Sunday, May 24, 2015

Last of the King's Men, Chapter 9

For all of recorded history, the elves of the great forest known as Cale’ndor have lived their lives in seclusion. Many people say that the elves are immortal- and that only when they leave their realm, a place where life itself permeates the very air and earth around them, that they become vulnerable to the hand of time. Because of this unlimited lifespan, the elves have been able to plumb the depths of every kind of knowledge imaginable, and even the greatest breakthroughs in the study of magic throughout the world are said to be leaked secrets of elven lore, and that if one were to somehow access the heart of Cale’ndor the primal powers that sustain the world would be theirs to control.

But Lady Sanna was no elf. Many people made that mistake, and many people regretted even uttering that word in her presence. Long ago, a group of elves left Cale’ndor, at the great disdain of their nature-loving brethren. By leaving their race's ancestral (some might say god-given) home behind, they forsook their racial qualities- the so-called immortality, the ability to refresh one's body and mind through meditative trance, and their natural affinity for all things magical. As a result, they became a new race- the Edhel.

Physically, Sanna was a paragon of her race. Her hair was long and silvery-white, her ears pointy and sensitive to even the slightest of sounds, and her body was fit and shapely and agile. In another time and place, one might even say she was beautiful- but life had not prepared her for a life of beauty or luxury. She used her body as a tool, as a means to accomplish a task. Her focus and her skill was her greatest asset, and she put it to good use. At times she found herself wondering if, had her life gone differently, she might have been a different person- had she not awoken so many years ago in the middle of the night to the sound of bloodcurdling screams, had she not watched her twin sister and elder brother be torn to pieces by the blade of a ravenous orc, had not her entire life been taken from her by an opponent too numerous and mindless for her to comprehend, perhaps she might have been able to notice the occasional glances and courtships aimed at her by men in King Lainen's court. But since that day, she lived for her archery and nothing else. Every battle, every scar, was a part of her that made her what she was.

It had been almost two years since the news of Lainen's death. The months lived in exile had begun to bleed from one to the next. Their numbers had dwindled down so low as time went on. After Meredith's death two weeks previous, their number was five. The halfling had always been the best at keeping everyone's spirits up; she and Tarrow would play their instruments around the fire, and then the two of them would argue music theory for hours as the sun went down, her tiny stature standing up against his pompous self-confidence. But now, even she was gone, and though nobody said it out loud, they all had their doubts. Galex, the despicable tyrant, had sentenced them to death, and one by one that sentence was being fulfilled. They all wanted vengeance; there was no question of that, nor of whether Galex deserved it. But what could four exhausted knights and a single squire do to fight back against the ruler of the strongest nation in the world?

They had been looking for a new home for what seemed like a lifetime. They had combed the outermost edges of Eodon, looking for somewhere they could hide out- their original goal had been to find someone sympathetic to their cause, that might be able to help them, but after so long, and with their numbers so low, Sanna could tell the others just wanted somewhere to stop. Somewhere to rest. But everywhere they went, it seemed Galex's men were a step ahead. They had been run out of more towns than she could count, and more than one village had been burned down in an attempt to take the Horselords with it. Everywhere they went, innocents suffered. They had reached the Great Forest, marking the western edge of Eodon- an expanse of dense forest reaching hundreds of miles in every direction. This far from the seat of the throne, they were safe from patrols… but they were no closer to finding a home.

Even before their exile, Sanna had always felt most comfortable when out in the wild. The day her family was brutally slain, her concept of "home" shattered. Even though her life was spared, saved not by her own ability but by the fortuitous arrival of the true king of Eodon himself, her life had been broken. Lainen Tarithal II rescued her from certain death at the hands of the savages, and, taking pity on the young girl, invited her to live in his courts. She eagerly began training in the arts of war, hoping to some day, some how avenge the death of her family. But she was never quite comfortable sitting indoors, relaxing- not when there were enemies out there, plotting against them, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Now that Lainen's murder had forced her into a life of wandering, she took guilty solace in knowing that she was no longer trapped in a castle like some maiden. Sometimes, when she was able to forget the circumstances that brought her here, she was able to feel happy.

But such times were few. Life in the wilderness was miserable for everyone, and she was no exception. The days were short, and the air freezing. Fru’al's magic was a godsend, capable of providing them warmth and relative comfort in the day, but the nights were still bitter cold. The cold was hard on them all, but most on their horses. Their steeds had stayed with them this long, despite the hardships they all faced. Artemis had, long ago, asked why they bothered to keep the horses through their exile- such a question was difficult to take as anything but an insult. Eodon horses were the strongest, fastest, and smartest in the world, and were the cornerstone of their status as knights. These creatures were their loyal companions. While at times the necessary food and care could feel like a burden, having their horses with them provided mobility beyond anything they could manage on their own, as well as the ability to bring supplies far heavier than what the knights themselves could carry. But utility aside, these steeds were their friends.

"Discarding a horse out of convenience would be like discarding a squire, Artemis," Tarrow had said.

Sanna would sometimes look into the eyes of Sorroweth, the gelding that had been given to her by King Lainen himself upon the day she became a knight, and bite her lip to hold back tears. She and Sorroweth had been friends, companions, partners, through thick and thin for decades. Looking into his eyes took her back to when she was a child, riding her parents' horses across the vast, lush countryside. Even after the Orc Wars, when she lived in Lainen's court, one of the few things that could make her feel at home was riding Sorroweth at full speed, the wind whipping her long silvery hair around. She rode him into battle on many occasions over the years, and he had never let her down. Even when things were at their worst, in the dead of winter when food was running low, she put caring for her steed ahead of caring for herself. He was the single connection she had to better times.

Sanna did want to find a new home. But not for herself- for Sorroweth. For the others. Some day, they would find one.

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