The Aedric Chronicles
A heavy fog clung to the tops of the mountains surrounding the valley.
A lone figure crouched on the mountainside looking down on the sparkling camp fires that filled the landscape below. The cool morning air caused wisps of vapor to curl out of his nostrils. His long black hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and draped down the back of his dark brown cloak. It had all come to this.
Two armies. One battle. And one elf to stop it all.
Chapter 1 Five Years Earlier
Snow fell in fluttering sheets between the black barked trees.
A lone figure weaved between the large trunks, his footsteps leaving shallow holes in the snow as he hurried along. He tried to huddle down deeper into his white wool cloak, while trying to hold it shut with his gloved left hand. In the other he carried a pair of rabbits by their rear legs, which hung limp swinging in the air with each stride. A mask of dark brown leather was pulled across his face. With the hood of his cloak pulled up, only his brown eyes and dark eyebrows were visible. A cold blast of wind blew the cloak back and caused him to shiver. The winter had been very cold so far this year, much colder than any he could remember. Of course his father would rebuke him at this, telling him he had not lived long enough to make a judgment like that. But he had seen it in his father’s eyes, this would be a long hard winter. He had heard some of the others talking of it in hushed tones. Some said that over the past years it had gotten worse and worse. Colder and colder winters, then more destructive storms during the warmer months, everyone felt the weather was more chaotic. This year he knew everyone was on edge because not only had the wolves been aggressive, but the great white bears of the northern tundra had been spotted in the mountains and one hunter from the clan had been missing for weeks. People tried to travel only in groups, or at the very least pairs since the snow had started falling.
A shiver ran down his spine, he glanced around the forest but everything seemed still, save for the wind and the snow. He pulled his cloak closer and quickened his speed.
He approached his house from the western side where he caught sight of his father chopping wood. His black hair was streaked with gray and pulled back in a single braid. Other than the gray hair, his father looked young for his age. Besides the work around the farm, many patrols into the wilds with his mother kept him in top shape. Despite the chill, his father only wore a heavy wool shirt, with leather pants and boots. His cloak lay discarded on a bench near the house. It was a standard Moredel house, built long and low, in a clearing to catch the most sun it could, for here the winters had always been long and harsh. The large logs used to create it had been taken from lower in the mountains where the trees grew big enough that it would take ten elves to surround it.
The older man looked up, wiping sweat from his pale brow. “Ho there Aedric, I see you caught something in your traps. Your mother will be happy for that, it will save some goats for another day. Hang them in the shed then help me carry in some of this wood for tonight’s fire.”
Making his way to the smaller wooden building he opened the shed door to reveal a mostly empty room. Hunting had been scarce all winter, and his father had been hesitant to slaughter any of the families herd prematurely. The rabbits were hung, and the door was shut and latched behind him. He grabbed an armload of wood and entered the heavy wooden door into the house. Inside fur lined the walls, covering the shuttered windows and a warm glow from the fire pit in the center of the room relaxed the young elf as he entered. Dropping the wood on top of the pile near the fire pit, he walked over and pet the gray wolf like dog that sat curled up in front of the fire. Taking off his cloak and face mask he hung them on a peg near the door and sat in a padded chair in front of the hearth. His father was inside already starting to prepare dinner. Unlike his father, Aedric was lean, almost frail looking. His father, having worked hard all his life, as well as training with the sword and bow, was well muscled and fit. In a few days he would come of age, go through his Trials of Adulthood, and then he could start training with the clan weapons and even going out on patrols.
His father looked over at him, “Thinking of the festival in a few days?” He had a half smile on his face as he peeled the winter potatoes for a stew.” I remember my passage day, I was quite nervous myself. My father had me out hunting for days ahead of time to keep my mind off it.” He smiled again and kept working on the potatoes.
Aedric realized then he had spent the last few days running errands for his father, from checking the traps to running messages back and forth between the homesteads. Be fore he could say anything his father looked up again.
“Could you run up to the meeting house and meet your mother? The clan council should be finishing up and I hate for her to have to walk all the way home alone.”
“Yes father.” He stood and slung his cloak around his shoulders. He then reached and grabbed a short oaken bow from beside the doorway and headed out into the cold. He pulled his scarf and mask tight, but nothing could keep out the sting of the afternoon breeze. With no leaves on the trees and few evergreens in the area, little held back the mountain top wind. As he walked up the well worn path to town center, he though of how he used to run through the trees as a child. Some of the larger evergreens had a bark that smelled like honey pies, and he and his friends would spend hours playing hide and seek between the sweet smelling trunks. There had been no worries of wolves or bears then and even though every Moredel child was taught basics of survival, they did not even carry knives with them. Now it was normal for everyone to have a partner while traveling through the woods and was not uncommon to always carry a bow or even a long blade. He smiled beneath his mask at the thought that he would somehow be a help to his mother if something attacked them in the woods. His mother was quite capable of defending herself. She was a better bowshot than his father and her swordplay was the envy of most in the clan.
Everyone in Moredel society was trained in the arts of war and defense. His father had told him stories of the long years of wars between the elven tribes and also against the men who lived in the south. There had been lasting peace for a while among the clans of the west, but those of the far north were more aggressive. All clans looked at defense as a right and a necessity, though many his age thought it was adults being overly cautious. He had heard them whispering as of late, that many of the northern clans had started migrating south and how they though this may bring trouble. The men of the south disliked the Moredel. They had massive fortresses along their borders and hunted the elves when they came too close. But those men and their castles were hundreds of miles to the south and most young elves of Aedric’s clan did not spend too much thought on them. Aedric’s mind continued to wander as he strode up the long rocky path.
After some time, the smoke from the meeting house could be seen rising up into the darkening gray sky. The building was large, about five times larger than his home. It was also mainly built of stone, which was rare among his clan’s buildings. He had heard that the Moredel of the north built large stone buildings, and the humans of the warmer southern reaches built massive stone castles. He had even heard tales that some towns had giant stone walls that surrounded them and reached up into the sky. He reached out and touched a passing branch. He could not imagine imprisoning himself beyond nature, walling himself in behind those cold hard walls.
He approached and pushed one of the massive wooden doors open. Carved in each door was a wolf, its head down in a stalking position. Above them two round moons almost touching completed the scene. A warm rush of air made his cloak billow behind him, making for a much grander entrance than he had expected. He scanned the large room and none seemed to have noticed, until he saw the wide smile on his friend Darron’s face. He quickly closed the door behind him, seeing that town council still sat in a circle in front of the large hearth at the end of the hall.
Leaning his bow near the door with the others, he removed his cloak and mask, hanging them on the pegboards that lined the walls near the door. He then walked to Darron who was sitting in a chair just close enough to the circle to hear, but far enough to look like he was respecting their privacy. Aedric pulled a chair quietly next to his friend and whispered, “Anything interesting?”
Darron was his age, and about the same build as Aedric, but he was a half a span taller. He had short unruly dark brown hair and eyes that were filled with mischief. His clothing was a bit finer than Aedric’s, if not a little more worn. He came from one of the other warrior families, his father and uncle sitting on the council. They were also quite a bit larger than Aedric’s family, Darron being a middle child, with two older siblings and two younger. His clothes were given down to him and then his older clothes given to his younger siblings. Aedric wondered what it might be like to have a large family, which was standard among his culture. His parents had never told him why they had only had one child.
His thoughts were interrupted when Darron turned to him, ”Not much, just discussing how they plan to test us in a few nights and how the fall is so cold we may have to eat only snow and ice for the rest of winter.”
Aedric smiled,” Well maybe you just need to learn how to make real traps. I brought home two winter hares today.” He looked over to the council. His mother was leaning forward talking with her hands held out in front of her. She had pulled her hair back in a pony tail, something she often did when she was frustrated or upset. Aedric strained to hear what she was saying, but he could not. Another council member leaned forward, it was Regluun, a white haired elder.
“I understand your concern A’tina, I do not want them here either, but they have sent word that they will be marching through and have requested any supplies we can offer. We can not deny another clan help in a time of peace, and they have a legitimate reason for traveling through. We all know the strain the early winter has had on our food supplies, so we can not deny them migration rights through our lands.” The older elf was about to continue when his mother sat forward, her voice louder this time and any in the hall could hear.
“Regluun, you know this is not a peaceful force. Clan Laindan has been at the forefront of the migration south and you know that they have attacked the border forts. This aggression will spark retribution from the peoples of the south, mark my words.”
Another council member sat forward, he was young for those within the circle, but he held himself with pose and his voice was as smooth as an icicle. “We all know the rumors. We have even seen some travel through our lands bearing the banner we dare not talk about. But that does not mean we can turn away those who are looking towards the future of our people. Yes, our people, not just our clan. Alas it has been too long since we looked at ourselves as one nation, but it may be time for us to see ourselves in that light again. To not be a divided people forced to grind a living out of these frozen lands, but to march south, to live in the lands that Kaldrath promised us.”
There was a long moment of silence. Aedric knew a little of what he spoke of. It was the history of his people, a history that his mother had said was behind them. To believe that a land was yours by right and not by privilege was a dishonorable thought to the Moredel now. He also knew of Kaldrath, or what stories he had heard whispered amongst friends when he was smaller. But he was unsure of what banner was not to be spoken of, a renegade clan? A banished tribe?
“Degas, do not be so rash in words as you often are in action.” His mother was leaning forwards as she spoke. Her pale face was flushed and her eyes seemed to pierce the young council member as she continued speaking. “These rumors that you seem to find truth in are nothing more than that. To look to those days, or those solutions is nothing but folly.” At that point she looked up and saw Darron and Aedric sitting in the middle of the hall. Her face lost a bit of its intensity and she sat back a bit. “Well now, it seems we have talked to long, and the fire has burned low. Might I suggest that we discuss this further tomorrow as we welcome our guests from Clan Laindan and prepare for the Festival?”
At the mention of the Festival, Aedric stiffened and looked down. Every time he put the Trials out of his mind, something else would remind him of them. The council had started a soft discussion amongst themselves as Aedric’s mother stood and left the circle. “Well I see your father is trying to keep you busy, sent you to keep me company on the way home?”
“Yes mother, he was busy preparing the evening meal and… I think he wanted me to keep my mind off of other things.”
She smiled, her bright green eyes were filled with joy as she looked down at her son, “You will do fine, there is nothing to worry about. Now lets get home, dealing with all of these issues, and these stubborn council members, has given me an appetite. ”As Aedric stood she turned to his companion, “And Darron, next time you want to listen in on your elders, try not to lean forward so much and try and hide your facial expressions.” Darron looked down at his feet, but that did not hide his flushed cheeks.
With a smile both mother and son made their way to the door. With a rush of cold night air, the pair left the town hall.
The sun was behind the mountains now and a blue haze covered everything in sight. The snow on the ground seemed to glow and the trees had become ominous black shapes, jutting into the quickly darkening sky. Both mother and son knew the path from the hall to their home and could follow it on the darkest night, but Aedric could not help but look over his shoulder or flinch at any of the noises in the forest around them.
Aedric had started to speak a few times, but had held back each time. Finally he turned, “Mother, what was the banner that Degas had spoken of?”
His mother’s eyes turned towards him, her brows knotted. They seemed an unnaturally bright green in the soft light, and her own fur scarf, pulled right to under her eyes drew all of Aedric’s attention to them. “Aedric, it is nothing to concern yourself with. You have but a few days before you start your Trials, then after you will carry your share of the adult work for the clan and will have no time to pay attention to the foolish words of some.” She was quiet for a moment, and Aedric looked down on the path as they walked. “It is nothing my son, old men’s tales, of a group of people better forgotten.”
They both kept to themselves for the rest of the walk, Aedric being thankful that their house was closer to the meeting hall than most of the other homesteads. When they arrived home dinner was ready and they all sat and talked of small things as they ate. Aedric could not stop feeling like everything was going to change soon. Even that night, as he crawled into his loft and under the many wool blankets he was left troubled. As he lay there staring at the wooden planks of the roof, he finally fell into a fitful sleep.