Saturday, August 29, 2009

Oakflame and Silverfire

The silver haired elf shifted uneasily as he stared out the second floor window of the room he rented of the inn known as "The Wizard's Charm". He looked out over the village of Goodale as the mid-afternoon sun crept higher into the sky casting long shadows across the small town. As his watchful silvery-blue eyes scanned over the nearby "Broken Skull Inn", the abundant farmland that seemed to stretch out, rolling forever out from the town fringe toward the horizon and the majestic site of Lord Faramin's fortress he wondered how, in this small town, was he going to find a large enough group of experienced warriors to take down into that dungeon when all of the willing and able-bodied young men had either already ventured down there and died, or returned unsuccessfully in their task and vowed never to return? Facts that brought he and his elven companion here in the first place.

He sighed and reached for the glass of fyrewyne on the adjacent bedtable that he had poured for himself only moments ago. He sipped it casually as he stared out the window, losing himself in his own thoughts. "Perhaps I should have taken Jerrak's advice." He spoke aloud to only himself. "Maybe I am treading waters too high for my own head." He sighed again and sat down heavily upon the horribly overstuffed bed, taking his eyes away from the window. "Maybe I shouldn't have opened my mouth in the first place." He spoke again to himself. "Maybe I should tell Faramin that I've had a change of heart and respectfully decline." He drained the last of his fyrewyne and set the empty goblet back down to the bedtable from which he'd taken it. "Before somebody gets killed."

"Are you concerned for your own life or perhaps for the life of an old elf like me?"

Razell reached into a sheath at his belt and slipped free a slim dagger as he stood simultaneously, snapping his body out toward his intruder he held his weapon out in front of him, ready to strike.

The sound of soft laughter and the realization of his intruder's identity caused Razell to relax and sheath his dagger. He flushed heavily in embarrassment. If he wasn't certain of his unreadiness to lead a band of men before, he was now.

"Jerrak, my old friend, I apologize. I was daydreaming and did not hear you enter." He exhaled sharply.

The auburn-haired, heavily-freckled elf smiled as he stood inside the doorway to the room they shared. "There is no need for an apology." He spoke in an even voice, apparently unfazed at Razell's anxiety, his tone carried with it a depth and comfort not normally associated with his kind. More than once in his years with the youthful, brooding silver-haired elf had this voice brought Razell down from the heights of apprehension and up from the depths of despair. Without effort, he used it to manipulate the younger elf as a mother would her babes. Sometimes unconsciously, and this was one of those times. "I imagine there is much that weighs on your mind with what the days ahead have in store." He paused and smiled, glancing at the now-sheathed dagger at Razells hip. "Besides, I'm still alive... you haven't killed this old elf yet."

Razell laughed without humor. "Will you please cease with this 'old elf' nonsense? You're barely a hundred years older than I am!"

Jerrak Oaklflame moved inside the room, gently closed the door behind him and sat down in a small wooden chair at the foot of the bed.

"Having second thoughts?" He asked as he folded his hands over his lap.

Razell took in a deep breath and paused a second before answering the question. Was he actually considering turning back and forfeiting all he had cost himself and his friend journeying to this human-infested town?

"No." He said aloud but more to himself than Jerrak. "No, I will proceed with what I promised Faramin." He frowned as his eyes raised to meet Jerrak's gaze. "It is just that I have never taken part in this sort of endeavor before. I've never considered myself a leader, responsible for lives other than my own." He paused as another dreadful thought occurred to him, one that had plagued him repeatedly during his journey here from Kemmermere. "What if I am forced to employ the services of... humans?"

Jerrak laughed out loud. "I would strongly suggest you get used to the idea. There aren't many elves other than the two of us here and we can't do it alone." He crossed a leg over the other and sat back, his body language oddly reminded Razell of typical human crassness. "I warned you this journey would be difficult. I thought it best that you wait, but all you could think about was the reward offered for your, for our, services" Jerrak frowned. "However during our meeting with Faramin you were able to conceal your greed and now he is convinced that you undertake this mission purely for the sake of justice." He spat the last word as though it were a curse.

"I care not for the problems of humans, nor the types of justice they propose, and I will not be made to feel guilty over profiting from their self-inflicted strife." Razell had to force himself to keep his voice below a shout. "It is humans we go to save, yet it is humans we go to save them from! Is it not?"

"Yes, it is..." Jerrak began to reply.

"And what elf, or group of elves would dare do so to their own kind?" His eyes flashed. "None!" He spat, answering his own, rhetorical question. "None that I know or have ever heard tell of."

"I fail to understand your conundrum, Razell. You haven't come here to serve the "greater good". You come here for money alone." The auburn haired elf narrowed his eyes into accusatory slits and sat forward in his chair. "Perhaps you've tried to justify it some other way, but it's true isn't it? You and I are no better than common mercenaries, profiting from the troubles of the humankind you so passionately despise."

Razell recoiled at the word so commonly associated with the lowest caste of the human species: Mercenary. He turned and sat down upon the bed again, his back facing his dearest friend, shoulders slumped, hiding the embarrassed flush upon the fair flesh of his face. Absently he reached for the empty goblet upon the bedtable, his hand stopping short of it as he remembered that the glass contained no wine.

Jerrak raised an eyebrow as his young companion turned away from him. "There have been some, Razell..."

"Some?" Razell asked confusedly.

"Elves, Razell. Elves who have turned against other elves. The 'Dark Ones' for example"

"The Drow turned their backs on us ten thousand years ago."

"We turned our backs on them."

"Stop advocating them. Are you ashamed to walk in the daylight? Ashamed of your superiority?"

Jerrak Oakflame ignored the questions. "Perhaps someday we will talk more of those I speak of; These elves who would, and did, see harm come to others of our kind. I fear now the lesson would fall on deliberately deaf ears." He sighed and stood from his chair, moving toward Razell. He rested a hand upon his shoulder. "We will speak of it when your mind is at ease."

Razell angrily brushed his companions hand away. "Spare me your condescension!"

Despite his petulant outburst, Razell was calming, soothed at the touch of his friends hand. It was true that he had much weighing on his mind. He faced a lineup in the coming afternoon of adventurers who would willingly throw themselves upon the sword of enemies they didn't understand at the command of an elf they didn't know, one who hadn't earned their trust. Razell was confused about the conflict he felt toward potentially leading a band of men to their doom, wondered why the thought brought him such guilt when he cared more for the wind and rain than for the lives of the breeders polite elven society called "Humanus".

Another sigh from Razell before he spoke. "We are the favored of the Gods, Jerrak." His voice lilted musically as he spoke the words in the Northern Elf-tongue. The language of his childhood. A childhood he'd forgotten for reasons unknown to him. "Humans are a sub-race, living their short, spontaneous lives killing and spawning at will. With little thought or regard for anything other than themselves." He waved a hand toward the window nonchalantly.

Jerrak took a step back and sighed himself, fearing the argument he'd had so many times before with Razell and other elves like him. "Yes, we are the favored of the Gods, Razell." He straightened and looked out the window Razell now stared out of. "But it is our responsibility to help protect the lesser races."

"Even if it means protecting them from themselves?"

"Especially when it means protecting them from themselves." Jerrak replied. "Besides, my young friend, eventually, if you spend enough time with them, you may grow fond of humans. Like them, even."

"Unlikely." Razell grunted sarcastically.

Ignoring him Jerrak continued. "Perhaps you'll even grow to envy them, as I have."

Razell fought a gasp, composed himself and turned to face the elf he thought he had grown to know well.

"Say again?" Razell said in the crude common speech.

"Yes. Does that surprise you Razell?" More condescension, Razell thought as Jerrak met his gaze and sat back down before looking away reflectively. "I envy them. I envy them because many of them live swift, glorious lives. Greatly affecting the well-being of a city, or even an entire kingdom while those humans whose lives are filled with suffering begin and end before the youngest elf comes of age." He smiled. "You see my friend, Those humans who accomplish much do so in a fraction of our lifetime. And those humans whose lives are spent with suffering or in disgrace are also, mercifully, over quickly." His face melted into sadness though his smile remained. "And that, my young friend, is a comfort not often afforded by those elves who suffer themselves."

Razell found it difficult to speak, though he supposed he shouldn't be so surprised. Oakflame always did seem to play advocate to the humans when Razell criticized them after all, but to envy them? Razell found himself more likely to pity humans than envy them. Now though, he felt pity only for Jerrak. What would make him so unhappy as an elf to feel envy for a human? Razell could only imagine.

"I..." Razell began.

"Can't believe what you're hearing?" Jerrak interjected.

Razell nodded.

"I figured as much. Do not worry, Razell, I am the same 'old elf' you've always known." He rested his hands upon the arms of the chair, gripped the wood delicately with his slender, sun-browned fingers. "I was careful to keep these thoughts from you, knowing your own." He laughed. "You've never been one to hide your prejudices and if you ever meant to do so around me, you were very poor at it. No, from the first days of our friendship I was more than aware of your deep-seeded hatred."

"They kill elves Jerrak. They drove us to the West during a time when we walked freely among the peoples of the Southern Continent. It is a human who keeps us living in fear of our own borders along that cursed Toryth Vol!"

"Do not dare speak that name!" Oakflame, an otherwise unsuperstitious sort, spat disdainfully. "Yes, its true some humans have killed elves in the past. It's true some do so now, but the elves who retreated to the West during The First Descension did so of their own free will. They chose to stay out of the conflict, and it caused the deaths of millions when we turned our backs to the continent. They have every reason to hate us, perhaps more reason than we to hate them! Thankfully their memories are shorter than ours." He paused long enough for Razell to speak a single sentence.

"I will not listen to this."

"You will, my friend." He tried to hold his anger in check but it was becoming difficult. Razell's intolerance was always an issue, but as a duo they needed to maintain the charade if they were to lead a group under the ground. A force that would almost certainly consist exclusively of humans. They traveled hundreds of miles for what they hoped would be a fortune in gold. Razell's prejudice threatened that at the least, and at the most it threatened their lives. "Humans are not a perfect race by any stretch of the imagination, however neither are we elves no matter how favored we are among the Gods. Believe what you will my friend but in my opinion, your hatred could be best suited toward other things."

The silver-haired elf lowered his head as he turned away from Jerrak. He glanced back once more toward the sky and realized that soon the sun would be obscured by thick, black clouds.

A storm was coming.

"Enough of this talk of racial politics." Jerrak spoke, deliberately returning to the soothing, manipulative tone he'd used for nearly fifty years of friendship. Ever since the silver-haired boy became a ward of Jerrak's father. "Such talk vexes us both. And neither of us will change the mind of the other."

"Yes." Was all Razell could manage. He was exhausted, that much he could agree with Oakflame about.

"Perhaps we should reconsider this Razell." Jerrak said defeatedly. "A thousand gold pieces is..."

"A fortune!" Razell interrupted.

"Yes, but if you do not believe in the cause in which we are fighting then our deaths would be as empty as your wineglass, if we are to find ourselves so unlucky."

"Mercenaries..." Razell whispered, still staring out the window. He cringed at the word so often associated with human "adventurers".

"The mage, this... Raylock, is killing children here Razell." He lowered his voice to a whisper, the last resort Jerrak turned to when desperation was at hand and he needed to bend Razell to his will. It wasn't supernatural, though it seemed to be at times, like the way a mother can guilt her children into acts against their desires. "And not just human children..."

Razell stood, turned toward Oakflame and narrowed his eyes inquisitively, wondered why he hadn't heard this information before now. "Elves?"

Jerrak nodded.

"Then the bastard will die!"

Jerrak smiled.