Alliance for antrim, p.26
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       Alliance for Antrim, p.26

           Thomas Lombard
 

  ***

  With the first light of dawn, Nevin blinked open his eyes and saw two figures standing over him, one to his right and the other to the left, both with swords pointed at his throat. A third figure came into sight, stood over him and spoke in an unusual, high-pitched voice, “Do not move, large one, or you will be dead before your bung leaves the ground.” The figure looked away and quietly ordered, “Wake the others. If they threaten you, kill them.”

  Nevin heard his friends being rousted followed by exclamations of surprise. A brief but noisy struggle ensued from one quarter. The figure standing over Nevin spoke again, this time directing a sharp command over to Orris, “Cease, Armsman! If you fight us, each of the others will lose his head where he lies!”

  Orris quieted and Nevin was allowed to sit up. He saw the camp surrounded by a group of twenty or more men, somewhat taller than Anson but very slender. They were dressed in multi-hued clothing that blended so well with the forest backdrop that some were difficult to see unless they moved. Most brandished a sword that appeared to be made of wood. The band included both males and females; their faces grim with the unmistakable look of veteran guerrillas. The one who shouted orders was dressed similarly but carried a long bow with a quiver of arrows with a short sword belted at the waist.

  Nevin and his companions were crowded together and told to sit with their backs against a large oak tree, surrounded by several guards with drawn swords. Nevin wondered how easy it would be to overpower these fellows carrying wooden swords. The four men were told to sit on the ground and the order-giver introduced himself, “I am Zael, sovereign of this wood. You have entered our domain without invite or permission and most likely for a sinister purpose. Tell me quickly and directly who you are and why you sully elven soil.”

  Anson explained their mission, without mentioning that he was a mage. Zael listened intently and asked several questions. Anson replied with what Nevin knew to be the truth, but the answers did not appear to ease the tension of the situation.

  Zael walked off to the side and spoke with some of his cohorts, then returned to face Anson and the others. “Worad was a friend to us, one of few men I have ever trusted. We know four men beset him and blood was spilled. We think you are the ones who brought harm to Worad and desecrated elven soil. By council we have decided that you must also die.”

  Upon saying that, Zael raised his hand and several of his followers stepped forward with ready swords. At the same time, a least a dozen archers appeared from places located all around them, including some over their heads in trees, but none had been seen until this moment because of their camouflage. At the sight of nocked arrows, Nevin lost the bravado he gained from facing wooden swords.

  Orris spat a curse at them for not allowing him to die fighting. Faldon was too shaken to utter a sound and proceeded to wet his pants. Nevin stood to his full height and stepped in front of his friends, but Anson cut him off. “You are mistaken, Lord Zael!Do not sully your own soil with more wanton deaths.”

  A few of the elves stepped forward grim-faced and poised to wield their weapons, until a look from Zael immediately stopped them. Zael looked over the captives again and shook his head in silent denouncement. As he brought his hand down, apparently as the signal for the archers to shoot, another human voice was heard, “Zael, stop!Stop!”

  A lad who looked to be about fifteen years of age, came staggering toward the group escorted by two Elves. Looking disheveled and distraught, he stumbled up to Zael and fell to his knees, as much out of exhaustion as supplication. Zael looked him over and signaled for some elves to help him stand. He said, “This human boy is Nibo, apprentice to Worad,” announced Zael. “Nibo, tell us what you know about the attack here.”

  One of the elves brought the boy something to drink. As his panting eased, the apprentice spoke, “I was out collecting herbs when it happened. Yesterday morning four men came upon the house and surprised Worad. They covered his mouth so he could cast no spell, then beat him senseless and dragged him off. Before they left they tore through everything, then burned the house.”

  Everyone’s attention focused on the boy. Anson bowed at the news of another lost mage.

  Nibo shook his head vigorously and said, “I am sure these are not the men. Two of the attackers wore red uniforms”

  The stern look on Zael’s face changed only a little as he glanced sidelong at his captors. It was clear he was deciding whether to act despite this new information. Nevin wondered how much this Zael’s obvious dislike of humans would weigh against justice. Four birds in the hand must be tempting quarry for this hunter.

  Turning to Nibo, Zael patted the boy on the shoulder and said with a more kindly tone, “You have done well, lad. Worad told me how pleased he was with you. He would be proud that you came forth to prevent the wrongful death of these men.”

  Four men sighed deeply.

  Zael signaled for the archers to lower their bows, then walked over to his relieved captives. “Elves have no fondness for humans, and I, least of all. Still, we do not wish to slay you wrongfully. You say you are traveling to Sartell to meet with Lucan over his pathetic war with Meire. If this is so, it is a noble cause though it seems doubtful you could succeed. You will be allowed to continue your journey through our Wood provided you bring no harm to any elfkind, our trees, or other creatures in the Wood.” Zael walked over to the wagon and gave it a careful look. “You will have to leave your wagon or send it back. It is too large to travel any further on this route. If you wish, we will care for the horses.”

  Faldon practically leaped forward and said, almost whimpering, that he wished to return, but glanced nervously around not knowing whether to seek permission from Zael or Anson. Zael saw his dilemma and offered to dispatch two elves to accompany the man, assuring him he would return safely to the Public Road with his wagon.

  With that assurance, Faldon quickly insisted he should return without delay and set about hitching up the horses with remarkable speed. Zael advised the others to be on their way as well.

  Once the wagon was ready, Faldon gave a quick wave and wish for luck to his former comrades. With two elves running alongside, he slapped the reins on the horses and set off. The pair of elves seemed to melt into the undergrowth beside the wagon, lost from view long before the wagon was out of sight.

  In the meantime, Anson and Nevin had tied parcels on their backs but Orris was not permitted to strap on his sword. Nevin noticed that the elves seemed to be repulsed by Orris’ sword and moved away as the soldier secured it to his pack.

  Nevin and Orris waited to start out, while Anson was off to the side speaking privately with Zael. With the Elf-lord nodding and pointing to the top of a nearby tree, he called over one of his troupe. A curly headed female quickly responded and handed over a small article to Zael, which he examined and then passed on to Anson. Anson put the article in his pack and waved courteously as he rejoined Nevin and Orris.

  Once the three humans embarked, Zael signaled to his cohorts who disappeared into the forest cover almost instantly. Only Zael remained in view as Anson, Nevin and Orris walked off to the northwest.
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