The Barbarian Trials
By Jordan Hill
"The Hell Hound has just destroyed the ettin clan," Vandentharion of House Thanlandwire told the other council members.
"Sindol made a great mistake when he summoned the creature, did he not?" Belost, also of house Thanlandwire, said. "He was wrong, as a novice, to try to summon a creature of that magnitude."
"He mispronounced one word of power," Vana intoned. "Who knew that one word could make such a huge difference on the power of the beast he was summoning? Yet Vandentharion was correct when he spoke of the pride that clouded Sindol's mind."
"Ah, well. If it wasn't for the newly-founded Shadow Walkers, who drove the thing away-- barely-- that beast would be ravaging Ardaranel."
"Indeed. Were it not for them and their mage, an entire barbarian tribe to the south would've been spared."
"What is your point? What about them? The humans are... barbaric. Uncivilized you might say."
"Belost! Our way is to respect our neighbors to the south. Although their ideas are different, they are not less."
"Bah," breathed the fiery-tempered elf in derision.
"You are much like Sindol. Be aware of this. Now let us divine where the youths are and how they are faring," Vandentharion uttered. The scrying pool of silver around which they clustered began to swirl, and then an image coalesced in its deep surface: that of the barbarian teens beginning the trek to the mountains.
"Should we send the Talranuil to watch them and bring them here?" Vana asked.
"Hmm. Send a message to the Elfking and ask him if we can bring the barbarian youths into our village," Deltheas of house Aldaval advised.
"But..." Belost tried to think of a reason not to allow them in but he fell short, and the rebuke of the older elf burned in his mind. He personally could not stand any race other than the elves, mostly owing to the temper of his youth. As a young Elhan, he had much wisdom yet to accrue.
Vana dispatched a messenger whom she trusted a great deal, a wise member of the order of the Henil-Eryn (or Forest-Guardians), named Amval. In the shape of a wild eagle, he soon flew high above the trees toward the hidden city of Gloralion, the Summervale. The eagle looked down upon the deciduous trees. As he looked on, a brown bear tumbled playfully in a small clearing, and the elf smiled internally at the beauty of the natural world; in any case, he could not form a real smile with his beak. Soon the elf in the guise of an eagle looked up and saw the Elfspires looming in front of him. Numerous waterfalls splashed from the cliffs, and as Amval approached, the music of the waters filled his ears.
The eagle swooped down to the earth in front of the palace of the elven king Baranthir of the Shining Star. The form of the majestic eagle grew dim, flickering blurrily, until superimposed upon it appeared the image of a noble, high-browed elf with hair of dark umber. The image solidified until the eagle was gone. Before him loomed two guards, tall and proud, clad in plumed helms and clutching spears shod in bronze and steel; they watched the transformation impassively. He told the guards that he needed to speak with the king about matters with Therolan and the humans to the south, and that he came at the behest of the Elders of Therolan. Nodding grimly, the Elven guards motioned for him to enter. He walked towards the king's meeting chamber. This was his second time in the palace. The first time he had been granted permission to enter the Forest-Guardian order, what the humans would call druids. He mused on their mission to protect the vast forests of Ardaranel, what the humans named the Belendale. "Humans are much in my thoughts because of this mission," mused Amval to himself.
He came upon the Grand Hall entrance doors and told the steward his name. The gigantic oaken doors slowly opened with a creak only detectable to the sharpest Elven ears. The crier led Amval towards the grand throne. "Presenting, Amval, of the Henil-Eryn, as a representative of Therolan."
Amval bowed low to show his respect for the king of Ardaranel, King Baranthir. The king was an impressive and imposing figure; he was tall and strong with hair of gold, and a great light gleamed from his brow, cast by the Elebtale, the Browstar, the crown of Elfdom. Apart from the light gleaming from the sacred artifact, Amval detected the faintest glimmer flickering around Baranthir's form. Amval could not quite see it; he almost could make it out if he looked out of the corner of his eye, but it was unmistakably there nonetheless. "He is Galan, one who has spent long years with the offspring of the sacred swan Alfain. How amazing," thought the elf-druid. Suddenly his reverie was interrupted. "Speak," commanded the Elfking.
Amval then explained the details of the Stag-Hunters and how the youths were looking into the decimation of their tribe. He asked if the elves in Therolan could bring the barbarians into Ardaranel. The king thought for a few moments.
"Bid Palanthar and the Talranuil to retrieve them and keep them in Therolan until they are informed about their tribe as well as about the hell hound. Be sure to feed them and better equip them," Baranthir told Amval.
"Thank you my lord." And with that Amval bowed, turned, and gracefully walked out of the grand hall. Genuflection was not the way of the elves. Amval desperately wanted to meet the barbarians but he did not have the strength to change his form again today, sadly. It would have to wait until tomorrow, unless he could find a spell-singer to carry him on the wings of magic. That would have to wait until he called upon Palanthar and the Talranuil.
Once outside the palace he began to walk east. As he walked he listened to the sweet sounding waterfalls. "It would please my heart to visit the garden later," he said to himself. He was referring to the Glorasant. The gardens ran around the three sides of Gloralion, right up to the base of the Ram, the cliffs.
Soon Amval came to a newly built road, gleaming with freshly cut white stone, which would lead him to the headquarters of the Talranuil. He walked south for a period, passing by the shining, delicate spire of the Ithilmin, the Tower of Silver, where he knew all of the important elven documents were kept. Inside those chambers he had studied for five years, a short time for an elven life, but therein he had learned much of the ancient history of the Elhil, stretching all the way back to Alustel and the days of the Immortals. The rest of what he knew about his people came to him at night when he walked in the halls of memory, while the mortal races slept.
Soon after walking about another half mile, Amval looked upon a small fortress. A bower of stone was constructed around a thick linden tree. Although no arrow-slits where visible, Amval knew that he was covered by more than ten unobserved archers as he stood at the closed stone gate. "Halthar! Identify yourself, O Elhan of the trees," the one visible guard atop the wall proclaimed.
"I am Amval, representative of Therolan to the south. We require the help of the Talranuil," Amval answered with ringing voice.
The door then began to slowly open. It swung to gracefully, and no visible hand had opened it.
Amval walked purposefully into the newly-constructed Shadow Walker headquarters. "Lord Palanthar will arrive in a few moments," the lightly armed and armored guard told him. Nodding in recognition, Amval walked over to the gigantic linden tree that made up the heart of the fortress. He traced the patterns on its bark, endeavoring to look within its soul.
"It is wonderful, is it not?" Palanthar, who had quietly crept up on Amval, whispered. Amval whirled.
"Yes, indeed, it is," Amval returned. He bowed before Palanthar, leader of the Shadow Walkers.
"Please do not bow to me, fair Guardian of Nature," Palanthar told Amval, "You are not subject to my commands, and thus you owe me no allegiance," Amval smiled, signaling for Amval to rise. "Now let us go to my quarters where we may discuss the subject at hand."
The two elves gracefully walked deeper into the building of white stone and living wood, into an area which was obviously the ranking officer barracks. They climbed a flight of masterfully-crafted stairs that circled the trunk of the center linden and finally walked through an oak door. Entering a red-carpeted room lit by crystal lamps, Amval marveled at the many ornaments, such as statues and sculptures, that filled the space. Two small plush chairs rested in front of the inviting fireplace. "Please have a seat," Palanthar said and motioned to a plush chair in front of the fire. Palanthar himself sat easily in the other chair. Amval noticed a now-familiar glimmer surrounding the form of the elf who sat across from him. He too was Gloran.
"I sense you have been with the king. What is it that you request?" Palanthar asked.
"The elders of Therolan, watcher of the south, have been tracking a group of barbarian youths, last of their tribe, who have had much to endure, due to the hell hound released by the corrupted Elven spell-singer that you and your group chased out of Ardaranel. We need your group to lead them into Therolan where we may tell them about the demon dog and better equip them if they are to fight it, which we fear may happen," Amval explained.
"We are, of course, doom-bound to lend aid. I will prepare my folk, and then a dweomersmith will carry us on the wings of magic to Therolan," Palanthar said. "You have two hours to do anything you need to do. I suggest you take a visit to the Glorasant."
"Very well. You have my thanks." Amval stood and walked out the door. "Two hours alone in the gardens. This shall be most enjoyable, although it is such a short span of time, merely the blink of an eye." The dark-haired elf left the compound and began heading north, towards the gardens.
Before he knew it, Amval was entering the outskirts of the gardens; rich grasses lined the ground, and out of the manicured fields, fragrant flowers sprouted, silver stars in a firmament of green. Lindens and beeches, seemingly wild but carefully tended, completed the beauty of the scene. He could feel the presence of the living nature soothing his mind. As he walked towards the inner parts, he soon came upon a tall, white boulder within a stone circle. Etched into the stone were the names of every member of the order of Henil-Eryn. Amval scanned the stone and found his name towards the bottom. "Welcome back, Amval," a musical and somehow calming voice from behind the elf said.
Amval turned. "Curunor, how does the day find you?" He called out in joy and surprise.
Curunor, head of the order of Forest-Guardians, smiled at his former student. "I am well, my friend. And you?"
"I too have been well. I feared you had passed into the West."
"Well, I have felt the pull of the sea, but my heart told me I was yet needed here in the hidden vale. I then decided to create this monument to the Forest-Guardians of past and present. The names are magically added once a new Elhan joins the order."
"That is a worthy deed. I am glad that our order will always be remembered even past the age-long memories of our race," Amval declared. Curunor smiled.
The two druids chatted for a short hour before Amval had to leave for the Talranuil compound.
"It gladdens my heart to have seen you again, Amval," Curunor said as he embraced his former student."
"And mine as well, Curunor."
They broke the embrace and Curunor watched as his student walked away. "Good bye," he whispered to himself, "goodbye for a long time. May you spread the power of the life force far and wide."
Amval soon arrived at the Talranuil compound. Palanthar, along with thirty warriors and woodsmen, two sorcerers, and a spell-singer waited for him. "Do as Tirial instructs," Palanthar told everyone.
The wizard began telling the group how to concentrate on their destination. They all held hands to focus their energy. Then Tirial, wearing an elegant black robe with silver stars woven into the cloth, began to chant. Amval began to feel dizzy as the world around him spun. His stomach lurched and then he landed with a loud thunk.
He gazed around his new surroundings, and he noticed he still clasped hands with the Shadow Walkers around him, but now they were located in Therolan Glade. "The vertigo will pass," Tirial reassured them as many of the Shadow Walkers fought to reorient themselves.
"Our thanks, Tirial." Palanthar said, and Tirial bowed low.
"Greetings O Palanthar, leader of the High Twilight Wanderers. Your group is younger than a sapling, but already your fame is whispered from the edges of the boughs across to the Elfspires," Vandentharion said, drawing the attention of the Talranuil.
"Greeting, Vandentharion of House Thanlandwire. Long has it been since we last spoke," Palanthar returned, bowing.
"We have much to discuss," Vandentharion solemnly uttered. "Please, if you and your folk will follow me. . ."