Tales From the Fire:
The One Between the Winds

Part 2

It was early morning and a heavy fog sat in a quiet wood. Dense as a cloud, the fog meandered through thickets and over footpaths like the frayed ends of a white and billowy dress. And like a cloud the fog was not idle, but moved as one tall and gentle stream. To pass through it would wet your skin and the flora of the wood was pregnant with dew.

The wood was known as Redgrove, for though the trees were neither the oldest nor the youngest on Kingsreach, they alone had leaves colored with deep crimson and a white, peeling bark. Those leaves were red not from an autumn that comes and goes as a herald of winter, but an autumn that never ends. For this is the ever autumn of Faerthale, home of the Elves of the fabled Lucent Tree, once of the planet S’iolaen and now of Terminus. The creatures of Redgrove were known as Wanderbeasts, a term that describes the group fairly but did not suit any single creature altogether well. Here roamed the small drolings and the tall gaelu, winged foxes (called enfields) and on occasion a brazen Fae. Even a pair of Spriggan dwelt herein, though none would confuse their kind for a mere wanderbeast. None of these creatures were particularly evil and a few were quite good, yet all saw the fog as a comforting curtain of night.

The mist continued its sprawl up the incline of Redgrove, gathering in a hem at the shoreline of a lake called the Pool of Morning. The fog hugged the water in a perfect curve, as if it were the arched spine of a slumbering feminine form. This quirk of nature is called the Maiden of Morning, and clouds of mist hung above the water’s surface like tangles of the Maiden’s unkempt hair. Her breathing mirrored the far away sounds of the two waterfalls that fed into the Pool from the opposite side. Frozen gusts of air fell from the Roan mountains high above the falls, creating a foundry of mist that birthed the Maiden, the fog and the climate of Redgrove itself. In the moments before dawn the Maiden slept most peacefully.

At the far end of Redgrove stood a temple built upon a broken piece of mountain, known as the Adytum of Aellos. (Also called “the Dawn Approaching”, Aellos is a giver of prophecy, said to be the first who sees Tollaem in his darkness unknown.) Upon the Adytum the rays of Siros, sun of Terminus, would first fall. At dawnlight the temple’s marble columns burn as heralds for the coming morn. For the Roan mountains make the rising sun difficult to observe, and the light upon the Adytum signaled for all that day was at hand. Swift rays of sunlight ate at the garment of fog gathered at the base of the temple summit. Soon Redgrove’s brilliant colors were being revealed beneath the fading mist. The heat of Siros made the vapors of forest fog leap like dancers put to flight. Each seem to hide in the the face of a fallen red leaf, with only a kiss of dew left on their crimson lips.

On a cliff pass high in the Roan mountains, a silhouette watched the valley turn from night to day. The wind kicked at the edges of his cloak, mocking his stillness with taunts of what lay ahead. The wind barked at him with anger, spitting snow from a throat of ice and stone. He turned his face toward it without expression. This bluff marked the start of the Floor of Heavens, an Elvish name meant to describe heights so great they reached, “the foyer of the celestial realm”. Peeking plateaus such as this one were like balconies in the stars, some even used as holy sites for the Elves nearly a thousand years ago. Still this trail could lead all the way to the frozen heart of the Roans if one so desired to take it. The figure would not do so. His quarry was nearer at hand, and under a different sort of frost.

His name was Saevyn. He was not fond of the cold but his teeth did not chatter. He had been to the Floor before, though not for many years, and could still recall the cracks in each boulder like the scars on a looming giant’s body. He remembered how the wind caused specks of ice to cut at his eyes, how preferable the ice was to the blade-like stones it threw farther up the mountain. Saevyn was an Ashen Elf and often served as envoy on matters of state for the Anadem Council. His habits of study and skills of memory garnered him a reputation in courts beyond Faerthale, and his ability to discern the truth in a moment put even his friends on edge. Saevyn was also something of a wizard, though he considered that reputation of secondary importance.

Beneath a hood, Saevyn’ hair was several shades of grey, twisting in three separate braids that fell below his waist. His face did not look old despite the grey, though his eyes reflected a life of many years. His skin was pale but not sickly, and below the center of each eye was a vertical line of symbols, cresting unevenly over each cheek. Across his back was a rod wrapped in unimpressive cloth, the head wider than the body. His cloak was dark slate, woven from countless threads but without bulk. It had no ornamentation save for silver clasps that fastened up the left side of his chest. Upon the back of each hand were similar markings to those under his eyes, though these were interwoven with what looked like writings or scripture. On his feet were leather boots, oddly brown, the only piece of clothing that suggested he took the dreadful cold seriously.

The boots were sunk in a blanket of frozen fog that rolled slowly over the cliff’s edge. Saevyn spoke a word, or rather sang it, and there appeared between his thumb and pointer something of a quill pen. Yet the quill was not a bird’s feather, but instead an insect’s prismatic wing. With this tool he drew invisible lines in the air and there appeared glowing lavender lines in the sheet of frozen fog at his feet, matching stroke for stroke.

As Saevyn drew he repeated the single-word song several times over, though it seemed to be out of enjoyment and not to manifest more of the insect quills. Though his pace of verse was slow with whimsy, his pen was decisive and swift.

“Rrro-pah-loe, rrro-pah-loe…”

In a flurry he finished the wings: wide and sharp-edged, with crystalline veins. Saevyn waved his hand, the pen erasing itself in a moment. He knelt and slid bare fingers beneath the snow, cupping the drawing as if it were alive and lifting it from the sheet of fog. From a hidden pocket he produced a handful of shimmering stones, each small as a pebble. He chose one that was red and intricate, looking more like living tissue than a hard gem. Saevyn slid the stone into the thin body of snow with great care, tenderly smoothing over the wound. The light from his art was fading, helpless as a flower in the snow. He brought his face very near to the drawing.

“Now,” he whispered, “you come with me.”

The red from the stone mixed with the lavender light, pulsing in a soft rhythm. At once the wings of the drawing stirred like they were waking from a long sleep. With beats slow and then furious, it struggled to break free. Suddenly it was not a drawing at all but a creature fully formed, the lavender lines cradling its snow-born body. Saevyn stood tall just as the delicate wings of the creature started to flutter and lift out of the snow, the left sticking a moment more than the right. When it left his palm, Saevyn blew the remaining snow in his hand at the weak beauty like a gust from the mighty mountains. The creature struggle to regain control, rising and falling with the greater wind. For a moment it appeared to lose, soaring dangerously close to the cliff’s abyss. Yet Saevyn’ did not move a hair as it fell, though his eye did not falter from its flight.

The creature gained control and soon flew stable, circling Saevyn once in a slow, victorious glide. It perched on his right shoulder. Saevyn did not smile, though the creature’s settling feet seemed to satisfy his aims. The wind was whispering to him now, calming itself with invitation and promise. There were no barks, no biting grains of ice -- the mountain was hiding its face behind its glacial beauty. Saevyn knew better and set the creature in a small box of leather that was nestled in the skirt of his cloak. He kept the lid open for the little pet and pressed on into the rising winds.

Yet as Saevyn ascended his preoccupation with the mountain itself seemed to diminish with each step. The wind could howl, he thought, but it was only ever the wind. The purpose of his journey began to assert itself over physical concerns, and it weighed on his mind like snow gathering on a roof.

Saevyn was headed to the White Gate, a neglected outpost town that was once the Elves first home on Terminus. It was the first expression of Elven craftsmanship this world had ever seen, it ought to have been as sacred as a relic, Saevyn thought. But that was nearly a thousand years past. The fortress-like walls had endured centuries of abuse by the Roans and abandonment by its builders. Many structures in this world were called ancient yet were truly not so old. Others were of great age and yet retained their glory. The White Gate was somewhere between ancient and merely old, yet looked as though it was born of an age long before the Elves. Saevyn had considered why this inaugural feature of Elven history had been permitted to wither so. It seemed an anomaly to their culture, an unwell kin who received no treatment. It was not uncommon to see a Human dwelling or town crumble even if it was being lived in (or slept in). Their work was inferior to that of Elves, as was often their ethic.

In the last decade the dormancy of the White Gate began to bear a cost. Over the dead body of the town came Gorian mad men, pale raiders who often fought in the frost capped mountains without so much as an animal skin on their shoulders. In their wake were Colossi, towering beasts of stone and magic, rivals of the mighty Elvonnen giants. Therefore the White Gate was brought back up to a defensible standard and control over the outpost was given to a band of Ember Elves known as Dythiir’s Hand. Since that time infiltration at the White Gate had ceased and may even have been reversed, though there was concern from the Council about the zeal of such counterattacks. Greater foes lay beyond the walls in the belly of the Rons, it would be a shame to provoke them.

Yet those foes were not Saevyn’s concern. Though he did often serve in the capacity of envoy for the Anadem Council, diplomacy with bloodthirsty axemen was not where his strengths lay. He excelled in the dispassionate quarrels of government, though he had no special love for it. He saw his gifts as tools for the Council, Elvenkind, and above all else the preservation of the Lucent Tree. But on this journey he bore no official tidings or permissions, in fact he hoped to forestall action by the Council. This mission lay at the intersection of his skills and his heart, a place more chilling than any towering mountain or band of half-nude warriors.

Saevyn had not gone far when he froze as soon as his foot his the ground. In an instant a great burst of power rippled through his whole body. His vision went dark and his frame shook as if a hand had gripped the bones through his flesh and struck his sternum with the force of an battle hammer. His breath left him with the blow, yet there was no enemy near to him. There was nothing at all.

“Why here?” he whispered between gasps. “Why now?”

Saevyn took several steps back to steady himself, nearly falling to one knee. His breathing was sharp but beginning to steady, though his vision took time to return.

Saevyn reached around his right side to feel for the tightly wrapped staff. It was still there, secure as ever, aligned with his spine. He squinted at the rocks around him for a sign of movement and listened for a disturbance of flight, but the air was still. Last of all he reached a hand inside his cloak and felt about his neck. He steadied himself against a marbled boulder and finally caught his breath.

Saevyn then glanced back down the frozen trail, the relative warmth of the valley finding a voice of its own, beckoning him. He thought of how the mountain breeze would be a fine companion on a return trek, and how long it would otherwise be before he would glimpse the Lucent Tree again. His dwelling was stocked with fresh herbs and spices, scrolls and grain wine. They might spoil before he returned. Before long Siros would retire, drawing the curtain of night back over Faerthale. The Maiden of Morning would wait by the Pool ‘til she was strong enough to walk among the high grass and crimson leaves of Redgrove. At last she would slumber next to the water’s edge.

Saevyn looked at the small leather box with his creature in it. It was still, so still it must be resting, he thought. He fastened the lid ever so gently and looked north, turning his back to the valley once more. There would be no way through this except into the mountains, or off a cliff.