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Date Uncertain - best estimate, late Ches or early Tarsakh, Year of the Staff
The fire hissed as it was snuffed with water before buried under dirt. The figure placed another shovel of dirt over the ashes of the cooking fire, till confident it was no threat to the surroundings.
Strapping the small shovel to the side of his worn pack, he stood and shouldered the pack, his chainmail armour clinking lightly at the movement. Even after dawn the area was dark and cool under the heavy foliage far above.
Looking up he could make out where he had climbed yesterday evening, sighting the mountains of Star Peaks to the south east. With a nod that he was going in the right direction, he began to lightly limp towards them.
The rising sun illuminated more of the forest around him, showing the red gold hair, tied in a top knot and flowing down his back, this gold skin weathered, like his clothes and chainmail, dirty bandages wrapped around his left arm and leg.
His dark eyes watched the forest around for signs of danger, and for Elven markers. He grinned to himself as he thought of boring lessons from his childhood, failing him now in the deep heart of the old Elven territories. He doubted he would recognise any markers anymore, but after forty years ranging across the North, his sense for danger hadn't failed him fatally yet.
Coren had left his home and people in Evereska, when things got too complicated for him there, venturing out into the human lands. Relying on a sword, a little magic, and a lot of luck he had managed to survive away from his people. He had been an adventurer, a blacksmith, a soldier, a miner, and even pirate hunter on the Sword Coast, to get by and pay the bills.
A week ago he had arrived at the edge of the High forest as a replacement member of an adventuring party, The Ascore Six, who wanted to check out some ruins they had gotten a map to. Turned out to be a trap, Ettercaps and their spider pets had the place locked up like a fortress and they had lost half the party getting out. Poison from one of the spiders finally killed off the cleric a day later. Finally the gods spat on the final two of the Ascore Six, leading them into a battle ground between two warring orc tribes. Coren knew enough to run when the orcs stopped fighting each other, but the last of the Ascore Six died from a thrown spear before they reached cover. He managed to flee south, deeper into the High forest.
That was three days ago.
Now he was ultimately lost in the thick forest, his only idea to reach the mountains and hope to spot either a settlement or the Unicorn river or some other path he could use to get out.
She stood there watching the figure approach, stumbling slightly from time to time. His head moved and looked around, but he didnt see her. A bad sign, she thought. Perhaps he is in as a bad a state as he looks. However it pays to be cautious, even when meeting ones own folk.
She had not knocked an arrow to her bow as of yet, though it was in her hand and strung - three shafts planted carefully in the turf to her side and within a moments reach. A simple warding spell sat on the tip of her tongue as well just in case. After all it was not just her own safety that she had to think of, but her protoges as well.
Frelith was concealed up in the duskwood some way to her left, bow in hand and ready to offer supporting fire if she needed it - though in truth she though, if I need it, he would be best off staying still and warning the village of what has happened. Brinoi was a confident woman and hardened by years of casual battle and adventure - something she recognised in this one approaching now, despite his bedraggled state.
Then he looked up and saw her. A pale female moon elf standing casually by a pine, red-gold hair plaited into a cascade of shoulder length hair and wearing casual hunting leathers. A sword was belted at her waist, but she did not look overly threatening.
As their eyes met, she nodded in acknowledgement. "Well met stranger," she called out in elven. "What brings you to this part of the forest and are you in need of aid or assistance?" - Do you bring danger? - the unspoken message which rung clearly in her voice.
"What brings you to this part of the forest and are you in need of aid or assistance?"
Coren's hand snapped from the pommel of his sword to grip the hilt as soon as he saw the elfin woman, but hearing her words and seeing her open stance, he opened his fingers from the hilt, leaving the palm against the half rotten grip. He silently cursed himself for being lax, he should have spotted her earlier, further unnerved by thoughts questioning his weakened condition as effects of blood loss or just more weakness from the fight with Arcassa six months ago.
"I didn...", his voice failing in embarrisment as his own language sounded foreign in his mouth after nearly fourty years of neglect. The last time he had spoken it had been to insult Kainus, nearly ten full years ago across a table in the temple outside of Luskan. Even then it had been more of an insult to the peoples language, when he should have been talking with steel to a dark one like him...
"I didn't think there were any of the Tel'Quessir left in these woods."
He carefully looked her over, down her hair, over her flawless skin. She carried no pack or supplies, either she was close by her camp, or there was a settlement within a few hours travel.
"I was driven south by orcs and got lost." He glanced back the way he came, before returning his gaze to hers, inwardly cursing as the sudden movement brought a slight wave of dizziness. He took a moment to steady himself before continueing, wanting to alieviate any fears his words may have given this warrior, "I havn't seen anything from them for a day and a half. I was moving for the mountains to sight a way out of this forest."
He watched her for a long moment, suddenly unsure of how to ask for help from one of his people, who he had turned his back on for more than a quater of his life. Hesitently, he asked, "Is there a settlement nearby?"
Brinoi and Frelith
"I didn't think there were any of the Tel'Quessir left in these woods," came back the halting reply to her question.
`Suspcicious,` she thought. However it was true. Until recently they had not even been aware of the tribes to the South - and how anyone would have heard about Everlaen yet, she didnt know. On the other hand, this could easily be a trap. Why on earth would there be an elf, an Ar`Tel`Quess at that, here - and not from the Gate. The nearest settlement she knew of was in Evereska - and it was ridiculous to think he had come from there... Or was it..
"I was driven south by orcs and got lost." He glanced back the way he came, before returning his gaze to hers, swaying slightly - perhaps from his wounds. They certainly looked real enough. He paused a moment then continued, "I haven't seen anything from them for a day and a half. I was moving for the mountains to sight a way out of this forest."
No, if he had come from the Evereskan outpost she had heard about he was coming from totally the wrong direction. Anyway, from what she had heard from the Lorist Nighteyes, they were to stay close to the ruins they guarded. Wandering around the far reaches of the forest was hardly a likly turn of events. But then where did this stranger come from? A random adventurer - or something more sinister in disguise?
Her mind brought up the name Melisandra and she shuddered inwardly at the problems it would cause if another such as that demon were brought back. The wizard Silverglade would never let her hear the end of it. On the other hand, if she weren`t hospitable, the Lady Sellenne would never let here hear the end of it either.
While she inwardly debated, trying to weigh his actions and words he spoke again. Hesitently, he asked, "Is there a settlement nearby?"
The need in his voice convinced her. Damn her for a fool if she were wrong, but she could not stand here while he died on his feet - for that was how he looked.
She nodded. "Indeed there is, but my camp is closer". She turned and called out into the treetops - careful to keep him in her peripheral vision in case he made any sudden moves. "Frelith! Come down - we have a guest - and one in need of assitance by the look of things."
The young elf, on the edge of adulthood - maybe another ten or fifteen years in the moulding dropped from the branch of a nearby tree, his own bow in hand a handful of arrows in the other. He gave Coren a wide eyed stare and then smiled shyly. "Hullo," he said, and then bowed rapidly as if remembering his manners.
Brinoi meanwhile has used the slight distraction to gesture slyly on one side of her body, away from the stranger and mouth a quiet word or two, forcing with a practiced will the weave to do her bidding and give her sight. Corellon smiled upon her efforts and the minor spell took. Casually she turned to look at the elf and was glad not to see magic flowing off him. At least he didnt appear to be enchanted or obviously magically disguised. She knew stronger magics would easily fool her simple magical detection spell, but it was the best she could do under the circumstances and without being overly rude.
"My name`s Frelith", said Frelith. "What`s yours? What happened to you? Did the orcs do that? Did you kill them all? They haven`t come this far East yet - though the Blood Hawk says we should wipe them all out anyway..."
"Frelith!" interrupted Brinoi. She didnt need him running off at the mouth just yet. In any case, there were things to learn - it was true, the orcs had not come this far as of yet... "Cant you see he is in need of help and has no time for these questions..." An unspoken `yet` fell strongly into the pause. "We shall escort him to our camp and there we can see to his wounds."
She turned to the weaving elf and raised an eyebrow. "If that would be acceptable to you, of course... I am Brinoi Taslithil, by the way - you have made it to safety."
Coren chuckled to himself, "That's a wonderful sentiment, but I've been on the road far too long to just let my guard down for mere words, though I thank you greatly for your assistance. I'm sure I have some thing to offer you as payment for your help. My name is Coren..." leaving the statement there, he looked to the boy to change the subject before she pushed for the family name he had gone by for the last thirty years, since fighting orcs beside the dwarves of the Stonecutter clan in their mines north of Mirabor. "The boys questions are valid, a good soldier takes in any new information on the battle feild he can get as soon as he can get it, even if he doesn't beleive it. Besides, if I'm as bad off as I fear I look, I may not be around long enough to give you answers later. Here boy, make yourself useful..."
Taking off his pack he tossed it lightly to the boy, knowing it's weight would surprise him but he would manage. As the boy stumbled over in catching the pack he saw in him several other excitable youths who he had come across in his travels, those were human or dwarven rather than of his own stock. "I killed but a handful of the orcs, Frelith, but trust me when I tell you there were too many for me to take on alone and hurt. If I hadn't fled when I did they would have flanked me and worn me down."
Brinoi and Frelith
"That's a wonderful sentiment, but I've been on the road far too long to just let my guard down for mere words, though I thank you greatly for your assistance. I'm sure I have some thing to offer you as payment for your help. My name is Coren..."
With that he tossed his pack to Frelith, who caught it, foolishly. Indeed the youngster had much to learn. A distraction like that could have cost him his life if Coren has sprung into action. She would enlighten him later. In the mean time she wasnt about to let him push her around in her neck of the woods, especially when he was about to keel over.
"Well, I certainly can understand your feelings, Coren..." she paused, making it clear that she had heard his lack of surname. "Of course, I`m sure you haven`t been on the road for so long as to forget what happens when a stranger who fails to give the correct watch words blunders into Tel`Quessir territory. Come, let`s go - I dont want to have to drag your body into camp - and this is no place to be resting up".
In truth there were no watch words - but he wouldnt know that. All of Everlaen knew each other by sight, so there was no need. In such a small community an interloper would stand out a mile - especially a gold elf. There was only one currently in residence and he was... Well he was reather recognisable and he could take care of himself.
She gestured in a direction. "You go ahead Frelith and lead our guest - I`ll cover tracks and make sure we arnt being followed". And keep an eye on him from behind, she thought... However, the thought of orcs this far east disturbed her more. They were three days out from the village, so it meant that the orcs had been sighted in large numbers within the five day limit. That limit was meant to be held totally within elven control. It looked like a war party would have to be organised. Lessons would have to be taught.
Coren grinned to himself in amusement as Brinoi turned to begin covering there tracks, A small settlement with only two guards, one barely one hundred and obviously never even taken the life on an orc. Her threat was too weak to do more than amuse him, especially in his weakened state.
As he walked with Frelith towards their camp, he told the boy some details about the orcs he had seen, two tribes, described their totums and warmarks, identified one witchdoctor, and gave some tips to the boy for things to look for on orcs. They would have been walking for nearly an hour when he noted how close Frelith had allowed him to comfortably walk only a few steps behind him as they travelled.
Looking back he caught Brinoi's eye and lay his hand on the hilt of his blade before giving her a wink. The whistle of the blade was all the warning Frelith had before he felt it against his neck. Reaching out he grabbed the boy around the back of the neck, he looked into his eyes and spoke loud enough for Brinoi to hear as well, "Free lesson, Frelith. Just cause I have pointed ears and spilt orc blood is no reason to trust me not to take your life. Till you can trust me, you make sure I'm no danger to you, or the people of your settlement." Closing the distance, he grinned and gave the boy a wink, and whispered, "You'll not forget this lesson, as I havn't when it was taught to me. And now you won't have to sit though a lecture from Brinoi on it."
Releasing Freliths neck, he patted him on the shoulder and pushed him up the path. "Keep it moving, and keep enough distance to react if you hear me move."
Brinoi and Frelith
Brinoi tensed as she realised what Coren was planning. She was almost certain he was only going to scare Frelith, but gambling with another`s life was never a good thing. However she had the feeling that this elf was no demon in disguise, even if there was something a little odd about him. All she had time for was a quick thought to the Seldarine begging her instincts to be correct and for a small glass rod to find its way into her hand. If anything happened to Frelith, her next spell would blow this elf to pieces.
But no, she didn`t - and she gave silent thanks. She slipped the spell component back into it`s pouch and listened to Coren`s comments sourly. She did agree though, and the look upon the young elf`s face told her he had learned that lesson - not to mention the distance he now kept from the stranger and his wariness. In fact it had taught them both a lesson. Despite his apparent wounds, this Coren was more dangerous than he looked. The speed of his stroke showed that he had training and there was a fluidity which implied a certain skill. She could not tell from such a brief swing, but Brinoi recognised a trained warrior in this Coren, not simply the usual elven training in the blade. He was possibly better than her, but she would have to spar or observe him far more closely to be sure. In any case she was glad she had her art to back her up. Sorcery and steel - a famous elven combination.
She came closer to Coren. "A lesson well taught," she said. Then more quietly for his ears alone, "But you should learn one yourself that swift actions can bring swift death - and some do not take well to surprises". If such a thing had happened back in the village this fool might be dead by now. There were many more who were hastier and less trusting than her and the whole village regarded the younglings as their greatest treasures.
She dropped back and walked in silence for a little more, until Frelith abruptly stopped in an empty glade. "This is it," she said and nodded to him. Dropping the pack the elf turned and scampered up a tree to retreive their own. Brinoi squatted and gestured to Coren to take the weight off his feet, throwing him across a waterskin when she had her pack and finding some food to offer.
"So, Coren," she began after a decent time. "Where do you hail from and why are here, pursued by orcs? Are you alone? What are your intentions?" So she started the questioning - for she didnt feel terribly polite after the previous incident. In any case, these were things she would be asked back in Everlaen if she brought him back - and she could she was going to have to, for one reason or another - and she may as well have them now.
Frelith settled in to listen, keeping his distance and an eye to his weapons, she noticed with grudging approval.
The flavours of the simple elven rations Brinoi had invoked in him memories of past days decades ago, used on some of his early hunting and training expeditions. He savoured the taste, so much jucer than the man made counterparts, as he considered her questions. Corin had no intentions of lying to her but trust was a comodity he didn't like giving out so easily, even or maybe especially in his condition. He washed down the rations with more water from Brinoi's flask.
"I've been adventuring around the North off and on for a few decades. Recently the adventuring party I was with came into possession of a map, showing the location of an old elven fort near the edge of the forest. The fort had been occupied with Ettercaps and infested with their spider pets. I still can't beleive they had so many spiders in there, they had the trees strung with webs, but used vines and plants to make it seem like it was dense foliage. We didn't even spot them till we were deep inside."
Taking another drink, he said another silent prayer to the gods for his fellows from the Ascore Six. He had known the other members less than a year but they had been good men. "Three of us got out, already wounded, but Maxis died from spider poison before sunset. Tolnor and I moved back north the way we came. We had seen signs of orcs coming in but we figured we were just in a tribal patrol zone or it was a war party passing through. Just our luck, we came back through and blundered into a battle between not one but two tribes fighting over that territory. Give an orc nothing to fight and he'll kill his brother, tell him there's an elf nearby and he'll go without food to get a trophy. Tolnor got killed but I managed to slip through the forest. I suspect they only sent a portion of their force after me and left the rest behind, I'm guessing they had something valuable to keep them there."
Coren adjusted how he was sitting, leaning against a rough barked tree. More comfortable, he looked Brinoi in her blue-green eyes for a while. "As for intent... a few days rest, maybe try and buy some supplies from this settlement of yours, and then get you to point me a way out of this forest."
He considered asking about her and this settlement, but chose to stay silent, not wanting to push what trust he had with her. Besides, wanted to see if she was going to keep digging on him. And if so, would the questions be more things she should know for the safety of her people, or because she wanted to.
"Are we staying here tonight?"
Brinoi listened to Coren`s tale, told between mouthfuls of food ravenously devoured and watched him weighing his words. She judged him genuine enough and her paranoia began to ease somewhat. It occured to her that if this elf had been wandering and adventuring he may have useful news to give or may be persuaded to adventure more, but in a useful direction to the community. It was well known around Everlaen that the wizard Silverglade was hoping to mount another expedition through the Gate - and this one more long term than the recent two to Chondalwood and Mulharond. It was also well known that the current numbers in Everlaen wouldn`t support such an expedition.
"It`s unusual to see the orcs this far to the East," she told Coren. "I hope that it only internal differences which have driven them this way. They are relatively new arrivals in this part of the forest, having already been hounded North by the Sy`Tel`Quessir tribes of the South. So far they have stayed well beyond our borders so we have done little but sting them with the occassional raid as warning. If they are going to venture this far - and in such numbers - they will have to be dealt with".
She wasn`t particularly keen on another pitched battle - the Battle of the Bloodied Snows had enough of a toll on the community and their forest gnome allies. It had been a victory to be sure, less than ten elves dead in comparison to nealy forty times that amount of goblins and half again in their ferocious warg mounts - but a community the size of Everlaen could ill afford even a single death. On the other hand, letting orcs get out of hand or beleive they had a right to wander where they willed was a mistake. Early prevention was the best cure, as far as she was concerned.
"Are we staying here tonight," he asked and she gave him a quick look over, gauging his ability.
"It depends... If you feel well enough there is much of the day left we could be travelling in. On the other hand, if you need the rest, it would be best to have you fully refreshed for tomorrow - or in case your pursuers catch up". She wasn`t particularly concerned about the possibility. She judged with the three of them, even if one was wounded and the other an elfling who hadnt been blooded yet in battle, were easily a match for a casual orc hunting party. Frankly she doubted they would have the patience or skill to continue this far though... However, one never could tell.
While she waited for his response, she possed another question, "Where are you from, Coren? And what is your family name?" turning it into two...
Coren looked at Brinoi for a long moment before looking down, away from her eyes and shaking his head. It was one thing to lie to the N'Tel'Quessir, but to do so to lie to one of the Tel'Quessir is another matter all together. He'd tell her the simple facts and let her judge him on them. "For half a century the North has been my home, and through most of it I have gone by the dwarven name, 'Gorn Ashat Orc Bagras'..., roughly... Bloodsinger. My life as a child before that or those that raised me, I left behind. And that is where it stays. If you or your people don't like that I'm sorry, but thanks for your assistance and please point me out of your forest." He made sure he finished with a tone Brinoi wouldn't miss the finality of.
"I'll camp here tonight, take your time to decide. Best not to risk your settlement if I'm not welcome there." Getting to his feet, Coren began to shrug out his chainmail, his nose wrinkling at the rusty smell from neglecting it in his travel through the forest. He had been neglecting it already when he had arrived in the forest, and now it would require the attentions of an expert armourer if it was to be salvaged. Pulling it free, he wasn't suprised to find powdery rust stains all over his tunic and leggings. Wincing, he pulled free his tunic, the cloth pulling free of scabbing wound on his side, his heavy build and bronze skin mared with rust, blood and dirt, but still visible on his shoulder was a tattoo of a charging Wyvern, and over the right side of his chest, the image of an axe cleaving a crescent of stone.
He rifled for a moment through his pack for a bar of soap and a releitivly clean shirt to be sacrificed for bandages. Picking up his longsword, clad in just dirty cloth leggings, boots, and a set of leather and steel forearm guards, he looked again at Brinoi, "Is there a stream around here? I need to get get cleaned up."
Brinoi cocked an eyebrow in amusement at Coren`s refusal to beyond a polite introduction into his more recent history. Well, that was his own affair to be true and one she would not press him on, though perhaps others would. Certain people`s sense of paranoia back in Everlaen were larger than others.
She smiled expansively at Coren, half due to the strenght of his character which refused to compromise and half at the thought of how that strength would be tested later. "Well, it would be murder if I forced you off into the the forest in your current state," she started - then seeing his mouth open she held up a hand and continued. "Oh - don`t deny it. Your eqipment is falling apart and so are you. I`d guess your food and water are running low as well. Perhaps you could forage for yourself normally, but in the state your in..." She trailed off, waiting to see if he would object. He waited for her continue though.
"So... I think it best you accompany me - after a period to rest yourself. We can return to Everlaen and there you can be properly healed in body as well as soul. I am afraid we will be unable to allow you to pay for anything... But I`m sure if you wish you can be of service to the right people". There - a gracious offer, which in truth would be difficult to refuse in his condition and an opening for the council to request his services, should they so wish.
"Oh," she said suddenly, remembering his question. "There is a small spring a short way to the South." She pointed off in the direction. "It should serve your purposes - but you could fill the waterskins first, it will take a while for it to clean itself, Coren Bloodsinger," using his name to show she would pry no deeper into his past.
"Be careful though... These woods are their own keeper. They are wild and danger can lurk unexpected, not like Cormanthor..." Though he may not be keen to reveal his past, she would toss him a bone from her own and see how he reacted - if at all.
Coren knew Brinoi's assessment of his condition was accurate, and her offer was tempting. He was going to accept when her words stopped him cold...
"...healed in body, as well as soul..."
Her words rang true in his heart, remembering a pain of home sickness from his early years away from his people, a pain that hadn't lessened in the next fifty years despite living with friends, comrades, and even a love. He had known that as he had headed further into the deep forest, rather than flanking the orc tribes, that this was what he had secretly been hoping from, a return to the fold from which he had fled.
It was a combination of watery eyes, and her trapped words on the old Elven Court, that brought him back to the moment. Bending, he picked up his waterskins and her one she had let him drink from, before looking at her with a grin, "All in the North know the High Forest as the final resting place of countless adventurers and explorers, a rumour I have never heard told of the Elven Court. Perhaps I will one day venture there, and be able to see for myself which is more dangerous."
Coren's grin faded to a slight smile, "Thant you for your offer, Brinoi Taslithil, I greatfully accept it," his smile quickly became a grin again, "But then I never could resist an offer from a pretty girl." He turned before she could react, and strode off into the forest in search of this spring.
Brinoi smiled after the retreating figure. It seemed that Coren was what he appeared to be, and for that she was glad. She didnt appreciate having to distrust her own kind. It left a foul taste in her mouth. Brinoi liked things to be kept simple, to know who her enemies were and to be able to deal with them in a straight forward fashion. Lies and deceptions were not her style. It was nice to know, or at least to beleive, that if there was anything further that needed prying out of Coren, it could be done by the council.
Of course, that was not to say that she would not be interested in anything he should care to talk about. Fifty years in the North was a lot of experience and it would be good to know more about the lands around the High Forest - and this wandering Ar`Tel`Quess. Brinoi had never ventured further West than Cormyr - thousands of miles to the South and East from Everlaen - before she travelled through the Gate and joined the settlers of Everlaen in their stand against the fading elven populations. While she had got to know the lands around Everlaen in the last few years - anything much beyond five to ten days was a mystery to her - most places simply names she had never heard of or never thought to visit.
However, there was plenty of time for that. She set Frelith to settling the little of the camp that needed it - elves hardly leaving a mark in the forest if they could help it - and set out to scout the perimiter a little for peace of mind. The day was marching on, but tomorrow they would make a good start for Everlaen.
It only took a couple minutes for Coren to find the stream, but he found himself smiling the entire way there. Strange how the feel of the morning had changed in the afternoon, from tiredly treading with eyes wide and ears alert for the dangers of the dark forest and feared pursuit, to lightly walking through the open woods with a smile on his face. In part it was the feeling of not being alone, and knowing a friendly smile was within shouting distance. But glancing down at the sheifed blade in his hand he knew it would be a while for him to be let it all go.
The waterskins refilled, and the majority of the grime and sweat washed from his body, Coren lay back in the shallow creek, only his nose and one knee breaking the surface of the cold water. It was a habit he had picked up from preists of the Frost Maiden in the far North, though they prefered it a lot colder and faster for their prayers to Auril, he found the cold water dragged thoughts of the world away and made it easier to slip into the edge of the trance, the meditive state akin to the human sleep, but allowing him to filter though memories of his past. Time faded away as he fully entered the trance, begining to look at some memories of his childhood, memories too painful to face from embarrisment and loneliness these past fifty years.