Orb and Arrow, Book I: Exploration

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Brillar was suddenly grabbed up and dragged further into the cool darkness of the cave. At its mouth, archers were felling any wights that rose again before they could cast more spells. “Arrows, how many?” There was no answer. She opened the foldbox hastily and dumped the remainder of her arrows behind them and received a nod; then she stepped far back into the depths of the cave where it branched.

Elden was there. “Leave the foldbox open, it gives some light.” He hurried to open his own noting the shine of a crystal in the wall as the foldbox glowed. Around them was a small group of ǣlfec, Uthalef among them. He glanced at her arm and she shook her head, saying “a small thing only,” Elden looked at her sharply.

Uthalef took out a sure-path and smiled. “I’m told this will work anywhere even underwater,” he said tapping it. The sure-path rose and moved off slowly with a soft light. The corridor branched and branched again but the sure-path seemed unfaltering. Left, right, upwards or down, the sure-path led them. Elden stopped them suddenly.

“We’ve been here before, that crystal in the rock? I noted it the first time we were here. This is the first branch.”

Uthalef snatched the sure-path from the air.

“You’re certain.” His voice was strained and anxious.

“The sure-path is avoiding danger, but the boy is in danger. We’re getting no closer.”

Uthalef shook his head. “I have nothing to offer. We can’t remain too long, arrows can’t be recovered forever.”

Elden looked at Brillar. She ran her hands over her face and through her hair. “One idea only,” she said. “Are any here hurt, injured?”

“Just small things.” She healed her arm completely then turned to the others. “Healing must be complete and we all need to drink.” She dealt with each in turn.

She shook her head. “I know the words, but I’ve never tried them. I’ll ask the orb to seek someone in pain for Ǣdhahren must be in pain. I hope we’re close enough to him and far enough from the others…” she let her words hang in the air. Holding the orb in both hands she breathed on it and spoke the spell she hoped would bring a response. She felt the orb vibrate in her hands and spoke again. This time it pulled her forward, away from where they now knew the entrance lay. She walked ahead of them down, left, down, right, but always down until the corridor began to open and a glow marked the space ahead. She tucked the orb away and drew her bow with the rest.

“Welcome, honored guests,” came a hoarse voice, old, like dust. “Ǣlfec and humans ready to give blood sacrifice. Welcome.”

Glancing out, Uthalef whispered, “There’s cover, scatter and make for it, NOW” and they moved as he spoke. Nothing came toward them. Quick looks found that chamber to be two dozen paces long and half that wide. There was light, a table, instruments, a small fire, things for brewing at the far end. Shelves lined the walls, covered with flasks and bottles. A dark shape was behind the table, and a woman in red was beside him, her hand firmly on Ǣdhahren’s arm.

“Shall I call the wights, my lord?” the woman’s voice was thick with menace.

“No need. We have the boy.” Then he called to the ǣlfec, “An even trade perhaps and no one else need die? An ǣlfi for an ǣlfain lord? We can stop the wights so that you can leave safely. Come now, a fair trade?”

There was silence, then the clatter of Uthalef’s bow and knife as he threw them aside and stood. “Agreed then,” he said and he stepped from behind a rock hands open.

“My Lord,” one of the ǣlfe shouted and was silenced by Uthalef’s gesture.

“The bargain is struck,” his voice was strong as he stepped forward. There was laughter from the end of the chamber.

Then, with all attention focused on Uthalef, Elden stepped out and a bolt of light streamed down the hall striking the K’ish who screamed in pain. Brillar was up and her arrow struck the woman holding Ǣdhahren as more arrows thudded into the K’ish. Uthalef rushed forward for the child, scooping him up and running back to them.

Elden had gone to stand in the center of the hall seemingly wrapped in fire as he sent wave after wave of flame at the potions on the table and on shelves on the walls, washing everything clean with fire. Acrid smoke filled the air, choking them. Brillar was suddenly at his side pulling his arm, screaming, “We have to go!” Fire was creeping toward him and the smell was horrific. She pulled him back to the corridor and upwards

“They have the sure-path, we have to follow.” There was an explosion in the chamber below and they ran up the hall. The faint light of the sure-path grew brighter.

“Don’t stop,” she screamed, seeing that they had stopped to wait. “We’re here, go... go!”

They ran for the entrance, now their only exit.

“We have him,” Uthalef shouted, and the others scooped up arrows and stood still firing.

“To the left, the wide part of the valley,” one of the defenders yelled and Uthalef turned left. Brillar grabbed the ǣlfe whose arm had been removed helping him up and moved off. Elden stood still, his face black with rage, throwing arcs of flame ahead of them then to the side until their way was clear then ran with them. Above them on the hill, the archers withdrew. With nothing to fight, wights began to sink, one by one, first at the west end of the valley then in a slow advance until all had gone back to the ground, bones fallen away.

The sure-path had faltered at the entrance but now stood ahead of them. When they reached a safe place at the southeast Uthalef lay his charge on the ground and took it out of the air. The others began to gather around him while Brillar knelt by Ǣdhahren and began spells to chase darkness, heal hurt and sooth pains. Satisfied, she stood.

“Perhaps some of that good ǣlfa brew?” she asked. She faltered and sat heavily, laughing. “And some for me as well.” She took out her flask and drank deeply feeling the day wash from her, feeling only sunlight and hearing only a breeze over a field.

“Healer,” someone tapped her on her shoulder. She stood and started toward the wounded.

“I count sixty-three,” said Yarell and she stopped. She needed to speak and the words came slowly and with regret.

“One fell close by,” and she gestured, “taken by a dark spell that crept up his body as I watched. I hoped that…I gave him a drink and stopped the pain… he thanked me…..” she covered her face, racked with sobs. Elden took her in his arms, trying to soothe her.

“A moment,” he said, holding her. “There are more who need you,” he whispered and felt her nod. She straightened and wiped her eyes.

“Who needs aid?” She went to the wounded. Ǣlfa drink had helped many recover from lesser wounds. Now she took up the orb again, concentrating on dispelling pain, knitting up broken and smashed limbs, soothing and healing burns. Despite his lack of healing skill, Elden was able to help by cleansing wounds and soothing others. The ǣlfe who now lacked an arm thanked her and his friend for saving his life, leaving Brillar in tears once again. Ǣlfa wafers were passed to everyone, water and ǣlfa drink from flasks. Some of the ǣlfec gathered firewood, an acknowledgement that they would have to stay there. Elden brought a kettle from his foldbox and Brillar added water to herbs for a strong healing tea with honey that was shared around to the injured then to anyone who wanted it. Tea was brewed again and again through the afternoon and into the night. Cold ǣlfa brew was stimulating but the hot tea seemed to sooth.

Most of the ǣlfec had never been to war. Now they gathered in small groups near the fire talking in low voices sometimes joined by elders who gave them some words of comfort. Groups shifted and re-formed, those who had been injured early in the battle wanted to be told what had been seen and done. Sleep took some early, others didn’t sleep until near dawn. Sometime in the night, Ǣdhahren stirred, and cried out. Brillar was at his side quickly to find that he had been given a sip from a flask and a piece of wafer. He looked at her curiously, then leaned against Uthalef and slept.

“What he needs most now,” she was told, “is ǣlfa food and drink and the comfort of his own people. I’ve sent a Summoner to our home. They’ll send runners for him. But first he needs rest.” He sat back, cradled the boy in his arms, and began to sing quietly. Brillar sat down next to him finding Elden at her side; she wrapped herself in her cloak and lay her head down on his leg. Around them, ǣlfec voices joined Uthalef’s song, weaving a gentle web. She fell asleep to quiet dreams.

In the morning, Elden was gone but there was a blanket under her head and another over her. She stood and shook herself awake, then took a sip from the ǣlfa flask and smiled. The fire still lit the dawn sky but now she could smell roasting meat and remembered that she had eaten nothing the day before but elvish bread.

“There was some meat still in my foldbox,” Elden greeted her with meat roasted on a skewer, “and a mage can be handy in a hunt.”

“Handy indeed,” said Wa’olle, joining. “Three fine young stags appeared before we had gone a quarter mile. And he spotted them with far-sense. Completely unfair.” She nodded agreement.

“No one else seems to object,” Elden put in, laughing. “Food is like medicine for the sick and injured as I recall.”

“Injured!” Brillar moved toward the injured still pulling meat from the skewer. She found most of the minor injuries healed. Even the large acid burns were doing well and pain relief was all that was needed. The broken limbs been splinted after she drew the bones together and pain relief was needed there too. The smashed arm would take more time to heal and she searched the break and surrounding tissue well to make sure the arm would be useful.

“Healer,” one asked, “that dark spell? The one that took Farendai?”

“Elden told me the wights had spells unknown to the Brotherhood. Once that dark spell struck, it grew in his flesh, creeping up, eating him away.” She stopped and closed her eyes. “Even a small injury would grow into a mortal wound.” He nodded and turned away.

That morning they were joined by three more ǣlfen and then four in the afternoon. All dropped exhausted by the fire and slept at once as they had run without rest for several days. Brillar looked at them and sent healing spells over their legs and feet as they slept.

Elden called in more animals to keep the group fed. Elven bread was sustaining but the supply was nearly depleted. Wa’olle, who always joined him, kept up joking complaints about the unfairness of the hunt, more, it seemed to cheer himself than others.

Ǣdhahren stayed close to Uthalef, taking food and drink only from him. Whenever she was near him, she sent out waves of soothing and was rewarded with smiles.

The next day was spent in quiet conversations. Sometimes as someone passed near her, she would hear a whispered, “Healer.” She turned at the first whisper, then simply nodded at the rest.

She and Elden had some time together quietly as she tried to process the battle for Ǣdhahren.

“The woman who held him, she said she would call wights? How could she do that?” Her question, spoken quietly enough, brought several ǣlfec closer to hear the answer.

Seeing their curiosity, Elden replied more loudly, “Ah yes, the woman with Ǣdhahren.” They were joined by more ǣlfec and he waited, drawing signs in the dirt with a stick.

“What can call wights?” asked an ǣlfe, impatient to hear the answer.

“You know about the K’ish, makers of dark potions. There are other evil masters in the realms of magic, and things not taught in the Houses of the Four Powers. It’s said the K’ish may predate the Brotherhood, but I’ve hear about the Savic, women who sometimes practice the dark arts. I thought they were just tales. It’s said that they are known for their power to communicate with the dead and that most are harmless, living by offering to help grieving families contact someone who has died so that the family can know that the loved one is at peace. There are many imitators, women who claim to be able to make the contact only to collect money and move on. True Savic are said to be rare. Savic who practice the dark arts are said to be rarer still. How a K’ish and a Savic met and joined together I can only guess. It may have been his potions that bound her to him.”

“And she could call the wights?” came a question.

“She could speak to the dead so, yes she called the wights and the other undead. What she promised for their service, again I can only guess. There are legends that say the undead wish only to truly die; to sink into the ground one last time and become dust. These things are beyond my knowing.” Ǣlfec moved off to share what they had heard with others.

When the conversation reached Uthalef, he left Ǣdhahren with another ǣlfe and joined them.

“I have also heard of the Savic,” he told them quietly, “but a long time ago, and the stories are true.”

“How long?” Brillar had wanted to know his true age.

Grey-green eyes turned to her taking her in. Brillar blushed and dropped her head. “My apologies” she said quietly.

Suddenly Uthalef laughed. “Curiosity is natural in one so young. Five hundred years and more it was when I first heard of the Savic.” She kept her head down, still blushing.

“I was on a sea voyage, for at that time, many of my people went to sea. We were low on fresh water and there was an island nearby, but the sailors refused to land saying there was evil there. A woman, called a Savic, they said, had been marooned there for her dark deeds. If a ship came too close, the sailors would hear singing, dive over the side and try to swim toward the song. Sailors say that anyone who could get to land was enslaved or killed. How long ago she had been set there, no one knew or could say. For all I know, she could have been dead for a long time or she could have had a store of potions to extend her life. In truth, Elden seems to know more about them than I do even if he only heard stories.” He hurried back to his charge.

“Someday,” Elden said quietly, “your curiosity will get you into trouble.”

Brillar burst out laughing so hard she couldn’t speak. Around them heads turned to stare. Laughter poured from her and she gasped for breath, pointing at him as he stared at her.

When she could catch her breath, she gasped, “What more trouble is there?” and dissolved into more laughter. When she was able to breathe properly, she shook her head at him. Waving a hand she asked again, quietly, soberly, “What more trouble is there?”

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