Sunday, September 30, 2012

Chapter One, New Sample

I wrote this last scene from Chapter One, just this morning. I had a note in Chapter Four, telling me that I had to add this scene to Chapter One, in order to make sense of the next scene in Four. And so, I have finally gotten around to writing this scene, so that when I post my next sample from Chapter Four, it will make more sense to you.

* * *

Balfrith and Aingeall sat together at the table in the study room, across the hall from Aingeall’s bedroom. It was evening, and they didn’t usually have lessons after supper, but their father had said during the meal that there was a special lesson for them prepared this night, and they were to wait here for their tutor to arrive. And so, they waited.

Fortunately, it wasn’t a long wait. Leofred entered not long after they did, and immediately announced, “This evening’s lesson is about the knights of Nûmidëa. Specifically, we shall learn about the Vigil of Arms, the rite of passage that all squires must pass through before they are promoted to knighthood. But, rather than listening to me lecture on the topic, we have a singular opportunity tonight. Your father, duke Osric, will be dubbing a new knight into his service tomorrow. And today, that squire has begun his preparations for tomorrow’s ceremony. He has already spent the day fasting, and will neither eat nor drink from sunrise this morning until after the ceremony at sunrise tomorrow morning. He has also undergone several ritual ablutions throughout the day, in order to cleanse his body, mind and spirit. These are private things, between the squire, the chapel servants, and the One.”

Leofred paused for a moment. “But tonight, we will be allowed to watch the beginning of the Vigil of Arms, in which the squire will spend the night, from sunset to sunrise, praying and fasting before his weapons and armor, dedicating himself and his equipment to the service of the One, and to his lord Osric.” He looked at Balfrith then, and said, “Someday, your oldest brother Aldfrid will pass through this same ceremony. And your brother Wilfrid will be his squire, from that day forward.”

And what of me? thought Balfrith, bitterly. His older brothers had already been taught these things, of course - and they’d used the information to tease Balfrith, and say that he had no place among the knights of Nûmidëa. Which was technically true, since only the eldest son of a lord was elevated to knighthood. On rare occasions, a second son was elevated if he earned honor on the battlefield, or if his brother was slain. But for third and later sons, it was almost unheard of. No, those boys were most often sent off to the university, or to the monastery, or, on rare occasions, sent to the king’s court to find a position as a low-level functionary.

Leofred interrupted his thoughts, saying, “Remember, we must be silent upon reaching the chapel. The squire is not to be disturbed during his vigil, or the ceremony is tainted and must be started again. If you have any questions, it is best to ask them now - or hold them until after we have left the chapel.”

Aingeall looked up at Leofred, and asked, “What does the squire pray about for all that time?”

Their tutor nodded, saying, “That is a complicated question, but a good one. There is a litany of things which the squire must pray through, regarding the confession of personal failures, asking the One for strength to do what is right no matter the cost, and even praying for his enemies. But it isn’t enough to fill twelve hours of prayer time, so much of that is left to the squire, to pray as he feels the need. We will not be allowed to hear him pray - that is a private matter, as is most of the vigil. We will only be allowed to observe from a distance. Do you have any other questions?” He looked at Aingeall, then Balfrith.

“Which of father’s squires is being promoted?” asked Balfrith.

Leofred had to think for a moment, then said, “I believe it is Guthlaf.”

Leofred then looked at them for a moment, waiting. Seeing there were no further questions, he nodded, and said, “Alright, then we shall walk over to the chapel. You may ask me any questions you wish as we go, but remember that upon reaching the entrance, you must be silent from that moment, until after we have left and are walking back to the manor house. Understood?”

Balfrith and Aingeall nodded their agreement, and the three of them left, walking out the door and down the stairs to the main floor, and their father’s great Hall.

It was a brief walk across the yard to the small family chapel, where they paused outside the double doors and Leofred once again admonished them to keep their silence. Then he quietly opened one door, and they stepped inside, staying at the back of the chapel so as not to disturb the squire in his prayers.

Squire Guthlaf was a young man, one whom Balfrith had known for a few years, though they weren’t exactly friends. He was closer in age to Aldfrid, and those two had been friends and companions as far back as Balfrith could remember. He knelt at the front of the chapel, dressed in some sort of multi-layered robes in different colors: white, red and black. Those aren’t my father’s colors, thought Balfrith. I wonder what they signify? Before he said anything, Balfrith remembered he was to keep his silence, and so he saved this question for later.

Balfrith could see that he knelt directly before the altar, and there were pieces of armor and a sword laid out upon it. He supposed that, as Leofred had mentioned, he was praying over each item to ask for the One’s blessing. As they watched, Guthlaf took the sword from the altar, stood it point-down on the floor with his hands on its hilt, and resumed praying with his head bowed.

As they continued watching for a time, Guthlaf replaced the sword upon the altar, then took a piece of armor, and held it in his hands while he bowed his head over it, still praying. This continued, as he went through each piece of equipment on the altar, so that Balfrith found himself growing bored and restless. Was this all there was to it?

As he began looking around the chapel for something of interest, Guthlaf suddenly called out, loud enough for them to hear him clearly. Balfrith looked back, and now the squire had his arms out-stretched before the altar, still kneeling, but with his head raised. He said, “O Great Lord, I am not a good man, and I have no honor save that with which all men are born. But I promise you now, to conduct myself in all ways to the best of my strength, in word and deed. If you will accept my service, I promise to walk with honor and integrity for all of my days. I will serve you, and my lord Osric, and strive to bring honor to both.” At that, Guthlaf’s voice broke, and he bowed his head, and said no more. Balfrith saw his shoulders shaking - Did he weep? He couldn’t tell, and was afraid to ask.

Leofred turned, gestured to Balfrith and Aingeall, and opened the door quietly to lead them out. They stepped out into the dark evening, and Leofred closed the door once again.

Turning to them, he said quietly, “I did not expect such a display from the squire, and you should not have seen that. Please keep this to yourselves, for it was a private thing between Guthlaf and the One, not to be shared with others. And now, if you have any questions - about anything other than his last prayer - you may ask.”

Balfrith remembered his question, and spoke up. “What were the colors of the robes he wore? They aren’t our family colors - do they mean anything?”

Leofred smiled now, and said, “Ah, I’m glad you noticed that. Yes, the three robes, each in a different color, all have their meaning. First, and underneath all, he wears a white robe signifying his purity. As I mentioned before, he had undergone several ritual ablutions prior to the Vigil. After those cleansing rituals, he donned the white robe. Next came the red robe, which signifies his willingness to shed his own blood in service to the One, and to his lord. Finally, the black robe is worn to signify death, the thing which all knights must face and which no knight may fear. Those are the various meanings of his multi-colored robes.”

Balfrith nodded, satisfied.

Leofred said, “I have a few other comments about the Vigil or Arms, so we shall return to the study room for a short while, and then I will send you to your beds.”

They continued on their way back to the house, and up the stairs to the study room, to complete the lesson.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Chapter Four, Sample #1

I'm going to be honest with you: I am not happy with the following scene from chapter four. I will almost certainly end up re-writing it, so that the final version little resembles what follows. But part of the point of this blog, is to let you, dear readers, see the magic that goes on behind the scenes of writing a novel. And part of that magic is known as the "re-write". It is quite common for a novelist to re-write significant parts of a story, even to multiple chapters of the book. This is simply a part of the draft and revision process, and most novels go through multiple complete drafts before they are ready to be published. That doesn't mean they are completely re-written multiple times, but that the author re-reads his own story multiple times, and re-writes pieces of it each time, deleting some scenes, shifting others around, adding new scenes, and editing existing scenes that just need some improvement. That's part of why it takes so long to write a novel. In fact the first draft often goes fairly quickly, compared with the time spent in revision and re-write.

But, enough of that. Here, for your pleasure, is the first part of chapter four. Please go easy on me - I promise to re-write it and make it better.

* * *

The Elefdar company, with Balfrith among them, met up with a trio of Guardians late in the morning of their second day in Illithëon. Though he’d never seen them before, Balfrith recognized them by their dress and equipment, described in one of his favorite study books back home. Their raiment was composed of a tunic and breeches in mottled greens, browns and grays, such that if they were standing still, they would blend in with the forest undergrowth. They also wore a hooded cloak in the same random pattern. Each one carried the famed Elvish longbow, as tall as (and sometimes taller than!) the Guardian himself, thick at the middle and tapering out to a narrow tip at each end. They also each wore an Elvish longsword at the hip. Balfrith remembered studying both weapons, and what was known of Elvish tactics, under his father’s and Leofred’s guidance. Now, he looked forward to learning under the hand of actual Elves.

The Guardians spoke briefly with lord Felaranthir, jogging alongside his horse and speaking quietly in their native tongue, never breaking stride or appearing out of breath as they went. After a brief conversation, the leader nodded, and the three loped off into the forest, splitting up so that one went on ahead, while the other two went away to either flank along their path.

Balfrith rode among a group of younger Elves including his new friend Eärolan. As Balfrith suspected, Eärolan confirmed, saying, “Lord Felaranthir has sent them out to protect our flanks and scout ahead. I doubt that he expects any dangers along our path, but it is always a comfort to have Guardians accompany us.”

Balfrith nodded in agreement.

The remainder of that day, and the next seven after that, passed quickly. Balfrith kept himself busy helping Eärolan with his camp duties in the mornings and evenings, and the two chatted casually throughout the days of riding, with each other and with Eärolan’s friends. However, though they spent much time together, Balfrith never quite got the feeling that he was making friends with these Elves. They seemed to have a stand-offish attitude, as if they didn’t want to become overly familiar with a Man. Eldamir hadn’t seemed that way, in fact he’d been quite friendly from the first moment they met, albeit with an ironic sense of humor that bordered on mockery. But at least Balfrith had felt that there was some empathy between them, as if they were peers from different realms, with an understanding that they shared similar sensibilities. With Eärolan and his companions, it felt more like Balfrith was a child and they were adults, mildly amused at his attempts to appear more “grown up” than he actually was, and not willing to admit him into their more mature discussions. So, they were left largely with talk of inane matters, things of no real import.

Late on the seventh day, as the sun’s light dimmed under the thick canopy of trees, and as the company crested a slow rise in the midst of the forest, the Guardians appeared all at once, as if summoned. Lord Felaranthir called out to the company, “My friends, we fast approach the entrance to our realm, and no Man has crossed our inner gates in a long count of years. I would therefore stop here a short while and rest, before we continue on. I will speak with our companion Balfrith, and explain a few things ere we come to the gates. The rest of you, all except Eärolan, may continue on, and prepare the welcome ritual for new students. Eärolan, Balfrith and I will come along more slowly, and arrive at the threshold of our borders by the end of the week.”

Balfrith dismounted his horse, stretching his legs and back and walking around a bit to loosen tired and aching muscles. Looking about, he noted that none of the others had elected to rest even briefly, but rather continued on, talking and laughing gaily with one another. His heart yearned to go with them, but if the Elf lord wished to speak privately with him, he thought it must be important. I wonder where lord Felaranthir’s son, Eldamir, went - and what was his errand?

Felaranthir had also dismounted by this time, and left his horse to graze freely among the undergrowth. Balfrith watched as he walked a few paces away, and sat down upon a large rock that seemed almost to have been carved into the shape of a chair. Gesturing to Balfrith, he waved him over. Balfrith went, obediently, growing nervous as he approached the Elf lord.

“Come Balfrith, stand before me here,” said Felaranthir, gesturing for Balfrith to stand directly before him. Balfrith did as he was told, trying to calm his nerves.

The Elf lord looked him up and down, taking his time. Balfrith shivered, wondering what those eyes saw: he did his best to put up the front of a confident young Man, but he somehow knew that this Elf could see through that disguise. Nevertheless, what did he see? He wondered.

“Balfrith, as it was done in days of old, so now I give you this last chance, and choice. If you choose to follow me, you will go into darkness and shadow, whence you may not return. I promise that you will taste death - and I cannot promise that you will survive the experience. If you should survive, you will be the stronger for it, and death will have no hold over you. Though the price be dear, you will fear neither darkness, nor the shadow of death, for the rest of your days. But you will face your mortality, and you may not walk away from the experience. If you choose not to take this risk, you may instead return home. There will be no loss of honor, for my people will speak of it to none, and you may tell your family whatever you wish regarding your brief time with us. This is not a choice to be made lightly, and there have been many Men before you who returned home without ever seeing the hidden realm of Illithëon. It is my judgment that many of these made the correct choice, and went on to attain a measure of honor among Men in accordance with their strength. And so, it is now your turn to make the same choice. But first, I give you leave to ask me whatever questions you will, and I will answer as I may - but there are some secrets that may only be known to those who dare to enter Illithëon and face their mortality. Ask, as you will.”

Balfrith stood still, watching the Elf lord, trying to figure out what all of this meant. His tutor, Leofred, had never mentioned such a choice, or the threat of death that was laid upon him now should he continue along this path. What should he do? He didn’t want to die - but he also didn’t want to run away from this challenge - and he certainly didn’t want to return home!

Finally deciding to face his fear head-on, Balfrith asked, “My lord, what did you mean when you said I would taste death?”

“All Men die, some sooner than others. Is this not so?”

“Yes, but then you said you couldn’t promise that I would survive the experience. No man survives death - what did you mean by that?”

Felaranthir sighed impatiently and said, “If you taste a measure of death, it may not in the end kill you. But I cannot promise that you will survive, either. I cannot shield you from all risks, and there are risks and dangers aplenty even in the forests of Illithëon. No man is guaranteed a number of days in this middle-earth, nor can any man change his fate. If your wyrd is to cross the threshold of death’s door, then I cannot call you back. But if it is merely to stand and look across, then perhaps you shall remain in this world for a while longer. And that is all I will answer on the topic. Do you have any other questions?”

Balfrith thought for a while. He still wasn’t satisfied with the answers to his first questions, but it was clear that Felaranthir would brook no further inquiry on that particular topic. After letting his mind wander along the possibilities he now faced, he asked, “What will you teach me while I’m with you?”

At this, Felaranthir leaned back in his chair, relaxed a bit, and answered, “You will study with the young men of our people, the same things that we teach them - history, and philosophy, the use of sword and bow, matters of law, and of ethics. In the few years that you will be with us - no more than five - we won’t be able to teach you everything, but you will get a taste of Elefdar wisdom, and if you are a good student, I promise that even that small amount will be to your great benefit.”

Balfrith nodded then, reasonably satisfied. He probably won’t give me any more details anyway. “Thank you, my lord. I have no other questions.”

Felaranthir nodded. “Then I have a question for you, before we continue. Will you pledge yourself to be a good guest of my people, to apply your best efforts as a student, to learn the ways of the Elefdar and to respect our traditions, and to be a Man of honor all the days that you dwell among us?”

Balfrith hesitated a moment, feeling a twinge of guilt at the thought of the stolen sword, but he pushed it aside and said, “I do so pledge, my lord.”

Felaranthir leaned forward in his chair, and continued, “Then, master Balfrith, I will ask you some additional questions. First, how much do you know about this old tradition, of the sons of Men being trained by the Elefdar?”

“Well, my lord, I know that it is an old tradition, and I have heard that is is no longer practiced any longer by our peoples. I understood that young Men would be sent off to live with the Elves for five years, to be trained in Elvish arts and sciences. It was once considered a mark of great honor among Nûmidëan nobility, for a son to be accepted for training. Many were sent, but few were accepted, and fewer still completed the full five years of training. I had hoped - that is, my father hoped - to revive this tradition and reestablish our ties with the Elefdar.” Balfrith twinged inwardly at this slip, and he hoped the Elf lord didn’t notice.

“I see. And your father - tell me about him.”

Balfrith paused, thinking about what he could say that would reflect positively on himself, and still be truthful. “My father, Osric, is a strong man. He taught my brothers and me most of what we know about war and history. But he spends most of his time managing our estates, so I don’t see him much. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if he hadn’t even yet noticed my departure, even though I’ve talked about it a few times.” That wasn’t too far from the truth. “Still, I think he’ll be glad that I went out like this, to study and live with the Elefdar.”

“Will he, indeed?” said Felaranthir, thoughtfully. The Elefdar lord’s eyes seemed to pierce right through Balfrith, and he squirmed uncomfortably under that gaze. Felaranthir continued, “As I recall, you mentioned that you are of house Aethelred. What do you know of your family’s namesake?”

Balfrith suddenly found he was grateful for Leofred’s history lessons, and for having to memorize all those names and dates. “Admittedly not much, my lord. I know that he served our king Numidides over seven hundred and fifty years ago, and that he was the king’s bodyguard and champion for many years. I know he fought a dragon - Thoarn I think it was called - and that he was betrayed and murdered by his own wife.”

“And what do you know of Branulf?” asked Felaranthir.

“Branulf, my lord?” Balfrith felt the heat rising in his face. Oh gods, please don’t ask me about that!

Felaranthir leaned forward in his chair, looking shrewdly at Balfrith for a moment. “You’ve never heard of the sword, Branulf?”

Balfrith swallowed, his pulse pounding in his ears. “Oh, that sword,” he said, thinking furiously. “That was the one that Aethelred received from Sørkell, if I remember my history lessons. I think my tutor told me it was cursed.”

“Cursed?” exclaimed Felaranthir, clearly surprised. “Well, that is interesting.” He paused for a moment, thinking, then said in a voice that would brook no debate, “Bring me your sword, Balfrith, the one you would have left behind were it not for my son.”

Balfrith blanched - he was caught out, and he knew it. Well, there’s nothing for it now, he thought. I might as well get this over with, and prepare to be sent home. He walked over to where his things lay, near Eärolan’s own gear, and pulled out the sword still wrapped in its woolen cloth cover. Returning to Felaranthir, he held it forth for the Elf lord to take.

Felaranthir grasped the wrapped blade and laid it in his lap, then unwound the cloth to reveal the sword. He held it up, the hilt in one hand and the blade cradled across his arm, tilting this way and that to see it from all angles. Finally he said, “You know what blade this is.”

Balfrith swallowed. “Yes, my lord - it is Branulf.”

“And you say it is cursed?”

“Well, my lord, that’s what my tutor Leofred told me. And my father, too. They seem to think so.”

“And you, Balfrith. What do you think?”

Balfrith paused, then said, “I don’t know what to think, my lord Felaranthir. It is a master’s work, created by Sørkell, a long time ago. And yet the blade and hilt are still in pristine condition even after all these years. That could be accounted for by proper care, but the sword is also balanced perfectly - better than any blade I’ve ever held. Not that I’ve held or used a lot of swords, but still, there’s something about it. It’s not as fancy as some blades I’ve seen carried by noblemen, with jewels encrusted in the hilt and even the blade, but it has a beauty of its own, in its simplicity, in the quality of its materials, as well as the quality of the workmanship. My father says that bad things have happened to our family ever since the curse came upon the blade. Leofred, too, told me some stories. I don’t know what to think. Perhaps it is cursed, and the beauty is there in spite of that. If the curse came upon it after it was made, then I suppose its good qualities would remain even though the curse was in effect. I can’t argue with the history of my family and what has happened.”

“I see. Well, perhaps this is a conversation for later. Now…” Felaranthir paused, and seemed to stare deeply into Balfrith for some minutes. Balfrith stirred uncomfortably, but that gaze held him in place, unable to go anywhere. He looked around, unwilling to meet the Elf lord’s eyes, but not sure where to place his own. Finally Felaranthir nodded, sat back in his seat, and said, “It is enough. Let us rest now, and eat. The remainder of our journey should only take a few days, but in that time I will prepare you for the ceremony of entrance. This will be your first test, to prove your worthiness to be a student of the Elefdar. If you fail that test, you will never cross our threshold. Our Guardians will escort you home, but none will say what transpired here, and you will be free to explain your early return to your father as you wish. I will only hold you to your word, to be honorable in what you say about the Elefdar and your experiences among us.”

Balfrith stood there, dumbstruck - That was all? He was sure he’d been caught in his own lies, but lord Felaranthir stopped his questioning just when Balfrith was preparing himself to tell the truth, or as much of it as he needed to. He didn’t think he’d be able to tell the whole truth, since that would require telling the truth about his father, and the arguments, and his running away. He didn’t think he could face that just yet, not with a stranger - not even one such as this.

He sighed in relief, finally relaxing somewhat from his previous tense stand before the Elf lord. I miss Aingeall.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Back Home in the US

Well, I'm back home in the US now, after having completed my last international business trip for the year. I've taken the weekend to rest, since I'll be in the office first thing on Monday, but I should be able to get back to some writing later this week, which will be nice. I'm really looking forward to getting back into the world of Aerde.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Chapter Three, Sample #4

Eldamir followed Balfrith’s track as long into the evening as he dared, but even he had to stop when it became too dark to see signs of the young Man’s passage. Finally, he drew off the path a short distance and into a small copse of trees, where he could find shelter from the wind, and perhaps some cover from the morning dew. Drawing his cloak about himself, he lay down in a bed of pine needles and was quickly asleep.

Morning dawned clear and chilly, enough that Eldamir could see his breath puff out in small clouds as he exhaled. He sat up, shivering slightly, and watched as the sun’s leading edge just broke over the horizon. With that, he stood, stretching to loosen up cold muscles, and finally returned to the path that Balfrith had left for him. Sipping from his water skin, he looked around for the last track he’d found the night before. It took a short while, but he finally saw it again, and then he faced south and began looking for the next sign of passage further on.

So began another long day of tracking Balfrith’s path back to his home. Eldamir thought it would be at least another day or two before arriving at his destination, given what little information he had. But he was determined to make this journey as brief as possible, meaning that he had to keep moving during all hours of daylight, eating and drinking on foot, and stopping to rest only at night.

* * *

Two days later, Eldamir arrived at his destination. His unexpected appearance at the manor-keep of duke Osric caused no small amount of flurry among the local folk. As he approached the outer gate in the wall, peasant workers and men at arms alike gathered to watch the Elf. They’d never seen anyone of another race, be it Elf or Dwarf, but only Men. Unfortunately this was all too common throughout Nûmidëa in those days, and Eldamir for his part simply smiled, gazing at their apprehensive faces.

As he came near to the gates, he called out in his strong tenor, “I seek duke Osric, father of Balfrith. Have I arrived at the correct manor?” The guardsmen on the low wall waved him in through the open gates without a word. A captain met him in the yard, rustling and bustling as if he’d been roused from a nap, and Eldamir smiled to himself.

“I am captain Jonathan of the duke’s guard. You have arrived at the place you seek, though the duke himself is quite busy with other business at the moment. If you will give me your name and business, I will pass it along to him.”

Eldamir bowed slightly, and said, “Good captain, I am Eldamir, of the Elefdar of Illithëon. I bring news of the duke’s son Balfrith, and messages from my lord Felaranthir. I would relay the news and messages to him as soon as possible, for they are from my lord to yours, and of some importance.”

The captain bowed in return, and said, “I will relay this to my lord, and return with his response. Please wait here in the yard.” He then bustled off, striding with quickened pace into the manor house and leaving the Elf standing alone. Eldamir could see in through the large double doors, that they opened into a great hall wherein he suspected the duke sat with other guests or business. He wondered if all Men treated their guests in this way, leaving them standing in the open yard under the hot sun, and not even offering a cup of water to drink.

Turning and looking around, Eldamir noted that many of the common folk still stood looking at him, mixed wonder and fear apparent in their faces. He smiled, hoping to allay their fears, but said nothing. His ears picked up muttered comments about spells and enchantments, and he wondered at how rustic these Men really were. How could it be that their race, of all the civilized peoples of Aerde, were thought by his own people to have such great promise? He shrugged inwardly, and continued waiting.

Presently, the captain returned to him. This time, he seemed more calm as he approached, and he said, “Master Eldamir, please follow me. The duke will see you immediately.” He then turned, and proceeded back toward the manor house, Eldamir following.

Inside, the great hall was dark and musty. Though some sunlight filtered through the narrow windows and open doors in the southern wall, the main illumination was provided by torch lamps lining the walls on either side as they approached the duke’s seat. Men at arms stood at attention, lining the walls near the lamps, their swords sheathed and eyes staring straight ahead.

As Eldamir approached, the captain stepped off to the side so that he could face the duke directly. The duke, not looking up from the desk and papers he was reading, said in an off-hand voice, “I understand that you claim to have news of my son, master Elf. Please explain.”

Eldamir, now somewhat discomfited, bowed and said, “My lord duke, I come from lord Felaranthir, bearing messages from him and news of your son. It is some days since I departed the presence of my lord, but we met with a young Man who called himself Balfrith, and claimed to be the son of duke Osric of Nûmidëa. He further claimed that he was on his way to Illithëon, to honor the old treaty between our peoples and to be trained up by us.” Here he paused, for the duke seemed to be ignoring him.

Finally the Man looked up from his papers, and said, “Is that what he claimed? Well, master Elf, I will admit that I do have a son named Balfrith. He disappeared from my home over three weeks ago, leaving neither note nor evidence of where he intended to go. But if he has arrived safely at your doorstep, then I am glad to hear it. You may keep him.” He then returned to his papers, apparently intending to ignore his guest once again.

Eldamir waited a moment, then continued, “I also bring a message to you from my father, lord Felaranthir. He said that if you do, indeed, intend to honor the old alliance, then there must be a trade of sons. I am here at his bequest, to take my training with you as our people did in long years past.”

Osric laughed bitterly at that, a single short bark, betraying the fact that he had been listening after all. He stood up, barely containing his anger, and with raised voice said “Are you indeed, master Elf? And what if I told you that I had no intention of honoring the old treaties, but rather that my son had run off on his own with foolish ideas in his head, and not only that, but he stole a certain thing of value that belongs to me - what would you say then?”

Eldamir stood still, and responded softly, “Nevertheless the offer of my father stands. I am here to honor the old alliance, and to receive training at your hand, if you wish. But if not, then I will be on my way and return with whatever messages you wish to send. And if your son still bears this missing property, then we shall return him, and it, to you as quickly as we can.”

Duke Osric shook his head. “I said you could keep him, and I meant it. I have washed my hands of that boy, and of the sword that he stole from me. If he wants to take the family curse upon himself, so be it. I tried to warn him, forbade him to handle things which were not meant for him, but he refused to listen. I will no longer protect him from the consequences of his own actions. Let the curse fall upon his head - and may my family be free of it forever more. And now, master Elf, I have other business to which I must attend. Thank you for bringing the news of my son’s well-being. You may do with him, or not, as you will.” And saying that, the duke returned to his desk and sat down.

“And the sword?” Eldamir asked.

Osric didn’t look up, but he replied, “If you will take my advice, I should say destroy it, for it is cursed. My family has been unable to rid ourselves of it for long generations, since the downfall of our ancestor Aethelred. But perhaps the Elves have some magic that can overcome even such a powerful curse. And if not, then let my son keep it, and trouble not yourselves any further. The curse will likely remain with him, as it has always remained in our family.”

The captain, still standing nearby, now stepped forward and looked at Eldamir. Eldamir bowed, and allowed himself to be ushered out of the hall and into the yard. On the way out, he saw a young girl watching him from the shadows. She slid back behind a curtain when she realized she’d been noticed, and Eldamir smiled and continued on.

When they got outside, Eldamir asked the captain, “Tell me, good captain, if you will - does Balfrith have any siblings that might care to have news of him? Or to send messages with me, to him?”

The captain paused for a moment, looking about furtively, and then said, “He has two older brothers and a sister, master Elf. But I think only the sister would care to hear news of him. I dare not fetch her now, for my lord would surely notice were I to do anything more than see you safely on the road.”

Eldamir nodded and said, “Perhaps then, you could bring a simple message to her - when it is safe to do so. Tell her that Balfrith is well, and that my father will watch over him. He will be trained in some small part, as he has requested, in honor of our friendship with the Men of old. And in due time, he will be allowed to go when and where he wills. She, and you, may yet see him again, on some future day.”

The captain bowed deeply at that, and thanked him, even as he nervously escorted Eldamir toward the gates. At the gate, Eldamir bowed slightly, turned and departed, not looking back. The people watched him go, even as they had watched him approach, with the same wonder and still a little fear. When he was almost out of earshot, he heard the voice of the captain call out, “Her name is Aingeall! Tell him that she misses him dearly, and that he should return as soon as he is able!” Eldamir turned back to wave, but there was no one there to see it.

* * *

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chapter Three, Sample #3

Balfrith gratefully climbed down from Felaranthir’s horse, stretching his legs and back once he stood upon the ground. It had been a long day of riding, and that after a hard river crossing. The ford, somewhat downstream from where they’d camped, ran fast and covered uneven stones which made the going slow on horseback. But he’d not have been able to cross at all on foot, so he was quite glad for the sudden arrival of the Elves the night before. Perhaps he would have been able to find a better fording place further downstream, but after seeing how deep the river was, and how wide, he thought maybe his journey would have come to a premature end without their help.

Since the crossing, they had continued several miles north from the river, deep into the forest of Illithëon, where the ancient trees wove their branches together into an opaque canopy overhead, and the sun rarely penetrated to the ground. There was some light, but it seemed to come from scattered individual sun beams pouring through to the floor, and gently radiating their light to surrounding areas.

Balfrith and the Elves stood now in a large glade, where more light than usual penetrated, piercing the gloom and making the place seem almost friendly.

Felaranthir called out, “We will camp here tonight. Rest well, friends, for we are almost at the end of our long journey away from home.”

The Elves began dismounting as Balfrith had done, tethering their horses to trees at the edge of the glade, and unpacking their tents and other gear for the night. Balfrith wandered over to one Elf, a man who he’d not yet met - Balfrith realized he really hadn’t met any of these Elves, for no introductions beyond Felaranthir’s own name had been given the night before, and they had ridden in almost complete silence all day. Even Felaranthir had little to say, and Balfrith was afraid to interrupt his thoughts.

He approached the Elf, determined to get at least one more name this day, and said, “Can I help? I’m Balfrith.”

“Aye, I heard your name last night. I am called Eärolan. Well met.”

Balfrith nodded in return, and stepped up to help Eärolan, as he unloaded his tent and cooking equipment from a gray mare. Balfrith noted a few others tending to their horses after unloading them, so he found a brush among Eärolan’s things, and began stroking it in long sweeps along the horse’s side. The Elf smiled in appreciation, and said, “You have my thanks for the help. If you wouldn’t mind finishing your care, I will take these and start our supper.” As he said the last, his voice rose a bit as if in question. Balfrith nodded, and the Elf departed with his cooking gear rattling and banging as various pots and pans bumped into him and each other.

A while later, after Balfrith had brushed and wiped down the horse, and then fed and watered her, he joined some others gathered about a small fire. The day had been warm enough, but now that the sun was setting (which they could only tell by the reduced light penetrating the thick forest canopy), the air seemed to grow cooler by the minute. The Elves sat or lay around the fire in various states of repose, so Balfrith sat cross-legged in an open space, just close enough to the fire to enjoy some of its warmth and light, but not become overly warm.

One of the Elves, possibly the same musician from the previous night, finished tuning a lute, and now strummed a few experimental notes and chords, before looking about the group as if waiting for a request. Though Balfrith wanted to suggest a song, he was certain anything he brought up would be unknown to the Elves, and so he remained silent.

Finally, someone called out something in their native tongue. The musician nodded, and began. Though the words were meaningless to Balfrith, they somehow seemed to conjure emotions in his heart as of a long absence, and a longing for home.

Im’ therdan ya sur cele den admér
Del marcon nei selen im’ boder nus dan
Ne missen cep ima nei sum abéll der
Hai fella nei banyad melárro.

Da gonyar nei boder shipélla felórn
Samórro da mia nei gerri anómi
Fer celeb lo anyar sum gale menóri
Bedórro nei banya melárro.

Ne sudre son felern sum ate yaméra
Telás elyáni son da goron adro
Nei gerodi belanern porro aldámri
Lofád ne ben thumel melárro.