Chapter 43. Unexpected Encounters
Alexander felt desperate. He really needed to find some game today. He had said goodbye to Aliendre early in the morning and left their little cabin to go hunting. Aliendre had felt so thin under her dress when he hugged her goodbye. The child in her belly seemed to absorb all nourishment from her. She should eat for two but the problem was that they didn’t have enough food for one. Alexander had also lost a few pounds during the winter and the hunger felt like a big hole in his belly. He had never known real hunger before. It was something completely different than what he had called hungry before he had left everything to run away with Aliendre. He had never regretted that choice, but he was worried about Aliendre. She would never admit that the lack of food was a problem though. Both he and Aliendre were quite skilled with the bow but without someone who could track the game it proved difficult to find enough wild animals. He knew that pheasants sometimes made traps but he had never learned how to do it because that was not how people like him were supposed to hunt. In his old life he had only hunted for sport, not to fill an empty belly. His pathetic attempts to make traps had been completely unsuccessful. The horses had barely survived the winter either so he had chosen to hunt on foot instead of risking overstraining the poor creatures. Maybe they should have eaten the horses before, when they had more meat on them but now it was barely worth the trouble as the horses were only skin and bone. He also feared that they would be in even worse trouble without horses.
“Alexander, what a surprise to see you here!”
Alarmed and startled Alexander looked up. The voice had come from above and spoke in Elvish with a different accent than Aliendre. Dark elves were known to hate humans and the Light elves probably didn’t have any warm feelings for him anymore either. The owner of the voice obviously knew who he was so he figured it must be a light elf who hid somewhere up in the trees.
The next minute the owner of the voice dropped down from above, just in front of him. It was not an elf at all; it was that creature that he had released from the dungeons last year. She was heavy with child but that didn’t seem to stop her from climbing trees and jumping down from them.
“Alexander, I’m so pleased to meet you here in the Forest. How are you?” The bow and the words that she spoke with the elves’ language were polite but the laugh on her face made him feel like she was mocking him. Her sharp fangs showed when she smiled and he remembered how she had severed Styrbiorn’s hand with them when she was caught. Styrbiorn couldn’t work as a guard anymore because his hand would never be fully functional again. In addition to the fangs and the horns the creature had a long knife strapped on her leg but Alexander thought that he would have time to put an arrow in her heart if she would come closer.
She didn’t come closer though, instead she seemed to be just as cautious as him about keeping a safe distance between them. But apart from keeping the distance she didn't seem to be afraid of him at all. Instead the smile on her face made him feel that he that he amused her.
“You make a lot of noise when you walk, Alexander”, she said reproachful. “Please tell me why I owe this pleasure to meet you here.”
“Are there more of your kind here?” he asked. Then he realized that he already had the answer considering her condition. Of course there would be more creatures like her in the forest.
“No, I’m all alone in this big forest,” she answered with a mannered sad voice and giggled. “You look much skinnier than when I last saw you.”
The last words made Alexander’s skin crawl. Was she sorry that he was skinnier because there would be less to eat on his body? “Yes there is very little meat left”, he said, “so there is really no point in trying to eat me.”
A wave of disgust mixed with surprise went over her face before she started to giggle, almost hysterically. She looked at him with those yellow eyes that he felt were so hypnotizing and gathered herself enough to reply. “I have already eaten today so I think I will pass, but thank you for telling me,” she said politely and started to giggle again.
“Why did you come to the castle last year? Who are you?” Finally he could ask that question that he should have asked before releasing her. Aliendre had told him about the Forest people but this creature who called herself Roe didn’t make any sense. “You never gave Aliendre a message at all as you said that you would.”
“Maybe I did, kind off,” Roe said and looked thoughtful. “I went to the castle just because I wanted to see how the humans live and I’m a child of the Forest. The real question is, who are you Alexander?” She looked at him as if she was studying some interesting insect before she started to giggle again. “What I really came to ask is how Aliendre is doing. Is she as skinny as you are?” Roe didn’t laugh now but sounded as if she was genuinely concerned.
Something about how she asked the question made him want to tell her everything. It had been so long since he spoke to anyone but Aliendre. “She’s happy but I worry about her because we don’t have enough food to eat.”
The answer seemed to startle Roe. “But,” she hesitated and looked around. “There’s plenty of food everywhere, this is a very generous forest if you treat her with kindness and respect.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Wait here!” It looked like as if it couldn’t be long before her baby would be due but that didn’t seem to affect her at all. Easily she climbed up the tree and disappeared.
Alexander had no intention at all to stay and wait so that she could come back with more of her kind. He started to walk, hoping to find something to put an arrow in.
It was around noon and he still hadn’t found anything to eat when he heard Roe call his name again.
“I told you to wait for me”, she said reproaching, and threw two rabbits and some roots at his feet.
“What is this?” Alexander asked “and why?”
“This is food,” she said with the same tone as if she talked patiently to a child. “I told you that Aliendre is my friend and I don’t want her to be hungry.” She turned around to walk away when she seemed to remember something and turned back. “I almost forgot,” she said. “There is one important thing that I would like to from ask from you. I understand that you are a Prince and that means that you can make decisions about other humans.” She looked at him to see if he would confirm this. Startled he nodded. “Could you please make the humans that have moved into to my forest leave again? They are not kind to her and that makes her less generous to all of us who live here. ” Having said what she wanted the creature who called herself Roe, a child of the forest, turned around and disappeared into the forest.
The food that Roe had given them had been more than welcome. He had eaten very little, hiding some of the food when Aliendre tried to make him eat more. She needed to eat more than he did. He almost hoped that Roe would show up again, with more food even if he realized that it depended on him to find something to eat to keep Aliendre, and the baby that they were expecting, alive. He found a brook and thought that he might have some luck there. Animals needed to drink and if he was lucky he might even catch a fish. How he wished that they had brought a net to catch fish with before they left the castle.
Suddenly he was standing eye to eye with an outlaw. This must be one of the humans that Roe had mentioned. The outlaw was dressed in chainmail and a helmet which was unusual for the outlaws as far as Alexander knew. Another oddity was that this man had a sword strapped at his side but no other weapons, when a bow or a quarterstaff would have been more likely weapons for the outlaws.
Alexander’s muscles were tense as he and the outlaw were watching each other on each side of the brook. He figured that he had an advantage as long as the distance was too long for the sword. If he aimed at the unprotected throat he might have a chance. Alexander cursed himself for leaving his sword at home as he stretched for an arrow.
Chapter 44. Sigrid
Something completely unexpected happened. The outlaw took off his helmet and kneeled. “Your majesty,” he said, with the voice of a young boy. With the helmet off he looked to be a lad of sixteen at the most. The chins were smooth without a trace of a beard. There was something very familiar about those freckles and that red hair.
“Some people believe that you’re dead, your Majesty but I’m pleased to find that they’re wrong.” The happy smile in the eyes of the outlaw surprised Alexander.
The young brigand slowly rose to his feet keeping his eyes steady on Alexander.
“Who are you? I didn’t know that outlaws dwelled this deep in the forest.”
“I’m no outlaw.” The lad snorted and wrinkled his freckled nose. “My name is Sigrid, the blacksmith Frodi’s daughter. I used to work in the castle after my parents died in the fever and then I joined the resistance.”
Of course, this was no lad at all but the girl that used to be a chambermaid in the castle! The same girl who had watched him when he practiced with the sword but with her hair cut short. What was she doing here deep in the forest dressed in chainmail? And what was the resistance? All the questions that rose in Alexander’s head were overshadowed by the fact that he had met the first human he had seen for almost a year and she seemed to be friendly. If he was not mistaken she was even happy to see him.
“Sigrid, can I come over to your side? I would like to talk with you.”
The girl nodded, and watched him carefully as he started to cross the brook that parted them. Cold water filled his worn boots. Alexander tried to keep his eyes on Sigrid’s eyes and sword at the same time as he tried to have control over where he put his feet.
We can sit down there Sigrid said and pointed on fallen tree log. Each step Alexander took made a splashing sound as water poured between his toes.
Alexander sat down and took off his left boot, turned it upside down to pour out the water and repeated the same procedure with the other boot. He would have to walk home with wet feet. Finally he looked up into Sigrid’s brown eyes.
“I still don’t understand what you’re doing so far away from home in the deep of the forest Sigrid. What resistance have you joined? ”
Sigrid straightened her back. “Your majesty, Torfast and me joined the resistance against Jarl Erik. Jarl Erik claims the crown but there are still people defending the castle and her Majesty the Queen. The castle still stands strong,” she made a short pause “or it did when I left. The rest of the kingdom is falling apart and people are suffering.”
Alexander opened his clenched fists and noted the trickling sensation of blood flowing back to his finger tips. He already knew the answer from what Sigrid had said but he still had to ask. “What about my father, the King?”
The gaze filled with sympathy that Sigrid gave him made his throat dry of fear. “Didn’t you know, the King died shortly after you’d disappeared? He was dying already before you left.”
“No!” Alexander shouted. “You lie. He was old but he was not dying when I left.”
Sigrid’s gaze didn’t give way for his anger. She looked steady but sympathetically at him and didn’t recoil. “I’m sorry this must be hard for you. Only the servants and maybe the Queen knew how bad his health was. He didn’t want no one to know and maybe he didn’t really want to accept the inevitable himself.”
“Why did you know and not me, his own son?”
“Because I was no one, like all the other servants.” Sigrid’s voice was matter of fact, without a trace of bitterness. “He didn’t want your enemies to know his weakness and he didn’t want to worry or distract you when you had so much on your mind with the wedding and all.”
She was silent for a long while, allowing Alexander to let the news sink in before she spoke again with a soft voice.
“The kingdom needs you sir. Why did you leave? There were so many rumors about your disappearance but most people believed that you had been murdered by Erik’s people. He married Alde, you know.”
Full of shame he told her the story about how he had escaped with Aliendre, the story about how he had failed his duty and the kingdom. Sigrid was the first human that he had seen for almost a year of isolation from the world. In the forest it didn’t matter that he was royal and she a chambermaid. Here she was a well fed warrior in control of the situation and he a lost hungry soul.
To his surprise the look Sigrid gave him after he had finished his story was not blaming but thoughtful. She had put the helmet back on her head. The warmth and the weight of the chainmail didn’t seem to trouble her at all. The young woman in front of him looked completely different from the little shy chambermaid that he remembered from the castle. Alexander was just about to ask how she could have afforded a chainmail when she started to speak.
“We have to make up a better story than that before you return to claim the crown. It’s all very romantic and all that but we need a story that doesn’t make you look like someone who has run away. We could say that Dark elves kidnapped you and that the Princess of the Light elves rescued you from them. You don’t have to lie or say anything about your disappearance just leave it to me and my fellows to spread this story and you will return as a hero. We’re not many in the forest camp but more are joining all the time and there are a lot of people back home who would join your cause. Erik ain’t very popular among the people but he has powerful allies. Many of the Jarls support his cause, but not all of them. What’s worse is that when he married Alde, King Knut became his ally.”
Alexander noted that there was no servility in her voice when she spoke about the plans and she didn’t ask if he was willing to go back. She spoke like a warlord who was making up a strategy and not like a chambermaid speaking to a lord. Of course Sigrid was right, he had to go back and take care of the mess that he had left behind. But first of all he had to return home to Aliendre before it got dark. He rose from the tree log and Sigrid followed his example.
“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking you this, but if you like I could get you some food from our supplies. We have plenty for the moment and -” she stopped talking and looked awkward.
The mention of food made the whole in Alexander’s belly ache worse than ever.
I think it’s better that I talk to the other fellows before you show yourself to them. We should decide a meeting place so we can keep contact and when the time is right you will be introduced to the fellows in the camp. Then we will march back to claim the crown for you.”
Alexander smiled. He liked the way Sigrid spoke those last words. Everything seemed so straightforward the way she put it. Then his smile faded. He hadn’t told Sigrid about King Eraldor and Queen Eliene of the Light Elves.
Chapter 45. Alex
“’Guess what happened today”, Alexander raised his hand with the packet that Sigrid had wrapped the food she had given him in to show Aliendre.
She smiled at him but there was something that didn’t seem quite right. A used plate was lying at the floor and Aliendre looked strange. “You found some food.” Her voice sounded strained .
“I met a human, a girl from the castle, in the forest,” Alexander said with his eyes focused on Aliendre’s face. Her forehead was moist and if he was not completely mistaken there was fear in her eyes. She didn’t seem to hear what he was saying. Then her face was distorted by pain and she bent forward and Alexander understood.
She met his eyes and he could see the fear he felt mirrored in them. Now was the time to be braver than ever. Aliendre must not know how afraid he really was.
“The baby is coming,” she said. He could tell that she tried to sound brave and confident but she didn’t succeed at all. Aliendre had never even seen a baby in all her life, even less seen a baby being born. Elf babies were a rarity and although Alexander has seen his share of infants he had really no idea at all about the childbirth. All he knew was that both mothers and babies might well die in the process.
He realized that he should have asked Sigrid if they had a woman in the camp that could help them but it was too late now. The fear in Aliendre’s eyes didn’t exactly make him feel any calmer but he had to do what he could to ease her fear.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said trying to sound normal. “The pain is part of the process and not dangerous at all.” At least he knew that much, childbirth was supposed to be painful. That knowledge didn’t make him feel much better though.”
Aliendre’s contraction ceased for a while and he rubbed her back and tried to comfort her. He had never realized the bravery of women before. Was it like this each time a child was born?
The next two hours were the most terrifying two hours of Alexander’s life. He had no idea at all what to expect or what to do and the fact that Aliendre didn’t have any idea either didn’t make him feel better at all. He felt helpless when pain overwhelmed her. Strangely enough she was calmed by his words and seemed to believe that he who was human would know exactly what he was talking about. After all, human babies were born all the time. Bravely she endured the pain and smiled at him. “Soon we will hold our baby in our arms,” she said between the waves of pain. He encouraged her and told her that everything was normal although he had no idea at all of what he was talking about.
When their son rested against Aliendre’s shoulder all the pain and fear was forgotten. He had never seen Aliendre looking more beautiful and surely their son must be the most beautiful and clever child in the world.
“I would like to call him Alex after his father,” Aliendre said.
“ Are you sure? You don’t want him to have an elf name?”
“No, Alex and I are both mortal. I want him to be part of the human world. He is your heir.”
Alexander felt happier than ever. When he played with little Alex everything else seemed so unimportant. “Look, I swear that was a smile. He is such a clever little boy,” Alexander said when he was playing with his son.
Aliendre smiled but didn’t look as happy as he felt. “We have to think about Alex’ future. The news that the girl named Sigrid shared from the human world are worrying and as a mortal Alex cannot be part of the Elven realm.”
“I will not be able to keep up the shield for much longer,” she continued. “My powers are getting weaker for each day and soon enough my father will find us. I am turning mortal and that means that my magic will fade. We cannot stay here another winter especially not with a child to take care of. The horses have grazed and are stronger and both you and I are stronger than we have been for a long time. I think that we should take control of our future before the future takes control over us.”
Reluctantly Alexander had to admit that Aliendre was right. Another winter might well kill them all and he was prepared to do anything to protect little Alex. “Do you have any suggestion,” he said.
“I think that you should leave and join Sigrid and her group. A couple of days after you have left I will remove the shield. I expect that my father and mother will be here very soon after that. Our only hope is that we make them find me and Alex before they find you.”
Alexander bent his head. He couldn’t even imagine how hard it would be to leave Aliendre and his newborn son but Aliendre was right. They didn’t really have much choice if Alex would have a future.
“Promise that I will see you soon again,” he said.
“I promise,” Aliendre answered, but Alexander knew that she also knew that it was not within her power to promise such a thing.
Chapter 46. Estrid and her children
Estrid tried to ignore the gnawing feeling of guilt as she sat down on the bench for a short rest. She was only 34 but felt old. Life had become so hard since two summers ago when her husband Ulf had died. The little wound on his foot had looked so small and innocent. Who could have expected that a rusty nail would be the bane of a strong and healthy man? But seven days later Ulf had started to complain that his jaws felt strange and not long after that the spasms and the fever started. It had been a painful and cruel death. The sorrow still felt so acute and painful. But at least until last spring she had had an almost grown strong son to help her with the farm. At the age of sixteen Brage was already strong as an oxe. But one day he had come home and told her that he was going away to join the rebels in the forest. The next day he was gone. Although Estrid didn’t know how she was supposed to manage the farm with only the help of her fourteen year old daughter and seven year old son she could not help to feel relieved that Brage had gone. Jarl Erik’s men were gathering boys of age for their army. Sometimes they would take girls to. Although a life with rebels didn’t sound ideal, at least Brage was beyond the reach of Jarl Erik. She wouldn’t allow herself to wonder if Brage was still alive and well. Surely a mother would feel in her heart if her child was in danger. Estrid shook her shoulders. The rest had been long enough, she couldn’t allow herself to sit and dwell on her worries when there was so much work to be done. As she rose the ache in her back reminded her that she was getting older from all the hard work. The door swung open and Estrid prepared to scold Ragnhild as so many times before for not open the door gently.
“Mother, there are men dressed in armor coming here.” Estrid could tell that Ragnhild had been running, little Gunnar was at her heals. A chill went down Estrid’s spine. This was not good news. She thought as fast as she could. The men must not see her children. Ragnhild was only fourteen and Gunnar only seven so with some luck they wouldn’t be taken from her but she could not take any risks. You must hide quickly. All possible hiding places went through her head but finally there was only one that would do.
Quickly you must go down under the floor. She pointed to the hatch that led to the small space under the house that they sometimes had used as a storage place.
“No, you cannot treat me like a little child, I refuse to hide.” Ragnhild gave her an obstinate look. Gunnar was quiet and looked thoughtful. Estrid suppressed an impulse to slap Ragnhild’s obstinate face. She had never hit her children but the panic of knowing that armed men were approaching her house made her more impetuous than usual. Ragnhild had been such a sweet girl until recently. Now she defied every word Estrid said and shook off every attempt of affection. “You must, please; they will be here any minute.” The panic made Estrid’s voice high-pitched.
“They are closer now,” Gunnar confirmed. Estrid would have preferred that he wouldn’t have looked out through the window. What if Gunnar was seen?
To Estrid’s relief and surprise Ragnhild shook her shoulders and walked slowly to the corner with the hatch. Without a word she climbed down into the dark and fusty space. Then it was Gunnar’s turn. “Don’t be afraid mum, I’m not,” he said and went after his sister.
With all her strength Estrid draw a chest and the bench over the hatch to hide it as good as she could. She was moving the floor rushes to hide the edges of the hatch when the door swung open and she realized that her children would never be able to get out without her help.
Three men came into her little cottage, making it feel even smaller. It was like they were breathing all the air that was in the house because Estrid felt that it was difficult to get enough air.
“Good day Good wife,” the man in mantle said. He was the most costly dressed of the men and the first to speak so Estrid figured that he must be their leader. We are looking for good young lads that are willing to help Erik’s cause. Estrid knew as the man spoke that his words were false. They would not care if the boys were willing or not. All they needed were young men that would take the first arrows in the battle that everyone was expecting. Brage would rather have fought for the queen but they lived to close to the borders of Erik’s province to have that choice. She knew that Erik had confiscated farms belonging to free man to give them to men that were loyal to him already. Other farms had been burned.
“My son has already moved out to find his own luck in life. I don’t know where he might be now,” she replied, almost truthfully. She didn’t dare to deny that she had a son. These days no one could be trusted and some neighbors might have told these men about her family.
The men started to walk around in her cottage, touching her things, as if they were valuing them.”
“The youth of today,” the leader said, “they never give a thought of their parents just thinking about their own luck. But don’t you have more children than just a son? We heard that you also have another son and a daughter.”
Estrid swallowed and concentrated hard to not look at the hatch under which her children were hiding. “I have a thirteen year old daughter and a six year old boy,” she replied, feeling that is should be safe to take at least one year of their real age. “They went away to collect wood and berries in the forest and I think they may stay the night over at an old widow that we try to help as much as we can.” She hoped that the men wouldn’t ask more about the widow that she just had made up.
The man in leather armor made a gesture with his head towards the torch on her wall and let his eyes rest on the fire place. Estrid’s throat went too dry for words to pass. How could she have made her children hide under the floor?! Hadn’t she heard about farms that had been burnt down by Erik’s men? The leader followed the gaze of the leather armed man and slowly shook his head. “Let’s go out and see what they have found for Erik,” he said.
Estrid followed the men out of the house to find that there were more men outdoors, men that had been gathering her food on a cart. They had even taken the goat and were trying to collect her geese. “What am I supposed to live from?” she couldn’t help herself burst out.
“You should feel honored and happy that you can help Erik’s cause,” the leader said. She thought she heard an undertone of threat in his voice. “Of course, I’m happy to help Erik,” Estrid said and looked down thinking of her children under the hatch.
Finally Erik’s men had taken everything they considered worth taking and left.
Estrid hurried to drag the chest and the bench from the hatch.
If felt so good to see her children again. She embraced Gunnar who melted into her arms. “I was not afraid at all he said,” but his trembling voice gave him away.
To Estrid’s surprise and infinite happiness Raghnild accepted her embrace without reservations. “I love you mother,” Ragnhild said.
Chapter 47. The Dragon
The Dragon, King of the Dark elves, let his eyes sweep over the throne hall. Now in the summer this was a comfortable and cool place, but in the winter the cold would touch the bones. The problem with winter temperature was, however, not only reason that this place had been abandoned for centuries. After the war they had been forced to leave this once magnificent palace and during the following years the location had become uncomfortable close to the growing human settlements. Although spells that would instill fear still kept humans away from this place it was not practical to risk encounters with humans or even worse, Light elves, as soon as anyone would depart from the limited protected area. The Dragon liked to call it a palace although a ruin might be more appropriate. The throne hall still looked impressive enough but there were areas of this old place that could only be entered at the risk of one’s life, and other parts of the palace had been turned into piles of stone since long. The disadvantage of the location was, however, also the reason that he had chosen to temporarily move his court to this place for a short while. The location was a great advantage considering the guest he had within the walls.
Of course“The Dragon” was not the real name of the King of the Dark elves, but this was the title he preferred to be called and the only name he had been called since centuries back. Most of his subjects did not know his real name anymore. Dragons were the most sacred and worshipped of all animals that had ever existed so this was a suitable title for the King of the Dark elves. Today only the sacred bones of the dragons remained, they had all died even before the elves came to this world.
From a distance the court looked impressive enough. But he also knew that most of the nice dresses and tunics would show signs of wear at a closer look. After the war against the Light elves the Dark elf realm had declined, both in population and prosperity. The Dragon had, however, never given up the hope of revenge and the hope to once restore the Dark elf realm to its former splendor. Unexpectedly, the subjects Orm and Ondina had stumbled over a chance to damage the Light elf realm much deeper than the Dragon would have ever hoped to do within a foreseeable time.
The Dragon let his eyes rest on Lady Ondina and Lord Orm. The potion masters had never been any remarkable members of the realm but now their wit was acknowledged by everyone and they had been generously rewarded. When they had come to him to tell what they had done, the Dragon had first found it difficult to believe that such insignificant subjects could have done this. But the young and mighty Princess Aliendre had disappeared and the news about the disappearance of the human crown prince also soon reached the Dark elf realm. Of course Ondina and Orm could not return to their former home. It had always been a risky place to live, a place where one would always risk encountering light elves in the forest. Ondina and Orm, Lady Ondina and Lord Orm now, the Dragon corrected his own thoughts, had chosen to live in that place so distant from other Dark elves because of all the herbs that grew in the forests there. After Aliendre’s disappearance light elves were everywhere in the forests on the search of the lost princess. Therefore it would not have been wise of Orm and Ondina to return to their former home. Instead they had become potion masters at the court.
A movement further down in the hall made the Dragon stretch his already straight back. He felt how one of his brows rose and for once he had to make an effort to suppress all expressions from his face when he saw the human for the first time.
”My Lord, my I introduce the human Lord Erik,” Indindra’s voice was clear and steady but there was an undertone of excitement there. Everyone had gathered in the throne hall to have a look at the human and his first meeting with the Dragon.
“Lord Erik, this is the Dragon.”
The human bowed in the elven fashion. He looked calm and relaxed but the Dragon had been told that he had been everything else than calm before.
The Dragon did not bow or even nod his head, it would have been far beyond his dignity to give such an acknowledgement to a human although in fact he desperately wanted to make an impression that the human would never forget. “I hope your visit here is to your satisfaction. You are our guest and I have ordered that no efforts should be spared to make you comfortable.” The interpreter translated the Dragon’s word to the human’s ugly language.
Erik bowed again. “I have been very well treated My Lord except that I’m not used to be kidnapped by armed men and women and locked into a room when I’m invited as a guest.”
When the human’s words had been translated, The Dragon didn’t know if he should be amused or furious about this insolent answer. This was not how to speak to the King of the Dark elves. Then he remembered that Erik had been brought here because the Dragon wanted something from him so he chose to be amused.
It hadn’t been easy to capture this human. After weeks of planning and finding out which human to take, it took even more time to locate him and to find the right opportunity. Finally Lord Erik had made the mistake to go riding on his own and the warriors had taken their chance. Two warriors had been hurt, one so bad that it first had been unclear if he would survive. If anyone had believed that humans were weak and poor fighters Lord Erik had proved them to be very wrong. But a cloth drenched in a sedative had put an end to all his resistance.
Lord Erik had been very upset about being their guest. But after some persuasion he had finally accepted that it would be better to cooperate. Of course, looking back it might have been better if someone who could speak the human language had been there when they caught Erik.
The Dragon was satisfied to note that Erik had been given a black tunic instead of his own dirty and tasteless brightly colored clothes. He had also been made more presentable with khol painted around his eyes, but there was something that didn’t make sense.
“I see that you still have hair in your face, did the servants fail in their service?”
A childish smile spread over Erik’s face. Humans really had no control at all over their face. They were like small children, always moving some part of their body and showing their feelings openly without control. Could he never stop blinking, the continuous blinking was starting to get very enervating.
“I was very well treated by your lovely ladies and offered a shaving in the bathing hall. But you see, human ladies love a masculine beard and I would not very much like to part from mine. I had it trimmed though, doesn’t it look good?” Erik stroke his beard and laughed. Some of the ladies in the hall also smiled. It was as if Erik’s uncontrolled behavior was contagious.
The Dragon grunted. “You are our guest because we could help each other. I understand that your ambition is to take the crown in the human realm but that there is some resistance to your claim. We are willing to help you with armed warriors.”
Erik looked suspicious when the offer was translated.”Why would you risk the lives of elves to help my cause?”
“Many years before all living humans were born the ancestor or of your prince, Alexander, helped the Light elves in the war against us. If it had not been for their help the outcome of the war might have been very different. Our lives are long and so is our memory. I want revenge on the humans who once helped the Light elves.”
“What do you expect from me after you have helped me to take the crown? Do you know anything about Alexander’s disappearance?”
Although a war in which the Light elves would be defeated and humiliated was a future the Dragon could easily see he could not expect the human to share this dream. “I have heard rumors saying you are behind the disappearance of your cousin.” The Dragon stretched the corners of his mouth to something that could resemble a smile. “However, from what I know about the reasons for Alexander’s disappearance the Light elves are not friends of humans anymore.”
Erik’s face showed obvious signs of surprise when he heard this. It was as if he didn’t even tried to hide his feelings. Obviously he did not know anything about Alexander and Aliendre “So you do know what has happened to Alexander?”
“You can forget about Alexander now. After you have taken the throne we expect you and your kingdom to be our allies.”
“I think my chances are good already. Why would I need the help of Dark elves when my wife’s father and brothers are my allies?”
The Dragon took a deep breath to calm his anger. He had to admit that this human was brave if nothing else. “First of all you need to come back to your home to take the crown.” When these words had been translated the Dragon could see how Lord Erik’s yaws and fists tightened. “If the crown was so easy to take why is it not yours already? As I understand there are other candidates who could be chosen and not everyone is in favor of you.” It had taken months of reconnaissance to gather all this information but now it seemed to have been worth the effort.
Erik bowed.“You are right. Of course the help of Dark elves would be very valuable. Excuse me if I have seemed ungrateful but it was unexpected to be offered such a valuable gift. I accept your offer and hope that we can start to plan our strategy as soon as possible.”
“We will talk more this evening. Now I have other urgent businesses to take care off.”Of course there were no urgent businesses to take care off but it could not hurt to give Erik the impression that he was not important at all for the Dark elves. In fact all dreams and plans the Dragon had made the last months had involved this human and his role in the beginning of the new age for the Dark elf realm. One of the major differences between Dark elves and Light elves had been the matter of the humans. The Dark elves had advocated that humans should be destroyed while the Light elves had advocated that elves should aim for friendship with the humans for mutual benefit. But what benefit could humans be to elve? They multiplied in an appalling speed and continuously spread their settlements into new areas. But there was one thing that humans could do for the elves, one thing that King Eraldor but not the Dragon had realized and that had been the end of the Dark elves dream to rule the elven realm. The human king had appreciated the friendship with the Light elves so much that he had come to their help in the war. The humans were numerous and the Dragon soon realized that his second mistake had been to underestimate their ability as fighters.
The Dragon dreamed with his eyes wide open. He was patient but once the humans were in his debt they would help him to defeat the Light elves. When the Light elves were defeated there would be no one who could defend the humans from the Dark elves. Maybe eradicating the humans would be a mistake. They were strong and numerous while the elves were few. Some of the humans could be saved and used as slaves for the elves. The Dark elf realm would soon be stronger than ever.