Walking Through Shadows Ch. 02bySilver_ink©
Orlaigh stood at the edge of the forest and scanned the tree line. He had left the city three days ago with no idea where he was heading; he had just set his feet on the path and allowed the call to pull him along. This morning, the call had intensified and he had all but ran to the spot in which he now stood.
Anticipation was strong in his mind, he was excited and nervous all at once, it was indescribable. He desperately wanted to move forward and see who had called him and why but he was scared that he would be rejected as well. There was also calmness, an acceptance that whatever happened was meant to be.
Examining the thoughts, he realised that they weren't all his own. The fear belonged to someone else, someone who was waiting to see him...the caller. The acceptance was theirs as well. A large part of the excitement was coming from the caller too but part of it was his own.
Thinking back, Orlaigh remembered the first time he had stood at the edge of these trees. It had been almost ten years since he had been here last and most of the memories of his time were hazy at best. Orlaigh had not been lying to the king when he said that to speak of his one clear memory of this place would be to sully it. In fact, he rarely thought of it himself for the same reason.
Now, however, he was back here and he knew that the call he had received was linked to that wonderful time all those years ago. The memory that he had kept locked away these past years came to the front of his mind and with it, the memories from his entire time in the forest unlocked. The last ten years melted away as he looked back and remembered.
The call in his mind wasn't from the same person. It was from Nia. His Nia. His first and only love. She was calling him back to her.
A small, hooded, figure had stepped from the shadows of the forest and beckoned him to follow
The figure waved him into silence and motioned again that he should follow. Orlaigh paused, not wanting to follow some unknown person into the forest, who knew what would be waiting for him there?
Sensing his indecision, the figure spoke softly
"You have followed the call from our lady this far and now you hesitate?"
There was derision in the tone; a mocking quality that nevertheless spurred Orlaigh on. Without further pause he stepped after the figure and into the forest beyond.
They walked for some time in total silence and Orlaigh had plenty of time to look at his guide. Elf, he decided. Elves were by no means unusual in the land of Kuin, but it was unusual to see one away from the battlefield.
Three thousand years ago, a pact had been made between humans and the elder races. The elders would provide warriors to help fight the shadow spawn that plagued the land and would not interfere with any decision that was made by humans as long as the Elves were given controlling rights to all forests and Dwarves the same with mountains.
The copy of the contract that was held in the palace stated that it was not the full agreement; there was a part held by the Elves that no human had been allowed to see since the original pact had been made. Orlaigh wondered if this was why he had been summoned.
Dragging his mind away from his musings, Orlaigh realised that he and his guide were no longer alone. They had been joined by several other cloaked figures. Seeing his surprise, his original guide dropped back to walk with him
"There have been sightings of a...I don't know if your language has a word for it" she said with a frown
"It is a...creature...made of stone and hate. They are sent by the Shadow to hunt in the mountains but sometimes they are turned here. If it comes we can kill it but it will be hard. You will keep out of the way if we shout." She explained, brusquely.
"We have no word for that. I have never heard of anything like it!" Exclaimed Orlaigh
"I am a mage though, I could help fight?"
The elf raised an eyebrow "No, you were called here for a purpose. You will stay safe and do your duty"
With this rather cryptic comment, the elf moved as if to go back to her place in the lead and then stopped. Turning, she looked at him for a long moment and appeared to come to a decision
"I am Tininiathalasa. You may call me Nia; I know that humans sometimes struggle to pronounce words they are unused to. I cannot keep calling you 'human' I understand that may be seen as impolite. You will tell me your name."
Orlaigh smiled. In the past he had usually met with Elvish ambassadors who dealt with humans regularly. However, from the odd conversation he had had with some of the warriors, he knew that most humans were seen as never getting old enough to acquire enough knowledge to have a wise and open minded perspective on the world around them. If he were being honest with himself he would agree, humans had much to learn, fortunately he had devoted most of his life to the art of acquiring knowledge.
"Thank you Nia, I am Orlaigh and you are right, we humans do sometimes struggle to pronounce words we are unaccustomed to. However, as the Elvish scholar Lymedriirn'ven said: 'Namo avene delotha, ri namo lle'"
"You are right Orlaigh. I forget myself. You would not have been chosen if you lacked intelligence." Nia smiled
"You mention again that I was chosen. What for? I doubt that there is any magic I can do that your people cannot and I have no other skills that you would lack"
"You have learned the first lesson of Lymedriirn'ven: 'Judge without hate or judge yourself', you will have to trust his words. Now, I must return to my duties"
Before Orlaigh could open his mouth to question her again, Nia strode away to retake her place at the front of their party, leaving Orlaigh alone with his thoughts again.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully although Orlaigh was glad when they stopped to make camp that evening. He wasn't used to walking much anyway and to walk through the forest and keep pace with a band of Elves was more tiring than he had realised.
He sat by the fire and stared into the flames, wondering what he was here for. The call he had been following had ceased but he knew that if he turned back now, it would restart and this time he may not even be given a guide to help him. Deep in thought, he hadn't realised that someone had sat next to him
"You trouble me, mage" said Nia, softly
Orlaigh started and turned to look at her. In the firelight, she was beautiful. In fact, Orlaigh realised, she was beautiful anyway. He had just been too busy watching where he was going to fully realise it. Pulling his mind back to what she had just said he opened his mouth to ask her why. Before he could frame the question though, Nia had started answering
"I have watched you since you left the city. I was supposed to guard you and then guide you through the forest. I thought you were going to be...childish. I was raised to believe that humans are children that can never grow to their full potential. You are not what I was raised to believe in."
Once again, Nia walked away before he could answer and left him with more to wonder about than why he was here.
The next day was more of the same. Orlaigh followed the Elves ever deeper into the forest as they walked in silence. At mid day, they stopped to rest and eat. Orlaigh opened his pack and brought out some of the food that he had brought with him to share with the group.
Nia came and sat with him while the others busied themselves preparing the meal and started questioning him on his knowledge of Elven history.
"I am surprised that you know of our scholars, I would not have thought a human would have the patience to study our history" she told him
"I have made it a point to learn what I can of all the people that help in the battle with The Shadow" he replied.
"There is much we need to know in order to use our forces effectively. It helps that it is a fascinating thing to study. You have a beautiful culture and language."
Nia smiled and flushed slightly
"A pretty compliment mage. Do all your people flatter strangers in this manner?"
"It is not flattery. I have studied the history of Elves and Dwarves as closely as I have studied my own people's. I find the Elves to be the most interesting. Your long lives mean that you have a complex and varied past when you deal with humans. You are more aware than we are...although, there are times when your great age does seem to work against you"
As the words came out of his mouth, Orlaigh wished he could snatch them back.
Nia's eyes flashed with anger at the implied criticism.
"Pray tell me how someone so young can see so much" she said in a tone that made it clear Orlaigh must tread carefully
"I meant no disrespect. It is only that, as you have so much time to grow and mature, you can gain your wisdom over centuries. What you can take seventy years to learn, the average human must learn before they become adults. I phrased this badly. I had no intention to anger you, only to explain where one of the biggest differences between our races come from."
Surprisingly, Nia smiled again. Such quick changes in emotion were rare in the Elves that Orlaigh had met in the past and he was unsure of how to continue. Before he could decide how to proceed, Nia spoke. As before, it seemed that she was answering a question he hadn't yet asked
"Yes, you are right and I believe my temper has just proved your point. You are a young man when your age is compared to mine. However, you would be older than me if we were the same race. I am 200 years old. An adult, barely, by our standards. Equal to a female human of about 20 years old. You are thirty-two, yes?"
Without waiting for an answer, Nia continued.
"You have achieved much in those few years. Never before has a human mage been as strong as you are at such a young age, as you must surely know. There was one, many years ago. It was he who helped create the pact between our people. Now you must come and do what he did and I must help. It is my duty."
Rising, she left him again. Irritation touched Orlaigh as he was again left with more questions. What was her duty? What was his duty? Why did she leave him so quickly when she must know he had questions?
After a short break, the party started again. Once more, Nia dropped back to talk to Orlaigh. As she did so, he heard a snigger and one of the Elves said something in their own language that caused more sniggers. Nia glared at the speaker and snapped back at him. The Elf had spoke again, an apology it seemed, and walked to the front of the group.
"What was that about?" Asked Orlaigh
"Nothing. They think it is odd that I would spend time talking with you. Few of us have felt the need to leave this place and interact with humans before. I am interested in you though. They think it is cause for laughter" she said, wryly.
For the next few hours, Nia and Orlaigh discussed much. Both their histories, personal and cultural, politics, the ancient pacts were all things that they were both interested in. By the time they stopped that evening, they were fast friends.
The pattern was set for the next few days. The group would set off with Nia in the lead, they would stop at midday and then continue for several hours in the afternoon. Each afternoon, Nia would drop back to talk to Orlaigh. After the first day, Nia had become more interested in questioning him about more personal aspects of his life and Orlaigh had ventured a few questions of his own about hers.
Before breaking camp on the morning of the third day, Nia came to Orlaigh and told him that this would be the last day that they travelled together. They would arrive at their destination the following evening. As she left to take her place at the head of the group, Orlaigh sighed. He hadn't realised how much he had come to enjoy her company and he would miss her.
Hearing him sigh, Nia hesitated and then returned to him. Waving at one of the others, she indicated he should lead today. This brought a flurry of Elven, as usual; it was far too fast for Orlaigh to understand. He had come to realise that he was not as skilled in the language as he had thought!
"What was that about?" he asked
"I will spend today talking to you. I will not have time tomorrow and I wish to know more of you"
Without further comment, Nia set off.
As they walked that morning, her questions turned ever more personal until without warning, she asked a question that stopped Orlaigh in his tracks.
"I have heard that mages are celibate. You take no wives or lovers. Is it true? Are you?"
Orlaigh turned red
"I, erm, well, erm, no. No, we aren't"
"So you have a woman at home?"
Orlaigh felt his face heating up as he tried to think where this was going
"I...have no woman in my life."
"Now or ever?"
Giving himself a mental shake, Orlaigh drew himself up to his full height
"This is not something we talk about in polite society." Realising that Nia had not meant to embarrass him, he relented
However, I...well...no, actually. I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in an all boys school and then I was in service to the king. I've never really had the chance. Not that I wouldn't! I just suppose the right woman has never come along." Pausing, a mischievous twinkle came into his eye
"Now that you've made me blush, I think it's only fair that I ask you the same!"
Nia did indeed blush at this. She looked down at her feet as they walked and then raised her eyes to meet his.
As their gazes locked, Orlaigh felt as if he was falling into her eyes. He had noticed before how beautiful she was but, after days of getting to know her, he had realised that she had unlocked feelings in him that he didn't know where there. Asking her this question, even though it was just what she had asked him, had made him realise just how much he cared about the answer. He desperately wanted her to say that there was no one in her life in that way.
With all of this passing through his mind, Orlaigh had stopped watching where he was going and tangled his feet in a root. As he fell,, he reached out and grabbed the first thing his hand touched. Unfortunately, this was Nia and he pulled her down with him.
They both lay there, stunned, for a moment before bursting into hysterical laughter. The others looked at them and shook their heads. Helping each other up, Orlaigh and Nia asked each other if they were ok before laughing again.
As their laughter subsided, Nia suddenly became serious again
"There is and never has been anyone in my life in that way" she said quietly
"However, there is someone I have recently come to care about a lot and it will make my duty that much harder."
Saying this, she walked away.
The rest of the day passed in silence. At their midday break, Nia moved off into the forest and didn't reappear until after they had set off again. She took the lead and didn't look back once at Orlaigh. He was left wondering if he had upset her somehow and resolved to ask her that night.