Chapter the Tenth
The journey to consciousness was long, blurry and weary for Linnatiel di Vellucyn, Princess-Heir of the Isle of Vellucyn, Star of the Forest. She felt warm and safe, as voices spoke above her.
"Percy, the poor thing's been out cold for so long," an aged, female voice lamented. "The Waste knows what she's been through."
"She looks deathly familiar though, Ada," a man's gruff voice observed. "Even with the ears. Don't you think—"
"Yes, yes, Percy," the female replied. "You've said it at least a dozen times a day. But you are right. She does look like—oh, Percy, look! She's finally coming around!"
Linnatiel slowly blinked her eyes open, and waited for her vision to focus. When the blurriness had sharpened, she saw she was staring at a wooden ceiling. She was almost smothered in thick, warm blankets. The room she was in smelled smoky, and it felt very cozy. A human man and woman gazed upon her. The man had short, chestnut brown hair and a cropped beard, although both were streaked with tinges of grey. He looked tall, and had thick arms, as if made for work. A white apron was wound around the brown tunic he was wearing with the sleeves rolled up.
The woman looked slightly older than him; she had golden hair that looked faded, as if it had lost some of its brilliance, and was worn up in a bun. She had faintly rosy cheeks, and wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, as if she smiled often. Linnatiel judged that the woman must have been quite the beauty in her time. The woman smiled warmly at the elf.
Linnatiel tried to speak, but found that her mouth was painfully dry. She wet her lips, and tried to speak again. "Derr—" She suddenly broke into a fit of coughs.
"Oh, you poor thing," the woman clucked, kneeling at the side of Linnatiel's bed and feeling her forehead. "Percy, get her a glass of water, would you?" The man nodded, and strode out of the room. "Dear, can you speak human tongue?" The old woman asked in a friendly tone. Linnatiel nodded weakly. "Don't you worry about a thing. You'll be cared for here. You poor thing," the woman repeated pitiously, as the man called Percy walked back in the room with a glass of water. The woman took it and slowly tipped it into Linnatiel's lips. The elf raised her head, swallowed a mouthful, coughed and lowered her head, sighing.
"Derryn," she rasped in a slightly clearer voice, if a bit weak. "Where is he?" The old woman turned her head to Percy, as if in question. Percy shrugged.
"Beats me, Ada," he said. Ada turned back to Linnatiel, stroking the elf's hair in a motherly fashion. Linnatiel didn't try to stop her.
"I don't know, dear," she said. "There is very much we don't know about you."
"You said I looked familiar," Linnatiel said, in a guarded tone. Her green eyes narrowed the slightest bit. "Familiar to who?" Ada was taken aback.
"I never meant to offend you, little one," she soothed. "We just thought...well, there was someone who lived here a long time ago, and she looked very much like you. She wasn't an elf, though. Her face was as pretty as yours, but I daresay that you look quite a bit prettier."
"I have a very large hunch, Ada," Percy said, crossing his arms. "It's been nagging at me since the first time I saw her. Miss," he said, addressing Linnatiel, "what is your mother's name?" Linnatiel looked at him in surprise. Her lip trembled slightly.
"Ka-Katricia," she whispered. Ada covered her mouth with both hands, and looked like she was about to faint. Percy nodded in satisfaction. "Why? What do you know?" Ada threw herself upon Linnatiel, hugging her tightly.
"You are a jewel to us," the woman sobbed. "Like a present that we have waited so long to see." Percy knelt beside Ada, resting an arm on one knee.
"Miss, Elven as you look, Katricia was our niece. That means that we are your grandaunt and granduncle." Linnatiel's eyes widened, and she bit her lip to keep from crying. She suddenly realized that she didn't know where any of her friends were. She longed desperately to go home, but she had no idea where she was. There was no one Elven around her, and Derryn...she didn't know if Derryn was dead or alive. And now...these people, no, humans tell her they were related to her. Linnatiel wanted nothing more than her father to pat her on the head like he did when she was little, and tell her everything was all right. She wanted nothing more than the comforting embrace of her mother, and her soothing whispers. She just wanted to be back in Vellucyn, where she knew everyone, where she wouldn't be afraid.
"Please help me!" The elf suddenly cried, and hugged Ada back. "I just want to go home! Please help me get home! I'll do anything!"
Two days passed as Linnatiel spent her time in the old couple's home, which housed Percival's smithy. For most of the first day the elf was haplessly cooped up in her room, but bit by bit, she regained strength in her legs, and by the late afternoon that day, she was walking about the house. Her limbs still felt rubbery, and a little numb, but it was better than lying around. Linnatiel also found that she was thirsty quite often, and drank an abnormal amount of water, milk and tea. Ada was positively overjoyed at her rapid recovery.
During the evening, Ada and Linnatiel traded stories by the fireplace. Ada recounted the childhoods of both Linnatiel's mother and her sister, Velena. She told of how she had taken in the two after they were orphaned, and how they caused no end of mischief while they were together. When Velena was fifteen or so, and learned of her magical powers, she went off on her own and never returned. Katricia continued living a normal life until Ithralli came, and she learned that, like her sister, she could use magic.
In return, Linnatiel told stories about growing up in Vellucyn, and all the wonders she lived with. When the elf told Ada about the grand palace itself, and its many amazing spires and towers that seemed to touch the clouds, the old woman touched her heart and sighed, "You have such a wondrous home, my child. As if out of a fairy tale book."
Before long, Linnatiel began to recount her journey out of Vellucyn, where she met Derryn. She briefly retold their stay at the Northern Sanctuary, and how they, along with a group of comrades, traveled to the Greenfield Stretch. She found herself describing each of their companions, from Valaan, the dashing master spellweaver, to Shusa, her lifelong guardian and friend.
"You truly have had a remarkable and horrible experience," Ada said, sitting back in her cushioned chair and gazing at the roaring fireplace. "Linn, you are so...spectacular. You have done so many things that I could only dream of. You are truly gifted with such memorable experiences."
During midday of the second day, Linnatiel woke up late, and was assaulted by a barrage of hammer pounds coming from the floor below. Taking slow steps, she sought out the source of the noise, and found Percival's smithy. It was rather large, and being open, faced the bright streets of the town. The large man was hammering away on a set of horseshoes. A small set of weapons, including swords and axes, were hung on one wall. One sword in particular stood out from the rest: it was sleeker and looked elegant, distinctly of Elven make. Percival spotted Linnatiel staring up at the Elven sword and grinned, saying, "Not too bad, eh? I made it myself, after a lot of failed attempts."
"You made it yourself?" Linnatiel asked in surprise. "But it looks so Elven." Percy nodded with pride.
"Ithralli, I mean Lord Ithralli, I mean your father, he showed me the ropes. It was certainly a change of pace, to make that. I almost tore my hair out with frustration! Well, I got far enough." Percy glanced upwards at his receding hairline. Linnatiel laughed. "My dear girl, would you mind pumping the bellows for me?" The blacksmith asked, pointing to the object. "This needs a little reheating." The elf nodded, and pushed down on it. "Just brilliant," Percy said, "That will be enough. So, Linn, how are you feeling?"
"I'm fine for now, Percy," Linnatiel replied cheerily.
"That's good to hear," Percy replied, and took a break from his work. He wiped his face with his forearm, then set down the blacksmith's hammer. "Do you feel like taking a walk? The sun might do you some good."
"I would like that," the elf said. "I feel much more comfortable out in the open sky. Maybe it's just the Elven blood in me. I am half Elven, after all." Together, the two walked out into the streets of the town. People went about from place to place as usual, but almost every one of them glanced at Linnatiel with a wide smile. Percival seemed not to notice.
"I would never know it," he said. "You have the Elvish-ness of Ithralli, all right. It's only Katricia's face that I see in you, that makes me believe you have a human side." Linnatiel nodded absently, still somewhat unnerved by the friendliness and attention of the townspeople who passed them. "That's what's bugging you, eh? Well, it's hard to dislike you, with your looks and all," Percy said offhandedly. "The entire town seems to be quite taken with you. Just watch out for the boys; more likely than not they'll try to put some of their 'moves' on you." The elf blushed a bit.
"I am afraid I am taken, Percy," she said shyly. Percival raised his eyebrows.
"Ah, I remember now. It's that Derryn boy, isn't it? I would say he is a lucky person, all right. Well, just make sure you can take care of yourself. With all the news about Nightcloaks and commotion of such sorts, you never know."
"I can handle a staff well, and I know some magic."
Percy whistled in approval. "That's some repertoire, coming from a lady like yourself. I shouldn't be surprised, though; it's like a combination of Ithralli and Kat's talents. Speaking of news, I have another one of my hunches. Seeing as it's been a month now since you 'disappeared' from Ryth, so to speak, it's only natural that some of your kin would come looking for you. I'm sure that they are searching, even as we speak. Eventually, they'll come upon this little place, and before you know it, you'll be whisked back home! What do you think about that?"
"I...that would be very nice," Linnatiel sighed. "You've raised my hopes, Percy. Thank you. It lessens the chance of me having to go out on my own to find the others." Percy chuckled and put his arm around the elf's shoulders, giving her a quick squeeze.
"You need not worry about that, dear girl. At the very least, I will accompany you. Waste knows what waits for you out there. By my life, I won't let you leave here until I know you'll be safe."
As the days passed, Linnatiel became more comfortable with wandering about town. All of the townspeople were courteous and kind, and even the young men became complete gentlemen whenever she was near. Some of the children were eager to ask why her ears were pointed, and, laughing, she told them stories about the Elves. As Percival had said, the entire town held Linnatiel close to its heart.
However, despite the overwhelming hospitality of the people, Linnatiel still felt pangs of loss and homesickness whenever she was alone. She missed her friends to no end, and the constantly warred with herself to believe whether they were alive and she should wait for them, or they were dead and she could go on with her life. She missed her close conversations with Nadia, who was always cheering her up or playfully teasing her. She missed Shusa's caring nature, and the way she seemed at times to be an older sister rather than her guardian. But most of all, Linnatiel's heart ached for Derryn. Not a day went by where she didn't long for his touch, his laugh, or the simple luxury of being close to him. He might have gone mad, never knowing that he loved her. For all of this, there were nights when Linnatiel cried herself to sleep. To Ada's dismay, there was nothing she, nor Percy, nor the town could do to lift the burden of loss from her shulders. Fully a week had passed without a word for Linnatiel from the outside world.
In an effort to combat her sadness, Linnatiel tried to piece together the strange incident that had led to all of this. One night, as she sat crosslegged on her bed in her room, she picked out the pieces of the puzzle. She knew that Derryn was the center of a prophecy, where he would be the hero that would destroy the evil that still festered in Ryth. However, when he fought that knight...it was as if he had become someone else. It seemed that someone was within Derryn. That person, who called himself Anthan Drakelight, was certainly a relative of Derryn. A brother, perhaps? No; she knew Derryn had no siblings. This Anthan could only be someone like Derryn's grandfather, or great-grandfather, or older. The zealous nature, and the strange powers of Anthan, were what frightened Linnatiel the most. The way he casually wiped out all life in one small part of Ryth just to kill one person, that horrid knight, was almost inhuman.
The arrival of Anthan in one part of Ryth almost exactly coincided with the incidents of the Templar and the abundance of Nightcloaks. From there, however, Linnatiel drew a blank. She simply did not know enough of what was happening outside of the town. The elf sighed in frustration as her door slowly creaked open, and Ada's head poked in. "How do you feel, little one?" she asked warmly. Linnatiel motioned the old woman in.
"A little better, Ada," she said. "But I keep trying to put everything together in my mind, but...it all falls apart."
"I think there's someone here who can help you," Ada said. "Not half an hour ago, a merchant came into town. He looked exhausted, as if he were riding his cart horses hard. He may know something that could help. You can see him in the inn, it's just a little bit down the street." Linnatiel's eyes widened.
"Ada, is he..." The older woman shook her head sadly.
"No, my child. He doesn't look like your Derryn, or any of your friends. However, he is a bit...different. If I tell you any more, you may not be persuaded to meet him." Linnatiel nodded, donned a thick, gray cloak, and went out of the house.
The night was dark and the air was cold, but several lanterns lit the way around town. Very few people walked about at night, and the inn was where the most activity was. Wrapping her cloak tighter around herself, Linnatiel mad her way to the inn, where all the lights were on.
The people inside the inn tavern smiled at Linnatiel when she entered, then went back to their own conversations. The elf found the merchant in a corner table with his feet put up. At once, Linnatiel realized why the merchant was different. He was a Dwarf, plain and simple. He was immediately distinguished by his diminuitive figure, extremely long white beard, and dark, penetrating eyes. The Dwarf was clad in rough, woolen traveling clothes, and wore a wide, black belt around his girth. He seemed the exact opposite of everything the elf thought was clean and honest. Linnatiel shivered with disgust, but strengthened her resolve and strode toward his table. When he saw her approach, he narrowed his eyes and openly grit his teeth.
"An elf!" He snarled. "Of all the places in Ryth, here! What do you want with me, tree-hugger? In plain speak, mind you." Linnatiel clenched her fists at her sides.
"The people in this town know who I am, and my importance to them," Linnatiel said, keeping her voice calm. "I am here to ask for your help."
"Make it quick," the Dwarf waved quickly, "I'm beat."
"I'm here to ask you about the incidents that are going on from all over Ryth," the elf explained. "You've been to more places, so you must know more. Can you tell me about the Templar, and the Nightcloaks?"
"It's a nasty business, that," the dwarf growled through his beard. "Some Templar factions are accusing others of allying with Wynell himself. In the beginning, they only kept their arguments in their own land, but now they're starting to fight in the surrounding regions. If all the talk about Wynell wasn't enough, Nightcloaks are sneaking all over Ryth. As if they were searching for someone." The Dwarf suppressed a shiver, then went on. "The reason I got here so fast was because I know some were right behind me. I'm not completely sure, mind you, but they're bloody ghosts: one minute you see something, and poof! They're gone!" The Dwarf narrowed his eyes again. "Is that good enough for you? I'm scared out of my boots, and I just want to sleep." Linnatiel bowed slightly.
"Thank you for your help, kind Dwarf," she said. "But if you think Nightcloaks were following you, don't you think they would come...here?" The Dwarf grit his teeth in fear and agitation.
"Nowhere on Ryth is safe anymore, elf," he uttered. "Not Vellucyn, and soon enough, not even Tildar. Both of us have spent more than our fair share of time on this side of the world, and the last thing I want is to be killed by those devil spawn. And one more thing," the Dwarf said, dropping his feet off the table and leaning forward, "You seem like a decent enough elf, so I won't hold anything back. When I said I thought I saw Nightcloaks behind me, I saw something else."
"Tell me," Linnatiel whispered. "Please." The Dwarf nodded courteously.
"I saw a human," he said, low enough for the elf to hear. "Man or woman, I don't know, but it seemed as if he, or she, was running from them too. Tildar take my heart, I fear the poor soul was being chased by them. No one deserves such a fate."
Linnatiel felt as if a chill had swept through the room. "You have been most helpful, Dwarf. I pray you have a safe journey," she said solemnly. The Dwarf nodded in appreciation.
"I thank you for your prayer, kind elf," he returned. "You aren't that bad, as far as Elves go..." As he was about to finish, a townsman burst into the door of the inn. His forehead was bleeding, and he held a lantern tight in one hand.
"There are strange people in the street!" He cried. "Get back to your homes, they don't seem interested in us. Stay there until this is over!" With that said, he dashed out again, spreading the word. Linnatiel looked to the Dwarf, who slowly unlatched a hand axe from his belt.
"Go back to where you were," he snarled. "This place isn't safe anymore." The elf nodded, and swept out of the inn.
The townspeople moved as quickly as they could to get back to their homes, and the main street was just a mass of dark forms running and fleeing. Linnatiel could see those dark shapes moving up the road: it seemed as if several were silently pursuing a ragged person. There was no noise, no shouting, just the exhausted gasps of the escapee. The moon appeared as a thin crescent in the dark, cloudy blue sky. A man suddenly appeared in front of Linnatiel. "Master Percival sends word," he said breathlessly, "He urges you to return quickly. He and Mistress Ada are safe." Linnatiel nodded gratefully, but something pulled her closer to the strange pursuit.
The ragged person being chased suddenly stopped, and faced the pursuers. "I've had enough of this!" The person shrieked tiredly. It was a man's voice, wracked with exhaustion. "Come and get me!" The town was silent as people stared from their windows at the spectacle. The shadowy forms surrounded the man as he fumbled with something at his belt, then produced a sword. It gleamed dimly in the moonlight. Linnatiel could do nothing but stare.
"For Drakelight!" The lone fighter screamed shrilly, and quickly cut down one of his attackers. The others silently unsheathed twin knives, brandishing them menacingly. Nightcloaks. Linnatiel gasped at hearing the name.
Jumping and whirling, the warrior danced with the Nightcloaks, fighting with a vigor that belied his physical state. One by one, he cut them down, never stopping as he smoothly moved from one opponent to the next.
Linnatiel cried inside as a Nightcloak caught the warrior's arm, slashing smoothly through his shoulder. The man stumbled back, then redoubled his efforts, swinging with increasing speed and strength. The last Nightcloak fell to the ground as the man pulled his blade free, using his foot to shove the body off. All was silent in the darkness, as the man stood there, amongst a pile of Nightcloak bodies, his sword dragging across the ground. Linnatiel forced herself to speak.
"De...Derryn?" She called out. The man turned to face her. Linnatiel's heart began to beat excitedly. The man staggered closer towards her, the point of his sword sliding across the dirt road. He came close enough for Linnatiel to see him in the lantern light.
The man's hair was dark, and thoroughly mussed and tangled. His clothes were covered in dirt, his face marred with it. Inquisitive brown eyes glittered like amber in the light as they examined her. His face...it had to be. "By all the curses in the Waste," the man breathed. "Linnatiel?!" Tears started in the elf's eyes. "Is it you, Linn? Is it really you?! Are you my Linn?!" Linnatiel ran to Derryn and crushed herself against him. She sobbed against his chest as he ran his calloused fingers through her hair.
"Derryn, Derryn, Derryn," she said, repeating his name over and over.
"My life has been a nightmare," Derryn said into her hair, smelling it deeply. "When you have lived a nightmare for an entire moon, you pray so hard to wake up. I have prayed every day for you, Linn." He sniffed once; he was crying too. "Take me out of my nightmare, Linn. Wake me up!"
"I will help you, my sweet Derryn," Linnatiel cried against his shoulder. "With my love, I will help you!"
-Friday, March 15, 2002