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Aelf Blood

May 13, 2010

“…the light of the sun shone redly in it, and the light of the moon shone cold, and its edge was hard and keen.”
—J.R.R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring

The hork’s poison did it’s work. As Kanys stumbled through branches and brier—unwittingly in circles—his limbs felt turned to jelly. His head so light, hot and pounding it was as if there were a torch or a burning sun behind his eyes, trying to turn his entire head to dust.

Still, he grit his teeth and stumbled forward with one thought on his mind: the dragon, Desarach, must die. He began to laugh maniacally to himself, wondering if the frightful beast he’d come to slay would find him as ludicrously nonthreatening as he knew himself to be despite his fever. He couldn’t even lift an arm to swat at the mosquitoes that buzzed about him as he wandered aimlessly, how could he hope to best the Terror of the Known Aerth?

Mirth turned to a single, brief cry of despair as he fell to his knees and then on his face. There would be no victory now, no hero’s welcome either on his feet or otherwise. Just carrion for the crows, meat for the wolves, and home for the worms of the Midwood. Hid first encounter with the bestial inhabitants on the edge of the wood had done him in long before he even got close to where the dragon hid.

And so he thought he died as all went black.

———–

When he awoke it was night. The smell of berries cooking along with some herb or herbs he could not identify filled his nostrils. He heard the crackling of a fire and then opened his eyes. His eyesight was less than clear, surely, for he thought he saw his old friend Bellas tending the fire.

He tried to speak, but all that came out was an unintelligible croak. He recalled the poison and the sense of a fire burning in his head and wondered if it had burned his face and turned his throat to sand.

He felt an unfamiliar hand gently lift his head and a wooden implement at his lips. Unsure what it was, what it meant, he kept his parched lips closed.

“Drink this,” were the first words the stranger spoke, though to Kanys’ ear it sounded more like singing or music. The accent he did not recognize but it was a strangely pleasant one.

He drank and fell into unconsciousness again.

———–

The sound of leaves rustling shook Kanys from an otherwise peaceful, silent slumber. He squinted at the day’s grey sky and gathering storm clouds. Soon it would rain.

He started as he glanced left: a greenish, toadlike creature as large as a man turned toward him offering a spoon of something less appetizing than the berry chutney he recalled from the previous night (or had it been longer than that?). He closed his eyes tightly and reopened them to see a stranger’s face; one both beautiful and otherworldly. The handsome young man’s eyes burned with an inner fire and yet his face belied a calm, dignified wisdom his apparent age.

He resembled Jack, a stable-hand of Kanys’ lord’s keep. Jack was sometimes chid as having aelf blood in his veins due to his lack of a beard and generally boyish (perhaps even a bit girlish) good looks. Hardly anyone Kanys’ age or younger had ever actually seen an aelf (or at least done so and lived to tell about it), the forest dwellers having long ago cut themselves off from humanity.

Yet, here and now, that was the only explanation. Kanys was being cared for by a member of a race that was a blood enemy. The previous king had broken an ancient accord and expanded into the Midwood. At first, the aelves gave no indication that they had even noticed the incursion.

Then came Desarach. The great winged beast attacked outlying farms, travelers on the road, and eventually burned entire villages to the ground. The old king quickly blamed the aelves, perhaps a guilty conscience over-reacting to something the king himself had done, some unknown sin against something he had no comprehension of.

The next king (son by marriage, not blood) sent emissaries to the aelves. The messengers were sent back empty-handed and lacking answers.

Desperate to avoid the previous king’s fate of being overly unpopular, the new king sent army after army into the Midwood to find and slay the dragon. Most were turned back by aelven warriors. It was war.

The aelves didn’t bring the fight to mankind, though. They wisely kept skirmishes on their territory: the woods. Retreat or death was the king’s armies only options.

So, why was Kanys spared? Why would an aelf nurse a human to health? Was it some strange aelven code of honor that they didn’t kill the infirm? Kanys was still too weak to defend himself which meant there was only one option available: ask.

“W…why?”

“Do not speak.”

There was that haunting song again. A veritable musical masterpiece in three simple words that spoke to an entire lifetime; a mortal one anyway.

“Roll over,” the aelf said.

Kanys was about to ask why again when the answer came up through his throat, onto his tongue, and down his beard.

“All of the hork’s poison must be purged.”

Kanys managed to roll over on his side as his insides continued to empty themselves of their own accord. Vomiting like a dog, the gods added further insult to his indignity as it began to rain. He once more passed out after half an hour of heaving.

———–

Kanys awoke again to a cool drizzle plopping on his face. Unlike the heavy rain of his previous awakened state, this one was gentle and refreshing.

The aelf had mercifully moved him away from where he had purged. Kanys sat up in a start for the first time in—how many?—days. There was no sign of the aelf other than a campfire so neatly eradicated it barely seemed to have ever existed at all.

There was also a shiny, white wooden tube. It was probably some kind of pine, but Kanys couldn’t be sure. There was also a rather nondescript cloth bag.

Opening the latter, he found a few handful of berries. The thought that they might be poisonous crossed his mind but he dismissed it immediately. If they or he had wanted him dead, surely there was a less complicated way. He ate a few and felt fine.

He rose to his feet, tucked the remaining berries in the bag into his belt and examined the wooden tube. His legs were shaky, but not as bad as when he was poisoned. His prospects seemed brighter already.

One end of the tube had a wax-sealed line around the circumference of the tube. There were runes near the line which Kanys assumed were aelven characters.

He pulled and twisted the top and the wax seal broke apart as the piece in his right hand came undone. He looked inside and saw a rolled up piece of parchment.

He spied a dry spot under a nearby tree and moved there to protect the paper inside. He pulled it out carefully, making sure not to tear it.

It was two-sided. One side depicted a map of Midwood forest. The other, a drawing of Desarach itself. He studied the map for a few moments.

The aelven map apparently used West as humans used North, an arrow pointed away from the king’s keep at bottom, which Kanys knew was to the east. The dragon’s lair was depicted clearly toward the top, which must then be west.

The rain at last subsided and Kanys spotted the sun. He guessed at the time which was all he needed to figure out the direction he needed to go. However, without some sort of landmark, he might pass to the north or the south of the dragon’s cave.

He rolled the map back up and walked until he found a large rock to climb. At top, he looked around to find something that might help discover his location. As the wind parted some trees, he found something better: the large hill in the side of which, if he read the map correctly, must be the dragon’s cave. It was no more than an hour’s walk.

Kanys climbed down and took refuge from the sun under the rock’s overhanging edge. There, he now examined the drawing.

More than a simple picture, it was more a pictorial. Though at center was the beast in all his terrifying magnificence, there were smaller pictures surrounding him. A single scale next to a horse revealed just how large and thick the plates of the monster’s armor were. Likewise his horns, teeth, claws, wings and tail.

There was no beating this thing! All the men in the world would fall to it. No weapon could penetrate it’s hide and no defense made by man could defend against it. It was too large, too strong, and too well defended.

Kanys began to consider heading in any direction but the cave, to return home in disgrace or take his chances living in the woods or traveling to another land where the troubles of war and unbeatable monsters were just tales to be told.

There was one picture that looked different than the others. Desarach’s bony helm or crown had an arrow pointing at a spot near the nape of his neck, away from his toothy maw. A weak spot?

An army couldn’t get to that spot. What would they do, wait for it to get tired, to lay down…

But one man… If he caught it sleeping…

Crafty godsdamned aelves!

———–

Kanys approached the cave entrance, covered in mud, shirtless, bootless, and armorless. He could ill afford to wake the beast if it slept, especially not with armor that could only prolong the inevitable for a split second. Stealth, not force, might win the day.

As he inched forward, he heard a slight rustling in the trees just over his right shoulder. The wind? Perhaps. If not, he’d give that aelf a show he not ever forget, win or lose.

He smiled for perhaps the last time. He’d rather have one quiet forest pixie at his back than all the king’s men at his side. One unseen ally was truly worth a thousand men in the field.

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