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Authors: Bernhard Hennen,James A. Sullivan

The Elven

BOOK: The Elven
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2004 Bernhard Hennen and James A. Sullivan

Translation copyright © 2015 Edwin Miles

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Previously published as
Die Elfen
by Heyne Verlag in Germany in 2004. Translated from German by Edwin Miles. First published in English by AmazonCrossing in 2015.

 

Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonCrossing are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477827512

ISBN-10: 147782751X

 

Cover design and illustration: Franz Vohwinkel

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014917988

D
EDICATED TO
M
ELIKE,
P
ASCAL AND
X
INYI, MY
A
LBENSTARS

—B
ERNHARD
H
ENNEN

 

I
N MEMORY OF
J
IM
S
ULLIVAN

—J
AMES
A
.
S
ULLIVAN

Contents

Start Reading

Map

The Manboar

The Courting

Awakening

An Evening at Court

The Call of the Queen

Night in the Palace

Valediction

The Human World

The Whisperer in the Dark

Old Wounds

The Way into the Ice

A Dream

The Healing

The Child

The Abandoned Valley

The Queen’s Verdict

Farewell to Albenmark

The Saga of Mandred Torgridson

The Price of the Promise

Return to Albenmark

Noroelle’s Words

Three Faces

Three Grains of Sand

Night Departure

The Saga of Alfadas Mandredson

The Healer of Aniscans

With Guillaume

The Disaster

The Sealed Window

The Holy Scriptures of Tjured

The Jarl of Firnstayn

Silvernight

Alaen Aikhwitan

At the Faun Oak

The First Lesson

Oak Dram

The Albenstar

In the Land of Fire

Elven Paths

The Free

At the Edge of the Oasis

Tales of the Tearagi

In Iskendria

The Secret Library

On Yulivee’s Trail

The Account of Yulivee

Different Paths

The Log of the Galley Purpurwind

The Lost Homeland

At the Oracle’s Gate

The Wrath of Farodin

The Children of the Darkalben

The Nightcrags

The Kingdom of the Dwarves

The Final Path

Meat

A Glance in the Mirror

Untrue Ways

Comrades in Arms

The Banquet

Separate Ways

Elodrin’s Song

Dareen

The Book of Alwerich

The City of Firnstayn

Families of Firnstayn

Old Companions

The Power of the Sand

A Spell at Ebb Tide

The Chronicle of Firnstayn

New Paths

Empty Halls

Little Elf

Letter to the High Priest

The Forests of Drusna

The Face of the Enemy

Lost for All Time?

A Morning in Fargon

A Time for Heroes

Return to Albenmark

A Wall of Wood

Aboard the Queen’s Ship

Strong Magic

Before the Queen

Casting the Bones

Emerelle in Danger

Stones and Trolls

Ten Steps

Close to the Touch of Death

Breakthrough

The Gift of a God

Revelation

The Old Enemy

The Chronicle of Firnstayn

Beyond the Victory

Trophies

Therdavan the Chosen

The Revenge of the Devanthar

Ruins

The Great Gathering

The Living Ancestor

Two Swords and Memories

The Queen’s Dagger

Tracing a Night Long Past

The Start of the Battle

At the Shalyn Falah

Helplessness

Dents and Tobacco

Death and Rebirth

Behind Enemy Lines

Fire and Brimstone

Battle’s End

The Last Reserve

The Fisherman

The Holy Scriptures of Tjured

The Last Gate

The Moonlight

Acknowledgments

About the Authors

About the Translator

Through the forest in the moonlight,

Late I saw the elves a-passing.

Heard their hunting horns resounding

Heard their bells a-kling, a-ringing.

 

Ponies white and wearing golden

Branching antlers, fleet as wind.

Like wild swans through the glades a-gliding

Came the band upon the wing.

 

Smiled the Fairy queen upon me,

Smiled and nodded, passed on by.

Does it mean a new love coming?

Does it mean that I must die?

 

(“New Love” by Heinrich Heine, 1797–1856)

 

 

The Manboar

I
n the center of the snow-covered clearing lay the carcass of a bull elk. The torn flesh still steamed. Mandred and the three men with him knew what that meant: they had disturbed the hunter at his work. The carcass was covered in bloody streaks, the elk’s heavy skull split wide open.

Mandred knew of no animal that hunted only to eat the brain of its prey. He heard a muffled noise and wheeled around. Snow cascaded from the branches of a tall fir tree at the edge of the clearing. The air swirled with tiny ice crystals. Wary, Mandred peered into the undergrowth. The forest was silent again. Far above the treetops, the green faerylight danced across the sky.

It was no night to be out in the woods.

“Just the weight of the snow breaking a branch,” said blond Gudleif, brushing the stuff from his heavy cloak. “Stop scowling like a rabid dog. You’ll see. All we’re following is a pack of wolves.”

Disquiet had crept into the hearts of the men. Each of them thought of the old man’s words, how he had warned them of the death-dealing creature from the mountains. Was it anything more than feverish ramblings? Mandred was jarl of Firnstayn, the small village that lay by the fjord beyond the forest. It was his duty to ward off any threat to the village. The old man had spoken with such conviction, and Mandred knew he should have dug deeper. But still . . .

It was in winters like this one—winters that came early, that were far too cold, and in which the green faerylight danced in the sky—that the Albenfolk came to the world of men. Mandred knew that, and his companions knew it.

Asmund had slipped an arrow onto his bowstring and was squinting uneasily. Lean and red haired, he was a man of few words. He’d come to Firnstayn two years earlier. Word went around that he’d been a notorious cattle thief in the south and that King Horsa Starkshield had put a price on his head. This did not concern Mandred. Asmund was a good hunter who brought his share of meat to the village. That counted for more than any rumors.

Mandred had known Gudleif and Ragnar since before they could walk. Both were fishermen. Gudleif was stocky and strong as a bear. Perpetually in a good mood, he had many friends, although most who knew him found him rather simple. Ragnar was short and dark haired, in contrast to the mainly tall, blond inhabitants of the Fjordlands. Sometimes he was mocked for it, and in whispers, he was called a kobold child. Foolish nonsense, of course. Ragnar was a man with his heart in the right place, a man to be relied on unreservedly.

Mandred’s thoughts turned wistfully to Freya, his wife. No doubt she was sitting at the fireplace, listening into the night. He had taken a signal horn with him. One blast meant danger, but if he sounded the horn twice, those in the village knew there was nothing out there to fear and that the hunters were on their way home.

Asmund had lowered his bow and placed one finger to his lips in warning. He raised his head like a hound sniffing out a scent. Now Mandred could smell it, too. A strange odor drifted over the clearing, a stink that reminded the men of rotten eggs.

“Maybe a troll after all,” Gudleif whispered. “They say they come down from the mountains when the winter’s hard. A troll could kill an elk with its fist.”

Asmund looked darkly at Gudleif and signaled to him to be silent. The wood of the trees creaked in the cold air. A feeling crept over Mandred: they were being watched. Something was there. Something very close.

Without warning, the branches of a hazel thicket parted, and two white creatures sped across the clearing with a loud thrumming of wings. Mandred instinctively raised his spear, then let out a sigh of relief. Two ptarmigan. No more.

But what had startled them? Ragnar aimed his bow and arrow at the thicket. The jarl lowered his weapon. He felt his stomach tighten. Was the monster lurking there in the bushes? They waited, poised, silent.

An eternity seemed to pass, but nothing moved. The four men formed a wide semicircle around the thicket. The air crackled with apprehension. Cold sweat trickled down Mandred’s back and gathered around his beltline. It was a long way back to the village. If he sweated through his clothes and they no longer protected him from the cold, the men would have to find somewhere to set up camp and start a fire.

Stout Gudleif kneeled and spiked the shaft of his spear into the ground, then dug into the fresh snow with his hands and formed a snowball. The snow crunched softly as he pressed it. Gudleif looked to Mandred, and the jarl nodded. The snowball flew in a wide arc into the bush. Nothing moved.

Mandred breathed easier. Their fear had brought the night’s shadows to life. They themselves had scared up the ptarmigan.

Gudleif grinned with relief. “There’s nothing there. Whatever it was that killed the elk is far away by now.”

“A fine hunting party we make,” Ragnar teased. “We’ll be running from a rabbit fart next.”

Gudleif rose to his feet and plucked his spear out of the snow. “I’ll skewer this shadow,” he said with a laugh, jabbing the point of his spear into the bushes.

Suddenly, he was jolted forward. Mandred saw a large clawed hand wrapped around the shaft of the spear. Gudleif let out a shrill cry that abruptly transformed into a throaty gurgling noise. The stocky man staggered back, both hands pressed to his neck. Blood gushed between his fingers and poured over his wolfskin doublet.

Out of the bush stepped a beast. A huge creature, half man, half boar. The weight of its massive boar head caused it to stoop forward, but it still towered above the men. The body of the beast was that of a colossus. Heavy, knotted bands of muscle stretched across its shoulders and down its arms to hands that ended in dark claws. Below the knees, its legs were unnaturally thin and covered with gray-black bristles. Where feet should have been were cloven hooves.

The manboar let out a deep, guttural grunt. Tusks like daggers jutted from its jaws. Its eyes, on Mandred, seemed ready to devour him.

Asmund swung his bow up. The arrow flew from the string. It struck the beast on the side of its head, leaving a thin, red graze. Mandred’s grip on his spear tightened.

Gudleif’s legs gave way. He swayed for a heartbeat, then tipped to one side. His hands, which had been clamped to his neck, let go. Blood still poured from his throat, and his stocky legs twitched helplessly.

A blind fury took hold of Mandred. He charged forward and rammed his spear into the manboar’s breast. Like spearing a rock, the blade glanced off and left no visible mark. One clawed hand shot out and splintered the shaft of the spear.

Ragnar attacked the monster from the side to distract it from Mandred, but his spear, too, did nothing.

Mandred dropped onto the snow and drew an axe from his belt. It was a good weapon with a narrow, sharp blade, and the jarl swung it at the manboar’s fetlock with all the power he could summon. The monster grunted at the strike, then it lowered its immense head and rammed the warrior. One tusk caught Mandred on the inside of his thigh, shredding the muscle and crushing the silver-clad signal horn that had been hanging from his belt. With a jerk, the manboar pulled its head back, flinging Mandred into the hazel thicket.

Half-numb with pain, Mandred pressed one hand to the wound while tearing a strip of cloth from his cloak with the other hand. He quickly stuffed the wool into the gaping wound, then removed his belt and wound it around his leg as a makeshift tourniquet.

Piercing screams rang from the clearing. Mandred broke a branch from the hazel bush and slid it under the belt. He twisted it, tightening the leather band until it wrapped his thigh as firmly as a hoop around a barrel. The pain nearly knocked him unconscious.

The screams from the clearing stopped. Cautiously, Mandred parted the branches of the thicket. His comrades lay scattered in the snow, lifeless. The manboar stood over Ragnar, leaning down and ramming its tusks into his breast again and again. Mandred’s axe lay close to the monster. Everything in him pushed him to attack the beast, armed or not. There was no honor in slinking away from combat. But fighting a pointless battle was stupid. He was the jarl, and the welfare of the entire village rested on his shoulders. He had to warn the ones who were still alive.

A direct retreat to Firnstayn was impossible. His tracks would lead the beast straight to the village. He had to find another way.

Inch by inch, Mandred crept backward out of the bushes. Every time a branch cracked, his heart stopped. The beast showed no interest in him, though. It crouched in the clearing, enjoying its grim meal.

When he had crawled free of the bush, Mandred dared to raise himself halfway to his feet. Searing pain shot through his leg, and he instinctively put a hand to the wool stuffed in the wound. A crust of ice was already forming on his leg, and he did not know how long he would survive the cold.

The jarl hobbled the short distance back to the edge of the woods. He gazed up at the sheer cliff, its dark summit looming high above the fjord. There was an ancient stone circle up there, and close by was a stack of wood for a signal fire. If he could get one lit, the village would be warned. But the wood for his fire was two miles from where he stood.

Mandred kept to the edge of the forest, but his progress in the fresh powder was slow. The sight of the snow-covered field, climbing steadily around to the back of the cliff, did not put his mind at ease. There was no cover there, and the trail he would leave through the snow would be impossible to miss.

Exhausted, he leaned against the trunk of an aging linden tree and gathered his strength. If only he’d given the old man’s warnings some credence. They’d found him one morning in front of the palisade that shielded the village. The cold had nearly frozen the life out of the old man’s bones. In his feverish daze, he spoke of a boar that walked upright, of a monster that had come down from the mountains far to the north to spread death and decay among the villages of the Fjordlands. A man-eater. If the old man had talked of trolls coming from the depths of the mountains or of malevolent kobolds that dyed their wool caps in the blood of those they’d murdered or of the elfhunt with its white wolves, Mandred would have believed him. But a boar that went on two legs and devoured men? No one had ever heard of such a beast. They paid no heed to the old man’s words, deriding them as fever dreams.

Then came midwinter’s night. The stranger had called Mandred to his deathbed. He had been unable to find peace until Mandred swore an oath to look for the trail of the beast and warn the other villages on the fjord. Mandred still could not bring himself to believe the old man’s words, but an oath sworn at the side of a dying man was not one to be broken lightly. And so Mandred, a man of honor, set out into the woods.

If only they had been more careful.

Mandred exhaled heavily, then hobbled out onto the wide field of snow. His left leg was completely numb. And while the cold had drawn the pain out of his wound, the freeze that had settled in its place made it harder for him to move. Again and again, he faltered. Half crawling, half walking, he struggled on. There was still no sign, no sound from the manboar. Had it finished its grisly meal?

Finally, he reached a broad swath of scree. There had been a rock fall there the previous autumn, but now the treacherous surface lay hidden under a thick blanket of snow. Mandred’s breath came unevenly. Heavy clouds of white vapor formed in front of his mouth and settled onto his beard as hoarfrost.
Damn this cold.

The jarl’s thoughts turned back to the summer just gone. He had come here with Freya several times. They had lain in the grass and looked up to starry skies. He had boasted to her of his hunting adventures and of how he had joined King Horsa Starkshield on his campaign along the coasts of Fargon. Freya had listened patiently and chaffed him whenever he overembellished his heroic deeds. Her tongue could be as sharp as a blade. But she kissed like . . . 
No, don’t think about that.
He swallowed hard. He would be a father soon. But he would never see his son. Would it even be a son?

Mandred leaned against an outcrop of rock to catch his breath. He’d come halfway, and he cast his eyes back to the edge of the forest. The darkness of the woods had barely allowed the green faerylight to penetrate, but there on the mountainside, everything was as plain to see as on a cloudless night under a full moon.

He had always loved nights like these, even though the ethereal light frightened most who lived in the Northlands. It looked like enormous webs of cloth woven from sparkling starlight being drawn across the sky.

Some said the elves hid themselves in this light when they rode out to hunt on frost-clear nights. Mandred smiled. Such musings would have delighted Freya. She loved to sit by the fire on winter evenings and listen to stories. Stories of the trolls from the far-off mountains. Stories of the elves whose hearts were as cold as winter stars.

Something moved at the edge of the woods, jolting Mandred from his thoughts. The manboar. So the beast had come in pursuit after all. And that was good. With every step Mandred took up the cliff, he lured the monster away from the village. He just had to hold on. It could rip open his chest and eat his heart if it wanted, if only he could kindle the signal fire first.

Mandred pushed himself away from the rocky outcrop and immediately stumbled. His feet—they were still there, but he could no longer feel them at all. He should not have stopped. Was he going soft in the head? Even a child knew that stopping to rest in this kind of cold could spell death.

Mandred looked down desperately at his feet. Frozen, with all feeling gone, they would not warn him if loose stones slipped underfoot. They had become traitors to him, had defected to the enemy that was trying to stop him from lighting the signal fire.

The jarl laughed out loud, but it was a mirthless laugh. His feet had defected? Utter nonsense. He was slowly going crazy. His feet were simply dead flesh, as the man himself would be soon enough. In anger, he kicked at the rock outcrop. Nothing. As if his feet were not even there. But he could still walk. It was just a matter of will, and of being very careful where he stepped.

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