The present and the past
The Captain couldn't believe what had just happened, all his friends were gone. First Lorien, then the orcs he called his family, and who knows who else.
"This war can't go on!" The Captain screamed dropping to his knees. He felt anger boil his blood all over again. He felt his heart twist and jerk a hundred times over as the faces of the orcs, trolls, Minotaur, goblins, and every other monster that had rallied under his banner flashed in his mind in a sea of red. He clenched his fists as Caewen placed a hand on his shoulder.
I don't know what to do. She thought, I feel sick just thinking about what the humans did! She suddenly hated herself for the mix of blood running through her veins, how could two groups of beings cause so much death and destruction?
She knew in her heart that her father and mother had loved each other and her very much, so where did it all go wrong, and how did both sides end up killing each other?
The Captain stayed on his knees and remained still for several minutes with Caewen's hand on his shoulder, until finally he stood with a mix of sadness and wrath in his eyes.
"We need to stop this war, and we're going to need new allies to do it. Kol lives in Corwin city, he and I are old friends and he's the one who wanted me to join his resistance in the first place. I say we go there, that is if you still want to."
"Why wouldn't I? I hate what my people are doing and I want to put things right."
The Captain walked towards Corwin city, the last free city that hadn't been destroyed by hatred and his last hope to get allies.
Caewen followed, she'd heard a lot about Corwin city and the thieves that ran it, and she dearly hoped that she wasn't bringing war to such a magical place.
The King smiled at the sight of his troops marching into the palace carrying boxes of previously stolen weapons. The leader of the human knights smiled at his king.
"Our mission was a success sir! No orc survivors and all stolen weapons are accounted for."
"Good." The king was lost in his thoughts and dismissed the knight leader, thinking about the past.
Twenty years ago:
About a year after the humans and elves first came into contact with one another, King Merek stepped down as king and the knights who desired the role of king fought in an arena. The last knight standing would be the new king.
Siegfried stood in the arena ready to enter it and fight. He wore his armor, but carried a wooden sword and shield. The six knights he would be facing would have blunt weapons also, and all he had to do was knock them out and he'd be king.
A noise startled him and he spun to see Mael walking towards him, armed with a strand of gold ribbon and a smile. "Well soon to be King Siegfried, I hope you'll accept my gift." She tied the ribbon around his arm and hugged him. "I hope you'll remember me when you're king" she murmured.
Siegfried smiled "Of course, I never forget the people I love."
Mael's heart skipped a beat at the last word. Oh this is silly we've been dating for about a year now, why do I get so jumpy when he says he loves me?
She released him and smiled whispering "Good luck" before she headed off to her seat beside Rival and Merek.
The six knights entered the arena from six doorways and held their weapons tightly as Merek stood and (with his voice amplified by a spell) shouted "These six knights have chosen the path of kingship, but only one can be the next leader of the Tempest Vanguards! A king must be strong and wise, and today our candidates will be tested on that! The rules are simple: The last man standing is the king, and only blunt weapons are allowed."
The six knights stood ready as Merek shouted "May the best king win, fight!"
Then they charged towards each other and their weapons clacked and smacked against wood and flesh. Siegfried stayed out of the main melee, and simply defended himself when someone attacked him, sending them back into the melee with quick swings of his sword.
After a few minutes of intense fighting the knights leapt back and nursed their bruises, and it was clear they were tired and hot. Siegfried leapt forward towards the nearest knight and swung his sword with all his strength.
His sword clanged against the knight's helmet and the knight fell backward, but stood and swung his sword in return. Siegfried parried the sword and kicked the knight in the chest. The knight fell backward and took a second hit as his head struck the sand. He lay still as the fighting stopped and two men rushed out of a doorway and hauled the unconscious knight up leading him off the field.
The other five knights waited respectfully until their fallen brother was carried off the field then resumed their melee. The four knights lashed out at each other, and the clack of their wooden swords echoed throughout the arena. Siegfried charged into the melee and rammed his shield into the path of a wooden sword ducking under and rammed his blade into the knight's ribs. The knight moved backward and another knight held his sword in both hands and looped it around Siegfried from behind. Siegfried fought to loosen the grip and hurled himself into a backward roll, tossing the knight forward and into the second.
The third and fourth knights were fighting each other too intently to bother him, and the other two knights were wrestling on the ground. Siegfried rushed up to both knights and brought his wooden sword down twice with all the strength his tired arms could muster. It was enough to knock both knights unconscious, and men moved to carry them from the field, along with the third knight.
Once this was done the fourth and final challenger stood ready. He raised his blade in a salute, and Siegfried returned it.1
Both fighters summoned whatever reserves of strength they had and charged towards each other swinging their swords. The wooden blades and shields splintered under the strong blows but held firm. Siegfried ducked a sword swing and rammed his fist into the knight's stomach. The knight seized the straps of Siegfried's armor and hurled him across the arena.
Mael kept her eyes on the yellow band and cringed when Siegfried was thrown across the arena. Rival patted her hand lightly "It's okay dear, he is fine."
Siegfried spat out sand and stood ignoring the aches that seemed to be all over his body. He spun around and dragged his tired body towards the knight swinging his sword. The duel went on for longer than expected considering that both fighters were wounded and exhausted until finally Siegfried spun and swung his blade like a sledgehammer shattering the other knight's sword and shield and the strength behind his blow sent the knight flying.
The knight landed on the ground and lay still, and after the unconscious knight was dragged off the field. The whole arena erupted in cheers, and Merek proclaimed "All hail King Siegfried! New King of the Tempest Vanguards!"
The cheers went on for a while, but Mael's cheers were the only that Siegfried could hear.
Siegfried turned as something blew in his window and landed on his desk. It was a blood red rose. He lashed out and crushed the rose, cursing as a thorn cut his hand. He wiped the blood away and slapped a dressing on the wound thinking back to the last time he had done this, and it was about 19 years ago:
Nineteen years ago
He could fight dragons and stand up to whole armies, he could do battle with the worst that the world had to offer, and he could now rule the Tempest Vanguard as he saw fit, but now he was shaking in his boots because he was getting married to Mael!
He let the page boy fix his ceremonial armor and then started to march out of the room with his ceremonial sword at his side.
The whole palace was decorated with both human and elven decorations and both races were dressed in ceremonial armor. Siegfried walked down the aisle with Merek at his side and he stood at his position trying to calm his nerves. As he finally calmed his nerves Mael walked into the room.
Mael was in a beautiful wedding dress2 and the sight of her took his breath away and set his nerves up again! He smiled at the fact that Mael even said yes to his proposal, and he was marrying the future queen of the Tempest Vanguards! The Tempest was a male dominated society and it always had a king, but never a queen.
The people were gradually warming up to the idea of a queen and several knights were already trying to flirt with the elven women.
The chatter fell silent as Mael walked down the aisle with the now former Queen Rival. As both newlyweds stood next to each other the crowd looked up at them as the vows were made.
Meanwhile a familiar silhouette stared out from behind the trees near the palace, he had a full view of the palace and he tapped his cane against his leg muttering to himself "I need to set things right again, and regretfully it's come to this." He smiled and laid a hand on the ground focusing his power.
This was a risky and dangerous maneuver, but if he pulled it off the world would be saved, and he just hoped the world would forgive him.
The priest smiled, having gotten to the end of his long3 speech, and he got ready to say the words that would bind the two souls in front of him together.
"I now pronounce you man and wife, you may…may…." The priest suddenly fell over with a long thorn covered branch in his back, dead.
Siegfried drew his sword instantly as the branch twisted and suddenly molded itself into a massive man, made entirely out of wood and leaves.
He swung his sword and sliced the plant's arm off. He lashed out and stabbed the plant-man in the chest and it collapsed.
"We are under attack!" He shouted as the floor around him suddenly shifted and more of the plant men emerged.
He pushed Mael back and lashed out with his sword slicing a plant-man in two, sap like blood dripped from his sword as he swung again. The plant man dodged his strike and a massive thorn came out of his arm. The thorn clanged against his sword and Siegfried pushed harder, shearing the thorn in half and beheading the plant-man who wielded it.
Merek held his mace in old but firm hands and shouted "I'm taking Rival out through the back! We'll set up a rallying area and comb the palace for these things."
Siegfried nodded as they left and kicked another plant-man knocking him back. Mael had found a long dagger somewhere and she stabbed it into a plant-man's head. She withdrew the blade and stood back to back with her new-husband hacking and cutting at the plant arms that reached for them.
The plant-men kept coming from who knows were and the Knights of the Tempest Vanguard joined the battle swinging swords, axes, and maces. The elves of the Silver Seas were quick to draw spears and blades and add them to the fray. The sap like blood spurted from wounds and coated the weapons of the combined forces.
The plant creatures swung long arms covered in thorny spikes, shot thorns from their hands, and hurled rocks and debris at the elves and humans. They fought without saying anything and simply charged at any human or elf they saw.
The battle raged on not only inside the throne room, but also inside the palace itself.
Wide hallways and small rooms were now battlefields as humans and elves fought to defeat the creatures that had interrupted the wedding. Arrows and crossbow bolts slammed into the plant-men from snipers and they erupted into sap drenched piles.
Merek held both his mace and his shield high as he dragged Rival through the back entrance to the palace. They had encountered no plant-men during their escape, and Merek hoped to keep it that way. "The exit is just through here." He opened the last door between them and freedom and saw:
The old man and several more plant-men blocking their path.
Merek gripped his mace tightly and shouted "Cease your attack on the palace! NOW!"
Rival's words were whispers as she struggled to keep a lid on her fear. "Who is he?"
The old man smiled "That's not important right now, what is important is you two understanding why I'm doing this."
Merek screamed at the old man "I can't even try to understand why you and your plants are attacking and interrupting a wedding!"
The old man chuckled "I tried to talk to Siegfried about this, but he wouldn't listen to me at all. There is a war coming and it's the kind of war that will rip the world apart! The elves don't belong here on this earth, and I need to erase the damage that your two young lovebirds did by ignoring my warnings in the first place!"
Rival spoke with a stronger voice now "So I was supposed to let my daughter die!"
"It would have kept you on that island! Then the war wouldn't be happening! Ancient forces are rising, the world will burn, and humans and elves will be swallowed by hatred! They will fight each other; no enemy other than themselves threatens them!"
Merek stepped forward raising his mace and demanding "So how does attacking this wedding stop this war?!"
The old man shook his head "My attack needs to drive the elves back to their island, and the war can be averted!"
Rival nodded "Perhaps that is best then, call off your soldiers and my elves will retreat to the island until we can figure all this out."
Merek nodded his agreement
The old man nodded his approval and then clutched his head in pain. The plant-men suddenly went on the attack and Merek swung his mace splattering sap everywhere. "Stop!" Rival screamed.
The old man's once childlike face was now contorted in pain "Some magic, it's controlling me…."
He screamed and more plant creatures climbed from the ground. Merek's mace smashed and bashed ripping them apart in and sending oceans of sap flying everywhere. Merek was once the ruler of the Tempest Vanguards for his incredible combat skills, and today he proved it! He kicked, swung his mace, and rammed his shield into the plant men cutting them apart with the sharp rim. Sap splashed the walls and floor as he advanced pushing his old body to its limits. He needed to defend Rival and himself until they could tell Siegfried and Mael what was going on.
The old man summoned a twig from the ground and held it in his hands. He formed the twig into an arrow and raised his hand slightly, ready to throw. The magic was forcing him to do these things and try as he might he couldn't stop it, or track down the source.
Merek smashed his way through the wall of plant creatures trying to reach the old man and stop him, but the plant men just kept coming and he couldn't destroy them all in time. Blast this old body Merek thought as he kept fighting, already feeling fatigue affect him.
The old man raised his arrow and hurled the weapon and time stood still. Rival watched the projectile cut the air as it headed towards her, she raised her arms in a futile attempt to defend herself, hoping beyond all hope the Merek would survive and let the others know what was happening.
Merek swung his mace one last time and began to run towards Rival. He wanted to keep her safe because she was so much like him. She knew all the pressures, all the secret joys and all the decisions that made up running a kingdom. He leapt in front of her and took the arrow in the chest.
Time returned to normal speed as the old man felt the magic that was controlling him fade away. He fell to the ground and whimpered in pain as the plant-men collapsed and turned back into the soil and wood that had formed them.
Rival screamed as Merek's body fell beside her and her screams attracted another party.
Siegfried and Mael led a joint team of men and elves around the back entrance and Siegfried skidded to a stop at the sight of Merek's body impaled by the arrow, and the sight of the old man.
In a flash Siegfried lashed out and shoved the old man into a wall placing his sword at his throat. "What did you do?" He yelled.
The old man whimpered and shook his head, "I did nothing, and some other magic controlled me!"
"Liar!" Siegfried shook the old man slightly "You asked me to leave Mael to die, and now you attack our wedding!"
"I need to set things right, I must stop this war."
"Shut up about the war!" He turned to Rival who was sobbing on the floor "Is he telling the truth?"
Rival shivered on the floor, rocking Merek's body back and forth "magic…..magic killed him…" This was all she would say for a long while.
Mael knelt by her mother and picked her up. "I'll take her back to the island, maybe she'll heal in her own quarters."
Siegfried nodded "Alright, but stay safe love."
Mael smiled and the elves helped Rival, who was still muttering, outside and back to the island.
Siegfried looked at Merek's body and stared at the old man "You killed Merek! You killed a former king of the Tempest Vanguard!"
The old man smiled that same smile that he had done the last time. "My creatures had nothing to do with it, some magic killed your king, and I'll tell you this much, it was elven magic."
"Impossible! No elf would want Merek dead, you attacked us, and you did this!"
"Keep telling yourself that knight, but we both want to do the right thing, and the only way we can do that is by keeping the elves away from the humans!"
"We are nothing alike!" Siegfried growled as the seeds of doubt were planted in his mind.
He dropped the old man and sheathed his sword. "I never want to see you again, and I don't want to hear another word about this war!"
The old man dusted himself off and gripped his cane, "Oh you won't hear another word about the war, but you'll hear the war when it comes!" With that the old man disappeared in a flurry of flowers, chief among them being a blood red rose.
That would make a good present for Mael.
With that thought he realized that he was married, and no matter what this union would open a new chapter in the lives of both the humans and the elves.
He reached down to pick up the rose and winced as a thorn cut his finger. He placed a bandage over the wound and crushed the rose and stomped it into the dirt, he'd get Mael something else.
1 Even with this competition dividing them it amazes me to see honor on this field, because above all the men and women of the Tempest Vanguards are family and bound by blood.
2 That had taken a combined team of ten humans and ten elven seamstresses to create over a five month period.
3 And slightly boring, even to him!