Chapter the First: Meetings
By David Lee
"Come on, Derryn!" A small girl’s voice beckoned excitedly through the rich foliage of the forest. Her laughter carried across the tranquil woods, as twigs snapped and dead leaves were crushed under Derryn’s small feet. There was no sign of a trodden path, marking where the girl had went. Such were elves; light of both heart and foot.
Derryn paused to scratch his neck, then peered up at the blinding sunlight that had managed to pierce its way beyond the canopies of the tall oak trees. "What are you waiting for, silly?" the girl called out again. Lowering his gaze, he hurriedly followed the sweet voice deeper into the forest.
After a few minutes of running, the trees parted, opening up to a large cliff that overlooked the beautiful and wondrous Vellucyn, isle of the elves. Derryn’s jaw hung agape as he surveyed the unimaginably vast expanse of blue sky, the billowy clouds that sailed lazily across it. The cliff was bright and grassy, and the small girl sat at the edge of it, entirely unafraid of the heights, dangling her feet. Derryn slowly plodded across the grass, then sat beside her. "This is quite something, Linn," he breathed, still awed by the sky and the sparkling marble city below.
Linnatiel whirled to face him, her long, flowing blonde hair, almost covering two slightly pointed ears, held away from her face by a golden circlet. Her green dress, green as the elven leaves of Elithanor, fluttered in the wind. Large, green eyes stared at him, accompanied by a wide smile on her face. "I wanted to show you this place, Derryn," she explained, then stared up at the sky. "It makes me feel so happy." Linnatiel then turned to Derryn. "Will you become a Templar, Derryn?" she asked.
"Erm, I guess so, Linn," Derryn replied a little nervously. "Father is, so I should be one too."
"When we grow up, will you come back, and visit the palace?" Linn’s questions began to lead somewhere.
"Of course, Linn!" the boy replied eagerly. "I’ll always visit you."
"Will you protect me, and save me from evil monsters?" Linn stared Derryn straight in the eyes now.
"For you, I’ll take my sword, and stab it into the Foul One himself!" Derryn announced proudly, raising his fist in the air as though he held a gleaming blade. Linnatiel laughed happily and threw her arms around Derryn’s neck, catching him off-guard.
"Thank you, Derryn Drakelight! You’ll always be my best friend!"
Derryn Drakelight awoke with a start, sitting up in his sleeping roll. A faint curl of smoke rose at his feet, from the fire that had died down late into the night. It was the break of dawn now, and Derryn squinted irritably at the reds and oranges that were splashed across the sky. Rubbing a gloved hand through his thick tangle of brown hair, he yawned loudly. Working his way out of weariness, he wrapped up the sleeping roll and tied it onto his pack. The grass, wet with the morning dew, flattened softly underneath his booted feet. The road at which he had camped on the site of was beginning to show signs of activity, with the occasional farmers pulling their mules and cows to the next town. Some tipped their worn hats at him as they passed, while others contentedly reined their horses onward, chewing thoughtfully on a strand of wheat.
Derryn dusted himself off and looked himself up and down. He was moderately built for one of his age, still in his teenage years. He wore a dark brown, sleeveless tunic that bared his broad shoulders, built up from years of training. Baggy black trousers were tucked into his boots at the shins, and were tied off at the waist with a simple copper-buckled belt; from it hung a broad sword sheathed in a beaten scabbard. A thin layer of grime covered parts of his arms and face, from days of traveling. Sometimes people passing him by on the road thought him as a grimy mercenary thug, but Derryn knew better. He would not have run if there was not a good reason. He would not have run if they hadn’t forced him to...
"My father was a Templar, and his father before him!" his father roared. To most he would seem intimidating; a tall, middle-aged man with streaks of gray in his chestnut-brown hair, and a long scar that drew across his nose and crossed the other side. Derryn was defiant.
"I’m nothing like you!" he shouted back. "I want to do nothing with Templar! All you do is stay cooped in this wretched castle for your entire life!"
Derryn’s mother, brown-haired like his father, touched him gently on the shoulder. Her eyes, green like aged jade, were soft and concerned. "Derryn, please...just try to listen. If you will not become a Templar, who will inherit the keep?"
Derryn grit his teeth; he knew he could not lash out at his mother. It wasn’t her fault. "For once, I want to see the world," he replied, looking down. He also knew he could not stare his mother in the eye. "Just once." His last words were a whisper.
"When you become a Templar, you can travel to anywhere in Ryth you want," Father reasoned, calming down. Derryn’s eyes widened in rage.
"That’s ten years!" he exclaimed. "I’m not waiting ten years to get outside these walls. And no one is going to stop me!" Derryn, blinded by tears of frustration, whirled around and dashed out of the room.
"It’s been days now," he said to himself as he lifted his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. "Mother must be worried sick." Shaking the pangs of guilt from his head, he gripped the hilt of his sword confidently, then set off down the road.
The Newpoint road was commonly used by merchants and farmers, as it ran through a string of villages; a constant, steady flow of business. Derryn walked among the carts and horses, absent in his own thoughts. He suddenly found his thoughts drifting to Linnatiel, his childhood friend. It’s been ten years since I last saw her, he remembered. Would she still remember me? She was an elf; of course she would. Elves lived lifespans several times that of humans, and ten years would be but one to her. It seemed like forever, visiting Vellucyn, when life was fun—
Derryn bumped shoulders with two strangers on the road, jostling him. "’Ey! Watch where yer goin’!" One snarled. The other, adequately irritated, began to make a move, then spotted the sword at Derryn’s waist, shook his head and turned away. "Just another one of them thugs..."
Life on the road wasn’t as bad as Derryn thought, but it was sometimes a dirty business, sleeping out under the stars. The ground was not nearly as clean as a floor in Drakelight Keep, but at least laying out under the sky was more liberating. The feeling of green fields and trees around him was enough incentive to walk along the road for hours; few times had Derryn actually been brought outside of the castle walls. To be free from those grey walls, from the strict life of a baron’s son...Derryn decided to walk a little longer.
The crowd roared as Derryn swung his sword up, the large blade of his broadsword knocking aside the slash aimed at his head. He panted with exhilaration as he glared at his opponent: a tall, muscled man who wore armour strapped to his shoulders and shins, but not a full suit. He was bald, and several tattoos were marked across his scalp. His arms were bare except for the leather braces around his wrists. His legs were bare except for the thick, steel-toed boots he wore. His limbs rippled with thick muscles. A two-handed blade almost as large as Derryn himself was gripped tightly in his hands.
Derryn almost panicked the first time he was struck, fully realizing the nature of real combat. No amount of practice could have prepared him for this. His feet were firmly grounded in place, a small cloud of dust picking up around him. The spectators cheered above him, around him. So this is what an arena is like, he thought to himself. His thoughts went back to those of the Waymaster, and of his father, who taught him everything he knew about the sword. Steeling himself, Derryn shifted into a defensive stance. Move with your opponent. React to his every move. He heard his father’s words in his head. Anticipate, then react. Dance with his sword. The gladiator’s next strike knocked Derryn to the ground. He had barely caught his breath before he parried another strike, then rolled out of the way of another. Dust flew in his face from the force of the blow.
The smaller fighter flipped to his feet and shifted into a counter stance, his broadsword held in one hand, behind his back. He stepped forward once, then again, goading the larger man into attacking. With a yell, the gladiator swung his massive weapon in a downward slash. Derryn quickly sidestepped and swung at the sword with all the force he could muster. The impact of the blades echoed like an explosion of metallic clashing. The gladiator was jarred by the strength of the attack, and awkwardly stepped back.
Now on the offence, Derryn swiftly advanced, striking again and again. Each time his attack was blocked, and each time he stepped closer to his opponent. Quickly reversing his weapon, he struck the gladiator across the jaw with the broadsword’s pommel. Before he could attack again, his opponent thrust his knee into Derryn’s stomach, making him double over. In a movement that was almost too fast to catch, the gladiator reversed his own sword and raised it, the point ready to pierce Derryn’s back.
Gasping for air, Derryn raised his sword to push aside the thrust, and sidestepped in a quick maneuver to lock his opponent’s weapon with his own. He drove his heel out behind him into the big man’s chest, sending him to the ground, with his enormous sword at his feet. Before the gladiator could reach his sword, Derryn stepped one foot on its blade, and held his own sword at the gladiator’s throat. The spectators exploded into deafening applause. Derryn stood as he was, gasping for air, his hair matted with sweat. He waited until an official came to congratulate him. The match was over. Derryn had won.
It was nightfall when the two swordsmen reached the Elithanor forest. They had barely traveled a mile into the woods before it was too dark to go any further. Tareth found a camp site used by previous hikers, and set about kindling the fire. "I know little about these forests," the large man began, "but I do know they were once largely inhabited by the elves."
"Most of them left here, when they found out they were living close to humans," Derryn explained, recalling a history lesson. He sat against a rock, his sword leaning against his shoulder. His dark cloak, which he rarely wore, was wrapped around himself. The nights were getting colder, he realized. "Not many elves see humans anymore, and the other way around. They speak to only those they deem worthy." Tareth cried jubilantly as the fire blazed to life, crackling with heat. He then sneered at Derryn’s comment.
"The elves think so highly of themselves, do they? Perhaps they were too busy holding their heads high that they didn’t see us men taking most of Ryth for ourselves! Hah!" Derryn almost winced at the comment. "Nonetheless, they did have a fondness for trees," Tareth continued. "And well-placed at that." They both looked up and around at the forest. Even in the darkness, they could feel Elithanor’s life and beauty. Derryn almost lost himself in the serenity before the snap of a twig caught his ear. He quickly looked around. Tareth heard the noise, too. "Little master, do you suppose the elves still live here?" he asked quietly.
"Maybe it was just an animal," Derryn replied all too quickly; his nerves were on end. A louder snap sounded, and a distinctly sentient voice cursing could be heard further off.
"Elves are not fond of regular humans, Der-ryn," Tareth growled. "Once, I heard they stuck three arrows in a vagrant before he had taken three steps into their home." The barbarian looked around with a dark look reflecting in his eyes. "Perhaps we are being watched."
Derryn was beginning to panick, before he got a hold of himself. "I can make my way through the woods quietly enough," he said softly, barely over the crackle of the fire. "I’ll see if there’s anyone around. If I don’t return, consider yourself avenged." Tareth managed to make a grin, but was too uneasy over the thought of eyes in the forest. The smaller swordsmen laid his cloak on the ground, unsheathed his sword and ran into the darkness.
His father had taught him a few lessons on how to fight in the dark; what to look for, how to move, how to adjust one’s vision to the darkness more easily. Derryn circled around as he advanced, taking note of every tree and plant that he crossed. His sword was held tightly in one hand; the other was outstretched. He stepped in a half-crouch, as if he were stalking something, or hiding himself from what might stalk him. His ears strained in the dead quiet of the night.
Something broke underfoot, and at once, a dark form fell upon him. He grappled with the attacker, struggling to bring his sword to bear. He felt a quick sliver of pain as a small blade slashed just above his eyebrow. Angered, Derryn kicked the attacker off him and rose to his feet before another leapt at him. He swung his sword around in a wide arc before both of the assailants charged him. He managed to kick one across the face before the other tackled him, and held him down for good. A quick strike across the face silenced Derryn from struggling further. The shapeless forms heaved him to his feet and bound his wrists, forcing his sword away from him. With a shove, they led him deeper into the forest.
After a while of walking and stumbling, Derryn found himself in an opening in the forest, where moon clearly shone from the sky. There was a small group of people in the clearing, seemingly camping for the night. Three large tents were pitched on the far side of the opening; a banner, shrouded in darkness, hung from the top of one of the tents. For the first time, Derryn managed to examine his captors.
They were elves, as clearly as he could see. Their faces were long and smooth, with a tattoo across the eye. Their pointed ears were adorned with multiple looped earrings, as if in a chain. Dark, loose clothing covered their lithe bodies. The elves around the campfire stood up at Derryn’s appearance, then began speaking in a quick, slurring tongue. His captors responded in a gruff tone. Derryn did not know whether they were arguing to release him or kill him, or worse. The knives in his captors’ hands seemed to suggest the second choice. With a bit of luck, he could fight his way back to his campfire, Tareth would help him. Derryn knew how to fight with his feet, and he was about to remember his open hand combat training before he heard a new voice in the elves’ argument. It was lighter and sweeter, somehow, and its light tone silenced the other elves. A new figure appeared in the clearing from the tent with the flag, dressed in more flowing clothes than its elven companions. It stepped forward into the light, and Derryn gasped.
He had never realized before how beautiful elven women were, and he simply stared at this one. She was tall for an elf, and wore a white cloak over a smooth, green dress. The fabric looked like silk, or softer. Her hair was long and blonde, with several streaks of brown running through it. A silver circlet was worn around her forehead. Her eyes shone with pride, and Derryn could not help but look away as they fixed on him. He blushed as he thought of her beauty. A slender finger turned his chin so he looked her in the eye. After a long moment she spoke.
"Why do you come here?" she asked, in a tone that demanded an answer.
"My friend wanted to visit Elithanor," Derryn replied through grit teeth.
"You carry a weapon into elven woods," the elf woman said.
"It seems I had reason enough!" One of his captors exclaimed something harshly, then struck him across the face.
"That will be enough!" the woman yelled at the elf hunter, who shrunk back, head bowed. She faced Derryn again. He flushed again at seeing her flawless, oval-shaped face, her smooth skin. The other hunter muttered something at her. She took Derryn’s sword, then paused to look at the hilt in the moonlight. A curious look crossed her face. "Tell me," she said, "why you bear a sword of the Templar."
Derryn feigned ignorance. "I have no idea of what you’re talking about." The woman’s eyes darkened. She was angry, and he felt it. She weighed the weapon in her hand, and brought the edge to Derryn’s throat.
"It is very well balanced, a true mark of Templar blacksmiths," she noted. "And if it proves true, will have an excellent edge."
Derryn began to sweat, from both the threat to his health and from the beauty of the woman who threatened it. "Fine, it’s a Templar sword! I come from the Templar state! Are you happy?!"
"You look not like a Templar to me. Rather a mercenary, or a thief." Her eyes were not friendly; they glittered with hate. "Tell me who comes in the night to Elithanor bearing weapons, or I will slit your throat."
"You don't have the right!" Derryn snarled. What gave this heartless witch to toy the right to toy with my life? He hoped he could buy time, so that Tareth would realize that he wasn't coming back. The blade of the broadsword bit the tiniest bit into his skin, drawing a trickle of blood.
"An elf has every right to defend her home," the woman replied coldly. "And a shabbily dressed intruder will not be missed, for the sake of our safety."
The swordsman swallowed hard; he felt the touch of the blade pressing against his skin as he did so. "I," he said slowly, his words grating as he was forced to say them, "am Derryn Drakelight, son of Lord Adakran Drakelight, master of Drakelight Keep." He allowed himself to stare her in the eye. "And if you do not release me, you will be sure that you will not escape my father’s wrath." His lip quivered, but he held his fear in place. The bluff was out.
The elf woman trembled, as if in fear of something, then dropped the sword. The weapon hit the ground with a thud. She stared at him for a moment, looking at him. Derryn held his breath as her green eyes closely examined him. Her slender fingers ran across his dirt-smudged face. "By Araon’s light," she breathed, trembling again. Her face was so close to his..."Derryn?" Her voice was unsure, as if trying to remember something long past. Only one elf would know his name. She knew his name.
"Linnatiel." Derryn spoke the name under his breath, half question, half statement. The two closest hunters jumped back in surprise. The elf woman’s eyes widened, as if a true fear realized. Tears started in her large, green eyes, and she collapsed against him, holding him tight.
"Oh, Derryn," she sobbed. "I’m so sorry! I couldn’t have known... forgive me, Derryn, I almost..." Her voice was wracked by sobs. Derryn flushed again when he saw the rest of the elves beginning to gather around them. One hunter cut his bonds loose, and stepped away. Derryn awkwardly patted her on the back. "It’s okay, Linn, it’s okay—" he began to console, before there was a great crash in the trees, and Tareth bounded into view, snarling loudly. His sword was raised high.
"Now I found you, pointy eared devils!" he roared. "Come and taste cold—" he cut himself off when he saw Derryn embracing the crying elf woman. He lowered his sword and leaned on it, scratching his bald head. "Now, if this isn’t a rare event..."
The elvish campfire was alive with talk as it later welcomed its two visitors. There were seven elves at the fire, and Tareth found himself, to his dismay, seated amongst the majority of them. Derryn sat across from him, with the two hunters sitting to his left, and Linnatiel to his right. Some of the elves began speaking to Tareth, who found it unsettling to be in their midst, let alone their conversation. The two hunters who caught Derryn, one male and one female, chatted amongst themselves, and sometimes broke into fits of controlled laughter. All of the elves had either blond hair or blond with brown streaks. They wore unusually plain clothes, for traveling. A dagger hung at each one’s waist, and longbows sat by the hunters on their log. Derryn himself kept staring into the fire, noticing Linnatiel turning her head to look at him from time to time. How on earth could she act so cold? To treat an innocent human like...like... Derryn could not find the words to her actions.
What would he say to her? He could barely talk to her as it was because of her breathtaking looks, but now...Derryn permitted himself to shake his head. Linnatiel had always liked him when they were young, in the months that they knew each other. They were fast friends, always the talk of the palace of how easily they had formed their friendship. On Vellucyn, he never left her sight, even in the hide-and-seek games they played in the forest. She would always find him, and he would always accuse her of cheating. It seemed so different now, so many years later—
"What’s the matter, Derryn?" Linnatiel’s voice broke off his thoughts. He turned to look at her; the elf studied him carefully with those green eyes.
"I was...well..." Derryn faltered. He looked down, abashed. "I never thought you would be so, erm, pretty." His last words were almost a mutter. Linnatiel’s eyes twinkled with amusement.
"You are as sweet as you ever were," she smiled. "Though you do not look it." Derryn looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. "However did Lady Drakelight let you run off on your own?"
"I just did exactly that, Linn," Derryn explained. "I ran away." The elf showed a tinge of shock.
"That seems like an awfully juvenile thing to do—"
"You wouldn’t know!" Derryn exclaimed, his anger rising. "The constant pressure of people wanting you to become a Templar! Templar this, honour that! It almost makes me despise each one of those stiff-necked, spit-polished hard-helmets!" His outburst made Linnatiel lower her head. A sad look hung on her face. A long moment passed in silence between them, making Derryn feel awkward.
"I thought you were going to be a Templar for me," she whispered. "To protect me." She looked up. She remembered just as well as I did, Derryn thought, shocked. "You’ve changed, Derryn."
Derryn's voice rose with his frustration. "Linn, don't you see?! I don't want to be a Templar! I can't! Not even for--" He bit his lip hard, realizing the grieveous error he had made.
Linnatiel looked dangerously on the edge of crying again. Tears started in her eyes; her lips quivered, as if trying to fight back her emotions. Derryn’s heart twisted itself inside out. Not ten minutes ago she was cold as ice, ready to slit my throat. Now, she's but a wide-eyed girl with her head full of dreams. Now, if I make her cry, everyone’ll have my hide.
"I’m sorry, Linn," he soothed as best as he could. "I didn’t mean to yell at you. It’s just that...that...I can’t explain it. I feel as if I should be somewhere else. Anywhere but at home." Derryn gently laid a half-gloved hand on her shoulder, and almost thought of pulling away, in fear of tarnishing her snow-white cloak. He squeezed her shoulder. "Do you see Tareth over there?" he asked softly, pointing to the large warrior who was roaring out loud with laughter at the tales the elves told. Linnatiel nodded reluctantly, never looking up. "He says they called him ‘wanderlust’ back home. Linn, he comes all the way from the Arenian mountains." Derryn paused. "He and I are alike; we yearn for something we cannot find by sitting around, twiddling our thumbs."
Linnatiel raised her head just enough to reveal the emerald glints of her eyes. Her long hair hung down her face. "I can't explain this to you so you'll understand; I only hope you can. I know I'm not a Templar, and I doubt I want to be one." Derryn was beginning to become desperate, desperate to do anything to keep her from looking away. He gripped the hilt of his sword. "But if you want a knight in shining armour," he said, standing up from the log and kneeling at her feet, "I will protect you just as well. My promise is as good now as it was then." He bowed his head gravely. "Linn, I didn't mean what I said. I would die for a friend like you."
For a moment, Linnatiel said nothing. Derryn’s face reddened. He looked up at her; her eyes looked down at him, skeptical and hard. His grip tightened on the hilt; he was going to lose her trust. Everyone around the fire paused to stare at the young elvish lady, and the coarse-looking swordsman kneeling at her feet, in proper knightly protocol.
"Do you remember the time you scraped your knee in the forest, Linn?" Derryn asked quietly, so only she could hear. "I carried you all the way back to the palace because you said it hurt so much." He allowed a small smirk to cross his face. "Later, I found out you were only joking, and wanted to see if I would actually carry you. Do you remember what I said to you then, Linn?"
" You said you would have carried me no matter what," Linnatiel said quietly. "You said you would do it a hundred times, even though you knew it wasn't necessary." Derryn slowly stood, and looked into the elf’s face. A single tear had streaked down her cheek. No. Don’t do this. Please. She suddenly smiled, and stood up. Lifting her chin, she kissed Derryn on the cheek. His eyes widened in utter surprise. "It seems," Linnatiel said quietly, "that you’d do anything to keep me from shedding tears. I shed but one for your effort, and for a treasured memory."
"I don’t like to see any friend of mine hurt, whether it be from my hand or another," Derryn’s words escaped his lips. "Especially you, Linn." Linnatiel smiled at his words, and Derryn worked up the strength to smile back. A grand burst of laughter came from Tareth, who was grinning widely and swinging a mug of ale back and forth.
"Aw, gee," he snickered. "They’re the best o’ friends now! Ain’t that cute?" Tareth nudged the elf next to him, who slowly shifted away from the drunken barbarian. The others sniffed at Tareth, as if ashamed, then, standing up, bowed wordlessly to Linnatiel, then retired to their tents. Linnatiel took Derryn’s hand and examined it for a moment.
"I am glad we met again, Derryn Drakelight," she said cheerfully, looking into his face. "It has been a long while since I spoke to such a good friend. The years pass so slowly to me. You have given me much to think about." With another smile, she turned and walked back to her tent. She walks with a grace that makes her seem like gliding, Derryn thought, shaking his head in wonder. "Good night, Derryn," she called, "and sweet dreams." The tent flap closed softly behind her.
"AAAHHH HAHAAAA!!!" Tareth exploded into more drunken laughter. "A cute one for sure, little master!"
"You never told me you had a drinking problem, you mush-brained fool," Derryn snarled. His face reddened in embarrassment, as if the elves were still watching. "And you NEVER drink that much elven ale!"
The barbarian tottered on his feet for a moment, then stumbled back down onto the log. His face was red and jovial. " ‘Sweet dreams, Derryn’," Tareth imitated in an unnaturally high voice. "I love you so—" He was cut off as Derryn punched him in the face. The barbarian rolled his eyes into his head, swaying, then fell back and hit the ground with a satisfying crash. He did not move again for the rest of the night.
"Gorgeous elf girls and drunken barbarians," Derryn muttered, leaning against a tree trunk and hugging his sword protectively. "Strangers in the night..." He drifted off to sleep, a dreamless sleep.