We're officially out of Lythia and in the borderlands! The official border between Lythia and the Dwarven kingdom of Paladine is the Blackwater river, but in the last battles of the war between Gods, Humans and Dwarves have been on poor terms. The borders were pulled back fifty miles in both directions, which seems a little severe to me. The towns in the middle, along the river, were pretty much abandoned by their governments. Lythia encouraged the river-folk to move inland, but mostly they stayed where they were. Lythia didn't use its military to force the issue, probably fearing the Dwarven response to such a troop build up. They'd have said they were converting the river towns to military bases, and they'd do the same, and the situation would have only led to war. So the people carry on much as they were, but I noticed when we were traveling today that Dad kept a crossbow next to him in the front seat. Bandits and monsters are more common in the borderlands, which has no armies except for whatever small militias the towns can throw together. The crossbow's old, but well made. It's ironwood inlaid with mithril. The weapon itself is worth a fortune. It belonged to my grandfather. Grandpa was a warrior, but my father isn't. I don't even know if my father knows how to use a cross bow. It might break to pieces if he pulled the trigger. It has to be at least a hundred years old, after all. I remember sitting on his knee when Grandpa told me the story of how he found it.
“I remember we were traveling, and it was just the three of us. It was me, Glorianna Boflin, who was still Glorianna Bywater at the time, and a traveling elven cleric who went by the common name of Rose Goodwind. This was just after that damn clever idiot Bindle Took got himself stuck on a kobold's falling log trap that he was “totally sure” was disarmed. Glorianna and he were originally to be wed, but after he died, things were never the same between them. The three of us had been founding members of the Traveler's Guild, as we called ourselves, so we were honor bound to get him raised. The problem, of course is that a resserection costs more money than most people see in a lifetime, hells, in ten lifetimes. Since our encounter with the kobolds of Blackhill forrest ended so disasterously, we were light on treasure. We didn't have long, either. You can only raise someone if their remains are whole. If he was buried, we'd never be able to get it done. So we went out looking for adventure, and one landed far too conveniently in our laps. For the next three nights, we hit every lead we could. Nothing really panned out. There were a lot of reward offers, but nothing serious, and nothing that would bring us the money in time. We needed a sure thing, and that's what Rose was. Or that's what she seemed to be. Never count on something to good to be true. Because...” He had paused there, for effect. I piped up with my eight-year old voice.
“Itsnot!” I shouted, and giggled. He looked down and smiled. It was a familiar sequence. I'm sure my mother was looking in from another room with disaproval. She always did. She didn't think Grandfather's stories were 'appropriate for a young lady.' She said they gave me 'ideas.' I admit she was right. His stories ignited lit a fire in me that hasn't gone out to this day. He made me want to see the world, even if it was full of danger. His stories are the real reason I agreed with this plan of my grandmother's. Someday, I'll be a real mage, and I'll go fight monsters and win treasure, just like my grandfather.
“That's right. But let me tell you about our poor, hunted heroine before we get to the twist. Rose was, as I said, an elf maid. She was in fact a Wood Elf, a tribe less flighty austere and serene than their magician cousins the High Elves. Wood Elves keep involved in the world, and patrol their forrest homes looking for poachers. It seems that another band of nasty elves, Dark Elves by nature, had crept into her forests, and it was more than her folks could handle. So she had made the dangerous journey to the city to seek help, or so she said. She found us.”
“Grandpa, what's a dark elf?” I asked. This was also part of the story, part of the ritual of the story. He'd pause every time he got to a new place, or a new monster or such thing so that he could explain it, leaving no creepy or horrible detail out. Most children think there are monsters under their bed. I was probably the only six-year old girl in Hydraal convinced there was a terrasque hiding in the shadows at bedtime.
“Oh, Dark Elves are the nastiest, most cunning, and most evil of all the kinds of elf there are. Nobody else knows for sure where they came from, but legends say that in the Golden Age, the First Age, Elves loved the sky, and they loved most of all the stars. Most tribes of elves were faithful and unwavering in their duty to the old gods, but not the dark elves. So they were punished, and sent to the Underdark for their sins. The old gods made it so that they couldn't stand the light of the sun, the moon, or the stars. To this day, the dark elves appear only on dark, moonless nights, rising from their hidden homes beneath the earth to spread fear and missery, and to take revenge against the other elves.”
“Is that what they did to Rose?”
“Something like that. The Dark Elves had stormed into her little wood, casting evil magic and blotting out the sun. She didn't know if any of the others of party escaped. She was worried they would go back to her village. Rose was the chaplain for a group of patrolmen who protected the Ironwood Forests from loggers and poachers. Her settlement did its own share of strategic cutting and gathering, though. Do you know about ironwood?” He asked me, holding up the the polished stock of the crossbow.
“It's strong?” I guessed.
“That's right. Ironwood is as hard as stone, and just as heavy. You need special tools just to cut it. The thing about an ironwood tree is that it only lives about a third as long as a regular tree. The Ironwood only grows to about twenty feet tall.”
“Why's that, Grandpa?”
“Well, it's too heavy for its own good, my little darkmantle. It can't spread it's branches as far, or as tall, or else it topples under its own weight. The Wood Elves made a nice living gathering the fallen branches and trees and carving them. An Ironwood log is as strong and heavy as a steel bar. But we've lost track of the story. Where was I?”
“You just met the Elf maid Rose.” I pipped up.
“Quite right. Glory and I never thought to question her, and we knew that she could reward us in enough ironwood to pay for the spell to have our friend raised. Only Rose hadn't gotten away from her forest clean. Two Dark Elf warriors ambushed her halfway through the meeting!”
“What did you do, Granpa? Did you give him the Dragon Fang Strike?” Grandfather smiled. “Of course, I had to. Do you know the toughest thing about Dark Elves?” I shook my little head.
“They hate light, but are powerfully strong strong against magic. Gloria tried to freeze on in her tracks, but she kept on coming. By now, we had just accepted the job, so there was no going back. I stepped up to her partner, a big, white haired bruiser with a scimitar the size of you, little lady.”
“Did you give him what for?”
“Of course! but it was a close shave. I kicked the table out in front of him and smacked him with the butt of my spear right behind his long ears! That's a tricky spot for an Elf, you know. Wham!” Grandfather sliced through the air with his empty hands, as though he had taken a swing with his weapon. “But the big guy kept coming. He grabbed old Incisor by the heft and lifted me up for a killing blow. I thought I was a gonner!” With some difficulty, he mimicked getting lifted and stabbed.
I gasped in mock horror. This was another part of the stories, the part where my grandfather was in mortal danger, but was saved at the last minute. “Oh no! What did you do?”
“Actually, it was Rose that saved us. She prayed for a spell, and suddenly the inn room was as bright as day! The pair of them went scurrying off like roaches, vowing revenge. We set off for Rose's forest the next morning.” Grandfather would always only tell one part of the story at a time. I'll do likewise, because we're coming up on a town. I think we're stopping for the day. I'll finish this story later, if I have the time. It's time to catch a ship!