncross, as the representatives of Scowling Hills.

Dridges Motherswolfie was also there, waving at the hobbit across with Britney and Dritmey, the Tosser twins, also grinning at him, and Nikelix CarverLady Magella’s sisters, along with another of her aunts, Marideth Brave, representing Elder Hills.

A coldly grimacing Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman..

..her eldest daughter, Moira Alisia Jean Hooman, who had an expression that said, ‘Why me?’, in an existential sense..

..and the sour captain, Fardashi, who was likely going to head-butt the person responsible for the sitting arrangements, because sitting next to the first lady of Durkahan was no other than the former queen of Bari Na-ammen;

Nadine Graciousward, herself, who was politely smiling, and Master Nimbletyne Tinkerdome, who was, for whatever reason, eyeing the little gnomic girl from the Academy of Melshieve.

The appearance of Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth in the room did cause a bit of a ruckus as pretty much everyone, except for the sheriff, and interestingly, the same hobbit, went for their weapons. The fact that the relatively tiny girl, Inshala had reached as high as she could and was holding her hand, had made the scene all the more incomprehensible.

A low cough and a ‘settle down’, warning from the sheriff hadn’t put them at ease, but certainly put them to shame and.. well.. ‘settled them down!’

It was at that moment when the queen of the high elves, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, walked in with her very new husband and king, Udoorin Shieldheart, flanked by Lady Anglenna Brightleaf, Lord Armathelius Riverblade, Aager Fogstep, and appearing next to him like magic, Bremorel Songsteel..

Queen Alor’Nadien ne was simply radiant and every bit as queenly as she was promised. A promise, given not only by her beauty but by her calm, serene, commanding, but not quite demanding, aura.

King Udoorin, on the other hand, just scowled.. silently. A protracted tactic he had decided to adopt for the whole of the meeting and for as long as he could. After that, he was of the opinion; LET THE AXES TALK!

 

Bremorel gave a cursory glance into the room, picked out the former Agent Largo, dressed quite elegantly as some lord, and mingling amongst the other lords and emissaries. It took a while for Aager to spot his sister, Lilly Venom, though.

 

“What the..”, he silently exclaimed.

 

She was up on the vast, candle-lit chandelier, holding on to its thick chain with her slender legs snaked around it, staring at everyone, upside down! And because of all the bright candles and the reflectors, she was literally cast in total shadows in the center of the bloody thing!

“Damn..”, Aager thought. It must be burning hot up there. The creepiest part was, the chandelier never budged, nor swung..

And he would never have seen her, had he not known she was in this room somewhere.

He somewhat grudgingly admitted, her sister, Lilly Venom was much better than he was when it came to hiding and ambush, which, in a way, made sense; Lilly was an assassin, through and through and he was not.

But, really, girl?

The meeting was likely to last past midnight and she would be hanging, upside down, in the middle of scores of candles, for at least ten hours and possibly until the next dawn.

 

Queen Alor’Nadien ne and King Udoorin went over to Nadine Graciousward and the half-elf girl gracefully hugged her mother.

“I see you have finally come to terms with your destiny, my daughter; lived, suffered, and overcome. You, my darling, were the only accomplishment your father and I managed to do right, even if we messed up so horribly at the end. And you, young man, have stood by her at her best, and at her worst, and are still here. You must truly love her. Do be never as I and my husband were. That would be a shame.”, Nadine said and hugged the bearish man who was flushing furiously.

“Hey, you.”, said Moira from two seats over.

“Hey, you.”, grinned Udoorin. “I heard there was a family squabble back at Durkahan. I am happy you set things right and are here again.”

“Not without quite a bit of help from Master Aager and my sister Inshala.”, Moira grinned back.

“That’s what friends are for.”, replied the young man. “Lady Alisia, it has been a great pleasure and delight to have met you and your daughter, here. May I introduce the Queen of Aranië, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist.. Alor’Nadine ne. This is Lady Moira’s mother and the First Lady of Durkahan, Lady Alisia Sivara Hooman, and the wife to late Delia Karakash Hooman.”

Alor’Nadine ne reverenced gracefully at her and smiled.

“I have heard so many beautiful things about you, my lady. Your daughter, Lady Moira always shined bright as the sun and lit our way through dark and dread by her very presence. Just for that, I shall cherish you and her for the rest of my life.”

“Thank you, dear. You are as kind and graceful as my daughter described.”, Lady Alisia inevitably smiled back.

Lorna beamed at her.

“I see you have met my mother.”, she said with a flushed face.

“Yes. I have.”, Lady Alisia said with a slightly grim expression.

“I know this meeting will last quite a bit. But when it is over and before you leave, I would be much honored if you and Lady Moira would be kind enough to visit us in our camp, just outside the town —as a personal favor?”, Lorna asked.

Lady Alisia looked at the beautiful young girl for a moment, as if seeking something on her face. Then she smiled.

“Of course, dear. We would be delighted to visit you and yours. I dread these meetings, to be honest. I would rather decisions be made and in haste, hence we get to the fighting part and cleanse our lands of this Orken infestation.”

Udoorin grinned.

“Spoken like a true Durkahan lady.”

 

Bremorel didn’t go directly to stand behind Udoorin but steered towards her husband, Thomas. She motions him over and took him, by the hand, to where the two representatives of the Academy of Melshieve were sitting. She nodded at the very tall, very dark girl in pinks, and at the scruffy-looking gnomic girl then came to stand before the hobbit!

“Master Brom Bumblebrim!”, she smiled at him.

The bushy-haired hobbit, Brom Bumblebrim, stared up at the pretty girl, and at the confused-looking man, she was holding with a death grip.

“Uhhmm.. Hello? Do I know you, my lady? Ranger, by the looks of it.. And a corporate at least, or possibly a lieutenant.”, the hobbit said.

“Very astute, Master Hobbit. How did you guess.”, she asked, grinning at him.

“You have the air of accomplishment and confidence that only well-earned achievements can give, my lady.”, the hobbit, Brom, said politely.

“I am impressed more now than I was impressed before, Master Brom.”, Bremorel said, then turned to her husband. “Thomas, I would like you to meet the esteemed Master Brom Bumblebrim.”

“Pleased to meet you, Master Hobbit.”, Thomas said politely, though still confused.

“Thomas, this is the first guy I have ever kissed!”, the ranger lieutenant said, her grin even wider.

“Come again?”, asked the gnomic girl, ogling at the tall ranger-girl, then at the hobbit.

“I.. see..”, Thomas said carefully.

The hobbit coughed.

“I am sorry, young lady, and I know this makes me sound like an arse but, have we met before?”, he asked with a flushed face.

 

The very tall, very dark girl in pinks was eyeing the ranger-girl and the hobbit with a neutral expression..

..while the pale elf girl with the glossy white, braided hair was staring at the hobbit too, though with bemused eyes and pursed lips.

 

“Morel.”, said Bremorel. “Daughter of Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine..”

 

Nothing but stumbling out of his chair could have described the hobbit’s reaction!

He got back on his feet and stared up at the pretty girl..

..and his eyes blurred.

 

“Seleina Sunstrider and Aramsis Darkmaine.. Ow. My. Good. Heavens! My dear, dear girl.”, he said quietly, hopped on the table, and hugged Bremorel.

“I am so, so sorry for what happened to your parents. It broke me when I heard about them. For unrelated reasons, I had met with some of the dwarves at Scowling Hills, and Lady Magella, who is sitting right over there, claimed she knew you and told me about it. I was devastated..”, he said with an equally hushed tone. “They were good people. And look at you, now. Wow, you have grown and become the beautiful young woman I knew you would be, even back then.”

“You are kind to say so, Master Brom.”, Bremorel replied, also hugging the hobbit. “You were a great inspiration for me and kind enough to suffer a little girl’s adventurous games with dolls.”

“It was the best game I played, my dear Morel.”, smiled Brom as he drew back.

“And possibly the only game where you played the princess in distress?”, Bremorel smiled at him.

“I didn’t mind being the princess for you, my darling. Being saved by your fearsome knight was as entertaining as it was educational for me.”, the hobbit replied, wiping his eyes.

“Will you be staying? I would love to have you and your friends over for dinner.”, she offered.

“Our schedule is out of my hands, my dear girl. And this meeting will likely be quite binding. But I shall do my best. You are the only one I dearly enjoyed having met, during my long travels with Master Cathber, all those years ago.”

 

Several tables over, Inshala’s ears prickled at that..

 

“And where shall we be seated, Master Aager?”, Lorna asked in a low whisper to the lean man in dark leathers.

“Technically, you and Udoorin, here, are the only king and queen present. Everyone else is either lords and ladies or various representatives. As long as you do not sit next to the Drashan pirates, because that would totally give the wrong message to the rest of the whole of the kingdom, and not next to the lord representative of Endless Watch, which will very much alienate the bloody Drashan pirates, you are free to sit wherever you want. We can seat you next to your mother, Nadine Graciousward if you like?”, Aager offered.

“As much as I would want that, no. Sitting next to her will tell everyone I am under her shadow. As sad as it may be, she no longer holds any official capacity, hence, she represents only herself, and that inevitable shall be interpreted as self-interest.”, she replied as she mused for a very brief moment as more representatives started filing in.

 

“There.”, she said.

 

And with Udoorin by her side, she calmly walked over to the singular ‘person’, sitting alone and with the exception of the disproportionately tiny girl seated next to her, three seats in either direction were empty.

Inshala waved at them happily and then patted the seat next to her and motioned her hubby over with a grin filled with hidden trepidation—

 

Her Aager didn’t know about the house yet!

 

—and with her king, the queen of the high elves and  Aranië started in that direction and sat right next to Chieftain Grulganiste Grimtooth!

 

And just then the mayor of Serenity Home, Arthandos Yuleman entered..

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, Lords and Ladies, emissaries and representatives, welcome to our humble town of Serenity Home.”, the old, raspy voice of the mayor was heard as everyone settled down.

He looked around with worn, tired eyes and smiled.

“Shall we begin?”



 

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a witness or two..

a witness or two..

Timeline:

A long stream of refugees disembark from the damaged Arashkan ships to the shores of Serenity Home town, adding to the already unmercifully overcrowded town and the lands surrounding it. From the last ship, a pair; one handsome but tired-looking blond half-elf, the other, a boldly beautiful young woman walk down the ship’s plank and follow the last remains of what was once The Great and Glorious Arashkan, towards the town that’s offering more than it has.

 

This story takes place about a month or so after
The Stab In The Back
and a bit before
Grulganesti Grimtooth Bolgrig;
“A Debt Father to Daughter Passed..”

 

 

Agent Largo: This is a bad idea. My guestimation is one of three outcomes..

Lilly Venom: That so?

Agent Largo: Yes. (a) He will suffer a traumatic shock and runoff, shouting how much he hates me. (b) He will undergo some form of angst, followed by an episode of a not so unexpected breakdown, accuse me of letting his mother get killed, and very likely result in him punching me. (c) He will outright defy me, saying I wasn’t there when he was growing up and when he needed me, and that he’s all grown up now, doesn’t need me at all, and will refuse to see or talk to me..

Lilly Venom: Angst, huh? Never thought you a man for high drama, Agent Largo. But here you are, proving me wrong.

Agent Largo: You pun me.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) I pun a lot of people, Agent Largo, and you still owe me a dinner. I hope this town has a decent inn.

Agent Largo: You came here before, Lady Lilly. You should know.

Lilly Venom: The key to being a good assassin, Agent Largo, isn’t the kill, no matter how effective or efficient you are at it.. It is knowing your target.. and their habits.. And of course, never being noticed. The Temple Guardian, Demos, never visited the inn, hence neither did I. Thinking back, good thing I never did visit the inn.

Agent Largo: Ow?

Lilly Venom: Inns are a good source for local gossip, news, and information.. and finding out who is who. Had I visited the inn, I definitely would have left this town with at least one corpse.

Agent Largo: You know someone in this town, then? On a personal level?

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) That’s none of your business, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: You really enjoy calling me ‘Agent’, all the time, don’t you, Lady Lilly?

Lilly Venom: More than you like ‘Lady’ing me.

Agent Largo: (side glance) You are in a mood, today.

Lilly Venom: I am in a mood, every day, Agent Largo. Have you decided on what to do? About your Dexter, and about your job? At the moment, you have neither.

Agent Largo: That was a tad harsh, Lady Lilly..

Lilly Venom: I have never fallen head-over-heels for any man, Agent Largo. But I am willing to give you a shot—

Agent Largo: Coming from you, that sounds ominous. I am not sure if I should feel elated, or I should start wearing full body armor.

Lilly Venom: —And I don’t like distractions.

Agent Largo: You are quite the target-oriented girl aren’t you, Lady Lilly?

Lilly Venom: I am a Drashan girl, Agent Largo. Everyone is someone’s target there. And if you are a girl, that number rises exponentially. But I have always believed in celibacy. It removes the option of undesired attractions, and hence, unwanted distractions and complications.

Agent Largo: That’s a bit.. lonesome..

Lilly Venom: Any self-respecting Drashan marries only once, Agent Largo. That being said, there is no such thing as a ‘self-respecting Drashan’, and the only thing we truly marry is ‘death!’

Agent Largo: You make it sound like it’s a proverb.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) It is.. Have you decided what to do?

Agent Largo: I was hoping to get killed in the upcoming battle and save everyone the hassle.

Lilly Venom: No.

Agent Largo: No?

Lilly Venom: No, Agent Largo. You owe me dinner and I refuse to dine with a coward.

Agent Largo: Now, that really was harsh, Lady Lilly. And totally uncalled for.

Lilly Venom: Then go to the boy, knock on his door, or knock it down and say ‘Hi..’, sit down, and explain all your reasons for having done what you did. He might get angry, he might pout, or he might be happy. I would be happy if my mother rose from her grave and came to visit me.. though I doubt she has a grave.. Unclaimed bodies are usually just dumped into the sea with the rest of the derelict, in Drashan..

Agent Largo: That’s.. sad..

Lilly Venom: You don’t really have to act the ‘understanding type’, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: I am not the ‘acting’ type of spy, Lady Lilly. I am the ‘orchestrating’ kind of agent. Though I see nothing to orchestrate, here. Well, actually there is.. with a lot of potential.. but I just don’t want to..

Lilly Venom: By all means, Agent Largo, do!

Agent Largo: No.

Lilly Venom: Why?

Agent Largo: You are a girl with a very special and specific set of skills, Lady Lilly. But you have honor and, diverse as it may seem, you also have integrity. I am afraid, I just don’t feel like playing with and consequently destroying either. Whatever sins I may have done, I have done for my Arashkan. I never wanted you to be part of that even before we met for the same reasons I mentioned above. The only reason I called upon you was because High Lady Angrellen left me little to no choice and I needed help.. desperately..

Lilly Venom: Do I sense ‘tender care’ in all of that?

Agent Largo: (replies with silence)

Lilly Venom: (after an extended, counter-silence, and a sigh) Neither my honor nor my integrity will save me should I ever be subjected to the law, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: Arashkan is destroyed, Lady Lilly, therefore I am no longer the law.. And hence, I feel no obligation whatsoever to turn you in. Funny how that turned out.

Lilly Venom: (more silence) You will likely end up an outlaw too..

Agent Largo: I have been in and out of said law for longer than I can remember but never for personal gain. If for once, I end up doing that, I don’t mind doing it for you.. At all! I will do whatever job I can find, once this war is over and provided I am still alive. As for my son.. He will accept me, perhaps in time, or he will not. I did what I did, to preserve his life. He will either understand this too or not. But if you are willing to be with a fool like me, I am willing to do what it takes, Lady Lilly..

Lilly Venom: My contract with you was—

Agent Largo: —Your contract with me got voided at least twice.. back in Arashkan.. when you saved my life in the tunnel and then again after High Lady Angrellen trampled over us.. And possibly any number of other times I am not even aware of, when you watched my back on our deadly plight to get the civilians and the remaining guards out to the docks, and aboard the ships, Lady Lilly.. So when I say, you have my gratitude, I mean it at its maximum capacity. Many people who are alive now owe their lives to me. Funny how they fail to see, they actually owe it to you..

Lilly Venom: (stares ahead and does not say anything)

Agent Largo: ..We will have to take Prince Korodin in with us, though. Quite unavoidable, really. I did, after all, give my word of honor to Lady Ferrara, and the boy needs training from the best..

Lilly Venom: (snort) A wanted assassin and a former ARIS Agent..

Agent Largo: Like I said; The best..

Lilly Venom: (back to serious) Someone’s bound to notice me eventually, you know.

Agent Largo: I thought all you assassins were good with disguises.

Lilly Venom: We usually are. It’s part of our basic training program.

Agent Largo: There you have it then.. A good handlebar mustache or a chevron, along with a brett, and no one will ever recognize you.

Lilly Venom: (snort) Yes. I am sure no one will recognize me, but everyone will notice you, constantly arm in arm with a guy!

Agent Largo: So you want it to be ‘arm in arm’ and constantly, then?

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) Depends on the dinner, Agent Largo.

Agent Largo: You really have your mindset on that dinner, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Yes. I do.

Agent Largo: Why? I don’t mind a dinner.. many dinners with you, Lady Lilly, but why indeed?

Lilly Venom: Because it will be a first, for me.

Agent Largo: (blink) You mean to tell me, you have never had dinner with anyone in your life?

Lilly Venom: Agent Largo.. Just who would dine with a wanted fugitive such as myself, let alone an unaffiliated, freelancing assassin?

Agent Largo: Apparently, me..

Lilly Venom: That is yet to be seen.. and I think we are here..

Agent Largo: I suppose we are.

Lilly Venom: There are guards at the town gates and they seem to be questioning everyone before they let them in.

Agent Largo: Let me handle the guards, if you will, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Handle away, Agent Largo. I have no issues with a capable man. I have nothing to prove, and neither do you.

Agent Largo: I must disagree. Every man has something to prove, where a pretty girl is involved. If you can accept that, we can move forward.

Lilly Venom: I suppose I must. Since you think me ‘pretty’.. So, yes, I am willing to take that risk.

Agent Largo: (smile) Forward it is, then..

✱ ✱ ✱

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Good afternoon, sir.

Agent Largo: Good afternoon.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: What can I do for you, sir?

Agent Largo: We are Arashkan refugees, to see Dexter Summersong.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: And what business do you have with the town bard? He has a full schedule, training the platoon assigned to him.

Agent Largo: He.. he has?

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Yes, sir. Anyone with any skill sets is expected to train others for the upcoming battle. Any kind of training is of use. You can fill in this form over here, take a number and you will be assigned somewhere, or be assigned to someone..

Agent Largo: I see. I will fill in the forms, but after I see Sir Dexter..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Very well, sir?

Agent Largo: Largo.. Largo Summersong.. And this is Lady Ferra and the young boy is my distant relative, Rodin.

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Alright, sir Largo. I shall send a runner and see if our bard, Dexter, is available. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I can not let you in until there is some sort of vouch —security protocols, you understand..

Agent Largo: Of course..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Perhaps you can take the time to fill in your forms in the meantime, sir? It may take a while for Sir Dexter to get here..

Agent Largo: (sigh) Very well..

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: ARIS Agent? Really? You are actually going to write that?!

Agent Largo: Well, why not? For once in my life, I actually don’t have to lie about my job!

Lilly Venom: Then I guess I will just have to write ‘Assassin For Hire’, in my form, then.

Agent Largo: You.. might not want to do that, Lady Lilly.. For my sake, if not yours..

Lilly Venom: I don’t do lies, Agent Largo. Perhaps you might have noticed that.

Agent Largo: I have.. And it’s made me wonder..

Lilly Venom: A good assassin does not do lies, Agent Largo. Lies constantly require attention to keep track and that clusters the mind. And because I study my contracts very well and plan my exit strategies accordingly so I never have to lie. O.P.G.G.. Observe. Plan. Get in. Get out..

Agent Largo: You really never cease to amaze me, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Also, it is immoral to lie!

Agent Largo: (stares at Lilly)

Lilly Venom: What? Just because I am an assassin, doesn’t mean I lack moral codes, Agent Largo. I kill because it’s my job, not because I enjoy doing it. That is what was available for me to learn to stay afloat at Drashan, so I learned it well. Had I enjoyed it, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because you would have been dead and I would have been elsewhere busy cutting throats.

Agent Largo: Touché.

Lilly Venom: (shrug) It’s the truth.

Agent Largo: Write, ‘Security Advisor’, then. I am guessing you can do that very well.

Lilly Venom: I suppose..

Agent Largo: It won’t be a lie..

Lilly Venom: (sigh) It had better be a very good dinner, Agent Largo..

✱ ✱ ✱

Agent Largo: Here you go, sir. Two forms.. One for me, and one for the lady..

Serenity Home Gate Guard: Thank you, sir Largo. Sir Dexter should be here soon.. Ow.. and here he is.. Sir Dexter. These are the two who wished to see you; Sir Largo and his lady, Ferra..

D.D. Dexter: (stunned) Dad?

Agent Largo: (flustered) Uhhmm.. Hello, son..

D.D. Dexter: (still stunned) You.. You are not dead!

Agent Largo: (still flustered) I.. can explain..

Lilly Venom: (snort)

D.D. Dexter: Who are you?

Lilly Venom: I am the girl your father owes a dinner to!

D.D. Dexter: (stunned and shocked) You have a girlfriend? She is younger than I am, dad!

Agent Largo: (flustered and blushing now) I.. can explain that too..

Lilly Venom: (snort) Your father is alive and well, and you are worried about my age?

D.D. Dexter: (splutter) What the heck, dad?!

Agent Largo: (going down in flames) I…

Lilly Venom: (briskly) Your priorities are mind staggering, boy.

Agent Largo: (dead because of fighting in two fronts now) Uhmm.. Lilly..

Lilly Venom: (mildly agitated) What? After some twenty-odd years, he sees his father, ALIVE, and he is making an issue of my age? Really, now.. I thought bards were a polite bunch, if not smart!

 

(many footsteps approach)

 

Sheriff Standorin: (Udoorin’s father) (stern officious voice) Lilly Venom. You are under arrest and wanted for the murder of Lord Trimdel Kandara of Endless Watch. Please do not resist. Master Aager, please arrest this felon, if you will..

D.D. Dexter: What the..

Agent Largo: Ow crap!

Aager Fogstep: (approaches Lilly with cuffs and hisses at her with an extremely angry, tight voice ) You idiot!

Lilly Venom: (sigh) Well, bugger..

Agent Largo: (more than flustered) Sheriff Standorin—

Sheriff Standorin: (with a heavy club in one hand) And you, former Agent Largo.. You are also under arrest for aiding and abetting a known fugitive. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. I suggest you keep to your silence!

Agent Largo: Sheriff Standorin. You know who I am. You know what I do—

*wham*

Sheriff Standorin: —There.. I appreciate it when criminals heed a good advice when it’s given to them and do stay silent. How about you, Venom, how would you like your reception? The same, perhaps? Or would you rather exercise your right to silence?

Lilly Venom: (shrug) No, I’m good..

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: How are you?

Agent Largo: I hurt. The good sheriff has a heavy hand with that club of his..

Lilly Venom: (heartlessly) I wouldn’t know, Agent Largo. I did not resist.

Agent Largo: (sigh) Well.. That certainly went well!

Lilly Venom: This is sort of embarrassing for me, to be honest. The first time I come to a town with no contracts nor clients, and I am detained and put to jail. Remind me again why we are here?

Agent Largo: The boy.. Where’s he?

Lilly Venom: Which one?

Agent Largo: Both, I guess?

Lilly Venom: Your Dexter was with the Sheriff the time I saw him, though he did come in to check in on you once. You were still out so he just stared at you.. and me as well, I guess, since your head was on my lap.. He was furious and was looking somewhere to lash out. I told him if he tried that in my direction, he would lose everything he thought was dear to him. I might have threatened him with evisceration and death by choking on poisonous darts as well.. We had a small chat after that, though only I spoke. Told him everything you did for him and why.. He didn’t say anything, but he listened, then he left..

Agent Largo: I should have been the one to tell him those.. Not the evisceration and death by poison darts part, obviously.. The other things..

Lilly Venom: Probably. But you were making such a lousy job out of it.. And the boy needed to know.. Hearing it from a third person is sometimes better. Gave him something to think about besides pouting, at least.. He might come around, or he might not. It’s on him now.

Agent Largo: (sighs) Thank you.. Lilly.. What about the prince?

Lilly Venom: They took him elsewhere. I suppose they will question him first for some kind of leverage.

Agent Largo: Korodin won’t tell them anything except that his name is ‘Rodin’ and that I am his distant uncle. And he will keep repeating that.. unless they hurt the boy.. And if they do that, I will get out of here and really murder someone!

Lilly Venom: (a bit surprised) You care for the boy!

Agent Largo: Well, sure.. He is my prince.

Lilly Venom: True. But you personally care for him..

Agent Largo: (sigh) Yes, Lilly.. I personally care for him. He’s young but I suspect he understands what’s going on around him a lot more than he lets on, making him quite brave. He didn’t cry once during our plight from Arashkan, nor on our way to here on the ships.. And we read The Amazing Adventures of Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Anyone who reads that book together, are bro’s for life!

Lilly Venom: (snort) Boys!

Agent Largo: Don’t pun the ‘bros bond’, Lilly. It’s a real thing!

Lilly Venom: (slight frown) I am no longer a Lady, then, Agent Largo? Why am I suddenly not a lady anymore?

Agent Largo: (sigh) We share a cell and that’s as close to any woman I have been since my wife was murdered, and that was more than two decades ago. I believe that calls for a bit of honest sincerity. I don’t think this was the dinner you had in mind but here we are, in a quiet and dim setting.. just like you wanted. We even have candlelight. I am in your hands.. and your lap, quite literally, I might add.

Lilly Venom: (stares down at the face in her lap, studying it, perhaps to finalize a decision)

We have no dinner, Agent Largo..

Agent Largo: Jail food is never really all that good, but it’s always on time. Should arrive soon enough..

Lilly Venom: Very well, Agent Largo.. Will you propose now?

Agent Largo: I was really hoping for better conditions, Lilly.. You deserve better conditions..

Lilly Venom: I think I will be receiving ‘what I deserve’ on the morrow, Agent Largo. I wouldn’t fret about it too much if I were you.

Agent Largo: You could get away, you know.. I am sure these bars can’t keep you..

Lilly Venom: Could say the same thing for you, Agent Largo, but you won’t.. Because of your son and because of the damage it might do to his reputation.. For similar reasons, I won’t either. Just.. not for a son or daughter.. (pauses for a moment, then sighs) And I gave the good sheriff my word that I wouldn’t try to escape, provided he let me stay in the same cell with you.

Agent Largo: Huh! A wasted bargain, if you ask me, though I can’t complain about my current disposition; your lap is surprisingly.. intriguing. Enough to want to know what’s on either end.

Lilly Venom: (amused) A foot on one end, and a hip on the other, Agent Largo, among other things, and you don’t have rights to any of them —at the moment. Not unless you want to embarrass yourself anymore than you already have.

Agent Largo: (snort) Fair enough. I am guessing the other reason you stayed has to do with the person you know in this town?

Lilly Venom: (silence)

Agent Largo: Very well, then.. If I will have more of your breath.. and perhaps get clubbed every once in a while knowing I shall wake up to your lap, then I would very much like to propose. Would you like to spend the rest of your life with me, Ferra Ferrea? To be my wife, my companion, my partner, possibly in crime, and my friend?

Lilly Venom: Yes. I would, Largo Summersong. The rest of my life, short as that maybe, I would like to spend it with you.. Same conditions!

Agent Largo: The name is Lauca, actually.

Lilly Venom: Lauca?

Agent Largo: Means, ‘warm’, in Elvish, though I have no idea what my mother was thinking when she gave me that name. It is supposed to relate to ‘A Warm Summer Song’.. But I have been using Largo since a bit before I joined ARIS because they sound similar and Largo was easier to pronounce. This, however, is a definitive occasion, so I thought at least you should know.

Lilly Venom: Lauca.. Sounds intriguing.. Means, warm?

Agent Largo: Please don’t make too much pun of it. Half-elves tend to get touchy when it comes to certain things.

Lilly Venom: La-yu-ka.. Law-ka.. Am I pronouncing it right?

Agent Largo: Do you want to pronounce it right?

Lilly Venom: I would, yes.

Agent Largo: Why bother?

Lilly Venom: Why bother with Ferra Ferrea?

Agent Largo: Touché.. and point taken, I suppose.

Lilly Venom: I shall call you by this name, from time to time, so we remember a warm summer song!

Agent Largo: That.. actually sounded poetic. Much better than I ever thought it would.

Lilly Venom: I think, I like it..

Agent Largo: Alright. Now we’ll need a witness or two..

Lilly Venom: I believe we have.. a witness or two..

Agent Largo: We do?

Lilly Venom: Yes, we do.. Don’t we, Aager?

Aager Fogstep: (sighs and comes out of the shadows) You really are an idiot, Lilly.. What possessed you to come here? This place is going to burn, and very soon.. and you came here?

Lilly Venom: Hello, Fogstep. Good to see you too.. Less than I wanted to, but here I am..

Aager Fogstep: This isn’t a game, Lilly. I have no authority over the sheriff, and certainly not over the mayor. I thought you were a survivor.

Lilly Venom: I am tired of just surviving, Aager. I have done it all my life. Took a page from your book and I have decided I want to ‘live’ now..

Aager Fogstep: And you came here.. For that.. Just how stupid are you?

Inshala Frostmane: (comes out from behind Aager) That is not nice, my Aager. I do not think Lilly is stupid. I think her to be extremely smart. Certainly smart enough to make all the correct choices, when we were back at Arashkan.

Lilly Venom: And, here is our inseparable second witness..

Inshala Frostmane: Hello, Ferra.

Lilly Venom: Hello, girl.. You have grown some. And you glow more..

Inshala Frostmane: (blush) I.. I do?

Lilly Venom: Yes. You were scared all the time, the last time I saw you. Now you look.. free!

Agent Largo: Don’t mind me. I’ll just lie down here and nurse the bump on my head.

Lilly Venom: (to Aager) Do you want to introduce yourself, or should I?

Aager Fogstep: (shrug)

Agent Largo: I know who he is. He is SIS —Serenity Intelligence Service; pseudo-named, Aager Fogstep. Single. Real name; unknown. Mother; unknown. Father; unknown. Siblings; rumored to have one, though his or her gender is unknown and presumed dead. He is also a former Drashan convict.. His ‘apparent’ job is being the right hand of Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. He was one among others to have brought down Themalsar. There are any number of murders attributed to him, though none of them have been proven, nor verified.. The girl, I do not know. None of the spies I sent could get any information about her, back when she, sir Aager here, and their diverse other companions first came to Arashkan and started asking questions about Gar Thalot.. We found out who all her friends were.. Just not her and the one other girl who slept on the roof of the inn they were staying. It’s like neither of them ever existed before. We couldn’t even put a name to them. Heck, we couldn’t even scry them! It was like.. they both were off limits!

Lilly Venom: I am inclined to be impressed, Agent Largo, though I don’t think Aager here qualifies as single and his sibling’s name is ‘me’.

Agent Largo: (confused) Me?

Lilly Venom: (silent smile)

Agent Largo: (somewhat horrified expression) YOU?

Lilly Venom: (sumgly) Yup!

Agent Largo: (stunned silence)

Lilly Venom: Yes, Agent Largo, he is my elder brother.. I am not at liberty to divulge who or what the other one is, but this cute little girl, here, is Inshala Frostmane. Aager’s girl, woman, mate.. I have thus failed to put a name to what they are, to one another. Nothing seems to sufficiently cover their relation.. In all candor, though, it is likely she is the best thing that’s happened to me in my life and I am happy to call her my sister.. Other than that, I am not aware if she has any other title.

Inshala Frostmane: (beam) I am here in my ‘Ritual Guardian’ capacity, dear Ferra..

Lilly Venom: I do not know what that means.

Agent Largo: I do, and it is an immense ‘capacity’.. I thought the good Master Cathber was killed in his sleep. I wasn’t aware he had any students in training.

Inshala Frostmane: (quietly) He had me. And I had him. He was my Father and my Master since I was a month old.

Agent Largo: I am sorry, young lady. I knew Master Cathber personally and deeply revered him. Now.. Master Aager, and Ritual Guardian, if you would be kind enough to put in a good word for Lady Lilly here, I would be grateful. I shall suffer my punishment, whatever it may be.

Lilly Venom: How very noble of you, Sir Agent Largo! I wasn’t aware I was getting a knight in shining armor when I asked for that dinner.

Agent Largo: I apologize, Lilly. But it comes as part of the package!

Inshala Frostmane: (beaming) I have no idea what you just said, but it sounded so sweet. And I didn’t know you were a knight, Sir Largo. I will ask them to release both you and my elder sister Ferra and also to kindly return your shiny armor.

Agent Largo: !

Lilly Venom: (snort)

Aager Fogstep: (snort)

✱ ✱ ✱

Sheriff Standorin: You seem to have left out quite a bit of your personal life, Master Aager. I thought you said your sister was dead.

Aager Fogstep: I thought she was dead, too. Her unexpected appearance in Arashkan did take me off guard.

Sheriff Standorin: I see no mention of this in your reports. Are we making private exemptions, then?

Aager Fogstep: (cooly) Yes and no, Sheriff. Some of the things that happened at Arashkan never got mentioned for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. Suffice to say, putting them in writing would have been too damning for the people involved, which includes our esteemed Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane, and by proxy, Ranger Master Davien Hart. Master Nimbletyne Tinkerdome’s niece, Master Gnine, and by his proxy, back to his uncle. Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist and High Lady Anglenna Sunsear of High Woods and Bari Na-ammen, damning Ri Grandaleren Feymist and Rise Nadine Graciousward, again, by proxy.. Our Senior Temple Guardian Lady Magella, and by her proxy, Master Argail Smitefast and pretty much all her extended family at Scowling Hills, and the deceased Demos Lightshand. Then we have Udoorin Shieldheart, your son, who also happens to be the betrothal of Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, hence damning her again. And since he’s your son, that would be damning you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart of Serenity Home town, by a similar proxy. Last but not least, myself, and by my proxy, damning you again! The Ritual Guardian, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, here, and ‘The Celestial’ girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu, never got mentioned as neither of them are within our kingdoms’ jurisdictions.. The title of ‘Ritual Guardian’ is not bestowed by the king nor his vassals, but by the Ritual Forest itself and I shudder to even contemplate just who has any jurisdiction over Merisoul Xyrotwu, other than ‘The Great Heavens’.. What was put into writing, however, was done so from a distinctly ‘relevance’ point of view.

Sheriff Standorin: (amused) Nicely done, Master Aager. You have threatened damning everyone of note in this town and people of the highest status among our neighbors. Not to mention damning my own son, my future daughter in law and myself —twice, I might add..

Aager Fogstep: (coldly) You didn’t bring me here from Drashan to play ball, Sheriff. You brought me here to be the solution!

Agent Largo: (snicker) I did offer to take him off your hands years ago, Sheriff..

Sheriff Standorin: (ignores Agent Largo and glares at Aager) Just how damning are we talking about, here?

Aager Fogstep: (total silence)

Sheriff Standorin: (sigh and turns to Lilly Venom) Says here, in your form, you are a ‘Security Advisor’, Miss Ferra?

Lilly Venom: Ferra is my given name, Sheriff Standorin. And that would be ‘Mrs.’ Not, ‘Miss’..

Sheriff Standorin: (cocked eyebrow) I wasn’t aware the infamous Lilly Venom was married.

Lilly Venom: I would have been surprised if you were. It happened just last night!

Agent Largo: (cough)

Sheriff Standorin: You can’t be serious!

Agent Largo: I have been. For quite some time, now.

Lilly Venom: (smile)

Sheriff Standorin: What the hell do they put into the prison food?!

Agent Largo: I resent that.

Sheriff Standorin: (irritated) What am I expected to do now?

Agent Largo: (shrug) That’s up to you, Sheriff Standorin. This is my home, but it’s your town.

Sheriff Standorin: I suppose you will spill everything should I try to send you to the gallows, Mrs. Lilly?

Lilly Venom: (shrug) I am an Assassin —or a ‘Security Advisor’, if you will, Sheriff. I kill people for a living and I am very good at it. Whether I shall keep doing that is up to consideration at the moment, but I don’t do two things; lies and blackmail.

Agent Largo: I do.. And yes, the irony in that is sort of disturbing, but in this case, I shall uphold Lady Ferra’s wishes.. and honor..

Sheriff Standorin: (scowl) This is a mess, Master Aager. Please tell me the ‘solution’ in all this.

Aager Fogstep: (shrug) Hire Agent Largo as part of the Covert Ops team and let him do what he’s good at doing. Hire Lady Ferra, here, as a Security Advisor, as written in her form, and let her do what she’s good at doing. This town can’t stay a town any longer, Sheriff, even should we win the war. You know this to be true. We have tens of thousands of refugees of all races and The Ritual Guardian is doing everything she can to keep the weather ‘mild’ and the ground warm so they don’t freeze to death and so there’s is still some crops growing and hence, food available for the all those hungry mouths. It is also because of her and the druidic elves that survived High Woods we assigned to her that there haven’t been any breakouts.. All those refugees will, however, and eventually, require a roof over their heads, and said homes will require a much, much larger security team.. I am guessing Yuleman already knows this also. Everyone is working hard now and for a common cause because there are a hundred and fifty thousand Orken coming this way. But that’s all going to change, should we win the day and the threat of imminent death is gone. Especially should we win the day and the threat of imminent death is gone..

 

(silence for a long, smoldering moment)

 

Sheriff Standorin: (sigh) Very well, Master Aager. I shall take this up to Mayor Yuleman. In the meantime, Master Largo and Lady Lilly will stay in your residence, Master Aager. They may get out into your garden, but they shall not leave the premises. Agreed?

Agent Largo: Agreed.

Lilly Venom: I suppose so..

Agent Largo: I need some rest, anyway. Been running back and forth for weeks now.

Lilly Venom: (cooly) Not tonight, you aren’t!

Agent Largo: (stammer)

Sheriff Standorin: (sigh) Go get the Temple Guardian Thomas here to officialize and formalize their wedding, if you will Master Aager.

Aager Fogstep: (quietly) Yes, sir.. And.. Thank you, sir..

 

(after Agent Largo and Lilly Venom are escorted out)

 

Sheriff Standorin: Is she as good as they say she is?

Aager Fogstep: (slight frown) She killed me, once!

Sheriff Standorin:

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: That was one hell of a speech you gave back there. I am impressed. This place has done you good.

Aager Fogstep: The good sheriff might be a harsh man, but he isn’t unreasonable.

Lilly Venom: (after a moment of pause) Will you give me away, Brother? When your Temple Guardian comes to officiate our marriage?

Aager Fogstep: Bit late to be asking me that question, don’t you think?

Lilly Venom: (quietly) I am.. I am trying, Aager.. This is me, taking those steps..

Aager Fogstep: (silent stare)

Lilly Venom: (returning the silent stare)

Aager Fogstep: Where’s your.. Largo?

Lilly Venom: Outside. Behind the house, talking to his son.

Aager Fogstep: You are okay with him having a son? Not that it should matter and Dexter is a decent man. But the fact remains; both are quite older than you. Agent Largo in particular.

Lilly Venom: It isn’t like the age disparity is all that much, you know. Well, it is, but he’s a half-elf. By the time I am old and crooked, should I see those days, he will still be of mild age.. And to be honest, his age never bothered me, considering how much I dislike fools and loath men in general. I think, being forced to work in Madam’s brothel when I came to age, back in Drashan did that to me.. Do you even know, or have any idea what it feels like to be groped or fondled by a total, filthy stranger who is leering at you with unwanted desire when you are barely twelve?

Aager Fogstep: (in pure, silent wrath) No.

Lilly Venom: You are naked. In all kinds of ways. You are shivering. Not because it’s cold, but because you are so scared. You have no idea what you are expected to do and everyone and everything is looming over you and they are all so much bigger than you.. All you know is you are about to be used and it’s going to hurt and you are going to cry because you are just a small, skinny, powerless girl.. You are going to cry and it will not matter because it won’t change the fact that it’s still going to keep on hurting in places that you shouldn’t be hurting.. Not at that age.. All you have is a tiny knife that you are allowed to use if the man likes beating his girls.. I was so scared that I couldn’t even move.. He became angry.. I don’t know at which point I sliced him open! But when I woke up, I had a cracked head and a bloody face, and he was dead. That was my first kill.. Then I decided to do the same for the next half dozen or so men as well. I just stood there, unmoving, and I was scared all the time.. Eventually, though, it would anger the men and they would slam me around and I would slice them open! That is when they sold me off to the Cutters Guild.. (sigh) I don’t think I could have found someone my age that fit my tastes since I really, truly, and quite mindlessly loathed men.. All men.. Still do, really. Largo.. He has.. seen things.. Bad things.. And over the course of years longer than either of us seen put together.. It has made him mature.. And serious.. Yet he still clings to that lame sense of humor of his. It is pathetic, really.. But I find it.. endearing.. if you could believe that. Yes, I freely admit I like those qualities in him. I.. I don’t think he will grope me like those animals. I think he will treat me.. right.. and alright..

Aager Fogstep: So you love—

Lilly Venom: Aaaaaaa! La, La, La, La, La, La, La !!!

Aager Fogstep: (confused) What?

Lilly Venom: I don’t want to talk THAT with you! I don’t like you that much, yet! Or rather, I don’t know you that much yet.. Brother..

Aager Fogstep: Fair enough.

Lilly Venom: (sigh) I don’t think we will ever be like the way you and Inshala are.

Aager Fogstep: What way would that be?

Lilly Venom: Wierd?

Aager Fogstep: (snort) Huh!

Lilly Venom: To be honest, I wouldn’t want to, either.. Too much effort, too much work, too much pain.. and too many emotions for my taste. I just want honesty, care, and reliance —both ways.. But I also want a certain amount of privacy reserved for ourselves too..

Aager Fogstep: Also, fair enough. I am happy for you.

Lilly Venom: You.. you are?

Aager Fogstep: (shrug) Yes.

Lilly Venom: This conversation went.. better than I expected!

Aager Fogstep: Just what kind of a beast do you think I am, Lilly, to mess up your happiest day?

Lilly Venom: (carefully suspicious) I am sorry. Hard to change everything, all at once.

Aager Fogstep: (straight face) Besides. You are TOTALLY his problem now!

Lilly Venom: (scowl) I knew it!

Aager Fosgstep: But I would rather you took your man and left. Gone.. Far away..

Lilly Venom: Why don’t you?

Aager Fogstep: (quietly, and after a pause) I can’t.

Lilly Venom: Why?

Aager Fogstep: (silent moment) This.. is my home now. And my Inshala’s forest.. I won’t give up my home, she won’t give up her forest..

Lilly Venom: Largo will not go. They destroyed his home. He does not show it, probably for my sake, but it’s tearing him apart. I strongly suspect he wants to die in as bloody a way as possible in the coming war.

Aager Fogstep: Why marry him then?

Lilly Venom: Because I.. want him.. per se.. And to give him another reason not to do what he foolishly wants to do.. Besides, we will likely go into the battle together. I’ll just have to watch his back..

Aager Fogstep: You are going into a battle.. because of an idiot?

Lilly Venom: No, brother. I am going to war because I want to preserve what’s mine.. And to earn my own ‘home’..

Aager Fogstep: You are an idiot too, then!

Lilly Venom: Perhaps.. Wonder what that makes you?

Aager Fogstep: The elder brother of an idiot!

Lilly Venom: (scowl)

Aager Fogstep: (snort)

Lilly Venom: Where’s your pretty girl? Where’s Inshala?

Aager Fogstep: She’s up the tree in the garden, trying to convince it to bloom.

Lilly Venom: Do I even want to know why?

Aager Fogstep: The tree is supposed to have very pretty pink flowers. She wants you to share them with your Largo.

Lilly Venom: (stunned) What? I am..

Aager Fogstep: Speechless?

Lilly Venom: Well, yes!

Aager Fogstep: She loves you.

Lilly Venom: I am flattered but how can she love me? Considering how little she knows me, and how horribly I treated her back in Arashkan.

Aager Fogstep: She has a great heart. And it seems she has a distinct affinity to seeing the depths of the souls in people. I can’t imagine what, but it appears she has found something she finds lovable in you.

Lilly Venom: You are not as funny as you think you are.

Aager Fogstep: I am funny?

Lilly Venom: What will you do? We.. seem to have barged into your home.

Aager Fogstep: (shrug) Sisters’ prerogative, I suppose.

Lilly Venom: (scowl)

Aager Fogstep: It’s alright, really. We will take our rest in the temple dormitories, or more likely next to some campfire —it’s a bit too crowded in the temple for my taste. We still have a lot of work until the day’s end, though. Inshala has to coordinate and make sure the ground stays warm and the weather mild for the refugees and I have two teams I need to continue training. One in the afternoon, which I should be heading soon, and the other at night and will take all night. ‘Infiltration, Blind Fighting, and Ambush!’

Lilly Venom: Oww.. Ambush! I could help you with that.

Aager Fogstep: No.

Lilly Venom: Why not?

Aager Fogstep: This one is an advanced group of former Bari Na-ammen vets and rangers, hence we will be using live weapons and I don’t want you bleeding back to your.. husband.. Besides, you should make good use of your time.. Nights in particular—

Lilly Venom: La, La, La, La, La, La, La —I am not listening to you..

Aager Fogstep: (snort) See you tomorrow morning, then.

Lilly Venom: (quietly) Aager?

Aager Fogstep: Hmm?

Lilly Venom: Thank you.

Aager Fogstep: Thank me when this is over and the ones we love are still alive.

Lilly Venom: (hug)

Aager Fogstep: (strained voice) You.. aren’t going to try and stab me are you?

Lilly Venom: I just might..

Aager Fogstep: Care for a slice of advice?

Lilly Venom: From you? No.. But say it anyway. I might listen.

Aager Fogstep: Lose some, to win some.

Lilly Venom: What the hell kind of an advice is that?

Aager Fogstep: The kind I gave to myself, though mine was, lose all, to win all! You are a smart girl. I know because my Inshala said so! I am sure it’ll come to you in time. Now, go on to your hubby, baby sister!

Lilly Venom:

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: Are you done?

Agent Largo: Almost.

D.D. Dexter: I still can’t believe this.

Agent Largo: I am sorry Dex. After what happened to your mother, I wasn’t going to trust anyone from ARIS where you were concerned. This town was the safest place I could think of and still give you a happy life. You know what is coming. You know the score.. I was ARIS and I had to do something for Arashkan without a constant threat on your life.. I can’t even tell you how many of my friends, my co-workers, and their families were assassinated in the past thirty years.

D.D. Dexter: I know the reasons, father. It’s just..

Lilly Venom: (briskly) Give it time. You’ll get used to it.

D.D. Dexter: You are.. intense.. If you don’t mind me saying so, Lady Lilly.

Lilly Venom: Just ‘Lilly’ will do.. Considering all the effort I gave to make your father quit calling me that. As for intense.. Guess Agent Largo here will find out soon enough.

Agent Largo: (fluster, flush and blush) Lilly.. Please.. This is my son, for Heaven’s sake!

Lilly Venom: (heartless laugh) And he isn’t nine, Agent Largo. He’s older than I am!

D.D. Dexter: (cough)

Agent Largo: (blush some more)

Lilly Venom: Are you ashamed of me, Largo, that you keep blushing?

Agent Largo: No. Never that. It’s just.. a bit of an uncomfortable topic, that’s all..

Lilly Venom: There you have it, Dexter. He loves you enough to be embarrassed in front of you. Which is the only time I have seen him actually blush like this. You, Dexter, must understand; he did what he did to you, knowingly and deliberately because he had to. And now he has decided to share a life with me, knowingly and deliberately. Your father is a smart man, Dexter. I don’t think he would have been fooled by my approaches, because I am not really a ‘girly’ girl.. He accepted me because he wanted me. Considering just how loyal he has been to your mother’s memory for the past twenty years, I would say he deserves a break, wouldn’t you? Take that into account before you dish out judgments. We just came from Hell itself. There is no name for the blood and carnage we saw in Arashkan. We didn’t watch it from a distance, Dexter.. We were there.. On the ground, fighting, bleeding, and saving lives.. At least your father was.. All I did was to try and stay alive, and watched his back.. Your father needs respite and I hope he finds it with me. Will you not allow him to have that much before we go back into that Hell? Because whether we want it or not, Hell is coming our way as we speak!

D.D. Dexter: (stare with open mouth)

Lilly Venom: Now. If you would please, I would like to have a few, private moments with Agent Largo..

D.D. Dexter: Of course. I will see you later today, or perhaps in the evening when my duties are over.. (pause) On the other hand, tomorrow will be a better time.

Lilly Venom: Tomorrow will be fine. Thank you for being considerate.

D.D. Dexter: (mumble) Not like I was given much of a choice.

Lilly Venom: Best kind of choice offered. Which makes sense, since this really isn’t anything you should be making a choice over, should you think about it with an open mind. The only thing that concerns you is whether you will honor the choices your father had to make to keep you safe and alive and wish him some happiness and that he finds it with me.. or sulk about it.

✱ ✱ ✱

Lilly Venom: I am sorry if I was a bit abrupt with your boy.

Agent Largo: I won’t complain. Had you not said the things you said, when I was still out, I don’t think we would have made any headway today.

Lilly Venom: I just didn’t give him the time to do or say things you both would have regretted, by making myself the target of his possible ire.

Agent Largo: You didn’t have to do that, Lilly.

Lilly Venom: But I did it anyway. I saw enough sad and stupid in my life, Largo. And I am tired of it. We can either carry that particular baggage into our lives or keep it out. This.. this is something I learned.. or rather, ‘was shown’, really, by my bother, Aager, and his skinny little woman.. But he.. they proved to me it could be done and I want to give it a shot. I will sweat for it, bleed for it, war for it, but want you to be there for it..

Agent Largo: (smile) We are back to ‘shots’? Where is the boy, Prince Korodin, by the way?

Lilly Venom: He is with Inshala.

Agent Largo: I don’t really know Lady Inshala. Can she be trusted?

Lilly Venom: More than either of us. She will ‘care’ for him like no other.. Now, quit dodging. Will you go for it?

Agent Largo: I am here, aren’t I?

 

(pale pink flowers start to fall all around them..)

 

Agent Largo: (surprised) What’s this? Cherry blooms in the middle of winter?

Lilly Venom: (looks up at the thousands of pink, cherry blooms flaking down with a glowing face and shimmering eyes, and whispers)

Inshala, baby girl.. Thank you..

✱ ✱ ✱

It is the first few days of December and evening has settled over a white Serenity Home. It is quiet and kind tonight and a barely discernable warm wind seems to blow from Gull’s Perch as if Mab and Titania have come to a rare understanding. There is a great, awe-inspiring, beautiful cherry tree in bloom in a garden in this town and there is a small ‘home’ next to this tree.

A home where people ‘belong’..

In this home, there is a young woman with a boldly handsome face and she shivers even though there is a cheery fire crackling in the small grate. Carefully, she takes off her long, brown leather trench coat, revealing an exquisitely made dress; a pale green loose blouse, a very dark royal green tight bodice with many laces complimenting her narrow hips, her slim waist, her slightly gaunt belly, and her pleasant-looking breasts, hiding in her blouse. A long skirt of the same color embroidered with delicate, silver threads and slits on either side flow down her hips to her bare feet, carefully displaying parts of her slender, naked legs..

The young woman shivers again, her hands in tight fists by her hips, and has trouble looking up at the maturely handsome blonde man standing a bare foot in front of her. The man has a slight frown on his face as if trying to discern a last-minute vex, for the small, single-room home is thread-bare to be sure, but it is warm.

The young, boldly handsome woman, however, is as if knot, and her lovely dark eyes seem to be staring only at his hands.

 

Lilly Venom: Will you have me now?

Agent Largo: Lilly? What’s wrong—

Lilly Venom: If you are, I would like you to take my daggers, all my knives, my darts, and my shark teeth away from me.

Agent Largo: Why? If you won’t mind me asking—

Lilly Venom: (looks up at her husband’s face, then at his hands again and whispers in trepidation)

I am scared.

And I do not want to kill you..


 
Epilogue

 

The boldly handsome young woman is as if staring down at her own bare feet as she speaks in a low, hoarse, throaty, and barely audible voice, her face burning with defiant rage and with a kind of a lost shame. She fidgets as she speaks but her eyes are in fact affixed on the blond man’s hands as if expecting them to move for an assault at any time.

 

Lilly Venom: You are the first man I have liked. And been this close to. And that almost includes my brother. I have loathed men all my life and killed many because they couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. If this is an issue for you, I will try to understand, even should you want to leave.

Agent Largo: (stares at the girl, silently)

Lilly Venom: It isn’t like I am the only girl around.

Agent Largo: (continues to stares at the girl silently)

Lilly Venom: I can’t claim I am much of a catch, either.

Agent Largo: (still silent)

Lilly Venom: You are a handsome man, after all. I have seen any number of girls looking in your direction on the ship while we were sailing here..

Agent Largo: (persistently silent)

Lilly Venom: And yes, I am aware I should have said something about this before. But in my defense, it isn’t something I wanted myself to remember, let alone admit to someone else. It is not exactly table conversation; hey, I loath men, and I tend to slice them open when they come too near!

Agent Largo: (absolute silence)

Lilly Venom: I would rather you said something.. or left..

Agent Largo: (finally speaks, in a dry, gravelly voice) I don’t really know what I should say and still stay safely unbleeding..

Lilly Venom: (scowls while still looking down)

Agent Largo: That you think so little of yourself, and by doing so, you think so little of me, since choosing one another was consensual and you are basically accusing me of having bad taste! That you would notice the girls staring at me, but not notice the constant scowl I had for all the young men ogling at you on that same ship, and why I never returned the wonts of any of those girls but stayed as close to you as I could, while trying very hard not to crowd you. That you think I would leave because you have some issues, serious as they may be. And last but not least, that you would want me to strip you of your weapons, yet never asked me to remove mine..

Lilly Venom: (stares at the man)

Agent Largo: No one is ‘just right’, Lilly. We all have our issues. I will not belittle yours. But at least it is a relatively tangible problem that has its own solutions. I carry the guilt of Arashkan, dear Lilly. The blood of thousands are on my hands because of my failures and there is neither a cure and nor any redeeming salvation for that.

Lilly Venom: You can’t blame yourself because of what happened there. Everyone was at fault for that failure. Everyone ‘failed’.

Agent Largo: True. But I am the only one left alive to have to live with it. The dead feel no guilt!.. But that’s another, and certainly not a ‘tonight’ matter, for you have worked hard to give me some respite and I shall not let that go to waste.

Lilly Venom: Very well. I shall do more, if I must, to carry that guilt with you, only if I can’t wash it off you. What.. solution do you offer?

 

Agent Largo slowly takes off his coat, folds it neatly, and puts it aside. Then, even more slowly, he reaches for the girl and smoothly strips one of her daggers from her.. and cooly tosses it aside and out of reach.

 

Agent Largo: There. Your turn!

 

The boldly handsome girl ogles at the man for a frightened, breath-held moment, then, and inadvertently, she smiles, for suddenly she knows this is a game. A game she is certain to win.. She does a quick, mental inventory: the other pair of the long, close-quarter combat dagger, sixteen short-range throwing knives, half a dozen shark teeth, any number of garrotes, and two dozen poison darts!

 

Lilly Venom: (smirks) You will run out of ‘steel’ before I do!

Agent Largo: (smirks back) And what are you willing to bet on that?

A red glare appears over the Gull’s Perch to the east, and very slowly, the sun starts to rise and Serenity Home stirs with a lazy and reluctant yawn.

The night, however, hasn’t all gone to waste;

Lilly Venom loses some and wins some..

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A Bard’s Tale XII
“Tinker This!” – I

A Bard’s Tale XII
“Tinker This!” – I

Timeline:

Bir gnome ve onun sorun çıkarma kapasitesi ve bela potansiyelini anlatan bir hikaye: Gnine Tinkerdome.

Arashkan şehrine vardıktan kısa bir süre sonra, beklenmedik bir şekilde kaçırılan Gnine, kendisini şehir arenasının altındaki zindanlarda, zincirlenmiş bir şekilde bulur.

Karanlıkta sabahın, sonrasında ise muhtemelen arenaya çıkmayı ve hayatı için tek başına mücadele vermeyi beklerken geçmişi ve o güne kadar yaptıklarını değerlendirir..

..zira ölümü beklerken yapacak başka bir şeyi yoktur.

Bu hikaye, Gnine’ın hikayeler serisinin ilkidir.

 

 

Kaçma edepsiz bücür!”

Gerisin geriye baktığında, bu Gnine “Ninehundredandninetynine” Tinkerdom’un bir zamanlar belki de en sık duyduğu şeydi. Tabii, arkasından! Aklı başında hiçbir gnome, kendisine “Kaçma edepsiz bücür”, diye bağırılırken durup beklemez.

Burada ‘akıllı’ ifadesini de olabildiğince geniş ve göreceli bir şekilde kullandığımızın farkındasınızdır, diye umuyoruz. Sanırım, ‘hayatta kalma içgüdüsü’, daha yerinde olurdu..

..ve Gnine Tinkerdome’un hayatta kalma içgüdüsü ta küçük yaştan itibaren oldukça gelişmiş olduğunu söyleyebiliriz.

Buna rağmen şu anda, şimdi, Gnine’ın morali oldukça düşüktür zira ilk defa yakalanmış, zincire vurulmuş ve karanlık bir zindana atılmıştır.

Dahası, nedenini bile bilmemektedir.

“Shit!”, diye küfür eder cesurca.. Lady burada olmadığına göre, istediğim kadar da küfür edebilirim nasıl olsa, diye düşünür Gnine acı bir şekilde.

“Shit..!”, diye yineler kendisini. “Zindandayım ve daha bir şey bile yapmadım!”

Acı dolu deneme-yanılmalarla bileklerine takılmış, oradan da duvardaki koca bir halkaya geçirilmiş prangaların, bir şekilde büyü yapmasını engellediğini anlamış, zincirleri saatlerce çekiştirmesi de hiçbir sonuç vermemiştir. Öyle ki, karanlıkta bir yerden bıkmış bir ses, “KES ARTIK ŞUNU“, diye bağırmıştır.

Gnine, karanlıktaki adamdan bilgi almaya çalışsa da, öğrendiği ve kesin olan tek şey, Arashkan şehrinin arenasının altındaki zindanlardan birinde olduğudur.

“Ne yani, beni arenaya mı çıkartacaklar?”, diye hayret içerisinde inler Gnine.

Karanlıktaki sesin sahibinin kıkırdadığını duyar.

“Hayır evlat. Sen sadece yemsin. Benim yaşamam için senin ölmen gerekecek. Seni öldürmek için harcayacakları saniye, benim hayatta kalmama yetecek saniye olacak!”

Bu laf üzerine Gnine’ın yüzü, fena halde alınmış bir şekilde kararır.

Hiçbir şey olmazsa, en az üç saniye ayakta ve hayatta kalacağını düşünür.

✱ ✱ ✱

Genç gnome, geçmişini düşünür.

Annesini, babasını, altı erkek ve dokuz kız kardeşini..

Bu kadar çok kardeşi olunca, annesi de, babası da en sonunda yılmış, dokuzuncu çocukları olan kendisine “Gnine” adını vermişlerdi. Kendisinden sonra doğan kardeşlerine ise; “Thein”, “Efelen”, Twerf”, Thirkeen”, “Fortin” ve “Fifthein” diye isimlendirmişlerdi.

Gnine bu konuda her zaman en şanslısının kendisini olduğunu düşünmüştü. “Twentein” ya da “Thirteinensleven” gibi bir şey de olabilir di, diye geçirmişti alkından.

Beklenmedik, şiddetli bir patlama ve akabinde gerçekleşen göçükte, Tinker Hills’deki yer altı evleri, bir çok başka evle beraber çökünce, Gnine kendisini bir anda yapayalnız kalmış olarak bulmuştu..

Biraz şimdiki gibi.

Yapayalnız, aç, karanlıkta ve ölümü bekler bir vaziyette.

En azından o zaman zincirlenmemişti hiçbir yere.

Biraz düşününce, günler sonra çıkarılıncaya kadar, tıkılı kaldığı göçükte de pek kıpırdıyamamıştı, dolayısıyla zincir onun için bir upgrade’di diyebiliriz aslında!

Yine geri dönüp baktığında, annesinin, babasının, altı erkek ve dokuz kız kardeşinin hayatta olması karşılığında şansından feragat edip “Thirteinensleven” olmayı tercih ederdi..

✱ ✱ ✱

Kaçma edepsiz bücür!”

Gnine, bu ifadeyi arkasından kaç defa duyduğunu hatırlayamaz. Hatırladığı bir şey varsa, o da bu ifadeyi tam olarak hak etmiş olmasıydı..

..muhtemelen!

Gnine hayatında bir çok şey denemişti. Bir çok farklı iş, kılık, meslek.. birisinde hoşuna giden bir şey mi gördü, hemen gördüğü kişinin kılığına girer ve onun gibi olmaya çalışırdı.

Sorun; kılığına girdiği kişinin sahip olduğu tecrübelerden mahrum olmasıydı. Dolayısıyla büründüğü kimliğin işini yapmaya kalkınca da, ortalık bir anda beklenmedik bir kargaşa eşliğinde karışmıştı.

Kılığına girdiği ve denediği ilk mesleği, ironik bir şekilde, Tinker Hill’s arenasında boks şampiyonluğuydu. Daha on bir yaşındaydı ve hayatının en fena dayağını yemişti. Hıncını alamayan Gnine, turnuva çıkışında kendisini döven gence, iplerden, makaralardan, katran ve samandan oluşan karmakarışık bir tuzak hazırlamış, ancak olay beklediği gibi gelişmemiş ve çıkan yangında yedi çadırın yanmasına sebep olmuştu.

“Kaçma edepsiz bücür!” ifadesini de ilk defa o zaman duymuştu..

✱ ✱ ✱

Gnine karanlıkta çok cılız bir ses duyar. Bu sesi duymasının sebebi, son iki, üç ayda edindiği zorlu tecrübelerden kaynaklandığını anladığında birden irkilir ve ilk ateş topu kullandığında yaptığı yanlış hesaplamanın sonuçlarını gördüğünde tepesine basan korkuyu hisseder.

Karanlıkta birisi, fevkalade sessiz adımlarla ilerlemektedir.

“Aager?!”, diye tıslar Gnine istemsiz bir umutla.

Hayatında ilk defa o asık yüzlü, pis bakışlı, mel’un herifi gördüğüne mutlu olur.

Ama karanlığın içinden gelen ses çok hafif hırıltılı, dolgun, tok ve bariz bir şekilde feminen bir sestir.

“Aager? Aager Fogstep mi?”, diye kıkırdar ses.

Gnine olduğu yerde dona kalır ve yaptığı hatadan dolayı kendi kendisine lanet eder.

“Shit!”, diye de üstüne küfür eder zira iş işten geçmiştir artık.

Karanlıktaki dolgun, çok hafif hırıltılı ses “Çok ayıp sayın Tinkerdome, ama isabetli!”, der ve sanki Gnine’ın tam dibinde gibidir.

“Bu şehirde beni tanımayan birileri var mı yaa? Siz kimsiniz?”, diye tıslar Gnine.

“Herkes değil. Sadece seni öldürmek isteyenler..”, diye bir cevap gelir karanlıktan.

“Belli ki siz beni tanıyorsunuz. Ama ben sizin kim olduğunuzu bilmiyorum. Nezaket, iki kişi karşılaştıklarında birbirlerini tanıtmasını gerektirir. Kimsin sen?”, diye ısrar eder Gnine.

“Fogstep’in neden sana sinir olduğunu anlamak çok da zor değil. Bu sadece bir tahmin ama sanıyorum ki seni defalarca boğmak istemiştir!”, der ses gülüyormuş gibi. “Ölüm arenasının altındasın. Pis bir zindana, zincirlenmiş bir şekilde tıkılmış durumdasın ve nezaket bekliyorsun..”

“Bu bir prensip meselesi..”, diye ‘hıf’lar Gnine.

“Seni buraya prensiplerin.. ve aptallığın getirdi Tinkerdome! Ve aptalların prensipleri para etmez..”, der kadın ve..

“..Bir saniye!”, diye ekler ironik bir şekilde ve kadının sesi uzaklaşır..

Bir an ortam sessizleşir.

Gnine nefesini tutmuş, iyice kulak kabartmış, karanlıkta bir şeyler duymaya çalışır.

..ve duyar!

İleriden, daha önce konuştuğu adamın olduğu yerden hafif bir darp ve ardından da bir inleme sesi gelir ve ortam yine sessizleşir.

Gnine yutkunur..

Neden sonra, hemen dibinde küçük bir mum yanar ve Gnine ilk kez, kendisiyle konuşan kadını görür.

Gnine ister istemez, “Wow.. ne kadar güzelsin!”, diye ünler!

Önündeki parmaklıkların diğer yanında duran kadın, yirmili yaşlarındadır ve gerçekte geleneksel anlamda güzel olmaktan çok, solgun bir cazibesi vardır.

Gnine’ın görebildiği kadarıyla kızın üzerinde sade, gösterişsiz, daha çok işlevsel amaçlı kıyafetler mevcuttur. Kızın elindeki kanlı ince hançer ve belindeki kısa kılıç dışında görünürde herhangi bir başka silahı yoktur. Gnine, kıza baktıkça onun ayrıntılarını daha belirgin bir şekilde farkeder; sıska, uzun kol ve bacaklarını, ince belini, düz, uzun saçlarını, zarif olduğu kadar sahibine hafif cüretkar bir hava veren burnunu, dolgun, acı dudaklarını ve keskin, cansız gözlerini.. Bu ayrıntılar, tekil olarak ele alındığında, her biri sanki bir başka kişiyi anlatmaktadır. Ancak kümülatif bir şekilde bakıldığında ise kızın bambaşka bir hikayesi olduğunu açıkça bir şekilde söylemektedir ne var ki Gnine, kızın çok küçük yaştan gerekli ve elzem besinlerden mahrum kalmış birisi olması dışında bu hikayenin ne olabileceğini çıkaramaz zira hayatında o kadar acı çekmemiştir.

“Teşekkür ederim küçük adam. Namın kadar kıvrak bir dilin varmış. Sırf bu yüzden arenada sana yardım edeceğim. Ama şunu unutma. Sen bir hedefsin.. Benim için değil ama başkaları için öylesin. Benim için ise sadece bir yemsin o kadar. Benim hedefim Gar Thalot. Onun muhteşem adalet arayışı ve ideolojileri için sana ve senin arkadaşlarına ihtiyacı olacak. Bunun için de senin buradan canlı çıkman gerekiyor. Arenadan canlı çıkmanın tek yolu da kazanmaktır!”, der kız cüretkar bir üslupla.

“Her halükarda, ya öldürdüğün o adam için bir saniyelik yem, ya da senin Gar Thalot’una ulaşabilmen için bir yem olacağım, öyle mi? Alternatiflerim bunlar mı? Ya yem olmak, ya da yem olmak!”, diye hicveder Gnine.

“Aaa.. Sana alternatif sunuyormuşum gibi bir izlenim mi verdim? Özür dilerim. Benim hatam!”, diye sırıtır kız Gnine’a soğuk bir şekilde.

“O adamı neden öldürdün peki?”, diye hafif tırsmış bir sesle sorar Gnine.

“Onunla mı arenaya çıkmayı tercih ederdin, sevgili ‘bir saniye’?”, diye gülümser kız, aynı ifadeyle.

“Aaa.. hayır, tabii ki hayır.. Öleceksem bunu güzel bir kızın yanında yapmayı tercih ederim!”, diye hızlı bir şekilde cevap verir Gnine.

Kız ‘fırk’lar.

“Şimdi.. bana Arashkan’a beraber geldiğin arkadaşlarını anlat. Özellikle de Aager Fogstep ve onun yanından ayrılmayan o küçük süprüntüyü..”, der kız gülümsemesine devam ederek ama kızın gülümsemesinin ulaştığı soğukluk nedense Gnine’ın içinde bir ürperti oluşmasına sebep olur.

Buna rağmen yine de kendisine engel olamaz..

“O ‘süprüntünün’ bir adı var; Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane ve lütfen ona karşı biraz daha saygılı konuş! O tahmin edemeyeceğin kadar iyi bir insan. Fevkalade iyi niyetli, içten, sevimli, duygusal ve sevdiklerini hayatı pahasına koruyan bi kız o..”, der Gnine kızmış bir şekilde.

“O bir insan bile değil—”, diye başlar önünde duran kız ama Gnine “O bir insan!”, diye kati bir sesle onun sözünü keser ve “Senden de, benden de ve gördüğüm insanların hepsinden de daha bi insan o..”, diye harlar, kendisini frenliyemez ve devam eder..

 

Bir insanı insan yapan, kendisine sorulmadan, içine doğduğu ve bunun için hiçbir emek sarf etmediği bir bedene sahip olmak kadar ucuz ve basit bir şey ise, buradaki tek ‘insan’, az evvel umarsızca bir başka insanı öldürmüş olarak bi sen varsın. Ama bir insanı insan yapan onun kalitesi, duyguları, erdemleri, imkansızlıklar ve zorluklar karşısında yaptığı tercihleri ve sıfatları ise, o kız hepimizden daha bi ‘insan’.

Kızın, cılız mum ışığında oluşan gölgelerin oynaştığı yüzünde anlaşılmaz bir ifade oluşur.

Kız bir süre sessizce bu ifadeyle zincirlere bağlı cüceyi süzer. Neden sonra, “Öyle görünüyor ki, Fogstep gibi bir hayvanı adam etmek için, gerçek bir ‘insan’ gerekliymiş.. Kimin aklına gelirdi..?!”, der acı bir şekilde.

“Yaaa bakın. Belli ki Aager’i pek sevmiyorsunuz —ki bu da anlaşılır bir durum. Aager kendisini sevdirmek için etrafındakilere pek de sebep veren biri sayılmaz ama adamın zorlu bir geçmişi varmış. En azından geldiğim yerde duyduğum rivayetler bu yönde.”, diye açıklamaya çalışır Gnine.

“Zorlu geçmişi olan tek kişi Fogstep değil.”, der kız kindar bir sesle. “Her neyse.. dinlensen iyi olur cüce. Yarın asıl senin için zorlu bir gün olacak ve öleceksen, bu senin uykunu alamamış olmandan kaynaklanmasa iyi olur. Bu zindana sızmak için az çaba sarf etmedim..”

“Ee, girilebiliyorsa neden geldiğin yerden geri çıkıp kaçmıyoruz o zaman.”, diye sorar Gnine.

Kız cüceye uzun bir süre öylece bakar,

“Çünkü..”, der neden sonra burnundan soluyarak, “..bir bacadan girmek için kendini yer çekimine bırakman yeterlidir. Ama bu geri çıkabileceğin anlamına gelmez! Buranın yapısı da öyle.. Büyülü muhafızları girenlere karşı ayıktır ama yeterince iyi isen, yine de atlatabilirsin. Geri çıkmak ise apayrı bir konu. Büyülü muhafızlar girenleri sadece yakalamak için hazırlanmışlar. Çıkanları ise yok etmek üzerine kurulmuşlar!”

“Tamam.. Tamam.. kızma. Kaşların çatıkken de güzelsin ama gülümsediğinde çok daha harika oluyorsun!”, der Gnine, alttan alır bir üslupla.

“Sen hafif kaçıksın, galiba!”, der kız cüceye hayret içerisinde.

“Senin Bremorel diye bir kız kardeşin mi var?”, diye sorar Gnine ister istemez. “O da hep aynı ifadeyi kullanırdı da!”

Kız başını eğer ve “Benim sadece bir ağabeyim vardı.. çok küçükken.. Onu aldılar ve para karşılığı sattılar.”, der kız sessizce.

“Çok üzgünüm. Ben de küçükken annemi, babamı, altı erkek ve dokuz kız kardeşimi bir göçükte kaybettim. Bununla beraber, hala kendini bana tanıtmadın.”, der Gnine.

Kız çok hafif başını kaldırır.

“Benim adım.. Venom.. Lilly’s Venom..

 


Gnine: Nine / Dokuz
Thein: Ten / On
Efelen: Eleven / On Bir
Twerf : Twelve / On İki
Thirkeen: Thirteen / On Üç
Fortin: Forteen / On Dört
Fifthein: Fifteen / On Beş
Twentein: Twenty / Yirmi
Thirteinensleven: Thirty Seven / Otuz Yedi

 

book 02 books dungeons and dragons duygusal karakter analizi komedi tarihçe

A Bard’s Tale XI
“Power Word: NO!”

A Bard’s Tale XI
“Power Word: NO!”

Timeline:

“Bu bir hikaye değildir. Bunu baştan söyleyeceğim. Bu bir anlatıdır ve kayıt altına alınmasına da en baştan karşıydım. Ne var ki, bunları anlatmak istediğim kişi burada değil ve elimde bunları kendisine ulaştırabileceğim başka bir imkanım yok.

Burada yazılı olan anlatıya veya yorumlara itiraz eden ya da aleyhimde kullanmak isteyen olursa, hepsini reddedeceğimi de en baştan şuracıkta dile getireyim – bu yaşıma gelmeyi başardım, mutlu bir şekilde gideceğimden ve ardımdaki zor ve çetrefilli işi de, en aklı selim kişilere bırakacağımdan dolayı.. eh.. mutluyum!”

“Bu anlatıda geçen yer ve isimleri değiştirmedim zira bunu yapmam halinde, korkarım ki anlatacaklarımdan daha çok sahiplerinin isimlerinin değişmiş olması onları daha çok kızdıracaktır..”

“Sevgili Magella. Bilmelisin ki bunları anlatmamın, yegane olmasa da, temel sebebi; gideceğimiz yere, geldiğimiz yeri unutarak varamayız. Bu sana son nasihatım zira sen ve arkadaşların çıktığınız ölümcül maceradan döndüğünüzde, sanırım ben de kendi ölümcül macerama çoktan başlamış olacağım.”

“Sen gelinceye kadar yerime vekil olarak genç Thomas Dimwoods’u bırakıyorum.. Eminim bundan dolayı benden pek hoşnut olmayacaktır zira izci kızla gittiği misyondan döndüğünde eskisi gibi artık kitaplarının arkasında saklanamayacağını ve kendisini büyük kararların ve daha da büyük sorumlulukların beklediğini öğrenecek..”

“Gideceğim yerde sizleri özleyeceğim..”

“SERRAPHYN EDET VIELLA XILLESSE DEMI”

 

“Bu nedir bilemiyorum.”

“Beni yanlış anlamamaya çalış sevgili Magella. O tür düşüncelerim olmayalı belki kırk yıl olmuştur ama dün gece rüyamda bir kız gördüm.

“Hayatımda hiç böylesi saf, güzel ve.. hüzünlü bir varlık görmemiştim. Bir melekti sanki ve bunu bana tekrarlayıp durdu..”

“..ve unutmamamı telkin etti.”

“Uyanınca ağladım..”

“Neden bana söyledi ki?”

“Ben burada olmayacağım!”

 

. . .

Serenity Home Tapınak Baş Muhafızı
Demos Lightshand

 

 

Efendi Argail Smitefast.

Sevgili Magella’nın anne tarafından dedesi.. Bu gördüğünüz zat, geçmiş kahramanlıklarıyla tanınan biri değildir zira kahramanlığa pez az ihtiyaç duymuştur. Kendisiyle tanışma fırsatım olduğu için kendimi her zaman şanslı hissetmişimdir.. Bunu söylerken, şansa asla inanmadığımı da hesaba katın lütfen. Onun sayesinde Scowling Hills ve Elder Hills’deki bir çok dwarf ile tanışma fırsatım oldu – ister istemez..

Evet, ‘ister istemez’ diyorum zira sizlerde benim kadar çok dwarf’la tanışmış ve beraber olduysanız, bunu oldukça ılımlı bir değerlendirme olarak kabul edeceksinizdir. Ne kastettiğimi anlamıyorsanız, bir dwarf’a danışın ama yanınızda saklanacak bir dağ getirmeyi ihmal etmeyin!

Kendisiyle ilk tanıştığımda ben yirmi yaşlarımda, genç bir tapınak koruyucusuydum. Efendi Argail ise çoktan yaşını almış, bilge, her zaman ciddi ve geçit vermeyen bir dağ gibiydi.. en azından ilk karşılaşmamızda benim üzerimde bıraktığı etki buydu.

Kendisiyle en son görüşmemizde ise ben seksen iki yaşındaydım ve beni çağırdığında yanına gidebilmem için ulaklarla beraber tahtırevan da göndermemiş olsaydı, gıcırdayan eklemlerimle o yolculuğu yapmam pek de mümkün olmazdı. Yanına vardığımda hala yaşını almış, bilge, her zaman ciddi ve geçit vermeyen bir dağ gibiydi.. Ben yaşlanmış ve erimiştim, o ise neredeyse hiç değişmemişti. Aradaki tek fark gözlerindeydi.

Efendi Argail yorulmuştu..

..ve sanırım kalmak için artık bir sebep bile aramak istemiyordu.

 

Ben her sabah, ‘Aaa.. hala hayattayım.. ne güzel.. Bugün ne yapsam acaba..’, diye düşünürken, o ise bıkmıştı.

Açıkçası bu beni fazlasıyla üzdü ama sebebini sormadım. Bir dwarf’a bazı şeyleri sormazsınız..

Bu basit bir nezaket meselesi değil sadece.. ve gerçekte soramayacağınızdan dolayı da değil.

Sormanız halinde alabileceğiniz cevaptan dolayı!..

..ve aldığınız cevabın sizin üzerinize yıkabileceği potansiyel sorumluluklardan dolayı.

 

Beraber uzun bir süre yürüdük. Ya da o yürüdü, ben ise tahtırevan ile onun peşinden koşturuldum.

Ancak Scowling Hills’in en sapa yamaçlarından birine geldiğimizde durduk. Uzun süre sessizce oturduk ve neden sonra “Sana birini vereceğim. Onu alıp bir tapınak muhafızı olarak yetiştir.”, dedi.

Açıkçası bu beklediğim bir şey değildi. Bir dwarf’a bazı şeyleri neden sormamanız gerektiğini ve bunun sizin üzerinize yıkabileceği ‘potansiyel sorumluluklardan’ ne demek istediğimi sanırım daha iyi anlıyorsunuzdur şimdi..

Efendi Argail, tek bir ifadeyle dört yüz küsür yıl yaşama potansiyeline sahip bir varlığın sorumluluğunu bana vermişti..

Ve ben ona aklından geçenleri sormamıştım bile!

“Bunu seve seve yaparım Efendi Argail. Ne var ki Tapınak Muhafızlığı bir çağrıdır. Demirci yada fırıncı çıraklığına benzemez.”, diye açıklamaya çalıştım. Ben seksen iki yaşındaydım ve kendimi gezmiş, görmüş ve bilge sanıyordum. Önümde oturan dwarf ise neredeyse dört yüz otuz yaşındaydı.. O an anladım ki, yaş ile kibir arasında birinin diğerini götürdüğü gibi bir ilişki yokmuş.

Efendi Argail bana öyle bir bakış attı ki, kendimi on iki yaşımda gibi hissettim.

“Sana vereceğim çocuğu al ve yetiştir. Dostluğumuzun hatrına bunu benim için yap, Muhafız Demos Lightshand! Her evlilik sevgiyle başlamaz. Bazen sevgi ve saygı sonradan oluşur. Onun çağrısı da sonradan gelecektir. Ama o burada olduğu sürece bu mümkün değil. Bizler elimizden geleni yaparız, kader kendi elini gösterinceye kadar. Benim elimden gelen de onu sana teslim etmek.”

Böyle bir şeye ne denir ki?

Dayanamadım ve kaçınılmaz soruyu sordum.

“Neden?”

Efendi Argail yine bana baktı ama bu sefer bakışlarında yine o yorulmuşluğu gördüm.

“Büyük bir şey geliyor.. Karanlık, mebus bir şey. Son iki yüz yıldır takip edip ipuçları arıyorum. Bulduklarım, ancak gözümün ucuyla görebildiğim şeyler, daha fazlası değil.  Ne var ki, her kış çıkışı daha da yaklaştığını kemiklerimde hissediyorum ve fazla zamanımız kalmadı. Karanlık, zorlu günler bizi bekliyor. Bunu benim klanime anlatmaya çalıştım ama dinleyen sadece bir kişi çıktı. Onu da sana veriyorum zira burada kalması halinde, diğerlerinin inadı ve ahmaklığı ona da bulaşacak ve burada harcanacak. Ve benim, bir sonraki jenerasyonu bekleyecek vaktim kalmadı.”

Bir dwarf’ın, inattan yılmış olduğunu ilk defa seksen iki yaşımda görmüş oldum..

Hayat sürprizlerle dolu, öyle değil mi?

“Peki”, dedim. “Kimdir bu ‘çağrılan’?”

Beni taşıyan ulaklardan biri öne çıktı.

Üstü başı yara bere içerisinde, koyu kızıl saçları darmadağınık ve yolunmuş, bir kaşı daha yeni yeni iyileşmeye başlamış, burnunda kurumuş kan pötürcükleri olan bir dişi dwarf’dı bu.. Üstündeki yırtıklara, çamur ve kana bakılırsa, sanırım beni almaya gelmenin daha o sabahında bir kavgadan çıkmış gibiydi.

Bana ve.. sanırım dedesi olan Efendi Argail’e yanan gözleriyle fena pis bakışlar atarak elindeki koca teberi hırsla sağa sola savurdu ama sanırım bu kızın içindeki hırsı gideremedi çünkü bir anda az ilerdeki iri bir kayaya daldı.

Kız, çığlıklar ve bilmek istemediğim dwarfça bir şeyler haykırarak, tüm varlığıyla kendisini o iri kayaya attı.

İşi bittiğinde kayanın pek azı kalmış, nabzeden kaşındaki yara ise tekrar patlamıştı..

Sonra kız teberinden geri kalanı yere sapladı, dedesinin elini öptü ve yanıma geçip nefes nefese kalmış olmasına rağmen sessizce durdu.

Ne yalan söyleyim. O teberle beni ikiye ayıracağını düşünmedim değil. Kaşları çatılı bir şekilde o kadar pis bakışlar atmıştı ki..

Bununla beraber, kızın içinde hissettiği hiddeti bütün varlığı ile dışına vurması, ama sonrasında ise büyüklerinin kararına boyun eğmesindeki kümülatif bilgeliğe hayran kalmadım değil;

Kızın hiddetini dökmesine müsaade edilmesi, Efendi Argail’in bilgeliğiydi. Ama en nihayetinde boyun eğen kızın kendisiydi ve o bilgelik de tamamen ona aitti!

O anda bu pasaklı kızı sevdim ve ona saygı duydum.

“Bu Lady Magella.”, diye tanıttı torununu Efendi Argail. “Adı bu! Kendisine vermeye çalıştığımız, hakettiği hiçbir başka adı kabul etmedi. Sanırım her aileden bir cins çıkıyor!”, dedi homurdanarak.

Sonra doğruldu, geniş omuzlarını gerip devam etti.. ama bana değil, kaşları çatılı duran torununa konuşuyor gibiydi.

“Teberini teslim etti. Kendisi artık senin çırağındır.. Dikkatli ol, çok inatçıdır. Aynı zamanda da dik kafalıdır. Ve bunu söylerken mecaz bile kullanmıyorum! Her şeye itiraz eder ve kızdığında gözü döner. İki teyzesi, dört kız kardeşi, bir amcası ve iki de erkek kardeşinin muhtelif yerlerini kırmışlığı var. Diğer klanlerle aramızdaki kavgalarda yaptıklarını, sizin gibi muhterem bir zatın yanında söylemesem daha iyi olur.. Bazılarının asla çocukları olmayacak dersem sanırım bu kafi olacaktır. Kendisine bağırılmasından ve hakaret edilmesinden hiç hoşlanmaz. Huysuzun tekidir ama zekidir. Bir şey aklına yatarsa onu sahiplenir. Sahiplendiği şeyleri de korur. Onlara zarar vermek isteyen olursa da.. kendisine verdiğim tavsiye, yapacağı şeyi senin yanında yapmaması oldu.. Sana tavsiyem ise yapacağı şeyi, yapacağı zaman yakınında olmamandır!”

Böylesi bir PR‘a ne denir ki?

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Efendi Durken Lostbeard.

Sevgili Magella’nın baba tarafından dedesi.. ve başımın… sanırım burada biraz PC olmam gerekirse, ‘belası’ şeklinde ifadelendirmemem gerekiyor ama dürüst olmanın dışında başka bir şey olamayacak kadar yaşlandım artık, dolayısıyla; ‘başımın belası’ bir zattı kendisi.

Daha ilk Scowling Hills’e gittiğimde Efendi Argail ve bununla tanıştım ve sanırım sakalına ne olduğunu sorma hatasında bulundum.

Dedim ya, bir dwarf’a bazı şeyleri sormazsınız.. Ancak kendi müdafaam adına söylemem gerekirse, o zamanlar toy bir çocuktum.

Kendisine bu soruyu sormamla birlikte az daha altmış kiloluk bir savaş çekicini yiyecektim!

Dikkat ederseniz, ‘başıma’ demedim zira o kadar büyük bir demir kütlesini yediğinizde, bunun kafanız ile sınırlı kalması hiçbir zaman bana mümkün gibi gelmemiştir.

Efendi Durken’in hemen yanında duran Efendi Argail müdahale etmemiş olsaydı, sanırım dwarf’lara yapacağım hutbem, biraz erken bitecekti..

Efendi Argail, Efendi Durken’in eline koca bir maşrapa tutuşturup, ona hırıltılı sesiyle “Bi salaklık yapmadan git, kendini bunun içinde boğ!”, deyip gönderdi.

Efendi Durken pis bir şekilde önce bana, sonra da maşrapaya baktı. Ciddi bir iç hesaplaşmadan sonra maşrapayı tercih etti ve ben ‘ederim’ konusunda biraz alınmadım değil!

Acemiliğim ile sorduğum bu soru, meğerse birçok dwarf arasında dile getirilmemiş bir esprinin final noktasını oluşturmuş ve Efendi Durken maşrapasıyla gittikten sonra, birden ortam onlarca dwarf’ın kahkahalarıyla sarsıldı ve herkes omzuma vurup elimi sıkmak istedi. Elimi sıkmaları sorun olmadı ama şu dwarf’ların sırta vurma olayı o gece bitirdi beni neredeyse. Serenity Home’a döndüğümde omuzlarımdan bel hizama kadar sırtım mosmor olmuştu.

Bu olaydan sonra öğrendiğim bir kaç önemli şey oldu;

Birincisi, dwarf’lara bazı şeylerin sorulamayacağını, ikincisi, benim ebedi olarak Efendi Durken’in kara listesine girdiğimi, üçüncüsü ise dwarf isimlerinin, gerçekte bir şeylerin kısaltması olduğunu.

Söz gelimi Efendi Argail Smitefast (hızlı ceza). Genelde sakin olmakla beraber, daha sonraları öğrendim ki, kızdırıldığında bu hatayı yapan kişiye hiç geciktirmeden cezasını verdiği. Dwarf’lardan bahsettiğimiz için de bunun anlamı elli ile yüz elli kilo ağırlığındaki bir savaş baltası, topuzu yada çekicin, muhatabının kafasına geçirilmesi şeklinde olduğu..

Bir diğer örnek olarak, Edendi Durken (drunken/sarhoş) Lostbeard (sakalı kayıp / kayıp sakal) anlamlarına geldiğini ve birgün içkiyi yine fazla kaçırdığında birisinin keskin bir bıçakla adamcağızın neredeyse dört yüz yıllık sakalını kesmesi üzerine ona bu adın verildiğini öğrenmiş oldum.. Sırtımdaki morluklarla beraber!

“Sarhoş ve sakalını kaybetmiş”

Lightshand (ışığın eli) ismini de neden sonra Efendi Argail vermişti bana.

Bunu yaptığında kendimi pek onure olmuş hissettim. Ancak geri dönüp baktığımda, belki de bana yaptığı bu jest, daha o zamanlar bana teslim etmeyi düşündüğü torunu için bir altyapı hazırlığı idi..

Yanlış anlaşılmasın. Efendi Argail iyi bir dwarf idi. Ama bu kurnaz ve ileri görüşlü olmadığı anlamına gelmiyor. Dahası, bugüne kadar kurnaz ya da ileri görüşlü olmak ile iyilik arasında birbirini yıpratıcı bir ilişki görmedim.

Aptallık ile kötülük arasında gördüm ama..

Ne kadar ironik, değil mi?

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Gellator Bluntaxe (kör balta).

Sevgili Magella’nın rahmetli babası.. Ne yazık ki hayattayken onun hakkında kendi ağzından duyup da size aktarabileceğim hiçbir şeyim yok. Ve rivayetlere göre karısının da yokmuş zira bugüne kadar “kocam şöyle dedi” ya da “kocam şunu sever”, babında bir ifade kullandığını duyan yokmuş. Bilinen bir şey varsa dilsiz olmadığı.

Bir kenara çömer ve saatlerce sizi dinler.. ya da öyleymiş izlenimi verir.

Daha da ürkütücü hali ise..

..bir kenara çömer ve saatlerce size.. bakar.

Aynen resimde ki haliyle gördüğünüz gibi!

Rivayetlere göre, madenlerde gerçekleşen bir göçükte geçirdiği ve birkaç gün sonra da ölümüne sebep olan kazadan sonra, ölüm döşeğinde konuşmuş sadece.

Ezilmiş kaburgalarından dolayı zorlukla nefes alabilmesine rağmen eşine, “Seni sevdim, kadın. Bugüne kadar konuşmadım çünkü hiçbir zaman senin kadar zeki olmadım ve ağzımdan seni üzecek aptalca bir şey çıkar diye korktum!”, demiş..

Böylesi bir bilgeliğe ne denir ki?

Eminim sevgili Magella hala babasının yasını tutuyordur. Ancak kendisinin ona çekmemiş olmasından dolayı hep şükretmişimdir. Bana katılmasından sonra sadece dört ay, on yedi gün geçti ilk cümlesini duyduğumda.

O da, “Eee..? Sana ne diycem?” idi..

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Margaret Madish (delimsi), sevgili Magella’nın annesi. Size onun hakkında sadece bir şey söylemem gerekirse, o da Margaret’in muhteşem bir kadın olduğudur.

Zeki, nazlı, dik kafalı, alımlı, çekici, çarpıcı, güçlü, deli, inatçı, gözüpek, bıyık altı bir espri anlayışı olan ve.. utangaç – inanabilirseniz şayet!

Buna inanmadıysanız eğer, sizlere inanmayacağınız bir başka şey daha anlatayım;

Margaret’in, kocasıyla ilk karşılaşmaları (ve birinin diğerine kafa tutması) sonucu tam elli iki saat balta ve çekiçle birbirlerine vurmaya çalıştığını biliyor muydunuz? – sırf inat olsun diye!

Margaret ile tanıştığımızda kendisi bana bu hikayeyi, fevkalade romantik ve puslu bakışlarla, mutlu, genç bir kız edasıyla anlatmıştı. Elli iki saat boyunca da Gellator’un ağzından tek bir laf alamamış. En sonunda babaları bunları birbirine uygun görmüş ve Gellator’dan da ses çıkmayınca, ikisini evlendirmişler.

Bundan Efendi Argail mi daha mutlu oldu, yoksa Efendi Druken mi pek emin değilim ama sanırım başarılı bir evliliğin sırrı, mutlu bir şekilde deli bir kadın ve sesi çıkmayan bir erkekte yatıyor.

İkisinin de birbirinden şikayet ettiğini duymadım bugüne kadar. Duyan birini de tanımıyorum.

Sevgili Magella bana katıldıktan sonra her ay ondan benim sağlığımı ve kızının gelişimini soran en az bir mektup aldım. Ben de kendisine kızının sağlığı, eğitimi, gelişimi, ruh hali, notları ve karnelerini içeren cevaplar gönderdim.

Böyle ilgili bir anneye ne denir ki?

Dediğim gibi; Margaret muhteşem bir kadındı..

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Yulanda Madsteam (çılgın buhar). Hayatımda bu kadın kadar duman ve buhar seven ve ağzı bozuk bir başkasıyla karşılaşmadım. Ağzından iki şeyin asla eksik olduğunu görmedim; birincisi el sarması tütünü, diğeri ise saydırdığı küfürleri. Eminim ikisininde asla farkında değildi. Kendisi fevkalade çalışkan, kafasını koyduğu işe verip yapmayı seven, ahmakların dedikodularıyla vakit harcamayan bir kadındı. Aklı başında kimsenin ona bulaştığını duymadım. Çoğunlukla da sosyalleşmezdi zaten. Kendisini burada zikretmemin sebebi, bunca yıl boyunca onu sadece iki defa görmüş olmamdı. İlki, Efendi Argail’in beni resmi olarak bütün klane tanıtmak istediğinde adıma verilen şölende, diğeri ise Efendi Argail’in sevgili Magella’yı bana teslim ettiğinde ona veda etmek için gelenler arasında yer aldığındaydı.

Ayrılırken muhteşem bir belagat ile ne saydırmıştı bana ama..

Neyse ki ben söylediği şeylerden hiçbirini anlamadığım için sadece gülümsemiştim. Sanırım bu yüzden yaşlı gözlerle bana sarıldı!

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Rashafel Rottenfate (çürük kader).

Sevgili Magella’nın sevdiği nadir akrabalarından biri de yengesi Rashafel’dir. Her ne kadar bunun sebebini asla anlayamamış olsam da. Kadın zır delinin tekiydi. Kem gözlüydü ve bir cadıydı!

Evet, öyleydi sevgili Magella, boşuna itiraz edeyim deme! Bana sadece bir defa baktığını gördüm ve ardından düşüp ayağımı burktum. Kadın olağan bir şekilde dolaşırken etrafındaki eşyaların kaçıştığını kendi gözlerimle müşahade ettim.

Sanırım elinde bir balta, çekiç, gürz, kılıç yada bıçakla dolaşmayan karşılaştığım tek dwarf oydu. Neden gerekli görsün ki?

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Quin Stabsez (hızlı bıçaklayan). Onun hakkında bildiğim bir şey varsa, fevkalade asabi bir kadın olduğu.. ve benden de pek hoşlanmadığı. Tabii, daha sonra öğrendim ki, Quin teyze kimseden hoşlanmazmış ve klande bıçaklamadığı kişi yokmuş!

Resimde gördüğünüz hali, benim şahsen yüzleştiğim haliydi ve yaptığım tek şey, mis gibi kokan, fırından yeni çıkmış sıcacık ekmeklerden birine elimi uzatmaktı.

Beni de bıçaklayacaktı ama üç dwarf üstüne atladı ve buna engel oldular, sağolsunlar. Sevgili Stabez teyze de benim yerime onları bıçakladı!

Sanıyorum ki benden hoşlanmamasının sebebi de bu. Elinden ‘kaçırdığı’ tek kişi bendim.

Eminim, sevgili Magella’yı götürmek üzereyken veda etmek için gelenler arasında onun da olmasının, gizliden gizliye eline beni bıçaklamak için bir fırsat çıkabileceği umuduydu.

Mel’un kadın!

Öldüğümde tabutumun içinde onun ekmek bıçağını bulmayı tam olarak bekliyorum!

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Uzun hayatımda anlamadığım, hafzalımın almadığı birçok olay ve birçok kişiyle karşılaşmışlığım oldu. Ama bunların en başında hiç kuşkusuz Patunia Longstare (uzun bakış) teyze vardı.

Kendisine bir şey sorulması halinde, şanlıysanız saatlerce, değilseniz günlerce olduğu yerde durup ufuk çizgisini seyrederdi. Dwarf’ların çoğunluğunun yer altında yaşadıklarını göz önünde bulundurursanız, ‘ufuk çizgisini’ saatlerce seyretmenin nasıl imkansız olduğuna hiç şüphesiz sizlerde benim gibi ayılacaksınız.

İlk defa Scowling Hills’e geldiğimde Efendi Argail herkesi teker teker tanıtırken, bu kadının önüne gelip durdu ve “Bu da kızlarımdan Patunia Longstare”, dedi ve beni kolumdan tuttuğu gibi bir sonrakine geçti. O an bunu biraz yadırgamıştım. Daha sonra, dört gün sonra, dwarf’ların yanından ayrılırken Patunia teyzeyi olduğu yerde durmuş, hala ufuk çizgisine bakar bulduk!

Rivayetlere göre kadın evlendiğinde, adama bakmış.. bakmış.. bakmış.. ve bakmış. Öyle ki yeni kocası utancından intihar etmiş!

Bu hikayeyi bana Efendi Argail anlattı. Dolayısıyla ciddi miydi, yoksa kendisine özel bir espri anlayışından mıydı asla işin aslını öğrenemedim.

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Marideth Brave (cesur). Tam olarak adı üstünde biri. Yada gözü kara. Dwarf’lar söz konusu olunca aradaki farkı anlamak gerçekten çok güç olabiliyor. Ancak ok kullanan gördüğüm nadir dwarf’lardan biriydi kendisi. Ve onu çok iyi kullandığını bir çok farklı kaynaktan duydum. Hatta bir sefer bir grup goblin, aşağı ahırlara musallat olmuş ve o esnada oradan geçen Merideth bir okla iki goblini, ikinci bir okla üç goblini, üçüncü okuyla da beş goblini öldürmüş.

İşin ilginci hepsini de başlarından vurmuş ve bu şekilde ‘Gobilardo’ diye bir oyunun da mucidi olmuş!

Yaşlı bir adama gülmeyin. Hiçbir şey olmazsa, ayıptır. Ben her zaman, bana söylenen şeylere açık gözlerle bakan biriydim. Bir dwarf’ı yalancılıkla suçlamak hem büyük bir kabalık, hemde sağlığınız açısından da iyi bir şey değil. Özellikle de çok iyi ok kullanıyorsa..

Gösterdiğim anlayış ve nezaketle ben yüz altıncı yaşımı bitirdim..

Siz kaç yaşındasınız?

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Jinshe Pinwheel (oklava) teyze. Mütemadiyen bana bakıp, kısık, ince sesiyle “Bana rahmetli kocamı hatırlatıyorsun.”, deyip duruyordu. Neden sonra öğrendim adını nasıl kazandığını. Meğer Elder Hills yolu üzerinde bir orc sürüsünün saldırısına uğramışlar ve Jinshe teyze elindeki oklava ile tam on bir tanesinin başını ezmiş.

Hazır başlamışken, işe yaramaz kocasını da aradan çıkarmış!

Bunu duyduktan sonra bir daha onun mutfağına uğramamaya karar verdim.

Doğru olanı mı yaptım acaba?

Yoksa yaptığımı bir saygısızlık olarak görüp de peşime takılır mı?

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Gertruth Heavyhands (eli ağır) teyze.

Bu kadını dwarfların mutfaktalarında pek görmedim. Kendisini sadece, madenlere inen dwarf’ların, çocuklarını bıraktıkları kreşlerde görevlendirildiğine müşahade ettim. Görev yaptığı kreşler, sessiz çocukları olan tek kreşti. Nedenini sadece tahmin edebiliyorum. Bundan bir tane de bizim yetimhaneye alsak mı diye düşünmedim değil.

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Drejeret Quik (hızlı) teyze ve Yor Whatoo (ne/kim) amca/teyze..

Drejeret teyzeyi ilk gördüğümde bana sanki fazladan yağlarım varmış da alınması gerekiyormuş gözüyle bakmıştı. Son gördüğümde ise artık sıskası çıkmış yaşlı bir adamdım ve bana hala alınması gereken fazlalığım varmış gözüyle bakıyordu!

Yor amca? teyze? abla?.. açıkçası Yor’un ne olduğunu asla kestiremedim. Diğer dwarf’ların da pek kestirebildiklerini sanmıyorum zira bazıları onu ‘Yor Amca’ diye çağırırken, bazıları ise ona ‘Yor Teyze’ diye hitap ediyordu. Şanslı bir adam/kadındı sanırım. Kavgalara davet edildiği gibi, kadın günlerinde dedikodulara da çağrılıyordu. Onu elinde iki buçuk yardalık bir kılıçla da gördüm, ‘biz kızlar arasında’ örgü örerken de..

Sevgili Magella’nın muhtelif teyzeleri, amcaları, kız ve erkek kardeşleri hakkında edindiğim bilgilerin çoğunu Yor ‘teyze’den öğrendiğimi tahmin edemediniz, değil mi? Sevgili Magella da tahmin edemedi ve bildiğim bazı şeyleri nasıl bildiğimi, büyük bir hayret ve hayranlıkla bilgeliğime verdi.

Sanırım bu konuda kendisine bir özür borçluyum. Yaşlı bir adamın bu küçük eğlencesini hoş görür diye umuyorum!

Ne var ki, her Scowling Hills’e gelişimde ‘Kız gel, sana yeni dedikodularım var!’, deyip beni bir kenara çekmeleri sayesinde öğrendiklerimi bu anlatıya dahil etmeyeceğim..

Yor teyzenin anlattıklarını herkes bilmese sanki daha hayırlı olur gibime geliyor.

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Goric Boarshoulders (domuz/iri omuzlu) amca.. Kendisiyle pek az karşılaşmışlığım oldu. Öyle ki, bir gün Efendi Argail ile (gizliliği dolayısıyla ayrıntılarını burada paylaşamayacağım) bir toplantı için buluşacaktım ve birden Goric amca karşıma dikili verdi. Homurtularla karışık “Ona iyi bak!”, dedi bana.

O zamanlar Efendi Argail’den bahsettiğini sanmıştım ve “Tabii, benden ona bir zarar gelmez.”, dedim.

Bana ormanı andıran kaşları altından, kısılmış derin gözleriyle öylece baktı.

Neden sonra ‘hıf’layıp gitti.

Bu Goric amcayla yaptığım tek iletişimdi.

Geriye bakıp da bu karşılaşmamız üzerine düşündüğümde, Goric amcanın gerçekte Efendi Argail’den değil, sevgili Magella’dan bahsettiğini anladım.

İşin ilginci, Efendi Argail’in, sevgili Magella’yı bana teslim edişine daha yirmi sekiz yıl vardı!

Belli ki Efendi Argail, sevgili Magella hakkındaki kararını çok uzun bir zaman önce vermişti.

O sadece doğru kişinin gelmesini bekliyordu.. ve sanırım onun güvenilir biri olduğunu kendi gözleriyle görmek istiyordu.

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Ferrainin Redbear (kızıl ayı) ve Bruden Burnthammer (yanık çekiç) amcalar. İsimlerinden de tahmin edeceğiniz gibi, ikisi de savaşçı ruhlu, cesur, az konuşan, ciddi.. ve bir o kadar da deli iki dwarf!

Yanlış anlamayın. Ben insan standartlarına göre ‘deli’ diyorum. Bunca yıl sonra bile bir dwarf’un, bir başka dwarf’a deli ya da kaçık dediğini, müstesna bir kişi dışında, duymuşluğum olmadı. Dwarf’lar daha ziyade, ‘biraz heyecanlı’ ifadesini kullanırlar.

Şimdi düşünüyorum da, insan standartlarında baktığımızda, sanırım bizim yetimhanemizde de bu iki dwarf amcanın ruhunda ve ‘biraz heyecanlı’, Morel adında yetim bir kızımız vardı. Bir seferinde giriştiği bir kavgayı ayırmak için müdahale etmeye çalıştığımda benim üzerime bile yürümüştü.. O zamanlar çok küçüktü tabii. Şimdi büyüdü ve kasabamızın yetkin izcilerinden biri oldu.

Korkarım, Thomas’ın o kızda gözü var.

Cesur çocuk, şu Thomas!

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Lamideth Doncross (kızdırma) ile Britney ve Dritmey Tosser (savurur) ikizleri..

Sevgili Magella’nın en büyük ablası ve ikiz ablaları.

Yıllar içerisinde sevgili Magella’nın genelde ablaları, kız kardeşleri ve biri hariç erkek kardeşleriyle iyi geçindiğini ve hepsini sevdiğini öğrendim. Ancak Lamideth’e düşkünlüğü her zaman kendisini göstermiştir.

Lamideth’de sevgili Magella’ya, lakap takmadan ve ona, onun istediği şekilde hitap eden belki de tek akrabasıydı. Scowling Hills’den ayrılıken, içten göz yaşı döken sanırım yine Lamideth idi.

İkizler ise vedalaşmaya ellerindeki baltalarıyla gelişleri yeterli mesajı vermiyormuş gibi, kaşları çatık, bana manalı bir şekilde bakmalarından, onlara söyleyeceğim hiçbir şeyin, alınan kararda benim bir payımın olmadığına ikna edemeyeceğimi anlamıştım. Daha sonra duydum ki, sevgili Magella’nın gidişine üçü de o kadar üzülmüşler ki, o bölgeye üç yıl bir tane bile orc ya da goblin yaklaşmaya cesaret edememiş.

Böylesi bir sevgiye ne denir ki?

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Nikelix Carver (oyucu) ve Dridges Motherswolfie (anasının kurdu). Sevgili Magella’nın küçük kız kardeşleri. Ayrılırken oturup hüngür hüngür ağlayarak ablalarının gidişini seyretmişlerdi.

Zavallı kızlar..

Sanıyorum ki, sevgili Magella ablası Lamideth’e nasıl yakın ve düşkün idiyse, Dridges de sevgili Magella’ya o kadar yakın ve düşkündü.

Nikelix, dwarf’ların tabiriyle ‘biraz heyecanlı’ bir kızdı.

Dridges ise bütün savaşçı ruhuna rağmen aklı başında, uslu, söz dinleyen hanım hanımcık genç bir bayandı. Bu güne kadar karşılaştığım en ‘olgun’ kişiliğe sahip dwarf’lardan biriydi dersem sanırım hiç de yanılmış olmam.

Uzun bir süre, Efendi Argail sevgili Magella ile beraber Dridges’i de eğitim için teslim etseydi ne muhteşem olurdu, diye düşünmeden edemedim. Tabii, o zamanlar bilmiyordum; Efendi Argail sevgili Magella’yı bir tapınak koruyucusu olarak eğitmem için bana teslim ettikten meğer bir ay sonra Dridges’i de,  Elder Hills’e bir ordu taktik komutanı eğitimi için göndermiş..

Efendi Argail’in deyişiyle; “Savaşçı bulmak kolay. Bizden çok var! Olmayan şey ise bilgelik ve taktik zeka.. Ve ikisini de parayla satın alamazsın. Bunlar bizim içimizden çıkmalı ve genç yaştan eğitilmeli..”

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Lillias Absentwhot (unutkan hıı?!) ve Jeina Blond (sarışın).. Sevgili Magella’nın diğer iki kız kardeşleri. Hayatımda hiç Lillias kadar zeki, şirin, düşünceli, aynı zamanda da unutkan, aklı karışık ve gittiği yere bakmayan biriyle karşılaşmadım.

Klanın tüm hesap ve muhasebe işlerinden, madenlerden çıkarılan her gram demir, bakır ve gümüşten, el değiştiren her parça altından o sorumluydu..

Bu zavallı kızın kaç defa farkında olmadan yanan şöminelerin içine yürüdüğünü, ok talim alanına girdiğini, tepelerden aşağı yuvarlandığını ve günlerce yemek yemeyi unuttuğunu bilemezsiniz. Sanırım bu sebepten dolayı kız kardeşi Jeina’yı onun peşine taktılar.

Jeina’yı nasıl anlatsam..

“Belirli tekil bir anda, belirli tekil bir şeye odaklanabilme kabiliyeti olağanüstü bir kızdı..!”

Evet. Sanırım bu fevkalade usturuplu oldu zira o kızı üzmek istemem.

Bütün sınırlı erdemlerine rağmen, hep mutlu bir kızdı.

Bundan daha büyük bir erdeme ne gerek olabilir ki?

Omuzunda koca baltasıyla sabahtan akşama kadar küçük kız kardeşi Lillias’ın peşinden giderek, hem klanın bütün hesap ve muhasebe işlerinin yanmadan veya bir yamaçtan aşağı yuvarlanmadan işlenmiş olmasını sağlıyor, hem de kimsenin bu denli tekil bir şekilde yapamayacağı bir işi becerebilmenin mutluluğunu yaşıyordu. Bu şekilde kimseye hesap vermek zorunda olmadığı gibi, mutfak ve maden işlerinden de tamamen muaf kalmış oluyor..

Bu her zaman bana akıllı bir pazarlık gibi gelmiştir. Ve açıkçası, sınırlılığını bu kadar iyi değerlendirebilen bir başkasıyla karşılaşmışlığım olmadı.

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Grugreth Twonutz (falza çatlak).. Kız kardeşlerden sonuncusu ve en belalısı.. Daha önce belirtmişimdir. Dwarf’lar kendi aralarıda, deli, manyak, kaçık gibi ifadeler kullanmazlar. Ilımlı bir şekilde ‘biraz heyecanlı’ ifadesini tercih ederler. Yine daha önce de buna bir istisna olduğunu da ifade etmiştim. İşte o istisna Grugreth Twonutz!

Scowling Hills’de, dwarflar kendi aralarında konuşurken ‘o manyak’, ‘o kaçık’ ya da ‘zır deli’, diye birisinden bahsediyorlarsa, bilin ki Grugreth Twonutz’dan konuşuyorlardır..

Duyduğum —ve kenara çekilip ciddi bir şekilde uyarıldığım— kadarıyla da, tam bir belalı..

..klinik anlamda.

Efendi Argail’in ondan bahsederken oturup ağladığını gördüm!

İşin ilginci, geçinebildiği tek kişi de ablası sevgili Magella’ymış ve o gittikten sonra durumu sadece daha da kötüleşmiş ve elli yaş altı, kendi demirci dükkanı olan bilinen tek dwarf’da Grugreth Twonutz! Kız demirci dükkanında sabahtan akşama kadar ya demir döver —ya da alakasız bir yerde sizi!

Bir seferinde Efendi Argail’e espri olsun diye onu goblin ve orc’ların üstüne salabileceğini önermiştim..

Yaşlı dwarf ise yüzünde fevkalade ciddi bir ifadeyle, “Hiçbir şey Grugreth Twonutz’ı haketmiyor.”, demişti..

Sonra da oturup ağlamıştı.

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Lamark Earthbound (toprağa bağlı), Harakoon Evilscowl (çatık kaş) ve Romilus “Mad” Ussa (deli Ussa.. ya da Medusa).. Sevgili Magella’nın iki ağabeyi ve küçük erkek kardeşi.

Lamark’la, Efendi Argail’ın tanıştırması esnasında bir defa görmüşlüğüm oldu. Kalabalıklardan ve gürültüden pek haz etmeyen, sessiz, kendi başında bir dwarf. Zamanının çoğunu yerin altındaki demir madenlerinin derinliklerinde geçirmeyi tercih eden biri olduğunu başkalarından öğrendim zira tanışmamızda bana sadece başını sallayıp bir şeyler homurdanmış, sonra da adıma verilen yemeğe bile katılmadan tekrar madenlere inmişti.

Harakoon’nun ise hayatımda gördüğüm en fena çatık kaşlara sahip kişiydi —ki diğer dwarf’lar için bile biraz fazlaymış bu. Sanırım sırf bu yüzden Efendi Argail kendisinden sonra yerine onun geçmesini istiyordu. Bu yüzden Harakoon pek az toplantıyı kaçırırdı ve bütün teyzeler, amcalar, kız kardeşler ve erkek kardeşler arasında en sık onu görmüşlüğüm oldu.

Tabii, bu benimle konuştuğu anlamına gelmiyor. Harakoon ağzı sıkı bir dwarf’du ama biraz fazla kuşkucu ve duygusaldı. Teorik olarak sevgili Magella’nın benim yanıma, Dridges’in de Elder Hills’e gönderilmesini onaylasa da, sanırım gerçekte bunu pek kabullenemedi.

Efendi Argail’in yerinde Harakoon olsaydı, olaylar muhtemelen çok daha farklı olur ve ben de sevgili Magella ile belki de hiç tanışmamış olurdum.

Romilus’a gelince..

Hatırlarsın, bir sefer Serenity Home konsül üyelerinden Haradin Franderson’dan laf açılmıştı ve sen onu ‘Romilus’un bir kopyası’, diye tarif etmiştin.

Sevgili Magella, bunca yıldır konsül üyeleriyle o veya bu sebeplerden dolayı muhatap olmuşluğum oldu ama hiç kimsenin bu kadar isabetli bir tespitte bulunduğunu görmedim.

‘İçten pazarlıkçı’, ‘kaypak’ ve ılımlı bir ifadeyle ‘güvenilmez’, sanırım ikisini de doğru bir şekilde tarif ediyor. Kendisi Scowling Hills Belediye Başkanı Shimeel Brassbeard’ın yakın arkadaşıydı ve sevgili Magella ve Dridges’in başına da az iç açmamıştır.

Kendince zengin olmanın hızlı bir yolunu bulduğunu sanıp, Brassbeard’e iki kız kardeşlerden birini yamamaya kalkınca işler bir anda savaş alanına dönmüştü.

Geriye dönüp baktığımda, iyi ki o zaman Scowling Hills’de değildim diye düşünmüşümdür zira bana Demos LIGHTSHAND boşuna demediler!

Kandırarak Brassbeard’in yanına getirdiği kız kardeşlerden, Romilus da, belediye başkanı da hiç beklemedikleri bir tepkiyle karşılaşmışlardı.

Sevgili Magella, derin bir nefes almış ve toprağın derinliklerindeki demir madenlerinde bulunan ağabeyi Lamark’ın bile duyacağı şekilde “HAYIR”, diye kükremiş, sonra da Romilus’a dalmıştı..

Sanırım klanden ve Scowling Hills’den ihraç edilen bugüne kadar duyduğum tek dwarf da Romilus oldu ve yaptığı bu ahlaksızlıktan dolayı kendisine “Mad” Ussa.. (manyak Ussa) yada Medusa adı verildi.

Ama bunların hepsini sen zaten biliyorsun, sevgili Magella.

Bilmediğin şey ise, Romilus’un geri dönmüş olduğu..

Klane geri katılabilmek için yapmadığı şey kalmadı. Reddedilince de Scowling Hills kıyılarında seyredip sorun çıkarmaya başladı. Korkarım yanlış kişilerle dostluk kuracak ve çok büyük sorunlara sebep olacak zira Scowling Hills’in içini de, dışını da Romilus çok iyi biliyor.

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“Yoruldum.. Sanırım artık dinlenebilirim.. Bu anlattıklarım, sevgili Magella’ya geçmişiyle ilgili söylemek istediğim mesajı verecektir.”, der yaşlı Demos, bitmiş bir sesle.

Loş ve küçük odasındaki iğreti yatağında sırt üstü yatmış yaşlı tapınak muhafızı, hırıltılı bir nefes alır.

Hemen yanı başındaki bir tabureye çömmüş, diz sehpasının köşesine tutturduğu cılız bir mum ile efendisinin anlatısını kaleme alan genç katip dışında gecenin bu saatinde tapınaktaki herkes, Serenity Home’un gerisi gibi uyumaktadır.

“İsterseniz yarın devam edelim efendim.”, diye önerir genç katip.

“Bitti zaten, çocuğum. Hepsini yazdın değil mi?”

“Evet Efendim. Harfi harfine..”

“Güzel.. güzeel.. Ne zaman temize çekip Arashkan’a gidecek ulağa verebilirsin?”

“İsterseniz yarın sabah erkene yetiştirebilirim.”

“Gerek yok. Seni uykundan daha fazla etmeyelim. Yarından sonraki günün sabahı da olur. Bakarsın ekleyecek bir şeyler gelir aklıma.”

“Tabii Efendim. Siz nasıl isterseniz.”

“Haydi git sen de dinlen artık. Ama önce mutfağa uğra ve bir şeyler atıştır. Bütün gün benim gibi yaşlı bir bunağın saçmalıklarını dinledin ve öğünlerini kaçırdın..”, der Demos ve yorulmuş bir şekilde gülümser.

“İnanın ben çok eğlendim, Efendim. Sizin ve saygıdeğer Lady Magella’nın böylesi bir geçmişi olduğunu bilmiyordum..”

“Bu, sevgili Magella’nın geçmişi değildi evlat. Onun geçmişini şekillendiren kişilerdi sadece. Ama en nihayetinde dedesi Efendi Argail’in kararına boyun eğen de, beni efendisi olarak kabul etme nezaketini gösteren de yine kendisiydi.. Bu bilgelik her zaman ona aitti.

Belki sen de bir gün bilge bir dwarf’la karşılaşırsın ve anlatacak böylesi bir hikayen olur. En nihayetinde bizim işimiz ‘iyilik’tir ve iyilik, kitaplarda değildir. Kitaplarda sadece tarifler ve reçeteler vardır.. İyilik, tapınağımızın korunaklı duvarlarında da değildir çünkü bizim tekelimizde olan bir şey değildir. İyilik, orada.. dışarıdadır..”, der Demos iyice kısılmış sesiyle.

“Evet Efendim. Kesinlikle haklısınız.”

“Şimdi bu yaşlı adama bir battaniye daha getir, sonra da mutfağa git ve bir şeyler ye..”, der Demos.

“Tabii Efendim. Hemen getiriyorum.”, der genç tapınak katibi ve diz sehpasını kenara koyup yerinden fırlar.

Genç katip elinde yedek battaniye ile geri döndüğünde, Demos Lightshand yüz altı yıllık adanmış hayatını sessizce geride bırakmış, kendi ölümcül macerasına çoktan başlamıştır..