Through the day they rode at a steady speed, confident that the Sarubel had fallen too far behind them. When time came for the midday meal, they decided to forgo it. On they rode until, at the brink of sunset, they came to the caves of Sidra.
Set high in the hills, the only way to access them by horse was a small path that ran from the mouth of one of the caves down the hill. As they rode up the pass, the sunset gave way to the pale grey orb, the moon.
They choose a cave deep into the hill where the light could not be seen from their fire. They tied the horses at the entrance of the cave where the grass was. Settling deep in the cave, they warmed themselves around the fire as the night wore on. Sitting around the fire, Leonora was deep in her thoughts, Miaren sang to a bird in a low voice and Aravoen sat observing the two of them.
Leonora suddenly smiled to herself. Miaren too smiled and Aravoen knew at once that they were deep in conversation. He wished they could involve him in it, but if wishes were horses, beggars would ride. Aravoen stood up and left the fire, walking towards the entrance to where the horses lay in the grass. Sitting next to Elben, he drew out the star from around his neck.
He looked at how perfect a gem it was. He wondered how something this beautiful could hold so much evil in it. The essence of the demons together with that of Sarzgat. “A indor ddo emohy uch delocil. Lorer wiyh bib deri leaie ci uch e merdo? Deri leat ci ddo emon,” he said to himself with a sigh.
He put the star around his neck again and touched Elben’s side. The horse neighed affectionately. He finally stood up and let out a cloud of mist for it was cold outside. He gazed out over the caves deep into the plain. At this vantage point he did not see the whole plain clearly, and when he saw a simple whisper of black moving, he thought he had imagined it.
He walked back a short distance in the cave and sat a distance away from the fire. Back against the wall, he closed his eyes and went back to the fields where his father had taken him when he was very young, just a toddler; the tall grass swinging in the cool breeze. Together he, Aravoen, and his father, a tall and older imitation of himself, sauntered through the field. As the sky was bathed by stars all shining bright high in the sky, Amroth pointed to it.
“Aravoen,” he said lovingly, “look up to the stars.”
He did so.
“Up there our forefathers stay watching over us, guiding us, and they are always there for us. When I am gone, just look to the sky and be comforted. Me and the kings of old will be there for you.”
He opened his eyes again, coming back from that day many years ago. He did not notice Leonora sitting beside him
“You loved your father very much,” she said. Her voice was gentle. A shock at first to Aravoen, but he let it slide.
“Yes I did,” he said.
A silence enveloped them and suddenly a thought occurred to him.
“Why do you not trust me?” he asked. “Most times you treat me with indifference. If ever we talk you want an argument with me.”
She laughed a clear beautiful laugh, before replying, “I do not trust people who I do not know. You never know who might betray you.”
“But why treat those you do not know like that?”
“Do not worry Aravoen,” she replied. “My thoughts towards you have changed somewhat.”
“If you say so.”
“You have seen many battles, been deep in the dark lands,” she said suddenly.
Aravoen was confused about how she knew this.
“We elves can see people’s hearts, and I chose to respect your mind, since we can read minds too. But, your eyes speak a lot. I saw it in the town, and let us not forget your superb rant some days back,” she explained, seeing his confused eyes.
“Maybe one day you will teach me,” Aravoen said. She shrugged.
“Now, Aravoen,” she said. “Come sit with me and Miaren. You left us quite suddenly. Though Miaren’s music is good, it is quite dreary and maybe we could talk.”
Aravoen nodded, and they went deeper into the cave to where Miaren sat. Sitting, they listened to him singing to the young sparrow.
“Miaren,” Aravoen asked, “where did the bird come from?”
“His nest is at the foot of the hills,” was the quick response.
Together they sat: three travellers around the fire, all thinking of their own accord. Suddenly the bird in Miaren’s hands leapt up with a frightened chirp and sped out of the cave. The horses began neighing like something horrible was near them.
“Something is wrong,” Aravoen said, alarmed.
“Let’s go see what it is,” Miaren said.
The three stood up and went outside. Leonora went towards the horses to try to calm them, whilst Miaren and Aravoen walked to the edge of hill where they could look down. What their eyes met put fear in them. There at the pass’ beginning sat the Sarubel lords on their horses. Slowly, in two lines of three, they began their unhurried ascent of the pass, knowing there was no way else to go down.
Miaren let out a sigh of desperation turning around to face Leonora. Aravoen pondered what to do. He knew the only way to get down was to fight, but it was too dangerous. If only there was another way off the hills.
“What shall we do?” Leonora asked, coming up to him now that the horses were calm. Aravoen did not know what to say. Miaren too came and stood with them, looking out in horror at the Sarubel making their way up slowly. It was as if they knew their prey was blocked from escape.
“We must force our way through,” Aravoen said, close to a whisper. “It is the only way.”
“Aravoen,” said Miaren, “there is bravery and there is plain madness. Do you know who you want to force your way through?”
“Yes,” Aravoen replied straight forward. “The Sarubel lords.”
“Aravoen, you must realise that they outnumber us two times,” Leonora said.
“Yes, “Aravoen began. “but you are elves, surely you can match them in most things, and well, I…” He paused and, with a heavy sigh, went on, “…Am me. However slim the chances, it is worth a try.”
“Aravoen, we surely cannot make it,” Miaren said. “Honestly, you know that.”
“I believe that we can,” Aravoen said. “And worse still you would rather stand here and do nothing until they are upon us.”
“Miaren,” Leonora said, “I hate to say this, but he has a point, a very strong one. This is our only chance, besides we have the advantage of surprise.”
“But how do we know that they will not know that we are on our way down?” Miaren was still cautious.
“That is a risk we have to take,” Aravoen said.
“A risk that might lead to death, Aravoen,” Leonora whispered.
“Boromi do tei thir anilir do tei. Tor indor do dema le vlan, kvni ni ew eath,” Aravoen said.
“Aravoen, stop being mad,” Miaren said.
“Better suggestions are well invited then,” Aravoen said smugly.
Miaren walked to the horses and stood there looking sullen. Suddenly he turned and drew his sword, long, sharp and flaming in the deep night, and nodded to Aravoen and Leonora.
They mounted their horses and faced the pass, ready for battle.
“We are only trying to break free, not kill,” Leonora said. They began their noiseless descent down the hill. After a few moments the horses suddenly stopped. Aravoen peered through the darkness and he could see the Sarubel a few feet away from them. Drawing his sword, he turned to Leonora then Miaren and nodded.
Kicking the flanks of Elben, he stormed forward straight into the Sarubel, brandishing his sword in the air. Bringing his sword crashing down he heard the crushing of metal and a piercing scream erupted in the air. Then two cries came up along the first. Swinging his sword left, his blow was parried by a sword.
Suddenly a cry of pain came to his ears. Turning around he saw one of the Sarubel plunging his sword into Leonora’s shoulder. Aravoen jumped off Elben, dashed to Leonora, dodging parrying swords, and reached her as the Sarubel raised his blood stained sword ready to strike the deathblow to Leonora. Pushing himself off the ground and hurling all his weight forward like a spear and knocked the rider off his horse. Standing, he rushed to Leonora who had fallen off her horse.
The Sarubel lord had recovered, and he rushed forward screaming wildly. Aravoen parried and slew. Suddenly the Sarubel fell and Elben stood in front of them. Aravoen heaved Leonora onto Elben and jumped on behind her, but he could not move as he was surrounded by three Sarubels.
“Stop, fool, you cannot leave,” one of them said in his hollow voice.
“A fool but a brave fool,” Aravoen replied. The other Sarubels were coming around and Leonora was bleeding heavily. However, suddenly a white light erupted and one of the Sarubel faltered. Seizing the chance, he sprung forth down the pass. In addition, beside him rode Miaren, sword at his side.
“How?” they heard the chief lord cry, and moments later a whisper of something moved through the air towards them. Miaren saw it and cut behind Aravoen, and then he felt it sharp and piercing through his amour. He held back the pain and rode on with Aravoen. It was not long until they were on the plains again galloping for dear life.
Using his mind Miaren reached out to Aravoen and asked, What happened to Leonora?
One of the Sarubel stabbed her, Aravoen replied. She would have been dead had I not struck him when he meant to strike the final blow.
She might not die yet if we stop the bleeding.
Well, we are far from them for now, let us try to stop it, he said. Stop here and we stop the bleeding.
Stopping, the two dismounted and Aravoen gently brought Leonora down. Though her eyes were closed, the changing expressions of terror and pain on her face showed that her wound was more grievous than what he had thought.
Laying her on the ground, he tore a bandage from his cloak and managed to stop the bleeding. He looked around and there Miaren lay pulling out an arrow. Aravoen was shocked. He rushed to Miaren and helped him remove the arrow. Suddenly Miaren took hold of him and held him firm.
“Leonora has little time to live, Sarubel blades are cursed. They will destroy the life force of anyone they pierce. Only elves and wizards have the medicine and power to heal them. My time is up now, but not hers,” he whispered in Aravoen’s ear. “Get her to the Guardes Wesselren for I am of high rank to the elves, but she, she is of higher rank than me. Hurry now.”
“I will not leave you, Miaren,” Aravoen cried.
“Aravoen,” Miaren’s brows were harrowed in pain, “those blades are skeleton blades. The most ancient and evil swords in Elasia after the cursed sword of Sarzgat. Their wounds are fatal.”
“I can not leave you Miaren.”
“You must, Aravoen,” Miaren cried. “You are our only hope, Aravoen son of Amroth; you are Elurin, the Lord of the Easel. Go, I will delay them should they pass this way.” Then he drew a small knife from his belt and held it out to Aravoen. “Take this and give it to the elves and they will know; go now. I believe now that what you did so many years ago was right. On behalf of my king, I would like to apologise for the unjust punishment.”
“Miaren,” Aravoen said. The tears stung his eyes.
“Go! Go! Go! Go, Aravoen, go!” Miaren shouted, shoving him. “Save her life. No matter the cost. It was an honour knowing you, if only for a short time, My Lord.”
Aravoen stood up and put Leonora in the saddle. Pulling himself up behind her, he turned to Miaren who smiled back at him.
“Deri er elohim un lilol wia wi deri uos sitar Aravoen,” he said.
Aravoen felt the tears come to his eyes before turning around and galloping south.
* * *
As he galloped, Aravoen could feel Leonora’s life dwindling bit by bit. He held the dying lady close to his chest. He could feel her heart beat growing fainter and fainter through the many layers between them.
As the sun broke, Aravoen heard horses’ hooves thudding a distance behind him. Stealing a glimpse behind him, he saw the Sarubel hot on his heels. All of them but the chief lord were aiming arrows at him. Urging Elben forward he managed to dodge one of their well-aimed arrows. The race was on. Galloping really fast he crossed the Emersten. Water splashing about him, he looked forward and the outline of the guarded forest was in view. Hope flooded him.
With renewed hope, he pulled away from the Sarubel save for the chief lord. The two horses raced on. A few times Aravoen could hear the Sarubel chief lord breathing behind him, and then he would hear the slicing of a sword in the air ready to strike. However, at that moment Elben would lunge a few inches forward.
Finally, the forest loomed, trees towering over him. Aravoen had reached the shade of the forest. The Sarubel lord stopped. Aravoen turned around and faced him.
“I will get you,” he said with malice and harsh laughter. “The elves cannot protect you. Besides, the elf you carry, I will personally kill her.” This angered Aravoen more. Turning to the forest, he gathered his voice in his chest.
“Elves who guard the forest,” Aravoen cried, “A lar deri do galadia ci!”
The leaves rustled and suddenly tall lordly people stood with him. One of them went forth and cried, “Be gone, Sarubel; these lands are not for evil.”
“Soon, elf, my master’s powers will be greater than you.”
“It is not this time,” the elf replied. “Now be gone.”
The Sarubel turned and left.
The elves turned to Aravoen. “You, what is your business?”
Aravoen replied, “I carry Leonora, she is hurt and Miaren is dead.”
“Leonora,” the elves gasped. “You lie and you are not allowed in these lands.”
“Look,” he replied, turning enough to let her tormented face to be visible. Many of the elves’ expressions changed as soon as they saw her closed eyes and tormented expression.
“What happened to her?” one of the elves whispered.
“A skeleton blade,” Aravoen shifted showing the blood soaked make up bandage. “Help her, please. Her wound is no where near to clotting.”
“It’s the princess.” The whisper began low and developed into a clamour.
“Send word to the king,” one the elves said. “The princess is hurt.”
The elves looked at Leonora who was in front of him. With speed not normal, the elves had Leonora, and tied her to a horse. Many elves accompanied the horse through the trees.
As Aravoen prepared to go in with them, the elves blocked him.
“No, you may not,” one of the elves said. His tall lean structure supported by his sword. His long black hair was tied back in a ponytail, revealing his tapered ears. His rich brown eyes settled on Aravoen. “Our king has not allowed you in. you may wait here until he does so. Are you not Aravoen of Eduin?”
“Better for you,” the elf said. “Your mother and Mendrek ask for your acceptance.”
“Yes,” the elf went on. “It will be soon. Thank you for saving our princess. But you are not permitted. Our lord has to forgive your old transgression.” He turned around and all the elves left Aravoen standing and staring after them. He could not believe a lot; Leonora a princess of the elves, and worse he was not yet admitted in the sacred lands. But Leonora a princess, that still shocked him.
Aravoen quite expected it. He never forgot that moment when he had saved the small child from the blood mage, and neither had did the elves and their pompous king, Leonora’s father apparently. And he was still paying for it every moment the elves refused him entry into Loscennlonn, even now when he needed to be there, to see that Leonora was all right.