Thoroughly enjoyed having Independence Day off, and even though I worked on Friday, it was a quiet day, and I did it from home which saved me a couple of hours commuting.
Saturday, I wrote a little over a thousand words. And Sunday, I wrote over a thousand more - enough to finish a brief tale that is told by Eldamir to the other characters. It's still rough - this is the first draft after all - but I thought I would go ahead and share it here, for your enjoyment.
And so without further ado, here is the Elefdar tale of the Guardian, known by Men as the Hunter, the northern-sky constellation known in later days as Orion.
* * *
Eldamir raised a hand and pointed up and toward the south, where the lights of the Hunter, or the Guardian as Balfrith now thought of him, twinkled in the clear black sky.
“Have you ever heard the story of the Guardian?” he asked, gesturing.
Balfrith answered, “I think I heard part of it when I sojourned among your people, but I remember it little.”
Hallgeir asked, “You mean the Hunter?” Eldamir nodded, and Calunoth and Hallgeir both shook their heads. “Aside from the name, I have never heard his story. The Men of the North have many names for the shapes of stars in the night sky, but few stories.”
Eldamir nodded. “Then I shall tell you. Long years ago, in the first Aeon, my people walked this middle realm, and we dwelt among the forests that blanketed the lands of the West, where the young kingdoms of Men now stand. But in those days, there were only the great and ancient forests, with open plains scattered here and there, and broad and shining rivers winding their way through the midst of all.
“And among our people was one grown strong and wise in the ways of animals, a great hunter under the heavens, named Amraphel. With his longbow, he could strike a falcon on the wing from a quarter mile away. He eschewed the sword, but carried a simple knife, sufficient for the needs of a hunter.
“It was Amraphel who first encountered the goblins, the burners of trees, and he brought the warning of their coming to our people, so that we were prepared when they came, and were able to fight them off.
“He rose to become a great war leader in the early days of the Long War, organizing our warriors into cohorts known as Guardians, and teaching them the best of his skills at tracking, hunting, and archery. Now because the goblins came in such great numbers, our people were greatly outnumbered, and several clans toward the east were surrounded and cut off from the greater western mass. But Amraphel took those first Guardian cohorts with him, and they waged war on the goblins in their place of strength, and they were able to free many of our people who had been captive to the surrounding forces.
“And they continued waging a war of attrition, even as king Toluir raised an army in the West to continue the fight, and prepared to set forth and destroy the invaders. But before they could come to relieve Amraphel and his Guardians, those cohorts began to be harried by the goblins, who themselves had quickly reacted to their attacks, and began sending out their own scouting parties to try and locate where their hiding places might be.
“So it came about, in the tenth year of the Long War, that Amraphel’s first cohort of Guardians was ambushed by the goblins, caught unawares, and they were slaughtered to a man. And the goblins desecrated their bodies, and left them as a message and a warning to Amraphel and those who followed him. But Amraphel became mad with rage over the slaughter of his men, those who had trained under him and taken the name of Guardian. And rather than take heed of the danger, he plotted how they might avenge their brethren against the tree-burners.
“After a time, Amraphel discovered that a new leader had risen within the goblin ranks, and it was this leader that had successfully ambushed his Guardians. And the leader’s name was Gudruk, which means blood-fist in the tongue of the tree burners. But though Amraphel now knew the name of his foe, he had not yet seen this goblin captain, for he kept himself hidden, surrounded by personal guards at all times. And though Amraphel and his Guardians approached closer than ever to the tree-burners’ camp, they were unable to catch sight or scent of their foe.
“Over many months he hunted this captain, and was in turn hunted, for the Guardians were harried by the goblins and slowly driven back westward, until finally king Toluir arrived at the head of his great army, and the Guardians were allowed to rest for a time.
“But Amraphel could not rest, for he still had not seen the captain of the goblins, and the thought of his enemy being captured or killed by Toluir’s forces was too much for him to bear. So, he gathered his closest followers, the best trackers and hunters that he had trained, and the Guardians once again set forth.
“They scoured the forests eastward, looking for sign or signal of the goblin captain, and though they scouted and passed near many a goblin camp, they heard only rumors of his whereabouts. Finally, early in the autumn, they heard that the goblin captain planned a great attack on the main army, an ambush that would surprise them while they marched westward to return home for the winter.
“So it came about that Amraphel consulted with his small company, to see if they could find a way to turn the ambush against the goblins, and make the hunters into the hunted once again. And after much discourse, they agreed to follow the main company of goblins as they went, to try and determine the path they would follow, and somehow then get ahead of them in order to wage their own ambush.
“They ran two days and two nights to catch the goblin company, along the way passing by the path of king Toluir’s army, and by this they knew they were on the right track. On the third day, they paralleled the goblins, passing them by on the south, only narrowly avoiding the scouts of the enemy as they went.
“And so it came to pass on the fourth day, that they found themselves ahead of both the goblin army and that of the Elefdar. Amraphel called a halt to their swift movement, and they rested for a time. Some of his men went out to scout the area, and returned with the report that the goblins had already stopped, and seemed to be preparing defenses for their own attack.
“And so Amraphel made his first error, for he decided rashly that they would attack the goblin army at the place of their enemy’s strength, for he feared for the Elefdar army, and wanted to prevent the loss of many lives in the ambush to come. But he also despaired of the thought that the goblin captain might be killed by some hand other than his own.
“So the Guardians turned back, and ran for another day to attack the goblin army. Now Amraphel was not so foolish as to believe that his small company of Guardians could assault the entire goblin army. But his thought was that they would wait until just before the ambush was to begin, and he hoped that Gudruk would show himself for such an event, and allow a well-aimed arrow to catch him unawares and find its mark. After that, the Guardians would flee the area, trusting that the goblin army would fall to in-fighting as the various clans split into rival groups each vying for ascendance over the others.
“And they came upon the goblin camp at night, but there was much activity all around, and it was obvious that the ambush was expected to happen very soon. And here, Amraphel made his second error, for he conferred briefly with his men, and then overriding their objections, he called for a feinting attack in the hope that it might draw out the captain. This was contrary to the previous plan, but the thought gnawed at Amraphel’s mind that he might miss his opportunity to slay this hated enemy.
“So the Guardians attacked the goblin army in its position of strength, and though they went with stealth to reach the outer fortifications, once the first arrows were loosed, they were detected and a counterattack was swiftly organized.
“The Guardians were forced to retreat in haste, having come under a heavy rain of arrows from the wooden towers, and goblin scouts harried them on the ground. They fled for several hours, chased by the goblin scouts, and Amraphel thought to elude them by circling back to the goblin camp. For he yet thought he might slay Gudruk at an opportune time, and despaired of missing the chance.
“But the goblin scouts had learned many things from Amraphel, and he knew not that they had studied his behavior, and the captain himself anticipated his actions. So the scouts got ahead of the Guardians, and staged their own ambush, so that many of Amraphel’s company were slain that day because of his pride and stubbornness.
“And before he could signal another retreat, they were surrounded by the clamor of swords beating shields, and the goblin army emerged from the trees surrounding the camp, having trapped the Guardians in their headlong flight to that place. And another hail of arrows followed, so that Amraphel was left with few men standing, besides himself.
“So they fled at last, hoping against hope to bring some word of warning to Toluir, a thing which they ought to have done from the start, were it not for Amraphel’s pride. But the remaining Guardians were few, and many wounded, so that their flight was perhaps doomed from the start. And as the goblin army closed in, they took a stand upon a high rock in a clearing overlooking the forest.
“The Guardians stood their ground in that place, hoping at the last to make a name for themselves for whoever might remember them, be it goblin or Elefdar. And they rained many an arrow down upon the enemy, who sought to climb the rock, but were forced to retreat three times under the expert fire of Elefdar bows.
“In the end, they were reduced to a handful of arrows, and the goblins brought their own archers to bear, loosing arrows in high arcs, to land in their midst at the top of the hill. And though they did not aim for any particular target, still they struck and wounded a few Elefdar, and Amraphel himself was pierced through the side.
“In the end, Amraphel gave up any hope of ever meeting his enemy, the captain Gudruk, even at a distance. And being the last man standing on that rock, even wounded, Amraphel looked about him at his fallen Guardians, and his own life-blood pouring itself out, and he despaired and repented of his foolishness. And he raised his hands to the heavens and cried out to the gods, that he and his men might be avenged, even in their defeat.
“Then it happened that Wodin All-Father looked down from his great hall, and sent his valkyries to attend the battle. And they claimed the bodies of the fallen, before the goblins could desecrate them, as Amraphel watched. For though he had not yet crossed over, his eyes were opened and he was allowed to see. And he smiled, and closed his eyes. But one of the valkyries, Eynhild, saw that he yet had breath, and she approached the place where he lay.
“‘Are you he who called out to my Father?’ she asked. And Amraphel replied, ‘I cried out that He would avenge us against the tree-burners, though we fall in this nameless place, and be forgotten.’
“Eynhild said, ‘You shall not be forgotten,’ said Eynhild. ‘For my father has seen this battle, and those that came before, and he knows your valor and that of your men. And at his command, you shall be immortalized, and your name shall live forever. Now, take my hand and rise, Amraphel, O Hunter of the tree-burners.’
“Amraphel, gaining a measure of strength at her words, stood upon his feet once again, and taking his bow, he nocked the very last arrow in his quiver. And across the glade he saw the war-leader, Gudruk, who had chased him to that point, and had finally shown himself when he thought that his victory was complete. And drawing his bow, Amraphel took aim and loosed.
“At that same moment, Eynhild called his name, and his spirit crossed over. And his body was taken by other valkyries, and laid in the heavens in the form that we see today. But his arrow was allowed to fly true, and it struck the goblin leader, piercing his mail and his heart, and he fell dead.
“And the goblins saw it all, and were sore afraid, and named his image The Enemy, and to them it is a symbol of hatred and fear, and they will not fight on the nights when he is high in the sky, for they fear it, and believe that they cannot have victory while he yet wheels overhead.
“King Toluir arrived then at the head of his army, and they met the goblin force in the open field surrounding the hill of Amraphel’s last stand. And the goblin ambush was spoiled, and the Elefdar were victorious that day, and they recovered the remaining Guardians on the rocky hill, so that a handful survived to tell the tale.
“That is the story. There are several other tales of Amraphel’s life and adventures, but the one I have told is the last.”
* * *
In going back to read this story, I suspect I will cut it down by half or more in the novel, and summarize many of the details to give it more the feel of an old myth, which was the point of telling it.