Chpt. VIII: Springtime

Rauron says:

Anar DF spring 2016 Mural new

“This painting? Right… It’s not that I don’t want to tell you, but we’re treading in murky waters here. This painting is about the spring season of 3943, in which I was first send to Shanaehan, our capitol, to attend officer training. There are many things that happened there, people I’ve met and things I’ve seen, that I can’t entirely unveil. From this point onward, and for every other painting you may ask about me in the future, I will tell you as much as I can, and everything I say will be true one way or the other. But I will keep some things hidden from you, or mask them in analogy. You’ll have to trust me when I say I do this to protect people I care for very deeply.

The first part of the painting is about a mission we performed on behalf of Yava’In’s eldest brother. This brother contacted Yava’In, entrusting her to perform a ritual that would empower an artifact. To empower the artifact, Autherdir Tegnigûr had permitted Condaghor Yava’In to set up a meeting between the Anarquendor and several people from the world of the dragons. The rites to imbue the artifact demanded various species be involved in the process. This is why, in the earliest days of spring, in a little hovel somewhere on the southern borders of the Weylin Woods, the Anarquendor met up with Parthalan, Brandar, Hadingur and Lynn. Greetings were extended and a bit of small-talk was had, after which Yava’In explained the reason of our stay.

Now, I have no magical aptitude, so the artifact was little of my concern. Being of little use to the actual mission at hand, my attention was soon drawn elsewhere. Haradir had returned from a nearby outpost with letters for our regiment. One of those letters was addressed to me, which surprised me. My reading and writing is… poor, and I didn’t know anyone who’d bother to write me anything. I had several of my fellow Anarquendor read the letter to me. As it turns out it was written by Dorsidhion, the Autherdir of the first regiment in which I served. He was involved in some political maneuvering at the court of Shanaehan, and was in need of my help. I won’t go into details; I’m only mentioning it because this was one of the first prompts for me to travel to Shanaehan.
One of the Anarquendor whom I turned to for help and advice regarding the letter was Tarias. As we talked, the conversation turned to his history as a soldier in previous regiments. This was the first I learned of his having served in human armies. Many years ago, as part of an alliance treaty, elves were sent to the human lands to train and lead strike teams to fight in the Undead War. Tarias was one of those elves, and for years he trained and fought alongside humans, who were considered dispensable at all times. As such it was quite common he had to abandon such strike teams he had trained himself, orders dictating his own survival was of greater importance to the mission. This went on for many years, leaving him profoundly lonely. It was for this reason the Totem of the Wolf reached out to him, so he would always have company and loyalty.
Hearing his story, I felt very bad about what I was about to do. I bade him to trust that I had thought my next move through very carefully. I had not in fact thought it through, but you can judge for yourself.

A couple of weeks prior to this mission I was trying to get in touch with my totems, to seek some guidance. Since our previous stay at the world of the dragons, I had been conflicted about a couple of things, and I didn’t know whom to turn to. Having very little experience with totems, I asked Eferil for some Laurierdorn herbs. These herbs are known to cause powerful visions, and are regularly used by those who seek otherworldly knowledge. Using these herbs seemed like the easiest way to try to contact the Totems. The visions were vague, but inspired me all the same.
In the ritual that granted me control over my beast form, Limethion had played a significant part in sending my soul to the bridge to Angara, before pulling me back from the brink of death. I had experienced this awful journey before, and Limethion more than anyone should have known how indescribably distressing the experience would be, him being a priest of Angara. Yet still, during that ritual, he deemed it the best course of action. Thinking about this, I realized he could not possibly know why I was so upset about this decision of his, because he handn’t had this same experience.
Now obviously I had no intention of killing him, so I figured I’d do the next best thing by using the very same herbs Eferil had given me.

I asked Limethion if we could speak in private, a little ways out into the woods. I told him about all I had seen in the cold void of the realm of Angara, and how angry I had been with him. Then I held out a cup of water that had the herbs mixed in and told him “Knowing that I intended to poison you, would you dare drink this?”.
To his credit or folly, he did not hesitate and emptied the cup almost before I had finished speaking. The effect was instant, as he dropped to the ground, seemingly lifeless. I had given him a smaller dose than I had taken to get in touch with the totems, so I figured it was a safe call. But I had not accounted for Limethion’s relative age, or how his connection to the divine Angara might influence the visions. Obviously I was struck dumb for a few seconds. I hesitantly checked if he was still breathing, and then ordered myself to calm down. I anxiously waited for him to wake back up, but minutes passed and nothing happened. After an inexcusable amount of time I rushed back to the others to find Tarias, our healer. Failing to find him I turned to Eferil, telling him Limethion lay in the woods, unconscious. Eferil instantly spotted my culpability.
“What did you do?” he demanded, but rushed out to find Limethion before I made a reply. My anxiety apparently was plain to see, because Idilwen, now Condaghor to our regiment, and Sylvitharion both ran after him. In the end Limethion survived the ordeal no worse for wear, and forgave me almost immediately. He had had visions of the bridge of Angara, so that part at least had worked as I intended. He understood my reasons, even thanked me for the unique experience.

Others were less forgiving. For the remainder of the night and well into the next day I was made to answer for myself. Irresponsible stupidity was the kindest of the accusations thrown my way. But really, I never forced him to take the drink. I never even asked him to drink it; I only asked if he’d dare. I even warned him I had intended to poison him! I’ll admit, I waited too long to get help when he passed out, but how could I know the herbs could prove dangerous in such a low dose?
Some anger at me made sense though. Eferil had given me the herbs in good faith, and felt deeply betrayed it was abused this way. In my defense, when I asked him for the herbs I had no intention of using them in any other way but to contact my Totems. Condaghor Idilwen also had a lengthy talk with me in private. Autherdir Tegingûr had already retired when all of this went down last night, so Idilwen had been the one in charge. These unguided actions reflected poorly on her in the eyes of the Autherdir. This frustrated her all the more, as she considered me someone who’d support her in her new role as Condaghor. Was I intentionally making it hard on her? I assured her this was not the case, and I did support her.
The talk covered a lot of ground, and at times I wasn’t sure what we were discussing exactly. At one point military training came up, and I later learned she reported to command that I had ‘ambitions’.

Things settled down for a while, and matters turned elsewhere. They could even be considered relaxed for a while. Some games were played, training was done, and there was even an archery competition. Autherdir Tegingûr proved his worth as an expert marksman, hitting the target dead on every time, earning him a flawless victory.
Alyan, being the closest to an arcane expert in our regiment, was deeply involved with the preparations of the artifact. He performed many rites, assisted by various elves, humans, and the kender. He had a very busy couple of days. The few times I did speak with him, I assured him my business with him was different from my dealings with Limethion, though when the time came I’d be no less adamant about it.
With regards to the arcane, I ended up in an unexpected conversation with Tiwion. A savant of the forces of magic, he was still in search of the path he intended to walk in his pursuit of this great knowledge. His studies so far had been limited to sigils and symbols, but he was rapidly expanding his horizon. As an aside, when I mentioned how poorly my own writing skills are, he offered me his help as a scribe. Eventually my conflict with Limethion came up, but he was understanding of my actions, and held no grudge. When all was said and done, he trusted me, and felt he could confide in me. He also expressed his surprise that I should have intentions to join command, voicing a rumor that had spread like wildfire. This rumor in turn had prompted Autherdir Tegingûr to order me to attend officer training at the conclusion of this mission. This sudden step upward had caught me off guard, but I did not begrudge the advantages this could entail.

Soon our mission was drawing to a close. Alyan and Yava’In had made whatever preparation they could. There was one final rite to perform, which involved evoking the divines. Everyone of the Anarquendor had a part to play in this ritual. They each were to represent one of the gods of the pantheon, and cast a token of their power into the flames. I was to represent Doran, the god of honor and vengeance. The token I was to throw into the flames was a bloody hand print, which Limethion had provided. The allusion made by having me use the blood of Limethion in a rite dedicated to the god of vengeance was not lost on me, but I didn’t ascribe it much sentiment. Gods do not hold my regard.
The ritual completed, everyone unwound and long talks were enjoyed around the campfire. Hadingur and I were the last to stay awake as we spoke of many things. He intended to unite the diplomats in his plan for a grand alliance between the camps of the Green, Orc, Black and Chaos, to disregard the game and strife only for the hunt. I avidly disagreed. A lengthy debate ensued about what Chaos represented on the world of the dragons; the corrupting Chaos as a perversion of nature, or the natural chaos as could be found in all living things. In the end he conceded, though I feel it was just to keep the peace; not out of a change of heart.
Lastly the topic turned to Ivrelith, a matter that weighed heavily on the both of us. Hadingur spoke of how he had learned she was dead. He had had a vision of a raccoon, turning into Ivrelith and addressing him. She’d also send him a letter, explaining how she wanted to be with Sigil, who she believed had died. Hadingur was unclear on the subject of her death, but considering how hard the topic distressed him, I didn’t press.

The next morning we broke camp and bid our guests safe journeys. They were escorted to a nearby grove, where druid magic would see them returned to their homelands. After having seen them off safely, the Autherdir called a meeting. In the matter of my actions against Limethion, he had reached his verdict. For the attempted murder – I kid you not; murder, for crying out loud! – I was to receive lashes by every Anarquendor, as many as each required to get satisfaction. At the time I privately railed against this injustice, but really, the verdict was quite clever, even if I didn’t appreciate it as such. Alyan and Herdenidas both gave me a single obligatory lash. Tiwion, Torben and Limethion refrained all together. Then Tarias and Eferil came up. They were not easily appeased. And I admit, their anger made the most sense to me. After Tarias healed me up and I was given a momentary breather, it was up to Condaghor Idiwen en Yava’In, who both limited themselves to a single lash, though they made sure it stung. And finally the Autherdir, rather then hitting me, threw the stick at my feet.
To an outsider this all may sound cruel, but I assure you, this is not the case. Quite the opposite. On one hand we elves share a close bond, and all members of a regiment are family to one another. On the other hand, our regiments borrow many sentiments of the wild wolf packs of our homeland. A leader must exert his dominance, doubly so if someone has grown dangerous in the liberties he affords himself. If we are punished, it is our actions -our mistakes and stupidity- which is punished. This does not mean I agreed with the punishment, but I knew it was not directed at my person, and that I would be forgiven the moment the punishment came to an end.

After this ordeal, a few days passed in which all the members of the regiment packed their things and said a few words in parting. For a couple of months the Anarquendor regiment would be off duty, all of us being assigned to various training regimes. Some of us traveled to Amarthedel, the arcane academy. Others returned to the Nestedrintir Dagnir, the battle healers, to receive additional training, or provide training to new recruits. My destination was Shanaehan, the magnificent capitol of our homeland.
We elves generally live in small communities, close to nature. We are a private people, spread out over a vast realm of beautiful meadows and deep ancient forests. Some of our kin still maintain a nomadic lifestyle, wandering the Weylin Woods in accord with the seasons. As such we have few major cities, and Shanaehan is by far the largest of them all. Hidden far within the hearth of the Eternal Deepweald, it lies nestled high within the canopy of the largest, most venerable of trees. Its every building is an architectural ode to elegance and oneness with nature. Its arching bridges and sky bound walkways twist and wind amongst the branches and trees like the most graceful and tender of vines.

Before I go any further, I’m reminding you I’m only telling you this because I trust you.
Everything I’ve said about Shanaehan is true, and I dare say there is no more breathtaking place to be found in the whole world, but I quickly learned there is a… disquieting, ominous side to Shanaehan as well. The first couple of weeks of my stay were intense and disorienting, but not unexpectedly so. I reported to the military academy, where I began my officer training. I quickly learned I needed to change my ways if I was to thrive here. I diligently attended the lectures of the elders and was an avid participant in the training sessions with my peers. I abandoned my unkempt appearance and wild manners – well, most of them at any rate. If I was to be ambitious and find my way into the court of Shanaehan, it would do me no good to be considered a savage fool. Still, this new skin would never grow comfortable.
After those first weeks, in whatever spare time my training permitted, I endeavored to be near the court of Shanaehan, attending events or just walking its gardens. It quickly became apparent I had entered a hunting ground of which I knew all too little and for which I was exceptionally poorly equipped. In this court battles and wars are fought with weapons I did not master. Every conversation is filled with subtleties, hidden meanings and far reaching agendas. Who you know and what you know becomes spears and shields that can wound or support others. I very much belief my naivety was my saving grace in those days. I did manage to draw rare notice amongst the lowest members of the Shanaehan high society, as an oddity rather than an equal.
And then, I met Aithilin. We met by happenstance in one of Shanaehan’s many gardens, I making a fool of myself, trying to sound like a real courtier, she laughing my poor attempts away. She didn’t have a drop of nobility in her. She was just a serving maid to one of the court ladies, so I shouldn’t have wasted any time on her, but I did. We spoke for hours on that first encounter, and would meet many more times afterwards. Every time we’d meet she’d tell me a bit about life at court, and I’d tell her about life in the military. We laughed, we argued. And every time she smiled, …

Eventually she gave me her trust, and I learned some of the more dangerous secrets of the court. But more importantly, I learned of her own problems. She spoke of them hesitantly, and only after much persuasion. I can’t repeat her story, but I can say above all it was a story of unwavering loyalty, grand ambitions, perilous gambles, a ritual gone wrong, and her being in terrible danger. I offered my help, but she refused. When I pressed the matter she gave me the most endearing yet destructive look, before walking away.
For a time she avoided me. My lessons in the academy kept me from visiting the court for a while, and when I did get there, she was nowhere to be found. One time I decided to wait around in the garden where we had met the first time. As I lay reclined against a tree, dozing in the sun, a female voice suddenly spoke behind me. “I hear you wish to help Aithilin.”
This is how I met the Court Lady. Don’t bother asking for a name. I don’t know. I’m not even sure what she looks like. But I’m certain this was the lady whom Aithilin served. That first meeting I always had my back to her, by her command. Later on, whenever we would meet again, she’d take similar precautions and I’d only catch glimpses of her, her features always covered by robes I never saw anyone at court wear. She talked to me at length, questioning my intentions, my reasons for wanting to help Aithilin. In the end she seemed satisfied and she gave me several specific instructions, after which she told her goodbyes and just… vanished. I turned around after a few moments, and found the garden empty. Had it not been so very real, I could have thought I had dreamt the whole thing.

The very next day I received orders from command, that I and Eferil were to travel to Mauvetië to attend an annual feast, the “Frühlingspiele”. I packed my things and met up with Eferil at the grove whence the druids would provide us with a tree teleport to our destination. On our way to the festival I informed Eferil of the strange instructions I had received. Ofcourse he had his misgivings as we didn’t have the time to relay and confirm these orders with our Autherdir, and I agreed. But if there was even the slightest chance this might help Aithilin, I would see them through. Besides, I was not going to ignore the command of a Court Lady.
We arrived in Mauvetië a few hours before sundown, several miles away from our destination. This was near the end of spring, so temperatures were nice, though it seemed Mauritian spring are very rainy. Eferil had attended the feast before and knew the way. We traveled through the charming and mountainous landscape as I gathered my nerves. This was to be my first mission acting as a representative of command, so I wanted to make a good impression. I wore the robes in fashion amongst the cadets at the academy, mimicking the style of the senior officers. These clothes emanate a harshness that I do not posses, and they made me feel exceptionally uncomfortable. By the time we arrived at the feast, night had fallen, but the humans had illuminated the field with torches and bonfires. The feast was held on an open field atop some hills surrounded by mountains. A large pavilion had been set up, as well as several smaller tents to accommodate the guests. It made for a lovely scene. Parthalan of the Calanar officially welcomed us, receiving the gifts we had brought and giving us a seat by the fire. There were many familiar faces. Robert of Elysian, Juna of the crew of the Morigan, Hadingur, Amroth… That first night I didn’t do much talking. I sat there, tense, ill at ease, trying to live up to my role as acting officer of the Anarquendor but not knowing how to go about it. It might not have been my most successful performance, but it was educational.

The next morning I immediately dismissed the awkward robes and donned my own attire, breathing easily in my role as just another warrior in the Weylin army, visiting our non-elven friends in far away lands. Everything went much smoother from that point onward. I genuinely enjoyed myself, talking to all the foreign guests and competing in the various challenges of the Frühlingspiele. Eferil and I excelled in the archery competition, and I proved my physical skills in several matches of tug-o-war. The occasional stormy downpour had us scamper for cover on occasion, but it did not dampen the high spirits. Non of this could divert me from my real mission though.
The first of the guests I spoke with regarding my mission was Juna. Juna and I knew each other for some time by now, as she often had dealings with Autherdir Tegingûr, but she and I had never before really spoken on a personal level. So when I explained to her that I was collecting drops of blood to use in a ritual to help save someone I cared for, she understandably was hesitant. I admit I used some guile as I went around asking for these drops of blood amongst the guests. I couldn’t tell the entire story of Aithilin without breaking my promises to her, nor without betraying the orders of a noblewoman of the Court of Shanaehan. Being unsure as to how much personal favor I could curry from everyone, I also claimed the Anarquendor regiment was aware of this mission and had given me its blessing. Risky decisions maybe, but I didn’t dare take any chances. Why I needed the blood was real, and Aithilin’s survival truly did depend on it.
After I had privately spoken to several others, including Parthalan and Robert Griffin, Juna was the first to make a decision and give me a drop of blood after I told her more about Aithilin. She later told me she was moved by my passion whenever I spoke of her. This caught me off guard. I really care about Aithilin, but… You know what, that doesn’t matter.
After Juna, the others soon followed. Parthalan gave me a drop and his blessing to ask the other members of the Calendar. Robert Griffin of Elysiën also helped out, and introduced me to the royal family of Elysiën, who might be of further assistance. I spoke to princess Aurelis and her husband. I also spoke to a lady in attendance of the princess, who told to me about the “Meriaden”; an order to which Robert, Prins Gabriël, and the princess’ husband belonged. Upon joining this order, its members drink demon blood, and if they survive, they are gifted with the means to perceive evil corruption. This could prove interesting to me for obvious reasons, if I was dealing with corrupted blood magic. They also revealed to me the ancient history of their people, being long ago saved by the hero Elias, who led the people to a new land while the old one was consumed by demons.

By nightfall I had spoken to almost everyone, heard countless stories, and had received support and drops of blood of humans, kenders and other races alike. That night we sat around the fire, and Juna shared a bit of her own story with me, which was part of the reason why she opted to help me out. Several years ago, she met a human named Mitrino on one of these earlier festivals. They immediately hit it of and their friendship blossomed. Together they researched the legends of Soron, founder of the infamous Poison Dancers.
One day, on the world of the dragons, Juna was to marry Bibi. The day before the wedding Mitrino came up to Juna and gave her an instrument as a gift. This instrument is known almost as well as Juna herself, as she plays it on many occasions. When Mitrino gave her this, he jokingly told her to wish him luck, because he was about to perform the ritual of Soron. Juna believed Mitrino at that time already knew the ritual would kill him, and this was him saying goodbye. Indeed, Mitrino died drinking the poison of Soron. That evening, during the great feast in honor of the soon-to-be-wed, Juna and the others honored their fallen friend with tales of his accomplishments. The next day, she and Bibi were wed in a great ceremony in the Grand Ritual Circle. It was an impressive event, with many guests, and both the Silver and Green Avatars attending as best man to the bride and groom. Tragedy soon interrupted this joyous occasion however. A woman stormed into the ceremony and stabbed Bibi three times in the hearth, killing him instantly before anyone, even the Avatars, could intervene.
Juna claimed no longer to be saddened by these events; kenders cannot remain angry for long. But an emptiness has since gnawed at her heart. She would choose to join the order of Soron, even if it meant she could never have physical contact with another ever again, never hold hands, never share a kiss. If by giving me a drop of blood she could prevent the loss of a loved one, she was happy to give it.
I was deeply moved by her story, all the more than I’d never thought such sad depths lay beneath the surface of one so full of life.

On the last night of our stay in Mauvetië, Juna and Amroth told all the guests the story of the five Green Kings. These were legendary figures from ancient times, who all ruled the people of the Green Dragon in their own way. Soron, the King of Poison, whom I mentioned earlier. Alkanas, the King of the Hunt, whose spirit we summoned in a great ritual two summers ago. The King of Thorns, of whom I remember little. Sontara, the King of the Unseen, meaning the litteral art of the assassins, and the more subtle art of subterfuge and intrigue. And lastly, Dargas, the King of Change, representing the adaptability of nature as well as trickery and deceit. When I learned of Dargas and Sontara, my interest was immediately piqued. I had caught glimpses of these stories before, but never in as much detail. The king Dargas had been an elven shapeshifter, so it was obvious why he appealed to me. Learning more about his history might give me clues to better master my own shape shifting. The story of Sontara reminded me of the Court Lady. I figured if I could learn more about how Sontara ruled using these hidden skills, I might be better equipped for the dealings of the Court of Shaneahan.

The last day of our stay in Mauvetië dawned, and Eferil and I said our goodbyes. Neither of us had been the victor of the Frühlingspiele, but I did win a copper coin from Juna in a wager. I still have it as a memento. Once our belongings were packed, Eferil and I traveled back to the grove where a teleport would be opened for us from the other side. On our way back, I again discussed my mission with Eferil. I had collected a small box full of vials with the blood of various people. Having learned two summers ago how powerful blood can be when used as a magical component, I was suddenly hesitant to part with it. Was it fair to risk endangering my friends, in order to safe someone I cared for? Did I dare disobey an order from a Court Lady? Was the order even real? Perhaps this was all a test from Autherdir Tegingûr, and the Court Lady was just a ruse. And if it was, what course of action would the Autherdir approve?
Back In weylin, Eferil and I parted ways, he returning to the Anarquendor, I traveling back to Shanaehan. I had intended to hide the blood and make a decoy using animal blood. I hoped this would buy me time to await instructions, or at least find out more before handing the blood over, but this ploy proved short lived. Not long after my return to the academy, the Court Lady contacted me. She had my movements monitored the second I stepped through the portal back on Weylin soil, so my efforts were moot. Yet she wasn’t upset with my precautionary attitude, and confronted with my skepticism, she took the time to answer many of my questions. This time it was she who convinced me of her intentions, and I relented. I would be presented for the ritual to save Aithilin’s live, to keep an eye on everything. Still, just to be sure, I send a hidden warning to my friends whose blood was to be used, to take precautions if such were available.

The ritual came and went. It was held in the utmost secrecy, many miles outside of Shanaehan. It was led by elves I had never met before, but who all presented an air of professional routine throughout the whole ordeal. I partook in its proceedings, and as far as I could tell without any arcane knowledge it worked. Aithilin quickly recovered, and I stayed by her side for a couple of days, before my training would call me away again. If I was reluctant to trust the Court Lady, Aithilin persuaded me otherwise. Her loyalty was unwavering, and I in turn could not deceive Aithilin. By now summer was rapidly approaching, and I feared with the coming of the next mission of the Anarquendor my time in Shanaehan would draw to an end. I should not have worried though.
A few days before the call came in for me to rejoin my regiment, I had another conversation with the Court Lady. I would be contacted by another Autherdir, who would give me a new mission of the highest importance. I reported to this other Autherdir, who was stationed in Shanaehan, and listened attentively as he gave me my instructions. These instructions involved the dagger blessed by the Avatars of the world of the dragons. The moment it dawned on me what was expected of me, I readily admit I wavered for the briefest of seconds. It was dangerous, bordering the suicidal, but I was determined and headstrong. I had chosen my loyalties, and I would uphold them to the very end if need be.

So a couple of days later, I packed my things to return once again to the Anarquendor, and the world of the dragons.”