Continued from Part III… or Start from the beginning…
Tharen paused for a moment and cleared his throat. His youthful appearance clashed with his claims of royalty and ancient heritage, yet I could not help but feel that he was telling the truth.
“In the far West was the pride of Faren’s realm: Tælongaad, the city of the glistening walls. This was the seat of his land and the fortress into which he had poured all of his craftsmanship and creative abilities. The great pearl and coral gifts from the sea had been set up in the walls as decorative and imposing displays of his city’s craftsmen. The crowning accomplishment was a statue of a great white horse. The men worked for 10 years on the shaping and details of the horse. The pearls were cut to perfection and polished to reflect the passersby. The statue was placed in the center of the city and rimmed with a fountain that was kept ever flowing by a water sprite whose service Faren had won in one of his quests.
The Tælon became adept seafarers, and many set off and formed their own colonies on distant islands. Reports even came back that a land larger than that of the Three Kingdoms had been found, and that people who spoke our own language were dwelling there. The tales of old were rekindled in the hearts of our elders, and stories of how we came to dwell here began to be retold in the meeting places. The northern port became a well-known trading hub, and the races of men and others sailed from miles to trade and buy the crafts and horses of Tælongaad. We praised the One who sent us here, and peace continued its work of contradiction.
Of my land, there are many tales. My people did not dwell in any particular strong city or fortress. We preferred to wander through the wood and settle for a year or two in a pleasant field as the fancy took us. The creatures of that day were not violent, neither did we worry over any enemies, for we knew the woods better than any other. I lived for a while with my father in the High Kingdom, learning what there was to know of our lands and history. I studied the lore of our people and learned of the One who created and molded the lands. I learned how he made servants of great power to whom he granted the living and non-living clays. I was taught how they created all of the living creatures, save the Ellathe, yet the animals had not life until it was breathed into them by the One. I shuddered when I was told of the evil that also sprang from those days. How the One, by granting freewill to his servants, not only created those who could love Him, but also those who could despise His might. I learned the concept of evil, and I wondered in my mind how any could turn against a Creator and one who loved them. I rejoiced that my father had purged this land, and I took comfort in the fact that the spirits and beasts that keep and roam the lands are benevolent and good.
Many things I learned, and wise I considered myself. Yet I was a warrior who had fought only in the training grounds. I had no experience with actual evil, and I did not perceive that subtlety was counted among the greatest of the skills of the Fallen. As I have said, I was often visited by the keepers of the forest. These creatures were formed by the servants of the One to keep the woods and guard the great forests from harm. They are wise and exceedingly old. Of them I learned the old arts and ancient skills. My people were able to vanish in the forests and make nearly any useful thing from the dead branches of a tree. Great cities we built in the forests, and pets of falcons and hawks we made for ourselves. Faren would often travel down the river that you crossed on your way here. I would tell him of a new lore or skill that I had learned, and he would relate to me the latest news from afar. During the early years, our other brother would often join us and tell of his discoveries in the arts of mining and metalworking. He would bring with him jewels and swords and shiny things for our children to play with. As the years progressed, however, came less frequently; eventually, he completely ceased his visits.
Faren and I would sometimes travel to our brother’s halls. Underground in the North-East, my brother had created a vast network of tunnels and caverns that served as roads between his stone cities. He had numerous mining pits in which he was delving for all manner of precious materials. He had made alliances with the mountains and keepers of the great lakes. Of these creatures, however, little is written. Even smaller still was the trust which was granted them by Faren and myself. Still, our brother assured us that everything was going well. One day, he announced that he would be abroad on travels for some time, and that any visits by us would be met with futility. It is at this point that we now, in hindsight, count our brother as the one who shall not be named.
Continued from Part II… or Start from the beginning…
I awoke what seemed like seconds later. Nothing had changed, except for my little companions. The children were spread out in the field around me. Some of them were playing games: cards, something similar to chess, and some strange game that I hadn’t seen before that involved little glass beads and wooden figurines. Others of the group were lounging in the sun and talking about many things. I looked up and saw that the sun was still in the same place.
The leader, when he saw that I was stirring, came over and asked how my sleep was. I replied that it was quite refreshing, then I paused. The children were now speaking in whispers and the games had ceased entirely. I heard a faint noise in the distance, from where I had entered the wood. “Come with me,” the leader said, in a grave tone. We headed back down the path, towards the bridge and river. The noise grew in ferocity as we neared the entrance of the wood. A storm was raging on the other side of the river! The wind was howling and the water was roaring under the bridge. The trees on the Eastern bank of the river were being ripped and torn from their bases. The rain fell in massive torrential sheets as the river raged down its path. The Eastern bank, however, was completely still. We stood under the sun, which still hadn’t moved, and watched the storm unfold on the other bank. The rain came no further than the halfway point of the river, and even the mad waves of the river did not wet the nearest half of the bridge. The child king motioned for me to follow him back through the wood.
“You have, unknown to yourself, committed a grievous misdeed,” he said, once we had arrived back in the field. “You have angered the river, and he does not lightly forgive the misdeeds of those he does not love.”
Forgetting for a moment that many strange things happen in this land, I was exceedingly perplexed. I had yet to upset any of the local spirits, so this was an odd concept to me. Questioning the leader, he explained that it would be better to tell me about this land, so that I would better understand the situation. This is the story, as he told it.
“I was once a king, a powerful lord of great lands. These, my people, only children to your eyes, are the remainder of my subjects. Our kingdom was but a smaller part of one great king’s realm. He had three sons, Tharen, Faren, and one whose name is no longer remembered in our stories. Our kingdoms were mighty, and peace was the only conflict we knew. I am Tharen, the eldest of the sons of the high king. Our father was of the pure council that purged the world in the beginning of our time, yet they did not cast out all of the darkness, for fell creatures still lurk and the spirits are still swayed to the accomplishment of evil.
In the 73rd year of the reckoning of man we, as a trio of brothers, were deemed fit to rule our own lands. Our father gave to each of us an equal share of land and subjects–each realm matching the character of its new lord. To Faren he gave the great plateaus and flat lands bordering the seas, for Faren loved harnessing nature and the power contained within. He could always be found on a horse or in a boat, wrestling with an unbroken stallion or fighting to master the wind and currents in his favorite vessels.
The mountains and wide bodies of water to the East he gave to his other son; his name we no longer speak. He was fond of dark places and mighty structures and also of books. The caverns and ancient fortresses were the places in which he was to be found. He meddled in areas in which he should never have meddled, and he trespassed in areas that should have never been found by men. We were quick to trust and too easily blinded by our own faith. Even my father was caught in the snare that was drawn around our land.
To me was given the wooded areas and wide fields that rimmed the grand castle of my father. The love of the forests and animals of the field was strong in my heart. I spent all of my time wandering through the woods, making music and speaking with the keepers of the forest. The guardians of the wood were my friends, they taught me all that they knew of the wilderness and the wild.
My father was pleased with counseling his children, for he was now growing old, and his wisdom was very great. The high king of our land he became, and the Two Kingdoms of Tharen and Faren grew very mighty, yet the third kingdom to the East was quiet and small. The people moved underground and into the mountains, and seldom did we interact with the Easterners. Peace we still had from the conquests of our father, and war was a foreign concept to us. Strong armies and many soldiers we had, but our focus poured into the building of grandeur and show. At this time the guardians of the wood came into our lands and spoke with our people, the Faren made a pact with the people of the water, and great pearls and mighty blocks of coral were exchanged for our best instruments of stone and rare metals. Our kingdoms were mighty, and peace was the only conflict we knew. Shadows, however, are most dangerous when they are cast by those whom we trust.”
Continued from Part I…
I was very soon distracted from the flower incident; the path widened on up ahead, and the trees started to thin. What I had first thought was a deep wood was turning out to be only a very dense strip of trees. I looked back towards the bridge, and although it was only 100 yards or so away, it was no longer visible. The path was a very nicely-kept walkway, free of any of the normal litter that covered forest floors: dead leaves, pine needles, bark. In fact, the entire floor of the woods was clean. Nothing but rocks and little flowers and shrubs and dirt for as far as I could see. Rabbits peered curiously from around the bases of trees and a hawk watched me carefully as I walked past him. Suddenly, he swooped from the tree and rushed towards the rabbits. To my surprise, he landed next to the rabbits and began harshly whistling or screeching softly in the way that hawks do. The rabbits seemed to be listening, but they spotted me and hurried away in a flurry of feathers and fur.
“That was odd,” I muttered to myself as I turned to start back on the trail. As I walked towards Eastern opening of the woods, I noticed that the trees ended and a beautiful green field stretched out before me. Like the wood around me, the field was free from the mar of death and decay. The grass stretched on to meet the horizon; although, I thought I could make out the blurred outline of trees in the distance. The trees rimmed the field on either side as far as I could see. Soon, the sound of singing reached my ears. The songs that were sung varied widely in tone and volume–from sad, dirge-like songs to happy, quick melodies filled with mirth and joy. It seemed to me as though the singers were struggling to master a sadness that had been thrust upon them.
The voices gradually grew louder, and I saw the strangest sight coming through the fields. A group of children was coming towards me, sometimes trudging along as if they had lost their dearest friend, and at others times frolicking and dancing through the grass with great joy. As the distance between us was reduced, I saw that the lead child wore very fine clothes, almost as if he were a king. The rest of the company was also arrayed as if they were a tiny party in company of their lord. I caught fragments of their songs as they sang. The words were strange and the rhythm was not familiar to me.
…for that no longer is, yet was, as we are now,
for when it is, none may be,
but that we are, it is our share,
and all who enter our land fair;
freely all may pass and tarry yet for a while,
yet to stay it is not wise,
and too long a visit against such is told,
a peril and many will come to the old;
the cursed we are that once were free,
yet saved from the full, we bear now the part,
stay with us here, and dine with us now,
but stay, thou cannot, this you must vow…
It was then that I realized that they had a great platter of food in their midst. “Sit down, stranger. Rest awhile and build regain your strength, for in truth, I see you have traveled long.”
Indeed, I had wandered for a while. In fact, I realized that the night must be drawing near, yet when I looked towards the sky, the sun seemed not to have moved at all! I asked the leader about this peculiarity, and he replied that I would know what I needed, eventually. We ate our food, and what food it was! The meal was served in such a way that I was reminded of the picnics out in the fields behind my own home, when I was yet a child. Still, the food itself was royal fare. The game and fire-roasted vegetables and various tubers were fantastic. With the meal came a wine that was exceedingly sweet, and soon after downing a glass, (for the little people even had wine glasses) I fell fast asleep.