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For those of you following this story, you may wonder what happened to Chapter 3. Chapter 3 actually details the betrayal of Kaol and the fall of Aticor. It's posted as the alternate Chapter 1, so if you haven't read that and want to be filled in on the story, please take a look. Please, please, please be ruthless in your critique. I'm looking for any and all insight to make this story stronger. Thank you so much and Merry Christmas.
After a long silence Avidd turned to Valinn, “The gift of creation has finally fallen to you.” Avidd held the Book of Alarnon and the golden quill out to his Arcrindel. Valinn bowed his head and reached for both, his hands trembling as they drew closer to the gifts, and his gray eyes fixed on the cover of the heavy tome.
“You know my will for your creation, just as each of your brothers has known. Therefore we will withdraw and leave you alone to create.”
Valinn’s eyes darted up, but Avidd and the host of Arcrindel and Crindel were already gone. He forced a deep breath to fill his lungs, and then once more Valinn’s eyes drifted to the Book of Alarnon. He pulled open the cover and turned to an empty page.
The silver haired Arcrindel forced another breath and lifted the quill above the clean parchment, his hand shaking with the weight of the impending moment. But then, as he lowered the pen to the paper, he couldn’t write.
Slowly Valinn dropped his arm to his side, bowed his head, and whispered, “Give me strength.”
Almost at once he felt the warm, steadfast hand of Avidd closing over his own, and lifting the golden quill once more above the Book of Alarnon.
“I will be your strength,” Avidd’s deep voice whispered at the ear of Valinn, “Close your eyes and allow your creation to be written into the Book of Alarnon.”
Valinn obeyed, squeezing shut his eyes and giving up all control of his hand. He felt the quill, still pressed tightly between his fingers, lower to touch the empty page, and then it started writing, dancing slowly across the golden plain of parchment.
Finally, when it stopped, Valinn blinked open his eyes and, as he looked down at the Book, he saw the page covered over in silver script. He read the words aloud, “I will call forth upon Ethalion a new creation. I will give them the same form as the Crindel before them, except for their ears, which will rise slightly to remind them it was an Arcrindel who wrote them into being. They shall have neither the power nor the wisdom of the Crindel, as these gifts were given by Avidd, but they shall be crafters of beauty, keepers of knowledge, stewards of power, and seekers of wisdom and truth. I will create within them knowledge of themselves and the world around them, and they shall be called Elves.”
When he had finished reading, Valinn placed the golden quill on the open page of Alarnon and turned around.
Avidd stood before him, “The Elves are a good and worthy creation, and they will be blessed because of your prayer. Now go to Ethalion and greet them in my name.”
Valinn bowed his head, spread wide his pearl-white wings, and with a crack of thunder rolling across the heavens, the Arcrindel was gone.
“And so it passed that the Elves were written into creation,” as Valinn finished his story of creation to the Elves, Zadok could feel his eyes well with tears, but even before the first could fall a swelling roar of anger against the Kasyk rose from the ranks of the Elves. Zadok looked quickly away, trying to hide his own reaction, but as he turned, he found himself staring for the first time into the face of the Elf beside him.
The Elf to his right seemed old, hundreds of years older than the single hour of his life. His cheeks were wan and drawn, his shoulders were rounded forward with age, and his brow was furrowed with countless shallow folds. The short, fragile hair atop his head was as white as the foam on a breaking wave, and his eyebrows, also pure white, danced like two wisps of cloud above his only youthful feature, a pair of sharpened eyes of slate.
“How can we hate what we should pity?” the old Elf’s voice was thin, but strong. Zadok shook his head, not trusting himself to speak. Even so, his tears burst forth from their dam.
The old Elf laid his thin hand atop Zadok’s bowed head and whispered at his ear, “You only see what they cannot understand. There is no shame in that.”
In the distance in front of them, Valinn raised his hand, and the host of Elves again fell silent, “There is a great evil present in Ethalion, but the Kasyk themselves are not that evil. They are only the outward sign of the malice that dwells in the heart of their creator. Nevertheless, they have had reign over Ethalion for far too long, and Avidd’s creation has suffered by their hand. It cannot be allowed to continue. The Elves were created for this purpose. You will stop the Kasyk.”
As soon as the words left his lips a cheer went up from the Elves, but again Valinn’s hand rose into the air, silencing the crowd. He scanned his eyes across the expectant faces, finally lowering his arm and pointing toward the middle of the gathered Elves, “Come forward.”
The single Elf chosen by Valinn knew at once the words were meant for him. It was the aged Elf next to Zadok. Immediately the crowd before him parted, and with his snowy head bowed to his chest, the old Elf stepped forward to stand in front of the Arcrindel.
“From this day forth your name will be Belisar, and you shall be the chosen leader of your people and First Elder of the Elven Synod. I’ll give to you the same authority I’ve entrusted to the Captain of my Crindel, and I ask only in return that you serve your people well and honor the will of Avidd in all things.”
Belisar lifted his eyes to meet Valinn’s, “I honor him even now.”
The corner of the Arcrindel’s mouth lifted in a smile as he laid a hand on the shoulder of the white-haired Belisar, “And you are right to do so.” Then, turning back to the Elves, the Arcrindel lifted his voice so all could hear, “Little time remains in light of the task ahead. Prepare well, all of you, for the hour of your purpose is already at hand.”
Another cheer lifted from the Elves, but even as the strains carried away on the wind, the crowd scattered, eager to follow Valinn’s command.
For a moment Valinn watched the Elves in their work, a full smile breaking across his face, but then he turned back to Belisar, “There’s still more that I must tell to you.”
Belisar nodded his understanding and followed as the Arcrindel led him into the cover of the woods at the edge of the field.
Once in the shadows of the forest Valinn continued, still walking as he spoke, “The Elves were created on an island just off the northeast shore of Ethalion, well out of the reach of the Kasyk. This was done to give you the needed time to prepare yourselves, but it cannot last. If you stay here too long the Kasyk’s reach will extend even to this island, and if that should happen, Ethalion will undoubtedly fall to Kaol. Remember, Belisar, the Elves weren’t created to hide from this world, but to rescue it. Take care not to confuse the two.”
Belisar nodded as they continued walking through the forest, but then, as Valinn turned aside a last tangle of branches, the white-haired Elf stepped forward and found himself standing atop a grassy plateau, a sheer cliff of stone plunging away from his feet to the breaking sea below. In front of him all the Elf could see was blue; the dark water spanned the infinite horizon and melted into the deep azure of the cloudless sky above.
Valinn stood silent giving Belisar time to take in the scene laid out before him. Finally he continued, “Before this war begins someone must go to the Kasyk and offer them a peace. They must be given the chance to turn aside from the evil they’ve chosen.”
Slowly Belisar turned from the ocean and looked into the gray eyes of the Arcrindel, “And how do we find the Kasyk?”
“West of this island, on the mainland of Ethalion, there is a delta, formed by the mouth of the northern river. Follow the river west into the forest, and you’ll come to Trynth’el, the sanctum of the Knowing Animals. There you will find Cairwyn, the Knowing Lion --”
Valinn nodded, “The Animals have been divided over the Kasyk, but Cairwyn has kept his race from splintering. His loyalty to Avidd is beyond question, and he’ll freely offer you what aid he can. He will guide you to the Kasyk.”
Belisar’s slate eyes kept fixed on the Arcrindel, “And will they repent?”
Valinn bowed his head and answered softly, “As long as time remains there is hope.” Without another word, an echoing crack of thunder rolled towards the sea and the Arcrindel was gone from Ethalion.
Many days later a small party of Elves gathered on the narrow, pebble-strewn shore of the island, long before the first light of morning would appear. The moon was absent from the darkened sky above, leaving only the stars to give light to the sober scene at the water’s edge, but without the silver reflection bathing all of Ethalion in muted light, the countless drops of white scattered across the black abyss appeared to shine with an even greater brilliance.
Around these boats a company of Elves quickly loaded supplies into the bottom of the shallow hulls.
Not far away from this first activity a second gathering of Elves huddled together on the stony shore, watching the final preparations in silence.
Finally, after a long moment’s pause, Belisar turned his slate eyes away from the canoes and back to those Elves around him, “The time has come for us to venture forth from Coripan, and the task that calls us to Ethalion is not a light one.” Belisar stopped himself again and looked closely over the Elves gathered around him. They were all old, although admittedly still younger than himself. The hair atop their heads was thin and gray, as were their beards, and each of their faces folded upon itself in countless wrinkled grooves. There were nine of them, ten counting himself. Taken together they were the Elders chosen by Valinn to fill the Synod. The lone exception stood just to the right of the Elders, a golden-haired female with fair skin and pale blue eyes, who was still in the prime of Elven youth.
Belisar continued, “We must go to the Kasyk, and offer them a peace.” The aged Elves nodded to the words; they knew all too well of Valinn’s command.
Belisar drew in a long breath, “I will carry this message.” A number of the Elders began talking at once.
Belisar lifted his hand and once again the Synod fell silent, “I have already spoken with Zebedee. As second Elder of the Synod he will lead until I return.” All eyes turned instinctively to the gray-bearded Zebedee, who bowed his head at the words. Belisar continued, “I’ve also asked Lyra to join us tonight. She is the first of our Archons, and therefore, while I am gone, she will have final say in all military decisions. That being said, Lyra, make use of the Synod’s wisdom.”
The golden-haired Elf nodded her head, “It would be foolish of me not to.”
Belisar lowered his eyes, “Very well, then.”
“You know you don’t have to go,” the soft words came from Zebedee as the gray-haired Elf laid his hand on Belisar’s shoulder, “Any one of us would gladly take your place.”
Belisar nodded, unable to speak.
“Or none of you have to go at all,” Lyra pleaded, stepping closer to the side of Belisar.
Belisar raised his hand again, “No. . . I want to go. It may well be the lone purpose I can serve.” The Elf swallowed his emotion, and lifted his head, “You can call him now, Lyra. I think we’re ready.”
Lyra’s voice rose into the air, “Eliam, you are summoned before the Synod.” At once, one of the Elves loading the canoes set down the leather sack he was carrying and walked toward the gathered Elders. He was young, with dark hair and deep blue eyes.
“Are you Eliam, Jarl of the Second Sept?” Lyra questioned.
Eliam answered quickly, “I am.”
“And are those the Elves of your Company?”
Eliam nodded, “They are.”
“You and your company are to go with Elder Belisar to Ethalion. Once there you will find Cairwyn, leader of the Knowing Animals. He will take you to the Kasyk.” At this, Eliam’s navy eyes darted across the Synod, looking first to Lyra, then to Belisar, then back to Lyra.
Belisar’s calm voice answered the Elf’s unspoken question, “We are going to offer peace and, Avidd willing we’ll end this war before it can begin.”
Lyra resumed, her strong voice restoring some formality to the moment, “Your Company will protect Elder Belisar and they will assist him in this endeavor. From this moment on he will assume leadership of your company and you will act as his second. Do you have any questions?”
“The rest of my Sept . . .?” Eliam’s voice was distant.
“They’ll join you in Ethalion soon enough. Is there anything else?” Eliam shook his head; Lyra continued, “Then inform your company of their orders and start for Ethalion at once.”
“Aye,” Eliam nodded to the Synod, and then turned and stepped quickly back to the boats. As he approached, the nine Elves in his company were resting, waiting. Some leaned against the side of a canoe, others sat or crouched on the shore, but as Eliam stopped in front of them, all turned their attention to the Jarl.
“We’re taking Belisar to Ethalion. Finish loading the boats. We leave as soon as they’re ready.” Immediately, the Elves sprang back to action, loading what was left of the leather sacks into the canoes. They already knew they would be going to the mainland, but hearing that the first Elder was going with them gave the company a new sense of excitement as they busied themselves with the work.
The only exception to this newfound energy stood on the graveled shore some distance away from the canoes. He was the only Elf in the company not working to load the boats, and the only one who didn’t hear a word of what Eliam had said. Instead, the auburn haired Elf stood with his back to the canoes and the company, holding his hand across his brow as he stared up into the star-filled sky.
“Zadok,” Eliam called across the distance, but the Elf made no answer.
Eliam started walking closer and tried again, “Zadok!”
Zadok turned slowly to meet the frustration of the Jarl, a quick smile starting at the corner of his mouth, “Do you really think there's evil in Ethalion tonight? Beneath a sky like this?”
Eliam lowered his head, summoning his patience, “Beauty’s not the same as good. Neither is hope and what's real. For all our sakes, I wish you’d spend less time concerned with the former and more time on the latter. You serve as Rook of this company, my second in command. Now lead by your example and get back to loading the boats.”
Zadok turned away, lifting his eyes once more to the night sky, “I don’t know. . .” his voice trailed back into the distance, “After all, aren’t we fighting this war to save beauty? Aren’t we risking all our lives for hope? It seems we could all benefit from concerning ourselves more with that.”
“Load the boats, Zadok,” Eliam’s voice was cold.
“Aye,” Zadok whispered to himself with a laugh before repeating it for Eliam, “Aye sir, as you command.” But the smile still lit on his face as he turned and started toward the canoes.
In the stillness of the passing night the small vessels glided silently across the water, rising and falling with the swell of the sea. Likewise, each of the Elves carried by the four canoes was quiet.
The company paddled in silence for hours. They left Coripan in the middle of the night and now, with the first rays of light breaking over the horizon behind them, they had yet to reach Ethalion. As the black of night slowly faded into the muted gray of morning, the company saw for the first time that a low fog had gathered over the ocean during the night. The fog was thick, and the Elves could see no more than an arm’s length in front of the canoes. Still, cautiously, they went on. They paddled for the better part of an hour. The fog that surrounded them remained unchanging, growing no thicker nor lighter as they went across the water.
Both of Zadok’s shoulders ached. He was unsure how long he had been paddling, and what made the pain worse was not knowing how much farther he would need to go. He peered into the fog, hoping to see a shore line, the top branch of a tree, anything that would suggest they had arrived. Then he saw it. He was the first, but all the Elves became aware of its presence almost immediately. In the distance, straight ahead, they could see a light. They couldn’t tell exactly the source of the light, as the fog obscured everything around them, but they knew it was close.
Zadok turned in his seat and looked back to Eliam. The Jarl raised his open hand into the air and the four canoes stopped in the water. Without speaking, Eliam motioned to Zadok, then to an Elf on his left and another on his right. Zadok untied the cloak from around his neck and let the heavy cape drop to the bottom of the canoe. Resting one hand on the outrigger and one on the side of the boat, Zadok lifted himself from his seat and lowered his body into the cold morning water. The other Elves did the same, and once all three were in the ocean they slowly began to swim toward the light.
Zadok moved deliberately through the water, keeping his head above the surface so as to never lose sight of his target. He knew that each stroke carried him closer, and yet the fog in front of him never broke to reveal what lie ahead. Zadok took another stroke, then another, and then another, and with that final stroke he felt his foot dig into the sand below. He had made it to shore. No longer swimming, but crawling forward now, he continued toward the light. Suddenly, the fog in front of him broke, and the Elf could see a low fire burning on the pebbled shore.
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