1.The King’s Pavilion
The pavilion was packed as it always seemed to be of late. Beneath the canvass ceiling a parade of delegates, traders, artisans and hunters wandered up to the carpet set out before Adarion’s wooden throne. Everyone commonly knew this place as King’s pavilion, though as Adarion always said that was a misnomer. Inyari understood why her father scarcely regarded the hall as a true pavilion. It was once, hundreds of years before Inyari was born. The whole Tal Estelaid was a mere collection of tents erected for ceremonies and traditional gatherings or when there was a great need to trade in numbers. It was easy to see why the site had become popular, the ring of immense mallorn trees around the outside created a natural clearing partially protected from the elements by the net of broad leaves overhead. Dappled sunlight usually caressed the grassy earth that was for the most part dry and clear of undergrowth, making it a natural camping ground. Eventually, these camps became so common that no-one took pains to take the tents down when they had finished.
Inyari always wondered whether there was one wedding where at the end the guests unanimously decided to leave the tents in place or whether one or two were left behind thus encouraging the next occupants to do likewise. Long lived as the Eldar were no-one could seem to recall how it all started. All agreed, however, that the custom of leaving the tents erected took hold rapidly and some of those who used them decided not to leave at all. The King’s pavilion seemed to come to life as a natural consequence of permanent settlement until all of Elvendom knew that if you had a plea that needed to be heard then Tal Estelaid was where it should be made.
All this happened many years ago and the pavilion Inyari had always known only half resembled its tentish origins. Her eyes ran idly over the skeletal beams of wood running up the side of the walls and arching under the roof like a pale golden ribcage. The timber webbing was everywhere and in certain places, such as her sleeping quarters, had completely replaced any flexible material. For all this Inyari could understand the second part of the misnomer; the first part was slightly more complicated.
Adarion was the eldest of all who could claim direct lineage to Elforen, he who had first sailed into the lands of the north and by marrying and having children by Leafner, brought the blood of the first ones into their race. After ten generations and more that blood had been well-spread and not just from Leafner. Her seductive sisters had taken so many of the Eldar to bed that the claim of their ancient blood did not stand for royalty amongst the Eldar. It was Elforen that mattered when it came to any such claims and the link to the traditions maintained through the generations since. As the one with the strongest connection to these traditions all seemed content to defer to Adarion when judgement was needed. Some used words that meant king or lord but the only formal title Adarion truly held was as head of the council of Tal Estelaid. Nominal decision-maker for all that happened under the roof of mallorn leaves in the square mile or two around the pavilion.
Formal titles accepted, in truth there was not a soul in Elvendom who did not look to Adarion as the final arbiter in all matters. Inyari has once put it to her father that if everyone treated him as a king then he was a king regardless. He answered that it was not for him to presume rulership “authority is granted. If I should seek to take it then my people might reasonably choose to take it back.” Inyari did not think this rang true at the time and answered “who would ever rise against you?” Her father had not answered then and to her this confirmed the absurdity of the idea. Now she was less sure; there was anger in the pavilion and for all the nods and bows and acquiescence it did not seem to depart with the plaintiffs. Inyari had stopped listening to the detail a while before as each complaint resembled the next. Her attention was moreover on her father and his poise as he dealt patiently with what must have numbered hundreds of petitions. Therefore it surprised her when a flicker of frustration did leak out. “What would you have me do? Am I to overrule a First One and refuse any show of gratitude to one who has taught us more than any other?”
“My lord, it is not a simple show of gratitude. My family is being worked to the ground by his demands. We have no time for other things. Will he feed us as we forgo hunting to do his bidding?”
“He may. The First Ones have given us gifts of nourishment afore. Still, I take your meaning and I will contemplate the matter further. Mayhap I will be able to say words of more comfort soon.”
“My thanks, my lord.” The petitioner bowed and drew off and no more came forth. Adarion squeezed his eyes shut for a moment and seemed to age before Inyari’s eyes. She wondered how old he truly was. The elves did not care to count their years beyond a certain point any more than a deer counted how many times it blinked or cattle counted blades of grass they chewed. It was particularly difficult to guess by other means either for Adarion was of the first generation that aged with no surface signs. She remembered in her early years bidding farewell to one of her great aunts and marking the lines around the eyes that gave a clue to the centuries she had seen. Now, that whole generation had left for the lake of twilight or, in a few energetic cases, climbed the flanks of Everpeak. On the rare occasions Inyari contemplated that there might be a time that she would grow weary of the world she thought she would prefer the boat journey to the one through the clouds. Most elves accepted that if you had the want and will to scale the highest of all mountains still then it was not your time yet.
Adarion huddled with his councillors and she knew he would not be done while the sun still shone. There was nothing she could do to ease his worries and that filled her heart with gloom. Away from the main hall she could hear raised voices coming from the living quarters. Drawing closer she corrected herself. It was one raised voice and one calm but firm one answering it. Inyari did not need to see them or hear their words to know who the protagonists would be. “Your father must think of the good of every elf alive and many more elves to come. If you truly understood that you would not think it so simple.” Spoke the calm voice, her mother’s.
“How he can he act for all elves if he does not go out into his kingdom? Not everywhere is so protected as Tal Estelaid. He owes it to his people to see that!” Answered the heated voice; belonging to her sister, Mirwen.
“He has no Kingdom: only wisdom to offer to those that ask for it.”
“And what wisdom does he offer to those too enthralled to set foot before his throne? He needs to act now.”
“Foolhardiness is friend to no elf. Your father will do what is right when he can and he should do no other, no matter how insistently it is demanded.”
“I fear my father has lived so long he does not remember what it is to be short of time. If he does not do something I fear others will first, others who may not have the wisdom you say my father has. I, at least, will be ready for when that happens.” Feet trampled over the floorboards and Mirwen burst through the folds dividing the rooms. “Mae govannen, Inyari.” Her sister greeted softening her expression. Inyari smiled back at her and noted as usual how different her sister was to her in all things. They were both blonde and blue-eyed but where Inyari was light, ash-blonde and pale eyed, Mirwen had hair of dark honey and eyes of eventide. Inyari was reckoned to be the more beautiful of the two, indeed by general agreement Inyari was reckoned to be amongst the very fairest maidens in Elvendom. It was not something Inyari thought, she believed her neck was too long and the set of her features gave her a permanent startled look. Mirwen, on the other hand radiated confidence and surety of purpose. There was no way she could have sat through all those petitioners with Adarion’s patient grace. Equally, she would argue that there would not be so many petitioners if her father was as prepared to act as she was. Inyari could not say who was right at this moment.
“Are you leaving?” Inyari inquired.
“Yes, I will make for the Swan dock this very hour.”
“Is Sirandir waiting for you?”
“No, mmm, well, he might be but besides it is where I need to be now.”
“Do you intent to get a boat?”
“Perhaps, I may need to do something. Nobody here seems wont to act. Father sits patient while mother abets his inaction. It is hard to believe she travelled the length of the Kingdom to draw father’s eye.” Mirwen grinned wryly at her mother’s former boldness. “Forgive me, Inyari, she is a good person and so is he. They want to do what is right I am sure; they simply do not see that the slow world they have known is set to change. Haste at this hour may well be the least rash of courses.”
“I cannot judge. I do not know much of the First Ones. The only one who has visited during my years is the very one we sit in debate about.”
“Aye, that is the trouble with First Ones. Time is slower for them even than father. If you see one twice within a brace of centuries then you are blessed. Saultarus excepted: he is the only one who truly stays with us.”
“And for that he faces our hostility.”
“No, it is more than that. Believe me, of a time there was not a First One I admired more than he. It may be he simply does not understand us like how father does not understand me only more so because we are different peoples.”
“Are we truly? Have we not their blood in each of us?”
“Mayhap that is the only thing we truly share. I must go now. We must speak more; you should see what is happening for yourself. Come to us as soon as you can, we will wait for you at the swan dock.”
“I take it Sirandir will be involved then?”
“Who else can show you the kingdom so well?”
“Very well, maybe if I see things from your side I can help bridge the gap between you and father.”
“I hope so. It is important that you come soon. We cannot linger and also, bring Eledun if you can. That would make such a difference.”
“Is Eledun against you also?”
“He is with father, nominally, yet in truth he stays as far from councils as he can. Doubtless he fears being drawn in otherwise. In this he is not short I wisdom, I concede.”
“I will speak to him.”
“My thanks. Navarie, thel amin.”
As Mirwen disappeared from the way Inyari had entered Inyari passed through the drapes her sister had emerged from. Her mother stood in wait with a patient smile. “Is your sister trying to recruit you to her cause?”
“Doubtless you would prefer I did not involve myself.”
“Not at all. We all need to involve ourselves.”
“Mirwen seems to think father is not involved at all.”
“And in that she is mistaken. She pays no heed to the voices that demand the very opposite to her own. Adarion must listen to all voices and find a way to please them all. Truly, your father’s cares would be eased greatly if he took no involvement. Did your sister say where she was going?”
“She goes to the swan dock.”
“And to Sirandir?”
“He will be there.”
“I see no fault with Sirandir. He and Mirwen make a good pair.”
“You know they wish to wed?”
“Why not? Their love is strong, is this not what is needed in a marriage?”
“Marriage is about more than love. I find no fault with Sirandir save that he is Mirwen’s first lover and she is still so young. She loves him now but a marriage binds for eternity. Your father was not my first lover, when our marriage was proposed I had to be sure I would want to take no other afterwards.”
Inyari looked upon her mother in surprise. Vernilor was a beautiful woman there was no doubt; she always thought that her best features were the ones she got from her mother. Certainly, of all her children Inyari was the one who most closely resembled her, though it was Eledun who took her golden hair. There was no surprise in the thought that other elves beside her father had desired her; it was the other implication that took her back.
“I did not realise your marriage was arranged. I was always told that your love grew from the moment you entered Tal Estelaid.”
“That is true but my arrival was not unheralded. There were not always so many elves that it was easy to find pairings whose bloodlines do not cross. It was no by chance that it was the coastland families who put their daughters forward as brides for Adarion.”
“Haha, there were others? What happened to them?”
“They did not think to get on a boat upstream.” The mother and daughter shared a conspiratorial smirk. After a moment, the mention of rivers brought Inyari’s mind back to Sirandir.
“Sirandir is not close blood to us, is he?”
“His people have long worked the rivers that link Eldaridor to the south. There is some overlap though not enough to be a concern. And what of you?”
“What of me?”
“Do you yearn for love or marriage or both? Is there someone who warms you on the nights you sleep not beneath this roof?”
“Alas, I have not time to speak of this. I must go to Eledun at once; do you know whence he might be found?”
“In his usual spot.”
“I must go to him. Fare well for now, mother.”
Inyari exited through the side of the pavilion and strode towards the southern end of the ring of mallorn where the two greatest of the trees grew close together and interlinked branches high above so that travellers entering from that side would feel as if they were passing under a vast archway. As she looked upon them the left hand tree was the marginally taller of the two, which both towered over four hundred feet into the air and from this one a small wooden cage was descending on the end of a set of ropes. By the time Inyari reached the roots of the tree it had settled down in front of her and a girl had opened the door and jauntily hopped out.
The girl stood out from other elf maidens for both her short hair and choice of clothing. Talasse would always say that leggings were needed when sliding down a rope. Inyari thought it mattered not. To her eyes Talasse’s delicate features shone through. Clothes and hairstyles did little to erode her femininity. “Mae govannen, Talassa. Is my brother above?”
“He is. Do you want me to take you to him?”
“You have just descended. I would not ask you to turn aside from your journey to aid me.”
“Do not trouble yourself. I was merely trialling the cage. I mean to ascend again.” Talasse backed into the cage and gave space for Inyari to join her. Once she was inside, Talasse locked the cage door and rang a bell affixed alongside an empty horn. Moments later the cage jerked and began to rise. Inyari accepted it quite calmly and wondered when such an unusual thing became so normal to her.
Talasse smiled cheerfully at her as she cast her eyes over her companion’s dark brown hair. Most people in the heart of Elvendom, Eldaridor as it was known, had hair that was shades of blonde. Light brown hair, such as Sirandir had, was not uncommon, but dark brown was unusual. Talasse was not from Eldaridor but from Lake Luilin many leagues to the north where the forest took on the name Taurgalen. In truth all Elvendom, save for a few scattered on the coast of Lairvernien, lived in one vast, unbroken forest but where the forest took on a different character its name changed. Around the lake of twilight where elves went at the end of their days, the realm was named Emervale the name given to it by the First Ones who once dwelt in numbers thence. There the great river Alsirduin dominated the landscape, becoming as wide as a lake before it emptied into the crossing sea and the forest clung thickly to its banks and climbing up the sides of the valleys.
To the north of Emervale and along the east coast of the continent, the forest was its least dense. In parts cattle and horses could roam freely in the spaces between trunks. This region, called Ruidlann, continued north as far as Taurgalen where the trees closed in thicker and darker than anywhere else. Yet around the lakes of Luilin and Sulinen, life was lush, the air was clear and the elves that lived there had the bounty of the forest and the fresh water. Between the two ran the crisp and bright waters of the river Alunim, the second largest after Alsirduin, and here too there was beauty and abundance. Upon the northern edge of Taurgalen the forest was broken by the Ered Luin and this marked the end of Elvendom.
South of Taurgalen and west of Ruidlann the continent was split by the Perhered with Perhedor at its heart. Between the Perhered and the Ered Aman, the spine of peaks that ran from farthest north to the southwest tip of all known lands of the north, lay what was known as Eldaridor either side of the Alsirduin. Mallorn trees grew here like nowhere else and their great canopies created many a glade and perfect, well-lit hunting grounds all the way to the flanks of Everpeak and along the edges of the river Everwater than ran into the bay of Lairvernien.
Due south of the Perhered, marking the area between Emervale and Eldaridor, the forest took on the name of Erebion and the great mallorns and oaks gave way to thickets and slender apple wood. If Eldaridor provided Elvendom with most of its game it was Erebion that gave them the lion share of their fruit. Finally, west of the Ered Aman was known as Dunloth, the wettest and hilliest of all the regions. Here could be found the greatest variety of trees, indeed it was said that every kind of tree found in the whole forest could be found in Dunloth growing near as thickly as in Taurgalen and to a height equal to Eldaridor.
“Are they still debating in the King’s pavilion?” Talasse asked.
“Without end. Do you have a perspective on the issues? After all, your people are closer to the trouble than Tal Estelaid.”
“My people may be but I see only what everyone else in Tal Estelaid sees, which is little.” Inyari examined the girl closely.
“Tal Esteliad is a long way from Luilin, likely far enough for you to marry outside of kinship.”
“Yes, my lady. Such is true.” Talasse was impassive but Inyari couldn’t help but smile. “Have you a want to see other parts of the realm?”
“I am not certain. I find it hard to believe there is any place finer than Tal Estelaid.”
“The world is not only places, my lady, it is people too.”
“That is very true.”
“Hold on here, my lady.” Inyari gripped the side of the cage just before it juddered to a halt upon a wooden platform built upon branches as thick as oaken trunks. The ground lay some hundred feet below but the journey was far from over. Platforms kept rising with the branches sometimes linked by staircases sometime by ladders all the way to where the topmost branches split from the bole of the tree. This was all the work of Eledun and his friends. So far only this mallorn had such adornments though if she knew her brother he would gladly build a whole settlement in the branches. Judging by how little space was left in the clearing on ground level, this did not seem like an entirely pointless endeavour.
“Is there any chance that Eledun is close about?”
“None, my lady, he is on the highest platform.”
“I can show you the way when you are fit to follow.”
“Lead on, then.”
Inyari traipsed after Talasse from staircase to staircase in zigzag fashion. Without her help, Inyari doubted she would have ever chosen the right pathway without running short of branches and having to turn back and change direction. The view changed with the climb, whereas from the first platform most of what could be seen was fellow branches, here the world began to open up. Of all trees only the great pines could hope to match a full grown mallorn for height and they did not grow in Eldaridor. After a certain height the mallorns stood out from a bed of uncountable leaves like golden towers peeking through the cloudline. The wind in the leaves hissed constantly in her ears like the sound of a waterfall until with Talasse’s aid she climbed up a rope ladder onto a platform with only sky above. Eledun was leaning over a railing with a leather-bound tube held in front of his face, only pulling it away when Inyari drew herself up from her knees.
“What do you look for?” Eledun turned back to the railing at the question.
“There are three observatory towers over a hundred feet high built upon the slopes of Perhedor. I was hoping to catch sight of them.”
“Is that not over a hundred miles hence?”
“One-hundred and seventy-three. Yet it is not the distance that is the trouble. More it is that white towers do not stand out easily against pale grey, rock. At night, when there are fires burning in the domes at the top, they can be seen clearly enough.”
“Maybe I will get a chance to see that before I return below.”
“It is worth seeing. So tell me, thel amin, what has spurred you to brave the heights to see me?”
“The same cause that you wish to avoid by being here.”
“The debates continue?”
“They do and Mirwen is now part of those debates.”
“Have you taken her part?”
“I am not even sure which part is which. There seem to be so many opinions who can say where sense lies. Do you have a view?”
“This looking eye.” He said holding the gazing instrument. “And our ingenious bell horn in the cage would not exist without the help of Saultarus. He has given us more than any other First One, mayhap than all the others combined for while they come and go he has stayed with us. Is it so strange after all he has given us that now he asks for a little gratitude? Even the most selfless of parents might hope that their child show them some thanks of a time.”
“If it is so simple then why does father not send away these petitioners?”
“I did not say the child likes to be told of his debt. For as long as anyone can remember the First Ones gave without asking for anything in return. The change is uncomfortable for many. I imagine if you had known a trader to give you free apples every time he passed by you would not be best pleased if the next time you saw him he asked for something of value in return, even though this would be customary with any other trader.”
“Surely a First One can see this? Surely they could predict the discomfort that change would bring?”
“You have never met a First One, have you?”
“When Hirgond was last among us I suggested to him that his kind were higher beings and he rejected the notion outright. ‘We are merely older and more powerful, neither of which has anything to do with being better’ he told me. I thought that strange at the time yet the sense in it seems to grow every time I think on it. Who is to say the spirits of a First One cannot be worn down over time? So let Saultarus have his gratitude and the small favours he asks for. It is a small price for his friendship.”
“Mirwen says it has gone farther than this. She means to show me and urges that you come too.”
“Father already has enough voices calling upon him to take their part. I will not increase his woes by adding mine. Look Inyari, look at all this, look in every direction as far as you can see and you will not catch a glimpse of any land that does not look to our father for wisdom. Head of council, King, however you name him this.” Eledun gestured across the view “is what he has to consider every time he makes a decision in the pavilion and that is why I will not seek to sway him. I am not better than anyone else in this kingdom and my views should not overrule all others, be I the son of a King or no.”
Inyari did look out as her brother bid but with a different thought. Somewhere out there something would happen that would touch every leaf and branch in all Elvendom. If only she could use that looking eye to find it then maybe the spark could be snuffed out before it became a forest fire. For no reason she could fathom, as she looked upon it now all she could see was fire, fire burning endlessly for years without end. Fire and a word no elf had ever uttered…war.