Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chapter Five, Sample #2

The goal of this scene was to give Balfrith - and the reader - an idea of what it is like to be practically immortal, from the point of view of a young Elefdar. If Balfrith were to ask the same questions of Felaranthir, or any older Elefdar, he would certainly have received different responses. But I think (I hope!) Eldamir's response gives him some humanity, and makes it easier for Balfrith and the reader to relate to him, and perhaps to his race.

* * *

Later, he met up with Eldamir, recently returned from another foray with the Guardians. He went out with them regularly, part of the normal training for all Elefdar males - and for Balfrith, some day. This day, they met at a cold spring higher up the mountain, where the air was typically cool even in the heat of high summer. And the spring itself was ice-cold, too much so for protracted swimming though not bad for a quick dip to cool off.

Today, they simply lay back on the rocks nearby, enjoying the warmth of the sun and talking about this and that. Balfrith suddenly sat up, remembering his lesson from earlier in the day, and asked, “How long do Elefdar live, anyway?”

Eldamir turned his head to look at his friend, then sat up himself, smiling, and answered, “We can live a long time, Balfrith - some believe we’re practically immortal. Why do you ask?”

“My history teacher today said that your father fought in the Great War, as a squire to his father, in the third Aeon. I guess that puts him somewhere between two and three thousand years old, or so.”

Eldamir leaned back on his hands. “Yes, my father is very old by your standards. But to me - to all of our people - he is at the height of his prowess. What matter if he is thirty years old, or three hundred - or three thousand?”

Balfrith paused, then asked, “And how old are you, Eldamir?”

Casually, as if they merely discussed the weather, Eldamir said, “I am two hundred and thirty-seven years old. And I am still but a youth among my people. Even you mistook me for a young man, when we first met - remember? But sometimes I wish we lived shorter lives, closer to that of Men. You have a gift, you know - we call it the Gift of Illë.”

Balfrith tilted his head in confusion, and asked, “A gift? You mean death?”

“Aye, Balfrith. Look at the lives of Men - your flame burns briefly, yes, but so brightly, like a candle bringing both heat and light to defeat the dark and cold. We Elefdar are more like the stars in the sky, immutable, eternal, and cold. We touch nothing, or very little anyway, in this world. But you Men - everything you touch is affected. You may not see it, but we have watched you for long years, and we have seen how you change everything around you to fit your needs and preferences and desires. Though we Elefdar may do the same, we take so long to get anything done. We’re so afraid of change, so afraid of the long-term effects of our actions, that we are often paralyzed into inaction. Not so with Men. I envy you. You see the city below us?” Balfrith nodded - how could he miss it? “Well, that took us thousands of years to create. Aye, it may have only been a few generations of our people, but in that same time we saw the first Men from the far East migrate into our domains in the West, building their first villages, then towns, then cities and finally establishing whole kingdoms. All this, while we built a single city and tended our gardens and the forest surrounding us.” Eldamir laughed bitterly, and Balfrith knew he wasn’t exaggerating.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chapter Five, Sample #1

Chapter Five is all about Balfrith's training under the Elefdar. He ages five years, and gains a bit of maturity, in the process. He learns some things that he never thought he would, some things that he would have rather not learned, and some things that he had always wondered about. It's basically a transition period for Balfrith, a time of growing up and learning more about the world than he otherwise would have, had he remained at home.

* * *

Balfrith sat on a sward on the lower slopes of Fanyamar, in a garden of sorts. A group of about ten young Elefdar males and females sat in a circle with him, listening to their history teacher tell the lore of the coming of darkness into Aerde, and the Long War. Their teacher walked about in the midst of the circle, catching their eyes with his own when he turned to face them. He had a lively face, energetic, and he was clearly passionate about this topic, as he told the story with an unexpected but stirring vigor. Balfrith was just glad that he spoke the common tongue of Men, as he’d had some difficult lessons with other teachers who only spoke their native language.

“Our people dwelt here in Fanyamar, and elsewhere in the West, for long years before the Darkness came - or at least, before we encountered it. No one knows whence came the goblins, trolls, and their ilk, for we had no lore or knowledge of them before our first meeting. They came from the East, driven as by a wind at their backs, or as if they fled from an even greater threat than they posed to us. Perhaps it was the Men of those lands, who were known to be fierce and war-like, who brooked no trespass into their territories. Perhaps it was simple drought or famine that drove them into the West. Whatever the case, they came as marauders and thieves, cutting and burning our forests, killing the trees and animals, and stealing whatever and whenever they could. Our brethren in Illumïel drove them out of their forests, and sent messages to those of us in the further West, warning of their coming. The goblins weren’t a great danger to us, but they were a threat to our work, and to the animals and trees under our care. They could harm the Elefdar as well, for even then they were adept with the forging of primitive iron weapons, and were not afraid to use them against us. We learned quickly to kill them on sight when possible, or to lead them into traps and ambushes when our numbers were too small for a direct confrontation.

“Thus began the Long War, for we have ever been at enmity with all goblin-kind and troll-kind, and I do not believe that will ever change unless the goblins and trolls themselves are removed from this middle-earth and taken back to the lower world, whence they came.

“In the third Aeon, the goblins and trolls of the Troll-home mountains banded together under a daemon prince, Sharrapu the Burner. It was never known to us whether they had summoned him to their aid, or if he had somehow opened a gate to enter our world, but come he did, and once here, he commanded their obedience and called them together to begin a great assault upon our combined peoples.” Here, he looked at Balfrith. “The Elefdar were friends of Men in those days, and for long thereafter, and together we fought the daemon prince and his armies, in battlefields scattered across the lands from the Ironpike Mountains in the east, all the way to the western shores of modern Sildara in the West. The invaders never came across the Sea to our home in Illithëon, but we sent warriors there to fight on our behalf.

“Our war-leader was the lord Felaranthir’s own father, Cullorínen, already a powerful lord in those days. On his brow rested the red-gold crown, and at his side he wore the legendary blade Cammethor. With that sword he was never defeated, and he even fought toe to toe with Sharrapu. In that battle he was wounded near to death, but he struck down and banished the daemon prince from this world, never to be seen again, and the armies of goblins and trolls fled in a panic at the defeat of their master.

“Lord Felaranthir was his father’s squire in the great war, and earned his own renown for acts of bravery too numerous to list.”

That got Balfrith’s attention. He interrupted, asking “Lord Felaranthir fought in the great war of the third Aeon? But how long ago was that?”

Their teacher responded with a question of his own, “What Aeon are we in now?”

Balfrith said, “Oh, that’s easy - this is the fifth Aeon.”


Balfrith was stumped for a moment, until he remembered and said, “An Aeon is one thousand years, so that would mean Felaranthir is… over two thousand years old?”

“Indeed, master Balfrith. But I wouldn’t mention it in front of the lord, or in mixed company. It’s not something we Elefdar usually talk about.”

“But why not? Surely he would have wisdom beyond a Man’s imagining, with all those years behind him?”

Now the teacher turned and glared at him, hands on hips, and responded testily, “Oh you think so, do you? Perhaps he does, indeed. And yet, to me he is still young, in the prime of his strength. And to a few in Fanyamar, I am yet a young man, for I wasn’t even born when my people left our birth-place and ventured east, to this little island, and thence to the lands further east. There are some still among us, Balfrith, who came of age on that island, who were among the first to take up our great Work in this middle-earth, and who have not faltered over all these long years. Age means little when the years grow as long as we have seen, master Balfrith. And yet, I find that somehow I have little patience for the foolishness of youth. Therefore put an end to these questions. Take it up with lord Felaranthir, if you wish, though I would advise against it.”

The lesson continued, but Balfrith found his mind wandering, wondering what it would be like to live for such a long time. Wouldn’t it get boring after a while?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chapter Four, Sample #3

Some time later, they came upon the first outlying groups of Elves standing, awaiting their arrival. Balfrith was amazed at their appearance, for these Elves weren’t arrayed for travel as his companions, but rather dressed for the ceremony. Most wore long and flowing robes in bright colors, shimmering in the evening sun. Men and women alike glided over the ground as if they floated, their sandal-shod feet moving silently and carrying them smoothly over the swards, and the broad marble avenue upon which they now road toward the main gate of the city. The Elves - Elefdar, he reminded himself - were a beautiful people, tall and slender like birch trees, with hair of gold, silver, copper, or burnished bronze. Their eyes, he noticed as he looked about him, were the color of jewels: emerald and amethyst, jacinth and chalcedony, sapphire and topaz. They gleamed in the evening light like fireflies in all colors of the rainbow, so that Balfrith was mesmerized by it. Somehow he had never noticed any of these things in his days of travel with lord Felaranthir and the others, but he was so bemused by everything around him that he hardly noticed this fact.

As they broke from the canopy of trees one last time and beheld the city before them, down a long slope and filling the valleys and plains at the foot of the mountain, and rising up its sides, Balfrith gasped at its beauty, for it was far and above anything he could have imagined. The avenues shone silver and gold in the waning sunlight, twisting and wrapping in complex patterned knots all through the valley, and across the plains, and even up the mountain side. Lights and lamps glittered and glowed here and there, along the avenues and on the buildings, in preparation for the fall of night. They, too, shone in all colors of the rainbow, and some colors for which Balfrith had no name.

The buildings were equally amazing structures, made of all sorts of materials. He saw the same white marble as the avenues, other stone work in different colors, veined with gold and silver and clear crystal, and structures of wood, carved as if they had simply grown up from the trees to form complete buildings. Most buildings were a combination of materials, and Balfrith began to notice that the foundations tended to be of some kind of stone, with upper walls and stories in wood, accented with cut stone at corners and around window and door frames.

Finally Balfrith noticed the gate itself, and the wall. Felaranthir had told him about it, of course, but he’d completely overlooked the most obvious piece of the landscape in his awe at the city and glowing lights beyond. The land rose to a height of many spans, though it was still lower than the hill upon which they stood looking down. Upon the top of the embankment was a wall of trees and vines and thick shrubs, interspersed with roses in many colors, red and yellow and pink and white. Balfrith wondered how difficult it would be to pierce that wall, and then remembered that it was full of thorns longer than his index finger, hard as cold iron and sharp as needles. Though he couldn’t see them from this distance, he could imagine how difficult such a wall would be to climb without ladders.

And how would an invading army transport siege engines to this place? he thought. The forest cover was far too thick and heavy, providing quite effective protection for the city for many miles in all directions. Perhaps if an army had the wherewithal to cut and burn their way from the Rushing River, they could eventually bring their engines of war to bear upon this wall, or even build them on site from the local trees. But then he doubted that the Elefdar would allow such trespass, not without bringing the fight to the invaders. He suspected that no invading army would ever get within sight or bow-shot of this wall of thorns, let alone within reach to try and scale it.

And then he was distracted from his day-dreaming by the sound of trumpets blaring, announcing their arrival. Balfrith, startled from his reverie, looked about and saw the Elefdar begin organizing themselves into several large groups, lining the avenue on both sides from somewhere behind them all the way down to the wall, and the large gate therein.

Those in front, lining the road, lifted boughs of ash and held them high, waving them as he and his companions passed. “Is this how you are always greeted when you come home?” he asked Felaranthir.

The Elefdar lord laughed and replied, “Hardly, master Balfrith. No, these are here to welcome you. We’ve not received the sons of Men into our realm in many years, and news of your arrival went swiftly ahead of us - especially as I asked our companions to prepare the way. Now I see that they have done as I asked, and more. Balfrith, of House Aethelred, welcome to Fanyamar. You may call it Skyreach if you wish, as that is the meaning of its name. Come now, let us ride forward to the gate, where we shall perform the ceremony of entrance.”

Balfrith swallowed, fear beginning to creep like cold claws up his neck and into his scalp. They rode forward, past the crowds of Elefdar, still waving their branches of ash. He asked, “Why do they lift only ash? Why not other trees, as well?”

Eärolan answered, “These branches are reminiscent of Yggdrasil, the Life-Ash and One Tree. Our people commonly use branches of the Ash as a blessing, a symbol of long life under the blessing of the One.”

Balfrith nodded, not fully understanding, but it was enough to know that they wished well for him. They continued riding, down the long slope toward the flat area before the wall, and the great gate. There, Elefdar soldiers in glittering mail stood before the entrance, blocking their way. Balfrith understood that this was where the ceremony would take place, and so he rode forward a few more paces and then stopped, about twenty paces back from the front row of guards.

As he dismounted, Felaranthir and Eärolan rode past him, dismounting their own horses when they reached the guards, who held their mounts. Eärolan remained where he was - he had no part in the ceremony. Felaranthir, on the other hand, received a scroll from an Elefdar who approached and handed it over, then he turned and walked to where Balfrith now stood. As he came within two paces, Balfrith remembered he was supposed to kneel, and so he quickly dropped to his knees. Branulf, tied as always along the right side of his rucksack, touched the marble stones and forced him to shift positions slightly to keep it from poking him in the back of the head.

Lord Felaranthir drew near now, within a pace of Balfrith, and held forth the scroll. Unrolling it, he scanned the text for a moment, as the crowd hushed to hear what he would say. Then: “Balfrith, son of Osric, of the House of Aethelred, and guest of the Elefdar. Why do you approach now the gates of Fanyamar?”

Balfrith said, haltingly, “I come to learn, my lord Felaranthir. I come to study the wisdom of the Elefdar, to represent my family and my Race, and to remember the Alliance of our peoples. Let all here know that I come as a friend!” The last phrase was spoken in a raised voice, not quite a shout but loud enough for all those gathered nearby to hear.

Felaranthir nodded his approval, and continued, “It is well spoken. But I must have your word of honor before you may be allowed past the gate to our city. Do you, O Man, promise to obey every command given you, by me or anyone that I should delegate to act in my stead?”

“I do, my lord.”

“Do you, O Man, promise to honor your teachers and benefactors, to respect their position, and yours, in your time among us?”

“I do, my lord.”

“Do you, O Man, promise to respect the traditions of the Elefdar, to honor our ways as you would your own, and to live as one of us in all ways while you dwell in our midst?”

“I do, my lord.”

Felaranthir nodded his approval again, and continued, “It is well spoken. And now, I have but one final question. Do you, O Man, promise to conduct yourself as a Man of honor and integrity, keeping your word as a sacred bond, all the days of your life?”

Balfrith paused. This was it - the moment of truth. Branulf dug into his back, a painful reminder of the dishonesty, and dishonor, with which he had begun his journey. How could he continue? How could he answer in the affirmative, and why had lord Felaranthir allowed it to come to this point? Surely he had seen the guilt on Balfrith’s face when they spoke before?

He broke out in a sweat, his hands shaking. He couldn’t do it, not like this. How can I redeem myself? What can I do or say? He glanced up at Felaranthir, who stood before him with the scroll, and looked at him with those piercing eyes. He knows. I’m sorry, my lord.

And then, as Balfrith prepared to give up, inspiration struck him. An image of squire Guthlaf came to mind, keeping his all-night vigil, praying in the chapel with his sword held point-down before him, and leaning on its hilt. That’s it!

Balfrith drew Branulf forth from its cloth bindings, setting it point-down on the avenue, resting in the narrow crack between two stones, and grasping the hilt firmly in both hands. The sound of hushed voices broke over the crowd, and Balfrith detected movement among the faces of the Elefdar as he broke with the long-held pattern of the ceremony. He spoke from his heart now, careless of the consequences. Either he redeemed himself now, or it was over anyway. “My lord, I am no Man of honor, or of integrity. But I promise you now, to conduct myself in all ways to the best of my ability, in word and deed. If you will receive me, I promise to restore that which I have stolen, and repair that which I have broken, if it takes me all the rest of my days.” And he bowed his head, hearing still the whispers and movement of surprised Elefdar.

Lord Felaranthir glanced up at the crowd, once to either side, which effectively silenced them all. Balfrith waited, holding his breath.

Finally, Felaranthir, too, broke away from the formal words of the ceremony: “You have spoken well, Balfrith. And to your promises you will be held, all of them. It is a hard path you have chosen, but a better one than I had thought possible. Rise, and be welcome among us.” Felaranthir reached forward then, grasping the pommel of Branulf, helping Balfrith to stand and put the sword back into its wrapping. Quietly, he said so only Balfrith could hear, “Let’s just keep the sword put away for now. Drawing such a weapon during this ceremony was not the wisest thing you could have done, though I think your reputation won’t suffer too much for it. You are a Man after all, and given to flights of passion.”

Then the Elefdar lord turned about and addressed the crowd, “My friends, let us welcome Balfrith son of Osric, of House Aethelred, into our midst! And let us celebrate again our long friendship with Men.” The assembled people raised a shout of joy now, released from the silence of the ceremony, and Balfrith laughed aloud with relief.

And together, Balfrith and Felaranthir walked side by side past the guardsmen, through the great silver gates swung wide, and entered the city of Fanyamar.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chapter Four, Sample #2

It was a long several days’ travel, with Felaranthir teaching Balfrith different parts of the ceremony each day, and Balfrith being required to memorize each part along the way. If he made even the smallest mistake, Felaranthir said, he would be sent back home. Balfrith didn’t understand the importance of memorizing all the words and movements, but he accepted Felaranthir’s instruction silently, putting his mind to the task of learning each word, each phrase, and the meanings behind them.

On the sixth day of the World-Serpent, Freyasday, the forest canopy began opening up in spaces, and Balfrith saw that they approached a tall mountain that stood in the midst of the great forest. There was no range of hills leading out to it, only a solitary peak, snow-capped at its heights. Lower down, the mount was green with tree cover, although Balfrith also thought he saw gray lines criss-crossing it like a net.

Pointing at the mountain in the distance, he asked Felaranthir and Eärolan about it.

Eärolan answered, “That is the mountain we call Fanyamar, but in the Common tongue it would be translated something like ‘Sky-reach’. It is the center of Elefdar dominion in Illithëon, and our ultimate destination. We have just entered the region called Lattelimba, or ‘Open-canopy’, denoting the areas from whence can be seen Fanyamar through the forest cover. Here, we are only a day or two from the outer gates of the lower city.”

“City?” asked Balfrith, unaware that the Elves had any cities at all. He’d always assumed they lived in the forest itself, among nature.

Eärolan laughed. “Of course. Where did you think we lived?”

Balfrith stumbled over his reply, not wanting to sound stupid. “Well, I have heard that the Elves dwell in the forests of the world - Illithëon, Ildallïe, Illumïel - and I thought you actually lived in the forest, at one with nature.”

Felaranthir broke from his private thoughts then, and responded, “That is an interesting notion, Balfrith. Do many Men share this misconception about us?”

Balfrith shrugged. “I suppose so. We don’t talk about the Elves very often, but the stories we have are always about your skills as great hunters and trackers, and also as woodsmen who tend the trees and the forest animals.”

Felaranthir nodded and said, “We do, and are, all of those things. But we live in a great city at the base of the Mount that you saw before us. And while we strive to steward this middle-earth that has been given to us, we do not live ‘as one’ with nature. We are above it, and we exercise mastery over it, much as you exercise mastery over those elements which have been given to Men. I think you would be wise to prepare yourself to be surprised by a great many things.”

Balfrith was confused by those words, for he’d never thought that he, or any Man, exercised mastery over any element. What did he mean by that? Was he talking about magic? Balfrith had no experience with magic, nor did he know any Man that did, and yet he was fascinated by the idea. The sword he’d taken was reputed to be magic, but it didn’t glow or burst aflame when drawn, or do any of the things that legends ascribed to the magical blades of the ancients. And Leofred had implied that Men only said the sword was magic - not that it actually was magic. Then again, it was also reputed to be cursed, and that was a kind of magic - at least he assumed it was.

Thinking along these lines, Balfrith suddenly blurted aloud, “What is magic, anyway?”

No one said anything for a moment, and Balfrith flushed with embarrassment at his outburst, accidental though it had been. Finally Eärolan cleared his throat, and said, “That’s a much deeper topic than you might imagine, Balfrith. What exactly are you wanting to know?”

Balfrith said, “I keep hearing strange phrases that I don’t understand, but no one will explain them to me. My - that is, I know of a sword that’s magic, or maybe not, and it’s cursed, and everyone seems to agree on that point, but no one seems to know, or at least they’re not explaining it to me, where the magic ends and the curse begins. And now I hear there are “elements” under the lordship, or stewardship, or something, of Men, and I’ve never heard of that before. What’s an element? Is it like earth, air, fire, and water? I think I heard that once. But what does it mean? Sometimes I think I might go mad with all the knowledge that I lack, but which everyone seems to assume I should grasp.”

“Spoken like a true student!” laughed Eärolan, and even Felaranthir smiled. “I think you will do well among us, master Balfrith, if you can maintain that hunger for knowledge. Although, you might want to restrain your impulses somewhat. Not all Elefdar, especially our lore masters, will be as understanding about having their lectures randomly interrupted.”

Growing impatient, and perhaps feeling a bit foolish now, Balfrith said, “Yes, but what is magic? Can one of you please explain it to me?”

Felaranthir held forth his hand in a calming motion and spoke, “Master Balfrith, there is no need to become impatient - that is not the mark of a good student. You will find that we Elefdar take our time in many things, and for you I understand it will be a trying time, learning to wait upon your teachers. But we will not change our ways, even our very nature, to suit the tastes of a young Man come to our doorstep. No, you will have to change your ways to suit ours - beginning with being polite to your elders.”

Eärolan spoke then, still laughing, “And among us Elefdar, I daresay that an ‘elder’ will be anyone you meet.” As Balfrith began to grow angry, it must have shown on his face, for Eärolan continued, “Nay, Balfrith, hold your tongue - I meant no offense. Be at peace! I will try to answer your question.

“You ask, what is magic? Allow me to ask you a question in return: what is life? For the two are inexplicably intertwined. There cannot be magic without life, and there cannot be life without magic. There are places in this world where magic runs strongly, and places where it is weak, much as there are places on your body where you can feel the pulse of your life’s blood, and others where you feel nothing. But the lack of a pulse in one place doesn’t mean that you have no pulse at all, or that you have no life. It is simply undetectable at that point. It is the same way with magic. In some places you can feel it in the air, but in others - certainly in most places - you feel nothing. Nevertheless, it is there, and it is real.”

Balfrith nodded his head, trying to imagine magic flowing like blood throughout the world, but couldn’t quite wrap his mind around the idea. Finally he said, doubtfully, “I think I begin to understand, Eärolan, in a small part anyway. Perhaps that will be enough.”

“I think it will need to be,” said Felaranthir, quietly. “There will be time for philosophical discussions later. For now, let us concentrate on the task at hand: preparing Balfrith for the ceremony. We are only hours away now from the gate to the city. Master Balfrith, recite from the beginning, please.”