The heart of the eternal

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Ohtanar

Mjorr and Dagar had travelled for way too long the way Mjorr saw it, he was getting impatient. At the beginning he had been eager, and he had enjoyed it immensely but now he didn’t see the fun in it anymore. It wasn’t that their journey was a hard one, his father did have money so he could get good meals and good beds and he even enjoyed some luxuries like warm baths and clean clothes but they hadn’t gotten any closer to their targets and Mjorr had his problem still. The guards had known medicine which could take care of it, they surely did and they didn’t even try to hide their schadenfreude when he told about the fact that he was pissing fire. The medicine they did recommend wasn’t that hard to come by, it was a herbal tincture which was sold in almost every village since it was very sought after. Most believed that it could cure almost everything.

Mjorr did buy two flasks from a man who sold such remedies in one of the villages they dropped by and he immediately tried it. The label said that you should drink some and also wash the troubled body part with some of the liquid. He had done that, it had burned like hell but the problem hadn’t gone away, if anything, it had gotten worse. So his mood had plummeted and he was acting like a bear with a severe toothache. Dagar had understood that something was off with his son but he hadn’t said anything, he had a strong suspicion though and he couldn’t help but gloat a wee bit. Mjorr had to learn that every action has consequences and this was one wonderful lesson.

As the days went by Mjorr got more and more cranky and he also got problems riding. His balls were aching and his cock too and he didn’t drink anymore since pissing had become a horrible ordeal. At the end Dagar had to take action, none of them managed to be in the same room as Mjorr since he was whimpering and complaining the entire time. They had stopped in a rather large village by a lake and Dagar found an inn and asked the owner if there were any doctors in this area. The owner did see that this man was rich so he did answer willingly enough, they did have a doctor, a rather good one too and he was probably able to heal whatever ailments they were struggling with. Dagar got a room, then he ordered the owner to send for the doctor and told Mjorr that he had had enough of the sour mood and the constant complaints. Mjorr was mortified, he had been sure he had been able to hide the misery but alas, his father wasn’t born yesterday and now there was no point in protests. Maybe the doctor really could heal him? Then he would roll the man in gold for sure.

The doctor came after dark, it was a very small skinny man who wore old but good clothes and he did carry with him a faint scent of herbs and something slightly spicey. Dagar did like the man immediately, he was clean and spoke with respect and he did also reveal that he actually knew what he was doing. The man’s name was Olof and he was from the larger cities to the south of the plains, had studied there but fell in love with a mountain girl and moved to her home. Mjorr was not really that fond of letting any man see him naked, and the idea of being touched by a male was enough to make him cringe. But now there was no way out, he had to drop his pants in front of the fireplace and the elderly man did nod his head and put on some soft gloves made from fine leather. He did examine Mjorr’s pride and joy with narrow eyes and asked a lot of very embarrassing questions Mjorr just had to mumble the answers to. Dagar was a bit worried for his son’s health, after all, he wanted grand children but at the same time he was glad Mjorr finally had to face the consequences of his actions.

Olof did straighten his back and made a smacking sound with his lips. “The tincture you tried didn’t work because this is a very rare disease, and it is very hard to get rid of. You need a totally different cure”

Mjorr was moaning and Dagar was frowning. “He will get rid of it?”

Olof nodded. “Yes, but he has suffered for way too long, this may leave after effects and those cannot be helped I am afraid. But time will see, he is young and strong”

The doctor opened his bag and pulled out several remedies and a huge box of pills. “He need to take one such pill with each meal for at least two weeks. And no alcohol at all in this time, only water or milk.”

Mjorr moaned as if he was being run through and the doctor couldn’t hide a wry glimpse within his eyes. “There there young man, it isn’t too bad. It could have been worse, remember, one night with Venus can become a lifetime with Mercury.”

He found a sort of thin straw and cocked his head. “This will hurt, I am warning you in advance.”

He grasped Mjorr’s pride again and pushed the thin tube into the urethra and Mjorr wailed like a baby. Dagar didn’t know whether or not he ought to feel sorry for the lad or gloat even more. But he did know that Mjorr had been bedding some women who were little more than whores and this was the result of that. He waited until Olof was done injecting some sort of greenish liquid into Mjorr’s bladder and telling the young man to drink a lot of water for a few days. Then he grasped Mjorr by the shoulders and declared that when they got back home there was no way back, he would make sure that Mjorr got properly married and also that he did stay true to his wife to be, or else he would make sure that Mjorr from that day on could titulate himself as “a gelding”. Mjorr paled and tried to protest and Dagar simply slapped him around the ears, he wouldn’t accept his son’s silly behaviour anylonger. From now on it was the end of acting like a moron and chasing skirts, he would keep Mjorr on a tight leash and Mjorr suddenly felt more irate than ever before. He blamed it all on that goddamn wench, his sister would have to pay for having escaped but she would be dead when they reached the city of the nomads. Wenja on the other hand, she had escaped as well and Mjorr felt an unholy rage, so his father would turn him into a loser? Into a meek pathetic marionette? No way, he would make sure that he got his vengeance, and teach everybody that nobody went against his will once and for all. Dagar could go to hell, he would rule his own life, and Dagar wasn’t immortal now was he? Dagar didn’t know how rebellious his son truly was and he had no idea of why Mjorr had been so eager to join him on this journey in the first place. Had he known Mjorr would have been in way more trouble than he was. Olof left pills and some ointments and left after having received a generous payment from Dagar, Mjorr just stood there looking more sour than a jug of vinegar and Dagar slapped him over the head once more. “You have been allowed to roam freely for too long, it is time you learn to be a man, not a boy. The first lesson starts today. You are to sleep in the same room as me, no fucking around from now on”

Mjorr just nodded but in his thoughts he was fuming. Oh there would be fucking for sure, he would ruin that redheaded slut for her husband forever, then he would make sure that he did return as his father’s heir, the entire village would have to kneel to him, and only him. It was a sacred promise for sure.

The caravan was making good progress now, the riders had spread out and made sure that the wagons didn’t encounter any problems for here there were no roads, just tracks and some were very uneven since they were made by animals. Wenja was fascinated, she had overcome her fear of the wide open skies and now she was constantly asking questions which Sefa had a hard time finding answers to. Imh and Theka did tell her about the different plants and herbs they did see along the road and Floth’bha did try to teach her how to use a bow but that ended in a complete failure for the girl just wasn’t strong enough to pull it. Ehbrial and Khirhien said that they would find a childrens bow for her when they reached the city, just so she could learn the basics with a bow she was able to pull. The mood was good for now they were closing in on the city with every day which went by but still there was a problem and that problem was Prina. The girl had been doing well when they crossed the mountains, she had learned a lot and she had thawed up but now she became more and more withdrawn and quiet and Theka was sure that it was because she had understood her own situation and what it truly meant to her. Before she had acted as if she didn’t really accept the truth but now she probably had and it had made her feel even more terrible than when she ran off from home. Wenja tried to talk to her but Prina didn’t answer, she was obviously too scared to speak and now she was showing rather well too. Her belly couldn’t be hidden anymore and Theka tried to make her eat better and prepare for what was to come but she acted like a fool in so many ways.

After some days they came to a small lake and it wasn’t frozen, the water was in fact warm and Rhawan said it was because there was a hot spring underneath it. The lake was perhaps a few hundred meters across and it wasn’t very deep but the water wasn’t too hot to bathe in and so they all had a long anticipated bath there. Wenja was enjoying it immensely, she felt grimey after the journey and everybody had brought soap and other things they needed too. It made her feel like a new person and Sefa did giggle and promised her some fun later on. Wenja knew that she had to learn even more than she previously had but Rhawan had been so busy lately with finding the right path and he hadn’t had the energy to come to any of them. Ahnriel was worried about Prina’s health, she had recovered well before but now she was loosing weight and that wasn’t good, they didn’t want to force feed the girl but that could be the result. Wenja did hope that the shamans of the twelve clans really could do something to help the girl. Imh or Theka was with her all the time, nobody left her alone even for a moment and Wenja had a creeping suspicion that Prina was going to use the baby she carried as a substitute for her brother and focus her hatred onto it. For it was no doubt that her anger and hatred had grown during the recent weeks, it had changed from fear to anger and from anger to something Wenja never had seen before. Sefa said it was true hatred, and Prina was using it as a crutch sort of, to strengthen herself. If she only felt hatred then she couldn’t feel guilt and it was logical and yet far from the right path to take. Prina had no guilt in what had happened to her and yet she felt that she did, that was how twisted her mind had become from her brother’s evil words.

Theka said she often had terrible nigthmares and they too contributed to her gradual breakdown. Wenja was shocked to see how changed Prina had become, and she didn’t quite understand why she had started to change this much now and not earlier. Sefa said it was becauce she had started to feel safe, earlier all she could think about was getting away from Mjorr and she hadn’t really thought about her future at all. Now she was safe from him but that meant that she could start to think again and that was when the bad thoughts came. Wenja could understand that, and yet not. They still had quite a way to go before they reached Ohtanar and she knew that Theka and Imh were worried.

That night Sefa came to sleep in the wagon with Wenja, it was rather cold there and the fires were kept burning the entire night. The horses were tied up to the wagons and the Zahar was the only animal allowed to run free. There were always a risk of wolf packs near this lake since it did attract so many animals and Rhawan sent some of the riders out as guards. The camp was very peaceful and before bedtime Ehbrial did entertain them all with his flute. The elves did love music and they had a peculiar style to it which Wenja did find fascinating. It was the type of music which flows and meanders like a slow river and yet it had both rhytm and energy. Sefa did show Wenja some moves, they were way more sensual than the dancing Wenja had seen before, it was all about moving one’s body in different and very elegant moves and it had to be done so the moves did correspond with the ebb and flow of the music. Wenja found that she loved it, it was way more risue than anything she had seen before but who cared? Here that type of dancing was normal.

She was tired when she got to bed and Sefa had allowed her to drink a couple of glasses of strong wine, it was a type they didn’t have that much of but it was so very good and could make someone very drunk rather fast. Rhawan had been talking a bit with the women and he had revealed that the did miss Ahravan a lot, and that he was longing to get back to the city. Wenja knew that the two were close but she hadn’t really considered the nature of the relationship before. They were closer than brothers for sure and Sefa just grinned when Wenja asked if they in fact were lovers. She just hoped that she wouldn’t create any problems between them, that would be too bad.

Wenja was fast asleep when she was brutally yanked out of the realm of dreams, Sefa was shaking her rather violently, and in the light from the window it was very obvious that the woman was pale. “Wenja, you need to get up!”

Wenja yawned and felt confused, it wasn’t quite morning yet and she had slept like a log. “What is happening?”

Sefa did appear to be a wee bit hysterical, she was shaking all over. “It is Prina, she has tried to kill herself”

Wenja gasped and sat up so fast she did almost headbutt Sefa who was leaning over her. “What?”

Sefa nodded and helped Wenja get out of the bed. “One of the guards saw her laying on the shore, in her shift only. She reeks of wine and we think she has tried to drown herself”

Wenja did throw a robe over herself and they ran out of the wagon. Ahnriel and Imh were kneeling by a figure laying on the grass and Ahnriel was chanting and glowing slightly. Wenja let out a loud gasp of horror, Prina did look terrible and she sank to her knees. “Will she make it?”

Theka was weeping. “Oh gods, we do hope for that yes.”

Imh was swearing in dwarfish. “She drank a whole bottle of strong wine, and went into the lake but she haven’t drowned. Why we don’t know, but she must have been floating”

Rhawan came running, he was wild eyed and when they told him what had happened he stared at Theka and Imh. “You didn’t stop her?”

Theka sniffed. “We were asleep, I think she must have poured something into our wine, neither of us woke up. She must have been very determined”

Ahnriel moaned and got up, she was shaking with fatigue. “She will live, with a horrible headache I bet but she is alright. I think the baby is alright too, but I cannot be too sure”

Theka let out a huge sigh of relief and started crying again and Imh closed her eyes for a moment “She has got some serious issues that one, what is she thinking?!”

Rhawan shrugged. “My guess is as good as anyone’s I guess. But from now on we need someone watching her all the time, even when she sleeps.”

Ehbrial did nod. “I can do that,I am not burdened by other tasks and I do not need that much sleep. I can watch her when the others need to rest”

Rhawan did pet his shoulder. “Good, that is wonderful my friend. This makes me very worried”

Ahnriel and Imh did carry Prina back to the wagon where she slept normally and they had started to look less frightened and more angry. Wenja understood them well, but she couldn’t really wrap her head around the way Prina had to be thinking. They would have to ask her when she woke up again. Wenja didn’t sleep that well the rest of the night and Sefa was awake and sat there, staring out at the plains through the window. When they broke camp she told Wenja that suicide was a taboo among the tribes, nobody did that. It was unthinkable and if this became well known many would believe that Prina was mad or possessed. Wenja felt even more sorry for Prina now, she couldn’t really fathom the level of her despair, the very idea of ending oneself was something Wenja just couldn’t wrap her head around. When they reached the city they would have to shield Prina as much as possible.

Prina did wake up again later that day, she refused to talk and she just sat there with a dead gaze and looked like a doll. She had obviously given up and Imh was beside herself with worry. Ahnriel did mention that it was the child which caused this, the very excistense of a proof of Mjorr’s evil deed. Prina probably felt trapped and had tried to find a way out. But this didn’t make things any better at all.

They had travelled for yet a couple of days when they first met others, it was a band of travelling merchants heading west and they could tell the caravan that a village at the edge of the plains had been completely destroyed by some unknown force. Also, a huge herd of bison had been found dead and there were rumours spreading of monsters on the move. Rhawan just shrugged but the men swore there was truth in it. He didn’t appear to bother that much with it but Sefa did say that he was worried. He just didn’t show it to everybody. Sefa did decide that it was time for another lesson and oddly enough Rhawan didn’t protest at all, his mind was on something else and she said that he needed to relax a bit and just enjoy himself.

He did come to the wagon when they made camp that evening and Sefa did prepare him rather well and made sure that they wouldn’t be disturbed at all. Wenja was nervous and didn’t quite want to do it but Sefa did as usual persuade her. Rhawan was obviously very eager and tried to make Wenja feel as if she did master the situation and Sefa did show her all the spots on a male body which can give pleasure. Some of the things Sefa did show her shocked her a bit but she was getting eager to learn and she did dare to go rather far this time. She dared to use her mouth and tongue on Rhawan and he came hard, shouting her name and covering her breasts with his seed. For some reason she felt much more bold now than she had the last time and she wasn’t that nervous about her coming wedding at all. Rhawan did take Sefa again before he left the wagon, Wenja felt a sort of envy now, she saw the immense pleasure joining gave her friend and she wanted to experience it too. Sefa giggled and told her that Ahravan most certainly would give her the night of her life when they finally were wedded and Wenja blushed and had to admit that she was looking forward to it. She had heard only good things about Ahravan and she trusted Rhawan when he said that his sworn brother would cherish her and never let anything negative befall her as long as she was alive.

Rhawan had satisfied Wenja with his tongue also this time and she went to bed feeling slightly swollen and tender, it was a good feeling though and she had to giggle when Sefa said that Ahravan probably would keep her in bed the first days after the ceremony.

Prina on the other hand refused to leave the wagon now, she refused to wash and she refused to talk to anyone. She didn’t seem to have suffered any effects of what she had done and that was a miracle in itself for that much alcohol could have killed her and the baby alike, not to mention the bath she had taken. Why she hadn’t drowned was a mystery.

Rhawan was very eager now, they were getting closer to Ohtanar and he did spend the evenings with Wenja and Sefa, explaining the life on the plains in great detail. Wenja felt as though she knew everybody now and she was looking forward to ending this journey. She was getting really tried of it.

The city had been in mourning after the death of the children and Ahravan had to explain everything over and over again, most had a hard time believing that anyone could be that mean and horrible and his warriors had to back him up. The parents of the two slain children were of course those who mourned the most and Ahravan made sure that they got help from the shamans and that they were freed from every duty. The atmosphere was a tense one, few could believe that humans could be so bold and kidnap and kill elven children and Ahravan was worried too. It spoke of either ignorance or an evil influence he had started to fear. The demons they had found, these humans, the rumours which spread across the plains, it all made him feel very concerned. He could only hope that his Si’ish didn’t encounter any problems on the way. He had a feeling that Rhawan wasn’t all that far away now and he did long to see him again, he felt better when he had his sworn brother by his side. The strain of being the leader felt less taxing when Rhawan was there to keep his mood up. Ahravan didn’t have all that much to do now when the city was stationary, he could conscentrate on gathering information and since the city did attract people he soon learned of a lot which made him even more worried. Huge herds of animals which had been killed, villages which had disappeared and people who had died mysteriously. The monsters they had fought for ages was one thing, they knew them and they knew how to fight them but this was something new and it made Ahravan very worried indeed. The shaman hadn’t said anything new and he sent his best warriors out to check the nearby villages and gather more intelligence. If the days of old were to return they needed to be prepared but how did they do that?

He did have one good news though, in the early morning light two of his warriors came riding back to the camp and proclaimed that they had seen men coming with the da’ith he had asked for. They had ridden like mad to reach the city this fast for it was a vast distance between the land of the breeders and these northern plains but some said that this tribe knew of magic which allowed them to slow time when they were travelling and thus cover much more distance than others. Whether this was true or not was anybody’s guess, but they had heeded his words and he was very glad. A da’ith would be just what his bride to be needed and in these times more than ever. He prepared to receive the riders and they did reach the city late in the evening. They were four men each with four extra horses and then there was the stallion he had asked for. The animal was impressive, he felt a surge of excitement when he saw the huge horse, they were rare and most people would never see one and the city was suddenly buzzing. Everybody came to behold this wonder of equine power and Ahravan had to shoo people away. There would be plenty of time to admire the beast later on.

The leader of the four came forth and kneeled down, he was a tiny man with long black hair gathered in a tight braid and his face was weather worn and dark, he wore leather clothing embroidered with bright colours and most of the embroideries had something to do with horses. “Greetings great Ath’ir, I am Uruthan, son of Aghran, we bring you this da’ith as you requested. We are honoured to serve our Ath’ir”

Ahravan smiled, he saw that the four were staring at him and the other elves present with a huge dose of reverence and almost religious awe, they weren’t used to his race at all. “I am honoured to receive him, your people are blessed to have such among you”

The man was blushing slightly, to receive praise from the Ath’ir himself was probably the very highlight of his life. Ahravan bowed his head. “The horse is magnificent, a prince among beasts. I have never seen one better”

Now all the four riders were blushing like mad and almost giggling like young maidens, there was sheer joy on their faces. “He is bred from the best bloodline we have, and trained by our master trainer. He is the best we have”

Ahravan nodded. “I don’t doubt that. He is for my wife to be, she is on her way here now, escorted by my si’ish.”

Uruthan bowed his head. “Then may she be blessed above all other women and may her days be plentiful and fruitful. There is no greater gift for a husband to give”

Ahravan walked over to the horse, he wasn’t bound in any way and stood there, watching them with an eerie intelligence within the huge eyes. This breed was very different from the one’s most people did ride, it wasn’t bred for that purpose at all. The animal was very tall, the tallest horse anyone had ever seen and it was way above twenty hands in height with a tall arched neck and long hard legs. His coat was dark grey like a thundercloud and his mane and tail a bit lighter. The horse had white socks on his front legs and a small blaze and the eyes were very dark grey. Ahravan petted him on the mighty flank, very reverently. Uruthan smiled. “We have brought his things, and he is ready to do his duty. He has been blessed by our priests too”

Ahravan sent the men a swift smile and bowed his head in gratitude. “He is exquisite. Does he have a name?”

Uruthan was beaming with pride. “We have called him Flint, because of the colour”

Ahravan let a hand glide over the arched neck and the horse nickered softly. “Flint, a good name, well chosen”

He went over to Laupir who stood there and almost shook with eager energy, his eyes were huge and Ahravan had to laugh. He had never seen his friend this excited and he did pet the man on his back. “Easy there, you are drooling like a hungry dog”

Laupir did wipe his mouth with a crestfallen expression and Ahravan had to laugh and pet him on the back again. “I was just kidding friend, but I can see that you like him. Do you have their payment ready?”

Laupir nodded and turned around, retrieved two bags from a table and handed them over to Uruthan who took them with a polite bow. “This is the blood of the earth, you will find that they are perfect”

Uruthan opened one of the bags and peeked into it, a soft red glow could be seen. It was rubies, each one the size of the thumbnail of a grown man and perfectly cut. The dwarves knew that art to perfection. The small man gasped and put a hand up over his heart. “We are most grateful oh wise one, this is way more than he is worth”

Ahravan shook his head. “No my friend, no price is too great to pay to keep my spouse safe”

Uruthan smiled widely. “True words, no value can be put on a good wife for she is priceless”

Ahravan raised his hands. “Now, rest and eat and know that you are most welcome to stay for as long as you like. We are very grateful you have come”

Uruthan did lick his lips. “Some food and wine would be good, we are hungry”

Ahravan chuckled and one of the women who was responsible for the cooking there came forth. “Then follow Aila here and she will make sure that your bellies are filled once more”

The four did grin and followed the woman while they sang something joyful sounding and Ahravan was standing there next to Flint and felt overwhelmed. The horse was staring at him with calm eyes and he scratched the wide chest and hummed softly. These animals were different from other horses and he walked in front of the stallion to his own corral. He didn’t need to put a halter on the horse and he did enter the corral freely. Ahravan was looking forwards to meeting his wife to be, he truly was. He would regard this as a challenge of some sort and he was sure that Rhawan would tell him all about what her personality was like. They needed something positive now, something which could take everybody’s mind away from the death of those children and the many dark omens. The seamstresses were busy preparing a new wardrobe and the dwarves too had been given tasks, she was to be the ath’ir, she had to look like a queen and he would make sure that she never would lack anything. He just prayed that she wasn’t some hard hearted and greedy thing only interested in his title, like his first wife had been.

The three mercenaries had been in luck indeed, the river boat was a very fast one and the merchant was a friendly and jolly fellow who didn’t suspect that the three had far from honest intentions. They did try to act as if they truly were honest men out to buy horses and they didn’t mind helping out at all. The great river did meander through the landscape in a huge half circle and everybody said it would bring them rather close to where the nomadic tribes were right now so they kept their fingers crossed and hoped that they would get there in time, before Mjorr did. If they were to earn from this that was crucial and they were pretty confident that they were weeks ahead of him now. The boat was the type most used, it was wide with a rather flat bottom and two masts with large sails. The river was flowing from the north towards the south and that was the opposite direction of where they were heading but since the river was slow and wide the sails did push the boat up against the current just fine. The distance they would have to travel was naturally way larger than the route across land but the boat was a way faster alternative than riding since they didn’t know the area and the terrain and it was way more comfortable too.

The river was used a lot by merchants and travellers and they saw many boats as the ship made its way upstream. The captain knew the river like the back of his own hand and he kept telling them small stories of the things he had seen in his years sailing the river and since they helped him very willingly he did tell them many things they did find very useful. That the woman the eternal had been sent to bring back home with them was to be the new Ath’ir was something Mjorr had failed to inform them about, it was something everybody on the plains now knew and the three knew that you didn’t mess with the eternal. If that girl was harmed in any way they could kiss their asses goodbye, they were trained warriors but none of them would stand a chance against an elf in open combat. They all knew this and so they kept wondering why Mjorr had sent them to assassinate his own sister. They had understood that she was his own sister for he wasn’t that good at telling lies and since his father too was eager to get to her they did put two and two together and understood that she had run away from her family. So, that was just a family matter, no big deal and not enough of a reason to send someone ahead to kill the wench.

As they made their way northwards they kept debating between themselves what it was that she eventually knew, or had done. They would have to find out about this eventually, if they just caught up with the caravan. The captain of the ship was a person they did like so they didn’t want him to get involved if this went south, he had been helping them so their honour commanded that he was rewarded. They had been sailing for almost two weeks when they finally reached the area where the clans lived, and the journey had been easy without any incidents. All of them felt a sting of eager energy and as soon as they saw someone out in a boat they asked if the fishermen knew where the city of the eternal was at the moment. The answer was a very promising one, just a few days ride to the northeast and they bade the captain a fond farewell and paid him for his kindness. The man was almost a bit overwhelmed by their generosity and promised to pray for their good luck.

They bought a horse each from some herders who lived by the river and then they rode off, if this girl did know something which could prove valuable it would be just silly to kill the goose which laid the golden eggs. The landscape here was beautiful and yet in a manner naked and open and they felt a sort of nervous energy as they rode on. Now they had to play well, and make everybody believe that their mission was a real one. Each of them had toned down their warriorlike behaviour and they had even managed to change their clothing and their weapons by trading the different garments for new ones during the journey. Now they did look like ordinary men, not poor but not wealthy in any way and obviously sent by someone with both wealth and determination. They had ridden for two days when they suddenly came across something which told them that the plains were far from a safe place to be. They had been looking for a place to camp for the night when the horses suddenly started to act up, whinnying and rearing and it was obvious that something scared them.

They were used to horses and tried to calm the animals down, believing that the steeds had caught the scent of wolves or some other predator but they soon found out that this was no mere wolfpack. In the dusk they saw a vague shimmering blue light and saw something which made them whimper and give the horses free reins while spurring them desperately. It did look like skeletons, but they were way taller and larger than any person and they did glow from within, as if the body was there but transparent. They felt a foul stench on the wind and heard odd hollow sounds and they just knew it, if these apparitions did catch up with them they were dead. So they rode for their lives and the poor horses were already tired but the fear did invigorate them. The three men rode in the direction they hoped was the right one, there had to be someone out there, someone capable of warding off these nightmares.

The horses had started to stumble when they saw light up ahead and they didn’t know if the horrible monsters did chase them or not but they didn’t dare to stop and investigate. Instead they just rode for their lives and all three almost fell of their horses in shock when they suddenly found themselves surrounded by a group of riders on sleek longlegged steeds.

Some were elves and some were humans and it was no doubt that they were guards. Arrows were aimed at the three and they gasped and tried to catch their breath, the horses almost collapsed underneath them and yet the animals refused to stop so they had to really pull at the reins to make them stand still.

One of the riders came forth. “Who are you and what are you doing here? And why the hurry?!

The man who saw himself as the leader of the three bowed his head, he was pale and shivering and so were the other two as well. “I…I am Geir, of Highvale, this is my brother in law Than and his friend Osbord, we have been sent by our village master Thelian of Highvale to ask if we may humbly buy a couple of good stallions”

The rider frowned. “Why the hurry then?”

Geir gasped. “Monsters, horrible…apparition. We have ridden like this for almost an hour, they were glowing! Huge figures!”

The rider did tense up. “Where? “

Geir wiped sweat from his brow. “We were going to make camp for the night by a cliff surrounded by high bushes and some trees, by a small pond. They just appeared out of nowhere but the horses did panic and the monsters did stink”

The riders did look at each other. “What did these monsters look like?”

Geir explained with a slight tremble within his voice and the riders did look at each other. “The rumours are true, the gates have been opened”

The leader sent Geir a swift glance. “Come with us, the Ath’ir need to hear this”

Geir was trembling still, he had never encountered anything that terrifying and he didn’t refuse, after all, the city was right there in front of them and they would be safe there right? The horses could barely walk but managed that final stretch just fine. They were good animals and very well trained.

The city was huge, larger than any of them had anticipated and they saw people and elves everywhere. The two others did stare with awe at the horses and the beautiful eternal, Geir had seen many elves before but he had to admit that seeing so many of them gathered like this was a wee bit humbling. They were guided towards a huge hut and Geir had never seen this type of construction before and was intrigued by the marvellous technique needed to build something which was so solid and yet movable. There were several elven warriors there, all sat on pillows on the floor and Geir was a bit nervous, his legs just didn’t bend that way anymore, he was too old and too brittle for this the way he saw it. The elves all wore arms, swords and daggers or bows and in the middle was a sort of dais and upon it sat an elf all three immediately realized had to be the Ath’ir. He was taller than the others by several inches and he had an air of dignity and power to him.

Geir bowed deeply, he couldn’t afford to act haughty now, they all had to be humble and demure and then maybe their mission would be a success. The elf got up, Geir wondered how anyone could be so frigging beautiful and yet so masculine. The Ath’ir reminded him of a huge lion or another type of big cat, elegant and strong and aware of it too. “You were chased by some sort of apparition?”

The voice was deep but soft and they bowed their heads. “Yes honoured one, we were.”

Ahravan nodded slowly. “Describe them”

Geir wetted his lips and repeated what he had said and the elves started to talk with each other, he didn’t understand the language at all. Ahravan did turn to the three. “You were lucky, some of the herders have seen such too, and found many dead animals in their path.”

Geir did shudder. “Indeed we were guarded by the gods, our horses did run like the wind”

Ahravan sighed. “We have seen many dark omens lately, and heard of many strange happenings. We fear that this could be the start of something rather bad.”

Geir didn’t say anything, he just hoped that his comrades didn’t do anything silly which could blow their cover. One of the elves came forth and made a gesture towards the three. “These men ask to buy horses, stallions?”

Ahravan stared at the three men, all were above their first youth and they looked as if they had lived hard lives but there was strength in them, and he didn’t have time to interrogate them now. He had to send out riders and make sure that the city was safe. “We cannot answer your question right now, you will have to wait until we have assessed the danger.”

Geir bowed his head deeply. “We are glad just to be here honoured one, take your time”

Ahravan waved to one of the servants. “Give them a tent and make sure that they have food and a bath. We will get back to you as soon as things calm down.”

Geir felt a surge of relief rush through him, they were safe! And if luck still was on their side they would emerge from this as rich men. “We are deeply honoured to be here, we will of course wait”

The servant did guide them towards a rather large tent on the outskirts of the city and it had both beds and a fireplace. It was a very nice place and Geir sat down with a groan. He was still shaken from what he had seen and the other two were pale as well. Than did swallow some wine with obvious relief. “What in the name of every hell was those things?”

Geir shrugged. “I have no idea but I fear we may have stumbled into something nasty”

Osbord tilted his head and took the wine flagon from Than. “As long as they are busy with the monsters we ought to have a chance right? They wont bother with three horse traders if there are such demons wandering about”

Geir nodded. “You are right, it will provide us with a chance. All we have to do is wait for that caravan to arrive, they cannot be too far away now.”

Than grinned and sat down, pulling his shoes off. “And while we wait we can enjoy the hospitality of the twelve clans, I must say this place is grand. Way better than any village we have visited before”

Geir sighed and sat down to. “Yes, but remember, keep your mouths shut. We cannot afford any slip of the tongue. If we are to succeed we have to make them believe that we are just humble servants. Remember that”

Than made a grimace. “Got it, take it easy, I won’t make any mistakes”

Geir smiled, a very stiff smile “You better not, they are very bloodthirsty when they punish people, believe me!”

Wenja had been fairly relaxed for a few days but now they said that Ohtanar was only a couple of days away and even though she was glad the travelling was done for now she was getting nervous again. Nefhriel hadn’t really been that much in contact with her for a while but now the elf did start to give Wenja lessons again, in how to act and what to say during the wedding ceremonies. Wenja was convinced that she would forget everything the moment she arrived but Sefa promised that she would help the bride to be remember the most essential things. Prina had gone into hiding in her wagon, she didn’t come out and she didn’t speak to anyone and she was kept under guard the entire time. Imh feared that she would try to kill herself or the baby again and so they never left her alone even for a moment. Wenja was shocked by the darkness she saw in the girl’s eyes and she didn’t really understand how Prina had changed so much. It was as if she had become worse than she had been when they found her hiding in that wagon at the start of the journey. Wenja wished that she could have helped but she had to focus on her own life now, and the wedding which was only days ahead. Sefa made her bathe and wash every day and she got massaged and rubbed with sweet smelling oils and Rhawan did visit the wagon each night and she was rather familiar with the male body now. She wasn’t disgusted or shocked by anything about it anymore and Rhawan did willingly teach her about his si’ish and his preferences.

They travelled fast now for the people they did meet told of strange and worrying things and Rhawan did force the caravan to move even at night. They had to reach Ohtanar fast and Wenja wasn’t told of what he feared but she understood that it was serious. Rhawan sent some fast riders ahead of them and they were to prepare Ahravan for their arrival. It was very obvious now that the city was nearby for they saw people all the time, herders taking care of their animals, some hunters and some young ones who were just out joyriding. Wenja felt a bit shy now, why she didn’t know but they were strangers and she had gotten so used to everybody in the caravan she no longer had any problems with them. Rhawan was talking to everybody and it seemed as if there were monsters on the move again and they were different from before too. Nobody had bothered explaining that danger to Wenja, she hadn’t asked again and now she did regret that but there wasn’t time for it now. She had to get ready for the wedding. There were guards placed around the caravan all the time and they even met a group of warriors who decided to join them and help keeping everybody safe. One of them was a friend of Rhawan and he said they had found a whole group of people dead just the day before, all had seemingly been burned from the inside out. The shamans had put spells on the city to keep it safe and many were nervous. Rhawan didn’t like those news at all, they didn’t need such worries now.

The last night before they reached Ohtanar they stopped by a huge cliff where the river did dive into a deep pool, they washed their clothes and equipment, rubbed down the horses and the wagons and had a small feast. There was fish in the river and Wenja was shocked to see how large they were. The trout they caught in the high mountain rivers back home had been rather tiny and rare and these fish were half the length of a grown man and very tasty. Nefhriel did show her how to remove the scales before one fried them and Imh had some sauces ready which made the tender white meat even tastier than before. Sefa and Theka did warm some water and gave Wenja a bath and they even washed Prina even if she was squealing like a stuck pig. The girl appeared to have gotten right out of her mind now and her eyes were wild and distant. Wenja did pity her and the others tried very hard to treat her with respect but it was very hard when she didn’t try to listen at all.

Rhawan came to the wagon that night, he did look a bit sad or rather melancholic and Wenja did understand why, she had accepted the fact that he had fallen in love with her now and she didn’t really know what her own feelings were. He had asked Sefa to leave the wagon for just a few moments and he was staring at the floor constantly, obviously trying to gather the courage to speak out loud. When he finally did speak his voice did shiver. “I wish I was Ahravan, for the first time in my life. Tomorrow we arrive and then you will be his wife, I just pray that you still will have a place in your heart for me too”

Wenja felt a bit moved by his honesty. “I swear I will, don’t worry about that. You have become very dear to me during this journey”

Rhawan sent her a swift almost shy grin. “I didn’t expect to fall in love with the bride of my own si’ish, but I have. If the gods smile at us then our union will be blessed by your presence”

Wenja did blush, she knew that Rhawan and Ahravan were more than just sworn brothers, Sefa had explained this custom to her and she would probably end up as the third person in a marriage triage. It didn’t bother her anymore, Sefa had taught her well for sure. Rhawan did kiss her on the forehead and whispered a short prayer before he left, Wenja was left feeling hunble, and also a bit nervous. Who was to say what the next days would bring?

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