Aethiel-Dor by Phillip O Stanley by Phillip O Stanley - Read Online

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Aethiel-Dor - Phillip O Stanley

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Glossary

Prologue: A Journal Entry

A Journal Entry by Elirah Encathla,

Summer, 8044—A.U.R. (After Ulersa’s Reign)

Cousin,

I address you as cousin not only because you are in fact, by blood, an elf-cousin to me, but also because you have not yet been gifted with a proper, elven-bonded name—that will come a year after your birth and will in all likelihood, be bestowed upon you by your blood-sire, Ressamyr—Chieftain of the Issalu.

For now, you still reside within the womb of your mother—my dear aunt Jumanis, Bride-Queen of the Issalu and Royal Princess of the Aluaundi Kingdom.

My name is Elirah Encathla. I am also of the Aluaundi, and I, among other things, am a hemunarth—a half-elf. As you will no doubt become aware as you continue to grow and learn, being a hemunarth is not a desirable thing in elvish culture. Being such does not lie within the acceptable social and religious norms of what we elves call Aluth-Na—The Bond.

In elvish eyes, The Bond unites all things that are good and right in our world, and to exist outside of its tenants is to be an unclean thing, something to be avoided or shunned altogether. Some elvish tribes, such as the Issalu, hold a more relaxed view of The Bond, while others, especially the Aluaundi, are rather draconian in keeping within their interpretation of its tenants.

As a race, the elves originate from Aluedra Valley—a vast, forested land encompassed by a range of high mountains. At the heart of our lush, valley home rests a great lake, The Mystel, which is fed by numerous tributaries before flowing into the vastness of the great sea beyond.

We elves originally dwelt within this valley in ten differing tribes, and then, through treaties, arranged marriages and conquest, we diminished to seven. Millennia later, there are now but five viable tribes of elves. Each sporadically vies for the dominance of the valley, to little avail.

My mother was Princess Elara, elder sister to Jumanis and the originally-intended Bride-Queen of your father Ressamyr. It was to be an arranged marriage to keep a continued peace between our two tribes, but during her overland journey to be wed, my mother’s small entourage was assailed by a band of human brigands who had secretly taken refuge within our valley. My mother was captured and tortuously ravaged by their leader, a man named Barbarus Reth. Although his band of murderous thieves were eventually killed or driven off, Reth, along with a compatriot called Nular, escaped Aluedra Valley, taking with them a great portion of my mother’s dowry.

In the ill union between Reth and my mother, Elara, I was conceived and shortly after my birth, my mother died—they say of shame. Therefore, not only am I a hemunarth, I am Nal-Jalmatta, born of an unbonded union and unfortunately for me, with raven hair and green eyes. I bear the obvious traits of my human half.

My great-sire, the Aluaundi Chieftain Vauthnir, declared that my life lay outside The Bond of the elves and as such, I was unclean. Vauthnir decreed that I was to be taken into the depths of the nearby forest and left to perish. Most fortunately for me, however, an old warrior-elf, Honnel Encathla, publicly-requested that my life be given to him and that he be allowed to raise me as his own. By all accounts, Vauthnir did not wish to do this. His rule was already an unpopular one due to an ill-conceived war against the Issalu thirty years earlier—a war we’d handedly lost.

Honnel, who had lost both his family and his lands during this war, had suffered greater than most—this fact could not be denied. So, with reluctance, Vauthnir granted Honnel’s request, with the prerequisite my green eyes never go unveiled and that my voice never be heard within the boundaries of Vussar village—the capital lands of the Aluaundi. Thus, Honnel took me in and in a hovel of a hut, upon a small plot of farmland, along the outskirts of Vussar, he raised me as his own.

Although Honnel and I were at best mediocre farmers, we were successful hunters. We got by and for the most part, we were happy.

As the years went on I grew to young-adulthood listening to the tales of my foster-sire, tales of adventure, of the precious treasure that is friends and family and of the horrors of strife and war. I soaked these stories into my psyche, and it was not long before I badgered my foster-sire into teaching me the art of both bow and sword just as he had his three warrior sons—Hueberon, Enudaun and Illune.

I learned much from Honnel and though I’ve yet to attain mastery over the blade, I am a skilled archer, and according to my foster-sire, amongst the best he’d ever known.

Because we were poor of cloth and other goods, my foster-sire and I made the occasional visit to Vussar to trade at the markets. As always, I wore a black veil to conceal my eyes and used only hand gestures to express my meanings. Although Honnel made trade with little trouble, I was always hard pressed to find anyone who would barter goods with me. When Honnel entered the last few years of his life and became too weak to travel, this became a significant problem.

Eventually Honnel grew sick, and entered the last months of his long life. I cared for him as best I could with what I had. Sometimes what I had however was not enough.

Although my existence lies outside The Bond, it is ironic that the shapely form of a hemunarth, for some, holds an exotic-appeal. Therefore, I bartered my body in the night markets of Vussar. I bartered my flesh neither for food or trinkets nor jewels or gold but for the medicines and tonics that I needed to care for my beloved foster-sire.

Of this, Honnel knew nothing.

Of my sordid actions dear cousin, you must know that I am not proud, but please attempt to understand that options for a hemunarth, especially in the lands of the Aluaundi are limited at best; I did what I had to do.

Eventually Honnel passed, and I was left alone but for one good friend, a boy named, Kahneal Shildane. I’d met Kahneal several years previous when he was just a small, elf-boy and despite the risk to his reputation, he and I became close friends—as close as I would allow at least.

As the months after Honnel’s return to The Great Mother wore on, life for me did not improve and none would trade with me other than to barter for my flesh. I confess that it took a heavy toll upon my spirit.

Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I needed to leave Aluedra Valley and heeding the call of my human blood, I determined that I would seek adventure and perhaps a better life in the lands beyond the Vale.

For me, summer and fair-weather could not come soon enough. Slowly I gathered the bare necessities I required to survive and waited until the day before my planned departure to reveal my intentions to Kahneal. As I supposed, Kahneal was not pleased with my decision to leave—at all.

Although he had not quite come of age when we parted, Kahneal asked me to be bonded with him—to be his bride and in a fleeting moment of weakness I even considered it. Fortunately for Kahneal, I tossed these selfish thoughts aside. I could not bring myself to ruin the life of my friend. What little I possessed I left to Kahneal and bidding him goodbye, I made to leave the valley.

For many days I traveled on foot to the outskirts of Aluaundi lands. Seeking a low mountain-passage out of the valley, I crossed into the lands of the Issalu—a foolish thing to do really. I was of course quickly captured by a patrol of elk-riders who feared that I might be an Aluaundi spy. The elk-riders endeavored to take me to Issar so that I might bear the judgment of Ressamyr but while en route, we were assailed by a pair of Booska-Beasts. Two of the elk-riders perished, and out of necessity, I was unbound and given back my weaponry. Together, the remaining elk-riders and I hunted down and destroyed the Booska-Beasts, a fearful and foul-smelling affair I do not ever care to repeat.

Although the elk-riders allowed me the opportunity to escape captivity, I instead willingly accompanied them to their capital fortress of Issar to face judgment. Again, in retrospect, probably a foolish thing to do. Still, amongst these elk-riders I quickly gained a measure of kinship, and I did not believe that they would willingly lead me to my doom.

I confess that I also had an ulterior motive in going to Issar in that I’d always held a great curiosity about my aunt Jumanis, the Issalu’s Queen. Although Jumanis knew little to nothing of me, I held a deep desire to just onc, gaze upon a living semblance of my mother. Being unclaimed, by her father Vauthnir and existing well outside the boundaries of The Bond, I did not expect Jumanis to hold any sense of kinship towards me. To my surprise, I was most-happily wrong.

Chief Ressamyr left my fate to the Queen and in turn she lavished me with gifts, kindness and love. Over the last while, Jumanis and I have studied together in The Great Library of Issar and have become quite close. From Jumanis and her unprecedented store of tomes, I have learned many things, not only of the history of the elves, but of my mother—and myself.

During my stay in Issar, I also became acquainted with an Issalu warrior named Lepis, who was one amongst the six elk-riders who’d captured me. Lepis has shown me much of Issar and even some of the lands surrounding the great fortress. The warrior and I have trained together in The House of Learning, ridden elk and shared meals. We have become close and I find myself becoming fond of him.

It was during my studies in the Library of Issar that I came upon an astounding but undeniable fact. It seems that Ulersa, The legendary Battle-Queen of the Elves, who in the distant past united all the elf-tribes, was in fact a hemunarth.

Some dear cousin, if not most, will deny this claim as heresy, but the evidence of this fact rests safely in Issar’s library as did the ancient armor the battle-queen herself—armor crafted to accommodate the larger form of a human-like frame.

As you will come to know cousin, your mother Jumanis is a collector and preserver of histories, but she does not retain such tomes and relics out of sheer whimsy. She and Chief Ressamyr have set a task upon themselves that involves nothing less than the reunification of the remaining tribes of the elves, just as it once was under Ulersa’s reign.

This reunification must come dear cousin. Through their agents and friends abroad your parents have learned that a great army arises in the frozen lands to the north and east. Even now, multitudes of dwarves and men struggle to keep this horde at bay. It is only a matter of time before this army reaches Elvish lands and it is under one united banner we elves of the Aluedra must defend against it.

To assist in this reunification Jumanis and Ressamyr have bequeathed upon me a task—to seek the great wizard, Sao-Mott. We believe he can lend aid in the reunification of the elvish tribes. Sao-Mott is said to dwell amongst the centaurs that make their home across the Mystel and far to the north. Of Sao-Mott, however, I know little else.

Although my mission is perhaps not an easy one Jumanis and Ressamyr sent me well equipped. I’ve coin at my disposal, food and weaponry. I ride the great elk-steed Buthor, and I am accompanied by my friend Captain Lepis and the five elk-riders under his command. And upon my body, dear cousin, I bear a great relic, the armor of Ulersa—Battle-Queen of the Elves—it fits me well.

My eyes grow weary dear cousin’ I must sleep.

Tae-lu-na!

Chapter 1: Dawn Over the Aluedra

Nal-Sola’s great luminance pierced the morning mist of Aluedra Valley, and whether bird, beast, imp or faye, all basked in its radiance and warmth. One such creature, a faye in this instance, lay in a nest of blankets upon a sparsely wooded hill, as this same warming light shone upon her pale face.

Elirah Encathla opened her green eyes and blinked, greeting the rising glow of dawn. Slowly, she rose from her blankets. Clothed in a gown of Elvish cotton she stretched her arms to the sky; her long tassels of hair fell over her shoulders in an ebon cascade.

Shay-nu-pae, Nal-Sola—I breathe with life.

The girl smiled at the glowing orb and then gazed from her vantage point to the forest-strewn lands below. She cast an evaluating eye to the distance and gleaned a dirt road running alongside a narrow river. The river she already knew to be there, but the road she had not. Elirah shook her head and smirked. Beneath our very noses!

A loud snort drew Elirah’s attention from the road. Six Issalu elk-riders were busily making themselves, as well as their mounts, ready for another long day’s trek.

Ah, finally, she awakens! a voice called to her; it was a deep, male voice, soothing to her pointed ears.

The armored elf-warrior Lepis approached, bearing a wineskin and a large pear. He offered them both to Elirah.

Halu-Sola, Lepis—and, thank you. The girl smiled to the warrior and eagerly bit into the fruit. As she chewed, Elirah pointed toward the river and road below. Lepis, might that be the road we’re looking for?

Lepis looked, his eyes narrowed and then an expression of mirth overcame his handsome face. I do believe it is! He reached into the leather satchel at his side and unraveled a parchment map. Yes, he said, glancing from the map to the road in the distance. Yes. His finger-tapped the parchment in quick succession. It has to be Mynn-Daryn road. And this is our hill right here—not this one. We are still further east than I suspected.

Elirah wiped her pear-juiced lips and spoke through a mouthful of fruit. So the map is inaccurate?

Lepis glanced to Elirah as he returned the map to his satchel; he almost seemed reluctant to answer. Well...not for one who reads it correctly. This map is of the entire valley—or what is known of it—and I suspect it is a copy of a much older map. My great-grandsire once told me that old battle maps often had purposeful inaccuracies placed within them, distances and such in case these maps and battle plans fell into the hands of the enemy.

Elirah nodded and tossed the core of her pear to the ground. So do you now know the range of the inaccuracy?

Lepis nodded. Yes, it is a three-league shift to the east. We’ll not get lost again, Elirah—that I promise.

Elirah swallowed a mouthful from the wineskin. Do not fret over it, Lepis, not even elf eyes can see every deer trail in the dark.

Lepis shrugged and glanced to the morning sky. Still, lost or not, we’ve made good time. The weather will be fair today. If we leave soon we should cross into Oovalu lands by mid-day tomorrow, I’d expect. I’ve Buthor saddled and ready for you.

Elirah took another mouthful of wine then pressed the container into Lepis’s hands. She looked to him and smiled. Thank you, I’ll don my armor and then we’ll be off.

* * * *

As she was not well-practiced, it took a portion of time longer for Elirah to don the battle armor of Ulersa than was typical of her elk-rider comrades, but with each hurried cinch of a strap and quick fastening of a buckle, Elirah became more adept. She had been bidden to wear the relic armor by her aunt Jumanis, Queen of the Issalu, but she was also warned to conceal the armor for as long as possible, as it might attract unwanted attention.

As for keeping the armor hidden from view, even from the keen eyes of her comrades, Elirah had done a fair job. Oh, they knew she wore armor, but most often, Elirah kept the helmet-piece of the armor in her backpack and kept herself draped in a long, green cloak. Other than Lepis, none of the others yet realized she bore the glorious raiment of the legendary battle-queen. Even during the warmth of a summer day, she rode with her cloak clasped nearly to her waist. Still, it was only a matter of time before the others discovered the truth.

When evening fell and she and the elk-riders made camp, Elirah would find a place of privacy to remove the battle-armor and conceal it in a leather bag amongst her nest of blankets. Today, however, some otherworldly voice nagged at her, almost begging her to wear the battle-helm.

Elirah scowled, her mind rebelling. It would be hot and my head would bake as if in an oven!

Ignoring the inner warning, she placed the hunting knife that had once belonged to her foster-sire, Honnel, into her boot and then strapped the bright-steel, battle dagger, Thrasta-Dor and its scabbard firmly to her hip.

Elirah adjusted a greave and then stood to her full, half-Elven height. As she drew back her hair, she pulled the necklace given to her by her friend, Kahneal Shildane, to the forefront of her garb. A simple leather string bored through two hazelnuts, the necklace was plain and held no gleam; it appeared almost as if crafted by a child. Still, the necklace was a gift given in love and she bore it as proudly as if it were a bauble of Elf-stones and gold.

Elirah bound her hair with a length of Elf-twine, and as she did, gazed once more to the river and road below. It will be good to travel upon a road again, she thought, and not amongst the snags and brambles of the forest. We should gain many leagues today.

Elirah turned and looked to the ground near her feet; only her cloak and backpack remained. Before she could retrieve them, the otherworldly voice called to her again, once more urging her...

Put on the helm, girl!

Startled, Elirah turned this way and that. Nothing; there was no faye, no creature nor disembodied spirit to be seen. It was as if the strange voice surrounded her body as much as it encompassed her mind.

Elirah had been hearing many voices lately, ever since she resumed her meditations. A few voices she thought to be familiar, most, however, she did not recognize. She was beginning to find the whole affair disturbing.

Whether a voice of her own mind or not, Elirah wanted it to cease. Fine! she barked aloud, relenting to its command.

After removing it from her pack, Elirah slipped on the war-helm of the battle-queen herself. Stylized to appear as the head and open-maw of a viper, it afforded even a pretty girl like Elirah, a rather intimidating visage. Now clad from head to toe in glossy-black plates and gleaming bright-steel, Elirah draped herself within the long, green cloak bearing the sliver-serpent emblem of the Issalu.

From behind the serpent tongue—the nose-guard of the battle-helm—Elirah careened her head and turned to look at the lands behind her, lands that paralleled the meandering river and road below.

Elirah took in the vast wall of the mountain range looming above her. Thousands of feet high and with a menacing reputation, the Mue-Nark Mountains stretched within the Aluedra Valley as far as the eye could see. A patchwork of ice, snow and gray stone, they rose like an exposed jawline of ragged teeth whose crooked peaks had sawed through the flesh of the earth eons ago.

Impressive! After a moment of contemplation, Elirah turned her back to the mountains. She pulled the deep cowl of the cloak over her head, concealing both the helm and much of her face from view. Finally, she lifted her pack and descended the hill to where the elk-riders awaited her.

As she did, the strange whispery voice called to her yet again...

Be wary, girl, The Mue-Narks are not forgiving!

Chapter 2: The Nykivi River

At the bottom of the hill, Elirah found the elk-riders patiently awaiting her, all mounted except for Lieutenant Thrussan. Second in command of this elk-patrol, Thrussan offered Elirah the reins of the great bull-elk, Buthor.

Elirah bowed her head to Thrussan in thanks and took the reins of her powerful steed. An Aluedra elk, fully in his prime, Buthor was large, fast and strong. A saddle and pack were secured about the majestic animal, and in a sheath at his flank, resided Elirah’s quiver and war-bow. Buthor shook his head and snorted, sunlight flashing from the silver tips of his rune-etched antlers.

With a gauntleted hand, Elirah nuzzled Buthor’s snout and scratched behind his ear. Halu-Sola great Buthor, my friend. Kindly bear me well.

Buthor shifted his head, offering Elirah a handhold on the base of an antler. With her short leap and a tug from Buthor’s massive neck, Elirah was in the saddle.

Lepis nodded to one of his elk-riders, Syndal—the youngest of them all. You and your mount—what is his name again?

Onar, Captain, the youth spoke.

Lepis nodded. You and Onar are in the lead with me today, Syndal. Perhaps you can fathom a map better than I can.

Lepis smiled knowingly to Elirah, and she returned it.

We’re off! Lepis commanded.

* * * *

The group of riders quickly found the dirt road, and traveling two-abreast, followed its meandering course along the river. Elirah took notice that the river was not as wide as the Ulersa River that ran near her old home and the Village of Vussar. And unlike The Ulersa, the waters of this river flowed more gently.

What is this river’s name? she asked the Elf riding next to her. He offered Elirah an expression of bemused contempt and he did not answer. Irked, Elirah looked away, putting her eyes to the road ahead.

Thrussan spoke from behind her. Answer Elirah’s question, Kyruss!

Scowling, the elf shifted in his saddle and took a rearward glance at the Lieutenant. Why? She holds no rank over me. She’s certainly not Issalu! She’s not even a proper elf! Kyruss scoffed.

Thrussan's retort was firm. "But I do hold rank over you, Kyruss, and you will answer any question Elirah puts to you!"

Kyruss grunted his disapproval, and as Elirah met his gaze he smiled cynically from beneath his hard leather helm.

It is the Nykivi River, he explained. Deep and deceivingly gentle-flowing, it is called after the tribe of Centaurs who once thrived here long ago. During the times of the Ten Tribes, the Elves often traded with the Nykivi and for the most part lived in peace. But when the Goblins came and infested the Mue-Narks, no Elf tribe save the Oovalu and Eldulon came to their aid.

Elirah nodded. So what happened to them, to where did the Nykivi flee?

Kyruss sneered. Centaurs don’t flee, Hemunarth. It is a matter of honor for them. The Nykivi were slaughtered, down to every buck, doe and faun. And it is said that this little river that we travel along ran red with their blood.

Elirah winced at the thought.

Do you know why the Centaurs are a failed race, Hemunarth, why they roam the valley lawless and without a home?

It was Elirah’s turn to scoff. Oh, so now you wish to tell me something Kyruss?

Indulge me.

Very well—why?

It is because they are a lesser faye—half-beast, half-faye. Like you, Hemunarth, they do not reside within The Bond, and they and their ilk suffer for it.

Be silent with your spiteful words, Kyruss! Thrussan commanded.

Kyruss lifted his arms in feigned exasperation. So which is it, Lieutenant: speak—don’t speak?

It is do not speak until spoken to, you son-of-a-sow! Thrussan retorted.

Smirking, Kyruss remained silent, but the bemused look on his face betrayed his inner-satisfaction.

Thrussan shook his head. By the Great Mother, only a few days out of Issar and already I am weary of your company! Fall out of line, Kyruss—take-up the rear! he ordered sternly.

Certainly! As you wish, Lieutenant.

Kyruss maneuvered his elk-steed out of line, and the next elk-rider moved into his place.

This rider, Heuleron, looked to Elirah and smiled to her pleasantly. Consider yourself lucky, Elirah. Kyruss wishes to speak with me all the time!

Everyone within earshot, save for Kyruss, laughed.

Chapter 3: Smoke on the Horizon

Although the road looked to be sparsely traveled—brush overgrew long stretches of it—the riders put many leagues behind them. The day was pleasant and much to Elirah’s relief, a cool and frequent breeze billowed from the mountains to diminish the warmth of her cloak.

At the head of the group, Syndal looked from the battle map to the eyes of his Captain. He took in a deep breath and in