By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 3 - Misperception
Somewhere in the north-western part of the High Forest, 12th Tarsakh 1372 DR, evening
A soft voice filters through the cold frosty air underneath the winter canopy of the forest. It is a woman’s voice softly chanting in an alluring worthless way. Moving closer through the ankle deep snow Gwendolain comes upon a small snow covered dell. Snow laden clouds drift overhead, offering only an occasional glimpse of the stars and obscuring most of Selûne’s light. In the middle of the dell is the source of the singing; a young woman dancing in as few clothes as possible given the wintry cold. Heaped on one side are the woman’s other clothes as well as her weapons. Gwendolain’s eyes grow a little wider when she regards the dancing woman a little closer, the slightly coppery skin, pointed ears and slanted eyes; she is a wood elf. Snowflakes which had been falling very lightly increase in their frequency and size. As if that were a signal, the singing and the dance stops and the elven woman walks over to her clothes and begins dressing, <You can come closer if you want.>
A young woman somewhere in her late teens early twenties takes a few steps aside so she becomes visible for the woman in the glade, but she does not step closer. There is a hint of surprise in her green eyes, as if she did not expect to be noticed. Her long blond hair is carried in a braid. Her features show she has some amount of elven blood and a strange tattoo adores the left part of her face and neck. She is clothed in brown and greenish clothes that look warm and suited for the cold northern weather, but also seem practical for traveling. In her hands she holds a longbow. A quiver is hanging over one shoulder. She has an arrow readied, but it is pointing to the ground. A short sword is in its plain scabbard hanging at her left side.
Soon the surprise is gone from the young woman’s eyes. Her very bright green eyes regard the stranger silently. For a moment it seems that she won’t say anything but then, in a soft voice she says: <Quel undome.> (Translates to: <Good Evening>) She pauses and gives the elven woman another glance. <Aa’amin utunua mani naa lle umien sinome?> (Translates to: <May I ask what you are doing here?>) She pronounces her words carefully, as if she is not used to talk elvish. But her elven language lacks any accent, hinting that elven may be her native language.
Gwen keeps her guard. Now and then she cocks her head as if hearing something. She regards the elven woman curiously, but feelings of sadness and a sort of longing also battle for priority and are visible in her eyes. Lleuad calmly dresses, puts on her scale mail armor, her white cloak (with hood), slings her long bow and quiver of arrows over her narrow shoulders, adjusts the long sword dangling at her left hip and looks out at the lone maiden who interrupted her praise to Eilistraee. Lleuad is an attractive slight wood elf with long white hair pulled back into a pony tail and has dark green eyes. She stands to her full height and touches her wooden amulet that marks her as a cleric of Eilistraee and once again addresses the woman in elvish: <What brings you to this place? My name is Lleuad, a novice priestess of Eilistraee. I’m on my way to Olostin’s Hold to meet up with some people – would you care to join me?>
An expression of disgust flashes over Gwen’s face when the strange elven lady mentions Olostin’s Hold, followed by a look of longing at the emptiness of the woods. A long pause falls as Gwen looks at Lleuad with her head slightly cocked, wondering what to think of this stranger. Then she answers in elven, again pronouncing her words carefully. <These woods…> She gestures at the trees around her <…I call them my home.> She glances in the direction of Olostin’s Hold. <If you need directions…> She pauses for a moment as if doubting, but then: <…I will take you there…>
She takes a few steps towards Lleuad and pauses again, cocking her head and listening to some faint sounds coming from the woods. When she seems satisfied about it she looks back up to the elven lady and says: <My name is Gwendolain.> Gwen is still holding her bow. There is no pressure on the string though, and the arrow lies loosely in her hand. The stranger may not seem really threatening to her right now, but there are a lot of other dangers in the woods that Gwen is very aware of.
Lleuad looks at Gwendolain with understanding and empathy. <I know exactly what you mean. The woods have been my home for all of my 107 years. This is the first time in my life that I’m venturing out into the world without an intention of coming right back home. However, I have been to Olostin’s Hold and know where it is. I asked if you wanted to come because… because I would really like the company. I didn’t exactly leave my village on good terms and haven’t seen another elf in quite some time. When you saw me, I was praying to Eilistraee for guidance and a companion – she obviously heard me.> While saying all this, Lleuad is slowly approaching the other woman with a warm smile and making a show of her empty hands.
First Gwen looks surprised but then disbelieve takes over. She raises a brow and a scornful smile plays around her lips. <I’m no companion a goddess would have blessed you with.> She looks at the open hands of the elf and shakes her head. Gwen turns her back on Lleuad and her alert eyes scan the forest behind her. When satisfied she looks over her shoulder to her companion. <Did you encounter any Orc’s? Woods are crowded with them nowadays.>
It’s Lleuad’s turn to show shock on her face at Gwen’s scorn for the god’s, <In this I am not trying to change your mind, these are but facts: Right before you arrived the great lady spoke to me and said ‘the one with the mark will guide you.’ Now, considering that you’re the only one around within a couple miles and you do have a mark on your face, I take it that you’re the one She was talking about. To answer your previous question, early in my trek to Olostin’s Hold, I did encounter a small band of orcs encamped just north of the Heart Blood River north of Karse. With the blessing of Eilistraee, I was able to place several arrows and sword thrusts and drove them off. I tracked them and found those that fled had died of many arrow wounds. I never found out who had helped me and just accepted it as the fate or orcs encroaching in elven territory. So, the question is before you then – will you aid me in my quest and accompany me to Olostin’s Hold?>
Gwen shakes her head, still unbelieving, but her eyes narrow as Lleuad calls her ‘the one with the mark’. She raises her hand to touch the mark upon her face. A sad look crosses her face and she turns her head away as if to hide the mark from view. When Lleuad talks about the orc’s she encountered Gwen nod’s approvingly but does not face the elf. She pulls up an eyebrow when Lleuad talks about the mysterious helper and tosses the woman a glance from the corner of her eyes. Before answering Lleuad’s question she again scans the woods around her. She shivers for a moment as if to shake something off. <I know nothing of your quest, but if you want company…> She shrugs, <I’m here now… I’ll accompany you Olostin’s Hold.> She tosses Lleuad a feeble smile that disappears as she looks at the woods again.
Gwen has just turned her attention back to the woods when the sound of a dry twig snapping catches her attention. As her eyes swivel in the direction of the sound she can’t see anything moving. The ghostly images of trees behind a thin curtain of falling snow add to the cover of anyone sneaking up on the glade. Lleuad notices the other woman tense as she hears the twig snap. Peering through the snow she imagines seeing a hint of movement, but it might as well have been a trick of the slow falling snow.
Lleuad has a sad face as she senses the feelings inside of and sees the scarred elf before her. As she hears the twig snap, Lleuad quickly unsheathes her sword and hides behind a tree; close to the one Gwen is behind. In her mind, Lleuad can still see the ugly drool covered face of the last orc she sliced open and trembles slightly at the thought of having to spill yet more blood before her quest officially begins… or has it already?
Gwen’s bow is not longer aimed at the ground, but in the direction of the sound. She moves aside till she stands behind a tree. Her expression shows severe concentration as she gazes through the snow at the woods. She only glances aside to the elf to see what how the woman reacts. At the same moment as the Lleuad focuses her attention towards a copse of birches, Gwen does the same. Was it a voice they heard? Not more then a whisper; however there was a tinge of anger in it. Exchanging glances, both women know they’re being watched – but by whom or what? The snow and the lack of moon and starlight hamper their ability to spot what – or whoever is hiding. The silvery-white bark of the birches provides a natural camouflage in this wintry landscape.
The women’s previous conversation about the tuskers roaming the woods sets them on edge. The tension is as taught as Gwendolain’s bowstring. The two young women are wary and seem determined to give a good fight to whatever enemy is stalking them. Suddenly both of them spot movement a snow-blurred shape seems to disengage from the copse of birches and move away into the forest.
Gwen’s eyes narrow as she sees the snow blurred shape disengage… She doesn’t hesitate a moment. Her arrow makes a whistling sound as it flies away towards target. She does not wait to see if it hit its mark but glances sideways at Lleuad when she speaks. As the shape bolts from the birches and takes off into the forest, Lleuad takes a quick look at Gwen and says, <We better get whatever that was unless there’s more of them for it to report to.> With that, still holding her long sword, she takes off after the white shrouded creature at a run.
Gwen nods at Lleuad’s words, but makes a gesture for Lleuad to wait for a moment with an urgent expression on her face. Gently putting a hand on Lleuad’s arm, Gwen stops the woman from running off. She points at her bow and makes a circular movement with her hand. Then she puts up the bow and aims again. She tosses a curious glance sideways to see whether Lleuad understood her gestures before pointing to herself and pointing to one direction, then to Lleuad and the opposite direction.
Gwen has just taken aim again, when close to the copse of birches a slender figure becomes visible – it is almost as if the figure rises up from the snow. Without apparent regard to Lleuad or Gwen, the figure sets of in the same direction the other shape is loping off into the darkness of the night.
Lleuad almost slides across the snow, her momentum carrying her a foot past Gwen as the other elf grabs her and motions in the opposite direction. Lleuad nods slightly and takes off in the direction Gwen indicated, her sword still out in her hand. Within just a couple of heartbeats she stands in front of the second ‘creature’ to rise from the snow, who turns out to be a woman of obvious elvish origin, but with a soft roundness in her features to mark her as a half-elf. <By Mielikki! Don’t shoot!> The woman yells, while silently fuming over Grey. Staying stock still, facing the pair, she waits for an answer from the two elves.
In the darkness the other shape disappears quickly from sight, obscured by the falling snow and the trees.
After retrieving her jaw that dropped into the snow at the sight of the woman, Lleuad studies the half-elf and sees no deception or evil in her eyes or posture. She responds in elvish, <What in the nine hells where you doing sneaking up on us like that! My companion almost skewered your friend back there. Have you seen any orcs or the like or are you two the only ones around?>
<As for skewering the human, ‘tis almost a shame you missed, but orcs?> The woman’s eyes narrow expressively, hatred coloring her melodic words. <There were some that I had fought, and lost. The human that was with me, coward that he is, said he pulled me out from underneath the body of a dead one, but that is all I know. I found no tracks indicating anyone left the area.> She pauses, watching the forest she seems very at home and comfortable. Extending her right hand, the young woman introduces herself. <I am Kitira Gildragon of Elventree. I am sorry I frightened you, but the human feared you and took cover. I did so as well, thinking that we had found another orc holt. My deepest apologies.>
As she shakes the other elf’s hand, Lleuad says, <Greetings and sorry for my reaction back there – we mistook you for orcs as well – I am Lleuad, a priestess of Eilistraee. My companion, Gwen, and I were traveling to Olostin’s Hold because that is where my goddess has beckoned me. What direction were you traveling in? With orcs about, the more the merrier.>
Gwen is positioned half behind Lleuad. She still has her bow in hand. The arrow on the string is pointing to the ground, but there is no tension on the string. As Lleuad introduces her she nods at Kitira and a short apologizing smile crosses her face. Then she walks off in the direction where the figure went that she’d had missed. She walks to the tree that holds her arrow. She looks at it and then her gaze drops to follow the trail leading further into the forest until the snow blocks her view. With a short tug she pulls the arrow loose from the tree’s bark. After that she looks back at the two women behind her. Letting her gaze fall back to the track, she gives a short nudge with her head in the direction of the trail and looks at Kitira and Lleuad with a question clear in her eyes.
Seeing Gwen, Lleuad looks at her new elven friend with a serious expression on her face, <What do you know of this human? Is he the kind to come back at us or have others who would track us? Should we pursue him?> Gwen looks at Kitira, expectantly waiting for an answer on Lleuad’s question.
Lleuad waves at Gwen and nods her head to indicate that they’re not going to follow the man and to come over by Kitira. <OK, it’s your call. If he shows his head again…> Lleuad gives a meaningful smile, <We’ll all give him a real reason to fear elves. You said that you were meeting you group around here – what group and where are you off to?> Lleuad sheathes her sword, but takes out her bow and an arrow in case the human or something else comes back at them.
With a sigh, Kitira replies in mostly common. “I do not know the nadorhuan well enough. He seemed to be genuinely good. He is quick to anger and seems to operate alone. Also, he has a fear or hatred of elves.” Irritation colors her voice. “Perhaps I should explain. I was here looking for my group, and we heard a noise. He told me to ‘cower’ away from here and wait for him. Then when he saw it was you, he wanted to ‘cower’ again. His unease along with his patronizing attitude annoyed me, since I too am elven. Who fears or hates elves unless they have killed another elf or harmed the woods? I told him he was spineless as well as arrogant and that if he was a treekiller I would kill him by myself and he got angry. I think it was only a fair statement, but perhaps not to him.”
Kitira shakes her head slowly. “He pulled me from underneath an orc, and normally I would feel like I owe him for that, but he ran at the first sign of danger… it negates any feeling I have of loyalty to him and only reinforces that he is spineless. I would go to find him, but he is a coward and I have no desire to ally myself with those without honor.” Then she switches to elvish almost on a sudden whim and her voice becomes cold steel. <But should our paths cross, he will answer for his cowardice. I will find out why he hates or fears elves, at swordpoint if need be.>
After hearing the answer to her question Gwen tosses another glance at the trail. Then she shrugs her shoulder. She examines her arrow to see if it’s still usable or repairable and puts it back in her quiver. After that she returns to her companions. A small frown crosses her face at Kitira’s last phrase, but it is quickly gone. Again she gives a nudge with her head. This time in the direction of Olostin’s Hold. There is no question in her eyes this time though, more an urgent invitation to go that way. She tosses a quick glance at the sky. When she faces her companions again she says: <We need to hurry. Though I doubt we’ll make it to Olostin’s Hold before midnight.> The words, spoken in elven, are being pronounced carefully as if she’s not used to speak elven. Yet there is no accent that gives away what other language she does speak. <Maybe we’d better find a good spot to spend the night.>
<Good idea. I’m still not feeling all together right now, though.> With a small shiver Kitira turns to scan the woods. Turning to face the others her eyes seem a bit glassy but still focused. <Lleuad, Gwen, I’ll follow you both when you’re ready. I’m not as familiar with this area.>
<I agree – we should move as quickly as we can and be on the lookout for a spot to spend the night. With three of us, we can rest more if we need to and still have someone taking watch.> Lleuad seems glowing with excitement at the action that just took place even though nothing really happened. She keeps her bow out in case the group comes across some more trouble.
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