This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
In many years past, there once lived a house of firis.
Far to the east, in the realm of men called Vistirr they lived. Near them was the market town of Mythndor. The town was full of squabbling, squawking, and even screeching speech. Dust from the loose dirt road rose as customers strode through. The dust would settle for a moment but would not have time for rest as more customers looked through the shops. The shops were made mostly of wood and protected the sellers from the blazing sun. Sellers haggled over prices with their customers and children ran barefoot in the dirt streets. The laughter of children brightened the noisy market and their high voices warmed the air. Dogs and cats sat lazily around, neither bothering the other. Chickens strutted along in the road and a few cats swiped halfheartedly at them, causing a ruckus of indignant squawks and flying feathers.
Unnoticed by all in a shadowed corner of the market stood a figure cloaked in black. Their face was hidden by the hood as they observed the going-ons at a well-known sword shop with a keen interest. They drank in the shining hilts and glittering metal. As they did so, their eyes fastened onto a particular sword. They drew near and lifted it off its pegs. The name on its blade read Dréúnnin or “Dragon Fury” in the common tongue.
“Good morning, sir! I see you have good taste in swords,” came the voice of the marketer. “It seems that fate is with you, sir. You see, no one else is interested in it and it has been sitting here for many years. I will give it to you with no charge if you give me a sword in return.”
The marketer grinned to himself, hardly any passerby had a sword with him that they would trade. They all seemed to believe their sword was far better. In truth, Dréúnnin surpassed them all. The marketer thought himself clever and cautiously dealt with the hooded figure. He never trusted a man who would not show his face; cowardice he called it.
“I will take it in exchange for this,” growled the figure, their voice almost an octave too low for a man.
They produced a small sword, almost as small as a knife. The marketer frowned at its pathetic length. He thought of refusing but he was an honest seller and never broke his word. With a sigh, he took it and placed Dréúnnin into the stranger's hands.
“Thank you most kindly,” the hooded figure said with a deep voice and the marketer looked hard at the customer, wondering if they were disguising their voice.
They turned away, the marketer tried to see where the cloaked figure would go but another customer demanded his attention. He shook his head and the strange figure walked unseen out of the chaotic town. Alone, the stranger took off their hood. Blonde hair cascaded to the middle of her back with a fastener holding the hair behind her ears. She whistled a tune and it was answered by a whinny nearby. Out of the forest before her galloped a chestnut horse. He stopped before her and she quickly mounted. She clicked her tongue and without saddle, guided the gentle beast into Eiradum forest.
A little ways into the forest, she came upon a home. The house was made out of wood and painted a rich yellow with a brown roof. Around one side was a garden full of every kind of plant imaginable. Roses lined its walkway and flowers bloomed in the day’s heat. The other side was barren and the grass was stomped down from many practice sessions with weapons and mock fights. Split wood was stacked neatly on the front side of the house. She relaxed as she saw her home and slowed the pace of her mount. She was safe here and always would be.
She left her horse grazing contently and hurriedly walked into the house. She did not notice the warmth of the fire nor the papers strewn everywhere. She did not wait for others to notice her entrance but delved into talking as if she was the town's gossiper.
“I don't suppose any of you know where Donir is at? Well then, tell me. I need to show him this,” she jabbered away to the only other people in the main room.
Only one answered, “Rowan, you know he's busy. What with taxes and all. Show me.”
The one who had spoken was Dain. He was a handsome fellow of fifty-seven. Being of firis descent, he did not age as humans did. He looked of early thirties and would look so until his later hundreds, for firis lived to almost one thousand years of age. His black shoulder length hair parted in the middle and he had stubble on his face. His black eyes drank in the beauty of Rowan. She felt his eyes roaming on her and produced the sword which she had traded for.
“This is Dréúnnin, Dragon Fury,” she said.
She placed it on the table near her that was overflowing with papers. This startled the only other person in the room. Her name was Astrin. She had waist length red hair that was gathered from behind her ears into a fish braid and fastened at the end on the back. She was kind yet if others tried to control her or use her, they would literally be flying to the ground, sword tip touching their throat in a matter of seconds. At the young age of fifty-one, beholding her was like looking at starlight. Her hazel eyes had been reading folklore on the dragons of old when she was interrupted by the sword being in the way. She did not find this amusing and was just about to glare at Rowan when she noticed the inscription of the sword's name. She had not been listening, which always happened when she was reading. Something was tugging at her heart as she stared at it. She was drawn to it but could not understand why.
Maybe I've been reading too much, she thought and rubbed her temple to clear her mind.
Being firis, it was of no surprise her heart was drawn to such a magnificent weapon. As she pondered upon its beauty, the owner of the house appeared after being locked away all morning in his study.
“Donir, this almost seems to be firis made,” Astrin finally spoke. “It looks like many artifacts that I have seen drawn. Though I do not understand how that is possible.”
It is a well-known story among firis that artifacts of their make are almost extinct. When Toraz had come to power, the firis that were left fled and made new lives among other races. The old ways of forging weapons and bonding with dragons was now only folklore but Astrin was one of few who still believed. Donir leaned over the table, his brown merman braided hair falling to the front. His blue eyes widened. Astrin thought she saw a flicker of fear in them but it vanished before she was sure of herself.
“This is indeed firis made,” he said with wonder as he lightly touched the inscription. “It is at least over thirty thousand years old, if I'm not mistaken.”
He left to his study without another word. Astrin found it unsettling the way he was deeply troubled. The others did not notice, of course. They were too engrossed in each other to notice. Astrin shivered. She was glad Dain paid her no mind.
Astrin took Dréúnnin in hand and was astonished at how well it fit in her hand. She wistfully laid it back down. Her own weapons were simple and rather of crude make: a small sword at her waist and a bow with several arrows in a quiver slung on her back.
Several hours passed and Astrin spent her time looking for anything similar to Dréúnnin in all the scattered parchments. Many of the parchments were history that neither Dain nor Rowan felt compelled to read. Astrin supposed that was why Donir had given them to her. Not once had Donir reappeared which concerned her greatly. He only spent that much time away when doing taxes, which he had finished that morning. Finally, she lightly threw a paper about dwarf weapons down and resolved to speak to Donir even if she had to knock down the door.
She knocked determinedly on the door and to her surprise a voice answered with, “Come in.”
She opened the door and quickly closed it behind her. He rarely let Dain and Rowan in his study. Sometimes he would let Astrin in to keep him company while translating old text for some rich scholars who cared naught for the languages elegance but only for what the words meant.
“Oh good, it is you,” Donir said as he leaned back in a chair. He did not want the company of Dain or Rowan. He knew it selfish to wish for Astrin’s company only but she was so like him.
Astrin knew he preferred her over the others who he thought were rather childish. She could understand Rowan being this way, her age being forty-eight, but not Dain who was the oldest of the three. Being nine and one hundred, Donir knew the ways of the world better than most, but he still did not know what to do with such behavior.
He sighed to himself and then said to Astrin, “I shall be leaving on a journey.”
“Why must you go?” Astrin said in confusion. He had not prepared as he usually did for a trip, nor had he asked her to accompany him like he always did. He never failed to ask in all the years as her adopted father.
“Answers. I have questions that need answers,” he said grabbing a bag nearby and putting things in it to take with him.
Finished packing, he headed out of his study and into the main room. Astrin followed him, “Questions? What questions?”
“That of Dréúnnin. It means something!” he replied.
“Why now? It has been many years...” he said to himself in deep thought.
“Leaving to where?” interrupted Dain.
“The only place that would know such things – Evernon. The Naduian elves may surely know.”
“Let me go with you.”
“No, it is a journey I alone must go on. You are needed here.”
Dain did not seem pleased with this reply. He placed his right hand on the hilt of his sheathed axe in disgruntlement.
“Let me see Dréúnnin again, Rowan,” Donir said.
Rowan unsheathed the sword and handed it carefully to him. Donir's heart longed for the old days of the firis as he looked at it. Softly, he began to sing a tune from long ago:
“Through fire and flame
The world was untamed
An endless battle
Fraught with death
Far to the south lands
Stood Enduron in evil's hands
Once the crown jewel of shifter's heads
Now ravaged with death
Your beauty marred on
Your great halls filled with warmth
Now all is wrought with cold”
His words faded into silence. Astrin's heart, for just a moment, mourned for the land. She thought it a beautiful and an eerie tune, one that gave her a shiver of awe.
Donir finally spoke, “Go to Mythndor, all of you, and bring back provisions. There are a few papers I must find. Be off with you!”
They hurried to do his bidding, swiftly mounting their horses. The short trip to Mythndor brought Astrin many thoughts as she rode her horse, Blage. She did not find it comforting the way Donir was acting. Perhaps she could convince him to let her go with him. He had always let her accompany him and it slightly jarred her that he had not asked her to go with him. She would rather spend her time learning about her own race than being stuck in the same place with Rowan and Dain. Though she loved both of them in her heart, she did not want to linger with them anymore than she had to. They were not altogether wise and she did not appreciate the way they did things. It was not right. Ithandi, the Creator of all Éorth, made rules for the sake of his people. She shook her head and sighed. One of these days, they would have to grow up quickly.
As she waited with the horses while the others gathered supplies, she thought it strange indeed that Dréúnnin was of firis make. She was so deep in her thoughts that she was startled by the glare of metal. She recoiled at who held the metal of two daggers. She knew that face from her research. His steel green eyes seemed to pass through her as he led a group of narza into the center of the town. Narza were one of the creatures of Toraz. They lived in the darkest places and reproduced quickly. Their skin was reptilian and they were shaped as humans and bore a tail. The leader’s waist length blonde hair blew in the wind. Astrin gripped the hilt of her sword tightly. This was the he-firis Meloch, servant of Toraz. To have Dréúnnin and Meloch appear in one day was incredible to Astrin. Something was brewing in the South.
Uneasy about being spotted among the Men of the East, she quietly spoke words in firion to the horses. She was not yet fluent in the language she had learned on her own time but the horses understood her as they trotted calmly away, blocking her from the view of Meloch and the narza. She made her way silently to where Dain and Rowan were discussing prices with a marketer. His pricing was too high of a fee and Dain began to argue in frustration.
“We must flee!” she hissed at them as she drew near. They turned, unperturbed to what she said.
“We are not yet finished with the provisions,” Dain said with a wink.
She almost punched him square in the face for his flirtatious behavior but no matter how much she disliked what Dain had become, she would not let him be seen by Meloch. If he saw them, they would surely be beheaded or tortured on the account of their race. She sighed, she could not believe it had to come to this. Quicker than either Rowan or Dain could react, she nocked two arrows to her bow with one pointing at each of them.
“I said we must flee, Gonda,” she stubbornly said. Dain, having no education in firion, assumed he was being called a rather rude name and indignantly huffed. Astrin moved closer with her drawn arrows and threatened them with her best hardened expression.
“Well, what choice do we have?” Rowan said to Dain. “Either flee or be shot with an arrow. I'd pick the fleeing.”
Dain nodded but Astrin did not relax her drawn bow until they were near their home. Dain turned to her and began rebuking her for such a trick but she was not listening. Something was making her uneasy. She closed her eyes and sniffed the air. Her eyes flew open as she recognized the scent.
“Hurry!” she cried and rushed to their home with Dain shouting at her all the way.
Oh Tala's breath! Let it not be what my heart dreads! She thought with a heavy heart, her chest tightening in fear.
Her heart was true as she laid eyes on their home. Billowing smoke rose in the midday sky as flames crackled and scarred the wood of the house. She could not directly see the house with all the smoke. She stepped slowly closer but the heat was too much. Backing away, she knew that Donir had been in there, she felt it like a stab to her heart. She wanted to shake sense into the others who had mouths agape. Without Donir, she was lost and alone. Tears threatened to fall down her cheeks as she realized what this meant.
She sat on the ground and waited until the flames abated to only smoldering heaps. Dusting her dark green dress off, she cautiously made her way into the wreckage. She coughed and covered her mouth from the clinging smoke. Rubble was strewn and smashed on the ground. She saw parchments that she had treasured with all her heart burned and scathed. The smell of burning flesh caught in her nose and she coughed at its wretched smell. Looking around, she spotted what looked like the body of Donir. He was so burned that she couldn’t recognize him. Tears now falling, she reached over and cradled his burned head in her arms.
I will see his legacy told. His enemies will fall under my wrath, she raged, her heart hardening.
She lifted his lifeless body and carried him out of the wreckage. Laying him down at the feet of Dain and Rowan, she said bitterly to them, “This is what you were rebuking me for.”
Dain dared not say a word but closed Donir's one intact eye gently. With a whistle, Astrin called her horse who responded immediately. She gently took up Donir and laid him across Blage with some wood from the wreckage.
“Dilean,” she commanded Blage as she started heading deeper into the forest.
“Astrin!” Rowan called, wondering what she was doing.
Astrin turned and coldly said, “I am taking him to Ruthal River. There, he will be buried properly on the water just as he wished. If you had cared for him, you would have known that!”
She turned away and disappeared into the forest. It was an afternoon's walk to the river. She was overcome by a memory. She had been reading burial rituals of the old ways months ago when Donir had peered at what she was reading.
“When I am gone, it is my wish to be buried as the firis of old. As the mourners traveled in those days, they sang the most sorrowful songs that made even the trees cry,” he said as if he had witnessed such a thing. In honor of his wish and memory, she sang one of the mourners’ songs of old. Her voice silenced the forest and, indeed, the trees stirred in sadness:
“Some folk we never forget
Among the trees and valley's lay our sorrows
The flame once flickered
Now all is silenced
We must away
The darkness is upon us
Never forget its pain
The firis lives no more
Our grief blinds us
Our steps falter
But until the day of victory
We will march on.”
The sun beginning to lower, she reached the river. Taking the wood she had found at the house, she had made a crude raft with rope to lay him upon. Still singing and weeping, she laid him on the raft with his favorite sword across his chest and his half burnt hair splayed about him. The river roared passed with violence and farther down there was a waterfall. She kissed his brow in farewell, touched his cheek softly in affection, and pushed the raft into the water. The raft floated on the current and finally disappeared over the waterfall.
She could sing no more and broke into a wail. She knelt with feeling such a responsibility on her shoulders. The household fell to her, even though she was not the oldest. Donir had given her that responsibility in legal writing. She didn’t think she could do it, not without him next to her. He was the father she had never had. Always stepping in and helping her learn far more than she had ever dreamed. He had been what she had loved most in life and now he was gone, ripped from her life and left with an open sore in her heart.
She felt a hand gently touch her shoulder. She turned expecting Dain or Rowan but she was met with a face that had kind eyes and brown shoulder length hair braided into a waterfall with stubble as a beard.
“Why might you be crying?” the stranger asked, his grey eyes looking rather concerned.
“Donir is dead!” is all she could muster. She could not say anything else for fear of becoming hysterical. She closed her eyes for a second and tried to control herself. She must be strong, for him. She opened her eyes again and looked at the kindly stranger but when he gently helped her up, she found herself sobbing into his broad shoulder. She could be strong but not that strong. Perhaps being strong meant to acknowledge weakness. The stranger's face turned to grief. He had known that name quite well. With effort, he suppressed his feelings and held her in his arms.
Just at that moment, Rowan and Dain arrived. They had loved Donir but had not been close to him. Seeing the stranger, Rowan put her hand on the hilt of Dréúnnin and with caution asked who he was. She found it quite insane that Astrin was sobbing in the shoulder of a stranger.
“I am Tobias. I am – was – a friend of Donir. He sent for me from Evernon with heavy thoughts on his mind. I have come too late,” he finished, his voice cracking with grief.
Wiping her eyes and letting go of Tobias, Astrin replied, “He was to go to Evernon as soon as we returned. Meloch was in Mythndor. I recognized him by the sketches I had been studying. I feared he had visited Donir. If I had only come sooner.”
“Then you would have died as well! There was nothing you could do. Strange happenings have been going on. As one firis to another, I would advise you to journey to Evernon. There you will be safe for a time.”
Dain did not trust Tobias, nor did Rowan, Astrin could tell. However, Astrin knew it was what Donir would have advised. She did not take council with them. They would not understand but they must all journey to the elves if they were to survive both the wrath of Meloch and Toraz.
“Then we shall accompany you back to Evernon,” she determinedly said for all of them.
Dain began to object but was silenced by the stare of Rowan who spoke, “I will make one thing clear, I do not trust you. But seeing as Donir planned to journey to Evernon it would be wise to continue what he planned.”
Rowan glared at Astrin. She did not understand why they could not stay here and find a tavern to stay at. She did not realize what folly that would be nor the danger they would be in if they did. Tobias nodded in acknowledgment and called his light tan horse who appeared. His horse was saddled with red and gold inscriptions that wound their way around elegantly on the saddle.
With elvish tack, the most beautiful I have ever seen! Exclaimed Astrin to herself. It stole her breath away, the richness of the color. She mounted Blage and waited for the rest to be as well.
“It is a five day journey to Evernon. We will need more provisions than you have,” Tobias said, looking at the little provisions they had been able to buy before Meloch had appeared.
Astrin turned Blage to the east toward Mythndor, “Then let us be off before the sun sets.”
She urged her horse forward and off they went in single file.
They arrived at Mythndor swiftly. The usual shouts and bustling of the town was silenced. Not a sound besides the hooves of the horses was heard. No children ran in the streets and all the shops were locked tightly shut. Uneasy, Astrin nocked an arrow. She heard the slight thud of heavy footsteps to her left. Turning toward the sound, she saw a broad shouldered man who had a full beard and was bald. She relaxed her bow and tried to smile but failed.
“Elas! It is good to see you,” she said to the man. Astrin often visited Elas on the account he was the town's storyteller and blacksmith. He was a hard man but underneath he was gentle. He would spend hours with Astrin, both enjoying a cup of tea around his hearth and she would listen to any tale he told her. Other times, she would watch him work in his blacksmith shop and would learn skills from him, which he enjoyed teaching her.
“Quickly!” he urged and motioned for them to enter a small stable next to his home. They did as they were told and Elas followed closely behind.
“It is not safe here. Meloch, of the stories of old, has come searching for four firis,” he urgently said.
“They have burned one already,” said Tobias grimly. Astrin bit her lip and commanded herself not to weep.
“You must flee! I am not the only one who has seen your long ears and barefoot riding habits in this town. If no one will talk, they will make them,” Elas continued.
“He is right,” Astrin said, her voice thick from emotion. “But we need provisions for our journey.”
“Go to Ruthal River near the Quane Crossing. Wait there, it will be much safer if I brought provisions to you.”
Tobias nodded his thanks and with a glance at Astrin, galloped his horse out of the stables. Astrin followed close behind. She heard her horse’s breath and the thud of her hooves against the ground as she sped into the forest.
At the crossing, they hid and waited. It seemed to Astrin that Elas was long in coming. She was about to head back after almost two hours when she heard galloping on the other side of the crossing. She motioned to be quiet to Dain and Rowan who were arguing over whose horse was faster. They did not quiet until she threatened them with a glance at her bow in her hand. Now in silence, she heard the weary breath of a horse but when she peered from behind the tree, she found that it was not a horse at all.
A large feline that rose passed the height of a firis’ hip was slightly panting as if to smell something. Its fangs were long, and its jaw strong. Its tail lashed in an eternal anger and its fur was grey with white speckles. Its form moved with stealth and it was ridden by a narza. Astrin had never heard of such a beast in all her reading and her eyes grew wide in fear.
She felt the shaft of her arrow and in one smooth motion, she uncovered herself from the tree and fired. She had no doubt about its finding them, it had been just a matter of when. Her arrow flew true and pierced the heart of the beast. It stumbled, collapsed heavily, and did not move again. The narza squawked in its language with outrage and spotted her quickly. It charged at her as she unsheathed her sword. Before she could swing at him, he stopped suddenly and maliciously smirked. Astrin turned and saw with horror that Rowan was knocked on the ground with a narza approaching her. Dain and Tobias could not help for they were occupied with many narza that had ambushed them from behind. Dréúnnin lay sprawled near Astrin. In a moment’s decision, she threw her sword at the narza in front of her and it pierced straight through his chest. She did not see if she had hit the mark but bent down and quickly retrieved Dréúnnin. She must act quickly or Rowan would either be maimed or dead.
“Your death shall be a slow one,” hissed the narza over Rowan.
“Get away from her, you snake!” Astrin said fiercely and swung hard at him. There was no way that she would let another of her adoptive family be murdered. Not on her life, not ever.
As Dréúnnin clashed with the sword of the narza, it started to glow. It grew brighter and suddenly sparks began to appear around the sword. The narza's eyes were blinded and in his weakness, she beheaded him. Astrin studied Dréúnnin in puzzlement for a moment. She looked up and saw Meloch across the way. He looked at her with malice and rage but did not approach them. He abruptly turned away on his creature, leaving the narza behind. He disappeared into shadow and did not reappear. She handed Dréúnnin back to Rowan who seemed in a daze and retrieved her short sword. With the last narza killed by Tobias, they tensed as they heard horse hooves.
“Astrin!” Tobias called. She quickly nocked an arrow and was ready to release it at the sight of the oncoming person.
“Whoa there!” cried Elas as he came into view. Astrin lowered her bow and did not hesitate to grab the reigns of Elas' mount.
“We must hurry! The narza will not be long in coming. They will return with far greater numbers,” Astrin said. She had no doubt that Meloch would do such a thing.
“Then I shall come with you. The provisions are already packed on my horse,” Elas replied, looking at the carcasses on the ground.
“The road will be dangerous. I cannot guarantee you will return,” Tobias cautioned him.
“It is of small matter. It is far better to suffer and die in the cause of good than to live and let evil prevail.”
“So thus it shall be,” ended Astrin and mounted Blage. She buried her grief deep in her heart. Now was not the time to grieve for such a great firis as Donir.
They headed deep into Eiradum and did not speak for fear of lurking narza. After a time, they began to speak without fear. The forest seemed less menacing and the last rays of sunshine filtered in between the trees. The twitter of a few birds could be heard in the great tall trees. They rode along until the sun disappeared. No longer capable of journeying without difficulty, they stopped for the night and made a fire.
“What do you think we will find in Evernon?” asked Dain while fiddling with his axe. The fire crackled in the silence until Tobias spoke.
“Many things. Evernon holds many long forgotten memories now that only a few elves know. It is a place filled with music and dancing far into the night. The elves live among the trees. Winding stairs grow on them and grand halls and rooms are carved from the very trees. The trees are far larger than any in the world. Oh Evernon! It is a place of wisdom and grace, of perception and growth. The Naduian elves are tall and fair. They welcome strangers and shun darkness. They are the people of the forest,” said Tobias as if in a faraway place.
Astrin felt a longing to see such a place. She could see the trees and their fair faces playing before her very eyes. She had always longed to see the world but the way she now got to see Evernon was a stab in the chest. It was a dream of hers to see Evernon with Donir since he always spoke so fondly of it. She wished, not for the last time, that Donir was by her side and that she could snuggle in his warm embrace like she used to as a child.
Oh, Donir! I need you here… I need you. Why did you have to leave me? She wailed silently and cried herself to sleep.
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