Strangers from afar
Throughout the night, Aewyn often used Lyian’s still lit lanterns to guide her way. She walked the distance to the village; stopping only to take a drink from the wineskin or check the fish. The morning sun came with warmth, along with the sweet twitter of birds as they continued to nest for winter again.
Before long, Aewyn saw the outline of Lyian’s huge wooden gates as light quickly began to rise above the mountains. There were two solders, posted on each side of the portcullis with long, wooden spears in their hands.
Several wagons were passing through, the overdue merchants coming at last. “Good,” she thought “Now the town will have enough food to last the winter. Now I hope that the king’s tax collectors will not make it this year to take more from us.”
God of the Kings Ralindorr was despised all across the land of Eironoshia; he was the one who corrupted the Great Empire before he claimed dominance over the kings that once ruled the Province of Eironoshia amongst themselves. Peace had reigned among the land, watch over by those who used magic for good. Now there was no such thing.
Lyian was one of the few places untouched by the Empire’s massive army; she had heard that many of the inner cities were pillaged and burned. The men enlisted; their families murdered. Nothing was left by the New Empire but dust on their boots and blood on their swords.
Stories were still around about Ralindorr’s conquest to rid the land of the elves, dwarves, and the Vëk-raon—strong magic users that kept tyranny from the land with their dragons. But all of the storytellers bold enough to recite the story were hanged by the Empire in front of the entire village so they could see.
Aewyn had heard only a few of those stories; how over three centuries ago he slaughtered his first Vëk-raon and their dragon. No one knew exactly how or why Ralindorr set out to complete this evil deed, only that he accomplished it.
The wind shifted with a great whoosh; Aewyn was sprinting faster than ever. Thrumming of her boots filled the air, as well as the sound of creaking hinges. Both soldiers proceeded to close the giant, metal gates until they saw her.
Motioning with her hand, Aewyn stopped the two soldiers, and strode up to them. Both wore dusty, yellow tunics, worn from extensive use. Each of the men was fitted with iron greaves and mail armor, with a leather coif upon their heads.
The soldier on her right was tall and masculine, with a golden beard of hair that gave the man a dull, greasy appearance. His face had the look of depression; the long hours of guard duty with little pay. Aewyn did not know who the hefty soldier on the left was, but she shifted her stance as she confronted the two soldiers.
The man Aewyn recognized was Helroy. The man was a little shorter than his partner, but with a neatly combed black mustache. He too, appeared grim and whiter than the moon; as if he’d seen a ghost. Aewyn brushed herself off, and with the man’s sullen appearance intriguing, she questioned.
“Helroy, what is wrong?” Aewyn shot a pressing glance towards the two. “How fares your duty of guarding the gate? Was there civilian trouble?”
“No, it was something worse; much worse.” His voice quivered as he spoke, causing the hairs on the nape of her neck to stand up. “You’ll never believe it, but…” His voice trailing away
Aewyn did not persist, but slightly tilted her angular head towards him. Helroy’s voice then came in short, rasp intervals.
“Well, you see, me and Clayvin here, we was having a short lunch,” Helroy explained. “He noticed it first and tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up; and my eyes followed what caught here old Clayvin’s attention.” Clayvin grunted in agreement. “At first, I thought that my eyes were deceiving me, but now I am sure of what I saw—
“Oh, come on Helroy, nothing could have frightened you this bad.”
“But you didn’t see what I saw.” He protested
“No, but for something to turn you white as—
“Did you want hear what I have to say?” Helroy snapped. Aewyn nodded. “Then stop interrupting me.”
“Anyways,” He told her “I saw two people, and both were seated upon two different dragons. One dragon was dark, black as coal. All I could see was its ferocious white fangs and its neck spikes in the sun.”
“Two dragons?” Aewyn asked “Are they of the Empire? There was a moment of excitement at thought that they had come to help and remove the God of Kings, but it disappeared a second later. Helroy had confirmed that they were from the Empire, some of Ralindorr’s new fancy servants.
“As for the other one, I’m afraid that I only got a glimpse. I think it was red though… yes it was, red as crimson blood. They were flying north towards Swelthguard, but they stopped to ask about you when they passed by.”
Aewyn was shocked by the news. What was so important about her that Ralindorr would send two new Dragon Servitors to inquire about her? Did this have anything to do with her parents that she had never even spoken to? Was she in trouble?
The God of Kings would not send two of his best servants to talk with a mere elf dropped off in a small arctic village. This was bigger somehow, but she had no satisfying answer for herself.
“What did they want with me?” Aewyn interrogated as she accompanied Helroy and Clayvin inside the village. “Did you tell them anything?”
“Not really much of anything. They asked where you were and we told them that you were out for the week to hunt game. Also, they asked if you had family. I never said anything about Sparah or Nalin. All I told them that you would be here tomorrow but nothing more than that.”
“Did they state what they were here for?
“They told us that it was none of our business, that it was the Ralindorr’s orders.”
“So you inquired no further I’m guessing.”
“No, I’m afraid that I did not, they were…very persuading.”
“Did they leave after that, or did they stay around?”
“Oh no, they headed out on horseback after that back the way they came after we told them that you’d be here tomorrow afternoon—
“They were on horseback?” Aewyn exclaimed “But I thought that you said they were flying on dragons. Why abandon them?”
“We saw them flying along the ridge of the mountains west from here. They stayed in sight for only a moment. But we knew it was them when they came here on horses. By the way they rode them I mean. They rode them horses like they would dragons, leaning forward more than they should, and the ill-tempered rider kept reaching for where a dragon’s neck spike would be.” Helroy paused for a moment, putting his hand on the pommel of his sword. “I sense trouble with those two—just by the way they talked to us. As for why they rode up on horses instead of dragons would be they did not want to cause panic among the village. How would you react if two ferocious dragons showed up on your doorstep suddenly and unexpected?”
“Terrified,” Aewyn admitted
“Strange men they were though, with their peculiar swords clear as glass and their brilliant steeds.” Helroy said “Probably stole the horses off of some nobles in the next town over. One of the Servitors had a temper though. He was very impatient when questioning us—even threatened once to cut our tongues out when we told him that we knew nothing more.”
Aewyn then thanked the two for the information and excused herself. The village of Lyian was surrounded by stone walls—high enough for archers to stand on but not for people to climb—with entrances on only the north and the south sides of the village.
The houses were dark; mud bricks were stacked to create walls for the villagers’ homes. Snow covered most of the houses, as well as the streets.
Aewyn passed a few of the villagers; whom she recognized to be Lorami, Hubner, and their son, Ulanar. She waived at them and muttered a greeting; then turned down a cobblestone street on her right.
The moon was now bright upon the stone of the village; a slight stir as the people retreated for the night. There was the constant squeaking of a mouse and its babies down a dark alley to her right. Yelling came from a local tavern across the street; drunkards advancing toward waitresses whom by mistake strode too close to them.
As the noise lessened with distance, Aewyn took a left and came to a small, mud-house and went to the door. The wooden door squeaked on its hinges as she entered.
The house was warm—smelt of warm bread and gnawing aroma of a stew. A wooden chair sat by the fire; knitting tools and wool yarn on it. There was a table to her right, and a small kitchen useful for only the smallest meals was behind it. A great kettle was placed upon the fire, and the soup was simmering.
Behind the counter stood a woman in her late thirties; gray and brown hair fell upon her shoulders. Dark circles ere under her eyes—worn from stress and the many years raising a family as a widow.
Aewyn put her leaf-woven pack by the table. Sparah looked up—saw Aewyn and they met in a meaningful embrace, hugging each other. Sparah held Aewyn’s cat-like face in her hands and brushed the hair from her eyes.
“I’m so glad you are back; I was worried when the storm turned worse than normal,” She started “I did not want you to get stuck out there in the snow and the cold—
“I missed you too Sparah,” Aewyn interrupted her. A wry smile appeared upon her lips; Aewyn put her hands on Sparah’s wrists.
There was a moment of silence—the sound of snow beating against the house—the rhythmic thumping of boots against the floor.
Nalin stood next to the kettle now; startled by her sudden return. The boy was two-and-ten years old with shaggy, brown hair and blue eyes. His mouth was agape; Nalin threw his arms up and ran towards Aewyn.
Aewyn caught him in her arms and spun him around in a circle; faster than she ever dared. A joyous laugh escaped her; a sharp but wondrous sound, and kissed him on the forehead. She let go of him and Nalin—looking dizzy—stumbled before finding his footing.
“I leave for a few days and it’s as if you’ve not seen me for a century,” Aewyn said to him “have you been treating your mother Sparah right? Because if not,” Aewyn smirked and pretended to punch Nalin in the jaw. “I would have to feed you to my giant pet Lizardagyi…he’s very hungry this time of year. Especially for two-and-ten year olds that give their mothers trouble.” She joked
“You don’t have a Lizardagyi; they live way east—over the Floracion Mountains. They could not survive here—
“Oh, is that so?” Aewyn then chased him around the house; laughing when Nalin turned around she tickled him. “What if I have been raising it. . . hmm. . .under your bed? She chased him for several more minutes while Sparah watched from the counter.
Aewyn then padded Nalin on the head and went over to the pack lying upon the floor. She began to unpack, setting the contents on the table. The fish, however, she put on the counter aside of Sparah. It was then that Sparah asked of her fishing trip.
Aewyn recited the trip, including her conversation with Helroy and Clayvin. She quite had not understood what this meant, and Aewyn hoped that Sparah could give her some insight.
Sparah seemed just as surprised as Aewyn when she had heard from Helroy. Aewyn gently massaged her right hand when Sparah got up from unpacking the pack. Sparah was biting her fist, her knuckles turning white.
“What does it mean?” Aewyn questioned. Nalin turned to the kettle now; filling a bowl with the warm enticing soup. After ladling the creamy soup into his bowl he went back into his room to avoid the conversation. She knew that he disliked hearing the details of the villager’s everyday life.
“I’m not sure; Dragon Servitors or Valkyrie have not been here in centuries, not since the birth of the New Empire—
“That’s what they would be called if they were women instead,” Sparah explained “They were equally skilled in the blade, but Servitors were normally stronger in magic.”
“Oh….but how do you know that?”
“When I was in Riern many years ago, I had a friend who that I studied with that came across a rare book that spoke of this. There were many bits of information like that in the book. If my memory holds true, it was “The Ancient scrolls of the Teshla Vek shi mite” or the Ancient scrolls of the great warriors.”
“But why would the God of Kings send these Servitors to find me? I am nothing but one elf in a small village in the farthest, poorest parts of Eironoshia.”
“It could be for nothing; but then again we never know what peoples’ intentions are. I am not sure what it means or what to tell you. Just don’t worry too much, promised me that.”
“I won’t” Aewyn promised
Aewyn was content with her mother-of-all-but-blood, but she was not satisfied. It still did not answer why they had specifically asked about her. “And why would they ask about my family?” Even if they were here to see her, her family would be of no business to them, so they would have no reason to ask about them.
She wiped these questions that clouded her mind and enjoyed a friendly conversation with Sparah. They had not talked for a while, and Aewyn hated being so distant. They hadn’t spoken much since her father-of-all-but-blood had died. It had taken a terrible toll on Sparah, as well as her. How could it have not? Tyran and Sparah had raised her from the time she landed on their doorstep ten-and-eight years earlier.
As the night dwindled away, Aewyn soon became tired and excused herself from Sparah. She grabbed her yew bow and went into her room. It was just as she left it—barren except for a wooden dresser in the corner and a bed next to it. The dusty window above the dresser was boarded shut with no way of letting chilly air entering.
Aewyn hung the bow upon two pegs above her bed, and then lifted the blankets upon the bed. Getting in the blankets, she was immediately warm and she rolled over on her side. She then closed her eyes, and allowed herself to be thrust into dreams with the immense possibilities of why the Servitors came to see her.
When Aewyn woke up, there was breakfast on the table along with a scrap piece of parchment. Steam still rose from the eggs and bread, and she saw a fresh change of clothes on the other side of the table.
I went to the market today to pick up more flour and check out the merchant’s merchandise. Breakfast is on the table, and a set of clothes. I took Nalin, so we will be home in a few hours.
Aewyn quickly got into the fresh clothes, leaving her bow but again strapping on the dagger to her leg. After eating the small breakfast, she left a note telling Sparah that she would be in the woods out the north gate of town for a while. Aewyn then left and closed the door behind her.
A half an hour later, she exited the north gate. After answering to the guards to where she was going, Aewyn crossed a small wooden bridge and followed a snow trampled path to her right. The trees along the side of the path swayed with the wind, and their branches bend downwards from the weight of the snow.
She came to a place where the road forked out left, and she followed the left path to the entrance of Astrai Forest. Great big willow trees loomed over the forest, shaking and whispering as the branches shuffled against each other.
The land under the massive trees were bare; snow could not be seen anywhere throughout the forest. Astrai Forest was the biggest forest in Eironoshia, meeting up at the base of the Orsuup Mountains.
No one ever went or tried to climb the Orsuup Mountains. The land was too steep—people died every year to the ravines and to the unfriendly animals that lurked among the caves. Temperatures were below zero up in the mountains, and even the most experienced climbers could be killed by the cold
“I doubt that the Servitors would ever go up there.” Aewyn thought. Not that it mattered anyways; they had to be long gone by now.
She stepped into the vast forest and walked along the trees. There was a bird or a squirrel every once in a while, but otherwise she was alone. Several minutes passed before she found a nice, comfortable spot under a tree where the moss was completely dry and pine needles were fresh.
Before she sat, Aewyn broke off a branch roughly a foot in length and two inches in diameter. She settled on the soft bed of needles, and with her dagger, began to whittle the log of wood. She sang softly to herself and to the wind.
Soft melodies about the forests and the rivers and the land filled the air as she began carving the figure of a bird. Her voice was beautiful and vibrant; it brought a strange happiness to the world around her. Aewyn often sang in her elven tongue, a language only she knew within the tribe.
She remembered the scrolls given to her by her mother-of-all-but-blood that taught her how to speak and write her language, so she taught herself at four years old. The language came naturally; and although it was her race’s language, she often could not help but think why she knew it well enough to read and write the elven language by the age of five.
After carving the outline of the bird, Aewyn used the tip of the dagger to etch out the eyes of the bird. She whittled away small pieces of wood; a pile of shavings on the ground between her legs.
Then there was a roar that echoed throughout the entire forest. It was a sound she had never heard before, it was ferocious and powerful. The roar had come from the village, and now she could smell the faint odor of smoke.
Aewyn thought of what could have made a roar like that. Wait a second: It couldn’t be a. . . Dragon! She had to get back to the village. Smoke meant that the village was on fire. People would need to get out of there. Then a thought occurred to her: Sparah and Nalin were at the market!
Aewyn dropped the carving and her dagger onto the ground and ran as fast as her legs could to the village. A trail of pine needles and then snow was kicked up as she made her way back to the village.
She sprinted along the trail and then across the bridge and to the gate. The soldiers that were guarding it before now were gone. There was fire erupting over the tops of the wall of the village from the houses with two levels.
Pushing open the wooden gates, she was met with a sudden heat wave that was almost too much to bear. Aewyn put her arm in front of her to lessen the brightness of the fire that burnt around her. Only the roads were free of flames, and she made herself down the main road leading through the village.
She coughed from the smoke and her eyes began to water. “I have to get home to save Sparah and Nalin.” There was a horrible, gurgling scream from a house to her right.
A man burst from the entrance of a burning house, flames hurling from his body. His hair was singed and gone from the fire. The clothes that he was wearing were burnt to his skin, and his flesh was peeling. It was a gruesome sight; Aewyn tasted bile on her tongue.
Aewyn ran over to the man, ripping off her over-shirt and tried to extinguish the flames. But the man fell to the ground and twitched, and then died. The smell of rotting flesh was pungent from the burning corpse. She looked away from the burning man and threw up along the path to the village road.
Wiping her mouth, Aewyn cursed whoever was the cause of this. These were innocent people; they had done nothing to be murdered like savages. Deep down, Aewyn felt she knew who had done this. But she had a question: Where were the two men on dragons?
Then there was the mighty roar again. Aewyn looked up, and both of the two Servitors were hovering just above the village. Both had their swords in hand; waving them in small circles with the steady flapping of the dragons’ wings.
The heat of the fire stung her cheeks, her eyes now dry from constant exposure. She coughed again, and looked around for the gate. It was beginning to catch fire, the sides of the gate rippling with small flames.
Then the Servitor with dark brown curls and his black dragon bellowed at her. It was full of pain, and fear, but it was deep and his meaning was clear.
“Elf-girl, we are here to kill you! Ralindorr does not want you to become a Vëk-raon and we are here to make sure that happens,” The Servitor pointed his sword at her. “There is no escape; so make this easy on yourself! Accept your death willingly, and we will make it as painless as possible. If not, well. . . I cannot assure you it will be painless.”
“Vëk-raon? What do you mean? Who are you? And what did you do with my family?” she then yelled back at them “Did you kill them like you slaughtered everybody else?”
Aewyn swore that she saw a smirk appear upon the Servitor’s face. The man laid his sword across his knees and adjusted in his saddle. She knew that they had killed them, and her heart sunk.
“As for whom we are, that does not matter. And we did not kill your family. We have them safe right outside the village. No harm will be done to them if you—
“You lie!” She managed to say “You lying-murdering-thieving traitors!”
“Fine then,” the Servitor spat “You have chosen your fate.”
“I’ll never go with you two! Both of you are cowards . . . cowards I tell you!”
She turned around and ran. Aewyn sprinted to the flaming gate and kicked it open; the dragons letting loose a roar before bathing the street in flames. She ran for the one place she knew the most. The dragons were too big to fly into Astrai forest and she was much faster than a dragon or a human on foot.
Aewyn constantly felt the heat from the flame that the dragons released from their jaws and the loud thrusting of their wings as the chased her along the path. One of the Servitors yelled “Get her” and Aewyn took the left at the crossing and continued to sprint.
She jumped the last several feet into the forest as a jet of flame singed the hem of her clothing. The dragons and their riders slammed into the trees around the entrance of the forest. There was great roar from the dragons’ at her escape; leaves ripping from branches as they howled at her.
The dragons grabbed hold of the trees with their claws and pushed off into the air. A giant jet of flames erupted into the forest and the trees began to burst into flames. After ascending into the sky, both dragons released a fury of blast of flames at the trees covering the forest.
“If we cannot catch you,” she faintly heard one of the Servitors say “Then you can burn with the rest of the forest.
She stayed silent as the dragons scorched the trees one more time and began to fly away. Flames swirled all around her; blocking her every path of escape. The smoke was worse than the heat, and it hurt to breathe with her already raw throat.
Aewyn coughed; the horrible taste of ash in her mouth. She looked around and saw a small path had opened up on the other side of a wall of raging flames. The fire had not scorched the path on the other side, but the fire was spreading to the path quickly.
Ignoring the heat and smoke, Aewyn jumped through the flames. The edges of her clothes were in small flames, other parts smoldering. She batted the edge of her clothing and rubbed her heat-dried eyes.
Squinting, Aewyn could barely see where the Orsuup Mountains met up with the end of the forest. If she could get to higher ground she would be fine. But the smoke was filling her lungs and she wasn’t sure if she could last another minute. She had to try; or she would die.
She tried to run, but her legs were weak. Not enough oxygen was present to breathe. Coughing began to hurt with much pain, and her vision began to flicker between reality and unconsciousness.
The fire raged around her, consuming all of the trees that stood in its way. A wild deer that had once been eating berries now ran through the forest, its hide burning from the walls of fire it had leaped over or through to get away.
Aewyn then stumbled towards the mountains. After about fifteen steps, her legs buckled and she fell to her knees. She took in a breath of smoke and air, and at the same time tried to pull herself across the forest with her hands. Holding her breath brought extreme pain, and her mind screamed for more air.
Spots of hazy blue, red, and yellow clouded her vision. Her vision flickered, and she saw a man with gray long hair and beard hold out his hand. Coming out of unconsciousness again Aewyn saw that the fire around her was being extinguished by the man, and that another figure had appeared into view.
She realized that the second object was much bigger; the figure was gigantic. The man spoke to her, but she could not hear what he’d said. There was then a sudden relief in her chest, but she was too weak to speak and her throat was still raw.
Then her vision went black.