Chapter Four: The Pendant and the Priestess
It was a bright afternoon when three sons entered the queen’s hall, clad in ceremonial white gowns that caught the air in billowing folds as they made their way toward the throne.
All hailed Callob, the son of Calad, and Sefaf, the son of Peren, and Efkin, the son of Ragner, as they crossed the sunlit chamber. Hundreds had come from all parts of the elven isle to honor these three as they entered the council of lords. Peering into the crowd, Efkin found many faces he had not seen in years, childhood friends who had grown so that he barely recognized some of them. They were as tall and fair as any others among the noble host, yet somehow apart, for their eyes shone with the bright memory of days past.
Standing tallest among them, he found his old friend Palan. For a moment, he longed for the days of his youth. As children, they had been to every corner of the elven isle astride their steeds. They would gather in the woods as the sun rose to see if they might spy a dryad near the Whistling Lake, and then venture out to the shore. They knew only the trees of the forest in those days, when the lands of men seemed far away, yet the world seemed larger somehow, full of the mysteries and wonders of youth. Palan stared back at him and a smile was on his face, for he remembered those days they had shared.
Two figures shifted in front of Palan and Efkin saw Nius and his brother Duori. They were elegantly clad in shades of blue and green that matched the colors of the sea. The eldest, Nius, stood taller than Doir, who was two years younger, and there was something in his eyes that made him seem older still. He had always seemed apart from the others in some way, occupying himself with abstract notions. As a child, he had talked of the changing world and the lands of men and Efkin had found himself bewildered by this curious youth who spoke with a wisdom that seemed beyond his years. He had studied the ancient writings, absorbing whole histories so that few were more versed in elven lore or the chronicles of men. His knowledge was such that even the elder lords had taken notice of this learned youth who often stood near when they talked of things that were happening in other lands, attending to their conversation as a student consumes a lesson, eager to learn the ways of men and the movements of the world. He would run to his chamber to record all he had heard in his journals, which numbered thirty volumes on his shelves. There were thousands of pages filled with the doings of elves and men, chronicling the greatest episodes, the very cycles of history, all written with a disciplined hand that did not waver.
Efkin smiled at Nius and wondered if this ceremony would find a place in his pages. He looked at his brother Duori whose gaze was blithe and full of wonder, as if to counter his austere sibling. He was a stout youth who spent his days wandering in the woods or along the shores staring out across the sea, away toward the west where ships passed. He saw merchant vessels on trade routes, galleons decked with travelers crossing the sea, and twice spied great warships with knights bound on some errand for King Abernaeth. He was no less curious than his brother Nius, and might have penned his own journals if not for the lure of the sea, which seemed to call him, drawing him each day to the shore. He was not inclined to spend his days confined in his chambers, scribbling accounts of the things that happened in the world. He would rather set out across the wide seas into the lands of men and beyond and play a role in shaping these events.
Efkin was halfway toward the throne when he caught sight of Ebin. His friend wore an emerald cloak over his black garments, clasped at the neck with silver that glinted in the light and was dimmed only by his bright, whimsical gaze.
Behind Ebin, he glimpsed a slender figure with brown curls who met his glance with a smile. He had always looked fondly on Daneia and in his youth spent much of his time outside the Temple, waiting to catch a glimpse of the young priestess he deemed the fairest creature among the elves. The story was still told of a coppery youth who once thought a fair priestess was in truth a dryad, adopted years ago by the elf folk.
Sunlight slanted into the hall and Efkin lost Daneia in the glare. He turned his gaze away from the light, ahead toward the throne where the queen sat at the top of a curved stair. At her side, Jahan stood in her flowing silk, her blonde curls beneath a headdress of platinum and gold. Behind her stood three priestesses clad in the pale colors of their order with bracelets and belts of silver.
He noticed another beside the queen, a bright figure who seemed to glow with a strange light, holding a staff like a great branch in his right hand. His eyes widened with surprise at the sight of the druid. He he had only seen him once before, years ago when he was a child, and the memory of that day came to him now, like a suddenly remembered dream. He recalled the bright morning he had glimpsed the druid in the woods, passing through the trees as he walked, alight with a wondrous, shimmering radiance. He had followed the druid for some time, thinking he was unnoticed by the forest spirit, until they reached the edge of the wood and he turned suddenly to regard Efkin with a bright smile before he disappeared. The encounter had thrilled him and, seeing the druid now as he stood alight with power, he stared in wonder at the glowing presence before him.
He was still some distance away from the throne, but as he came closer, he felt the druid’s gaze upon him and was struck by a bewildering sense that nothing had changed. It seemed to him that the druid’s eyes shone exactly as they had years ago when he had first sighted the spirit in the woods. He felt like a child again, overcome by the timeless nature of this being, awed by a power and mystery he could not apprehend.
A curling mist swept in front of him and he saw Lord Wyn step out of the throng. The fair lord raised a hand into the haze and it lit with a blue flame at his touch. There had been others among the Braey who possessed the Blue Flame, long ago when the elves still had ties with the elementals and great powers over the earth and sea. As the old powers waned, their numbers dwindled so that none but Wyn could wield it in these days, not even Gabreu, whose mother Queen Laneu had summoned the Blue Flame with such ease that it curled from her like an effortless breath of fire. But things had changed and the ancient ties were lost, and though few ever spoke of such things, the waning power of the Braey was ever apparent when Wyn was called to perform the ancient rites.
The three sons made their way through the curling blue flame; it felt like a warm breeze blowing around them. They emerged from the mystical fire still glowing with a trace of blue light that faded as they ascended the curved stair to stand before Gabreu.
The queen of the elves rose and her voice flowed like a bright melody that sang through the great hall: “Three sons have come this day to walk through the Flame of ancestors and stand with our lords.”
She raised a glowing hand over Callob and the young lord shone with a light the color of leaves, the light of ancestors that was his aura, revealed now as he entered the council of lords.
There were cheers to hail the young lord as the queen turned to Sefaf. She held her glowing hand over him and he was suddenly alight with a blue the color of sky. All hailed the son of Peren.
The queen turned to Efkin. She placed her bright hand over his head and a flash of white light stunned and silenced the crowd. The hall was suddenly lit with many colors that spilled out of that brilliance; shades of red, blue, yellow, and green, infinite hues flowing in bewildering patterns that dazzled the eye. The colors dimmed, fading into a pale radiance that embraced Efkin so that he glowed with a white light.
The queen paused a moment, as if startled, and Efkin saw in her gaze a look of surprise that bewildered him. He glanced at Nemral who stood beside the throne, still shimmering with the light of stars.
The silence was broken as all hailed Lord Efkin. The queen lowered her hand and the three sons turned to face the cheering crowd that honored them.
The throng was chanting and the chorus spilled like a breeze out of the hall to sing amidst the trees, and Efkin quickly forgot all else in that moment when the world seemed to call his name.
The elves were still celebrating when the light of the westering sun faded, dancing and singing, laughing and telling tales in a joyous clamor that filled the evening air. They feasted through the night, hailing the three sons who sat with the queen, speaking words of praise as they crowded around the young lords. His father Ragner and his mother Sienne were at his side as Efkin spoke with many friends he had not seen in years and they talked of many things.
At last, Efkin stole away from the throng and found Daneia on a terrace overlooking the forest. She moved toward the young lord and the chime of her bracelets carried in the breeze. They stood for a moment without words.
“The light of our ancestors shines bright in you,” said the priestess.
“You flatter me, Daneia.”
The priestess laughed. “You did not see it then, for it was a thing of beauty to behold.”
“Yours is a white light that is scarcely seen in these days. You will have great powers.”
He raised a curious brow. “What kind of powers?”
“I cannot say. There have been so few of your kind. I know Peledomn has a white light and Gelod also. We will see where your light will lead.”
“How many others have this light?”
“Only a few,” said Daneia. “Jahan has said there will be others, but some fear it will fade from us as the Blue Flame has faded.”
“There is still Wyn.”
“He is touched with the power of ancestors, but he is the sole bearer of that power in these days when our light is waning. There may be no others after him.”
Her voice was full of sadness. She looked out over the forest, staring far away. Her eyes were troubled, as if she gazed some terror in the distance.
“These are dire times, Efkin. There will be great changes in the world. Our waning powers are only the beginning, the first sign of things to come. It was foreseen ages ago that a time would come when all the powers of earth would fade away, even the sun in the sky would dim, its light weakened by the power of the Runes.”
“You speak as if we have come to the end of days.”
“It may be,” she said. “There is something amiss in the skies and sea. The poison of the Runes corrupts all the earth.” She held her gaze on the wood for a moment and then turned to Efkin. “But there is still hope, I think. Some say the Runes will be broken.” She paused and listened to the stir of trees that rustled in the wind. “Perhaps it is so.”
They stood a while under the stars, the swaying wood like a leafy sea beneath them. He recalled the stories he heard as a child that told of terrible powers that once marred the earth, beings of malice who warred with their ancestors and carved the Runes to weaken the earth. Some said the Runes were left unfinished and men labored for years to complete them, and a dire power would be loosed on the world when their work is done.
“Lord Daras sought the Runes,” Efkin said.
Daneia fell silent, hearing a suspicion in his voice that she did not have the heart to confirm. She held her gaze on the wood and hoped he would not pursue it.
“I did not think he would die,” he said. “Did Jahan see his passing?”
“None of us did.”
“Then it was not a natural death.”
Daneia did not reply, but her eyes were full of sadness. She looked at Efkin and saw his dismay.
“My father sought the Runes,” he said.
“Many have quested in the east. The ones who died came too close to the Runes, but we do not know how close others have come.”
Efkin smiled at the priestess for trying to comfort him. He stared up at the moonlit sky and watched a wisp of cloud curl in the air like a thread.
“There is a canyon where our lords believe the Runes are hidden,” said Daneia. “A vile power dwells there, emanating from somewhere in the rock.”
“That is where we must look.”
“We will search there again, but it is dangerous to explore with the poison of the Runes so near. The canyon stretches for miles and each day of wandering weakens the elves.”
“If we do nothing, we will die; if we seek the Runes, we may perish sooner.”
Daneia stared at Efkin, saddened to hear a tone of despair in a voice that was always bright with hope. “It has been told,” she said, “that in a time when all the world is at war, there will be one, a being who walks between the planes, who will come to summon great powers and heal the earth. The elves call him the Sylph.” She paused and stared at Efkin a moment. “Perhaps he will break the Runes.”
They heard someone behind them. Efkin turned and found Jahan in her flowing silk.
“I have something for you, Efkin.” The High Priestess held a gold leaf in her hand. She fixed the pendant on his gown and smiled. “Always keep it near.” Before he could speak, she crossed the hall and disappeared into the throng.
Efkin eyed the pendant that glinted with moonlight on his breast, beautifully crafted with the subtlety of the elves.
“She has always looked fondly on you,” said Daneia.
He was about to reply when two others approached.
“My Lord Efkin, I see this fair priestess has taken you from our midst,” said Ebin.
“I seem to recall this rogue,” said Daneia.
“It is good to see you, Daneia,” said Ebin. “You have been too long away from us.”
“Yes, Jahan has kept you hidden in that Temple,” said Callob.
Efkin was tracing the gold stem of the pendant as they talked, fascinated by the delicate charm, and the glinting leaf caught Callob’s eye.
“That is a handsome gift,” he said.
“Jahan gave it to me. She said I should keep it near.”
“It may be enchanted.”
“She did not say it is charmed.”
“Yet it may be.” Callob stared at the gold leaf a moment. “It has been a day of wonders.”
“Indeed,” said Efkin. “I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw Nemral. It has been many years since I saw the druid in the forest as a child.
Callob stood bewildered. He stared at Efkin a moment. “I did not see the druid.”
Efkin was stunned.
At that moment, a large throng poured onto the terrace and quickly absorbed the two lords, carrying them away with cheers. For the moment, Efkin put his thoughts aside and lost himself in the din.