The Hateful Wars: Chapter Eighteen
A snarl-headed elf woman stepped out from behind a floral-canopied garden walk and hailed Kristryd in the elven tongue, “Behold! Errand-dwur of Yolande, I would a word with thee.” The she-elf looked more like a wild woman of the mountains than noble grey. A course hair-coat she wore tied about her waist with a belt of leather. The feats of her hair paggled loosely, knotted in dreadlocks and tangled with sticks and twigs and leaves.
Kristryd took two startled steps back, sneered her lip and retorted in perfect olven, “I am the Princess Kristryd Olinsdotter of Ulek and Dengar, daughter of the Prince Corond Olinstaad, daughter-in-law of the undermountain king Thane Evrast. I am no errand-dwur! But who are you who dares address the queen’s embassy so disrespectfully?”
“I am Edda the Tested,” the wild elf said with such air of authority that it seemed she expected that the name should convey some significance to Kristryd. It did not. “I have a message for you to bear to the queen.”
“If you have a message to bring, do so. I will not be your messenger,” Kristryd snapped. For emphasis, she pushed the wild elf from her path and continued her way.
Edda recovered herself gracefully, effortlessly scaled up the trunk of a stately ipp, leapt to the limb of a phost, and followed after Kristryd, leaping from limb to limb, tree to tree, like a squirrel. She only left off the pursuit when Kristryd passed into the inner lawns. Even then, Edda called after the dwarf from her perch in a deklo, “Tell her that her lover-boy was betrayed.” Kristryd marched on stoically with her back to the woodness elf, deliberately ignoring her shouts, “Tell her that Edda the Tested gave you the message. You tell her that errand-dwur!”
The Queen’s Dream
Kristryd found the queen’s war cabinet already assembled around the Blossoming Throne. She recognized each face. In just over a year’s time, she had won the confidence of most of them and at least the grudging respect of the rest. The queen’s wizard and chief counselor, Onselvon, she counted as a friend. Young Archosian lurked near at hand; his face wore a moping expression. At the table along with the noble advisors sat the queen’s heroes and mally suitors: Fastaal Dothmar, Peralay the Hunter’s Hawk of Celene, and the newest member of the competition, the magsman Xaxalander Deravnye. Each remained ever fixed upon the queen’s attention, and her scanty dress arrested their own. It offered them an eyefull of her comeliness, for she had clad herself in a clinging gown of delicate gossamer woven at the collar and hem with a brocade of silver thread. Hardly attire for a counsel of war, Kristryd sniffed with disapproval. By the gods, doesn’t she look dressed for a fairy frolic? The ambassador dropped her eyes self-consciously to the chain shirt of mithril draped over her own slight frame. A belt of leather gathered it at her waist. Ordinarily, a blade hung from that belt, but she carried no weapon into the Grand Court.
“Welcome Olinsdotter. We have been awaiting your arrival,” Onselvon began. “I have already briefed the counsel regarding the proceedings at Hoch Dunglorin, but the queen will hear your own summary in turn. Meantime, the situation has turned against the alliance again, and our expeditionary force has fallen back to Luskan …”
War reports and various strategic deliberations occupied all of the morning and much of the afternoon. At the conclusion, the counsel commissioned Kristryd with an embassy to the undermountain kings requesting reinforcements to relieve the gnomes and elves now fighting in Luskan. She accepted the mission and the message, and the queen dismissed the council and all the court. Kristryd lingered in the queen’s presence after the others had left. Only the queen’s Companion Guard remained with them in the Hall of the Grand Court.
“Speak your thoughts, sister,” her fey majesty invited. “I see your heart vexes over some uncertainty.”
“Your majesty,” she said with a bow, “I would know, who is Edda the Tested?”
A momentary blanch of surprise passed over the queen’s ordinarily impassive face. “That one is banned from the court, and unwanted in Celene,” the queen pronounced. “She and all the so-called ‘Tested’ are unwelcome here.”
“She accosted me as I came hither,” Kristryd complained.
“With a message for me,” Yolande guessed.
“Indeed,” Kristryd bowed low again. “But such a message unfit to be transmitted; the wild ravings of the lunatic.”
“Lunatic indeed,” the queen laughed. “By the shadow of Luna! The Tested call themselves devotees of Sehanine, but even the priests of the moon goddess disavow them. I will hear her message.”
Kristryd swallowed hard and shifted her feet in discomfort. She forced herself to meet the queen’s lilac eye before speaking, “She said that the Prince Consort was betrayed.”
For long minutes, the queen spoke not a word nor did her face show that she had heard. Kristryd wondered if she had offended the queen and, perhaps, should take her leave. But then the queen bestirred herself, rose from the Blossoming Throne, extended her hand to the dwarf and said, “Walk with me in the garden, daughter.”
When they had passed out of the hearing of the Companion Guard, Yolande said, “Last night, the Prince Consort appeared to me by a dream. He gestured to me urgently, beckoning me to draw near. I could see his lips moving in speech, but the sound of words I could not hear, nor could I read the movement of his lips.” The queen hesitated before continuing, “He was in great distress. He has some urgent message for me and has left my heart in anxiety. I must finish the dream.”
“I have always been told that elves do not sleep and dream as the other races do,” Kristryd wondered.
“Not as the other races. We have no need for it, nor do we sleep, as your folk do. But in our own manner, we can walk in a world of trance or meditate upon some sublimity and so escape the grip of this life and its cares for a time,” the queen explained. “In such state, Sehanine sometimes shows us things forgotten from lives we have lived before.”
The queen fell silent, lost in her thoughts.
“I wish I did not need to sleep. I would accomplish twice as much if I could break that habit,” Kristryd jested to lighten the mood. The queen smiled but made no reply. The two of them walked on together a pace among the garden’s scented blossoms that seemed not to know the summer was at an end and winter at hand.
Yolande broke the silence with a sigh, “I will speak to you of a forbidden matter, a great secret of my people, unknown even to many of the olven folk.”
“Her majesty has my confidence,” Kristryd replied.
“There is a place not far hence where the Moonarch of Sehanine appears,” the queen said. “It is a holy place and forbidden by our people. Under certain moons, it opens a portal to other worlds. When Celene waxes full, one who passes through it enters the world of dream and vision.”
“I should not like that,” Kristryd admitted.
“Nay, nor should I,” the queen agreed. “Those who enter are tested. Many never return. Some who do, return in woodness, seers and dreamers of dreams, distrusted and half-mad. Some seek the ‘Leaving.’ Yet there are others who pass the test of dreams and find the answers they seek.”
“Edda is one of the Tested? She has passed through this Moonarch?” Kristryd asked.
“Verily!” the queen said.
“And you, your majesty?” Kristryd asked.
“Nay, never. It is dangerous and strictly forbidden,” the queen said gravely. “But I resolve, let the Seldarine hear it, that I shall pass through the Moonarch when Celene has waxed fully pregnant. I would have you accompany me there.”
“Her majesty honors me,” Kristryd bowed again. “I would come with you wheresoever you desire. But why bring me and not Almerayne? What assistance can I be in matters fey?”
“I dare bring none of my own! Who should know of my sacrilege and folly? My enemies among the houses could wield no better slander than to name me ‘Tested.’ Nay! You, my daughter, must travel with me. Else I go alone! If I then return not, or if I should be touched, who will tell the tale of what became of Yolande?”
“Your majesty, why go at all if the thing is dangerous and forbidden?”
“Why go at all?” the queen mused. “I would know what message love bears me from the halls of Arvandor.” After a moment of further thought, she added, “Moreover, I would know something about the will that blocks my will, the blind that blinds my sight and robs my diviners of insight? How shall I defeat it and avenge my heart?”
Walk to the Moonarch
Propelled by the great wings of Emolasmairim, Kristryd carried her errand to the undermountain kings and returned forthwith to deliver reply to Enstad. The kings did proffer what force they could muster to lift the siege of Luskan, but they promised no certain number nor the hour of salvation. Having accomplished her mission for the time, she besought the queen that they might lay their plans.
“I would have thought the queen travelled by fiery chariot, or upon the back of a unicorn or handsome centaur, or at the very least upon a noble steed like Emolasmairim,” Kristryd remarked.
“Nay,” Yolande wrapped a large and heavy traveler’s cloak about her as she spoke. Under it she strapped her flatchet belt about her hips. “The Fey Queen travels not from Enstad at all. Not by chariot, palanquin, nor by noble steed. She goes by stealth or goes not.”
“Will she not be missed at the height of Needfest?” Kristryd asked.
“I have told my afterlings that I go to the inner chamber of Larethian’s sanctuary. None will seek me there nor disturb me from my meditations.”
“But will we not be recognized by all who meet us on the road?” Kristryd objected.
“Daughter,” Yolande laughed sweetly, “You forget my power. I set my illusory craft upon us. To all eyes that espy us, we shall seem not but two gnomish travelers making way across the hills.”
A warm wind from the east made the night pleasant for walking when the two “gnomish travelers” set off on their quest for the Moonarch. “It never appears precisely in the same place twice,” Yolande explained, “But Sehanine will guide us.”
The companions talked of war and strategy to pass the long miles. They reflected on their vows and the course of the wars, and they spoke with dismay over the power of Urgush and the strength of Hroth. For some of the distance they made their way up the High Road—the Way of Tears on which so many elves had recently fallen. When they looked upon the stones still stained by elvish blood, Yolande grew silent and pensive for a time.
“When an elf dies,” she said, “The spirit leaves the material body behind and ascends to the halls of Arvandor. There she rests, bathing in the pools of radiance and washing away what stains and hurts she has endured in her centuries on Oerth. She may remain in those halls for days, years, or millennia. Then, if she so desires, she returns to be born again into the world as an elf child, to live again, through another life.”
“Do elves remember a previous life?”
“The child remembers in glimpses and visions, but after two or three decades, she experiences ‘the drawing of the veil,’ and the memories fade.”
“What is the point of it if you don’t remember it?” Kristryd asked.
Yolande unexpectedly smiled like the summer sun emerging from clouds, and a keen light shone in her lilac eyes.
Under the Arch
On the eve of Celene’s full waxing, the two cloaked and hooded “gnomish travelers” came upon it. Their path had taken them high into the foothills of the Lortmil Mountains, near the place the Kron Hills spill out to the west. A cold touch of frost bit the night air.
“This is the place then?” Kristryd asked. The Moonarch seemed to her nothing but a broad natural stone arching, such as Ulaa forms often enough when, given time, water carves away the softer sandstone and leaves a ring of harder rock about. At its peak the rock grew narrow, not but a few feet thick, and at its apex was carved the symbol of the full moon of Celene. On the other side of the natural arch a gully climbed into the hills. Nothing about the place indicated any special sanctity or magical property, nor was it evident that it had ever been visited before or hallowed in any manner.
“When Luna rises, I will pass through the arch. Before Celene sets, I will return if I can,” Yolande said. “If I do not return, go back to Enstad and tell Almerayne and Onselvon of Yolande’s folly and what has befallen her.”
In the chill of Fireseek, the women could see their breath take shape on the air. Kristryd wished for a fire to warm her hands and feet, but no trees grew on the rocky hilltop, nor did it seem right to light a blaze in a hallowed place. The shadows grew long as the sun set behind the Lortmils.
Luna’s glow slowly rose over the length of the Krons. The light of the full moon turned the world about them to silver, and the Moonarch seemed to shimmer with blue tint. Yolande lifted herself from where she had sat beside the dwarven princess, touched her dear friend lightly upon the shoulder, and said with simple resignation, “I go.” With that, she stepped through the Moonarch and vanished from sight.
Read the next chapter: Under the Moonarch
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