TITLE: The Dawning War: Prologue
By Jason James
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The heavy wooden door pushed open as an auburn-haired Elf stepped reluctantly into the room.
“I can wait outside,” he insisted again, turning to speak to his escort.
Behind him, a shorter Elf, obviously younger than the first, stood at attention. He wore a dark blue tunic and cape, both trimmed in a brilliant white, the uniform of a cadet at the Elven War College.
“Not at all, sir,” the student’s answer was crisp, practiced, “the Headmaster insisted you be shown immediately to his chamber. Those were his orders.”
“So be it then,” the older Elf sighed, turning once more to examine the room.
“And if I may, Elder Zadok,” the student’s words came haltingly. He had strayed from his script, “on behalf of the cadets, I’d like to wish you a good Ethalion’s Day.”
“And also to you,” Zadok answered absently. He had wandered slowly to the very middle of the chamber. He wasn’t old, not yet, but the signs of age were beginning to make themselves known. His frame, which had once been considered almost imposing, was beginning to thin with age, and his auburn hair was grayed at the temples. Only his eyes, colored dark amber, still held to their youth. They were quick and agile, and as he stood at the center of the room, they took in everything about him, almost at once.
From the doorway, the Elven student continued to look upon the Elder with curiosity, trying to reconcile the heroic stories he knew so well with the old Elf now standing before him. Finally the student spoke again, “The Headmaster will be here shortly.”
The door closed, the handle clicked, and the sound stirred Zadok from his thoughts. The room was as he remembered, but the day’s circumstances gave him new perspective. It was spare, a fact only worsened by the gaping dimensions. On the other side of the room, across from the door, stood a wide table, and stacked neatly to one side were piled a number of scrolls and parchments. In the far corner two swords and a large, rounded shield stood awkwardly against the wall, and behind the desk, there was a large, open window. Through this portal Zadok could easily see the Lyrian Bay, and in the middle of the water he could see Valinor and the gray stone walls of the great city rising from the lapping water’s edge. He quickly turned away.
He moved instead to the left wall of the chamber and the fireplace. A low fire was already burning, made more to bring light to the shadowed room than to provide any heat. It was still the summer season, and despite the late hour of the day, the Headmaster’s chamber was still warm. Above the fireplace hung an old cloth map of the continent; the thick dark lines marking the rivers, mountains, and forests were faded to a worn charcoal-gray, but across the top of the map, in a darker, purer black, were scribed the words, “Ethalion, in the 37th year of Cairwyn”.
Zadok stared up at the cloth map, tracing the course of each faded line with his amber eyes, and once again he slipped into his musing.
Without thinking the Elf reached for a small pouch hanging from his belt. He slipped his hand inside the pocket and withdrew a small rounded stone, and as he continued studying the map, lost amid his dreams and memory, he began slowly turning the stone over and over in his hand.
“A good Ethalion’s day, Elder Zadok.” Zadok’s hand clamped suddenly around the stone and he quickly turned. There, standing beside him, was another Elf, tall and thin with gray hair and dark blue eyes. In one hand the new arrival held a bottle of some dark wine, and in the other, outstretched to Zadok, he held two goblets.
Zadok’s wide smile broke instantly across his face as he took the two cups from the Headmaster, “And also to you, Eliam.”
“Now as far tradition is concerned, as an Elder of the Synod, it’s only right for you to make the first toast,” Eliam reached for one of the goblets in Zadok’s outstretched hand.
“But we’re in your school. I think the precedent then is to at least share in the first toast,” Zadok laughed beneath his mock-official words.
“As you wish,” Eliam cleared his throat and lifted his goblet high above his head, “To friends we’ve lost. To battles won. . . ”
Zadok’s smile waned as he finished the familiar words, “To better days for Avidd’s sons.” Both Elves drank deeply and then paused in the moment’s silence, standing in mutual admiration.
Finally, Eliam spoke again, all ceremony gone from his voice, “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”
Zadok looked into his cup, finding his reflection, “It’s silly to apologize for something so small.”
“And yet I’m sorry nonetheless, so what else is there to do? I know how precious an Elder’s time is, and we have an entire bottle to toast our way through.”
Zadok drank again from his cup, “Then we can take our time. I’ve withdrawn from the Synod. I’m no longer an Elder.”
“It’s strange isn’t it, that reasons always seem so unimportant when measured against such action.”
It was an evasion, but Eliam knew him well enough not to press him. Zadok would answer all his questions, but only in his own time.
Instead Eliam forced a smile back to his face, “Then we’ll reason later, and act while we can. The next toast is yours alone, I believe.”
Zadok raised his cup, “To Belisar, the best Elder we’ve ever known.”
“Or ever will again,” Eliam seconded, and both Elves took a deep draft from their goblets.
Zadok stepped back to the fire and looked down at the flickering flames. “Besides,” he continued quietly, almost to himself, “I was never meant to be an Elder. I served my only purpose long ago. . . .”
“Two hundred and twelve years ago, to the day,” Eliam chimed softly.
Zadok looked back to the Headmaster and lifted his glass with a smile, “To the day.” He drank again, and Eliam followed suit, although the toast was unintentional at best.
Zadok turned his eyes once more to the fire, and Eliam continued softly, “But you’re right. Belisar was a great leader. I remember talking with him once, very early, about the war.” A smile flashed across the Headmaster’s face, “He said to me, ‘Some of our wounds will heal, but others will have to scar over.’ I didn’t know what he meant then, but now. . . I think it’s you and I who are left to bear such scars”.
Zadok's eyes fell once more to the dark wine resting in his cup. “If that’s true,” his voice trailed, “then we’ve been scarred since our creation. . . .”
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