The sun was rising across the northern mountains of Inmuin, the only country in the Agea not to host a human population nor a human throne. It was the dominion of the elves, who long ago forsook their settlements across the rest of the continent to withdraw into the mountains, away from the heartbreak the coming of man brought with them.
He was the lord of them all, the oldest elf, the keeper of their civilisation. He had grown secretive, isolated, keeping only to his chambers in the Silver Halls, wrapped up in his own thoughts, waiting patiently for the end of the age of Man when his people could resume their way of life.
Sil’Vein had not encountered a human in nearly two decades and yet, three days ago, this had changed. That impudent hot-headed man: Gallus of Apollo. It seemed Sil’Vein could not escape the cursed human king. How dearly the elven lord awaited the passing of time so that Gallus and his kind might pass from the world.
Life was so much easier to endure millennia upon millennia when he was able to do so in peace and quiet.
“My Lord,” the quiet voice of one of the Elf Lord’s vassals came from the door. Sil’Vein turned slightly, his large grey eyes meeting the vassal’s concerned gaze.
“Yes?” the age-old being spoke in a voice that had become raspy in the millennia that had passed.
“She is here.”
Sil’Vein inhaled deeply through his nose and nodded, his eyes returning briefly to the orange hues of the turbulent sky.
“Who let her in?” the Elf Lord asked quietly.
“No one my Lord, she found her own way in,” the vassal replied awkwardly. He had no desire to deliver this news to the unpredictable Elder. Sil’Vein remained silent, wordlessly demanding an explanation. “She came through the western tunnel.”
The vassal winced as the powerful Elf Lord spun on heel and stared at him with a thunderous expression.
“How?” he demanded loudly. The vassal shook his head.
“She has not spoken of it, though she seems well. It would seem my Lord that…” The vassal paused and cleared his throat while Sil’Vein watched him, a vein throbbing in his temple. “It would seem they let her through My Lord.”
Sil’Vein shut his eyes firmly and shook his head. No, that could not be! That mortal girl was not one of his elven brethren, she could not have been granted access, she must have tricked the guardians of the tunnel somehow.
“Where is the girl?” the Elf Lord demanded.
“She is in one of the antechambers below, sleeping I believe.” Sil’Vein looked away, raising his hand to his chin in deep thought. “Should I have her woken my Lord?”
“No, leave her for now,” the age-old elf responded quickly. “Assemble the council, we will meet with the child when they have all arrived.”
“Yes my Lord.” The vassal turned to leave.
“The human who came before…” Sil’Vein called out.
“Gallus of Apollo?”
“Yes, him, does he still wait outside the gates?”
The vassal paused and shook his head with a furrowed brow.
“No my Lord, we escorted him back to the White sea as you requested yesterday.” Sil’Vein nodded gingerly before letting out a deep sigh.
“It would seem I was too hasty then. Had he waited a little longer he could have taken his impetuous child away with him.” The vassal nodded slowly, building up the courage to speak up what many had wanted to say.
“I believe she was the reason that he was waiting my Lord,” he spoke hurriedly, before he walked out the room leaving a ponderous expression on Sil’Vein’s face. Yes, perhaps he had been too hasty in having the human removed from the foot of the mountain. It had been the memories that had forced Sil’Vein’s hand: the Great Gallus of Denari. Sil’Vein’s lip curled and he rested heavily on the balcony ledge. Not so great in the end it would seem. Gallus the Thief, so ought that man be known the elf believed passionately. Gallus the bringer of death.
Thais sat alone in the white room. On the walls hung paintings depicting beautiful elven portraits. The women wore their curly hair in beautiful cascades, punctuated by crystals in deep vibrant hues while the men wore their own curls cropped short around their heads. On the younger ones this effect made them seem cherub-like, while on the older ones the tight curls seemed noble and distinguished.
Thais’ eyes followed the elves along the wall until finally she came across a small portrait of a young girl. The child was very similar in design to herself, indeed, the shape of their face, their nose, their hair, it was all the same. Yet this was no portrait of the human princess, this was a true elven girl. Her ears were more sharply defined where Thais’ bore a distinctly humanness despite their slightly pointed ends and there existed a certain beauty in her that Thais would never achieve being of the mortal realms. This child in the painting had lived through many human lifetimes, of this Thais was sure.
“Maybe it is me,” the girl whispered into the quiet room. “Maybe it’s who I could have been.”
Thais sighed heavily and leaned back against the marble wall behind her. There were no windows in the room, just paintings. The only furniture to speak of was the hard bed she was sat upon.
“This is a strange place,” Thais complained to the windowless walls. Come to think of it, she began to think, there were not any doors either. How had she come to be in this place? Indeed, she couldn’t remember entering this room.
A giggle sounded from across the empty room causing Thais to jump to her feet and turn her head this way and that. She was alone.
“Are you awake?”
Thais stepped forward cautiously, her eyes seeking for the source of that voice; it was a child’s voice.
“Well, your eyes are open, so you must be awake.”
Thais started panting, her eyes roving every corner of the room.
“Why are you ignoring me?”
“By the graces,” the princess finally cried out and she stumbled back from the source of the noise. The girl in the painting, it was the girl in the painting. Thais stared at the smiling face with wide eyes and watched while the girl started to frown. Before Thais’ very eyes the painting started to grow, taking over every corner of the room until finally only she remained. A cold wind struck Thais and threw her back onto the bed. Thais shut her eyes and then opened them once more finding the girl in the portrait sat before her in the flesh.
“Did you just blow in my face?” the princess demanded eliciting a giggle from the elf child.
“Well you weren’t waking up,” the other explained simply. “The council will be here soon and I so wanted to meet you before they arrived. I expect you’ll be thrown out like that other human last week and I didn’t get the chance to meet him…”
“Pardon?” Thais interrupted urgently. “What other human?”
“It was a man, he was very tall and very angry. I’ve seen him before, a long time ago, but he was much younger then,” the elf child explained. Thais frowned heavily and sat up on the comfortable settee. She knew her father had arrived at the gates, but she didn’t think he had been let through. What had been the outcome of his meeting with her grandfather?
“The man, do you know why he came?” the princess asked.
“I’m afraid I don’t,” the reply came from a sorry expression. “He met with my grandfather and then…”
“Your grandfather?” Thais exclaimed in surprise. “Who are you?”
“My name is Dahl,” the girl replied cheerily. “Dahl Eloni Avani. Who are you?”
Thais stared for a moment at this child; of course her face had seemed so familiar. This girl was her cousin, the child of her mother’s sister Eloni Avani Indurin. She had been told of her mother’s brothers and sister when she was very young; she had been informed of all her cousins and how one day she would meet them all. Thais had adored listening to the large family she had high up in the mountains, for her father’s brother Eunus had not given her any cousins yet and Thais so dearly wanted them when she was young.
“Thais,” the human finally responded. “Thais Mai Avani.”
For a moment the cousins stared at one another with wide eyes before finally the elven girl started speaking shakily, “I never knew Mai had a child.”
Thais frowned heavily and was about to retort when footsteps sounded from behind the wooden door to her left. She glanced to it briefly while the girl known as Dahl leapt to her feet and ran over to the open doors leading out onto the balcony beyond. Thais watched as she disappeared over the ledge, before the door onto the corridor opened.
In walked a tall male elf with dark hair and a kind face. He seemed surprised that Thais was awake and offered a hand to her. Slowly Thais stood up and walked up to him.
“They are waiting,” the elf spoke in a soft voice, rich with a deepness only an elven soul could provide. Thais hung her head while she walked, her eyes avoiding the spectacular silver friezes running along the wall, depicting, as her mother had long ago foretold, the history of the elven peoples. Now she was here in this place, her fate awaiting her in a chamber somewhere in this maze of secrecy Thais wished nothing more than to be far from here, safe at home with Rachel and Kaio, marauding through the city of her birth.
The elf led Thais to a long dark corridor, which he urged her down. She met his kind green eyes and nodded. She knew he would not follow. Lifting her head high Thais put one small foot in front of the other. She had been here before; of this she was certain. The memory of a dream drifted momentarily before Thais’ eyes and she nodded. Yes, she had been here before.
Up ahead a dim glow was growing brighter, drawing the human child like a flame draws a moth. When she came nearer the girl could see faces, many hundreds of faces adorning the circular benches surrounding the ancient meeting place. elves from across the city had poured into the chamber to see this little human girl who had so mysteriously been granted access through the tunnel.
Thais stepped forward the final steps before she found herself stood upon the edge of a large circular stage beneath a vast oculus revealing a bright sky up above. Taking strength from this Thais lowered her eyes to where twenty-three ancient beings sat positioned in a semi-circle. Their faces showed not the millennia they had lived through nor the time that had passed, but within their very auras lay the passage of the centuries. Thais thought them older than time itself.
Central to the gathering sat a pair closer than the others, their thrones were grander, their age more pronounced by the power they held over the others. The smaller of the pair was a beautiful woman, who was staring at the human girl with glassy eyes and pain in her soul while the man to her side stared instead with nothing short of hatred.
Sil’Vein was a powerfully built elf, unique amongst his slender kind. It had been his strength and his temper that had raised him to his supreme position in life. Why, he had strength to rival even the mortal race of men. The elves had looked to him for protection when their great leader Gil’Khas had fallen in an epic human war. He had led them to safety and had remained their ruler ever since.
Thais stared at him now, noting his dark hair and features were where her mama had inherited her beauty. How different her eyes seemed on this creature, so contorted in anger. All around there was a deep intake of breathe when the human girl stepped forward and went to stand barely a few feet from the great Elf Lord. Everyone stared. Everyone waited.
Thais’ eyes roved over this stranger’s face, seeking some kindness where there was none to find. This was her mama’s father, the man who had been described by her mama as someone quite wonderful. Sil’Vein had been a truly wonderful father, but a stern and strict one when he needed to be.
In turn the Elf Lord let his eyes wander over the girl he had never wanted to meet. Yes, there was no denying she was the offspring of his dear departed Mai. Her slender face, the point of her chin, the upturn of her nose, these were the features he had so cherished in his own child. Yet also there were those dreadful black eyes and a determined full mouth inherited from a stubborn human man. This was no elf, this was a human, capable of wreaking destruction wherever she went.
“Why have you come?” the question came not from the elven king, but from the woman at his side. Thais removed her gaze from Sil’Vein to look for a moment into the passionate face of a woman she knew to be her grandmother.
“I came because of my mother,” the child responded. All around the hall whispers broke out. Never had it been proclaimed that Mai Avani Indurin had bore a human child, but the rumours had been rampant since the news broke that the beautiful elven outcast had died as the seer had foretold. Thais glanced about the chamber and correctly guessed the reason as to their surprise. “Nobody knows about me do they? To you, I have never existed.”
Her question was aimed at the quietly enraged face of her grandfather, who seemed still unable to speak.
“Have I?” Thais asked loudly. Silence. “Say something! I’ve come so far to see you, to have you acknowledge me as one of your own, to ask you about my mother and why you banished her as though she meant nothing to you.”
Thais’ pleading eyes searched the stoical Elf Lord’s face before she exasperatedly looked away and caught her grandmother’s eye. There were tears forming in the eyes of Avani Indurin Rahl’s eyes.
“You should be ashamed,” Thais accused angrily. “She died alone and unloved by all of you!”
The whispers broke out into outrage while below tears streamed down the face of the elven queen. At her side Sil’Vein slowly raised to his feet, his mighty form casting a large shadow over Thais who stood dwarfed before him.
“Enough,” the quiet command came and as though he had bellowed it the chamber fell silent. “It is not your place to speak in such a way to this council Thais of Apollo. I have granted you the esteemed honour of speaking before the Elders, yet now I see I was mistaken. I should have sent you away like your reckless father before you.”
“That is not my name,” Thais spoke in a low voice, the anger coursing through her making her shake while she spoke. “My mother gave me the name Thais Mai Avani.”
“She had no right. You are no elf. You are not one of us,” came the simple response.
“No,” Thais agreed. “But she was! Why did you banish her?”
Once more silence swept across the chamber, the elven faces in the stands seemed contorted in both anger and concern. There were many who had oft disagreed with Sil’Vein’s standpoint on the events of twenty years ago. Indeed, there were many who disagreed with every standpoint the Elf Lord made.
“Banish her?” Sil’Vein demanded. “I did no such thing. She chose to leave even though we begged her to stay.”
Thais’ brow furrowed and she stepped back slightly.
“Even that foolish human that swept her from her feet, we offered him refuge he refused to take! They could have been safe here, but instead they acted against all reasonable advice and fled the city. Your father, he is the one responsible for my daughter’s death. He stole her from the protection we could have offered her.”
Thais’ lips parted and she stepped back once more.
“I certainly do not! Ask him when you next see him, ask him about the day he left Khaled-Dîn, taking from us one of our jewels. Your mother would live were it not for the cowardly actions of that mortal man…”
“Coward?” Thais suddenly demanded. “You call my father a coward? What do you know of valour and bravery? You hide here in your tall mountain forbidding anyone from entering while the rest of the world suffers under darkness and war and death. I have heard tell of the bravery of the elves, but I see no evidence of it. Quite the opposite! For all the valour and courage in the world I say you have none. I’ve seen more bravery and kindness in the peasants living in the poverty of the White Sea than I have ever seen in the might of the elves.”
“No! I will not be silent. You said it yourself, I am no elf. You don’t control me as easily as you control them!”
Thais flung her hand at the crowds who had risen to their feet. Arguments spread out across the chamber while Thais’ words flew in the faces of traditional loyalists and fuelled the passionate hearts of those who privately agreed with her sentiments.
Several members of the council climbed to their feet and slowly left the podium by a series of small arches behind their thrones. Thais watched them leave with a fierce scowl on her face.
“Yes, run away,” she called after them. “That’s what you elves do best.”
Sil’Vein glanced over his shoulder to where a tall elf stood in front of the benches and nodded his head. This elf nodded in return and stepped forward onto the podium. He approached Thais while Sil’Vein sat down once more. The taller elf reached Thais’ side and placed his hand on her shoulder; the girl struggled away from him and stepped forward, striding proudly until she reached the Elf Lord.
“Acknowledge me,” the girl commanded. In disgust Sil’Vein pulled away from the girl and looked more severely to the elf he had charged with the task of leading the girl away. Thais kept up with his gaze and moved to stand before him once more. “Admit it!” she cried in his face. “Admit I exist! Admit my mother Mai Avani Indurin had a child with a mortal king!”
The audience in the chamber had fallen silent and were staring with wide-eyes at the screaming young girl in front of their lord, who looked away from her time and time again. Every time the girl ran to keep up, but he would not look upon her. At his side his wife cried silently.
The girl’s shriek echoed around the chamber.
“I acknowledge you Thais Mai Avani.”
The tall proud elf who had collected Thais from her room strode forward to stand at the human child’s side. He placed his hand carefully on her shoulders and stared with a cold glare at the Elf Lord. For a while the deafening silence reverberated around the chamber while the elf looked up into the stands. They met his eye.
Sil’Vein was shaking.
“Take her away,” he finally growled. Thais allowed herself to be led away from her grandfather towards the dark tunnel leading away from the chamber. Here she stopped and turned around. The Elf Lord was watching her.
“I hate you,” the girl stated meeting her grandfather’s eyes.
“And I you.”
A tear rolled down the child’s cheek while the tall elf led her away from the outraged cries of the members of the stands. The maze of corridors passed by in a blur while the heavy weight of disappointment fell on the child’s shoulders. Why had she come to this place? What had she learned?
No, a furious voice screamed in her mind. Papa is not to blame! He’d never hurt mama! Never!
The child’s shoulders were falling and rising rapidly while the elf’s hand rested on them still. He did not speak until they reached a small wooden door that led onto a path leading down from the Silver Halls beneath the turbulent cloudy sky.
“You tried your best,” a deep voice came from the elf at her side. Thais looked up sharply.
“The passing of my sister hurts my father deeper than you could understand little human,” the elf spoke kindly. “You could have said anything and he would never have listened to you.”
“You are my uncle? That’s why you protected me?”
“Yes. I was also a dear friend of your father,” the elf replied with a warm smile. “Sil’Ahmen is my name and I have been awaiting your arrival for many days now.”
“Papa, he was here wasn’t he?” Sil’Ahmen smiled sadly and nodded.
There was a heavy sigh from the elf, which Thais did not question. From the grave frown upon his face she knew her father’s quest to have been in vein. Had he suffered the same fate as she? Had he been cast from the elven assembly as though he were little more than a painful nuisance?
“Is it true?” Thais asked next, her voice sore and hoarse. “What Sil’Vein said, about my father? Is he truly to blame?”
Sil’Ahmen smiled sadly and shook his head.
“I cannot tell you the answer to that, you know this little one. You must ask him when you see him. He has many things to tell you I am sure. You surprised him you know, by coming so far and by reaching this city.” Thais nodded.
“I think I surprised myself too.”
“Tell me, how did you do it? How did you travel through the tunnel unharmed?” Thais frowned at the question and shook her head.
“It was no real trouble. It was dark to be sure, but there was ether in there and it lit the way. I think I know where mine has gone. Ether flees this place, it cannot stand to be near it.”
“No dear child,” Sil’Ahmen laughed gently. “I do not mean how did you see the way, I mean to say, how did you get past the guardians? They did not try to stop you?”
“What guardians?” Thais demanded weakly. “I saw no one. At times I felt as though there might be someone watching me, but in all the long hours I didn’t see a thing. I followed my feet and here I am.”
Sil’Ahmen frowned and nodded. His father was wrong, of that he was sure. This child, she was one of them, as Gallus had said. In her passion and her self-belief he saw everything Mai had been.
“You are your mother,” the kind elf stated simply. “That is why they let you in. Mai started using the western tunnel to escape this haven when she was younger than you are now. They knew her better than any other elf I am sure and in you, they saw her once more.”
“You aren’t going to tell me what these guardians are are you?” the girl grumbled earning a broad smile from her elven uncle.
“I am sure you will find out one day child. I fear little can stand in your way.”
“That isn’t true. The Elf Lord, he stood in my way. There was no point in me coming here. He still hasn’t acknowledged me.”
“You believe so? Girl the words you spoke sent shivers through my people. Rarely are they challenged. Rarely are they forced to think about our actions. There are those who are tired of hiding up here in the mountains. There are those who hate to abandon the rest of the world to its troubles. Your words will ring true with what many of them believe. Indeed, someday, we may leave this place because of your visit to us.”
“Are you one of those elves?” Thais asked quietly. For a moment Sil’Ahmen looked away into the distance before he turned his gaze back to the girl at his side. The words he was about to speak however, were lost when running footsteps sounded on the path behind them. Thais spun around to see the small girl she had encountered earlier chasing their trail.
“Ahmen wait for me!” the one known as Dahl cried out. The tall elf at Thais’ side chuckled loudly while his niece caught up with them and landed at their side panting heavily.
“Dahl, allow me to guess, you listened in again on the council did you not?” Ahmen asked kindly earning himself a cheeky grin from his niece.
“Of course I did. I met Thais right before and I couldn’t just do nothing. Ahmen why didn’t any of you tell me I had a human cousin?”
“Child you must not have listened well enough,” the tall elf reprimanded. “No one knew of your cousin.”
“But why?” Dahl demanded.
“Because I don’t exist,” Thais cut in sadly, drawing her cousin’s accusing gaze.
“Nonsense! Here you stand don’t you? Well I’m not going to pretend you don’t exist. I’m going to visit you.”
Sil’Ahmen started to laugh loudly and he reached out his free hand to wrap it around the shoulders of his other niece. They were so alike he pondered later.
“See Thais,” he chuckled. “Your visit to us has inspired at least one of our number to leave the sanctity of Khaled-Dîn. In time, things may change, but you must allow for this Thais: the passing of time. It is not always possible to change the views and ways of an entire people in the space of a few minutes. One day dear child, I hope you will understand the events that took place today and cherish them for their place in history.”