The Night Before the Trials
Snow started to fall in the afternoon, smothering the landscape in white.
Aedric and Darron had spent the afternoon walking through the woods around the commons discussing the earlier council meeting. They had no other chores or responsibilities that day, as those who were to take the Trials where given a day to rest or prepare. Instead, Aedric had been stuck answering his friends repeated questions about every minute detail of the meeting.
Darron’s large fur covered boots sunk into the deepening snow. He turned dramatically and his cloak billowed out around him. “So do you think they would actually fight the men if they saw them?” His eyes were unfocused and gazing far away, his mind on some heroic adventure.
Aedric leaned against a nearby tree, its sweet smelling bark distracting him from his friend’s fanciful imagination. They had played often when they were younger, running through the forests pretending that they were great warriors of the Moredel, fighting the men and pushing them back to their own lands. They had built forts and kept watch on the trails to make sure that no invaders from the south could sneak up and attack the clan.
After this afternoon, he felt those childhood games happened a lifetime ago. He tried not to think of what it must really be like to face another in battle, to see his own clan and family confront another like the Laindan.
“We have enough to worry about ourselves in the next few days. Also, that is for the council to contemplate. I would not want to be part of that fight, on either side.”
Darron laughed, “Come on, you wouldn’t like to have some adventure in our lives. Something more than snow and farms, to go and be a part of something larger, something of legend? To leave our lands and see others places? I have heard that deep in the south there are deserts, lands with no water in any direction. Places on the ocean in which there is never snow and rarely even rain?”
Darron continued to vocalize his dreams for the next few hours, while they headed to Aedric’s home seeking shelter from the still falling snow. A few hours later, leaving the warm shelter of the house, they trudged up the familiar paths to the meeting hall to take part in the dinner feast. The snow was still falling strong, in thick sheets of white which made it hard for them to see even a few feet in front of them. The day was already waning, the dim sun falling behind the mountains to the west leaving everything a pale blue. The lamp lights that hung around the meeting hall had appeared as ghostly yellow apparitions at the top of the path.
Darron was still talking, “So maybe we will get to see this boogey man from the Laindan Clan. Or maybe he will be out drinking the blood of our goats. Isn’t that what the halfmen do?”
Aedric started to get angry, “Wait until you see him. There is something unnatural about him. I am not saying he is some sort of…”
A dark figure appeared directly in front of the two young elves, the snow having hidden its approach. Aedric gave a quick yelp, and reached down for his knife. The figure took more shape and in the dim light Aedric could make out a brown and yellow scarf, and Sa’Yann’s gleeful eyes above it.
“Well aren’t you two on edge.” Her words betrayed her amusement. She glanced over at Darron and Aedric followed her eyes. Darron stood with his legs wide apart and partly crouched. His right hand held his knife, fully drawn, and poised behind him ready to strike.
Aedric laughed, “Well, Darron is just ready for the boogey man to attack. Or maybe he is just getting ready to protect our clan’s goats.”
Darron was about to retort when Sa’Yann interrupted him.
“Well you two are quite late for the evening meal.” Her voice serious now, taking on her normal role of keeping the both of them in line and responsible. “You two are the only Ul’Faer starting the Trials tomorrow, and it is viewed as a tradition for the clan to wish you luck at the feast the night before. Not to mention Clan Laindan is here sharing the meal with us, and it is expected that all of the warrior class be there to share the meal.”
She looked at Aedric as she spoke, her eyes rarely glancing at Darron. She had often told Darron that his constant mischief and disrespect for clan rules would lead to problems. But she had some hope for Aedric, or at least that is what she often told him. Her eyes flickered to Darron then back to Aedric. “It’s time to go.”
She spun and headed back to the hall without waiting for them. Her cloak billowed out behind her as the falling snow began to blur her shape. Aedric glanced over at Darron and with a smile started walking quickly to catch up with her.
As they entered the long building the smell of freshly cooked food struck Aedric’s senses. He realized that with all the excitement today his last meal had been the small bit of stew he had eaten this morning. Sa’Yann slipped out of her cloak and pulled her scarf down. Without her scarf hiding her face, anyone could see that she was easily one of the most beautiful women in the tribe. Her fair skin was framed by her dark wavy hair and her matching dark eyes always seemed to have a sparkle to them. She had thin lips, which almost always looked like they were beginning to smile. She caught Aedric staring at her and his face turned red and he looked away. Her lips were definitely upturned into a smile now. “Well, let’s get some drinks, I think I can smell the warm cider from here.”
Darron had his cloak and mask off already and was surveying the room. His eyes narrowed as he found what he was looking for, “Forget the cider, I see some warm mead with my name on it!”
Aedric watched as both of his companions headed towards the kegs as he hung his cloak on the wall. He slowly pulled down his mask, it seeming an odd gesture after all the events of the day. No others wore their masks now. With the ceremony of Welcoming haven taken place, as well as the council meeting, the clans could talk and mingle freely with one another. Glancing around the room, Aedric noting that the Laindan Clan members had a slightly different look than his clan, higher cheek bones and thinner eyes seemed to be an almost universal trait. He also scanned the crowd for the pale red eyed elf. To his relief he did not see him.
Making his way across the room, he was stopped several times by members of both clans to wish him luck on the Trials. He thanked them for their thoughts and continued, looking for a place to blend in so he could avoid anymore attention. Unlike Darron, Aedric disliked undue recognition and preferred more to watch and listen than to participate. Which is why he often saw things that Darron never even began to notice.
Having made his way to the kegs, Aedric walked up to Sa’Yann and poured himself a mug of cider, then turned to her. She was talking to two Laindan men, who from the look on their faces were in a contest to impress her. Aedric listened idly as they spoke of fighting monstrous bears in the northern tundra and how one of them had even once seen and helped slay a mountain troll. He glanced at Sa’Yann and was relieved to she her lips turned up slightly. She glanced to Aedric with amusement in her eyes as she listened to the boisterous warriors. Aedric felt relieved; at least she was not falling for their advances. A quick scan through the room and Aedric found Darron, who was speaking to a Laindan woman, waving his arms around wildly in illustration to the grand tale he was telling. Though names and territories may divide them, Aedric mused to himself that the two clans were not too different after all.
After a few more outlandish stories, the Laindan warriors appeared to give up on impressing Sa’Yann and walked off. She turned to Aedric with a smile, and Aedric felt a fluttering in his chest. He wondered for a moment if she could read his reaction and felt the blood rush to his cheeks. He had always looked to her as a friend, but lately he had noticed other things. Such as the way her hips moved as she crossed a room, or the way her eyes seemed to shine when she listened to him telling stories. As he noticed these things, he also became more aware of his own actions and his seeming ability to always say or do the most embarrassing things.
The corner of her mouth curved up a bit more as if she really could read Aedric’s mind. But then mercifully did not mention it. “So are you ready to start the Trials tomorrow?”
Relieved to think of something else, even if it was the Trials, Aedric let out an inaudible sigh. “I think I have everything ready. At least, as much as I can foresee to need.”
“Well you just have to remember to keep your senses about you. Surviving in this environment, especially with the hard snow we got today, will be a challenge on its own.”
Aedric paused for a moment. The Trials had been in the forefront of his mind for the past few days, but only as a ghostly insubstantial fear, not something real. Now it struck him that he was going to have to spend days out among the wilds. It was not that he was unprepared or untrained for this. All Moredel, even the farmers, spent their youth learning to make their way in the wilderness. His mother and father had often taken him out, showing him how to find shelter, how to build a fire, and how to track and hunt. Plus, he had never heard of a clan member being harmed or lost during the Trials, but there was always that danger. For the clans the Trials were a time that the young adult could spend creating a bond with the land as well as themselves. During the Trial the initiate clan member searched their souls to find a path to their destiny. Some came back having experienced dream visions, while others came back with no strange tales, but instead a quiet resolve to do their part for the tribe.
Darron appeared next to Sa’Yann, brandishing a half empty mug and a full smile, “You have nothing to worry about. We are tough little lads Sa’Yann, we will make it through ok. Of course advice from an elder like yourself is always welcome.” His face split into an even wider grin. Sa’Yann shot him a look, trying to look serious for a moment, then her own smile lit up her face. Aedric wished he could be as confident as Darron, he always seemed to say the right things, well at least among friends. He was always getting in trouble with the council, and his silver tongue never helped him out when that happened.
“A moment of everyone’s attention please!” A loud voice rose up over the din of the room. Aedric turned to see Andrian standing on a wooden chair near the hearth. He held a mug in his hand and had a broad smile on his face. Despite his apparent cheerfulness, he still looked dangerous as he towered over the others, the jewels on his doublet sparkling in the firelight. “I wanted to thank our brothers and sisters of the Ul’Faer clan. You have shown us a grand welcome and great hospitality. We will only be imposing this one night then we must move on southward in search of our new home, so I wanted to take this moment to thank all of you. May you continue to show the pride and strength of the great wolf in which you are named after. May our clans look to each other as allies and friends, both in joy and in hardship. May we give each other hope for the future. And hope for our kind.” He paused for a moment and stared about the room, his eyes demanding attention and respect. “May our spirits once more dance among the stars, and that we may find again the home that will cause our hearts to sing and rejoice.”
The people of both clans clapped their hands, including Aedric who was clapping loudly, caught up in the spirit of the moment. He was glancing around the room, a grin on his face when he saw him. The one with the strange eyes. He was staring straight at Aedric, his pupils dark and penetrating. He was clapping, his mouth twisted in a smile revealing extremely white teeth. Aedric shuddered. The look in the elf’s eyes had a predatory look, like a starving wolf in a sheep pen. Aedric turned to Sa’Yann and Darron as the applause died down.
“There he is, that Landain that gives me the creeps.” Both his companions looked in the direction he indicated without comment. The Laindan returned their stares for a moment then turned and started to speak to a younger elf who stood next to him.
Darron shifted uncomfortably, his smile gone, “You are right, I don’t like the look of him at all.”
As they watched, the Laindan motioned towards the door and he began to walk towards it followed by the younger elf. Aedric did not recognize the younger one, and judging from his slim eyes, would guess that he belonged to the Laindan Clan. The two Laindans put on their cloaks and headed outside with a flurry of snow as the door shut.
Aedric and his companions had watched the two leave, and once they were outside and the door closed Darron was the first to recover his tongue. “Let’s follow them.” His eyes full of the normal mischief. “What could they be doing going out during the feast. I bet they are up to no good.”
“Darron Ul’Faer, you are the one who is always up to no good.” Sa’Yann was glaring down at him. “These are our guests, and though I do not like the look of that Laindan, it gives us no right to follow him into the night. If you do something that threatens the peace between our clans…”
Aedric stepped in, “No, I think we should. I think we need to see what he is doing. There something more than just the way he looks. There is something unnatural, something that is wrong about him.”
Darron beamed, and Sa’Yann’s face grew more serious. “Fine then. But you two are on your own. I will have nothing to do with this foolishness.” She then turned her back and walked off into the crowd.
“Well then, lets go.” Darron was almost bouncing with excitement as he headed towards the door.
Aedric paused for a moment, then turned and followed his friend.
Under the Light of Two Moons