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In the Sway of Storms - chapter 1

    • 178 posts
    May 6, 2021 1:19 PM PDT

    History is swift and ever-changing. I do not mean the course of events in the world, the rise and fall of peoples and wars. By ’history’ I mean the words that spring forth from those events. The writings and tellings, the songs and stories and legends. Events that shake the world are the fertile soil from which history springs forth.

    Even now it happens. Stories are moving through our people, stories of the heroism of Elves as the first faint murmurings of war stirred across the sea.

    In my memory it is different. I remember people refusing to move or believe, trusting that peace and safety would continue as it has for generations, for centuries, even as the darkness loomed before our feet.

    But not everyone was lost in such dreams. I also remember those who prepared long before our people woke.

    — from the journal of Kaolyen Greyborne, Faerthale, 486 IH


    * * * * *


    Foothills of the Roan Mountains, 470 IH, mid-autumn


    The broken moon sank into the west. Crowdancer held up a hand, fingers splayed against the stars, and measured the arc between Lauta and the treeline. Soon the moon would pass beneath the forest. Time was short.

    Arebon passed and tapped her on the shoulder, keep moving, and she followed him. She could hear Sairi and Slumber running behind.

    They’d seen no sign of their hunters for some time.

    Trees gathered close around them, thinning slightly as they moved higher up the slope—wickerstick trees with branches already bare stood amidst huddled evergreens. Crowdancers’s fingers played lightly over the frame drum at her side, and she felt the rhythm as a lift and ease of movement as she leapt over tangled undergrowth.

    Then a splash of fire across the path, and the runners dodged to avoid it. Crowdancer went left and realized that the others had gone right.

    She turned and saw swords already moving toward her. She ducked under the swing and rolled, then stumbled up and ran around a tree, making for the others of her group.

    Her opponent was close behind her. She found the breath to begin something on her duduk, something to distract the hunter, when an arrow flew past her and struck her opponent in the chest.

    “Ow,” he said.

    “Isonis, you’re down,” said Arebon. “What are you doing?”

    “Pursuing my quarry,” said Isonis. He dropped one of his practice swords to massage the place where the dullhead arrow struck his leather chestpiece.

    “Skirmish doesn’t mean follow your opponent toward the main force.”

    “What does it mean, Arebon? None of us have ever been to war. Or are likely to unless we are all captured by human savages and have to fight our way out.”

    “They’re not savages,” said Aovyn. “At least… some of them aren’t.”

    Arebon was staring up at something in the trees. He turned to Isonis and said, “Keep us from reaching our destination without getting bogged down. That’s all you’re supposed to do.”

    “You didn’t give me time to get bogged down,” countered Isonis. “I was going to pursue and kill this one helpless bard,” pointed to Crowdancer, “weakening your forces for the next time.”

    “You’re dead.”

    “Writhing on the ground, probably, but I doubt that I’m dead.”

    “Slumber’s arrow hit you in the heart. I saw it. And when I say bogged down,” he looked up again, “I’m talking about your summoner reclining on a branch up there as if he’s sipping wine.”

    “I am sipping wine,” came Kymeret’s voice from above.

    Some of Arebon’s hair had escaped his headband, and he brushed it out of his eyes with one hand. A lock of long hair fell back over his face.

    Isonis went on. “And how is Crowdancer supposed to defend herself with drum and duduk? Why is she out here? Shouldn’t she at least have a real weapon?”

    “I’m right here.”

    “All right,” said Arebon, cutting over whatever Isonis was about to say. “Let’s talk this over. Closest village is…”

    “Valehawk Forge,” said Yonai. “They have good wine in the inn.”

    “Good.” Arebon looked up again. “I think we’re all going to need some.”

    * * * * *


    “Isek Riverdusk.”

    Isek turned and saw Sharowsul Iskosia approaching. He nodded and turned back toward the Tree.

    “I wouldn’t have expected to see you here in the light of Lucent,” he said.

    Sharowsul smiled, and the glow caught the sharp lines of his face. “I am not so cynical as you imagine. I come here from time to time to remember the light.”

    “I came looking for Naftali, but he is not here.”

    Sharowsul nodded. “He is a good observant Ashen Elf. If you wait long enough, you should see him.”

    Isek turned back to look at him. “Why did you come?”

    Now Sharowsul laughed. “I am as a sheet of glass to you. Very well. I wanted to hear your thoughts before the next meeting of the Council.”

    “I’m sure you know my thoughts well enough.”

    “Guessing and hearing carry different risks.”

    “Of course. Then you have already guessed that I believe we are not taking the threat of the Ginto seriously enough.”

    “And you will be urging a course of action, of course.”

    “I believe that we should take steps to protect ourselves.”

    “You believe that this army of mad Ginto will cross the sea and threaten us all.”

    “I do.”

    Sharowsul sighed. “Faerthale has been our home for four and a half centuries, my friend. It is time we stop clinging to the miseries and traumas of our past.”

    “I guessed that you would say that. Yet I do not believe preparation for defense is irrational.”

    “Mmm.” Sharowsul turned at a sound. Naftali Oakweaver entered the protected glade around the Lucent. He wore his usual white robes, and beneath one arm he held a book.

    “How surprising,” he said upon seeing Sharowsul here.

    “You both think so little of me.”

    “Of course not,” said Isek. “We have known each other too long.”

    “Yet sometimes I am still surprised.” Sharowsul turned to look at Isek. “I have always admired your… what are we calling them now? Your homes for troubled elves.”

    “You have never shown an interest before.”

    “You have gathered and raised a collection of orphans and troublemakers, the outcast and refuse of society if you will, and had them trained in forest craft, even combat. How could I not be curious?”

    “I find if they have nothing to do, they sit around and brood.”

    Sharowsul laughed. “Don’t we all. Well good day to both of you.”

    “May the Tree light your way,” said Naftali. After Sharowsul was gone, he turned to Isek and said, “Will you be continuing to press for more action in the matter of the Ginto?”

    “I will.”

    Naftali met his eyes. “Then I would like to offer my support in the Council.”

    “What changed your mind?”

    “I’m not sure. I have been thinking of late about the prophecy of Aellos.”

    “Ah.” Isek nodded. “Then I welcome your support.”

    “Then I shall see you at the next meeting of the Council.”

    They parted ways, and Naftali approached the tree. He bowed before the light of the Lucent, then lowered himself to the ground nearby. He carefully opened his book, an old copy of Sepher S’iolaen illuminated by Telieneth himself, and began to read.

    * * * * *


    Valehawk Forge was in those days a town of vineyards and winemaking. The only inn crouched on one edge of town. Tables were scattered about outside, with braziers nearby for warmth against the autumn chill.

    Arebon’s group stepped around the corner, then stopped and stared at the humans sitting at a table next to one of the fires. Rounded ears, strange clothing… and loud, far too loud. No one outside the inn seemed to notice that a group of elves stood motionless nearby.

    “Humans?” said Sairi quietly.

    “Humans,” said Isonis.

    “Humans, yes,” said Kymeret. “Almost certain of it.”

    “The ears,” said Crowdancer, and beside her, Slumber traced a rounded shape in the air. She reached out and gently lowered his hand.

    “Table over there,” said Arebon.

    A harried young elf brought a tray full of wine in celadon drinking cups, then asked if they were hungry. After she was gone, Isonis said, “Arebon, listen. I don’t know what the old man wants. We’re not the only group. He’s got several groups training in the mountains… for what?”

    “I don’t know what he wants,” said Arebon. “I’m just happy to do something. Something I’m good at. What are you complaining about? You loved learning sword and bow.”

    “Yes, and I am quite good at both. I could get an actual job, Arebon…”

    “You gave him your word.”

    “I did.”

    “Maybe he’s got something lined up for us. There is a lot of frightening news out of Reignfall, and maybe they need more guards along the border.”

    “Look, if it weren’t for Isek,” said Sairi, “I would have been homeless years ago. I didn’t know what living in the House would be like, but training to fight? I would have begged for it if I thought it was an option. I got a swordmaster for my twelve birthday, and I’m not complaining.”

    “I’m not complaining either,” said Isonis, giving her a look. “I’m just saying I don’t understand what we’re doing. ‘Skirmish’. What does that mean? How do we engage in combat, then run away without being killed?”

    “I don’t… I’m still working it out. I’ll ask him.”

    “And if we’re supposed to practice fighting as a team, shouldn’t we get training for that instead of just…” Isonis waved his hand, “making it up as we go?”

    Sairi stood up. “Maybe I am hungry. Slumber?”

    Slumber stood up and followed her into the inn.

    “There are soldiers, wardens, who could be teaching us to fight as a team. Where are they?”

    Arebon looked over again at the humans, who had somehow grown in volume. “Maybe they’re busy.”

    One of the humans tossed a bone from his meal into the nearby fire.

    “Will you ask him?”

    “Yes, Isonis, I will take your questions to Isek.”

    Isonis holds up a hand, palm up. “That’s all I am asking.”

    Sairi and Slumber emerged from the inn and found their way between tables.

    One of the humans threw out an arm while shouting about something, and knocked Slumber’s bowl out of his hands. Some of the soup spilled onto the human. The man said something in their language and stood up. When Slumber only stared at him, the man grew angry and spoke again.

    “We don’t speak Human,” said Sairi.

    Another human stood up and walked over. In a thick accent, he said in Elvish, “You spilled soup on my friend. You.” He poked a finger into Slumber’s shirt.

    “He doesn’t talk,” said Sairi, “and it was your friend who struck the bowl.”

    Arebon rose and approached them.

    “What are you going to do about it, elf?” said the human.

    “Why does he have to do anything?” asked Arebon. “What is wrong with you?”

    “Wrong with me? With me?”

    “What’s wrong,” said Isonis from behind Arebon, “is that he is human and therefore brutish and savage.”

    By the Tree, thought Arebon, sit down Isonis.

    The human glanced at Isonis, then walked over to Arebon and looked down upon him. His eyes had a redness that reminded Arebon of elves who have had too much to drink, and for a moment he wondered if human eyes always looked that way.

    “Tell me, boy,” said the man, “is this welcome we get in elf lands?”

    Arebon found his voice. “Is this how you will behave in elf lands?”

    One corner of the man’s mouth turned up. He seemed about to say something when one of his companions pulled him away. The newcomer said in Elvish, “Don’t worry to my friend, he has drink much.”

    Then he said something in Human, and they all returned to their drinks.

    Slumber sat down, breathing heavily. Crowdancer put a hand on his. He looked up and nodded.

    Something caught Crowdancer’s eye, a flash of light near the humans’ table. Flames began to spread onto a backpack against someone’s chair. The human shouted something and then beat frantically on the pack to put out the fire.

    For a moment, she could see a small fire Arcamental drifting back into the nearby fire. She looked over at Kymeret, who smiled and sipped his ale.

    * * * * *


    Rhydian turned and faced his team after the door to the room was closed.

    “I don’t want this to happen again. I said low profile. We already stand out here. Don’t make a mess.”

    “That fire was started on purpose,” said Ercwys. “I don’t know how.”

    “And I don’t care,” said Rhydian. “We are here for our Lord. Don’t mess up.”

    Ercwys let out a breath. “Yes, sir.”

    “All of you,” he looked around, “remember this. Just… keep… low. Calm. Our time will come.”

    They stared at him, hungry for that time to come.

    “Soon,” he continued, “our Lord Ossari will bring a greater fire to this land, and they will all burn to ash screaming.”

    * * * * *


    Arebon walked through the streets of one of the loveliest parts of Faerthale City. Twisting sculptures and spirals of stone reached for the trees all around. The stone was intricately carved with filigree of silver and opal. In these works he saw the beauty of elven culture, graceful as the moment a bird begins to take to the air, but also strong and solid to last the generations.

    He found Riverdusk Manor in the shadow of a huge tree. Red leaves drifted down upon the roof.

    He knocked and waited a long moment before someone answered.

    “Ah,” said the footman. “Come in. Isek is expecting you.”

    Arebon stood uncomfortably in the large waiting room, feeling like a new Ashen Elf waiting for a chance to visit the sacred tree. He heard the footman say, “Arebon Shalebrook to see you.”

    Then the footman waved him forward. He entered Isek’s study, stacked with books and scrolls and maps piled high with mortar of loose pages—an edifice nearly as impressive as the stone sculptures in the street outside.

    The man himself was standing at the window watching Hauna rise over the eastern city. At last Isek turned and waved to a seat. “Arebon, please.”

    Arebon sat down and realized he hadn’t taken the time to clean up before coming here from the inn. “Forgive me,” he said, “I smell like the forest. And wine, probably.”

    “I expect you to smell like the forest after such a day. How did it go?”

    “Badly. I think… I’m not sure any of us really know what we’re supposed to be doing.”

    Isek blinked. “You have all been trained…”

    “We have been trained in what we do alone. We have not been trained to work together. As a… as a group of soldiers.”

    At least, that’s what he tried to say, though he realized he was slurring a bit. His words were not as eloquent as they sounded in his head.

    “Master, I don’t know why you put me in this position. I don’t know why you think I am the one who can lead them, make them work together. Aovyn is wise, Yonai is the best shot…” he paused and frowned, took a breath. “Those are the two who could lead, perhaps. Why did you give this… job to me?”

    “This burden, you mean.”

    Arebon nods.

    Isek sat down at his desk and poured a bit of wine into a small crystal glass, took a sip. “Do you remember when you were fifteen—not that long ago—and you all lived in the house in Farfallen?”

    “Yes. Until the fire.”

    “Until the fire. Which Kymeret’s fiery little pet started.”

    “He was far too young when he learned to do that.”

    “Yes he was. Now who roused them all from bed and got every one of them out of the house, singed but alive?”

    “It wasn’t special. Anyone could have done that.”

    “No one else did.” Isek gestured with his glass. “You did.”

    “And that one incident, from six years ago, led you to believe that I am a leader?”

    “Not a leader of just anyone. A leader of these… companions of yours.”

    “Well if I’m to try to make them into a group doing this… thing you describe, shouldn’t we understand it better? Is there a soldier, perhaps, who could teach us?”

    “Unfortunately…” Isek paused, choosing his words, “there are those who do not agree with what I’m doing. What I do have for you…” he stood and went to a nearby table, took a book from a stack, “is this.”

    The book was old, several generations from the look of it. Bits of the hard cover seemed to flake into dust when he opened it, and the pages were yellowed with age. But the writing was clear and concise, and there were illustrations of the movements of soldiers in a group, tactical formations, descriptions of team combat.

    “The style is a bit out of fashion,” continued Isek, “but it is a training manual of a sort.”

    “Do you think war is coming?” The question slipped out before Arebon could stop it.

    Isek regarded him for a long moment, then “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I do.”

    * * * * *



    Their house was in the southern part of Faerthale City, enough room for eight people to live and train.

    Sairi and Crowdancer were leaning against the passage walls. Doors on either side led to their rooms.

    “We’re going back out there tomorrow,” said Sairi.

    “I know,” said Crowdancer. “I can’t wait to play my drum and be unable to actually defend myself and then listen to Isonis calling me useless and—“

    “Stop. Yonai will handle Isonis. She said something earlier. You just do what you do.”

    “And what is that? I thought I’d be looking for work by now.”

    “Do you want to quit?”

    Crowdancer shook her head. “No, I’d do anything for the old man, you know that. If he wants me to play soldier with the rest of you, I can do that. I just wish I knew what I was doing.”

    “Don’t we all,” said Yonai. She was coming from the common room with Slumber in tow. “Just do your best. We’ll figure it out.”

    She nodded to both of them and went into her room. Sairi stopped Slumber as he walked by.

    “Don’t worry about the Humans. They’re unpleasant and ungrateful beasts.” She squeezed his shoulder.

    He nodded, smiled, and continued down the hall.

    Later in the night, Arebon entered the common room and saw no one left awake. The fire in the hearth was small but warm.

    He sat down on a rug and opened the old book given him by Isek.

    * * * * *


    A floor of dark marble with silver arabesque, and walls of red stone. In the chamber of the Council of Nine Branches, lamps glowed with soft silver light, and the walls were carved with scenes from the history of their people.

    It had been long since all nine council members have been in this room together, but the Mediator had called a meeting of the nine. The topic was war, and the threat from the west.

    Sharowsul walked into the chamber moments before the council was about to begin.

    “I thought you might not come, my friend,” said Isek.

    “My son waylaid me with talk of a group of humans. He wanted me to meet with them.”

    “Humans in Faerthale? Now? That could be important. Did they want to meet with the council?”

    “No,” said Sharowsul.

    Isek frowned. “How odd.”

    The Mediator lowered her staff to the floor, and murmurings faded away.

    “We have assembled,” she said, “to discuss the war in the west.”

    Several council members muttered at this, but said nothing aloud. Another asked, “Who called for this assembly?”

    “Councilor Oakweaver.”

    Naftali stepped into the center of the room. In his hands he clutched Sepher S’iolaen as he always did.

    “My comrades,” he began, “I know that some of you doubt. I know that in your hearts, we have finally found a home, and peace, and that this is our world. And for over four hundred years, that was true. But just twenty years ago, a new race came to Terminus. Since then, another three peoples. Refugees from four worlds, in my son’s lifetime! This is change indeed. The humans arrived eleven years ago, and we helped them survive their first winter. Our stonecrafters helped them build shelters, for their homeland is not far across the eastern plains.”

    “Too close,” murmured another councilor, but Naftali ignored the interruption.

    “Our first meeting with the Ginto,” continued Naftali, “was pleasant. They seemed a noble people. Alas, within two years we had a meeting that went somewhat less well. They were animals, brutal and senseless. What happened?”

    “We have only their word,” said another, “that this Ittero was ever a pleasant god. Only their word that most of the Ginto weren’t monsters when they arrived.”

    “In any case, many of them are monsters. They are the Revenant, and they follow a fallen god.”

    “They are on another continent!” said Thiraifa’len. “What have we to fear? Let them war upon one another. Let them fight the ogres, who apparently love such sport. You would not have us raise an army to fight the ogres, would you? Perhaps we should assail the myr in their houses of coral!”

    More than one councilor laughed, but Naftali did not. “Do you not believe,” he said quietly, “that a descended god might come to our continent one day?”

    “How? Will he build a thousand cargo ships to haul his crazed minions here across the ocean?”

    Isek shared a troubled look with Kaolen across the chamber.

    Naftali sighed. “My brothers and sisters,” he said. “The time has come for me to introduce you to my guests.” He nodded to the Mediator, who lowered her staff again three times.

    Three figures entered the chamber. They were dressed in a curious combination of cloth and chain, and veils covered their faces. The bodyguards in the chamber each moved closer to the councilor they guarded.

    When the newcomers were near Naftali, they bowed as one to no direction in particular.

    “Who have you brought to meet us,” said Sharowsul. His eyes seemed to glitter with interest.

    One of the three stepped forward. He spoke Elvish with an accent full of resonance and long vowels.

    “I am Kuoli,” he says. “We are three of those who remain of the Ginto.”

    “And what would you say to the elves?” asked the Mediator.

    “We would say that the Ravaging Lord, as Ittero calls himself, has allied with the god Ossari of the humans. The war will come to you, and soon.”

    -----

    You can read Chapter Two at https://seforums.pantheonmmo.com/content/forums/topic/13019/in-the-sway-of-storms-chapter-2/view/post_id/252393

     


    This post was edited by Crowsinger at September 1, 2021 4:27 AM PDT
    • 178 posts
    May 7, 2021 6:42 AM PDT

    I'm trying to draw some of my characters as a way of practicing art since I'm trying to get better this year. I need a lot of practice :)

    Anyway, some of my character art is over at https://seforums.pantheonmmo.com/content/forums/topic/13056/painting-my-characters


    This post was edited by Crowsinger at July 8, 2021 4:12 PM PDT
    • 11 posts
    July 14, 2021 9:40 AM PDT
    Great first chapter. Looking forward to the others.