Year 3633 the Sixth Age, the tenth day of Spring
After departing the ferries at the Horbin docks the army of Nevāranciens had quickly departed the city and continued southwards towards Sparren. But upon passing the town of Gerwil, which was nearly completely populated by Wood Elves, and drawing nearer to the Pass of Karadon the army had slowed its march and came to a halt. The warriors were instructed to set up camp by the side of the road and word soon filtered through the ranks that Kil’dar and Gar’lin were discussing strategies for their march into Sparren and their assault upon The Black Rangers headquarters within the city.
Boredom had set in among the warriors as the discussions continued, and rumors started claiming that Kil’dar was trying to dissuade Gar’lin from simply charging in and killing all in their path. As the stratagems moved into a third day the warriors had become restless and to stop anarchy amidst the ranks trios of warriors were permitted to scout the surrounding region of the Dartmoor Downs to the west. The warriors were also allowed to scouting south of Gerwil, which sat east of their position, and into the foot hills of the Amber Mountains. They had even been permitted to travel as far south as the Farron Mountains.
All of the warriors had been thankful for the distraction and entertainment, including Fairris who was currently out with Jar’nesh and Ty’far amid the Dartmoor Downs.
Fairris stopped and knelt down to inspect a muddy foot mark amid the green grass. By its size and shape she could tell that it was the track of a Grinlock, the dwarf sized nomads that lived throughout this region. Fairris looked up from the foot print, her deep blue eyes quickly moving about the stony hills that made up the downs. Grinlocks were aggressively territorial and warred between themselves as much as everyone else. They were also known for ambushing their victims or laying traps for the unwary to stumble into and die. They were hunters, gathers and scavengers mostly, but vicious fighters none the less.
Fairris continued to glance about the grey stone crags, looking for any kind of movement among the rocks, but there was none.
“What have you found?” Jar’nesh asked as she and Ty’far came along side Fairris.
“Grinlock tracks,” Fairris shrugged, “They are usually quite prolific in this area, living in caves and the tunnels in the crags.”
Ty’far nodded, “A few groups reported fighting some Grinlocks. I admit that I was looking forward to seeing some action.”
“What do you mean by usually, Fairris?” Jar’nesh asked noticing the concern on Fairris face.
Fairris shrugged again, “It is just that I expected to come across quite a lot of Grinlocks.”
Fairris looked back to the foot print, which was already beginning to fill with the rain that had been becoming heavier as they moved closer to the Morrow Plains. Something off to the side of the foot print caught her attention and Fairris moved to have a closer look. Curiously there were droplets of blood on the grey rock and blades of grass.
“It was wounded,” Fairris said to her companions as she pointed to the blood which was quickly being washed away by the rain.
“Another group of warriors perhaps?” Ty’far asked curiously.
“No it was running from the north,” Fairris shook her head, “Too far north for it to have been wounded by one the Grey Company.”
“A rival clan pushing in on another’s territory then,” Jar’nesh suggested, but again Fairris shook her head.
“Disagreements between clans are always large and very bloody,” Fairris said as she stood up.
“It ran from the battle then,” Ty’far concluded, “There was a battle to the north and this one got wounded and ran away.”
“That sounds logical,” Jar’nesh replied with a nod.
“Don’t sound so surprised,” Ty’far huffed, causing her friend to laugh.
Fairris half nodded and continued to lead the way following the Grinlock’s trail, but she was not so convinced by Ty’far’s reasoning.
Fairris spotted the dying Grinlock not long after as they rounded a large rock in a dip between two hills. The creature was slumped against a stone, its breathing heavy and bearing a nasty hole in its gut.
Cautiously Fairris approached the Grinlock, her eyes continuously glancing up to the rocky hill tops for signs of an ambush. The wounded Grinlock saw Fairris and tried to get to its feet and ready its stone club, but its injury was too great and it slumped back to the rock.
“Put it out of its misery,” Jar’nesh said, “Better death, than to be eaten alive by crows, or worse.”
“Try it, human,” the Grinlock grunted in a gruff accent and stilted speech. “Come nearer and me dead the elf first.”
The Grinlock clutched its club tightly as it glared menacingly at the trio.
“You couldn’t harm a fly,” Ty’far retorted and her hand moved to her sword.
“Wait,” Fairris implored her companion before kneeling down in front of the hairy creature.
“What happened?” Fairris asked the Grinlock slowly.
The Grinlock coughed and regarded Fairris suspiciously and did not reply.
“Rival clan?” Fairris tried again.
This time the Grinlock shook its hairy head, “Dark things,” it coughed, “In broken tree upwards.”
“Broken tree upwards,” Jar’nesh echoed the Grinlocks words, “That doesn’t make sense.”
“All clans flee broken tree upwards,” the Grinlock said and coughed again, “Flee all broken trees. Me get to sky pillars downwards, must.”
The Grinlock tried to stand and again, and again it failed, so it tried to crawl instead, but that failed too.
“Stop.” Fairris said as she looked pitifully at the creature, “You cannot go on.”
“Put it out of its misery,” Ty’far remarked quietly.
Fairris shook her head and put her hand deep into her extra dimensional pouch to pull out three small vials filled with bluish liquid.
“Drink these,” Fairris said to the Grinlock.
“Trickster elf,” the Grinlock spat.
“Healing magicks,” Fairris said emphatically, “Drink them and you will reach sky pillars.”
The Grinlock grunted and looked away so Fairris placed the three healing potions on the rock by the creature’s bare feet.
“Come on,” Fairris said as she stood and walked passed her companions heading back towards the north.
“Those potions won’t do much,” Jar’nesh remarked as she walked beside Fairris.
Fairris shrugged, “They might do enough to see it find aid from its clan.”
“You should have just ended its misery,” Ty’far said.
“You can still go back and do it,” Fairris snapped.
“No, I couldn’t,” Ty’far conceded, “You are right. To do so would have been cruel and dishonorable. It still had a chance to make it to its people and I couldn’t rob it of that hope.”
“I never thought I would hear you say something so poetic, Ty’far,” Jar’nesh joked and smiled, “So what do you girls say, shall we see what these dark things are in the broken tree upwards. Whatever that means.”
“What does it mean?” Ty’far asked aloud.
“I think it was talking about the many old tower ruins that are in the Dartmoor Downs,” Fairris replied, “Smaulin built them in the Third Age when he was conquering the land in Gildon’s name. As for what upwards means I’m not sure, maybe northwards, seeing he was running from that direction.”
“So downwards would be south,” Jar’nesh nodded in agreement, “Which would mean the sky pillars are the Farron Mountains?”
Fairris smiled and nodded to her friends before heading off at a jog back the way they had come and then following what remained of the wounded Grinlock’s footprints northwards. The trail ran on for many miles as it twisted through the dips between the rocky hills. Amid the rocks and along the shallow valleys were also many small woody trees, harsh bushes and many trickling streams that ran along a stone bed towards the east. The rain had lessened as they ran for many minutes but a thin mist had begun to gather about the peaks of the tall rocks that stood like crowns on the downs.
The trail led around another hill where the ground seemed to open up around them. To the west the hills fell away as the ground descended down a steep and rocky slope. A thick veil of cloud drifted just over the lip of the cliff and hid the view which would have shown the Western Oceania in the distance and the Dartmoor Downs continuing right up to the stony beach.
Along the cliff before them stood a single stone tower, its top now crumbled from lack of maintenance over thousands of years. Up its cracked sides grew vines and even a small tree had sprouted from the stone. There was once a wall about the tower but the years had turned it to rubble and the grass and weeds that covered much of its remains.
The wind picked up as Fairris and her companions neared, blowing the rain harder and pushing the clouds over from the west. It seemed peaceful to Fairris, and not to mention deserted, but as she moved into the broken courtyard the remains of half a dozen Grinlocks littered the ground. Fairris cringed as she also saw the bodies of Djarcs among the Grinlocks.
“More of these things,” Jar’nesh sighed irritably, “I had hoped we would see the last of them when we killed Delathian.”
“Grinlocks are competent fighters though, aren’t they?” Ty’far asked seriously, “Why would they flee from a group of Djarcs?”
“Because it is not just Djarcs, my dear,” sounded a light voice from the dark entrance of the tower.
Heavy steps echoed off the stone as what had spoken walked from the tower. But the heavy footsteps belied what appeared before them, for it was only a small unimposing man who wore simple robes and had neatly brushed hair.
“Who are you?” Ty’far asked suspiciously as her hand slowly moved to the hilt of her sword.
The man shrugged, “I never really use a name.”
“What are you?” Fairris asked, her hands also by the hilts of her weapons.
“Perhaps a more pertinent question,” the man smiled strangely, “I am commonly known as a necrophage. A title I quite like, I must admit.”
“You don’t look like any necrophage I have ever seen,” Jar’nesh said.
The man smiled again and walked with heavy steps to the corpses of the Grinlocks and Djarcs. Absently the man kicked one of the bodies and licked his lips.
“I prefer them to be a bit more rotted than this lot,” the man said with a grin, “Did you know there are ancient crypts under these towers? Much more tasty corpses down there. A couple of friends and I came this way after walking from the rift in the sky, it was like we struck a gold mine.”
The man laughed with a deep and crackling chuckle.
“Yes indeed,” the man’s pale eye glinted menacingly, “I have had the feast of a life time since coming here. But still I hunger for juicy, rotting, bloated flesh and putrid bone marrow.” The man licked his lips hungrily with his very thin tongue, “I am a Gravier, if you have not come to that conclusion already. Always hungering for dead flesh, but never that of the living. Disgusting stuff that is.”
“So you just kill the living and wait for them to start to rot,” Fairris said a matter-a-factually.
“Do not be silly my dear,” the man smirked, “I have the Djarcs to do the killing.”
As the Gravier spoke nearly a dozen Djarcs came forth from hidden caves around the ruined tower, their weapons in their hands.
“I do prefer my meals to be quite rotten however,” the Gravier paused and looked thoughtful. “But the Djarcs like their meat to be fresh. So I have some good news, you three are just in time for dinner.”
Fairris’s gunblades were in her hands the second the Djarcs charged at her and her friends. They were seriously outnumbered but neither Fairris nor her companions gave it much consideration as they moved into a defensive stance as the twisted creatures attacked them.
Fairris darted ahead at the first Djarc to come near, her leading gunblade diving for the creature’s eye. Her movement had been so fast that the Djarc fell without offering a counter. Before the next Djarc was upon her Fairris singled out a few archers at the back of the group and sent a stream of magickal bullets into them, blasting apart their greyish skin and dropping them to the ground.
As Fairris finished firing she darted backwards and out of reach of the swing from a Djarc before lunging forwards just as quickly and assaulting the fiend with a deadly series of attacks. The Djarc fell quickly, as did the ones next in line and quickly the fight was over with all the Djarc dead or dying.
Fairris and her companion then turned their attention to the Gravier who was standing casually as he watched them with dead eyes.
“Eat up Gravier, you must be hungry,” Ty’far smirked as she finished off one of the dying Djarcs.
The man grinned widely, showing his yellow and jagged teeth.
“Indeed this will keep me going for some time,” the Gravier nodded, “But I cannot help but notice you have just killed all my servants.”
The man let out an unearthly screech before bursting apart into nothing as the eight foot tall Gravier thundered towards them.
The man had just been an illusion and the real Gravier was a hulking giant with pale white skin, which showed hundreds of red veins all over its naked form. Its long arms ended in meaty three fingered hands that had broad claws at the end. The Gravier’s eyes were jaundice yellow, its head bony and bald and its small mouth filled with jagged teeth and a long thin tongue.
So disgusted by the sight Fairris barely had enough wit to dive aside as the Gravier swiped at her with its clawed hand, ripping up the stone ground where she had been standing. Fairris rolled to her feet quickly and sent a barrage of bullets into the beast’s thigh, but she might as well have been shooting stone. The magickal bullets had no little on the Gravier and seemed to only make it angrier.
The monster screeched again and grabbed at Fairris with both hands, but she was out of its reach before it had even gotten close. The Gravier would likely have pursued her had not Jar’nesh and Ty’fa fearlessly charged in, their Nevārancien blades biting into the flesh of the creature’s leg. The Gravier wailed and turned quickly upon the two of them, its backhand knocking Jar’nesh to the ground. Fairris raced to help Jar’nesh, but she was not quick enough and the fiend grabbed at Jar’nesh. The Gravier quickly recoiled as Jar’nesh slashed at the thing’s hand and severed one of its clawed fingers.
The Gravier jumped back and roared in pain as Ty’far darted behind the monster and swung her sword heavily into the back of its knee. Her blade did not cut deeply into the Gravier’s thick flesh, but it was clear that it felt the blow and quickly turned on her. Quicker than Ty’far could move the Gravier grabbed her firmly, pinning her arms and lifting her towards its mouth.
Fairris moved quickly to aid her friend and jumped off a pile of rubble and onto the Gravier’s broad shoulders, her gunblade slicing for the monster’s eye. Fairris felt her blade cut deeply and the Gravier screeched painfully as it dropped Ty’far and tried to grab at Fairris.
But Fairris nimbly jumped from the creature’s shoulders and landed beside her friends. Cautiously they backed away as the Gravier continued to wail and swing wildly.
“Fairris, how do we kill it?” Ty’far asked as they continued to back away.
“How should I know?” Fairris balked, “I have never heard of a Gravier. Jar’nesh?”
“Stab it through the heart?” Jar’nesh offered, but she was just as bewildered, “Decapitate and dismember it before burning it? I don’t know.”
The Gravier suddenly stopped its wailing and wildly swinging and snapped its remaining good eye upon the three of them. The beast roared angrily as it charged at them again, picking up a rock as it moved and launched the missile at them. Desperately they all dived aside and rolled quickly to their feet to try and combat the angry Gravier. The monster’s long arms continued to swing at them as it danced about trying to engage each of them at the same time.
But Fairris and her two companions had fought many battles and they managed to counter the vicious swipe of the Gravier effectively. Their cuts were shallow but soon the fiend’s black blood was flowing from dozens of wounds and it was becoming tired.
Then its swing stopped and it just stood there breathing heavily, its arms limp at its sides. Cautiously Fairris approached, glancing to her companions as she did for reassurance. With a nod to Jar’nesh and Ty’far, Fairris darted ahead her dwarven crafted gunblade lunging for the Gravier’s knee that Ty’far had previously wounded. Her blade cut easily through the flesh and bone of the fiend’s knee and right out the other side of the leg with such little resistance that Fairris almost lost her balance.
But then she was flying through the air as a heavy clawed hand thundered into her back and sent her into the side of the tower. As darkness took her Fairris wondered what had happened, and then she remembered that the Gravier could create illusions. But it was too late and unconsciousness took her.
The next thing Fairris noticed was the gentle patter of rain on leather and the warm fur rugs on her naked skin. Her head throbbed painfully as she slowly fluttered open her eyes to see the dark roof of the skin tent above her. Under her head was a soft feather pillow that encouraged her to drift off to sleep again, and she must have for she awoke with a start to see a small Valenthōr kneeling beside her bed. The rain was still drumming the tent softly, but now it was much lighter.
Fairris pushed herself into a sitting position and felt suddenly the tightness across her back.
“Slowly, or you will break the stitches,” the Valenthōr said softly.
The fur blankets fell away from her and Fairris quickly moved to gather them around her again causing a pulse of pain to shoot through her.
“What did I just say?” the small elf sighed, and for the first time Fairris gave her greater consideration.
The elf’s mouse brown hair was cut very short at her temples and along the side of her head leaving her hair to appear styled in a mohawk fashion. She wore simple clothes like all Wood Elves but her long ears had been hacked shorter to a similar length as normal ears.
“You work for Kil’dar,” Fairris said softly as she recognised the elf.
Nanil scoffed, “You shouldn’t insult the one who save your life.”
“Sorry,” Fairris mumbled as she rubbed her hand across her brow and through her hair.
“Ty’far and Jar’nesh,” Fairris said suddenly and a cold flush ran over her, “Where are they? What happened? Don’t tell me they are dead.”
Nanil did not reply and looked away from Fairris as she stood up.
“Tell me, what happened?” Fairris implored, but Nanil left the tent.
Fairris’s gut twisted painfully as she imagined Ty’far and Jar’nesh being eaten by the hideous Gravier. Tears began to well in her eyes and her breathing started to come in short gasps.
“We are not dead yet,” Jar’nesh said with a smile and she pushed the tent flap aside and moved into the tent, Ty’far close behind her.
A flood of relief washed over Fairris and her tears turned to ones of joy.
“Don’t do that to me,” Fairris sniffed and smiled, “I don’t know what I would have done if you both had died and I survived.”
“We are not that easy to kill,” Ty’far laughed, “In truth you were the one to nearly die, not us.”
“What happened?” Fairris asked curiously, “How did you defeat the Gravier?”
“Well after you cleverly showed us how it used illusions, we slowly beat it down,” Jar’nesh replied.
“Turns out Jar’nesh was right,” Ty’far jumped in, “Stab through the heart killed it. But we still decapitated and dismembered it, just to be sure. We didn’t have time to burn it though thanks to you.”
“And thanks to you giving that Grinlock your healing potions we had nothing to heal you with,” Jar’nesh continued, “So we had to carry you away from the broken tower and hope that we could get back here in time. The gash across your shoulders was not deep but the Gravier’s claws must have been poisoned for your skin quickly became putrid and started to rot. We didn’t think we would make it.”
“Then Nanil appeared out of nowhere,” Ty’far cut in, “Teleported us back to camp and set about healing you. I must say that elf is good with magicks.”
Fairris nodded slowly as she absorbed the information, “So the camp has not moved on?”
Jar’nesh shook her head and gave an irritable expression, “Kil’dar and Gar’lin are still arguing about how to take down The Black Rangers. Perhaps it’s for the best though, you need to rest.”
“Yes she does,” Nanil said as he came into the tent, “Which means you both need to leave and let her sleep.”
“We better do what she says, she can get quite angry,” Ty’far joked causing Nanil to narrow her eyes.
Fairris bid a short farewell to her friends and they departed leaving Fairris alone in the tent with Nanil who began to mix something in a stone bowl.
“Kil’dar has had you keeping an eye on us three hasn’t he?” Fairris asked as she eyed the Valenthōr curiously, “That is how you came to my aid.”
“Yes,” Nanil replied without stopping her mixing or looking up from her work.
“Why?” Fairris inquired seriously.
The small elf shrugged, “He has his reasons.”
“Why do you help him?”
“I have my reasons,” Nanil sighed irritably, “I told you to sleep.”
“I do not feel that sleepy,” Fairris began.
“I said to sleep,” Nanil cut in and waved her hand at Fairris.
To Fairris’s surprise and blue light flashed in front of her eyes and she fell backwards into slumber.
Then Fairris began to awake slowly, her head foggy and her limbs stiff, the sound of light rain was still present and the warm fur rugs still around her. Fairris stretched her arms out and slowly opened her eyes to see a smiling face staring down at her. Fairris’s drowsiness vanished in a flash as she jumped into a sitting position in surprise and looked suspiciously at the woman’s face beaming at her.
“You’re awake,” the young Snow Elf smiled wider and clapped her hands. “I was so worried about you, we all were.”
“Who are you?” Fairris stammered as she rubbed away the sleep dust in her eyes and regarded the elf closer.
The Lithinüer wore simple travelling gear which looked as if it had been hand made with many colourful ribbons and flowers covering the garb. The elf’s hair was snowy white like all Lithinüer and was tied back into a high pony tail with a yellow ribbon. To complete her overly cheerful appearance there was a dandelion tucked behind one of her pointed ears.
“How silly of me, I forgot, we have never met,” the Lithinüer exclaimed, “I feel I know you so well already. My name is Lyinar, I’m a Lithinüer, as I am sure you can tell. I am a troubadour by trade, and by far your biggest admirer.”
“What?” Fairris mumbled, beginning to wonder if this was some strange dream.
“Well of course you are famous,” Lyinar said emphatically, “Fairris the Fair, Hero of the Zirarien, Chosen One of Melenduil. The list goes on, as do the poems and songs of you and your adventures. The first one Baelor penned of your victory over the cruel Darriens is by far my favourite. Because after all it was the reason I became a minstrel in the first place. After hearing I decided to leave Thienlin and share your stories with everyone who would hear. And I listened for more tales of your valour in the taverns of Essinendeür and wrote some songs of my own in both elven and Common tongue. Do you want to hear one?”
“What? No,” Fairris said quickly.
Lyinar’s smile vanished making Fairris feel bad, “Maybe later,” Fairris added and the elf’s face brightened again, “Where are my companions?”
“Jar’nesh and Ty’far?” Lyinar asked, “They are outside with everyone else, of course. You know I don’t know if I should say this but you are a hero to all of the Elder Races. Most of the Elder that follow the Grey Company and seek to join it do so because of you, Fairris.”
Fairris was taken aback by the remark and any form of reply disappeared from her mind.
A welcome distraction came when Nanil pushed into the tent and upon seeing Lyinar shook her head slightly.
“Miss Nanil, Fairris is awake see,” Lyinar exclaimed excitedly.
“I am not blind,” Nanil replied dully, “You should leave Lyinar and let Fairris rest.”
“Alright,” the Lithinüer sighed before jumping to her feet and leaving the tent, but not before shooting Fairris one more bright smile.
“Who was that?” Fairris asked Nanil once Lyniar had left.
“A Lithinüer bard,” the small Valenthōr shrugged, “Joined the camp the day you began your reconnaissance of the Dartmoor Downs.”
“Is it true what she said?” Fairris asked hesitantly.
“What? That many of the Elder Races see you as a hero?” Nanil looked surprised, and Fairris nodded. “Let me put it like this, you are both of the Grey Company and of the Elder Races and those of the Elder Races who are not in the Grey Company, but want to be, regard you with admiration.”
“I never wanted their admiration,” Fairris said softly and shook her head.
“Regardless you have it,” Nanil was quick to say, “And if you dismiss it then I am sorry that I saved your life.”
“What do they want me to do?” Fairris asked in confusion.
“Do?” Nanil scoffed, “They don’t want you to do anything other than what you are doing. But no doubt if you actively engage them they will all feel as if their attempts to join the Grey Company will not end like Grendüils.”
Fairris nodded subtly and looked absently to the fur of the blankets around her.
“Perhaps there is something else you could do,” Nanil offered, “If you want to take some responsibility that is.”
“What can I do?” Fairris asked sincerely as she looked into Nanil’s eyes.
Nanil shrugged, “Initiate them into the Grey Company, and conduct the trial for them.”
“What?” Fairris balked, “So Gar’lin can kill them like he did Grendüil?”
“There is no law stating that the High King need be present at the trial,” Nanil replied, “So do it without his knowledge.”
“I am sure he will notice,” Fairris replied.
“No, he is busy with Kil’dar,” Nanil shook her head, “All the other warriors want to see more of their Elder Race friends in the Grey Company, but your kin are afraid to face Gar’lin.”
“What does it achieve though?” Fairris asked seriously, “Even if I persuade my kin to complete the trial once Gar’lin finds out he will kick them out, or worse.”
“Gar’lin does not have the power to do so,” Nanil was quick to reply, “Once in the Grey Company you are forever part of the family. That was the basis on which it was originally formed. Gar’lin would be a fool to try and expel them.”
Fairris did not reply and she looked away from Nanil, her eyes wandering about the tent as she considered what the Valenthōr was saying.
“What are Kil’dar’s thoughts on all this?” Fairris asked suspiciously as a thought came to her.
Nanil shrugged, but Fairris noticed a mischievous glimmer in the elf’s eyes.
“He agrees that the Elder Races would be a benefit to the Grey Company,” Nanil replied simply, and Fairris regarded her curiously.
“The choice is yours,” Nanil said, “You are well enough to be up and walking, so get out of my tent. Your clothes and gear are in a pile behind you.”
Without saying anymore the small Valenthōr stood up and moved from the tent, leaving Fairris to get dressed as she considered Nanil’s words.
Fairris really did want to see more of the Elder Races wearing the grey tops like the rest of the warriors, but she hated the thought of everyone admiring her. Never had she dreamed of being famous and in fact she always tried to hide away from the spot light. But Fairris realised that none of this was about her, somehow Kil’dar was manipulating the situation and she was merely his tool. But what was Kil’dar trying to achieve in doing this?
Fairris sighed as she strapped on her gunblade and walked from the tent, even if she was a tool she wanted to do right by her kinsmen.
Outside she was met by a light rain on her face and the quite sounds of a camped army in the early morning. The camp had not changed since she had headed into the Downs so she headed off towards her own tent and where she knew Jar’nesh and Ty’far would be.
“Fairris,” Lyniar exclaimed as Fairris started walking into the camp, “You are up and about how wonderful.”
“Were you waiting for me?” Fairris asked in surprise as she continued walking.
“Of course,” Lyinar nodded, “You are the muse that gives me inspiration to create beautiful poems. I must travel with you and write tales of your heroism.”
Fairris looked perplexed at the Lithinüer and shook her head at the young elf’s innocent exuberance.
“How old are you?” Fairris asked seriously.
“By human years, twenty,” Lyinar smiled.
“And your parents just let you leave Thienlin to travel the land as a bard?” Fairris asked in surprise.
Lyinar looked sheepish, “I kind of ran away.”
Fairris shook her head in disbelief, “Foolish girl, you are lucky you haven’t been killed.”
“Is it foolish to follow ones dreams?” Lyinar countered, “Is it foolishness to seek excitement in life, romance, passion, or adventure? If so, then perhaps I am a fool. But a fool with stars in her eyes and a rainbow on her shoulders.”
Fairris scoffed and shook her head.
As Fairris walked through the camp she glanced several times at the young elf beside her in bemusement as Lyinar hummed a tune as she gazed about with wide eyes. There was something strange about this Lithinüer in Fairris’s eyes, but it was also sweet. The girls willful innocence and blissful ignorance of how cruel life could be struck a chord in Fairris and she wondered if she would have been like this young elf if her parents had not been brutally murdered in front of her eyes.
Soon Fairris arrived at the group of tents were hers stood alongside Jar’nesh and Ty’far’s in a semicircle around a fire place. Both of her friends were awake and sitting beside the small fire trying to cook some food.
“Fairris you are awake, and with Lyinar by your side, wonderful.” Ty’far dryly as she saw Fairris approach, “Come and have something to break your fast.”
“It won’t be much though,” Jar’nesh grumbled, “This damn rain is stealing all heat from our flame.”
“I can help with that,” Lyinar said happily and without waiting for a response she casually threw a fireball into the fire. Immediately the flame kicked up with renewed vigor and Fairris could feel the heat on her cheeks.
“Why didn’t you do that before you went to see if Fairris was alright this morning?” Ty’far remarked with a sigh.
“I am guessing you two have already met Lyinar then,” Fairris said with some slight annoyance.
“You could say that,” Jar’nesh nodded, “As soon as she got the chance she has been grilling us with questions about our adventures with you.”
“And then singing the verses she had penned to us to see if we like it,” Ty’far added.
“What have you two been telling her?” Fairris asked suspiciously.
“Only the best things,” Ty’far smiled back, “Lyinar could you sing Fairris the Fair for us?”
“No don’t,” Fairris quickly said and Jar’nesh and Ty’far burst out laughing.
“Come now Fairris, be fair,” Jar’nesh laughed along with Ty’far.
“I hate you two,” Fairris scowled, which caused her friends to laugh all the harder.
After Jar’nesh and Ty’far had stopped their giggling they ate some food which was still poorly cooked.
“Jar’nesh, Ty’far, I need your help with something,” Fairris spoke up as she finished her last mouthful. “I want to initiate a trial to become a member of the Grey Company.”
“You are already one of us,” Jar’nesh replied with a quizzical expression.
“It is not for me,” Fairris shook her head, “But for all of the Elder Races who are in our camp and wish to join.”
“Are you mad? I don’t want to see Gar’lin kill any more of our friends,” Ty’far was quick to say.
“Gar’lin doesn’t need to oversee the trial,” Fairris countered, “There are no rules stating that he does. While he is arguing with Kil’dar about the attack strategy we should conduct a mass trial. Because once they are part of our Company they are family and cannot be expelled.”
Ty’far and Jar’nesh looked to each other curiously.
“It doesn’t seem right, going behind our High King’s back,” Jar’nesh said, shaking her head.
“What if I told you Kil’dar encouraged me to do this?” Fairris asked with a slight smile.
Her two companions looked at her in surprise.
“But he has been with Gar’lin for nearly four days now,” Jar’nesh shook her head.
“Well, it was Nanil who suggested this to me to be honest,” Fairris replied with a shrug, “And we each know she works closely with Kil’dar.”
Again Ty’far and Jar’nesh fell silent as they considered her words.
“Look a rainbow,” Lyinar exclaimed suddenly as she pointed to the north and drawing everyone’s eyes to the colourful arch which stretched across the sky. “We should go and see if there is a pot of gold at its base.”
Lyinar giggled like a young girl as the others looked at each other curiously.
“Anyway,” Fairris said, “Will you two help me with conducting this trial?”
“I will,” Ty’far said with a smile, “The Elder Races who follow us should have been allowed to join the Grey Company ages ago.”
“I will too,” Jar’nesh said less enthusiastically, “But I bet there will be some trouble coming our way.”
“Thank you,” Fairris smiled and looked back to the rainbow.
But as she looked up her smile lessened as she saw the colourful arch slowly become consumed by the black Rift in the sky.
For the rest of the day Fairris, Ty’far and Jar’nesh went about the camp spreading the word that a trial was to be conducted that evening for all who wanted to join. Most of the warriors were excited by the news and happy for the Elder Races to have a chance. But of course there were some who shared Gar’lin’s thoughts on the purity of the Grey Company and were appalled by the news.
Fairris spent most of her day among the elves and dwarves in the camp persuading them to try and complete the trial, and constantly reassured them that Gar’lin would not interfere. For the whole day Lyinar trailed behind her humming tunes and occasional asking Fairris what she thought of a verse that she had just composed.
Fairris was thankful for the arrival of the evening so that she would be in the company of others aside from Lyinar.
“An excellent turn out,” Ty’far remarked to Fairris as they looked upon the gathered warriors and Elder Races.
To be away from Gar’lin’s potential interference they had decided to conduct the trial not far into the Dartmoor Downs, and in a wide dip between the rocky crags a circle of fire had been created. The plan was that the one attempting the trial would fight in the circle while everyone else looked on from advantage points up the hills.
The atmosphere about the area was electric and filled with excitement and hope, and with a smile Fairris walked into the circle with Jar’nesh and Ty’far beside her.
“Who wants to be first?” Fairris asked loudly and confidently to the gathered.
The response came in the form of a still silence and none of the Elder Races stepped forward. Awkwardly Fairris glanced to her companions for support.
“Anyone?” Ty’far asked loudly, “No? Then why in Hell are you all here?”
“I’ll be first,” Nanil said confidently as she walked into the circle, and a slight cheer erupted from the crowd.
Fairris quietly thanked Nanil and smiled, “Then let the trial begin,” Fairris said loudly, “Who will challenge Nanil?”
“Alright, I will,” a warrior spoke up and with a laugh walked into the circle, “We are all here for some fun, right? And to welcome some more companions into our ranks.”
A cheer rose up from the crowd and with a wide smile Fairris left the ring to allow the trial to commence.
“Wait, you cannot use magicks,” the challenging warrior said as Nanil summoned two Fog daggers to her hands.
“They are the only weapons I have,” Nanil replied casually, “I can teach you to summon Fog weapons too, if you like?”
The warrior seemed taken aback by Nanil’s reply and looked questioningly towards Fairris.
“I see no harm in it,” Fairris said loudly, “So long as you use no other forms of magicks Nanil.”
“You have my word of honour,” Nanil replied simply, perhaps even a little sarcastically in Fairris opinion.
“I see no reason why we cannot trust her word,” Jar’nesh spoke up, “Kil’dar trusts her, and so do I.”
The challenging warrior nodded his agreement and another cheer sounded from the gathered as the sparing commenced.
Nanil was skilled and agile and she easily defeated her opponents as they came, but as they last two challenges stepped forward it seemed as if the small Valenthōr was tiring. Or perhaps that was just for show, Fairris was not sure. Either way Nanil completed the trial and almost immediately a dwarf stepped forwards to attempt it.
By the time all the trials had finished all who had attempted it had successfully become members of the Grey Company and the celebrations continued on back in the campsite. The celebrating went late into the night and the next day more good news came.
Gar’lin and Kil’dar had finally come to an agreement and it looked as if they were about to march once again as Gar’lin called them all for an inspection.
As they lined up before Gar’lin’s tent those of the Elder Races who completed the trial last night hid at the back of the group. But surprisingly Nanil stood confidently at the very front wearing her new grey top proudly as if to bait Gar’lin into doing something.
“Good news, my Wyner,” Gar’lin boomed loudly as he stepped from his tent. “Kil’dar has finally yielded to my greater wisdom and conceded that my plans for the attack are better. So I am glad to say . . .”
Gar’lin’s voice trailed away as he noticed Nanil standing among the company wearing the outfit of a warrior.
“You, elf,” Gar’lin roared as he walked right up to the smaller Wood Elf, “What in the name of Death are you doing? Take off that grey uniform now before you disgrace us all.”
“But my King, I passed the trial,” Nanil replied respectfully, “I am proud to be a member of the Grey Company. They are now my brothers and sisters and I will fight with them and for them until Death take me.”
“Trial?” Gar’lin spat, “What trial? Who conducted a trial without my permission?”
“My King,” Kil’dar interjected quickly, “You were busy with more important things. No doubt your warriors did not want to disturb you for such a trivial matter.”
“Kil’dar speaks true my Liege,” another warrior boldly spoke up, “Nanil wanted to become a warrior so we conducted the trial believing you would approve admittance to her and the others.”
“What others?” Gar’lin asked angrily, his eyes wide.
“Roughly fifty other elves and dwarves also completed the trial,” Nanil said with a smile and Gar’lin’s face turned white with anger.
“Such good news,” Kil’dar laughed aloud, “Fifty more to our ranks will make killing The Black Rangers a lot easier.”
Gar’lin’s hands balled into fists as he turned from the gathered warriors, his whole body shaking with anger.
“Get ready to march, we move out now!” the High King roared as he stalked back into his tent, leaving the warriors to disperse and get ready for departure.
As Fairris headed off with Ty’far and Jar’nesh she glance back to see Kil’dar and Nanil sharing a few words, and Fairris wondered what Kil’dar’s plan was and why he had gotten Nanil to encourage Fairris to conduct the trials.
“Grey suits you, Nanil,” Kil’dar remarked with a smirk as the warriors dispersed from the front of Gar’lin’s tent.
“Shut it, I hate this colour,” Nanil replied as she glared at her new tight singlet top.
“How was your trial?” asked Kil’dar, “Did you use much magicks?”
The small elf shrugged, “Not really, it was fairly easy as if my challengers wanted me to win.”
“Did I not tell you so,” Kil’dar smiled as he began walking towards his tent, Nanil beside him.
Nanil smirked, “It is like you have written a script and everyone is playing along. Fairris was easy enough to convince, and that minstrel Lyinar helped I think.”
“I had nothing to do with the Snow Elf,” Kil’dar replied, “Good fortune though.”
“So how was your discussions with the King?” Nanil asked as she followed Kil’dar into his tent where he began packing his tings.
Kil’dar sighed and shook his head, “I have never been involved in a more dull and pointless affair. I seriously believe Gar’lin is losing his mind. You know that map I have of Sparren, the one beautifully drawn by the artist Vi’darrin, he stabbed it with his dagger.”
“What?” Nanil asked with a laugh.
“It’s not amusing Nanil,” Kil’dar glared at the Wood Elf, “I think he was trying to make a point or identify The Black Rangers headquarters. But it was nowhere near the headquarters. He stabbed the castle of all places.”
Nanil burst out laughing, “Does he even know where any of the capital cities are?”
“I don’t think so,” Kil’dar shook his head seriously, “There was a time when he would have made a point to do so, but now. I don’t know, it is as if he is slowly losing his mind to his obsession with power and domination. It probably has something to do with the surgery he had to graft the PBE’s onto his brain stem, who ever said that was a good idea was an idiot.”
“Good thing you are getting rid of him before he ruins all of us,” Nanil remarked casually.
“I hope you are right,” Kil’dar said with a sigh.
“What do you mean? This was your plan,” Nanil balked in surprise.
“It is,” Kil’dar agreed, “And we need to get rid of the fool. I suppose I am just saddened by the loss of my map. You know he ended up ripping it apart like a ravenous animal at the end of our discussions. That map was expensive, bastard.”
“I hope that was not his attack plan for the actual city,” Nanil replied dryly.
Kil’dar laughed, “Almost. After I pointed out where The Black Rangers headquarters were, he thankfully dismissed the idea of burning the whole city to the ground.”
“So are we just going to stroll through the upper section of the city in the broad light of Inüer, go down The River and to the headquarters in north west, all without being opposed by The Black Rangers?” Nanil asked curiously.
“That is the plan,” Kil’dar shrugged, “Don’t look at me like that, I tried to show Gar’lin a better way but he would not hear it. So that is what we are to do. Come on, the company will be on the move soon.”
As Kil’dar finished packing his things, Nanil left the tent to sort out her own belongings, and very soon Kil’dar was jogging beside Gar’lin at the head of the Grey Company as they drew closer to the Pass of Karadon and the Morrow Plains beyond.