Authors: Dennis L. McKiernan
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Dressed in green silks and satins, jade ribbons wound among the pale golden tresses of her hair, Riatha came for Gwylly and Faeril as twilight settled upon the vale. The Waerlinga had donned their own finest clothes—the finest they had brought with them—and though the fabric was homespun and sturdy, still they were quite presentable: Faeril in black breeks and a grey jerkin, a black ribbon with long, loose ends dangling down tied ’round each arm high above the elbow, her black hair unbound; Gwylly in a rust-colored shirt and dark brown pants, and a narrow leather headband across his brow and tied behind; both wore dark brown boots of brushed leather.
Westward across the glade they walked, meadowlarks
calling as evening fell. They stepped in among the shadowy pines, treading on a yielding carpet of fallen needles, the forest about them silent but for the soft susurration of slow-moving air in the crowns above, or the occasional scritching of a small animal scurrying away in the darkness. Too, in the tree branches now and then a bird would sound a gentle chirp, as if murmuring one last thing to itself while settling down to sleep. As they walked, Faeril and then Gwylly became aware of the faint echo of silver harps and voices singing in the twilit distance. A glimmer afar shone through the trees, and another, and more still, yellow and amber and soft. Closer the trio came and closer, stepping at last past a line of boles and into a small open glade. They came forth into amber light cast by candlelit paper lanterns hanging from limbs of the encircling trees, each lantern bearing an arcane sigil or rune, their colors various. As they entered the glade, the voices rose up joyously, and they found themselves among Elvenkind, dressed in silks and satins and leathers of varying hues—blacks and greys and whites, yellows and oranges and reds and browns, blues and greens and violets and lavenders—the Fair Folk gathered in celebration.
Elves smiled and gave way as Riatha led the twain across the greensward and unto glade center. Back and back moved the Fair Folk, yet singing, until they were ringed ’round, yielding a space so that all could see the visitors. Riatha took Faeril’s hand in her right and Gwylly’s in her left and slowly turned about, letting all view the Waerlinga. And as she turned, the singing slowly faded, subsiding until it was but a gentle murmur and then not at all. Harp strings rose and then fell in a last silvery glissando, the final notes drifting among the shadowed pines. Silence descended, and overhead stars emerged as the gloaming dimmed to darkness. Riatha faced north, a Waerling at each hand, and called out in words of liquid silver:
“Alori e Darai, vi estare Faeril Twiggins e Gwylly Fenn,”
and a shout of welcome rang through the woods as again Riatha turned the Waerlinga about so that all could once more see them.
Facing north again, Riatha led the Waerlinga toward the arc of the be-ringing Lian, toward the point where stood a tall, flaxen-haired Elf. To his left and right were planted standards, the flags hanging lax in the still night air. Even so, as they approached, the Warrows could see the design
thereupon—green tree on field of grey—and knew at once that they beheld the sigil of Arden Vale, the Lone Eld Tree standing in twilight, a flag that had been borne with honor upon many a field in Wars cataclysmic.
Riatha came to a stop before the flaxen-haired Elf.
“Alor Inarion, vi estare Faeril Twiggins e Gwylly Fenn, eio ypt faenier ala, Faeril en a Boskydelis e Gwylly en a Weiunwood. Eio ra e rintha anthi an e segein.”
The Elf smiled down at Faeril and Gwylly, and winked, and his words came softly: “I would be greatly surprised if ye spoke Sylva.”
Faeril, her eyes glittering in the lambent yellow glow of the lanterns, shook her head
, but added, “We could learn.”
The Elf laughed. “Dara Riatha—that is, Lady Riatha— has presented ye unto the Host of Arden Vale. Too, she has spoken thy names unto all gathered. She has also presented ye unto me. I am Alor Inarion, Lord Inarion, Warder of the Northern Regions of Rell.” The Elf Lord bowed.
Returning the courtesy, Faeril curtsied and Gwylly bowed. Then the buccan grinned up at Inarion. “Even though we don’t speak, uh, Sylva, I did hear my name called…Faeril’s too. But it seemed to me that Riatha said much more as well.”
Inarion’s eyes widened slightly at Gwylly’s canny observation. “Aye, she told that ye both came afar, Faeril from the Boskydelis and thou from the Weiunwood. Too, she named ye the Lastborn Firstborns of the prophecy.
“But we can speak of that later. For now, let us conclude these formalities and resume our celebration. Here, stand beside me and turn unto the gathering.”
With Faeril on his left and Gwylly on his right, Inarion called out unto the assembly:
“Darai e Alori, vi estare Faeril Twiggins e Gwylly Fenn, vala an Dara Riatha e an doea Lian.”
Once again a shout rose up from the gathered Elves, and as it rang out through the shadowed pines, Inarion said, “I have named ye a third time, and told that ye are the companions of Lady Riatha and of all Lian.”
Even as Inarion spoke, silver harps began a soft melody, gradually intensifying as Elven voices slowly joined, singing in roundelay, harmonies rising upon harmonies. And the
Alori and Darai began to drift across the greensward past one another in a shifting complex pattern, or perhaps in random movement, pacing and pausing, a given Elf or Elfess passing among other singers pacing and pausing too, voices blending and adding, singing point and counterpoint, all the while stately stepping, stepping, Riatha among these.
Neither Faeril nor Gwylly had ever heard such magical singing, and they looked at one another, quite over-whelmed by the concord. Too, they glanced up at Lord Inarion standing between. “We sing to the harvest and to the autumnal equinox,” said the Elf. “And to the rising Moon.”
Easterly, just now visible above the crowns of the trees, a full yellow Moon rode upward, its white-gold beams glimmering among the pines.
“Come,” said Inarion, taking a Waerling in each hand. Singing, he stepped the twain among Elvenkind, pacing slowly pacing, following a ritual reaching back through the ages. And down among the rustling silk and rippling satin and brushing leather, enveloped by melody and harmony and descant and counterpoint, trod the Warrows, their hearts full to bursting.
Step…pause…shift…pause…turn…pause. Slowly, slowly, move and pause. Voices rising. Voices falling. Liquid notes from silver strings. Harmony. Euphony. Pause…step…pause. Inarion turning. Waerlinga turning. Ladies passing. Lords pausing. Counterpoint. Descant Step…pause…step…
When the song at last came to an end, voices dwindling, strings diminishing, movement slowing, until all was silent and still, Gwylly and Faeril found themselves once again between the standards flanking Inarion, Riatha before them. The motif of the pattern they had paced was beyond the Warrows’ comprehension, but now at ritual’s end they knew, somehow, that the movement was not random but had some design, some purpose. They had been lost in the rite, for when it was over, the Moon was up full, having covered a quarter of the sky in its journey across during the dance.
Inarion smiled down at them and then looked out at the gathering.
“Darai e Alori, ad sisal a ad tumla ni fansar isa nid Ses ti qala e med.”
A joyous shout greeted this pronouncement, and as Elves began streaming out from the
glen and westward, Riatha stepped forward. “Alor Inarion.”
Inarion moved from between the standards and took Dara Riatha’s arm, glancing back at the Waerlinga. “Come, my friends, the ritual is ended for this night, and food and drink await us.”
Gwylly offered his arm to Faeril, and as would two children pretend, they followed Inarion and Riatha, mirroring their every move.
As they strode southwesterly, they came among the Elven cotes, passing them by, heading for the central gathering hall in the distance ahead. But ere they reached it, a horn cry sounded from the nearby western canyon wall, and in the fulgent moonlight they could see a band of riders wending down a narrow pathway from a dark opening on the face of the bluff above. Again the horn sounded.
“’Tis Aravan and the others,” said Riatha, “returning from the hunt.”
Inarion barked, “Hai! They have a stag. It portends well for morrow night’s fest.”
Accompanied by Riatha and Gwylly and Faeril, Inarion turned from the gathering hall and strode to the stables. No sooner had they reached the mews than the line of Elven riders drew nigh, led by a tall, dark-haired Lian on a black horse. His dark leathers as well as his face were bespattered by mud. The black horse, too, was slathered with grime. Across the steed’s withers was an arrow-slain stag. “Hai, Fortune favored thee, Aravan,” called Inarion. Swinging down, Aravan gestured back in the direction of the following Lian. “Not only me, Alor, but She smiled down upon Alaria as well.”
An Elven rider with dark brown hair, her leathers and her mount also covered with muck now dried, rode to the byre. Another stag lay across the withers of her steed.
“Hai!” called Inarion. “Now we feast doubly!” Gwylly moved out from the shadows and into the moonlight, Faeril still clasping his arm. All the band paused, smiles playing across their features as they looked upon the Waerlinga. Aravan’s eyes widened slightly at the sight of the twain, and he glanced at Riatha, the Elfess nodding in answer to his unspoken question. And when the other riders had dismounted, Riatha called:
“Alori, vi estare Faeril Twiggins e Gwylly Fenn. Eio ra e rintha anthi an e segein.”
Leading his horse, Aravan stepped forward and made a sweeping bow to the Waerlinga. “I hight Aravan.”
Gwylly bowed in return. “I hight Gwylly and this is Faeril.” The damman curtsied.
One by one the other mud-spattered Elves introduced themselves as they led their begrimed horses past the Waerlinga and into the byre.
* * *
The hall brimmed with light and color. Tables and benches were filled to capacity as the feast continued, Elves serving Elves, carrying platters laden with the bounty of the harvest as well as with baked fish and roast fowl and spitted game.
Faeril and Gwylly sat at a table with Inarion and Riatha During the feast Riatha’s silver-grey eyes ever and again strayed across the faces of the Waerlinga, her thoughts carrying her back a thousand years or so, recalling the images of Tomlin and Petal, and she was startled by the resemblance of Faeril and Gwylly to their ancestors of days long past: Faeril with black hair and amber eyes, just as Petal’s had been; Gwylly with red hair and emeraldine eyes, as had been Pebble’s, Tomlin’s. Even the shapes of their faces were nigh the same: Faeril’s oval; Gwylly’s squarish. Their slimness and quickness and deftness seemed identical to those Waerlinga of long ago as well. Riatha closed her eyes in memory, then again looked at the twain.
Were I a Drimm, then would I think that Petal and Pebble were now reborn
She was wrenched from these thoughts as Aravan and his hunting party joined the fest, having dressed the deer and cared for their horses and having made themselves presentable. The black-haired Lian sat beside her and soon was regaling the party with the tale of the hunt for stag in Drearwood: of the dash through a swampland; of the near miraculous casting of an arrow by Alaria at the very moment when it seemed as if the first stag would ne’er be brought to earth; of another wild dash through thick pines on the way home as a second stag jumped up before them; of being knocked from his saddle by a low branch at the very moment the stag doubled back; and of nearly being run down by the beast even as he loosed his own arrow point blank, the stag collapsing at his very feet.
“Hai, Aravan,” crowed Inarion, “indeed Dame Fortune rode before thee on this day.”
“Nay, Inarion, more like She clung to my leg, dragging alongside,” rejoined Aravan. Inarion burst out in laughter, as did they all.
* * *
The tables were cleared and once again music filled the air, Elf and Elfess alike taking turns with pipe and flute and drum and harp and lute and timbrel. And the singing, oh the singing, silver voices on the air as an Alor or a Dara or sometimes more than one would take up a melody. And there came a dance, with a male and female whirling and gyring, advancing and retreating, laughing and mock arguing, fleeing and chasing, catching and escaping, dancing far apart and independently, then sensuously together. At last the dance came to an end, amid applause and voiced approval.
Faeril was enthralled, Gwylly, too, for neither had ever seen such grace and beauty in a dance before. “’Tis the mating dance they did, for Seena and Tillaron are lovers,” explained Riatha.
Faeril sighed. “Well, though Gwylly and I have yet to say our vows in public, we are mates and lovers, yet never could we dance thus.”
Inarion turned to the Waerlinga. “So ye contemplate a pledging to one another?”
Gwylly looked up. “We would, can we find a kingsclerk or mayor or the like.”
Inarion laughed, and Riatha smiled as she spoke. “Did I not say that I would arrange a pledging for ye? Of kingsclerk or mayors we have none. Yet beside ye sits the Lord of all of Arden, as well as the Warder of the Northern Regions of Rell. And who better than Alor Inarion to lead ye through the ceremony?”
Faeril turned to Gwylly. “Oh yes, Gwylly. Who better?”
Gwylly merely shook his head.
The damman faced Riatha once again. “My Lady Riatha, we would be honored to have Lord Inarion conduct the ceremony.”
At the next lull in the entertainment, Inarion stood and called for quiet, and the hall fell to silence. He then turned to Riatha, and she stood, her green silks and satins bright
in the lantern glow.
“Alori e Darai, va da Waerlinga brea tae e evon a plith.”
A shout of approval rose up at the announcement.
Inarion stepped to a dais and held up his hands, again calling for quiet. Then he motioned for Aravan and Riatha to stand to either side facing him. Last, he called for the Waerlinga to step before him.
Gwylly turned to Faeril, seated beside him still. “My dammia, will you have me with all my faults?”
In response Faeril kissed him, then stood and pulled her buccaran to his feet. Taking him by the hand, she led him to stand between Riatha and Aravan, facing Alor Inarion.