The Solitary Arrow Ch. 16bymack_the_knife©
“We will be back soon.” He said. “Keep an eye out for Trevir, please.”
“Why?” Gramma asked. “He planning on stealing more peaches from my trees?” Then she chuckled. “I will watch out for him, as I can, and you know old Tammer will, too.”
Harlen nodded, then walked outside the front door, watching the drizzle and waiting for Hyandai.
The young elf stood before the elderly human. “Milady Maggie,” Hyandai said, “I want to thank you for accepting me, and for helping make Harlen the man he is.”
Both of them by consensus glanced toward the night orb. Maggie walked to it and picked it up. She brought it over to Hyandai and held it out. Almost, Hyandai took it from her, then checked her hand’s motion.
“No.” Hyandai said. “After we return.” She withdrew her hand.
Gramma nodded and hugged Hyandai to her with more power than the elf would have thought she could muster. She returned the embrace, then straightened up and kissed Maggie’s cheek and followed her betrothed into the mist.
Maggie watched them leave, and went back to the mantle, replacing the night orb. She looked over her little collection of elven trinkets and artifacts; the flute, the chalice, and the night orb. She looked at the spot that the little trade box had rested. She had stuffed that into Harlen’s pack when he was not paying attention. She knew he would need it ere he returned. Something told her so.
The two traveled quietly, though Hyandai continued Harlen’s education in the language of the elves. He had already learned many nouns, common words for many things, and she giggled to hear him calling things out by name as they walked past them, even if he got the gender off, he would have been understood by any elf that listened.
She began to work on his verbs and even, somewhat, upon adjectives. It was a very few hours before he could tell her, in her own tongue, that she was very pretty, and that she had very appealing hammer. A girl cannot have everything overnight, she decided.
The day was miserable, but they found themselves surprisingly happy through the walk, even as the slow drizzle soaked their clothes and the cold chilled them to the point their hands were a bit numb.
They came, at last, to Markam’s Ford. This was where a village had once stood, almost directly upon the Windir border with the Western Realms. It used to be a trading community, and was part of the duchy. However, it had been razed years ago by another, neighboring realm and never rebuilt, as Morrovale was not far away and offered much greater protection from raiders.
Harlen peered from the ruins of the old church in the center of Markam’s Ford at the dense tree line south and west of the village ruins. Nothing could be seen to move.
The forest he was looking at was little like the woods he hunted daily. It was more densely treed, for one, and the trees were larger. The overall effect was a solid wall of vibrant green, marked here and there by leaves turning yellow, red, brown, and orange. He slid his spyglass out of his pack and looked toward the trees, still nothing to be seen moving.
Not that he expected to see anything. The elves did not announce their presence at the border. He was certain the lack of sighting of them meant exactly that they were there.
“They do patrol the border, don’t they?” Harlen asked Hyandai as she peered through the glass.
She nodded silently, and peered another moment. “There is one.” She said, at last, handing him the glass and aiming it at a patch of darkness among the trees.
Harlen had to look a long moment, before he saw a solitary elf; wearing a cloak similar to the ones they wore beneath their oilskins. The elf was peering out of the woods, scanning the clear land that rose from the river to the trees. He had a bow in one hand and a sword, similar to Hyandai’s, upon his belt.
“Do you think he’s seen us?” Harlen asked her.
Hyandai shook her head. “No.” She replied, in case he had not seen her. “Had he, we would not be seeing him. He is being incautious, confident that he is simply performing a routine patrol.”
The elf moved away from the dark hole in the canopy and was once again gone.
The sky was growing quite dim, with the dense cloud cover and waning light as the sun set behind the obscuring clouds.
“It will behoove us to wait until nightfall.” Hyandai said. “Even darkvision is not as good as normal sight, especially at distance. Once we cross in, and get a few miles into the wood, we should be fairly safe from patrols, as the borders are the main areas that are actually patrolled.
They found a reasonable amount of shelter under the sagging roof of an old storage shed that had not been burned to the ground. Both of them laid out and rested, even napping by turns, so that they would have as much energy as possible after full dark.
Hyandai gave Harlen a sour smile. “The irony.” She said. “I have to sneak back into my own homelands, to return something I was sent to acquire.” She shook her head, the wet ringlets of her red hair dimmed to maroon in the failing light.
“Only to avoid those who betray your people.” Harlen said. “It is only that we do not know who they are, upon sight, that we cannot find elves we can trust easily. That’s why treason is such a heinous crime.”
Hyandai nodded and laid back upon the wall behind her. “I wish it were not so.” She said. “You deserve to be welcomed to my lands as a hero to the elves.”
“Even more so to you.” Harlen replied, leaning forward and kissing Hyandai’s ear.
Hyandai woke Harlen after he had a short nap. “It is time to move.” She said.
Harlen nodded and yawned. “Okay.” He agreed. Then rubbed his eyes. “What time is it?”
She shrugged. “Nearing midnight, I should think.” She replied. “I forgot to pack Tammer’s water-clock.” She spoke of the five hundred pound mechanical monstrosity that some gnome had managed to talk Tammer into buying, and which filled about an eighth of the Pierced Boar’s common room.
A deep chuckle from Harlen rewarded her dry humor. “I’ll have to remember that.” He said.
They hoisted their gear and were pleasantly surprised to see clear skies outside the little shed. They folded their oilskin ponchos and looked about, toward the woods. It was now very cold out, as the blanket of clouds was now gone, and no longer held in the day’s warmth.
“It will be warmer once we reach the wood.” Hyandai assured Harlen as he blew into his hands to warm them.
Harlen gave her a curious look. “Magic?” He asked.
“No.” Hyandai said as they started walking toward the black tree line, barely visible in the moonless night. “But the trees hold in a bit of the warmth of day, as the clouds did.”
They walked on in silence, as they reached the river, both of them dreaded this part. Removing their clothes up to their waists, they waded into the water. It was icy cold, but mercifully not a long walk. Hyandai actually had to suppress a giggle upon seeing Harlen’s much shriveled manhood when they emerged. They both quickly dried off and put their clothes on. The woods now laid only a couple of hundred yards away.
Using small shrubs as cover they slipped quietly over the border into Windir. Harlen realized that he was now walking in elven lands. Two months ago, the thought would have thrilled and terrified him. Now it simply terrified him.
He expected at any moment a small squad of elven rangers to leap from behind trees and shrubs and confront them with bows drawn taut.
This did not happen. Even though Hyandai feared pretty much the same thing.
They did their best to make good time through the first miles of the wood, moving as quickly as they could and still maintain some semblance of quiet. It was, Harlen decided, noticeably warmer under the canopy of massive trees.
He did not recognize a good half of the trunks they passed as they moved over the soft ground and around the occasional bramble.
After an hour of this pace, they stopped to rest amid the massive roots of a tree that must have been several hundreds of feet tall. Hyandai was oddly at peace in her eyes and the set of her face.
“Good to be home?” Harlen whispered.
Hyandai nodded. “But also, it feels different.” She replied, in an equally quiet tone. “I think, in reality, your land and house are my home, now.”
Harlen could barely make any motion out, even with her sitting right near him. She had been guiding him through the wood, and now he knew, somewhat of what a blind man felt as he moved about.
“I think we should wait for daybreak here, then move on.” Hyandai said. “We’ve passed the outer pickets now, and should be fairly safe if we are cautious.”
“How far to your village?” Harlen asked.
Hyandai thought a second. “A day and a half.” She answered. “If we are not forced to detour.”
They dug out their blankets, and that was when Harlen found the little trade box from his grandmother’s collection of elven artifacts.
“Did you know of her putting this into my pack?” Harlen asked, holding out the Windy Islander box.
Hyandai shook her head. “I only knew of the soul mask she bade me bring to discover its purpose.” She replied, her eyes wide.
Harlen opened the little box, and lying within, nested on a bed of soft cloth were two rings of brightly shining silver. They were so shiny, in fact, that they were clearly visible in the darkness as two glimmering shapes.
“Spirits!” Hyandai gasped, covering her mouth with her hand.
Harlen looked at her, but he did not need to ask why she was rather shocked to see them. They were obvious to him, even, for there were more than children’s games shared by elven and human folk. Such things as wedding rings.
Hyandai reached out a somewhat shaky hand and picked up the smaller ring. She looked closely at it. “It seems your Gramma rather liked to play little games of hide the apple.” She said. “When I examined her collection, I never thought to open the box.”
The ring was silver, but not only. It was an alloy of silver and mithril, and that mithril was the source of the luminescence. They were simple bands, but faceted with small angular cuts of the metal, causing them to glint and sparkle in any light, even starlight filtering through trees.
Harlen kissed her cheek. “I think Gramma was trying to rush things along.” He said. “Do not feel rushed.”
Hyandai looked at the ring for a long moment, her eyes filling with unseen tears. “I do not.” She said. “I feel like I’m being held back. I know we have not been with one another but for a few weeks, my love, but I know I am done looking for others to love, as well.” She put the ring back into the little box. “If not you, then no one.” She finally said, her voice sounding resolute.
Harlen had not idly spent the day learning random phrases of elven, he had a plan to his seeming randomness. “Amin melle lle, amin vanima Hyandai.” He said - ‘I love you, my beautiful Hyandai.’
She squeaked a small sound that Harlen had not heard her make before and then he felt his neck being crushed by both her arms as she embraced him fiercely and peppered his cheeks, lips and forehead with little kisses. “Amin melle lle, amin aglare Harlen.” She replied - ‘I love you, my glorious Harlen.’ “Ten’oio lle corm amin” - ‘Forever my heart is yours.’
They put the box away, but now, though the thoughts that it had brought out in their minds were kindled and seemed to be unstoppable.
The dawn found them entwined with one another under the blanket, still lying upon the oilskin poncho they had laid to keep the wet ground soaking the lower pad. Harlen blinked at the sudden light as the sun smote his eyes through a break in the canopy. Hyandai gave out a small sigh and then blinked her eyes open as well, smiling brightly.
“Good morning my love." Hyandai said, in elven.
Harlen grinned at her. “And to you, beloved of my blood pump.” He replied, also in elven.
Hyandai had to admit, his elven was growing better fast, at least he had not named her an implement for pounding nails. She giggled a little though. “That form of heart is for the actual organ in your chest, beloved.” She explained. “Corm means the heart that feels.” She walked up to him as he folded the blanket. “But I am glad your physical heart loves me, as well.” She finally said, kissing him.
The advantage of him learning more and more elven was obvious. Now, if they were somehow overheard talking to one another, the hearer would not automatically know it was a human speaking. They spoke on it, and decided any time they spoke in Westron, it would be at a whisper, but they would speak freely in elven.
They set out, again south and west, and had not traveled more than a couple of miles before they had to stop. Ahead was an encampment of elves, over a hundred of them. They skirted the encampment and maintained quiet while doing so. Hyandai was most discomfited while they were near to the small town of tents. After another mile, they felt freer to speak.
“Why did that encampment frighten you so?” Harlen asked.
Hyandai gave him a long, still somewhat fearful, look. “It is not our normal way to camp in large groups like that.” She replied, pausing a few seconds. “Save during war.”
His feet stopped moving for a long moment, then he followed her again. “Those were the enemy?” He asked.
“Yes, I fear they were.” Hyandai replied, her eyes still darting over her shoulder and into the woods. “I cannot think of another reason for the encampment this far from any settlement and in those numbers.” Her eyes once again grew panicked. “They mean to attack my village. Or yours.”
“A hundred or so against over two thousands?” Harlen said. “Are elven warriors really that good?”
Hyandai shook her head. “No.” She answered. “But they may mean to make a raid onto some important target then withdraw. But I am more certain that they mean to take Embalis, my home village.”
“Why would they do that?” Harlen asked, disbelieving.
“Embalis is the only elven town this close to your lands.” Hyandai said. “It would effectively cut off the loyalists from the humans in that direction. They would be enforcing isolationism with or without Royal consent.”
“There are other realms that can be reached in other areas, surely.” Harlen said.
“Yes, but Morrovale has long held a position of being considered elf friendly.” Hyandai said. “It would be a morale blow to the loyalists to have that potential ally cut off.” She shrugged. “Some of the other human communities along the border are apathetic to elven causes, or even somewhat hostile, and others change their stance as they change nobility. But, for some reason, Morrovale has always been friendly, without fail, for as long as there has been a Morrovale.”
Harlen blinked at that. This was new news to him. “Then why did you withdraw contact from us?”
“We had pressing matters with Ghant and the Windy Isles.” Hyandai said. “Ghant attacking us and the isles, and us helping the isles weather those attacks that fell upon them. When we are forced to war, it takes most of our resources to even stay on a level footing with humans who wage war upon us. The Windy Islanders helped much, but only insofar as they could.”
“It was no conscious effort on our part to stop parleying and trading with your people, Harlen.” She said. “There were simply not enough people, nor the luxury to travel northward. Only now have the Ghantians withdrawn and left us the leisure to move in other directions again. But that same war has led many of my folk to adopt a stricter isolationism policy, even a militant one.”
She glowered back toward the encampment. “The loyalists to the king believe that isolationism is not a path that will lead to our benefit.” She said. “Humans tend to destroy what they do not understand or that which they distrust. Isolating ourselves from them will lead to both.”
“Can your village defeat the enemy army?” Harlen asked.
Hyandai shrugged. “If that hundred was all of them, then yes.” She said. “But I feel safe assuming there are more out there, perhaps entire other camps, scattered around Embalis, like this, one day’s walk away. That’s far enough to avoid casual discovery, but near enough to coordinate an attack.”
“You certainly don’t sound like a scribe when you talk like that.” Harlen said, leaning over to kiss her neck.
She giggled. “I’ve transcribed many a text on strategy and tactics, and works that outline the various thoughts on elven and human interaction.” She explained. “I suppose some of it sticks to one’s mind.”
Harlen grinned. “I suspect my betrothed is smarter than I.” He said.
With a quick motion, Hyandai kissed him. “Not smarter, just a lot older.” She replied. “Remember, I have had almost forty years to learn things.”
Harlen had given that little thought, and now it struck him in the mind like a crossbow bolt. “Forty years.” He said quietly. “How can you see me as anything but a child?”
An odd look overcame Hyandai’s features. “Well, for one, children rarely throw me onto tables and take me so thoroughly that I nearly faint.” She said. “Another thing is that elves do not worry on ages much, as we are long lived enough that small distinctions do not matter so pointedly.”
“How many languages do you speak?” Harlen asked.
Hyandai thought a moment. “Twelve, and seven dialects off of those.” She replied, giving him a worried look. “Do not start thinking less of yourself, Harlen. That path leads to no good thing.”
Harlen turned his lopsided smile toward her. “Hmm?” He said. “You’re afraid I will think less of myself because you are even more wondrous every time I think of you? No, Hyandai, I think myself extremely fortunate to have appealed to you, but I do not think less of myself.”
The worry left her eyes and she hugged him. “Good.” She said. “For you are wondrous yourself.” Again, the rather lustful expression crossed her face, fleetingly. “You certainly do things to me no elf could.” It was gone just as quickly, replaced by her normal, pleased expression.
Harlen chuckled. “I will have to have a conversation with her one day.” He said, regarding Hyandai as she began picking her way through the trees.
The forest was as he thought it would be, but more so. The tree they were just resting amid the roots of stretched upward and into a nearly impenetrable canopy above.
“Is this an Ornthalion?” Harlen asked, craning his neck to look upward at the twenty-foot diameter trunk as it shot upward.
Hyandai nodded. “It is an Ornthalion.” She said, speaking elven once again. “They form much of the basis of elven life.”
Harlen whistled at the immensity of the tree, then looked about them for others. He spied a couple, at a goodly distance. Most of the rest of the trees were more normal types, oaks, elms, even spruce and pines. The ground was covered in a thick layer of fallen leaves that made the step springy as one walked over it. In the distance, Harlen could hear birds calling and even the occasional animal screech of land bound creatures as well. Sunlight was very subdued here, with only a few spikes of the golden rays penetrating through the canopy and landing on the ground.
Patiently watching him, Hyandai smiled to see his wide eyes as he took in her homeland. It was important to her for him to accept this place, for it was part of her. He seemed fascinated, and that pleased her greatly.
“It seems like my wood, but larger and thicker.” Harlen finally said.
Hyandai nodded. “But there are other differences, which you will probably see some of before we arrive in Embalis.” She replied.
Taking her hand, Harlen began to walk alongside Hyandai through the woods. They conversed some, and as much in elven as Harlen’s limited knowledge allowed. Hyandai was proud of his progress so far. Either Harlen was an excellent linguist, or he wished to learn elven very badly.