As he did every morning, Yori woke before dawn to begin his work at the smithy. He rose from his small cot and pulled back the curtain that separated his tiny living space from the rest of the shop. He splashed water over his face and around his neck and ran his fingers through his sandy blond hair. Carefully, he positioned a worn red headband at the precise level to cover the pointed tips of his ears. Life was easier in the city of Enald if its citizens could forget for a moment that his father had been an elf.
The shop was open-air with a low wall surrounding it, forcing customers to enter through the area farthest from the furnace. This design helped to avoid accidents from careless citizens, children, and animals. For the last few years, the shop had doubled as Yori’s home. His aunt and uncle’s cottage was too small to fit everyone comfortably, and the shop was safer having someone present all night. The cool fall weather made for pleasant nights, despite being out of doors. In the winter, he would move his cot closer to the furnace to stay warm.
Grabbing a leather apron from a hook near the anvil, he quickly tied it around himself to cover his tattered gray shirt. He began adding charcoal to the furnace and squeezed the bellows to fan the flames. His Uncle Ren always treated him well, but if the furnace was not hot enough to begin work at dawn, Yori could expect to receive an open-handed smack to the side of his head. To avoid the embarrassment, he always tended the fire first and made its maintenance his top priority throughout the day.
As dawn broke, Yori was still laying out tools for his uncle’s use in the day’s work. Out of nowhere, he heard a young girl screaming. Startled by the sound, he dropped the pliers in his hand, which fell to the ground with a thud. Realizing the cry had come from his young cousin, he immediately rushed toward the sound. As he stepped out of the shop, he saw arrows whizzing in every direction, and panicked citizens were running away. One lone little girl stood frozen in fear near the well.
Without a thought for his own safety, Yori rushed to the child and grabbed her in his arms. Just as he lifted her to run back to the smithy, his left calf was struck by an arrow. He dropped to his knees, barely setting the girl back on her feet. She wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her tear-stained face in his shoulder. Again he lifted her, ignoring the searing pain in his leg. Turning his back to the oncoming arrows in an effort to protect the girl, he limped as quickly as possible back to the safety of the shop.
Placing the girl behind the anvil, he grabbed the axe near the wood pile and readied himself for a fight. He had never been trained in fighting, but he had learned to defend himself as a child. As an outcast, his world had been full of bullies, and he had realized that fighting back felt much better than just accepting a beating. They may have beaten him worse for his efforts, but at least he had earned his lumps. He did not know exactly what he was facing or why his town was being attacked, but he was ready to defend his young cousin against whoever was approaching.
As quickly as the attack had begun, it ended. Citizens once again came out of their homes and began filling the streets. Yori set down the axe and knelt before the sobbing girl.
“Are you hurt, Meladee?” he asked.
The little girl shook her head. She raised an arm and pointed to the arrow sticking out of Yori’s leg.
“It looks worse than it feels,” he said, attempting to ease the girl’s fear. In truth, his leg was throbbing and still bleeding a considerable amount.
Ren rushed out of his small cottage and ran to the smithy. “Yori!” he called. “Have you seen Meladee?”
“She’s here,” Yori replied.
The girl remained seated until her mother, who had run out of the cottage in her nightdress, rushed to her side. Meladee threw her arms around her mother and continued to weep.
“Yori’s hurt,” she managed to say through her sobs.
Ren knelt down to have a closer look at the arrow sticking out of Yori’s leg. “This is going to hurt,” he said, his dark eyes sympathetic. “You might want to bite down on the corner of your apron.”
Yori, confused by the comment, looked down at his uncle just in time to see him grab hold of the arrow. In an instant, he yanked the shaft and pulled the arrow free. Yori screamed in pain and fell to his knees, grabbing at his injured calf.
“I told you to bite down on the leather, didn’t I?” Ren said with a smile. “You’ll be alright. Let’s clean it and get a bandage on it.”
As he watched his uncle retrieve an iron rod and place it in the fire, Yori realized what his uncle had meant by “clean it”. He was going to cauterize it to stop the bleeding and seal the wound from infection. Yori’s head swam as his Aunt Trella brought over a bowl of water and some cloth.
“It will only hurt for a second, and then you will feel much better,” she said. Gently, she began wiping the wound with a wet cloth.
Ren approached, a red-hot iron rod in his hand. “Don’t scream too much or you’ll scare Meladee,” he said. “Oh, and don’t move around too much or I’ll have to sit on you.” He offered Yori a small stick of wood to bite down on, which the young man graciously accepted.
As the hot metal touched the wound, Yori moaned and grunted in agony. After a few seconds, the procedure was over. The pain had dulled but persisted. All the bleeding had stopped, and Ren offered Yori a hand getting back to his feet. Placing weight on the leg was agony, but he had very little choice. There was work to be done, and he could not spend the day sitting.
“They were Wild Elves,” Meladee said quietly, her brown eyes still full of tears.
“You shouldn’t be leaving the house alone,” her mother chided. “You could have been killed.”
“Did you see them, Meladee?” Yori asked, bending to her level.
The little girl nodded.
From the design of the arrow, Yori was forced to accept that the little girl must be correct. The speckled feathers and runed tip of the arrows left no doubt in his mind that Wild Elves had just attacked their city. This could only bring trouble for him and his family. The townspeople already disliked him for being a half-breed, but now they might think he was a traitor.
Yori had never known any Wild Elves except his father, but he was killed when Yori was very young. His mother always spoke fondly of him, even though loving him made her an outcast among human society. According to her, the elves were not happy about it either. They refused to allow a human to live among their clan. Therefore, the couple chose to live independently at the edge of the woods. When she died, her brother took Yori in and put him to work in the smithy. He was not treated as a son but as an apprentice. Still, he was grateful to have someone looking after him in any way.
“This wasn’t the Sycamore Clan,” Ren said, looking at Yori. “Your father’s clan is too far from here. I would wager anything it was the Oak Leaf Clan. They’re nothing but trouble.”
Members of the Oak Leaf Clan had been banned from trading in Enald’s marketplace. On several occasions they had been accused of stealing and causing disturbances. They had gotten the reputation as troublemakers, but none of them were ever given a trial. If a human accused a Wild Elf of wrongdoing, then the elf was presumed guilty. King Domren had no use for elves in his kingdom, and he sanctioned all punishments against them.
“We may as well get to work,” Ren suggested. “If we carry on like everything is normal, maybe we’ll be left in peace.” His voice contained very little hope. Since most people in town were aware of Yori’s parentage, trouble was likely to find them.
Meladee squeezed Yori tightly before her mother led her back to their cottage. The poor child was covered in black soot from being held tightly against Yori’s dusty apron. She would protest having a bath and would dislike having to wear clean clothes. She much preferred her tattered play clothes, which she only wore while she was in the smithy. She loved her cousin dearly and would rather spend the day in the hot, dirty shop than anywhere else as long as Yori was there.
Yori retrieved the pliers he had dropped earlier and continued to prepare his uncle’s workbench for the day ahead. He checked on the furnace and decided it was hot enough for now. “Where should I begin?” he asked.
“Fetch that sword we’ve been working on. We need to finish up the hilt and get the whole thing together.” He scratched at his beard as he spoke.
Yori did as he was told. For several weeks, they had worked together on a sword for one of King Domren’s lieutenants at the palace. His father was originally from Enald and had purchased swords made by Ren’s father. The quality of those swords was superior to the ones being crafted by the palace’s smith, and the man had insisted Ren craft one for him in the tradition of his father. Yori himself had done half the work and was quite pleased with the outcome so far.
The sword’s hilt was inlaid with ebony stones which Yori had shaped and polished meticulously. He offered the hilt to his uncle, who inspected it closely.
“This is well crafted,” he said. “You’re ready to fit it to the blade.”
Yori carried the sword to his workbench at the back of the shop. As soon as he turned his back, one of Enald’s wealthier citizens appeared in the doorway. He was dressed in a fine burgundy tunic and wore a large feather in his hat.
“What does that one know about the attack this morning?” the man said, pointing at Yori.
Yori turned to face the man, his eyes darting nervously to his uncle.
“He knows he got an arrow in the leg for rescuing my daughter,” Ren replied, his tone suggesting he was well prepared for an argument.
“If he’s been sneaking around with those savages, I’m going to inform the mayor,” the man threatened. “His kind are not welcome here. You should have done away with him when he was a baby.”
Ren grabbed a hammer from his workbench and walked toward the man. “I suggest you get out of my shop and leave the boy alone.”
“Boy?” the man scoffed. “I know for a fact he’s at least seventeen. He’s a man and should be fighting his own battles by now. A war is coming, and he will betray this town if he gets the chance.”
“My family is here,” Yori said. “I don’t even know any elves other than the ones who trade goods here. They weren’t the ones who attacked us.”
“So you know which clan it was?” the man asked. “Apparently you do know a thing or two. Perhaps you should come and speak to the mayor yourself and save him the trouble of sending the guards.”
“Get out of here before I bury this hammer in your skull!” Ren’s tone meant business, and his face was serious. He tightened his grip on the hammer.
Seeing that he had truly angered the smith, the man decided to back down. He turned and strode briskly from the shop.
“I should have kept my mouth shut,” Yori said, his pale green eyes focusing on the floor. “I always say the wrong thing.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Ren replied. “It wouldn’t have mattered what you said. That asshole came here looking for a fight, and he nearly got one.”
Yori turned back to his workbench and tried to occupy his mind with his work. He was worried that others in the town would also come to accuse him, and he hated the thought of causing trouble for his uncle. For now, he would simply focus on his work and avoid visiting other areas of the city.
“You’ll have to sleep at the house tonight,” Ren said. “I don’t know how safe you’ll be out here. We’ll just have to make some room.”
Yori nodded and tried to hide the relief he felt. The last thing he wanted was to be alone at night with a town full of angry citizens. If the attacks continued, his life could very well be in danger.
Reylin proudly entered the Overseer’s hut, followed by his troop of archers. His twin sister glared at him with her hazel eyes and shook her head as he passed by. He shot a devilish grin at her and continued walking until he stood before the Overseer.
“Explain,” the Overseer demanded. His dark eyes stared intently at the young elf.
“We put a few holes in the city of Enald,” Reylin said. “That’s all.” He casually ran his fingers through his red hair as he spoke.
“The entire clan needs to be informed before a raid is carried out. We cannot afford to split up the troops we have. Who would have protected us had we been attacked while you were away?”
“The sword maidens,” he replied. “My sister would have protected you personally.” Reylin laughed along with several members of his troop. The Overseer had been far too passive in their fight against the humans, and Reylin was not going to miss the opportunity to insult him.
“This won’t be tolerated,” the Overseer replied. “We must stand together or not at all. You should visit our kin of the Silver Birch Clan and discuss joining our efforts. They have more elves than we do, and we will be more efficient fighters if we join forces.”
“I’ll consider it,” Reylin replied. With those words, he turned and exited the hut, grabbing his sister’s arm on the way out. He led her away from the hut and stopped when he had reached the farthest edge of the village.
“You can’t keep going off on your own,” she said. “You’re going to get yourself killed, and then where will we be?”
“Relax, Reylana,” he began. “No one even saw us. We shot a few arrows and kept going. We probably didn’t even kill any of them.”
“Then you’re wasting arrows,” she said seriously. Her auburn hair caught the sun’s rays and flashed red, reflecting her mood. She loved her twin brother, but he could be very difficult to understand at times. “We should plan a proper raid that includes archers and sword maidens alike.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, his tone mocking.
“I’m serious,” she replied hotly, looking down at her brother. “You men aren’t the only ones who can fight. You’re just the only ones who can fight and hide at the same time. You can send them running and we’ll be there to stop them.”
Reylin paused for a moment and thought. “That’s actually a good idea, Sis,” he said. “We can attack one of their farming villages from the tree line and you and your girls can be waiting on the other side. Nothing sends a message to your enemy like slaughtering a village full of fleeing cowards.”
“It’s no less than they’ve done to us. Entire clans have been wiped out. Every week new elves are finding their way here to join up with us. There are no clans now within a day’s walk of Na’zora.”
“If we can manage to win this war there won’t be a Na’zora. I’d like to see that king’s head mounted above my hut.” Reylin’s tone was serious. He hated the Na’zorans as well as all other humans. They were responsible for the death of his parents along with countless other elves. His kinsmen were constantly being pushed deeper into the Wildlands and away from their traditional homes. The humans did not care whether they were able to adapt. They would prefer if all elves were wiped out permanently.
“I’ll gather some of the women so we can start planning,” Reylana said before hurrying away. She glanced back at her brother, who had gone over to speak with his troops. He was a hothead for sure, but she knew his actions were carried out with the best intent. He had only gone to Enald to frighten its citizens and let them know that the elves of the woods would fight back to protect their homes. They were sick of being bullied by Na’zora’s king, and they would do whatever was necessary to defend their right to exist.
Seated on a log bench at the center of town was Essa, the leader of the Oak Leaf Clan’s sword maidens. “Essa,” Reylana called as she spotted the dark-haired elf. “I need to talk with you.”
Essa had been busy polishing the blade of her broadsword when Reylana approached. She put the blade away and eyed her cautiously. “What are you up to?” she asked suspiciously.
Reylana laughed and said, “You know me. When have I ever been up to anything bad? Come with me. We’re going to discuss plans to attack one of the human farming villages.”
Essa joined her friend as they walked back to Reylin’s small hut. Several men were already inside, noisily sharing their ideas.
“Ok, everybody shut up,” Reylin said loudly as his sister entered. “Let’s see what the ladies have to say.”
“Nothing much, really,” Reylana began. “Essa leads the sword maidens for our clan, so I’ll let her do the talking.”
“First of all,” Essa said, “I want to know what village and when. Secondly, I want to know why you went out today without consulting me? We’d have been happy to come along and chop a few heads.”
“It was just a small scare tactic, Essa,” Reylin said, rolling his hazel eyes. “Don’t act so left out. You’re as bad as my sister. Sometimes you should just let the men handle it.”
“You can handle it all you want,” Essa remarked. “But when it comes to fighting, you should let the women take charge. We know attack plans better than those who hide in the trees. We’re at the front of the line. You men are just our backup.”
Men began shouting and arguing at her words. They were offended by her comment, and they wanted to let her know it. Wild Elf men generally stand a head shorter than the women, allowing them greater stealth when moving through the trees. Neither sex, however, is any less fierce than the other.
“Quiet!” Reylin shouted. “She’s just trying to get under our skin. She’s ticked that we didn’t let Her Majesty come with us. We’re big boys, Essa. We do what we want. Next time, we’ll work together, ok?”
Essa nodded and took a seat at the small dining table at the back of the room. Reylin and Reylana both sat as well. A small hand-drawn map of the area was laid out on the table. From this map, they would determine which village had the best layout for them to attack with stealth. The women would need to be concealed until the men could force the villagers in their direction. Then, when there was no chance of escape, the women would attack. No one would be left alive. Domren’s men had been ruthless in their attacks on the elves. No elf had been spared for any reason, and the elves were most willing to retaliate in the same fashion. The time for small skirmishes was coming to an end. A war was about to begin.
King Domren shifted anxiously on his horse as he peered deep into the woods. “Do you think Aelryk’s men are in position?” he asked.
“Until Mi’tal makes his way here, we have no way of knowing,” General Luca replied. His gray eyes were stern, his passion for battle ever-present on his face.
“He should have been here by now. I don’t like waiting.” The king let out a heavy sigh and clenched his teeth. His dark eyes focused into the trees, hoping to catch any sign of movement. Wild Elves are masters of stealth within the forests, and he wondered if he was already being watched.
From behind, he heard a horse approaching. He turned his head to see Mi’tal coming up from the rear of his company. The young, black-haired man hurried past the soldiers and went straight to the king.
“Majesty,” he said, “Aelryk and his men are in position and are awaiting your lead.”
“Finally,” the king said. He raised an arm and motioned his troops to follow. Drawing their weapons, they charged into the thick forest. The Silver Birch Clan was about to experience the king’s wrath.
As they entered the village, they showed no signs of slowing. The surprised elves were sent fleeing in all directions. Many were trampled by the horses and several others were cut down as they ran. Women and children were not spared, nor were elderly clansmen who could not possibly offer a fight. The warriors rushed to their huts to retrieve their weapons. They had been given no sign their village would be attacked, and they had not been prepared for battle.
Mages at the rear of the company began firing off spells. Most of them cast fireballs at the huts, while others fired energy blasts to knock the fleeing elves off balance. Those who managed to get to a weapon were quickly dispatched by the energy blasts, dropping their weapons as they fell. The elves who did not find their feet quickly were trampled by the horses as they charged. Within minutes, the first village lay in ruins.
Domren’s troops rode on toward the second village. It was larger, but with Aelryk’s company charging from the opposite end, there was little chance of encountering any significant resistance. The elves had been alerted by the cries coming from the neighboring village, but that had also signaled Aelryk to begin the attack. He was young and had little experience in battle, but he was obedient and very capable of following the orders his father had given him.
Arrows whizzed from the highest branches, shot by the few elves who had managed to make it to the trees. Their swordswomen dodged the horses as they charged past at full speed. Foot soldiers were no match for mounted cavalry. Many of them began to run into the woods as well. Domren smiled to himself to see the bravest among the elves fleeing. He hoped to continue the attacks until every Wild Elf was driven to the far side of the Blue River or killed. He did not care whether they had to be annihilated or left willingly. His mission was to expand his kingdom, and the elves were in his way.
The mages began setting fire to the huts in this village as well. They tossed their fireballs casually and sipped at their potions as if they hadn’t a care in the world. Human mages do not regenerate their power naturally. Instead, they rely on a steady supply of potions to continue being useful in combat. The mages enjoyed testing their prowess in battle, as they normally sat around discussing magical theory and practicing little tricks to amuse the nobles. Today, they were proving their worth to their king, and they were making it look like child’s play.
Once the second village lay in ruins, Aelryk came riding up to his father. The two men were similar in appearance, both with dark hair and eyes. Aelryk, however, stood half a foot taller and had a far more pleasing countenance than his father.
“Good morning, Father,” he said. “It seems everything has gone to plan.”
“It has,” Domren replied. “You have done well for your first true battle. Gather your men and we’ll head back to the palace.”
Aelryk did as he was commanded, and the company set off eastward, leaving the smoking villages behind them. Mi’tal rode next to Aelryk at the front of the company. Before his death, Mi’tal’s father had been charged with the personal safety of King Domren. Mi’tal had taken it upon himself to act as a protector for the young prince. He could be impulsive at times, and Mi’tal had always been there to pull the prince back in his anger. Usually it was just a petty argument over some minor insult. Today, however, marked a new chapter in the prince’s future. He would be riding into battle regularly, and Mi’tal planned to be there to protect him, even if it cost him his life.
“Well done today, my lord,” Mi’tal said, his brown eyes sincere.
Aelryk nodded. “Father had everything set up very well. I would have been an idiot to mess it up. Nonetheless, I thank you for the compliment.” Aelryk grinned at his friend, and the two of them laughed.
“Soon you will be planning your own strategies,” Mi’tal commented. “You will make a fine war leader. Your men love you, and they will fight for you no matter the cost.”
Aelryk considered the notion for a moment. He was young, but he wanted to be fair with his troops and gain their respect. His father ruled using fear, and everyone jumped at his command. He wasn’t sure if that was the kind of commander he wanted to be.
Normally, his father would bark commands at him without expressing any gratitude once his wish had been fulfilled. Aelryk believed in discipline, of course, but his father’s manner was a little rougher than his own. It was not in his nature to be cruel. He preferred to treat others with the respect they had earned, and if someone needed to be punished, it should be done with fairness. Justice was not in his father’s vocabulary. Trials were held for show when a noble was accused. Anyone else could only hope for a swift, painless execution. Most were not that lucky.
When it came to the elves, King Domren was unwavering. He wanted them either exterminated or moved as far away as possible. Aelryk had not yet mentioned his thoughts on diplomacy to his father, but he hoped to have the opportunity soon. Today’s show of strength should convince the elves to accept the king’s terms. If he could convince his father to let him speak with the elven leaders, perhaps more battles could be avoided. The elves would certainly wish to retaliate, and Aelryk did not like the idea of his citizens being slaughtered. He was determined to bring the idea to his father as soon as he found the opportunity-and the courage as well.
End of Sample