The Sword of AviondorebyColleen Thomas©
This blade shall bring death and woe to your enemies My Queen. As long as it is wielded by one of your line it shall never know defeat. Yet, I foresee that one day, far beyond even the reckoning of Elves it will bring about the end of the line of Aviondore.
DonAu Tu'vervain, Court seer upon the presentation of Angrost to queen Shalima Aviondore, in the first age.
The faint gray light of dawn had yet to penetrate the canopy of branches. A single figure moved along the darkened forest path with such grace and ease that even the animals of the forest did not notice her passing. She was tall and lithe and moved with a purposeful stride, seeming to fear neither falling nor becoming lost. As light slowly began to filter through the canopy of leaves her form became more distinct, but she seemed so much a part of the natural world that only a keen observer would have been able to tell.
T'larin paused on the edge of a small dale and carefully surveyed the open area. She knew this wood as only an elf could know it. The Elven race was the longest-lived race on the face of Talor and T'larin was no longer young even by their standards. Only death by disease or mishap kept them from being immortal. Slow to anger and to experience other emotions they were considered by men to be aloof and cold. Still, the hot-blooded elven temptress was popular in their myths and songs, for the elves were a hauntingly beautiful people. T'larin was typical of her people; she was tall and light boned with delicate features and long blonde hair. Her skin was soft and carried the light blue hue of the northern tribes rather than the light green of Sylvan folk. Slow to anger and to friendship she was considered cold and proud even by her own people. This was to be expected from the daughter of a queen. Elven society was dichotomous in that men held the power, but lineage was traced through the mother's side.
This area had once been rolling grasslands between the Nero' Larta or Singing River in the common language of men and the swift Se` Larta or Falling River. Men considered the forest here old and they called it the haunted wood. Most men would not dare cross it unless they were in very dire need. To the Elves no wood held any dread and the trees here were young to those of the undying race. It was now called the Westermark and was claimed by the king of Silverwood.
The move was premature in the opinion of many elves for none of the great silver leaved Talthas trees had reached maturity in this area. The king had made the move for reasons other than nature, although he acknowledged that only to a handful of his closest advisors. T'larin had been chosen to be the march warder for the new lands by the sylvan king partly for her intimate knowledge of the area, but more for her better grasp of the situation outside the elven kingdoms. Here on this bright morning in her peaceful woods she allowed herself to think dark thoughts concerning that situation.
The Orcs of the Iron Dust Mountains were massing for war against the young human kingdoms along the coast. The battles had already begun in the north where T'larin and her people hailed from. Here in the south increased raids by orcs and other evil creatures had begun to become more prevalent only in the last few months. The adding of this land was meant to create a buffer for Silverwood. It would also allow the Elves to cut off the direct line of retreat for orcish raiding parties without having to declare themselves openly in league with the humans. While the hatred of Elf and Orc was as old as time itself the Elves, especially the Sylvan Elves were still very cautious when it came to men. They had fought several border wars with the men who lived in the valley of the Nero'Larta in years past. That was ancient history to the men who lived there now, but only a blink of the eye had passed in the long memories of the elves.
T'larin was not of the sylvan people; her people were the high elves of the North and had already created such marches to protect Aslaheim, their homeland. It was for this reason that she had been chosen as Marcher Lord over others with better connections to the throne. Aladar, king of the sylvan elves, trusted her to carry out her mission here without embroiling the elves in the coming war. T'larin suspected that there was some far greater force of evil directing the orcs and that soon all races would be involved. She kept this fear to herself however, knowing it would be unwise to voice it with no proof.
Many of her northern kin felt that Kalouth, the great deceiver was rising again. T'larin was only a child when her father had led the Great host of Aslaheim to aid the beleaguered men and dwarves of the northern coast. Kalouth's host had been crushed and his great tower laid low, but even the mightiest of magics had been unable to destroy the keystone. Of Kalouth there had been no trace and no whisper of him for ages up on ages, until men forgot and the dwarves added him to their legends. Only the elves remembered him for the threat he was. Now rumors came that the dark tower had risen again, but these were rumors, nothing more, for no good creature had set foot in the Forbidden Vale in all the ages since the tower was destroyed.
She considered these things as the sun slowly warmed on her face and shivered as an unnamed chill passed through her. A rabbit carefully approached the small brook and took a drink while songbirds flitted through the trees. They took no notice of her, partly because she was so attuned to nature, but partly because of her garb. She wore a white archer's shirt, which was open at the neck showing an almost daring amount of cleavage. Her green stockings were tucked into well-worn brown knee boots. These boots had been fashioned in the Silverwood and bore a minor enchantment, which allowed the wearer to move silently over any terrain. Her cloak was also of elvish make and bore a minor enchantment that allowed it to blend into any surroundings. Around her waist was a broad leather girdle from which several pouches and her sword hung. A simple leather band with elvish runes of protection painstakingly carved into it held her long blonde hair back.
T'larin sighed and leaned on her bow staff. It was unstrung now and she used it as a walking stick, but in an instant she could string the mighty bow and send one of the lethal cloth yard shafts from the quiver hanging on her shoulder at an enemy. She expected no danger here, but something was bothering her, an almost tangible feeling of menace hung in the air. She moved to the stream and took a long drink of the cool water before starting off again. It was many leagues to the small enclave where her march warders were to meet tonight.
She had been walking for over an hour when stopped suddenly and stared in wonder. Before her a Talthas sapling stood. It had only a leaf or two but it stood nearly as tall as she did. This was a good omen and for a while the feeling of dread left her.
The Se'Larta was called the Falling River by men. It gained the name because it fell in a series of spectacular falls out of the Ergos Mountains and ran in a swift crescent to join the mighty Singing River, which rolled for leagues and leagues until it finally met the sea at the port city of Waterdown. The Se'Larta could be forded safely in only two places in its long sweep and thus formed an effective barrier. The first was King's Ford near the feet of the mountains and second was Queen's Ford a few leagues above the massive Eagle Falls, the last fall before the two rivers joined.
Over the past few months Orcish raiding parties had descended from the Ergos mountains and forded at King's Ford, marching through the woods they had cut out the huge sweep of the river and crossed at Queen's Ford to raid the villages of men on the east side of the Singing River. Orcs left damage in their wake that it would take the forest years to repair. They seemed to delight in killing living things and marring any beauty they came upon.
Two months ago T'larin had set up her base just above King's Ford when she first arrived. She and her few march warders had harried the orcs and set up ambushes with such brutal efficiency that it appeared the orcs were now avoiding the ford and taking the long way around. This had the effect of leaving them exposed to the cavalry of the men on the long return march and there had been several bloody encounters. The Orcs were unable to tame horses, for all animals hated them and this gave the humans their one advantage in combating the orcs for horses could move far and fast upon the plains.
It was in this manner that the Sylvan folk chose to aid the men of the valley rather than helping them in battle. They also turned a blind eye to the men who would cut through their lands to get in front of an orcish raiding party. The men were respectful of the forest, cutting neither tree nor branch and building only small fires. They had learned long ago that elves watched the woods and took a dim view of anyone who thought to change or damage the haunted wood.
On this evening T'larin was sitting before a large bonfire and nodding as Colfinin, the bard told the story of DaMiel the elfin princess who fell in love with the human hero Cardan. The story was very old and in the mode of most Elvish leys it was very tragic. T'larin was tired from the long walk and not in the mood for it. In the story, DaMiel was unable to resolve her love for a human and the scorn of her peers. She had taken her own life by throwing herself from Eagle Falls or so the legends said. The feeling of impending doom would not leave T'larin and she wished she had requested a happy tale for tonight. She was actually happy when Ral-Nir'Thronin hurried in and whispered to her that she was needed at the ford.
Ral was her constant companion and bodyguard. Old even for elves he had been present at the founding of Aslaheim in a time so remote most elves did not remember it. He had loved once, but his wife and children had been slaughtered by orcs during the first Orc War. He had been away with the host aiding the men and dwarves and never forgave the lesser races for it. He had changed after that and was considered fell and dangerous by all who knew him. Ral seemed to love little in the world, neither the forest nor the sea, but he dearly loved T'larin, as she had been his daughter's dearest friend.
When T'larin and Ral arrived at the ford she found several of the rangers well concealed and intently watching the open area across the river. In the fading twilight the light copse of trees hid any movement but the sounds of battle were all too plain. There were cries in the common tongue of man and also shouts in the brutish language of the orcs. T'larin strung her bow and knocked an arrow even though she could perceive no target. The sounds of combat faded into the gathering darkness and all was suddenly quiet. After a few minutes her keen eyes caught movement in the copse. A human female clad in dark red armor staggered out of the woods. She held a sword in her hand, with the blade snapped off about 3 inches above the hilt. Her other arm was cradled to her side, but T'larin could not tell if the side was wounded or the arm in the fading light.
She stumbled and dropped the sword, crawling the last few feet to the edge of the river. The human dunked her head in the cold water and when she came up for air she was looking right into T'larin's eyes. T'larin felt her breath catch in her throat; the girl's eyes were startlingly green. Her hair was fiery red; even that which was wet and she had a deep cut across her forehead that was oozing blood. Red hair was unheard of among the elves, blonde being predominant in the northern folk and black among the sylvan folk. The distance could not have been over eighty paces, but T'larin was sure the girl could not see her, but she felt as if the girl was looking right through her. Movement in the copse behind her caused the girl to whip her head about and broke the spell.
Four large Orcs came into the open and one of them spoke. The language was vile and barbaric, but like most elves T'larin understood it.
"Toldja, saw er run,"
"Ya did Grunmesha, ya can av second go at er," the largest one grunted back.
"I saw er first, I shud get first go," the one called Grunmesha snarled. The larger one cuffed him sharply across the mouth and then turned back to the girl. Her hand went to her side and produced a wicked knife from a tattered scabbard. If it bothered the orcs they made no sign of it.
"Put the sticker down girle, we ain't gonna hurt ya none," the big one grunted in common.
"Ya, gunna give ya the time of yer life," another said and they all laughed.
The orcs were a prolific and rapacious race. They were able to crossbreed with almost all of the humanoid races, producing offspring that were generally as vile looking and evil as themselves. Occasionally the pairing would produce a child who could pass for the mother's race and these children were highly prized by the orcs as spies and infiltrators. One thing was certain no female ever took pleasure from such a mating; the orcs were brutal and cared not a bit for their victims. They were also exceptionally large and many women died from the experience.
The girl seemed unsure of what to do, she was obviously too weak to fight the four of them off, but she appeared ready to try. She tried to stand, but sank back to the ground with a sob. The orcs laughed and closed in on her, but she seemed to weak too even move again. T'larin was torn between wanting to help and exposing her few archers to what might be a considerable force of orcs. If it had been a man she would not have intervened, if the orcs had moved in for the kill she might not have, but when the leader began to undo the filthy loin clout he wore her bow seemed to act of it's own accord. Her broadhead arrow traversed the short distance with a buzzing sound to bury itself in the orc's neck. The other elves acted on their leader and in moments all four orcs were down, so full of arrows they looked like large ugly birds. The girl looked up weakly, her eyes disbelieving and then she collapsed.
T'larin was already moving before the last flight of arrows found its target. She splashed into the freezing river and fought against the swift current as the water quickly rose above her waist. Part of her mind was questioning what she was doing, but she ignored the small voice and gritted her teeth against the cold. She was just emerging when a small orc stepped into the clearing. He saw her at the exact moment she saw him. Before she could even think the orc sent up as squawking scream and ran back into the woods followed closely by a hail of arrows.
There was no time to think now; her body and mind were reacting without conscious thought. She dashed to the human's side only to find her unconscious. She was not a big woman as humans went barely five foot ten and around one hundred and forty five pounds, but that was a very big person to T'larin who was almost six feet tall but weighed barely one hundred pounds. T'larin stooped and managed to get the girl over her shoulder. When she stood up she staggered and nearly fell. The life of a ranger had made her strong and athletic, but the girl's dead weight was a heavy burden. She stumbled back toward the freezing river feeling her breath begin to burn in her lungs.
As she trudged through the water her legs quickly became numb. A volley of arrows whizzed above her head and she heard growls and howls of rage behind her. An arrow splashed into the water near her, but she ignored it and continued struggling through the icy water. She was beginning to falter when she heard several splashes behind her. Orcs were following her into the river and cold fear welled up within her. She suddenly felt a burst of energy return to her leaden limbs. The adrenalin surge carried her up the slippery bank, where she unceremoniously dumped the girl's dead weight and whirled on the balls of her feet. The beautifully sculpted long sword she wore snicked from its scabbard and settled comfortably into her hand.
The blade was ancient even for her race. Forged in the First Age for the Orc Wars it had been wielded by her great grandmother in the defense of Aslaheim and by her father when Kalouth's power had been broken. Orcs, trolls and evil men beyond counting had fallen before the blade's fury in the dim past. The blade shown with a cold blue fire that gave some light in the thickening gloom. Enchantments by the score had been cast upon the blade as it was forged. No other blade had ever been forged with such skill and care and it remained the pinnacle of the weapon smith's art. The skill to make swords like it had vanished long ago when Dragons and Orcs sacked Midrand and the great smith's perished.
The orcs in the stream, who had been close upon her heels when she turned fell back in a squealing panic. Even the centuries had not dimmed their fear and loathing of the blade called Angrost, the Orc's Bane. The orcs turned and fled stumbling over one another and floundering in the cold stream. The arrows striking them down from the shadows had enraged them, but seeing Orc's Bane naked and glittering had replaced that anger with cold fear. T'larin smiled grimly as she resheathed her blade. Ral came out of the shadow of the woods with a smile upon his face and a nearly empty quiver. The far bank was littered with corpses and she wondered if that was the lot of them.
"The next time Milady Captain decides to play hero I hope she would let us poor underlings know. One quiver is not enough it would seem to keep you out of trouble," he said indicating the single arrow left in his quiver. The tone was reproachful, Ral had promised to keep her safe when her father had assented to her leaving Aslaheim. T'larin knew better, no Elf hated the orcs with the implacable, timeless hatred Ral held for them.
"The next time you can play hero and I will give cover fire," T'larin replied after she had caught her breath.
"What of her?" Ral said as he pushed the girl's shoulder with the toe of his boot. His disdain for humans was nearly as strong as his hatred of the orcs. He was everything men expected of an Elf, haughty, arrogant and aloof. T'larin understood his feelings; she had never had many dealings with men. Those she had met were hairy and wild, totally unrefined and insultingly familiar or obsequious and not to be trusted. Her brother had killed a man in a duel over his ogling of her when she was still a mere child. Learning from the episode her father had kept her well away from his audience chambers when men came after that.
"Have her taken to my platform. Send runners to bring fresh quivers and double the guard here tonight. The Orc's are waxing brave if they are willing to engage us over the ford. This whole episode brings upon me an ill feeling,"
"Aye, I have felt it too. Something is in the wind, on the tip of the tongue of the animals of the forest, but I cannot yet hear the words,"
"Ral, I fear some great evil is upon us. Send runners to Silverwood and call out the guard. Call all of the warders in and watch the ford with special care,"
"Have you had a vision T'larin?"
"Nay, I do not have my mother's gift of foresight, it is simply a feeling that calls to me so strongly I must heed it,"
"Should we tend to this one's injuries?"
"Nay, I will tend to her, she is my problem," T'larin said quickly. When the older elf looked at her questioningly she smiled, "My just rewards for playing hero,"
T'larin was bone weary as she mounted the ladder that would take her up to the platform that served as her home. She had seen to the girl being carried away on a litter and had stayed with her men until the second watch arrived with fresh arrows and eyes. The hurried walk back to her encampment had seemed to take forever and she found herself worrying about the girl even though she could find no reason why.