Chapter 1 - The Elves

by Adrian Sweeney - Approx 6940 words

“Jak, what you doing out playing with the defiled ones? and why have you brought one here?” Demanded the Warrior pointing to the dark elf strapped to the back of a mule.

“Uncle,” he responded, then indicated the others in the group, “Prince Salistar and his father, the king, were attacked by dark elves while out hunting. We seek sanctuary and help to get his highness back to the Capital, and we brought this captive for questioning.”

Mal looked around at her friends and noticed that Grego was missing, “Grego, wheres Grego,” she half screamed, looking about, then she noticed that Grego’s horse sat empty numbly, Knowing that the splash she had heard had been her friend. Cursing herself for not even checking who had fallen, the thought occurred to her that he might still be alive. Turning around towards the river, she was stopped by another elf who stepped into her path and blocked the way.

“You stay here until we decide what to do with you.” said the elf; other elves circled the group blocking any and all exits.

“I must find my friend; you must let me past,” she half screamed, trying to barge past the guard; her only thought was to find her friend.

Kicking her horse forward, the elf nimbly sidestepped, catching her by the arm and dragged her out of her saddle, dropping her heavily to the ground.

As the darkness descended on her, Mal’s last thought was the looks on her friends’ faces full of the embarrassment of her fleeing across the river and leaving Grego behind.

She would never live down her shame, knowing that she never looked back to see who had fallen but had pressed on to the safety of the river bank hung heavy on her shoulders.

Mal swore a solum vow to never leave a friend behind, even if it meant her death and to make it up to the rest of her friends.

Mal suddenly realised that everyone was moving and that she had been helped on the back of her horse. Her head was spinning, and trying to figure out what was going on was hard.

“Are we going to look for Grego?” Mal asked the elf guard, but she got no response; whether the guard understood her words or not, she didn’t know.

By late afternoon Mal was indeed lost even though she grew up on the mountains and the thin forests that grew in the mountains of home. The elven forest seemed to confuse and befuddle her.

She could have sworn that they had already travelled down this path lined with giant trees that made her feel so small. Now she thought that they were heading back to the spot they had first arrived at.

Her memories struggled to reach through the fog that enveloped her brain, and she remembered Grego maybe Master Johana had convinced the elves that they needed to go back and look for Grego. Yes, that is it; they were going back to look for Grego. Mal smiled to herself, happy that they were going to find Grego.

Turning a corner that Mal swore would have led back to the river. The smile on Mal’s lips disappeared as a gigantic tree whose branches reached so high that Mal thought they were as tall as a Mountain; it towered higher than any tree Mal had ever seen.

Mal swung her horse out of line with a cry of anguish, trying to head back to the river. The last thing she remembered was the world spinning before darkness enveloped her.

Jak was the only group member not wholly affected by the elven magic clouding their eyes; his elven heritage dulled some of the magic’s effects.

The journey had taken hours, and they had passed slowly as the elven magic of the forest affected the dark elf. His screams had been echoing through the woods since he woke several hours before.

Jak watched as Mal swung her horse, trying to ride back to find Grego in her confused state. She had been muttering for the last three hours. When she suddenly tried to escape driving her horse into one of the guards who had nimbly avoided the horse reached up and again dragged Mal straight out of the horse. The sound of air exploding out of her lungs was clear to hear. She didn’t move, and two elves had to lift her and lay her over the saddle so that they could continue.

They didn’t have far to go before until they arrived at the foot of the great tree. An elderly elf with long flowing white hair in robes of the palest green stood with a staff in hand, waiting for them to arrive. When the party came to a stop, he walked over and touched each with the staff’s tip. As it touched their skin, the befuddlement that had ensorceled them disappeared, and they were able to think clearly again.

When at last he came to the screaming elf, the tip of the staff glowed bright red, and a beam of light sprang forth to strike the elf who went limp, the screams stopping instantly.

“Much better,” he muttered, Turning to Jak’s uncle, “Would you like to tell me why a Prince of the kingdom is here? Why he seems to be a prisoner? and why a defiled one is here as well?” his tone left no doubt to the party that he was not best pleased.

“Master Jain,” clasping his left fist in his right hand, he bowed deeply to Master Jain. “They crossed the border with a band of defiled ones hot on their tails. We killed the defiled ones and brought the others here.”

“If they aren’t prisoners, then why were they ensorceled? and why is one unconscious and lying across the back of a horse?” demanded Master Jain.

Jak’s uncle withered under the stare of the old man, “Sorry, Master Jain, it was not our intention to insult any, but the enchantment for the defiled one affected them all.”

“If you had continued your training, then maybe, just maybe, you would have known how to cast it properly,” he snapped, leaving Jak’s uncle standing there; the old man walked over to the Prince.

“Welcome, your highness and my apologies for your treatment,” he said, slightly bowing his head towards the Prince, “If you would follow me, your Highness, I’ll take you to see the Queen, and we’ll get someone to look at your wounded.”

As they got closer to the great tree, they could see that the lumpy ground had windows in it, small chimneys poked out of the tops, some with smoke sailing up into the tree above that smelled of hickory. Small circular doors led into the houses, even smaller faces peered out of the odd window watching the group as they passed.

As the group came into an area that could only be described as a marketplace, small creatures no more than three feet tall were going about their day, including haggling over the price of an exotic-looking fruit.

A large building stood at the far side of the market square. Its alien design was beautiful to behold the natural wood and the white panels. The roof had bright blue clay tiles that reminded Prince Salistar of the sky.

Master Jain turned, “Just leave your horses and equipment here. It will be taken care of for you. Your injured will be looked after here and can join us when they have been tended for.” Mal and a couple of the injured were taken inside to be cared for.

Mal woke to a banging headache and the sun streaming in a window over her face making it hard to see, blinking; she raised her arm to block the sunlight and noticed her bare arm.

Suddenly panicking and trying to sit up, she felt sick to her stomach and nauseous. Closing her eyes, she waited for the sickness and the spinning of her head to clear. Eventually, she was able to stand up only to realise that she was naked.

Grabbing the blanket from the bed and wrapping it around herself, she looked around. Relieved to see Darr asleep on another bed, she relaxed slightly; noticing that his shoulder was bandaged, she made her way over to him.

Shaking off the confusion of where she was, and looked at her surroundings, trying to remember. Everything was fuzzy, then it came crashing back, Dark elves chasing them and screams of pain as they tried to cross that river. Darr must have taken an arrow in the shoulder, and Grego must … her memories of guilt washed over her as she remembered that Grego had not made it across the river.

Just then, the smallest man that Mal had ever seen walked in the door. He was about three feet high and wore a pair of tiny spectacles on the tip of his nose. Mal had never seen anyone that small before. Suddenly feeling disorientated at the height difference, she thought she was standing on the top of a tower. Her legs began to buckle, and she grabbed the post of the bed that held Darr.

“What are you doing out of bed?” Snapped the little man seeing his patient out of bed. Grabbing Mal by the arm with a surprisingly firm grip for such a small man. He led her back to the bed she had just vacated.

Helping her sit down on the bed and noticing her winching, “Do you have a sore head?” he asked. Looking into her eyes now, she was sitting down and at eye level with him.

The pain in her head had multiplied tenfold as he walked her back the short distance to her cot, all she could do was nod slightly, and that still caused her to wince.

“Mmmmm, looks like you’ll recover, but you need some rest; drink this; it will help,” said the little man grabbing a glass from a table. He filled it with water from a stone jug and poured the contents of a small folded piece of paper. Stirring it with his finger, he handed the glass to her. “Now drink it all; your headache will soon disappear. I’m assuming that you have some questions?”

Taking the glass, Mal asked, “Sorry, Where are we? Who are you? And where are my clothes?”

“Firstly, you’re in the elven city Aslarmore, specifically in the healers building; secondly, I’m Master Flintlock, one of the healers studying here and thirdly, we had to cut them off you to check you weren’t hurt badly. Now you are awake, I will have some new clothes supplied. Your other equipment will, of course, be returned to you.”

Drinking the bitter water, Mal continued, “How is Darr?”

“Is that his name?” he replied, thumbing his thumb in the direction of the other bed in the room. “We took an arrow out of his shoulder. He should make a full recovery. Your other friend is in worst condition took an arrow in the back and swallowed a load of river water.”

Almost jumping out of bed and regretting it instantly, “Grego, do you mean Grego?” She asked, the hint of desperation.

“Sorry didn’t quite get his name, now lie back down; there’s nothing that you can do for him at the minute. You won’t be able to see him for a while. I’m afraid they are working on him at the minute, and besides, the drug you just drank will help you sleep. Your head will feel the benefit of it too.”

Yawning, Mal had no choice but to lie down. Master Flintlock was standing in her way and wasn’t about to let her go and see if it genuinely was Grego that they were working on. Another yawn caught her by surprise. She soon drifted off to sleep with the drugged water helping her.

It was evening before Mal woke again; her bracelet was sitting at the foot of the bed on the top of a pile of new clothes of greens and browns cut in the elven fashion. Mal put on the bracelet and dressed; finally glad that her headache seemed to have cleared, she felt surprisingly better. The trim-fitting of the clothes felt good as well.

Checking on Darr, who was fast asleep, she stepped into the corridor only to bump into Master Flintlock again.

“Out of bed already, good now let me get you some food you must be starving, come along now this way,” he said in a manner of someone who expects to be obeyed.

“Master Flintlock, my friend Grego could I see him please?”

“Certainly, we’ll go past his room on the way to the kitchen anyway so you can pop in and see him; he’s still heavily sedated at the minute and won’t wake until tomorrow. He’s going to have to recuperate for a while before he can leave.”

When Master Flintlock led her into the room, her breath caught as she saw her friend lying on the bed; his face was almost colourless and grey looking.

“He was fortunate; Mistress Jallaina worked for six hours to save his life. It was touch and go several times. He’s a fighter that one mark my words he’ll recover from his injuries, eventually.”

Mal’s emotions welled up in her until she started to cry. Master Flintlock could do nothing but pat her on the back.

“There, there, he’s ok now. Is he someone special to you?”

“He’s my cousin,” she replied between sobs. Wiping the tears away, she continued, “I feel so guilty for not going back for him.”

“You can’t blame yourself. If you had gone back, you would have died yourself. The only thing you could have done was get to safety, then regroup and defend yourself. Then when it’s safe, retrieve your friends and hope they survived too. I’ve seen too many soldiers go back for friends and die rather than get to safety where they can decide how to best save their friends.”

After Mal’s sobbing had eventually reduced to a controlled level, “Come, we will get you some food, that will help lift your spirits,” He led her to a courtyard area, which had a table with some food laid out mostly fruit, cheese and cured meat.

Mal’s stomach cramps told her that she was definitely hungry and after she had filled a plater with as much as she wanted. Master Flintlock led her over to the rest of her friends.

Prince Salistar watched as Master Flintlock arrived with a beautiful young woman. It took him a moment to realise that Mal was now wearing elven clothes that definitely flattered her figure.

Standing up, Prince Salistar spoke and alerted the group to her approach, “It gladdens my heart to see you are well. That was a nasty fall you had from your horse. How’s Darr doing?”

“Your Highness, Darr is asleep but recovering. They brought Grego in and saved him,” she said with a huge smile; the relief in her voice was clear and evident.

No one had told them that Grego had been rescued, and on hearing that their friend Grego was alive, the others jumped up in glee and grabbed Mal in a big hug full of laughter. Even Prince Salistar felt relieved that the young man that had come to his rescue was safe.

Mal had difficulty holding the platter of food with all her friends around her. Just as she felt the platter starting to slip from her hands, Prince Salistar reached over and took it from her.

Mouthing a thank-you to the Prince, she was free to embrace her friends. After a few moments, they broke their embrace and started to sit down, tears freely flowing on their faces.

“Here, Mal,” said Prince Salistar, “Let me tell you what’s been going on.” beckoning Mal to a seat on the bench beside him where her platter now sat. Lifting the platter and sitting down Mal, hungrily ate her food while the Prince filled her in on what had happened since they had arrived.

It seemed that the Magi had taken the prisoner away shortly after while Prince Salistar had been in talks with the Elven Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré. The Elven Prince had informed the Prince Salistar that a ship was due to arrive in two days, and it would be made available to him and his party to take them straight to the capital city of Caplo.

As the evening wore on, several elves appeared and bowed to the Prince, “Rooms have been made available for you and your guests, your highness.”

They were led to a beautiful building. All of the equipment was sitting on a large table in the middle of the room. Yawning, Mal grabbed her things, and everyone gathered their things and went to find a space to sleep.

The morning sun broke through the windows of the house and the soft sounds of early morning activity came to their ears, along with the smell of breakfast cooking was enough to wake everyone. Looking out the window in the early morning light. Mal noticed that some of the smallfolk and elves were already up, making food for people to share.

Getting dressed and belting on her sword, which for some reason felt good to have on her waist again. She headed downstairs only to find her friends already there. Ready to head out the door to see what food would be available today. As they reached the cooks, Mal noticed Master Flintlock and headed over towards him.

“Master Flintlock, sir, how are my friends today?” she inquired.

“Doing well, they both slept well and are awake. I got some food to break my fast before picking up food for those still at the house. If you would like to join me for breakfast and accompany me when I go back, you are most welcome.”

“Yes, please and thank you”. Mal grabbed a blow of cooked oats, nuts and dried fruit. Sitting beside Master Flintlock, “If you don’t mind me asking, are you a dwarf?”

Choking on a spoon full of his breakfast, Master Flintlock laughed, “No, My race is called Valerian or, in your language, Halfling. Dwarves are taller on average than us and typically have a lot more hair. Though I understand your confusion,” He said with a laugh.

“I’m sorry if I insulted you,” Mal said, suddenly horrified that she might have hurt Master Flintlocks feelings.

“Don’t worry, Halflings are known to be hard to insult and besides, we like a good laugh, so don’t worry about it. Now Dwarves are a prickly bunch and easy to insult. Loyal to a fault, there is a saying that if you make friends with a Dwarf, then you have a friend for life,” He said with a laugh.

Laughing with Master Flintlock, “I’m glad I didn’t insult you and thank you for the information about the Dwarves; if I ever meet some, I’ll be really careful with what I say to them.”

After finishing their breakfast, they picked up a selection for the healers and the few patients in the house. There was quite a bit, so Tomi and Dareon offered to carry some as they wanted to see their friends as well.

Darr was in good spirits when he saw Mal, Tomi, and Dareon walk in. His shoulder had just been re-bandaged by one of the healers, and he was sitting up in his bed. Grego was asleep in the other bed, snoring gently.

“Guy’s, you’re a sight for sore eye’s; look who decided to catch up with us,” he said with a nod towards Grego. “He snored all night,” he said with a grin, “I think that he did it on purpose to keep me awake.”

Just then, Grego snore went up a few decibels to the laughter of his friends. After about half an hour, Grego opened his eyes, drank some water, and ate a bit of dried fruit before falling back to sleep. Master Flintlock arrived shortly after and sent everyone out so that the patients could get some sleep.

Arriving back to the house they had slept in the previous night, the Prince was with Master Johana and Jak; the Prince waved them over to the table to join them.

“How are your friends?” He enquired of Mal.

“Both are doing well, your Highness; thank you for asking.”

“Well, I have a debt of gratitude to you and your friends for saving my life. I’ve spoken with Master Johana here, and you all have a place here in the kingdom if you want it. I will also find a way of personally showing my thanks to you all when we are back in the Capital.”

“Thank you, your highness,” she replied. “You are most generous. I will do anything to save our village and the people of the kingdom from this invasion.”

“Your people are my people too Mal, I know that the kingdom doesn’t interfere with your mountain way of life, but all of your people originally came from the kingdom. You are family to us as we are to you for over a thousand years; the mountain folk and the kingdom have been friends, and we hope that will continue for another thousand years.”

“Since I’ve never been here before, I am not going to give up the chance to explore. Would you care to join me?”

Shocked that the Prince would want to spend any time with her and at the same time surprisingly happy that he would, Mal responded with a smile, “Yes, your Highness, I would appreciate and like that very much.”

Since some of the elves walking around had bows and arrows, Mal begged the Prince to leave and get her bow. As she didn’t feel complete in a forest without one.

The elven city was laid out in what first seemed like a haphazard way with no actual planning. It appeared that while there were some major traffic areas, there were no straight routes anywhere; they curved around large old trees as if the trees had more right to the land than the people who owned the land.

The other thing that Mal noticed as she walked with the Prince around the city was that the smell was different from most human towns or villages. Something that she was starting to become more aware of now that it was absent.

“Your Highness, have you noticed the smell of this city? It seems so fresh.”

“Yes, I noticed that there are more flowers about than would be in Caplo; I wonder if that is the reason.”

“It might be your Highness,” replied Mal.

“Mal, please call me Salistar now, well, at least in private like this. Tell me, is Mal short for anything?” He responded.

“Thank you, your Hi.., err I mean Salistar,” she said with a slight blush, “Mal, is short for Malderia, I was named after my mother; she died when I was very young.”

“I’m sorry to hear that; it must have been hard growing up without your mother,” replied the Prince, his voice soft and comforting.

“My Father brought both me and my brother Salmaul up. It was hard for me as I was six, and I remember her; Salmaul, my brother, was only a couple of months old, so he doesn’t even remember what she looked like.”

They were both quiet for a while, just walking through the elven city before Mal continued, “They say that she got lost in the Mountains, though they never found her body. I’ve always hoped that she’s alive somewhere and that I could eventually meet her and find out why she never came back.”

“Do ya know how to use that thing” came a mocking voice from behind them.

Turning, they both saw an extremely tall elf when they didn’t say anything, he repeated, pointing to Mal. “Do you know how to use that toy?” he repeated again in a mocking tone, nudging one of his friends in the ribs.

Mal suddenly felt the need to wipe the smile off this elf. “This little thing, of course, the question is if you can you look a bit weak, what with your weak arms,” she said boldly, not understanding why she was taking such offence from this elf.

“Challenge accepted little one. I wager this ring against, say, ten gold pieces,” He said, showing the ring on his little finger; it was black with silver letters inscribed around a silver coin.

“I can’t afford that much.” insisted Mal.

Before she could say anything else, Prince Salistar piped up, “I’ll cover the ten gold pieces if you lose Mal.”

The elf led them to a firing range with five targets set at different distances. Each target had several circles painted on it, one inside each other.

Taking the bow, he notched an arrow and let fly in one superfluid motion; it hit the centre of the first target, which sat about fifty yards down the range in its middle circle. His smug look suggested that Mal would have difficulty doing the same.

Mal drew an arrow from her quiver, placed it in position, drew it back to her cheek, then taking her eyes away from the target, she smiled at the elf as she let go. Her arrow flew straight at the target, smashing into the target and protruding from the back. Mal never took her eyes off the elf to look at the target. The look in his eyes confirmed that she had hit the mark exactly where she aimed.

Laughing, the Elf notched another arrow and hit the second target. No sooner had his arrow hit than Mal’s arrow hit the same spot bending his out of the way quickly followed by another in the same position.

The Elf notched and sent two arrows in quick succession at the third target, but his second arrow was deflected by Mal’s first arrow. Mal placed three arrows into the fourth target and was already aiming for the fifth target when the elf’s first arrow hit the fourth target.

Mal sent a final arrow to the fifth target and turned to the elf while it was still in flight. “You getting tired?” was all she said; the elf let his anger get the better of him, and his final arrow for the fifth target hit on the outer circle. All of Mal’s arrows were in the centre of each target. “How did you do that?” Snapped the Elf. “You cheated,” he snarled. “You are just a sore loser!” Mal shot back, “Why don’t you just go cry in a corner, little elfling.”

The Elf swung for Mal, who was expecting it, and she easily dodged to the side and kicked the Elf between the legs. The grunt from the Elf told her she again had hit her mark. Disengaging from the kick, she spun and kicked the back of the elf’s knee out from below him. His face hit the dirt. Prince Salistar was impressed at the speed that Mal moved; it seemed to confuse the elf.

Jumping up with a war cry, the elf spun, reaching for his dagger at his belt. His fingers closed around the air; as he looked around for it, a shout went up, and other elves came running.

“Colerain halt!” thundered another elf who skidded to a stop between the two combatants. “What’s the meaning of this? Would you start a war with the kingdom?”

“She cheated!” he almost shouted back.

“Really? and how did she do that? Did she disorientate you with her beauty? Did her smile distract you? After all, you’re the great Colerain,” he said with a mocking twist.

“Is it possible that this little human girl beat you?” He continued to a ripple of laughter from the other elves that were standing around watching Colerain.

“Colerain, your drunk; now go and sleep it off before you cause an incident. Attacking a member of the princes’ party, are you mad.”

Turning his back on Colerain, the man turned back to the Prince and Mal. “Your highness, my apologies for my cousin; he does like to make sure that everyone knows he’s the best archer. Seems like he isn’t anymore.”

He said with a slight bow towards Mal, “May I know the name of the lady who has finally taken my cousin down a peg or two.”

“Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré, may I introduce to you Lady Malderia of the Mountain Folk. The Orge Slayer” introduced the Prince.

“This is the human that killed the Ogre at Bearon?” Replied Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré, his eye-raising slightly as he took in the sight of Mal standing in front of him.

“And shot an arrow from twenty meters that’s feathers touched my cheek and skewered that Dark Elf your Magi are trying to get to talk” Laughing at the look on thePrinces” face, “I thought she was trying to kill me and happened to miss. She hit exactly what she was aiming at.”

Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré looked at the targets on the range. Mal’s arrows were all dead centre of the targets. “The defiled one is dead,” he said absently. Waving to a couple of elves to retrieve the arrows from the targets.

“We need to talk. Would you two accompany me to somewhere we can talk”

“Of course,” replied Prince Salistar. “Lead on”

Mal and Prince Salistar walked with Prince Jalion-lasing-aloré to a house much like the other houses in the city. When they went inside, the central room had fine carpets and large cushions to lie on.

“Please make yourself comfortable,” said the Prince as he poured three silver goblets of rich red wine. Handing a goblet to each in turn before picking up his own goblet and a tray of sweetmeats and cheese.

“Before the Elf died, we got a lot out of him. It turns out that you, Prince Salistar and you, Lady Malderia are the main targets. It seems that the northern invasion was designed to find and kill you, Lady Malderia, while the Dark Elves were sent to kill you, your highness. Apparently, there is some type of prophecy that involves both of you, and they seem to think that if one of you can be killed, then the prophecy cannot be fulfilled.”

“Whats this prophecy that they speak of” Asked Prince Salistar.

“We don’t know when we pushed him to give more details; he screamed in agony and died. There was nothing we could do for him. I’ve asked the Senior Magi Loní-tona-la-veria to come and give some more details as she was there.”

Mal was shocked that she and the Prince were both the targets of the invasion, but why her?

“Mal,” Asked Prince Salistar in a soft tone, “do you have any idea why you or myself would be the targets of these evil creatures.”

“No, your highness, I have been trying to figure that out myself. I can think of no reason for it at all, can you?”

“No, and that’s what frightens me the most if we knew the reason, we could take steps to counter them. We must get back to the Capital and check that my father has survived. Once we are back in the city, I’ll have a hundred men surrounding you for your protection. I promise you, Mal, that they will not succeed,” said the Prince fiercely.

They sat in the Princes company for another hour before an old Elf walked into the room.

“Senior Magi Loní-tona-la-veria, welcome. Can I get you a drink,” asked the Elven Prince getting up and offering the newcomer his own seat.

“Thank you Jalion, You are most kind. I would love a glass,” She said in a rich musical voice. Sitting down on the cushions, she got herself comfortable.

“Has his highness filled you in on what we know so far?” She asked. “Yes, Lady Loní-tona-la-veria, he told us that Lady Malderia and myself are the targets of both the invasion and the attack on me and my father but not much more than that,” responded Prince Salistar.

“Yes, unfortunately, that is about as much as we got out of him before some enchantment killed him. At first, I thought his scream was just pain, but now I feel he was screaming‘‘Dél”. I have spent the following couple of hours reading some ancient scrolls looking for a reference that might lead us somewhere. This is obscure, but one scroll tells of a demon called Délíntra that escaped the underworld millennia ago. It was eventually destroyed and sent back to the seventh level of hell it came from.”

“How was the demon destroyed” asked Mal and Prince Salistar at the same time.

“We don’t know the rest of the scroll is unreadable; I think that is around the time that you humans came to these lands and first made contact with The People. Would you have any records”

“I honestly don’t know, there is a great library in the Capital, but I don’t know if it has anything about this prophecy. We will have to check as soon as we get back my thanks for your help in this”

“I want to send one of my apprentices with you; he can help in the search. I’ll have him come to you in the morning. I have a long nite ahead of me searching for other references. I’ll pass them along to you if we find anything, and please, if you find anything, let me know as well; we might be able to find more information.”

“I will, and my thanks to you, Lady Loní-tona-la-veria,” replied the Prince, “Malderia, we need to be getting back to our friends and let them know what is going on.”

As they were getting ready to leave, an elf arrived with a note for Prince Jalion. “Prince Salistar, the ship has arrived and is unloading; they will be ready to sail on the high tide tomorrow afternoon.”

“Thank you, we will be ready for the captain. Can I ask what the ship is called?”

“The Oceans Embrace, I’ll let the Captain know that you and your group will be ready at noon.”

Bowing to Prince Jalion, they left and made their way back across the city to their friends’ house.

When they arrived, everyone was sitting around one of the campfires that the cooks used to prepare meals.

Mal spotted Darr sitting beside Tomi. “Darr its good to see you up and about hows the arm”

“Sore and stiff, I’ve been told that I won’t be able to draw a bow for months until it heals. I’ve got to take it easy, or my arm might heal wrong, and then I won’t be much use to anyone,” replied Darr sadly.

“Darr, you helped save my life; you and your friends have a place in my personal guard for the rest of your days, you’ll have food and lodging I swear on the name of my father and his father before him and when your old and fat you can retire to drink kuhool until you go blind,” said the Prince.

“Thank you, your highness, that is most kind,” replied Darr.

“No more than you and your friends deserve. Now everyone, listen up we have found out some information about what is happening. The attack on your village and the attack on my father and I were not two separate events but part of the same”

Pausing, he continued, “It seems that Malderia and myself have some powerful enemies, and they want us dead.”

This statement caused an outcry of anger from the Mountain Men and thePrinces” men.

“I agree; when we get back to the Capital, we will have all the guards to keep Malderia safe until then; we need to be vigilant. It seems that an ancient evil prophecy states that if either Myself or the Lady Malderia were to die, then evil would triumph.”

Vows of protection For the Prince and Mal came from all of the group. That night finding sleep was hard; Mal lay awake tossing and turning, trying to figure out how she fit in an evil prophecy until exhaustion pulled her down into its embrace.

As the morning sun shone through the trees and lit up the room, dispelling the morning gloom. As they were sitting at breakfast, Master Flintlock appeared again. Mal felt guilty for not seeing Grego since yesterday morning. Hurrying over to him, she called out to him.

“Master Flintlock, how does the morning find you?”

“Well, Lady Malderia, well, and hows yours?”

“Better than my night, to be honest, didn’t sleep well at all.”

“Really, are you not feeling well?”

“No, it is just the news that the attack on my village and the Prince and his father the king were designed to kill the Prince and me. I was tossing and turning all night.”

“Ah, I see; unfortunately, I have no medicines that can help with that. You’ll just have to work it out with time.”

“I suppose you’re right; how’s Grego this morning?”

“Doing well, but he won’t be able to come with you until he recuperates more.”

“Really?” Replied Mal, suddenly realising that Grego was hurt more than she had been prepared to admit. Deep down, she had known that he wouldn’t be coming with them on the boat. But Master Flintlock had taken that deep secret that had been hidden deep in her heart and shone the morning light on it.

Seeing the look on her face, he patted her hand in understanding. “Would you like to accompany me and see him after breakfast” “Yes, please,” Replied Mal with her usual radiant smile.

After they had eaten, they collected some food for the healers” house and headed to visit Grego.

Grego was sitting up against a pile of pillows when they entered the building. “Mal,” He said with great warmth, “I’m glad to see that you survived the Dark Elf attack. I’ve been a bit out of it, but I think I saw everyone else last night, and I was worried that you had been hurt. I wasn’t able to make people understand what I was trying to say last night. Master Flintlock says that it was the effect of the pain medicine he gave me. So hows you?”

“Oh Grego, it’s all my fault!” said Mal sitting down on the bed beside Grego. “What? What do you mean your fault?”

“The attack on our village was designed to kill me, and the attack on the Salistar and his father was to kill him!” wailed Mal, bursting into tears the emotions of the last few days finally getting a release.

“What? Why? You are not making any sense; why would anyone want to kill you? And who’s Salistar?”

“Oh, I mean Prince Salistar, It seems that there is an evil prophecy that requires either myself or the Prince to die for it to be fulfilled. We don’t know what will happen if either of us dies, but we assume it would be bad for everyone if they succeed.”

“Oh, I see. Well, I understand a bit better now, all except for why it’s your fault.”

“Don’t you see it’s me they have been trying to kill, and that’s led to you, Eir and Darr getting hurt? Who’s next, Dareon or Tomi? You would have been safer off if we parted company at Bearon.”

Laying a comforting hand on Mal’s arm, “Listen, little cousin, we are safer together even if we had parted company and I had stayed at Bearon with Eir, then the arrow that hit and injured me might have hit someone else and killed them. I’ve survived, yeah I have a lot of recovering to do, but the healers have asked one of the elven priests to come and look at me. So who knows what strange alien magic these elves have. Hey, I might be fit as a fiddle next week.”

They spent an hour just talking about life back in the mountains and that neither had thought of travelling so far in their lives.

Prince Salistar and Grego’s friends arrived to say goodbye to Grego. Prince Salistar repeated his pledge of a home and a place with him if Grego needed it. With warm wishes, they left Grego starting to fall asleep from the excursion of sitting up and having visitors.

As they left, Tomi handed Mal a backpack with her stuff and a grin. “Don’t worry, Mal, we’ll hunt down every last one of the bastards and make them pay for all they have done.”

Prince Salistar led them through the city towards the docks; they were halfway there when the Elf that had fought with Mal stepped out from a side road and waved the group down. Mal braced herself for another attack.

“Your highness, I’ve come to pay my debt.” He said, bowing to the Prince.

Then turning to Mal, he continued, “I would like to apologise to you. I’ve never been beaten with the bow, and I should never have attacked you. It’s all very confusing.”

Seeing the look on Mal’s face, he hurriedly added, “Not the beating me part but the arrogance that I felt towards you and risking this ring. It is not something that I would normally have risked” he continued rubbing the ring with his finger.

Taking the ring off his finger and looking at it strangely, “I saw you yesterday and felt the need to challenge you, but this morning I don’t feel those thoughts at all. It’s bizarre, but a bet’s a bet here have this ring. Wear it with pride; it has been in my family for generations, and please take my friendship with it as well.”

“I can’t take it.” stammered Mal.

“Nonsense, if I had won, then the prince here would have been sending me ten gold pieces.”

“Hopefully, it will bring you good luck, it always did for me; when my grandfather passed it to my father, he said always wear it on your left hand, and it will bring good luck. I can tell you, I’ve had a blessed life until I met you,” he finished with a smile; all of the arrogance from the day before was gone.

Shaking hands with Colerain, Mal reassessed this elf who was utterly different from the boastful elf she had met yesterday and decided that if he wanted to be friends, that would be fine with her.

Putting the ring on her left hand was slightly too big for most of her fingers; eventually, she decided it felt better on her thumb than any other finger.

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