“You’re doing that wrong, you know.”
“I know.” replied Emor, proceeding to repeat his mistake. He and Parsilan were walking together in the woods, the older warrior showing the prince a few new moves. But Emor still wasn’t getting the hang of it. No one walked in their vicinity anymore, for fear of losing a limb. It was a good precaution, he’d already nicked Parsilan twice.
The companions were on march to the encampment, after three days rest in the elven city. Now they walked along with a hundred other men, women and young kids towards much less pleasant surroundings. Emor was surprised at first to see the women and children in a place like this, but Drugane’s explanation made sense. “Come on Emor. If you were a woman and your husband was going off to die, wouldn’t you want to go with him?”
“Depends. Am I a cute women?” This had sent Parsilan into a fit of laughter so hard that even Drugane couldn’t stop him until he’d nearly passed out. The man found even the most mundane of jokes hilarious.
Their parting from Reya had been painful for them all. Haliman traveled with them, but as a nurse Reya had to stay behind. Haliman appeared upset when she came out to say goodbye, her eyes puffy and swollen from what Emor guessed was crying. Ever since then Drugane and Haliman hadn’t said a word to each other. Emor was completely confused at their behavior, and decided that maybe he should stay away from them. Instead he opted to walk with Brodi and Parsilan on the way down. At least they weren’t complicated. A little off their hinges, sure, but easy to understand.
“Now come on, kill the fuzzy blue rabbit.” chided Parsilan.
Emor shook his head. “I don’t want it to burn me again.”
“Aw, Brodi, he’s afraid of your little friend.” The big man laughed again and Emor swore he felt the ground shake.
“Well he should be.” replied Brodi, “He’s half dragon that one. You’d burn people too if they were trying to part you from your head.”
“Part me from my head!” Parsilan repeated, laughing all the more. He slapped a hand on Emor’s shoulder so hard he nearly slammed the prince to his knees, which sent Parsilan at it again.
“Just between you and me.” Brodi whispered. “I think the big man’s brain is a bit off.”
“Either that or all the alcohol he drinks is beginning to drown it.” Brodi nodded.
“Parsilan you big brute, pull yourself together before the whole forest hears you.” interrupted Wendel. He was walking a short distance behind them again, like he had in Girshin, his bow in his hand.
“Oh, you’re just trying to impress the elves.” was Parsilan’s reply, once he regained control of his speech. “Lighten up Wendel.” Brodi waved a hand in the air and the rabbit vanished in a wisp of smoke, to a few ‘oh’s and ‘ah’s from random soldiers.
“How do you do that?” asked Emor once they had returned to their sluggish march.
“What, the fire stuff?” Emor nodded. “It isn’t as hard as it looks. You just have to say the right words the right way with a specific hand movement. The hard part is remembering all the different combinations and what they do. I’ve made quiet a few campfires explode, the hand wave is so finicky.” He waved his hand around in front of his eyes for effect. “‘Course I’m not a real mage or anything, I just dabble in the stuff. Lord knows how the big ones remember all those spells, I’d go mad.”
“Could you teach me something?” asked Emor. He was bored to tears just walking. Sure, there were interesting things to look at. After all, elves had been living in these woods forever. There were countless crumbling structure and statues to look at, but after a while anything can get boring. They’d been marching like this for nearly twelve hours. Emor was starving, and his thighs hurt again. Now he knew Drugane wasn’t bluffing when he’d claimed they were taking a slow pace through the woods. It was easy to understand why a guy like Parsilan- a man with the attention span of a small child- was starting to crack.
“I don’t know. I don’t need my eyebrows burnt off again, I just grew them back from trying to teach him.” The mage jabbed a thumb in the big man’s direction.
“Yes, but the difference is that I, unlike Parsilan, have a brain.” replied Emor.
“Hey, I heard that.” grunted the big man. Brodi ignored him.
“Alright, well what do you want to learn?” he asked. The mage was a bit wary of teaching the boy magic, but was too bored to protest. In a line full of people, limbs and horses, he’d have to keep a sharp eye on him.
“How about the rabbit! Borim will be so jealous when I get home.”
Brodi shook his head. “That one’s too complex for a first spell. But I could show you how to light a torch or something. That one’s pretty easy.” Emor was visibly disappointed, but agreed to the compromise.
The spell was simple enough. Emor had trouble with the elven spell words, but his hand wave was dead on, according to an impressed Brodi. “Ashi, beleth nathi.” It was a beginner’s spell, with no thought process required. With more complicated spells the caster had to be very in touch with his mental projections. But for now Emor was able to grasp the incantation, and with in minutes the two had lit a dead tree branch on fire.
“Not bad for a novice.” commented Brodi as Emor ignited the branch in glee. As he spoke Drugane appeared from the front of the line, and Emor hurried over to show off his new found skill.
“Hey Drugane, look what Brodi showed me how to do.” he said, waving the torch in his face. Drugane seemed only slightly amused.
“That’s great Emor. But I need to borrow you for a second.” his voice was tense again, like it had been during their stays in the forest. Emor’s heart fell at the sound, realizing his fun was over.
“For goodness sake Drugane, lighten up will you.” interjected Parsilan. “What is everybody so strung up about?”
“Parsilan, we’re going to war.” replied the tracker sharply, “People are going to die. There’s nothing light about that.”
Parsilan waved him away. “You worry to much friend. We all die, it’s a fact of life. You can’t go running about worrying over it, that won’t do you any good. Try to have some fun.” Drugane ignored the big man and grabbed Emor by the arm, whisking him away in a scurry.
“Why doesn’t he ever listen to me?” Parsilan, being the youngest of the foursome, still didn’t quiet understand Drugane.
Wendel shrugged. “He’s got a lot on his mind right now. Let him be.” Parsilan didn’t reply, but just watched his hero hasten away with the young prince in tow, a look of genuine concern crossing his face: something that hadn’t happened for a very long time. He didn’t like dwelling on the harsh reality of battle. He’d already had quiet enough of mourning and regret. Why did Drugane have to be so serious all the time? It made him want a drink really badly.
Meanwhile Emor was being dragged forward at breakneck speeds towards the front of the column, his little torch still clutched in his hand. Up towards the front he could see the line had stopped moving, a tall elf in war cloths blocked their path. Emor could guess what Drugane wanted now.
As they neared Haliman appeared from his own place. Evidently he and Drugane were still quarreling, but neither made it apparent in front of the guard. “What business do you bring, soldiers?” the guard asked curtly. Emor was dumbfounded. Here they were, standing on the outskirts of the encampment with a hundred warriors, and this elf was asking them what they were doing there! Wasn’t it completely obvious?
“We come with troops from Evelest.” replied Haliman in the common tongue. “These men hoped to join the battle.”
The elven guard shook his head, and withdrew a scroll from his coat. “By order of Lord Trinidale, we are accepting no more soldiers at this time. There are too few supplies.”
Haliman appeared furious. “Let me see that.” he snapped, snatching the scroll from the elf’s hand before he had a chance to reply, and promptly shoved it right back into his arms. He spun around to speak with Drugane and Emor.
“This is ridiculous, Trinidale must be trying to keep me from returning to camp.” He strung a few profanities and non-printable elven curses together before speaking again. “Well we will just see about that.”
“We have higher orders than those of Lord Trinidale.” he said, this time to the guard. “Among us is Prince Emor, next in line to the throne of Estro.” Emor turned red. He hadn’t been expecting that. “It is under his command that we marched here, and as such we earn passing to the encampment.”
The elf pondered the words for a minute, examining Emor. A raging conflict was taking place in his soul. Was Haliman right, did the prince have enough power to overrule the Saldrin’s decision? He wanted to believe so. The elf was tired of taking orders from a Saldrin. The elves, after all, were above humans. To take orders from them is the highest of insults. “Are you who he says you are?” The guard asked after a moment in his thick accent.
“I am.” was Emor’s only reply. But it was enough. The elf stepped aside and allowed them to pass, but not without a look of concern. Was this Trinidale so powerful that he could make the elves fear him so much as this? thought Emor as they passed. He was all but a little wary of meeting a man who could turn the stubborn pride of elves to faceless compliance.
“You realize he’s going to be using you as a figure head for the entire time you’re in the camp.” said Drugane after they had resumed their walking. Haliman was out of earshot. “You’re his only way around Trinidale.”
“Why in the world would someone want to stop more soldiers from coming.” muttered Emor to himself.
“Because he doesn’t think this battle is as serious is it is. If we don’t win...” he shook his head. “Emor, this is the biggest battle we’ve undergone since the age of Grinwol. If we loose this war, human kind is lost.”
Emor didn’t know what to say. Drugane always had a way of seeing the whole picture, but wasn’t he exaggerating? How could one little war be so important that the fate of an entire race could hang in the balance. Emor made up his mind that the tracker was taking this too seriously. He was stressed, and tired, and clearly upset about going to battle. Maybe Parsilan was right, he needed to lighten up.
They walked in silence once more, an activity that occurring at an increasing rate. He was almost glad when Haliman approached, trying to ignore the ill-hidden scowl on Drugane’s face.
“May I beg a word of the prince?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t advice that Emor.” muttered Drugane. Haliman shot him a harsh look.
Anger burned in Emor’s face for the first time in days, watching them fight for him. Was he not allowed to choose his own side? Clearly they both saw him as only a bargaining tool in their little game. Now he supposed he must choose the lesser of two evils, crafty elf or worrywart tracker.
“I’ll go with you Haliman.” he decided. The commander might be a little more sinister, but Emor was tired of being babied. The prince took a step towards the elf, but Drugane’s hand pulled him back.
“Then at least let me go with you Emor,” he said in a low voice, “to make sure he doesn’t pull anything tricky.”
Emor yanked his arm from the tracker’s grasp. “What’s the matter with you? I think I can go take a walk with someone without need of a body guard.”
Drugane started to reply, but didn’t. If the boy wanted to talk with Haliman, there was no way he could stop him. The triumph was not masked in the elf’s face as they turned to walk away, and for a minute Emor wondered if he had done the right thing.
“I admire your choice.” Haliman said presently, once they were out of earshot from Drugane, “that was a very kingly thing to do.” Emor smirked. Yes, this was much better.
“So what did you want to talk to me about?” they were heading for the front of the line again, which was nearing the camp. He could already see the smoke rising from the patches of sky amidst the trees. A little blurb of anxiety rose in his stomach, but he paid it no heed.
“I assume we agree upon the state of affairs concerning the Saldrin.” Thankfully he’d dropped the long-winded speech, opting for speed instead of eloquence.
Emor scoffed. “That they’re overbearing and need ousted? Yep, we agree.”
“Then I wished to request you services in the matter.”
Haliman gave an almost imperceptible smile, teetering on the side of devious. Emor, who was too busy watching the smoke plumes, didn’t notice. “As you saw earlier, your power of persuasion is much heftier than my own. The men respect your family tittle. The elves, although human ranks matter little to them, will side with you as well. We loath them with as deep a passion as the men do. Together, we may be able to do something to ‘oust’ them, as you put it.”
“Yeah, I noticed that elven guard didn’t seem all that worried about letting us pass.”
Haliman nodded. “The seed of dissension is already planted, now we must make it grow.”
“So are the troops as unneeded as Trinidale suggests, or was that part of the lie?”
“It is true, and yet untrue. The war will be won soon, that is obvious. But every soldier counts. I do worry that there is some truth in our lack of supplies, but Reya and the others will be returning soon with more. Still, I would worry not. The war is surely won.”
“That’s not how Drugane puts it.”
The elf raised a brow. “Let me guess, Drugane is under the impression that our wins are merely a disguise for what is to come, that we are over-confident and that somewhere among the trees lies a band of goblins just waiting to strike us down when we are least expecting it.”
This time it was Emor’s turn to be surprised. “You read him like a book.”
“We have been friends for many years and through many wars. Although I confess I cannot understand why he is so loath of me now.”
“So is he always like this before a battle?”
Second/ Alternative part of Chapter 4
… “Emor, might I have a word?”
Haliman flashed him a little smile. Not the kind that Drugane usually gave him, the one that made Emor feel like a two year old. Haliman’s smile felt genuine. Emor nodded.
“Do you know why I wish to speak with you?” he asked as they walked. His foot crunched over the dry leaves, strangely echoed inside the prince’s cranium as they struggled out from column. A tiny prickle spread across the base of Emor’s skull, like the itch of a spider climbing his neck. He slapped it subconsciously.
“I have an idea.”
“Then you would understand if I ask to converse in more, interment settings.” His eyes flickered to the left, and Emor followed his gaze. Drugane was peering between the bodies of the other men, trying to keep Emor in sight. No wonder the hairs on the prince’s his neck stood on end.
Haliman slipped away into the tree line, Emor close behind. He strode a few paces away from the soldiers, until the sound of their footsteps became a muffled beating. Emor glanced back again, where Drugane was most likely deciding to continue on or not. After a moment he turned and slipped back into formation.
“This is far enough.” Haliman stopped suddenly and turned to face the prince. “I wished not to be overheard. I believe you saw the tracker, same as I.”
“Yes.” What else could he say? If he took sides with Haliman, Drugane would surely find out, and Emor really didn’t want to deal with a confrontation with the man. But if he defended Drugane, he’d just be denying the truth. The tracker was starting to give Emor gooseflesh.
It took a moment for him to realize that Haliman was staring intently into his eyes, as if he was trying to read his thoughts. Shocked, Emor turned away, breaking the eye contact. Haliman went on as if nothing had happened.
“I believe he is beginning to loose what little hold he has on reality. And I see, by your look, that you are starting to believe it too.”
This time Emor simply said nothing. He was busy studying the passing soldiers and trying to keep Haliman from looking at him again. Sometimes he wondered if the elves had some sort of mind reading capabilities.
“It is fine Emor, I know he has been of great service to you and that you do not wish to harm his feelings. It is probably an appropriate choice; I fear what he might due if confronted.
“Ever since his mother and sister died he has been in steady decline. I think the whole affair left his mind permanently damaged. Not that I blame him; such a loss, and to hold such responsibility!” Haliman’s voice quavered slightly, jarring Emor out of his trance. For the first time he realized that perhaps the elf really felt bad for Drugane. Maybe Drugane was wrong about this guy; surely a man who beat his wife wouldn’t get upset over the idea of guilt. “After his family died, he never recovered. He always took too many risks, signed up for battles even when he was on his days off. Never took a wife either, didn’t even court! He stayed away from them all, like he was afraid of them. All he lives for is the fight. He cannot go a day without it, and when he is off duty he spends his days in the inns, drinking away his sorrows. I suppose you’ve seen him?”
“That’s where I met him; at the inn’s bar.”
Haliman nodded. “The man is a mess, no mistaking.”
“Did you know him then? Before his family died?”
Haliman snapped another twig beneath his boot, turning Emor’s head back in the elf’s direction. Suddenly he was locked in that brilliant gaze again; Haliman’s piercing blue eyes boring a hole right through him. Usually it would make Emor uncomfortable for someone to look him in the eye, but when Haliman did it he didn’t mind so much. It wasn’t so much of a challenge as a proof of respect.
“No. Drugane told me about his family. I deduced the rest. He is a drunkard, and a mad man. He cannot be trusted.” Emor nodded, “However, I did not drag you away from the line to speak about the eccentricity of a mad tracker,” continued Haliman, finally turning to survey the moving troops. Emor followed his gaze, “I wished to converse about our situation with the Saldrin.”
“Yeah, they don’t seem to like you much, do they Hal?”
Haliman chuckled. “No, I don’t suppose they would. After all, without me in the picture the Saldrin would be in complete control of the entire camp. They might even get those extra troops they are calling for.”
“But that can’t be so bad can it? I mean, we’re extra troops ourselves.”
“You show your weakness as a governor of men Emor. Think about the implications. These men here are all from Kora, all devoted to the crown. But what the Saldrin want are more Saldrin. And with more Saldrin around, the less control Kora is going to have in this war. They will infest this camp like the plague, and before you know it we will have lost all the ground we have worked so hard to gain.”
“But I thought you said the war was nearly over? How much damage could they do?”
“A hundred Saldrin, Northerners to the core and just as slithering?” Emor could almost hear the tension in Haliman’s hand as is contracted into a fist, squeezing his knuckles white. “All they care about is money. They’d dispatch our soldiers to save money on supplies, just like the Hezrons. Before we knew it they would be making trade agreements with the goblins themselves!”
“I don’t understand,” said Emor, “what does this have to do with me?”
“It has everything to do with you. You are the king of the South, and the only man who can stand up to these snakes.”
“Hold up Haliman,” replied Emor quickly, “I’m not king yet. I probably won’t be, ever.”
“Ah, but you could be.” Haliman took him by the arm, forcing him to look into his eyes.
“You are so much stronger than your brothers ever were. You have the potential to be the greatest king of all time, when you are ready. And you will be, someday; I assure you. I am a man of much power myself, Emor. I understand your quest for your Uncle, and I do not wish you to abandon it. But if you do this, if you show your strength now, before you ever ascend to the throne, then when you are ready the people will remember and greet you happily.”
“You make a good point, Haliman.” He felt another twinge in the back of his neck, but this time it was duller. He rubbed his thumb and forefinger over the vertebra as he thought. “What is it you want me to do?” he asked after a moment of rubbing.
“Just to stand by my side and show with whom you agree. If the prince of Kora supports me, the rest will follow. As long as they do not bring those new recruits, we will still have a majority at the council table. That is, unless Drugane pulls more support to him.”
“Why in the world would Drugane want to support the Saldrin? They’d end the war, innocent people would die.”
“He cannot see that far ahead,” Haliman’s voice grew weary. “All he sees is that they would be new recruits. In his mind, the war is just beginning. He would probably do anything it takes to get this passed.”
“So you want me to go against Drugane? My word against his?”
Haliman shook his head. “There will be no need for that. As long as you continue to promote the truth, no one will want to go against the wishes of the king. I just wanted to make sure that you would not waver merely because you are friends.”
“Friends?” Emor scoffed. “That is hardly the term for it.”
”Then we have a deal?”
“Sure.” Haliman thrust out his hand. Drugane never would have done that. Haliman treated him like an equal, not a child. They shook.
“Oh, one more thing.” Added Haliman as Emor started to move back towards the line. “I don’t think you will want to be caught with him alone any time soon. You had best stick with me. Otherwise he might try to bring you to his side.”
“Haliman, do you think I’m that gullible?”
“No! Of course not.” He answered hastily, “but if he realizes that you are steadfast in your resolve, he may try to harm you. I would not have you attacked before you had a chance to help.”
Emor nodded. “Good thinking. I’ll stick with you for a while.”
“Excellent. Now we really must be going. We will reach the camp any minute now. We must look prepared when we enter. First impressions, they are important.”
Haliman turned and led them back to the main line, which was slowing to a stop. Ahead of them Emor caught a glimpse of a white archway made of tree trunks. Two trees had grown together to create the top, weaving their branches together until their separations were nearly invisible. This must be the entrance to the cities, thought Emor. Sure enough, as he and the elf strode forward to the front of the line, they were met by Trinidale himself, in all his regalia. Emor knew him at once by the emblem on his breast – a serpent coiled around the blade of a long sword, emerald green against the background which shone in black and white steel. Trinidale carried himself as one with royalty in his blood; back arched, shoulders broad and his hand slung loosely over his scabbard. Although, Emor noted with satisfaction, the sword was not properly secured, and he could just see the fingers of verdigrises that streak the steel peeking out between the man’s fingers. He had no facial hair, and the black hairs on his head were trimmed against his scalp, which gave him the appearance of a holy man. Worst of all, his skin was pale as a woman’s, and bore no marks or scars. He held out a hand to Emor, who reached to shake it in the manner of a king: a firm grasp, just enough to press the knuckles together. But Trinidale’s hand was limp as he shook, and his skin was as soft as a child’s.
“Welcome to our humble camp, prince Emor.” Despite his appearance, his voice was strong, although strangely high in pitch. “We welcome you, as we do your soldiers. Although I hardly see their need.”
“That depends on what you consider necessary,” came Haliman’s voice from behind Emor. “I would consider our presence a necessity. Yours however…” He trailed off.
The two men stared at each other for a moment, the air choked with unseen tension. Trinidale broke away first, choosing rather to return his gaze to Emor. “We have accommodations for the troops, I will arrange for a tent to be cleared for you, if you desire it. And I offer my heartfelt condolences to all of your family for the loss of your king.”
Emor thanked him, giving the customary bow that would allow Trinidale to turn and place his back to royalty. Trinidale, however, didn’t return the bow. He grinned stupidly, the corners of his mouth arching smugly. “I like this one,” he said, “at least he knows to give respect where it is due.”
Emor scowled. “That wasn’t directed at you.”
A line of pale pink floated towards Trinidale’s forehead. Emor heard Haliman chuckle behind him. “For once you prove right Trinidale,” replied the elf, “he knows exactly where respect is due. Now lead the way.”
Muttering under his breath, the Saldrin commander turned and stalked away into the camp. Emor and Haliman both followed, Emor hardly able to stifle his laughter. Whether Trinidale could hear his struggle or not, neither could tell, but his pride was maimed severely enough to make him wary of a sequel encounter. Slowly they made their way between the thin trees, the crunch of dead leaves becoming a dull roar as the soldiers behind pound each leaf to dust beneath his heels. Even for the dead of winter, the forest felt unnaturally quiet, like the calm before a great blizzard. Yet snow rarely fell in Evelest, as it lay in the South where winter seldom clung.
As they began to pass the first smoldering fires an elf clad in grey leather appeared from behind, speaking the strange dialect of elvish into Haliman’s ear. Emor paused with them, taking a moment to look around as the soldiers marched by. It had taken nearly a month, but Emor was finally in the Evelestian camp. Despite all warnings from Drugane and his friends, the prince felt the place was hardly menacing. Men in mail or heavy leather sat on fell trees playing cards, some eating, and one rather burly bloke lay fast asleep against a tree. The smell of meat on a fire filled Emor’s nostrils, although he couldn’t see from where the aroma came. There were even women and children here, washing clothes or playing with sticks whose clinks echoed almost like the clanks of real swords. Sunlight even made a cameo appearance here, something a boy from the sunlit plains of Estro welcomed with his fullest heart. Yet here were the soldiers, passing on his left like a dark cloud; heads down; eyes on the ground; their hands held over their face as though a rancid stench plagued them. He could make neither hide nor tail of it. Personally, he thought this was an improvement.
At the back of the line of men, Drugane waited with his friends for the line to continue marching. He’d seen Emor and Haliman slip off into the trees, but decided not to go after them. It was Emor’s business who he talked to or not. Although he worried about what the two of them were talking about.
“Man, did you hear what the prince just said to Trinidale?” came a voice from before him. Drugane turned to the sound of the voice, and could hear snippets of the same conversation initiation all around him. This particular man, a stout gentleman with Girshin leathers, was talking to Wendel. “He totally chewed him out. About time somebody put him in his place.”
Brodi laughed, “Are we talking about the same Emor?”
The man looked confused. “Who else would we be talking about exactly?”
Parsilan caught Drugane’s eye. “Do you think he’s finally coming around?” Drugane didn’t answer.
“You’d better go talk to him,” said Wendel. “Otherwise we’ll never know for
“Why don’t you ask him?” retorted Drugane. Wendel eyed him coolly, and Drugane sighed. “Fine, just gimmie a second and I’ll be right back.”
Carefully the tracker pulled out from his spot at the back to cut through the trees. In front of him the other soldiers were already moving again. He jogged to make his way to the front. It didn’t take him long to spot Emor. He was standing along the side of the road, apparently waiting for someone to meet him. Drugane slowed to a walk, taking a moment to catch his breath. He was still a few yards away when Haliman appeared from the tree line. Drugane slipped to a halt.
“The generals called a council for tonight,” said Haliman, his voice carrying on the wind. “The best thing to do would be to allow me to sit beside you, otherwise this will never work.” He placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder, and Emor nodded.
They said goodbye to the other elf and moved on again. Drugane didn’t follow. Instead he turned and made his way to the back of the column, quite angrier than before.
“Well?” asked Parsilan when he came back, “What did he say?”
Drugane ignored him and immersed himself in the noise of falling feet. Parsilan started to repeat his question, but Wendel stopped him. The archer had seen the elf and prince slip off earlier, and he could guess what troubled Drugane. The best thing to do was to leave him alone for a while; he’d work it out all on his own. The four guardians finished the last leg of their journey in silence.
Elven Song of Trilanta
The land across the yonder shore
Abreast the sea of Egane
Withholds a world not seen before
Trilanta is its surname
A world alive and breathing still
Untouched by mankind’s hand
A lasting race of elven skill
Among the sea and sand
To stay with trees while men do fall,
Or flee to lands of peace?
We do not dare to make the call
Or hope for man will cease.