Authors: Jim Greenfield
The trio rode through the gate heading north. Waric Faerir stood upon the wall and watched them vanish in the distance. He noticed a familiar silhouette further down the wall, also watching the riders. It was Prince Byron. The Prince turned to Waric and nodded his head, then fell back into the shadows. Waric stood on the wall alone in his thoughts.
Jerue Adan, king of the Celaeri was the father of two children, Ioane and Gaele, born on Adan's Hill in the days before Men came. His wife, Deire, had lost her life, struck down by a band of mercenaries passing through the area. Jerue Adan took his vengeance on the mercenaries harshly. He kept his daughters safe until Men came to Amloth. Gaele fell in love with a Man and spent much of her time away from Adan's Hill. The true details have never surfaced but Gaele was killed in a fight between her lover and other Men. Jerue Adan's rage against Men took root that day and colored all his decisions thereafter.
From Gerrand's Histories of Landermass.
Brandalay glanced at the Celaeri woman as he ate the food before him. He could not keep his attention to his task. Every other heartbeat brought his gaze back to her. It seemed an involuntary glance and Greyrawk noticed but did not speak of it. Greyrawk felt the same way when he first met Ioane Adan. Her beauty was not of this world and she seemed to shimmer before them. It wasn't that her features were that much different from Men features but somehow they fit together in a way that took Greyrawk's breath away. His pulse quickened and his breath shortened. She did not acknowledge the silence of their company, merely ate her fruit much the way Men did and wiped her fingers on her trousers the way Brandalay did although she didn't get as much juice on her fingers to wipe off. Still, her presence stifled their tongues and occasionally Greyrawk caught Brandalay's eye, but the older man looked away.
Greyrawk watched her tear into an apple and he thought for a moment that her teeth were sharper than before. The apple's skin certainly yielded to her teeth like butter to a hot knife. She seemed to becoming more alive, more feral. Just at that moment, she looked up at him and smiled. He felt a chill run through him. Ioane Adan laughed behind her hand.
When they had finished eating; Ioane Adan spoke into the mist and two figures materialized. Whether they had been there the whole time, Greyrawk could not say, but he knew they had made no sound. He reached out his hand to keep Brandalay from jumping to his feet.
One of the newcomers Greyrawk recognized, Alarie Skye, the Warlord of the Celaeri who had helped him against the Vlakan as he traveled to Nunderburg Castle. Greyrawk was surprised how much she resembled Ioane Adan. They might be sisters. Alarie Skye was broader and more muscular and her skin slightly darker as if tanned, but her facial structure was nearly identical. The other was male with the same coloring as Ioane Adan and a youthful appearance like his companion. But his eyes were a deep and ancient violet. His hair was blue-black and shiny, held back by a slender silver band around his head. He stood slightly shorter than Greyrawk but his presence commanded notice. A black cape covered his red shirt. His trousers were blue and baggy and stuffed into riding boots. He wore a long curved sword, of a style similar in Greyrawk's mind to his grandfather's sword.
"This is my father, Jerue Adan."
"Ian Greyrawk, it is a pleasure to welcome you home again," said Jerue Adan. His voice was thick as if unused to speaking and Greyrawk sensed a hunger behind his words.
"I am glad you are recovered from the Vlakan attack," said Alarie Skye. Her voice was softer than Ioane's and perhaps younger, much younger. But she was still far older than Greyrawk.
"Thanks to you," stammered Greyrawk.
"Yes, I understand you have fought the Vlakan," said Jerue Adan. "Has your companion also fought them?"
"I have, but not recently," said Brandalay.
"Yes, I remember him," said Alarie Skye. She seemed to sniff in Brandalay's direction. "Yes. It was in the north near the Felara Falls, many seasons ago. His hair had no gray then, and his heart was lighter."
Brandalay stared at Alarie Skye as if recalling a memory he didn't know he had.
"Ah, very good. Your sword will be useful," said Jerue Adan. "You will be fighting them soon enough. Ah, the Vlakan. We can use them to fight for us if we must, but it is so difficult to rein them in afterward. Best kill them on sight. Nasty creatures, but they were not that way once. Now, Ian Greyrawk, has my daughter explained what is expected?"
"She spoke of returning your people to this world, to leave the shadow world, but I do not know much more than that, nor do I understand it."
"Greyrawk, the Celaeri are an elder race. We were here before Men, when Daerlan and Anetheans ruled Anavar and we ruled Amloth. The Celaeri were masters of this land. The Zidar kept to the Isle of Cothos and it was peaceful on Landermass for millennia. We hunted, fished and began to domesticate animals. Life was how it was meant to be. But things change and perhaps we angered a god, or as we learned, we had earned the jealousy of an Altengud.
"When Men came each of the races gave room to the newcomers, watching them grow as a people. We did not interfere in their lives, seeing how primitive they were, but we did not hinder them either. When opportunities to assist them arose, we helped them. We noticed the shortness of their lives and grieved for them, but then we noticed how fast they bred. The population of Men exploded over Landermass and the other races withdrew to new homes, as Men needed more land for their crops and livestock. When Men came to this land, that you call Cresida, we shared the land with them. We lived side by side until their numbers grew too great. One day we left this place and headed north but our friends called Greyrawk dwelt here on our old home for generations and we were satisfied. At times, some of our women would take a Greyrawk for a mate and thus our blood mingled with the Greyrawk blood, but no other Men.
"However, as the years passed something happened to our people. We drifted into a shadowy world parallel to this one but it was cold and hostile. There were creatures we call Vlakan who fought us. Even as we could shift back to this world, the Vlakan discovered our methods and followed us. Now they are a terror in the land, one that Men cannot fight alone. We believe Dacu Belderag controls the Vlakan. That is why your grandfather fought against him, but he failed. We did not come to his aid. We had forgotten how Men age and thought Aryar Greyrawk was still in his prime and more than a match for his enemies. We failed your grandfather for we let him fight alone. Now we are asking you to fight with us against the Vlakan and Belderag."
"Are there many of you?" asked Greyrawk. "Would we be able to field an army against Belderag? He has many soldiers and would be able to pull soldiers from his vassals."
"Yes, and they will be well armed," said Brandalay. "He even has armored knights."
"There shall be enough Celaeri," said Jerue Adan. "Not all of us have fallen deeply to shadow. We shall return here and our strength shall be renewed. When we allowed your ancestors to claim this mountain, we did not realize how closely we were tied to the land. Since I have returned here I feel my strength coming back to me. Blood pounds in my veins."
"You have no transparency left on your skin," said Alarie Skye. "Nor I. Look at my hand."
Jerue Adan looked at Alarie Skye, his eyes bright and his face flushed. Then he turned suddenly to Greyrawk and gripped his shoulder tight.
"We shall be enough to defeat the Men armies. The Celaeri must return to Adan's Hill or perish. It is no longer a questing of homesickness; it is of death. This place nurtures us, clears our minds; strengthens our bodies. We were born here and we shall live here again."
"How can I help?"
"Surely, you have guessed?" said Ioane Adan.
"Kill Belderag," said Brandalay, after Greyrawk didn't respond.
"Yes," hissed Jerue Adan. "Dacu Belderag must die."
"But first you must summon the Celaeri," said Ioane Adan.
"Me? How do I do that?" asked Greyrawk.
"Your blood must mix with mine," said Ioane Adan. "There is a magical ceremony where the blood calls to those in the shadow world and they will come forth. We must return to the north where we live. The Celaeri are waiting in the shadows of the mountains and our talismans are there."
"How much blood?"
"A small amount," smiled Ioane. "We will not slit your throat if that is what you mean." She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
Greyrawk's blood ran cold.
"No wonder this place calls to you, Ian," laughed Brandalay. "I'd be in a hurry to return too."
"You flatter me, Brandalay," said Ioane Adan. "Seems Ian can no longer speak."
"Let's us prepare to ride," snapped Jerue Adan. He slapped Greyrawk's shoulder. "Close your mouth. You aren't the first to succumb to her charms. Come let's go."
Brandalay grabbed Greyrawk's shoulder and pushed him ahead.
"My blood," muttered Greyrawk.
"She is Celaeri. Don't expect a Men woman, Ian. Frankly, I'm thinking we might be getting in over our heads. Keep a sharp lookout."
"What have we done?" He stared at Brandalay.
"Okay, I'll keep a sharp lookout."
The Celaeri horses were light brown and slender limbed. The Celaeri saddles were ornate; carved white leather and smaller than Greyrawk and Brandalay's saddles. The Celaeri mounted and rode down the hill leaving the Men to catch them.
At the base of the sign there was no sign of Belderag's men. Brandalay and Greyrawk both kept watching behind them. The Celaeri rode northward across the pastures and meadows, ignoring the roads. Their path was the straightest and how they remembered their journeys from past eons. Greyrawk rode close to Ioane Adan, riding just behind her to the outside. She would turn to him and smile from time to time. Jerue Adan did not acknowledge even his daughter as he rode. Alarie Skye kept to herself but Brandalay saw her watch Ioane Adan and Greyrawk. He suspected she kept troubling thoughts to herself, and the fact the Warlord of the Celaeri was troubled, did nothing for his fears. Arenna's men had not been there and instead the Celaeri waited for them. Was there a connection? Now they were heading north with the Celaeri and he had no way of sending Arenna a message. Brandalay hoped the fact that Jerue Adan obviously hated Belderag was favorable to their survival. Still, Brandalay's brain was itching and that meant trouble. Greyrawk appeared smitten by Ioane Adan, which was understandable, but Greyrawk was unable to grasp the larger situation as if he were drunk. Brandalay felt he was alone in this adventure; that Greyrawk was already lost.
Greyrawk for his part; was reveling in the new direction of his life. He was part Celaeri. Who knows all the differences between Men and Celaeri? His real excitement was the acceptance by the Celaeri as if the most natural thing in the world. He had been a fatherless tag-along as a kid and often felt cut off from the rest of humanity. If it hadn't been for Jaele he would have lost his mind years ago. Now he was part of something and it was important. He could save the Celaeri and avenge his grandfather's death. And his father's too.
Greyrawk felt the pulse of life thundering in his veins and he held his head high. Ioane Adan turned toward him and smiled. He reached out and grasped her hand. He held it gently and she did not pull away although her eyes widened at the Men gesture. She did not return the pressure, merely remained passive until he released her hand. Ioane Adan responded yes, but only by necessity. She controlled him like a puppet but her words gnawed at him.
Greyrawk could become the ambassador between Men and the Celaeri. It would be Ian Greyrawk who brokers peace with King Haldane, after Belderag is dead of course. It would be a new dawn for the Celaeri and he would be responsible. Who else could be so honored by two races?
They rode to the east of Nunderburg castle but close enough that Greyrawk could see lights in the tower windows. He wondered what Teresa Nunderburg would think of him riding with the Celaeri. She had warned him against them but it was from ignorance. Lady Nunderburg did oppose Belderag after all. Perhaps she is merely cautious around the unknown. She did not understand how favored the Greyrawk's were among the Celaeri. When he returned to Adan's Hill with all the Celaeri she will see her fears were for naught. Once Belderag is dead, the Celaeri will make the land sing again and the people of Cresida will smile again.
Their path began to climb into the hills and the temperature dropped rapidly. Mists began to fill the dips in the landscape and Greyrawk glanced at Brandalay who had his hand on his sword.
"I don't like this," said Brandalay. "We are in the Black Heath. Much evil has come from here. This chill is cutting right through my cape. I sense… I don't know what, but I don't like it."
"We are with the Celaeri; surely they wouldn't put us in danger. This is the path they normally travel."
"You assume too much, Ian."
"Then I shall ask them and your fears shall be removed."
Greyrawk rode closer to Ioane Adan.
"Ioane, Brandalay says this area has a bad reputation and is very dangerous. He has apprehensions of riding through here."
"And well he should," said Jerue Adan. "This is very dangerous for Men. Many creatures in the Black Heath have fled from the evils caused by Men. There are more than Vlakans here. If you or Brandalay stray from our company, look to your life. We are far past the Black Heath's borders so I should say there would be no chance for your survival without the Celaeri." He smiled, showing his pointed teeth.
"Why have you brought us here?"
"Because this is our home," said Ioane Adan. "This is our last refuge. Men drove us here." Her expression was cold. Greyrawk didn't know what to say and dropped back to Brandalay.
"Well?" asked Brandalay.
"Keep close to the Celaeri," muttered Greyrawk.
"Gods keep us," whispered Brandalay.
They reached a narrow path on the edge of a canyon that dipped down into the darkness below. The growls of predators rose to them and movement of large creatures crackled the underbrush. Brandalay strained his eyes into the gloom.