The 15th of Mirtul, Year of the Staff
A Meandering Path
The streets of Everlaen were not paved with gold. They were not paved at all. For that matter, they could not really accurately be called streets at all. A deer path was about the best you could describe them as. Thick undergrowth grew up around them and a few feet from the main glade, all signs of a settlement - not that the glade ever offered many of those anyway - disappeared. It appeared that the elves had gone to extraordinary efforts to camoflage their village. Perhaps magic would have done things better, but then the natural way it had been done was perhaps more subtle and would not show up under magical detection. One had to wonder though, was it done to blend the village harmoniously with nature, or was it done as a defence mechanism to protect the elves from those who might seek them out and wish them harm.
At this time of year the High Forest was awash in varying shades of green. Soft mosses and elegant ferns contrasted with darker shrubs and subtle hues of the leaves of trees and bushes. The darker greens of pines and cedars cooled, while the pale olive greens of birch and oak let patches of sunlight trickle down from the verdant canopy above. Looking up, Jafton spotted something a little strange. Looking for a time he shifted postition and let his eyes resolve the optical illusion. What had previously been just two branches overlapping in an interesting way now looked suspiciously like a path above, and surely some way beyond that he could see a window in a tree complete with window box. Or was it simply a squirrel drey and some plant growing from the fork of a tree?
No wonder the paths on the forest were so clear and quiet if the true streets of Everlaen were above the ground, high up in the boughs of the trees. There had to be some way up presumably. Probably a climbable tree just off the path where it would not be too obvious.
As the human searched the trees for access, a lithe form pushed past him. He glanced sharply to note the retreating back of Annuk'nuffy, who seemed distressed. He put up his hand to call her, but she turned off the path quicker than he could form the words.
The husband pursues the errant wife
Once outside again the elf rushed around trying to see his wife. She had gone, it was unsurprising. She seemed the fleet of foot type. The logically destination she would head towards would be the lodge. But if he knew anything of women he knew they had bouts of being highly illogical. The elf started to look for her tracks, it was one of the little tricks he had picked up on his travels, although he was no expert.
Before he could pick up the trail though he heard a familiar voice. "Leibobathor, I had heard you returned," it was Zax, Bob's father. His features wore a frown and looked his only child up and down "You look like crap, but I'm glad to see you got rid of that stupid eyepatch," Bob's hand went to his eye without even thinking. "Father, I see you haven't lost your way with words, I've exchanged words with dwarves less blunt that you. Tell me, have you seen an emotional red haired elf run by here?" "No? Why? You been upsetting the local girls already?" Zax folded his thick arms across his chest. Bob avoided eye contact, then stroked his aching neck "Not quite, you see she's my wife," "Your wife! What the hell have you been up to!?" Zax face held a stunned expression. "The story will have to wait for another time, over an ale, many ales," he gave his father a firm embrace before heading towards the lodge.
The elf figured if he didn't find his wife there he might find one of the others. He needed to discuss a few things with Jafton. But he would have to wait until it was just the pair of them.
The elf felt so tired, he had slept well in days. He had a feeling he wouldn't sleep well tonight either. The nightmares of a few days past will haunt him for a while.
Jafton heard voices behind him, but couldn't make out what they were saying. He chose instead to stop, waiting to see if whoever it was would come down the path he took. In moments, he saw the familiar, strange hair of his companion, staring at the ground as he walked.
"Bob?" he asked, stepping forward. It seemed that the elf's face was creased with some sort of emotion, though the human warrior couldn't read it. "You know your way around here enough to show me to a healer?"
The sudden mention of his name snapped him back into the present. “Jafton,” he smiled at his ominous comrade.
“I believe there is only one priest around here the Blood Hawk, Um, Kerkstra. I believe. Nice chap, should know how to use his bow better though,” he couldn’t help but grin. Memories of the archery competition seemed so far away. “I can take you, or at least make sure you don’t get the run around from the locals,” he replied in Chondathan. It had become a habit when speaking to humans. He didn’t mind it also might he could use the various pieces of slang he picked up travelling and growing up in human lands.
With that he headed back to where the council were asking them questions, considering the pair spoke to the priest moments earlier.
"It can wait," Jafton said, stopping in his tracks, "I imagine Kerkstra would have spoken up otherwise." He stopped, frowning, "What was that back there? Our..." he searched for a word, but quickly gave up, "employers did not seem... motivated... to help those left behind. If the situation were reversed, with us out there, I'd like to believe that someone would be looking to get us home. Had I known what politics awaited me here in Everlaen, I would have never listened to the priest."
Bob gave a nod to Jafton. "Politics awaits us everywhere," he sighed "The council is only looking out for the village as a whole. It's something I can understand, I also doubt they will leave the others there, especially when they have a moral duty to bring them back, something I will remind them of," the elf couldn't help but smile. The thought of him telling others what their moral duty should be, how he loved irony.
He looked at human warrior, he titled his head slightly before changing the subject. "Listen, I think we should discuss other matters too. We have a lot of items that need to be moved on," his eyes seemed to brighten a little "now we already know that this place won't be able to 'compensate' us for these items so I suggest we find somewhere that can. Of course we will give Everlaen it's cut, we'll buy some materials they might need, I overheard a lack of cloth or clothing last time we were here. Although that might not be such a bad thing," the blue haired archer winked.
Ambushed by younglings
The young boy had hoped to show some confidence in coming out from behind a thick trunk, his checks reddening at insinuation of the blue haired elf. "Er, Sor.." Straightening, he eyed the adventurers. "Where is Sila and the others?" A couple other sets of young elven eyes watched from nearby bushes.
The elf was surprised that both himself and Jafton were both caught unawares. It seemed that being back in Everlaen had some how dulled his senses and more importantly his instinct for danger. Although the young elf’s face before him was not what he would usually consider a danger but it was being surprised by anyone was frustrating.
“Well,” the elf began in fluent elven hoping the elves hadn’t had their lesson in the Chondathan yet. “They have had a bit of a delay, they should be returning anytime within the next three days,” Bob lied. He had no idea when the other would be back but he had no intentions of creating panic around the village. “How long have you and your friends been hiding there?”
Frelith calmed, sheepishly scratching the back of his head as Bob spoke of his friends soon return. "Ah, we ran around when we saw him wandering this way," he said with a nod at Jafton, his smirk coming up proudly. "I used my Camouflage spell to cover us. You couldn't see us, could you? I just mastered it!"
Jafton frowned, brows furrowing, "Your magic is strong," he conceeded with a nod, "but your judgement may still need work." He put his hand on the hilt of Shadowstar dramatically, "It is a dangerous business... eavesdropping..." he turned and glared at Frelith, "Take care that you do not learn anything you wish you hadn't. Or, better still, that no one finds out that you did indeed listen in to their private conversation."
He held his gaze for a few seconds, then broke away with a smirk. But the humor that he was trying to force was offset by the hint of truth in his advice. It was clearly evident that Jafton was ill-at-ease with children, and his words were colored even deeper with his annoyance in having to stop a serious conversation to gossip with children.
Bob tried to remain the friendly face. It seemed Jafton hadn’t spoken to children since he was one, although Bob doubted they were children. They were what humans called teenagers. That meant they would be looking at the pair of them all wide eyed and wondered how many things they had killed. It was the same when he was their age in Shadowdale, although he was usually older than the adventurers he would be bothering.
“Ignore him,” Bob chuckled lightly. “Tell you what, how about we have some archery lessons tomorrow morning, until then I would like to discuss matter with my good friend here. I might even be tempted to tell you about the fight we had with an iron ogre,” he smiled while making shooing movements with his hands. “Don’t worry I won’t bring the spoil sport along,” he grinned, turning to Jafton. Upon seeing the human’s seriousness it disappeared.
“So, what shall we do with all the stuff we need to ‘move on’,” the elf noticed he couldn’t bring himself to say ‘Sell our looted treasure’.
"I fear, Bob," Jafton spoke softly after they had pulled away from the young elves, "that I don't exactly share your noble spirit. Insofar as I'm concerned, we were contracted to scout Tuern, which we did, and no provisions were made concerning any items found other than the orb. I'd not asked a price for this task," he stroked his chin, "as I'd not anticipated the trouble we'd find ourselves in. I chose to do so under a misguided notion," Jafton said, his thoughts on what brought him here, "but shall not make that mistake again. I'll seek compensation for my equipment and the wounds I took, of course, and will expect no more from the Council. Nor should the Council expect any more from me," his hand trailed to the golden wakasashi, "lest it concern the rescue of the others."
“Jafton, seriously Jafton. I still think we have items on us that we could sell the halflings giant sword and ring for example. All we have to do is sell everything and split it between us. Then you do with your share what you will,” He gave him a wink and a smile.
He decided to leave Jafton to ponder what he said. He felt the anger radiating off the human. He thought it best to give him the option to be alone. “Listen, I’m going to see the oldie that might be able to get back the others, you coming or you have other things to do? I wonder if he does divorces,” he gave another cheeky grin
"I thought things were going so well between you two," Jafton quipped, flashing a smile at the elf, "though I'd do something about them wedding bands," he flicked his finger towards the ring on Bob's finger, "perhaps starting a tradition with wedding earrings or bootlaces or something." The humor faded, "But I will accompany you to see this wizard or whatnot."
In a glade, by a tree...
Everlaen was not a large place - though due to its camoflaged nature it sometimes seemed larger or smaller than it actually was, depending on one's perspective. Thus, it did not take long for the pair to find the glade with the great oak tree which was where Ilrune could most often be found. This time he was not. They meandered the village paths and its surroundings for some time before giving up for now and decided to head back. Predictably it was then, that passing back through the glade once again they spotted the elderly elf sitting cross-legged under the spreading tree, eyes closed and wrists balanced on his knees, palms upward. Had he been there all along and they had merely not looked around the other side of the tree, or had he arrived since?
Bob stopped in his tracks and gently held Jaftons arm to do likewise. “Did we just walk past him before?” voicing both their thoughts. He was unsure whether to disturb the old elf, he seemed to be meditating. While usually he didn’t mind upsetting people, especially those who are likely to have a big reaction. He felt uncomfortable provoking the elderly mage. It might have been the respect for his elders, or how powerful he could be or might even have just been the mage seemed more unpredictable than Bob himself.
He half turned to Jafton “You go wake him up,” waving his had in the general direction of the oak tree.
Jafton seemed to miss the joking inflection in Bob's voice, or perhaps it was that he simply didn't care as to what the wizard's reaction would be, but he boldly strode up and reached out to shake the old elf. As his hand neared the blue-robed elf's left shoulder, the mage's misty golden eyes snapped open, looking past Jafton into nothingness.
The human warrior pulled back, expecting acknowledgement or admonishment. But he stood just slightly to the left of Ilrune for several moments with nothing but silence to greet him. Instead, he watched expectantly, transfixed by the strange, blank stare. But just as he opened his mouth to speak, Ilrune's soft and wispy words interrupted him.
"A Lone Star returns, it seems. The crossroads has been reached, I think, and passed... But perhaps not. A fork. Yes, that's right. This way or that? Of course, the question is, are you ready to make such a choice? It is important that you make it yourself, whatever the decision. If you ignore these things, they are taken out of your hands. This is generally not a good thing."
Listening to the old elf’s words of wisdom, Bob couldn’t remove the bemused expression from his features. How was this ancient elf able to judge somebody just by looking at them? Is it some sort of magic? Or something more disconcerting, did he take a more active look into their past, present and future. Will he leave gold in his stocking when leaves it at the end of his bed? All these questions and more crossed the elf’s mind in a matter of moments.
While Bob wanted to ask some questions, the first being ‘What?’ he decided that it should be Jafton to respond first. So the elf looked on, bewildered expression still in tact.
The human looked over at Bob, raising his eyebrow in question. Then, looking back at Ilrune, he responded, "It would seem, old one, that decisions are made for me before I even know what question was raised. I feel as if one led, but if I could jerk the leash from the grasp of my master, I would."
Jafton moved to sit down next to the aged elf, but just as he was lowering himself to the ground, the elf lifted himself to his feet with a grace that belied his age.
Rolling his eyes, Jafton stood back up, "But it is not my fate that we've come to speak with you about," he said as he looked at Bob meaningfully.
"Make your own decisions, young human," Ilrune admonished. "If you choose not to decide, even that is a decision... of sorts. It is generally not a good one though." The elf's repitition was soft as his eyes fell upon Jafton for a long moment. Then he turned his attention to Bob and his demeanor altered somewhat. It was difficult to say how, and Jafton was only barely aware of it. Bob though, though that perhaps he seemed a little sad.
"And what does this young elfling come seeking from an old elf? Too old and dry for my words to warm your heart, I would have thought." Ilrune gestured for Bob to speak.
“I was unaware that my heart had become cold, still warm is the blood that courses through me,” The elf replied. He doubted that’s what the elderly elf meant but it seems he was unwilling to answer their questions. So the archer decided to play him at his own game.
“I have come to ask a favour,” he stated bluntly. “Perhaps two, in return I am more than willing to listen to whatever it is you want to know or have me do,” he gave a warm smile. He couldn’t help but think the ancient mage could see right through it.
"The first favor I know," Jafton began, stepping in, "We seek aid which only you can apparently provide. Our companions are stranded in an icy hell, and we wish to provide a means for them to return to us here." He raised his eyebrow in question at Bob, "What else he would ask for, I do not know, but I feel that this is most pressing, for there is considerable danger where our companions tread."