Ellron stood looking out across the cliffs. There were a few stars shining bleakly as dusk fell. Below him were the wounded, the dead and the dying. Crows were picking at the corpses. He rested his aching arm on the hilt of his sword. He was tired of this war. The Belrog had seemed to be endless as they had scuttled forward. Wave after wave of them had advanced toward his troops. He had lost half his army in one day and they were good men and women. Poor and honest soldiers who believed they were fighting for the freedom of their families. Ellron knew the truth of the war and had been training his men for this battle for five years.
His wife, Sarah, was standing beside him and she rested her hand on his shoulder. She kissed him gently on the brow. Ellron had not told her yet of what ultimately needed to be done to stop this war once and for all. He did not know if he could do it alone. He was about to speak when she said, "Ellron we have done well today. We have turned them back." She had fought as well as him that day and he loved her all the more for her courage.
"Yes...we have held them back...for now." Ellron replied.
"Surely now the others will help us once they have seen how many we have lost today." She had said while her hand dropped from his shoulder.
"Some of them may...others I know I cannot trust..." He had replied while wiping the sweat that fell freely from his face and dripped from the end of his dark beard. He looked once more across the battlefield while he thought of what he could have done to save more lives.
He turned away in silence and walked back to his tent. His wife followed. When they got there he told her to gather the council as they had much that needed to be planned and discussed.
When she left he knelt and prayed to the gods of Aeon to guide him in his decisions and to give him a sign. He kept his eyes closed and waited. A gentle breeze began to circle Ellron and a piercing white light surrounded his body. The gods had spoken to him. They had showed him a glimpse of the future. If he did not defeat the Belrog there would be a great empty darkness. He saw his people as slaves and many others from other worlds tortured and killed for pleasure.
Ellron stood up and bowed his head honoring the gods who had blessed him with this vision. He thought of his wife and knew then that he must do it alone. If he took her with him he knew she would die. He took off his royal cloak and folded it neatly on the bed. Then he shaved off his beard. He could hear the council arguing loudly with his wife. He smiled when she told them to be silent. She had such authority in her voice. He took out a faded robe from a chest in the corner of the room.
Ellron put on the cassock and exited the tent with the hood covering his face. The rain was falling hard and no one gave him a second glance as he walked away from the arguing council. He knew his wife would take control once they knew that he was gone. He walked as far as he could that night. He knew the way well into the nearby Farglen forest. It was quiet at first and then he became accustomed to the sounds of the animals. He often heard beasts nearby. Only a handful of the creatures that lived here had been seen before and few wandered this far by themselves into the forest. Eventually, Ellron stopped after he could no longer see the faint path that he was following. He pulled the priest's robe around him. He was wearing ordinary clothes underneath the robe and the night air was chilled. All he could hear was the faint dripping of the rain falling on the plants and grass around him. He slept soundly underneath a large Oak. He woke to the sounds of the birds calling to each other. As he got up he heard a branch snap nearby and drew a dagger from a hidden pocket in the robes. It was the only weapon he had kept with him for the journey. He waited and a short thin man crept into view. He turned and saw Ellron with the dagger drawn. The man stopped where he was and put a single finger to his lips and then pointed up towards the branches above where Ellron had been sleeping. Ellron glanced upward making sure he could still see the thin man in his peripheral vision. Above him was a black shape that began to hiss as Ellron met its gaze. Ellron ducked as the thin man drew an arrow and fired it into the body of the thing above him in a blur of precision. It fell at Ellron's feet. Even though the creature was barely alive it lurched forward to try and sink its fangs into his shins. Ellron plunged the dagger into the creatures head killing it instantly.
"Who are you?" Ellron asked hesitantly.
"My name is Slyth. Jack of all trades master of none...I can whistle a tune...I can bring you undone." Slyth reached forward and pulled a coin from behind Ellron's ear.
Ellron couldn't help smiling at this foolish man.
"Well I owe you my life Slyth."
"Ah yes...that you do...that you do...but we will come to that another time..."
"So what are you doing in the god forsaken place?" Ellron asked.
"I am hunting for pelts amongst other things and I will ask you the same question. What is your name and why are you here Priest?"
Ellron had almost forgotten that he was wearing the old robe and looked down at his simple garb.
"My name is Ellron. I am on a journey...a pilgrimage..."
Slyth looked Ellron up and down. He studied Ellron's face very carefully.
"Fair enough friar Ellron. We are both lying now. But two lies are better than one truth. Don't you think?"
Ellron shook his head and smiled.
"Shall we journey together for a while...Friar, friar my fellow liar?"
"Very well then...get on with it."
They travelled for three days through the forest. Slyth was an amiable companion. He was full of tricks and he had a wry sense of humour. But his best quality was that he didn't pry into Ellron's business and Ellron responded by doing Slyth the same courtesy. Slyth would sometimes go ahead for a few hours. It was obvious he had been hunting. He often returned with furs of strange beasts that he would roll together and carry across his shoulders. On the third day they reached a bridge above a river. The bridge looked like it could fall apart at any moment. Many of the wooden slats were cracked and broken. They stood there for a moment lost for words.
Slyth spoke first, "I can't swim Priest Ellron."
"Ah...I see..." Ellron replied.
"And the furs father Ellron...the furs..."
"Yes...of course the furs..." Ellron replied.
They followed the river for a while along the bank to see if there was a narrow crossing but there didn't seem to be any such luck.
"I suggest father...that we set up camp here..."
"Yes, we may as well...Until we can figure out how to get across this river..."
Slyth began to make a clearing a short distance away from the bank and Ellron began to gather wood for a fire.
Slyth got the fire going quite easily as he always did even though the majority of the wood was quite damp.
“I don’t know how you do that…” Ellron said while cutting up some meat that had come from one of Slyth’s hunting expeditions.
“We all have our little tricks and puzzles to solve.” Slyth replied with a wide grin.
They sat in silence while the meat was cooking.
They slept well listening to the sound of the water lapping at the banks of the river. When the morning came Ellron woke to someone singing across the opposite bank from them. He glanced across at Slyth who was still fast asleep. He had some of the furs wrapped around his body and his head covering his ears. Ellron smiled to himself as Slyth had not bothered to offer him any furs even though it had been a cold night. Ellron stood up and wandered toward the edge of the bank. He could see a woman standing ankle deep in the water on the edge of the bank singing the most beautiful song he had ever heard. Her voice rose and fell in a dreamy way. It was just like the sound of a brook flowing gently against smooth pebbles. He stared at her eyes which were as white as ice. She gestured toward him and he began to walk across to the bank and he could hear Slyth shouting at him. Ellron turned his head slowly to see what all the fuss was about. It required every inch of willpower he had to stop looking at the woman eyes. His feet kept walking. He knew he no longer had control over his body but he couldn’t stop. Slyth was beside him now clutching a fur around his head so he couldn’t hear the woman’s song. He was trying to stop Ellron from walking into the water. Her voice and those strange bleak eyes urged him to keep coming toward her. Soon the water was up to his chest and his feet were starting to slip on the mud. The river was strong and he was struggling to stay standing. As he fell beneath the river he heard a thunk as Slyth had fired an arrow from the edge of the bank that went straight through the head of the Siren. Then Ellron was beneath the river holding his breath as the current pushed his body downstream.
Ellron knew he had to stay calm. He could see the bottom of a partly submerged log above him. He reached up and just managed to get a handhold on it. He clutched onto the log with his other hand and clawed his way up the sodden wood so his head was just above the water.
He was spluttering and gasping for air. The log was heavy enough to support his weight and he managed to hold on and drifted down stream as Slyth ran along the side of the bank and shouted out to him.
"Ellron...That's twice I've saved your skin...remember me Ellron...We will meet again...I know it..."
Slyth had stopped following Ellron's rapid journey down the river and his voice faded away. Ellron managed to hold on to the log. Then he began to shift his weight so he was laying on his side. He kicked his legs and the log began to drift toward the edge of the opposite bank. He pulled himself up onto the bank and lay there for several minutes exhausted. The mud stuck to his clothes, his hands and his face. He stood up breathing deeply. After washing the mud off his body as best he could he walked along the edge of the bank hoping to find a trail that would lead him to a town or a village. Now that Slyth was gone he would have to hunt for himself. Ellron looked back down along the opposite bank and felt a tinge of guilt that Slyth had to save his life twice. He missed the strange fellow already.
Slyth wandered along the bank shaking his head and muttering to himself. He had decided to continue to follow the river in the direction Ellron had been dragged. Eventually, he found the spot where Ellron had left the log on the opposite bank. Slyth called out Ellron's name but there was no reply and no sight of Ellron. He cursed his luck and kept walking waving away insects and tall reeds that stuck to his clothes. He began to whistle softly and then stood still. He could hear something moving about in the undergrowth behind him. He waited with his bow ready. The rustling stopped and something slid away. He breathed a sigh of relief. He kept walking along the bank. After another hour of trailing through the reeds and being bitten all over his face by insects he was nearly ready to backtrack through the forest and sell the furs at a lower price to whoever would buy them. He had reached a point where the water rushed around two large boulders that stood in the center of the river. He studied them carefully. If he jumped from one to the other he may be able to reach the other side. Of course he risked drowning or slipping and breaking his neck. But the promise of earning more money and increasing his wealth was too inciting for Slyth to resist. He made sure his bow and furs were secure on his back. Then he walked to the edge of the river and sprang onto the top of the first boulder. He landed awkwardly and almost fell but his balance was good. The next boulder was nearer than the first. But it was also smoother being in the center of the river. There was also less room to maneuver and he would have to land and then jump again quickly as he had greater chance of falling if it went wrong. Slyth leapt onto the next boulder. He could feel his feet slipping and thrust his body forward trying desperately to launch himself as far as possible across the river. He landed with his legs and torso in the water and the rest of his body in the muddy bank. Slyth could feel himself slipping back down into the river. He flailed his arms in the mud and managed to grip onto clumps of weeds and some roots from an overgrown tree near the edge of the bank. In desperation he clutched onto the roots and manged to haul himself up the bank and out of the river. He was covered in sweat and mud. His bow was snapped in half but other than some mud the furs were still intact. He had bruises all along his legs but there was nothing sprained or broken. He let out a long victorious yell and then stood there silently praying to the god of the Elves.
Slyth thought of his mother as he prayed. She had been made an outcast by the Elvish council due to her love for and marriage to Slyth’s father who was a human. His father had been dead for some years but his mother was still alive. She lived in a remote part of the forest and she was still capable of looking after herself even though she was now over a hundred and twenty years old. She was still beautiful and looked to be about thirty human years. Slyth had to keep his half-elf ancestry secret from the humans otherwise they may no longer trade with him. He had heard of other half-elves being captured and tortured to reveal their knowledge of magic. Slyth knew he had magic in him but could only release it in times of extreme danger and did so rarely so that he would not draw attention to himself.
He looked about the forest and could hear someone yelling in the distance.
But he didn't have time or the patience to follow vague noises in the forest. Instead he wandered further along the river bank until he found an overgrown path. He shrugged his shoulders and threw his broken bow to the ground. He adjusted the furs to a more comfortable position on his back and started to follow the path.