A Fateful Night (Daenara's Story)
Finally, with Daenara's permission, I pen one of her tales. A tale from when she was an inexperienced scout, at the beginnings of the last war. I share with you a major turning point in her life, as she shared it with me
They lay on their stomachs on a grassy hill overlooking an orc encampment on the edge of the barrens. The sun was just setting behind them, and the air was full with the smell of dry grasses, and the cooking meat from down below. One of the elves made a small disgusted noise at the smell of the meat, and Daenara just shook her head. "How did I ever get saddled with these two?" she wondered to herself.
Earlier that day shed been sent out by one of the captains of the sentinels to do some scouting. Normally, she went with a more experienced group, being pretty green herself, but today she had been told they were stretched too thin. Anyone with experience was either somewhere else important and couldnt be spared, in the infirmary, or dead. They had lost too many good sentinels recently. Daenara had let out a heavy sigh and asked who she was assigned with. A protest was already on her lips as soon as the captain breathed the names.
Aimone and Dalgrane had only a few months more sentinel training than she, but they had been city children all their lives. They didnt know the lay of the land, or how to use it to their advantage, to save their lives. To top it all off, they were cocky about their new rank, and that was making them reckless lately. They had already come running back to the encampment with orc scouts on their tails. When asked what they were thinking, they said they had seen the scouts heading back to their encampment in the distance, and thought they could take them out before they could relay any information back. The captain had nearly screamed their heads off for that. It had turned out that the scouts had no information on them (and had in fact been a couple of warriors returning home, not scouts), and had there not been sentinels posted to kill them when Aimone and Dalgrane had come running back, they would have been able to relay exactly where our troops were camped! It told Daenara just how thin they were stretched, with those two being allowed out again, much less leading.
One word from the captain silenced Daenaras objections. "Please." She said.
Daenara blinked, surprised.
"Someone has got to keep an eye out on them, and keep them out of trouble. I thought you might bring a voice of reason. I know I dont have to ask you, or give you any reasoning behind my choice, but I also know going with them is even more of a risk of your life. Please dont make me order you."
Daenara sighed a little, resignedly, and nodded. "Alright. What are our orders?"
"You are to bring back word of where the orcs that attacked us yesterday are camped, and how many scouts have been sent our way. If you can find out their plan of attack, great, but above all, you are not to be seen, and you are not to engage the enemy. I need every elf I can get, and we do not need any foolish deaths."
"Understood. I'll do my best."
The captain gave her a tired smile and called over the next group.
Dalgrane turned to Daenara, her shaggy, midnight blue hair hanging in her eyes, and a wicked grin on her lips. "Lets see if we can get a little closer. Maybe we can overhear their battle plans." She whispered.
Daenara just shook her head and put a finger to her lips. She thought she heard a rustle in the distance, and desperately wanted them to be quiet so she could tell the source.
Aimone leaned in, having the good grace to speak more quietly. "C'mon Daenara. This is a great spot, and just a little further in we might be able to hear something."
Daenara strained her hearing, but heard nothing. She turned to Aimone and growled under her breath, "Do either of you understand Orcish?"
They blinked in unison, and narrowed their eyes at her. "Some." Dalgrane said defensively.
Daenara sighed. "Listen, its not a good idea. This spot is not nearly sheltered enough, and in a few minutes well be backlit. I told you it was not a good spot in the first place. We found the camp, now lets head back. We have what we came for."
"No," Dalgrane said, "I am team leader. We go down now. I dont want to hear..."
"Quiet!" Daenara whispered harshly, and clamped a hand over Dalgranes mouth. She struggled and protested under Daenaras grip until she heard the sound as well. Guttural voices spoke in quiet tones not very far to their left and behind. They listened intently, trying to gauge how many there were, and if they had been spotted yet. Daenara held up four fingers, pointed in the direction of the voices, and then at the ground where they sat. The orcs were headed right for them, and they were outnumbered. Either they had been seen, or it was a patrol. Daenara tried to think fast. Should they stay fast and hope it was a patrol and they passed by, or try to slink out through the tall grass where one rustle could mean their detection. She trusted herself to be able to be quiet enough, but the other two? She gritted her teeth in frustration. She decided to try and move. If they stayed where they were, the orcs were going to step on them. She cursed Dalgrane for taking them up onto this hilltop, knowing the sun would be setting soon. In the same thought, she prayed to Elune that they would go unseen.
She started to slink away, every movement slow and catlike, and beckoned the other two to follow. Dalgrane started to follow, but Aimone sat there, his eyes large in his head, shaking like a cornered mouse. Then they heard it, a deep voice speaking in harshly accented elven.
"Come out little mice. The sun is not nearly as much your friend as your lady moon."
The three of them could not keep the shock off their faces. Not at the fact they were detected, but that the orcs already had picked up so much of their language.
"Come out!" he bellowed. "Little mice are not worth fighting. You're coming back to camp quietly."
That was all Dalgranes pride could handle. She sprung out of the grass with a scream, and had an arrow in the air before she even hit her feet. To her credit, she managed to land a solid blow to the speaking orc's shoulder before another charged her and sent her sprawling for her brashness. He got in a second attack before she recovered and could get her sword out, and she was dead.
Daenara cursed loudly and sprang to her feet, hauling Aimone with her. They needed to run, but she couldnt trust Aimone to follow and not run back to camp, nor did they have an opening to run yet. It was too late for a bow, so she drew her sword and got ready to do battle.
Thankfully, Aimone was coming out of his shock, and had his sword drawn as well. He stood beside her. Dalgranes arrow had slowed the first orc, so it was three on two. Odds Daenara didnt like, but it was better than it could have been. One of the larger orcs came in on her, hefting his huge axe high, threatening to cleave her in two with its glittering edge. She ducked low and to the side, sliding the length of her sword across the back of his knee, cutting deep and severing his hamstring. The orc bellowed as his leg began to collapse under him, and put a hand to his knee. There was rage in his eyes when he brought his hand, bright red with blood, back up, and he cuffed Daenara with such force that she went sprawling backward, but thankfully out of the fight. She rolled to her feet, and spat blood. She shook her head, trying to clear it, and found herself more or less intact. One eye was a little fuzzy, (she prayed it wouldnt completely swell shut later), and her lip was split, but she was ok.
She looked over to Aimone, calling for him to back off, just in time to see him land in a spray of crimson liquid and seafoam green hair as an orcish axe found him.
All sets of piggish eyes turned to the remaining elf, but already she was fleeing. As soon as she saw Aimone fall, she knew it was over, and she bolted. They bellowed a cry in orcish, and took off after her. Daenara flew through the grass like a Zhevra, taking care not to run in any pattern in case the orcs had bows or guns. The wind blew her azure hair out behind her like a banner as she ran, and caressed her, coaxed her on. She tried to think quickly as she ran. She knew the barrens somewhat, but not like the woods of home. There was little shelter here, just grass and a few scrub trees nearly as far as the eye could see. She couldnt run back to the forest. She did not in any way want to endanger their position. Where could she go? She stopped for a second, and crouched low. She had left the orcs far enough behind her that she had a moment to think. A cool wind hit her, and brought with it the scents of evergreen, dust and stone, so out of place in this hot dry grassland. She looked in the direction of the wind, and saw mountains. Of course! If she could only make it, Stonetalon would be her refuge.
She took a deep breath and burst up like a pheasant from the grass, new speed and energy coming from the promise of the mountains. She had spent time there with Veleda and her father as a child. She knew them fairly well, and was sure she could find safety in the forests there. She ran across the plains for what seemed like hours before she reached the foothills of the mountains. Still the orcs followed her. She had heard a gun report once behind her, and heard its bullet crack into the ground beside her as she paused to take a breath. She had run full out without stopping since then, and she was exhausted. She took a look behind her, and saw the orcs as specks in the distance.
Stumbling, she collapsed behind a rock outcropping to catch her breath. When her heart slowed enough she could swallow around it, she unstoppered her waterskin and took a long pull off of it. Never had the water from the springs of home tasted so good. She poured a few drops onto her hands to wash the sweat, blood, and grime from her face, and cool off, when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye. She tensed, ready to bolt, but eased down when she realized what it was. From the shadows of the first evergreens, peered a pair of amber eyes, wary, but not hostile. She puzzled a moment as her eyes made out the rest of the creature. It was a gigantic white wolf. Had she been standing, his broad head would have come up at least to her chest. She had seen wolves before, but none this large, and none pure white like this. It was a coloring for a colder clime. He stared at her as she washed her face and made ready to start her run again. She got up to leave, and still he stared at her. It unnerved her a little, but she could sense no hostile intent. Perhaps she should leave him something, as she had so many times with her favorite nightstalker in the forest. She reached into her bag and pulled out a few boiled eggs. She didnt have any meat on her, so these would have to do. She took a few steps towards the wolf, and set them on the ground. He gave her a grin as only wolves can, and watched her. She glanced back again, and saw that the orcs were catching up.
"I have to go. Enjoy them, my friend." She whispered, and took off into the woods.
The wolf walked up and sniffed the eggs after she left, made a small lupine noise of pleasure, and gulped them down in two bites. Licking his muzzle, he curled up in the middle of the path and lay waiting.
Daenara spent much of that night climbing the mountain passes, doubling back and forth over her trail, and making false trails, in hopes that the orcs would get frustrated and give up. She was so tired she could barely keep her feet, dawn would come in a few hours, and she hadn't eaten all day.
Almost as if on cue, a scent cut through the cool night air and through the crisp scent of evergreen needles. It was warm and spicy, and mingled with the scent of wood smoke. She inhaled deeply and her stomach responded with a loud growl. She crept forward through the woods, silent and wary, until she came to the edge of a small clearing.
Crouching there, willing the shadows around herself, she could clearly see the small, tidy camp. A small tent was set off to the edge furthest from her, and beside it sat a small pile of gathered firewood and a few mining tools. In the center of the clearing, by a bright, crackling cook fire, stood a small man with long grey hair, shot through with shining white, and a thick, waist-length beard and moustache of the same color. His skin was suntanned and wrinkled with lines that showed equal amounts of hard times and mirth. His face was at once ancient and timeless. It was impossible to tell his age, but she was certain that he had seen a great many winters. He slowly stirred a pot that bubbled with a thick stew, holding his beard back from the fire as he leaned over to take a taste. A self-satisfied smile grew on his face as he tasted it, and he licked his lips.
Daenara had heard of the dwarves before in passing, since this war had begun, but this was the first she'd laid eyes on. The descriptions had been accurate, but this one seemed more it home out here in the forests. She'd heard they lived under the mountains, not ON them.
As she watched, the snowy wolf from earlier padded into the clearing, a rabbit held carefully in his jaws, and laid his catch at the dwarf's feet. He let out a chuckle and reached up to ruffle the wolf's head.
"Thank ye, Fenris." He said. "I trust you've had your fill already."
The wolf gave that grin again and licked his chops. The dwarf just laughed again.
He turned then, and faced where Daenara was standing, fixing eyes the color of deep earth emeralds on the spot where she stood.
"Come on out lass. If'n youre wanting some of this stew before I add this," he held up the rabbit and shook it a little, "Ye'd best stop yer lurkin' and get over here. Come on. I wont be hurtin' ya. Besides, Fenris is already takin' with ya. I heard ye left him somthin' earlier."
Daenara jumped, startled not only that he saw her, but that somehow he knew about her feeding the wolf earlier. Cautiously she stepped into the firelight, still on edge from earlier, still ready to bolt if need be.
"Calm yerself lass. Yer safe here." He murmured, his voice soft and grandfatherly. He handed Daenara a large bowl of the stew and a spoon. She took it gratefully and gave him a small smile as she sat down on a log beside him.
"Thank you... And I wouldnt mind the rabbit." She said softly.
He let out a guffaw, and clapped her on the back, spilling some of her stew. She winced at the pain of her sore muscles, but he didnt seem to notice.
"Atsa girl!" he said. "Let me fix 'er up then." He set to work cleaning the rabbit and chopping it up for the stew. He took extra care with the skin and laid it aside with some others to tan later. As he worked he talked.
"Fenris told me he ran into some orcs earlier. One of em made an easy hunt. He'd been crippled and couldn't keep up with the rest. Yer work?"
Daenara nodded and her story flooded out between bites of stew. "They ambushed my scouting party... The two I was with wouldn't take my advice... We were up on a hill, backlit by the sunset... They were on us and the other two were killed before we knew it.. I couldn't run back to camp and give away our position.. Couldn't lose them in the grasslands... Stonetalon seemed like the safest place..."
"Good call lass. Ye seem to have more sense than the rest of yer party."
Daenara chuckled a little, half-heartedly, and winced at the pain in her face when she did.
The dwarf reached back into his pack and pulled out a bottle. He pulled out the cork with his teeth, and poured her a tankard full of dark brown liquid.
"Drink some of this lass. Thunderbrew's finest. It'll take the edge off."
She took a hesitant sip, not knowing what to expect, and rolled the first taste of it on her tongue. It was sweet, spicy, bitter, woody, and earthy all at once. She swallowed and it warmed her all the way down. She closed her eyes and took a long sip, enjoying her first taste of Thunderbrew ale immensely. The dwarf had been watching her expectantly the whole time, and when she downed the second sip with such gusto, he laughed.
"Are ye sure yer not part dwarf, lass? More of'in than not, that sends one of your kind in'ta coughin' and sputterin'! I think I'm learnin' what Fenris sees in ya. What's yer name, girl?"
She grinned at him for the compliment and responded, "Daenara is my name. Thank you so much for your hospitality friend..."
"Kalroth, m'girl. But ye can call me Kal."
"Thank you, Kal, and Fenris."
The wolf padded over to them and lay down behind them, resting his head on the log between them. She scratched behind his ears softly in thanks, her slender fingers getting lost in all his thick fur.
"What brings the two of you out here? If you dont mind my question... Seems more like you're enjoying yourself, than taking part in this bloody war."
Kalroths eyes clouded over for the briefest of moments. When he responded his face was back to normal, so quickly Daenara wasn't certain there had been a change.
"I came over b'cause I heard the minin' was good, an it's a new place to be. Ye elves have beautiful lands here. The war... It doesn't concern me unless they bring it to me." He spat into the fire at that, and downed a long swig off his bottle.
Nodding towards the sky he said, "It will be dawn soon. It's been a long day for us both, an' we should be gettin some sleep. Yer welcome to stay with me as ye like. I think ye will be safer here as on yer own."
Daenara nodded quickly, thankful for the invitation. "Thank you. I think I'd sleep much better here. You have been very kind."
"Think nothin of it Daenara, m'girl. Just get some rest."
They curled up for the night. Daenara lay near the fire in a pile of warm blankets to ward off the mountain chill. Kalroth took a spot a little further from the fire, and lay back against Fenris, snuggling into the wolfs thick fur. The wolf curled around him protectively.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, Daenara awoke. She lay still and listened for whatever sound may have woken her, but there was nothing.
Wait... That was the problem. The wood was silent. No crickets, no night rustles, just silence. She listened a few more minutes and heard gruff voices speaking in whispers, moving closer. She cursed to herself. The orcs must have managed to follow her tracks. They were still after her? She looked over at Kalroth. He and the wolf cocked open one eye simultaneously. Fenris let out a soft growl, and the dwarf responded with a gentle pat and a nod.
The orcs were now creeping clumsily towards the clearing. Apparently an entire nights chase had stolen what little stealth they had. They were arguing softly in orcish as they approached.
Fenris growled softly again.
"No, that last part wasnt very flattering, now was it?" Kalroth muttered.
He reached over and picked up the remnants of a cigar from earlier, struck a match while the orcs were distracted with their quarrel, and puffed it to life. When it was glowing a nice bright orange, he chucked it neatly in the center of the orcs, and puffed out a lazy smoke ring. There was a slow crackle-hiss and then an explosion that shook the clearing, sending bits of earth and debris flying. Two of the three remaining orcs fell dead right there. The third stumbled off, dazed and wounded. When he found his feet, he ran off screaming. Kalroth just sighed and raised up his rifle, not bothering to use both hands, cocked it, and shot the orc as he ran, downing him neatly. "Too slow," he chuckled to himself.
Daenara looked at him, eyes wide, and reached over to down the rest of her tankard from earlier in one long gulp. He just settled back in against his wolf and told her to go over and stamp out any flames. Oh, and there was some water in the back of the tent to put it out if she needed.
After she got out of earshot, he murmured to the wolf, "This is going to take a while. Isn't it?" Fenris just grinned and yawned, laying his head upon his paws, unperturbed.
Daenara returned a few weeks later and we were overjoyed to see her. I had been beside myself with worry, and broke down in tears to have her back in my arms in one piece. From what I heard, when she gave her report to her captain, the only response she received about the dwarf was an incredulous, "He's still wandering around up there?" Daenara received a lot of help and training from Kalroth during the war. I daresay that's where she's picked up a lot of her personality quirks. From time to time we still spend time with him, and he helps to train Daenara. He was fundamental in her training of Sabastian, the nightsaber I mentioned earlier. But that, my friends, is another story