The Meeting Between the Clans
The midday sun reflected off the icicles that hung from the eaves of the clan hall.
Aedric watched as the two councils entered the large doors of the building, and continued to stand there well after the doors had swung shut. Four guards walked up and took positions outside the hall, two from each clan. They stood on opposite sides of the entrance at attention with weapons at the ready. After staring at them for a brief while, Aedric turned his attention to the others of the Laindan tribe. They were leading their horses away, probably to set camp in the large clearing to the west of the meeting hall. He wondered if their arrival was purposefully near the festival of Wintercome, or if they would be traveling on before it began. His thoughts then went to his parents inside the hall, imagining what they and the other council members might discuss. He was still standing in the clearing when a voice from behind startled him.
“Well, someone has a hard time showing a welcome to guests.”
Aedric jumped and spun to see his friend Sa’Yann standing a few paces away. She had been a friend since childhood and constant companion of Darron and his. She was shorter than Aedric and had long black hair that hung in slender curls down her back. She wore a fur trimmed hat and a light brown cloak that swept from her shoulders almost to the ground. Her face was hidden by a brown scarf that was wrapped around her lower face and neck a couple of times then draped down the front. It was decorated with yellow knot work designs that were skillfully sewn into the stitches. Even with her scarf pulled up, he could tell by the look in her dark brown eyes that it hid a smile. “So are you so awestruck by a different clan that you forget what you are doing and stand like a dolt in the middle of a field gaping at them?”
Aedric looked down to see the bundle of wood at his feet; he did not remember when he dropped it, or how long he had been standing there. He grabbed up the wood and slung it over his shoulder. “Well it is not everyday we get to see another clan. You can’t blame me for curiosity.”
Her eyes still sparkled with joy, “Well then you had better come with me. I have been assigned to serve the council and others during their meeting. I think I could sneak you in, as long as you don’t fall to staring at them again. Plus it is only a few days before you become a true clan member, so I am sure no one will realize you are too young to be in there…”
Sa’Yann was just a season older than Aedric and Darron but she had completed her Trials the year before. She brought it up often, teasing both of them about their age and inability to take part in certain aspects and duties of the clan. Despite the teasing, Sa’Yann took her role within the tribe very seriously, which made Aedric nervous that she would offer to break the rules. She came from a family that was quite respected within the tribe, two of her ancestors being looked upon as heroes within the community. Her grandfather, Daerius Onehand, had fought in defense of the clan’s territory when Orgs from the East had tried to invade. His regiment of defenders had all been slain and he stood alone against an impossible amount of invaders. He had held his ground and even after his shield arm was crippled by an axe blow, he pressed his attackers back until other Ul’Faer warriors arrived. It was in that same battle that Aedric’s grandparents on both sides had passed away. Her other famous relative is her uncle, A’Tasi, who’s healing skills had brought Regluun back from a near death fever a few years back. He had taught Sa’Yann and Aedric over the years, and both were skilled in herbs and salves but did not have the “gift” as A’Tasi called it.
Sa’Yann shifted and Aedric’s eyes went down to her side, where her cloak was pushed back just enough to show her sword. Her father had passed on to her Daerius’ sword during her Trial. Its grip was wrapped in well conditioned but old leather and the pommel was decorated with the head of a hawk. She always had her cloak open just enough to remind others that she carried such a well known blade. She did not do it in pride though; instead she felt it showed how honored she was to carry it, and also her obligation to live up to her families loyalty to the Ul’Faer clan.
“Are you even listening to me anymore? Now come on, we need to hurry, the council will be expecting midday meal served soon.” With that she turned and began walking briskly across the commons, Aedric had to jog a few steps to catch up.
Passing under the icicles that clung to the edge of the rooftop, Aedric followed her around to the rear of the large hall where the kitchen and wash room was. Aedric slung the wood he carried around to the front hoping that anyone would think he was just delivering more wood for the fire pits. Sa’Yann turned and spoke over her shoulder as they hurried to the back door. “Now just follow my lead. Keep your mask on. Servants keep their faces hidden even after the Welcoming has taken place. It is a sign of respect for the leaders of both clans. And stay quiet. Just do as they ask you to.”
They passed by a single guard who stood arms crossed at the back door. He had on full Moredel battle armor, which Aedric had only seen on display at ceremonies or when he peeked into his parents clothing chests and looked at their old war gear. It was made from tiny linked steel rings, always the best that the clan blacksmith could make, because most suits of armor were passed down from parent to child and would serve a family for many generations. It was lightweight and strong, tales saying that the men of the south envied their armor making and had longed to steal the Moredel secrets. Outside of the chainmail was scaled leather, often covering the front and back of the torso, as well as the shoulders and legs. On his arms he wore scaled leather bracers, held together with rivets at each joint so that they offered your arms protection, but did not interfere with movement. The guard’s eyes glanced over them for a moment as they passed, his face hidden behind a leather mask that was attached to his helm. Inlaid in the mask were ornate swirls that gave him a frightful appearance.
They walked through the kitchen which was filled bustling with activity as the cooks preparing an assortment of foods. They stopped at the door that entered the main hall. Sa’Yann turned to him, “Take the wood in and place it next to the hearth. Then come back here. I will have you serve drinks, an easy enough task so that even you might not make mistakes.” Her eyes betrayed her humor again, but Aedric did not have a quick enough retort. He turned and walked through the door to the main hall.
The hall was different than the night before, every hearth had a fire blazing in it, causing the whole length of the room to be filled with a orange flickering light. Every detail of the room could be seen, from the architectural art to the newly hung woven tapestries. The pillars that held the roof aloft were decorated with images depicting the deeds of Clan Ul’Faer and ended in four headed wolves which stared out in the four directions as they supported the massive ceiling beams. The tapestries were only hung on ceremonial occasions and showed the legends of the clan. Near the fire was his favorite, depicting a wolf standing high atop a mountain, both moons full in a starlit sky. Along the bottom of the tapestry were representations of small people, his people, who had been led to this mountain and valley by the wolf. The floor, normally unnoticed in the dim lighting, was made from alternating colors of stone to create large spiral patterns. Along the wall on either side, between each banner, was an Ul’Faer youth, in ceremonial battle armor, standing at a relaxed attention. Near the fireplace before a large round table, the councils were standing facing each other. As he approached he heard the last bit of the Welcoming.
Regluun stood in the center of the Ul’Faer, facing a tall Laindan elf across the table. “We offer you our food and drink, and pray for your health. May the veil between our clans be lifted.”
The tall elf replied, “We thank you for your welcome. May the veil be lifted between us and peace be between our tribes.” He paused for a moment. “May Kaldrath watch over us and grant us the strength to persevere.”
The members of Clan Ul’Faer straightened at the final comment. Aedric had been taught the ways of Welcoming, and he had never heard the last line that the Laindan had spoken. Kaldrath was viewed as a patron deity of the Moredel, but most tribes had given up formal religious worship generations ago. His tribe recognized the beliefs of the past, but had not invoked their names in ceremony as long as he could remember. Kaldrath especially. He had been viewed a savior to the elves of Uteria, when in ions past they had been slaves to the race of beings called the Eldar. Kaldrath had come to the four elven people, and offered them freedom, claiming he was the avatar of Dergoth, another deity looked upon with honor in the former days of the Moredel. The Moredel had served as Kaldrath’s army and they had driven the enslaving Eldar from Uteria. But the Silarvesti, or High Elves in common tongue, who were now enemies of the Moredel, saw Kaldrath as a violent liberator and when they had won freedom from the Eldar, they captured and imprisoned Kaldrath deep within the earth. The Moredel had fought to free him, but the prison was well hidden and never found. For ages the Moredel had continued to see Kaldrath as a savior and a god imprisoned on earth, but in the past few hundred years, as the Moredel realized that their warlike culture was doomed to failure, they had turned their back on the old ways to pursue a more peaceful culture.
Aedric pushed through the kitchen door to find Sa’yann waiting with trays of mead. “Give one mug to each at the table and stand off to the side. If someone’s glass becomes more than half empty, refill from the chilled pitcher that will be on the table outside the door. Be mindful at all times of what they are discussing, as you will learn much.” She handed over the tray and went about loading her own tray with mugs. It was custom that the younger warriors who had come of age serve the adults during celebrations and meetings as they could learn of the inner workings of the clan. He smiled at this chance to participate before his Trial as he pushed the door open and headed over to the table.
Both councils had removed their masks, as was common after the ritual of Welcoming. They spoke to each other is hushed tones greeting each other and exchanging small pleasantries. As he set a stoneware mug before each person he caught a glance at his mother, who, recognizing her son, raised a curious eyebrow. He was distracted by her when he went to set down the final mug. A silky voice, soft but powerful startled him, “No thank you, I am in no need of refreshment.” Aedric looked down to see the man he had seen outside, though now his eyes were not red, but an intense black. His skin was pale, even more than most Moredel, and his hair was long and snow white. He had some ritual scars under each eye, though Aedric did not recognize the markings. His cloak sat completely open now and his armor was clearly visible. It was the same style of armor as his clans, but it was all colored pitch black and completely forged from steel. The matte black color made it appear to soak up the light from the fires, save for a medallion in the center of his breastplate that was silver in color. In the center of the medallion a hollow star was inlaid, black in color as well, its spiral arms reaching out to the edges of the pendant and curling back in on themselves. He glanced for a moment at the strange elves eyes then looked down at his empty tray, wanting to escape that intense glare, he turned and walked back to the kitchen.
Sa’Yann came through the door right behind him. He turned and as he opened his mouth to speak she said quietly, “Did you see that one Laindan? He was pale as a ghost and his eyes, they gave me the creeps.” She was grabbing a tray of food at the moment when Aedric stopped her by placing his hand on her arm.
“He had red eyes in the sunlight. I saw him outside before he came in. He looked at me across the commons, it felt like he could see right into my soul.”
Sa’Yann had a puzzled look in her eyes, then amusement. “Sure Aedric, next thing you will tell me is that he is a halfman and will steal my soul tonight.” She then pushed through the door and Aedric followed right behind her. He stood next to the table holding clay pitchers of mead and tried to imitate the other Ul’Faer who were standing along the walls. He also did everything possible not to look in the direction of the strange eyed Laindan warrior.
Regluun finished a small drink of his mead and leaned forward placing his clay mug down. His gray hair framed his lined face as he peered across the table. “Andrian, why have you decided to march your clan at such a treacherous time? It seems spring would be a better time to look for more fertile territory.”
The tall elf, who was obviously the leader of the Laindan, looked across the table for a moment with his brows knotted. His clothing was of a finer cut than his companions, and he even had small white gemstones sewn along the collar of his brown and red overcoat. He had a chiseled face, a strong jaw and very high cheekbones. His eyes were almond shaped and sat at an angle giving him an alien and intense stare. His hair was long, straight and black, hanging down to his waist. Even sitting in the chair, he was taller than any of the other elves present. He leaned forward as he spoke, “We have been given no choice. Our summer crops were ruined by the storms and our winter crops have wilted and turned brown in the early frosts. Our herds have been thinned by the wolves, and our people worry that we may not make it through this season. So we must find a new home, a place that we can survive through the winter and begin again in spring.”
Aedric could not imagine his own tribe having to leave their lands, especially in the winter, when it was cold and dangerous enough just for hunting trips.
His mother spoke up, “But where will you go Andrian? To the east is Clan Orlos, to the south beyond the Iorund River there is only the Frostpine. There may be good hunting there, but do not the men from Mideon still hunt those lands as well, both for animals and for us?”
The tall elf’s brow furrowed again, “As I said we have no choice but to find a better place or my clan will perish. If the men stand in our way, then…” He left his sentence unfinished as Sa’Yann entered the room and started to lay plates out before the guests. The smell of cooked venison and potatoes reminded Aedric that he had enjoyed just a small breakfast that morning. He came forward to refill some of the empty mugs, as both councils began to eat. They exchanged small talk during the meal, as it was customary to not discuss matters of importance during a feast. Both parties must be on edge as it is also customary to not speak of these matters before a meal, but they had broken that rule. Soon the meal was finished, and with a few more refills of mead, both sides seemed bit more relaxed. As the plates began to get cleared some of the younger guards along the walls broke off, pulled up chairs and started to play various instruments. The music was relaxing, mainly stringed instruments, meant to calm those who were gathered. Music after meals was a Moredel custom, performed after midday and afternoon feasts. The music after dinner meals was much more involved and those gathered often joined in the merriment. It was something for the elves to enjoy during the cold months, with not much else to do and no crops to tend in the morning, many nights were filled with shared feasts and entertainment.
But those at the table were in no mood for light conversation anymore. Andrian Laindan began, “The meal was wonderful, thank you for your hospitality once again.” His head bowed a bit in salute, but when he looked up his eyes were serious. “As for the conversation earlier, we know of the dangers in the Frostpine, but we feel we have no choice in this matter. Some among us, myself included, do not fear the men of Mideon. In fact, we believe it is time that we reclaimed what is ours. To reclaim not only the land that is ours, but to begin to be what we once were.”
Aedric saw Degas sit upright in his chair. This was sounding much like his speech from the other day, and he seemed relieved to hear it from another source.
Andrian continued, “We were once a proud race, a race of warriors and leaders. The Chosen of Kaldrath. I believe it is time we looked at ourselves in this way again.”
Aedric’s father broke in, “It takes more than wishes and rhetoric to bring us back to the ways of old. And some may not want that return. That path was covered in blood and misery Andrian.”
“And power,” The tall elf held his head high, for a moment it almost seemed as if there was a glow about him, but Aedric thought it must only be his imagination. Andrian looked down at the others, “We do have the ability to return to the old ways. To find the power that was lost to us. You have heard the rumors, as have we. The banner of House Ka’Dail has been raised once again and many tribes have joined under its summons. To be honest with our intentions, we also travel south to see this for ourselves. They say that Ka’Dail has claimed the old lands of Pardalor, the lands which ages ago were ours. If this is true than part of the prophecy has been fulfilled.”
Regluun leaned forward, “Andrian, you can not be serious. The hope in Ka’Dail is folly at best. And even if the prophecies have come true, then we will see this world turned upside down once again and we may end up suffering more than we have before.”
Andrian leaned back, taking a swig of his mead, “Or we can become what we were destined to become.”
Degas leaned forword, his eyes opened wide, his face betraying his lust for the power the Laindan spoke of. His fingers flexed eagerly, “So the rumors are true? Ka’Dail has returned?”
A smooth voice interrupted Degas, “It is true, Ka’Dail has returned and I serve them.” Those of the Ul’Faer council looked up and appeared to notice this pale visitor for the first time. The strange eyed elf sat leaned back, seemingly resting, but his body was posed as if it could fly into motion at any moment. “I was in search of an answer for my clan and I prayed night and day in the wilds as I hunted. One night, as I lay under the cover of a massive tree, I drifted to sleep and dreamed. In the dream a man in a dark hooded cloak and silver mask pointed my way north to a shining light. I flew to this light and once there it showed me our path. It showed me that in the south lay our salvation. Not just for my clan, but for all Moredel.”
“The next day I met a traveler. He was from the south and he showed me proof of the rise of Ka’Dail once more.” His dark eyes narrowed. “Irrefutable evidence.”
Both clans were silent after this, though Andrian had a gleam of righteousness in his eyes. Aedric felt as if he had woken from a dream himself after the pale skinned warrior stopped talking. His voice seemed to compel and beckon Aedric, to have him listen and believe.
The first to speak afterwards was his mother. “Well that is an interesting story,” her eyes glancing down to the symbol on his breastplate. “But we do not have the luxury of following dreams and wayfarers here. We must face reality and that reality shows us a hard winter ahead… which could be made much more difficult if the men of Mideon are disturbed and came hunting further north than they normally do.”
“What do you know of reality! We have lost eleven of our tribe to wolves already and our herds are made smaller by the day!” A female Laindan was almost standing as she yelled across the table. Her eyes were furious, and her gloved hands gripping the edge of the table. Aedric was at once happy he had never seen violence between the clans, seeing these two powerful councils facing each other across a table, he could imagine the ferocity they would exhibit on the battlefield. The Laindan continued leaning forward and stood to her full height, “My sons were lost on a hunting trip and my parents waste away without food. We look to leave our ancestral lands, not because we choose to, but because we have to. So do not tell us of living in reality, we have had quite enough of it.”
A’Tina peered over to Aedric, her eyes sad. He saw the look and realized she must be thinking of what it would be to lose him. She peered back across the table, her eyes filled with compassion, “I apologize Sabreen, I did not mean to say that you have not suffered. We do understand and sympathize with your clan, though we have been blessed by peace and better luck, it has been hard on all of us.” The Laindan woman named Sabreen sat back in her chair and looked off to the side, her brows drawn tight in stilled anger. A’Tina then sat back as well and leaned over, whispering something in to Daeden’s ear. His father’s eyes peered up and caught sight of Aedric, his face becoming stern. Shifting from foot to foot, Aedric tried to sink down into his scarf a little more, but he had been discovered.
Sa’Yann, who was coming out with a plate of small honey cakes for the council caught the look as well. “Looks like you have been discovered. Fill up each of their mugs once more, then head into the kitchen as if to get another pitcher. Head out the back door, I will cover for you while they finish the meeting.” Aedric nodded and moved towards the table with her. He watched as his parent’s eyes followed him as he walked from elf to elf, checking each mug. He also caught sight of the strange eyed elf, who was also staring at him intently with a half smile on his face. Moving more quickly, hoping to get out of the scrutiny of both his parents and the Laindan, he finished his rounds and headed for the kitchen. Dropping the pitcher off on a counter, he headed out the back door and past the single guard towards the commons. He was almost to the first line of trees, when someone grabbed his shoulder. He twisted and turned, his short knife almost out of the sheath when he realized that it was Darron, who quickly stepped back and threw up his hands when he saw the look in Aedric’s eyes.
“Whoa there! One meeting with the adults and already you are too good for a friend?” His eyes sparkled with mischief. Aedric looked down to his knife and felt foolish. He slipped it back into its sheath and began to apologize, but Darron cut him short.
“So tell me all about what happened in there.”
The Night Before the Trials