Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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All they could do was to be still, sheltered between boulders leaving them only to creep away and relieve themselves. Brillar practiced her Deception skills, rusty from misuse, but handy on the morning of their second day of hiding when a troop of orcs passed within a few arms-lengths and noticed nothing.

It was mid-morning on their third cramped day when both roused suddenly, heads up but bodies unmoving, and smiled at each other. Elden was first to move, out from between the rocks to call softly, “Here.” They were joined by the three ǣlfec they had met in the scrublands.

“You called us correctly,” Uthalef said joy on his face, “Ǣdhahren is here!”

“Orcs and undead as well,” Elden said quietly. “We didn’t try to locate him exactly. There are too many sentries.”

Brillar stretched a bit and groaned at her cramped limbs.

“Ah, how long have you been here?” Yarell asked quietly.

“Too long for my legs,” she replied, stretching them in front of her.

He took a flask from his belt and handed it to her saying, “A sip only.” She sipped.

The flavors and scents mixed there! Summer berries, the tang of autumn, winter’s frost and spring flowers, she could feel sunlight and hear the sound of water over rocks. In an instant, she was ready to leap up laughing, ready for the spring races and more. Wonder spread on her face. At his glance and with a nod from Yarell, she handed the flask to Elden and watched his amazement spread as hers had.

Elden shook his head, handing the flask back to Yarell. “I’ve heard of ǣlfa brews,” he shook his head. “Nothing prepared me for that.”

Yarell took the flask and handed them small thin wafers the size of his palm. “Ǣlfa bread. Break off a small portion.”

Warned by the potency of the drink, each took a bit of the bread. Strength seemed to flow through them; the days spent cramped between boulders disappeared. Brillar closed her eyes in delight.

“More of us are coming, each summed as you called to us,” Uthalef told them in whispers. “This place held two. We should move downslope to a safer and more comfortable place. The others will have no trouble finding us.”

Reaching out and finding nothing nearby, Elden led the led them down, stopping to have Brillar fire an arrow when he worried there might be undead in their path. “We found it a useful tactic,” he told the ǣlfec. “Undead rise up suddenly when someone comes too close.”

They were half a mile downslope when Elden halted them. “We found nothing down this far when we passed the first time. Far-sight is blocked by rock and the boy must be well-sheltered behind rock.”

Buoyed by the presence of the ǣlfec and sustained by ǣlfa food and drink, they waited. Over the next two days, ǣlfec joined them in groups of three and four; twice groups of a dozen who had met in the scrublands came at once. They distributed themselves nearby to avoid detection by any who were watching. Sixty-two ǣlfec had gathered when Uthalef declared that all who would be able to reach them quickly had arrived. He called them into council after sunset.

“There are more coming, but they are too distant. They have been sent for but the land between will delay them. Sixty-two of us must take back Ǣdhahren.”

“Sixty-four of us,” Elden put in quietly. He looked at the company. “Sixty-four will take back Ǣdhahren.” Brillar’s look, when he glanced at her, was steady.

There was silence.

“Then it’s done,” said Uthalef. “Sixty-four of us will take him back. Those with experience in war, stay with us. The rest should sleep.”

Elden gestured Brillar away and, to his surprise, she left the council without a word.

“Before dawn,” spoke up one of the ǣlfec, “we should send out the swiftest, the most stealthy, to gather what we can of the site.”

“I can tell you something about it,” Elden said. “It seems to be a narrow valley, rocky; there are some trees and there are flowers. Brillar noticed their scent, that’s how we found him. When they were planted or how they’re maintained I don’t know. The valley is steep and narrow at this end. We didn’t get close enough to see the other end. There must be some sort of shelter, perhaps even a cave.”

“Keeping Ǣdhahren in a cave would mean his quick death. A tent or hut in the open?”

“The scouts can tell us. Who will they be?” Yarell put in.

The discussion, which had been in the common tongue, shifted to Ǣlfair leaving Elden behind although he thought he heard the number five several times. The voices were kept low and Ǣlfair is a soothing tongue; at some point Elden slept, to be nudged awake when the discussion changed languages again.

“We would like to know how you see your part in this Elden, and Brillar’s part as well.”

“What arrows do you carry,” he asked.

“Blunt and sharp,” was the reply.

“Blunt for the wights, sharp for the orcs although they will fall to blunt. Fire?” Heads were shaken.

“The wights won’t spawn in daylight unless threatened. Arrows first to kill the orcs. After that, a pause while I cast spells of fire on blunt-tipped arrows. The spell will hold for perhaps ten minutes. When the orcs are down, fire arrows should take as many wights as they can in that time. When the fire fades, the blunt arrows will continue to be useful. If Ǣdhahren is out of danger, I can cast arc spells without revealing my position. That should cause some confusion.”

“And Brillar?” There were no women among the ǣlfain warriors.

“She’ll insist on joining the archers, you can be certain of that. She is also a fine healer if she can reach the wounded.”

“We have to remember,” Yarell spoke up, “that wights will not remain fallen. How long it will take for them to put bone back on bone, no one knows but never think that you can advance safely. A fallen wight may rise up behind you. Some should remain behind as others advance.”

The discussion went on far into the night.

The five selected scouts, for Elden had been correct in his Ǣlfair, left well before dawn. Each had taken a small charm from a pouch before leaving. “Sure-path,” an ǣlfe said to Elden but he had no time to ask for further details.

Uthalef divided them all into their groups, each to follow a leader with a sure-path. Brillar only nodded when placed in a rear guard, one that would strike any wights that should rise up as the ǣlfec advanced. She took out at least a hundred blunt tipped arrows plus a healing orb which she secured in a pouch. Elden was in the front rank but smiled his encouragement. To their surprise, each was given a hooded cloak by an ǣlfe of the rear guard. “Our clothing shifts on its own, but you would stand out.”

Several hours passed before the scouts returned. The valley was narrow on the northwest as Elden had suggested but widened and flattened at the southeast.

“There is a hut where I think Ǣdhahren is kept with trees and flowers around it and the entrance to a cave beyond. Orcs are everywhere, but not near the hut. Hundreds I think.”

“I saw wights before dawn, but they sank when the sun came over the hill. There was a woman near the hut, or something shaped like a woman all in red. Unless the K’ish have women in their order, she may be there for Ǣdhahren.”

“Wights will rise again when threatened. No one steps into the valley until all the orcs we can see are down. No one must wake the wights before we are fully ready. When we are ready for the wights, Elden will cast fire spells on as many batches of arrows as he can.”

Flasks of ǣlfa drink were passed around. Brillar marveled again at its flavors. She and Elden received small flasks for later use if they should tire and took them with thanks.

The small army moved forward, each following a sure-path that glistened in the sun. ‘Now I understand,’ thought Elden. ‘It’s like the Summoner or a Ward, but this shows us the safe way through danger.’ He had envisioned the group having to fight its way to the ǣlfi and out again, and breathed in relief. ‘We may, in fact, live to see the sunset,’ he thought as he climbed.

The groups moved steadily but slowly up the hillside, fanning out to earlier assigned locations. Brillar had lost sight of Elden immediately after he put on his cloak but trusted to the planning of the ǣlfain council. She took comfort in the idea that no human blood would be spilled that day. Having already killed orcs, she had no illusions about their humanity. Wights and other undead? They had already died at least once; ‘killing’ them presented no problem but the idea of them, of being close to them sickened her ‘If only they would stay killed,’ she thought grimly. Her place was clear. Heal those who needed healing, ‘kill’ any wights that rose again after ǣlfec had passed them.

They were almost at the crest of the hill protecting the lower edge of the valley, when a barrage of rocks fell toward them. Orcs had been roused by an incautious movement or perhaps they also had a Ward. Groups scattered and bows sang back at the attackers. Orcs fell from the height and added to the commotion. The group assigned to the wide end of the valley moved quickly to stop orcs there and Brillar could see Elden’s spell of fists crumple four orcs at a time as she rushed to the first of those injured who was lying on the field clutching at a torn and twisted leg. The bleeding she stopped at once then cast a spell against pain and went on to another of the ǣlfe, his bow smashed, his arm dangling. “A simple break,” she said, and cast a spell against pain then sucked in mana. When he tried to get up, she pushed him down. “Enough for the day, stay and care for your friend,” she told him and moved up the hill. Seeing no one down, and no orcs on the hill, she moved to her right toward the open end of the valley.

Elden had cleared many of the orcs on the hilltop and was now near the top himself, and being directed to send volleys of arc spells to the other side of the hill, trying to avoid any area where wights might rise, but it was inevitable that some would and did. Now spells arced from inside the valley, and ǣlfec began to fall. Brillar moved from one to another, murmuring spells to stop pain, to seal bleeding, heal burns from acid. Several of the ǣlfec with only leg injuries, managed to continue to use their bows. “But so many on the field,” she rushed off again and narrowly missed a strike from a wight, the spell hissed into the ground near her. “Acid!” she ran down and to the right then fell flat as another spell hissed over her. The barrage of rocks had stopped and she could hear cheering on the height. “The orcs are down! Wights now,” and she ran to the side of the hill and threw herself flat. Taking out arrows, she cast a fire spell on the tips. To her left, she could see spurts of flame, “Elden,” and she smiled before rearing up and firing at the closest wight.

Elden had his hands full, casting on arrows thrust at him by anxious archers while other fired ones with blunt tips into the valley. He was aware of her to his right, already aiming fire arrows into the wights that had begun to climb clumsily up their side of the hill. To fire, she had to rise up from behind a rock and was exposed drawing their fire. He lost her from view as he cast on arrows.

Brillar had ducked down behind a rock but been splashed by acid that landed too close. A quick spell was all she gave the acid burn. From the wide end of the valley, archers were advancing without fire arrows, splitting the wights. She saw two ǣlfec fall and moved quickly to her right to tend them. One was not seriously burned and she ran past him with a quick spell to dismiss the pain, as the other took all her attention. He had taken a full hit of….something dark and his flesh seemed to be melting from his leg as he screamed in pain. The pain she dealt with at once, but the darkness was creeping up his body. He stared at her, and a quick inspiration led her to splash the wound with ǣlfa brew then hold his head so he could drink. The creeping darkness, the melting, seemed to hesitate then moved on up his body, dissolving flesh until she could see bone. Pulling out the orb, she sent wave after wave of healing spells at him with no effect while making sure he was in no pain. Clouding eyes met hers. “My thanks,” he whispered; his head fell to one side. Stunned, she stayed where she was until she heard someone shout, “Healer.” She shook herself and ran toward the voice. No more of the black spells flew at them and she wondered briefly how many wights could cast it.

Elden was finished with the arrows. Now he drew in mana and let fly great arcs of fire hearing bones clatter to the ground and ǣlfec shout around him. Twice he stood to aim his spells and was satisfied with the hits he gave. Then they were surging down the hill.

“The cave,” someone shouted near him, “she took him into the cave.” Above them the rear guard took their places and fired at any wights who rose up after the first wave of attackers passed them. The archers from the wide end of the valley joined them with some holding back to join the rear guard.

“Brillar,” he shouted.

“Tending the wounded,” one yelled back, “No, she comes,” yelled another. Spells crackled from Elden’s hands while acid and then a dark spell ranged around them. “Healer,” one yelled. He had struck in the arm by a dark spell and she only yelled, “Drink and quickly!” and saw him drink as he moved forward.

“Please,” she grabbed an ǣlfe by his arm, “the one struck by the dark spell, we need to cut off his arm or he dies.” Wide eyes looked at her, but he rushed to his comrade dragging him into the cave as she stopped the pain then sealed the wound as the cuts were made. He slumped to the ground, unconscious, and his comrade took a place at the mouth of the cave facing outward to fire at the wights.

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