Beyond the Wildlands

Jhinn’s Tale

As it seems my travels have come to an end, I put forth this record of my journey.

I am Jhinn, born in the Wildlands of Nōl’Deron. My childhood consisted of running barefoot through the forests with my friends, enjoying all the beauty my forest home had to offer. My mother, a strong and occasionally domineering woman, insisted I train daily in the art of marksmanship. Her worst fear was always that the Enlightened Elves or one of the human kingdoms would try to take away our home in the Wildlands. Though she would not explain, and frequently told me to mind my own business, she mentioned often that her own personal experiences with both groups had led her to believe this would happen. This was the reason she was adamant I should learn to defend myself and our kin. Nearly all Wild Elf men are skilled with a bow, but I consider myself to be among the best, thanks to my mother.

One afternoon, as I was lazing in my favorite tree, I heard voices that were accented differently than any I had ever heard. I hopped down from the tree and cautiously proceeded toward the sound. In the distance, I could see a group of heavily armored men. Was my mother right? Was this to be the first wave of invasion? I decided to have a closer look at these men who appeared to be making camp.

One of the men began breaking wood for a fire. This pained me, as I had never witnessed such abuse to a tree in my entire life. I remained silent, however, not daring to confront them. Hidden behind a large tree, I was now close enough to make out what they were saying.

“This shouldn’t take more than a couple of days,” one of them said. “We’ll find what we need and then be on our way back to Ra’jhou.”

These men were from Ra’jhou, a land far across the river and north near the base of the Wrathful Mountains. Having spent my life deep in the Wildlands, I had never seen a human before. I had heard from travelers who had been near the border that humans were a snobbish sort of people, very unlike the Wild Elves. These travelers would tell me how war-like humans were and how they had little tolerance for people like us. We were considered savages in their eyes. So what could these men possibly want from us? Why had this group traveled so far inside the Wildlands? I was about to find out.

As the afternoon was quickly becoming evening, I decided to ascend the tree where I had been hiding. I would have to stay the night and follow these men in the morning. They added more wood to their fire, and then they slept. Each man took a turn standing guard while the others rested. As morning approached, they gathered up their gear and extinguished the fire. They headed south, and I followed.

It became obvious to me after a matter of minutes that these men were hopelessly lost. Although they carried a compass, they moved very slowly and stopped frequently to look around. They knew they should continue heading south, but they were uneasy traveling in the dense forest. I decided the best thing to do would be to make my presence known. After all, they were in my territory.

“Hello there,” I said as I emerged from behind a tree. “Slow going?”

The soldiers showed obvious surprise at my presence. Two of them began to draw swords before the captain held up his hand to stop them.

“Hello, young man,” he said. “Perhaps you can help us find the person we’re looking for. We’re seeking a skilled archer by the name of Bojenir.”

At the mention of my teacher’s name, I became suspicious. What could these men possibly want with him? He was an elderly man now, hardly capable of training a legion of Ra’jhouan archers. Bojenir had been like a father to me, and I felt it my duty to protect him in his old age.

“Why are you looking for him?” I asked. Might as well just get to the point, I thought.

“There’s been an uprising along the border. A savage group of trolls are trying to expand their territory into the Wildlands. They are tired of living only at the mountain’s base, and several groups have begun moving south, destroying villages as they go. Since this could also have a devastating effect on commerce in the area, the king has ordered us to protect the border. Many of our soldiers have found it rather difficult to fight in these dense forests. Every time they draw back their swords, they hit trees. We’re hoping Bojenir can help us find some Wild Elf archers to assist us. It is your border too, after all.”

This was not news to me. I had heard rumors of these trolls and was considering heading east myself to defend my home. Knowing they were not here to harm him, I decided to lead them to my teacher. As the captain met in private with Bojenir, I informed some of my friends of the situation. We were still young, but we had all come of age and were longing for adventure. We were ready to put the skills Bojenir had taught us to the test.

The majority of our clan gathered to investigate the arrival of these humans. After a few hours, Bojenir and the captain came to address the crowd that had formed.

“It seems the rumors are true,” Bojenir said. “Our forests are in danger of a troll invasion. The clans living in their path will require our aid. If any of you are willing to assist your brothers in this time of need, please say so.”

I was the first to step forward, followed by many of my friends. Bojenir’s urging was all I needed. He motioned for me to come to him.

“I am too old now to be of service in this matter,” he said. “But you, Jhinn, can be of the greatest service. Your skill with a bow surpasses even my own. Please, take this bow, which was given to me by my father. May it serve you well.”

He handed me a shining silver bow engraved with vines and leaves. It was the most beautiful bow I had ever seen. I thanked him and hugged him goodbye. We would be leaving the next morning for the Ra’jhouan camp, where we would train.

It was a three-day walk to the camp. The other elves and I were given leather armor and a more than adequate supply of arrows. The Ra’jhouans recognized my leadership skills among the other archers and insisted I become their commander. My kinsmen took quickly to this, as they did not like to be ordered around by humans. These were my friends, and they trusted me to help them in this battle. I knew, however, that the Wild Elves alone could not win this fight, and that we needed the human soldiers. I did my best to keep everything smooth between our two groups.

After our first full day of practicing and learning formations, we learned that another group of Wild Elves would be joining us. However, they were not archers — they were warriors. They came by the dozen. They were all women dressed in heavy armor and carrying swords and axes. It was quite an exhilarating sight. I decided to mingle among these women while the humans were preparing our dinner.

It took only a moment for my eyes to fall upon her. I drank in the sight of a woman with dark hair and eyes whose armor reflected beautifully the light of the stars. Her face was beyond radiant beneath the light of the moon. Her gaze met mine, and she smiled. In all my days, I had never beheld a woman so beautiful. Her name was Aurelle, and she was to become my soul mate.

The time I didn’t spend training, I spent with Aurelle. Though we could spend only a few hours together each night, our love grew incredibly strong. By day we trained for battle, but by night we gave in to our passion.

She was selected as a leader among the women. Being highly skilled with a double-headed axe, she was eager to show these men from Ra’jhou what she was made of. My free time was very limited, but I enjoyed the rare moments when I could watch her in action. Though her body appeared lean and delicate, she could swing her axe with twice the force of any man. I almost pitied the trolls who would cross her path in a matter of days.

After a week of training, we headed east toward the border. Two nights before battle, the captain informed me that the archers were to hide out of sight among the trees while the soldiers and warriors advanced. That did not sit well with me.

“Captain, we are not cowards,” I said. “We don’t wish to hide among the trees during battle. We can be far more useful on the ground.”

“My men can’t be distracted trying to save you and your friends. You can shoot just fine from the trees. Those are my orders.”

“Captain,” I said. “We won’t need saving. We are just as strong and brave as any soldier here. We know our place.”

“Place?” A nearby soldier scoffed. He was a very large man with a very large sword. “My place is on the front line, little elf. Where is yours?”

“Right behind you,” I replied.

My strategy was simple. We archers would have a place of protection behind the oversize shields of the Ra’jhouan soldiers. This way, we could begin firing as soon as we were in range, and eliminate a large portion of the enemy before they could reach us. It was the best way to preserve the soldiers’ strength for the combat ahead — much more practical than waiting in the trees for the battle to come to us.

“You’re pretty smart for a Wild Elf,” the captain said with a grin.

“Um, yeah,” I replied.

I had nothing else to say to this man who obviously thought so little of me. I was ready to prove myself in battle, as were many of my kinsmen. We are often looked down upon by humans. This is not only because of our height, but because they seem to consider themselves superior to us in every way.

We spent the next day practicing this new strategy of mine before we would face our enemy. At dawn the day of battle, we began to form ranks. I found Aurelle preparing the women for battle, and I kissed her for luck, though I knew she would not need it. I took my place behind the large soldier who had mocked me.

“Let’s see what you’re made of,” he said. “If you’re left standing after all of this, I’ll buy you a drink.”

As we advanced, I began to hear the distant war cries of the trolls. It was time. I gestured to the other archers to make ready. After taking a few more steps, we fired. Screams of agony broke out in the distance. Without seeing them, we had managed to hit our targets. Again we fired and heard more cries. They were advancing on us.

We continued to fire until the trolls reached our position. We were no longer safe behind the soldiers. Without any shields to protect us, we took to the trees and fired on the trolls below as they battled the human soldiers and our warriors. I paused just long enough to behold Aurelle in full battle mode. She was breathtaking. I watched her every move as she blocked her opponent’s wooden club and finally split his head in two. I had never seen a woman with such strength and skill.

We were victorious. The trolls who had refused to retreat lay dead all around. This group would make no more attempts to infiltrate the Wildlands. As was customary after fighting a beast, we began to celebrate by feasting on the flesh of the trolls. The troll shank I shared with Aurelle was particularly sweet, most likely due to the troll’s insatiable appetite for sugar. Aurelle mentioned a preference for a sweeter meat, and we both laughed.

All around us the humans were visibly disgusted. Some of them couldn’t hold their stomachs and vomited all over the corpses, wasting perfectly good meat. The ones who managed to eat a little ate only bread. That seemed hardly satisfying after a day of battle. If refusing to eat troll is civilized, then I prefer being a savage.

After the night’s feast, the captain congratulated us on a job well done. He offered to let us all join the Ra’jhouan Imperial Guard. A few among us accepted his offer. Aurelle and I, however, refused. We had already discussed our plans for after the battle. She spoke of a land called Ral’nassa, where some evil creatures were causing a problem. It was her desire to travel to that land and test her skills against these monsters. She had also shared with me other secrets of Ral’nassa. Apparently there was great wealth there begging to be stolen by anyone who had the skill. I was soon to prove that archery was not the only thing Bojenir had taught me.

We traveled slowly toward Ral’nassa. Why rush? We were so much in love and truly enjoying each other’s company that we didn’t really care where we were. Together we battled some creatures and bandits along the way. Whenever we spotted a bandit, I would ascend the nearest hill or tree, and she would slowly approach the bandit. When he would notice her and begin to attack, I would fire an arrow, stopping him dead in his tracks. It was wonderful to fight alongside my love.

After a long while, we arrived in Ral’nassa. We learned quickly that Enlightened Elves do not like outsiders at all. We were less than welcome by the arrogant locals, and it took some time for us to fit in. Eventually, Aurelle joined up with a local group of warriors to further polish her skills, while I spent my time among the thieves learning the locations of the best places to hit.

While Aurelle was away battling monsters, I passed the days picking pockets and stealing small items from local merchants. I was a little rusty at first and had to pay a few fines. I even spent a little time in jail. With a little practice, I was soon back in thieving shape and ready to take on some more challenging work.

Eventually, Aurelle decided we should travel to the city of Delor, where she could test her skills in the dueling arena. We booked passage on a ship to avoid a long journey by land. Along the way, she informed me that our destination was a major banking center. It was also home to the vaults of some deliciously wealthy sorcerers. I felt it my personal duty to rob these vaults and bring my love as much treasure as I could carry.

Aurelle was quite successful in the arena and had acquired a large sum of money, but that did not make me want to stop thieving. To me, thieving was an art form. It was about so much more than taking other people’s prized possessions. I was on a mission to prove that I could succeed in robbing the most heavily guarded places in Ral’nassa.

I began breaking into the vaults one by one. With the help of a few invisibility potions I bartered from a local apothecary, I managed to steal an enormous amount of gold and jewels. I also stole weapons and jewelry that I thought Aurelle might enjoy. She was very pleased with the gifts I brought her, and we celebrated with a night out on the town. We went out to dinner and took a romantic midnight gondola ride. She was radiant in her new jewels.

The local guards were upset, of course. A vault had been robbed, which meant more security would be added to the other vaults. I didn’t let that deter me from robbing a second vault a few weeks later. I didn’t manage to find as much money and jewels as I had in the first one, but the gem-inlaid dagger I brought Aurelle made her very happy.

With security increasing around the city, I was aching to rob a third vault to prove myself. I know robbing the other two vaults successfully should have been more than enough, but I just couldn’t walk away. I was addicted to thieving.

Aurelle told me I should wait a while before attempting to rob the third vault. She said eventually the guards would arrest some poor soul and coerce him into confessing just to set the citizens at ease. But I couldn’t wait long. Every day that went by was torture. I had to do it soon.

Finally, the night had come, and I headed toward the vault. It was surprisingly easy to get in, which should have been my first clue to the danger ahead. Greed clouded my better judgment, and I accepted an easy entrance as if it were my own skill that had got me inside the vault. Unfortunately, the exit had been bewitched. When I tried to leave, I found myself teleported into a room with two maniacal sorcerers. I was taken completely by surprise and suffered a few lightning shocks before I could get out of their way. I pulled out my bow and managed to kill them both, but it was too late. The noise had alerted the guards, who were already advancing on me. There were too many of them for me to escape. I was trapped.

“It figures it would be a filthy Wild Elf who was doing all this,” one guard said.

Since I had trespassed against the wealthiest sorcerers in Ral’nassa, it would be the Grand Council who would decide my fate. I knew of this council by reputation. They were not kind-hearted elves, and I knew they would not be forgiving. The guards dragged me to the council’s tower and forced me to my knees in front of them.

“How foolish of a lowly little Wild Elf to think he could outwit us,” one of them said. “Did you think we would not protect the greatest treasures of our kingdom? You and all of your kind are pathetic savages. We sentence you to slavery. Get him out of my sight.”

I was still in shock and in quite a bit of pain after my ordeal, and the realization of my fate had not yet sunk in. The guards dragged me to an open-air marketplace and threw me into a cell where other slaves awaited purchase. I slumped over, and spent the night drifting in and out of consciousness.

I awoke to a sudden sharp pain. An elf was prodding me with a staff and ordering me to my feet. An elderly woman was looking me over, apparently deciding whether she would like to purchase me.

All of a sudden, she shouted, “How dare you look me in the eye?”

No one had informed me of the rules of slavery, but I took that to mean I was not to make eye contact with anyone who was not a slave. She decided to purchase me and teach me a few manners.

Her guards tied some rope around my waist to ensure I couldn’t slip away, and we journeyed to my new home on my mistress’s plantation. The work there was very difficult for me. Since I was a Wild Elf, my mistress found it amusing to force me to dig up plants and destroy them. She called it harvesting, but I called it destruction. No elf of the Wildlands would ever treat living plants in such a manner. If I refused, I was beaten severely. There was no escape for me since I was under constant surveillance. My only hope was that Aurelle would be able to find me.

That hope was not in vain. After weeks of slavery, my stay at the plantation was almost at an end. One evening as the stars began to show, my mistress insisted I take a load of her laundry down to the creek. Naturally, she sent a guard along with me. As soon as I knelt down to place the linens in the water, the guard was struck from behind and fell dead. I looked up from his body, and to my amazement, beheld my beloved Aurelle.

She grabbed me and kissed me. “I’m so sorry it’s taken this long to find you,” she said. “I was arrested shortly after you were and held as an accomplice to your crime. I finally managed to kill a few guards and escape.”

Words could not express how happy I was to be reunited with Aurelle. Unfortunately, we were both fugitives now. Our only hope for freedom and peace was to get as far from Ral’nassa as we could. We traveled by night and avoided the roads at all costs.

We finally arrived in the kingdom of Al’marr, and decided it might be time for us to settle down and stop adventuring for a while. No one there knew of our crimes, and we had no intention of changing that. We would have to start over without any of our possessions. The guards in Ral’nassa had taken everything we owned, including the bow Bojenir had given me. That was the one item I missed most.

With a bit of luck, we managed to find work in a weapons shop. The elderly man who owned the shop was no longer able to string bows or repair axes, so he gladly hired us to perform those tasks. Unfortunately, the pay was not enough to bring back the lavish lifestyle we were accustomed to, and I decided to fall back on my career as a thief. I once again began picking the pockets of the wealthy. Aurelle was not too happy with my decision, but she appreciated the extra income. She even decided to start her own business offering training to less experienced warriors.

For a few years, this was how we lived. Life was less eventful than it had been in the past, but we were content. As long as we had each other, life was wonderful.

Sadly, our happiness wasn’t to last. When the city came under attack from ogres, my brave Aurelle was the first to take up arms to defend the city. Though we had aged, her skill in battle was no less fierce, and she slaughtered many of the hideous beasts. I joined the battle as well, but the hide of an ogre might as well be covered in dragon’s scales. My arrows were inadequate, most of them glancing off without damaging the monsters.

As she fought one beast, a second approached her from behind. Before I could reach her, Aurelle was mortally wounded by the ogre’s iron grip. With her last bit of strength, she buried her axe in his skull, killing him instantly. I rushed to her side as she fell and held her in my arms as she died. In an instant, my beloved was gone forever. My life was now meaningless.

I have returned to my childhood home in the Wildlands, where I plan to live out my days in peace. I have taken the place of my former mentor, teaching archery to the youngest members of my clan. My thirst for adventure has been thoroughly quenched, and I long for the day when I can reunite with my beloved.

 

Text copyright 2013 Lana Axe

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