There was a hushed silence in the Great Chamber of the Council Judgment. The polished stone floors gleamed. Metal arches rose high above the gallery ending in ornate points. From those arches brilliant crystals hung from chains. They emitted a warm blue light that was pleasing to the eye. They sang their throbbing song, almost inaudible to the ear, but felt deep within the gut. It was the power of the land made manifest, bent to the will of the elves and put to service.
The Lady of the Forest Tihr a Lahn sat on one side of the room, alone in a long pew made of yew wood and etched with scrolling patterns. Her long blonde hair tied back in a tight braid. She wore a flowing green robe and around her leaves of golden energy swirled in circular patterns. Her face was stern, her lips tight. She looked to her right and upward toward the members of the council seated in their places high above the room – a dais from which judgment was imposed, conveying power and menace. Their dark ceremonial robes pulled up over their heads, hid their faces in shadow. There would be no reading their expressions.
At the far end of the chamber the great arched wooden doors at the entry swung open with a loud rumble and three forms entered. At their lead was Beliranor. Adorned in silvery armor, his footfalls echoed as he marched to the middle of the room. Behind him two of his guard trailed, they wore blank expressions as they took in the surroundings. They moved with a precision and order that was well trained.
From her seat, Tihr found herself annoyed by the display – uncertain as to whether it was the audacity of it or because it was so effective. Behind her she could feel the council lowering their collective gaze taking in the spectacle. Beliranor offered her a curt nod and then stopped and stood silent. His guard did the same, maintaining a distance of three paces from their commander. His gleaming armor reflected the soft blue light of the crystals that hung above.
Tihr returned his nod, and stood. She moved to join Beliranor at the center of the chamber. Her footfalls were silent, her movements more akin to a leaf on the wind. She seemed to float to the center of the room, near to Beliranor. Two could play the game, she thought. Beliranor responded as if she had spoken the words aloud, one side of his mouth rising in what for him was a smile. Their game was again at hand.
From the dais, a voice, female but stern spoke, “It seems we find ourselves once again arbitrating a dispute between the two of you. Commander Beliranor, you have made an accusation. Lady Tihr, you stand to answer. Know now, that I am weary of your squabbling and politicking. Long lived as we are, we seem doomed to endure.”
Beliranor stepped forward, “Lady Zarah, I assure you I mean no insult and I do not wish to waste the time of this council. I stand before you as a protector of our people, concerned only for their safety.”
“State the infraction, so that I may know of what I should be aggrieved” came a second voice, this one male. Lord Drakmeer’s tone conveyed both annoyance and boredom.
Tihr could not help but smile.
A third voice echoed down onto the chamber, “The Lady of the Forest seems amused.” It was Lady Luna. “We are not amused.”
With an audible sigh, Lord Drakmeer leaned forward, “Beliranor – state your grievance.”
Beliranor looked to Tihr his eyes indicating that he wanted her to step aside. She backed away. One of his guards brought forth a staff and handed it to Beliranor, the other took up a position to the side and held a crystal of red over his head that projected a map onto the chamber floor. The crystal hummed a high pitched tone and grew brighter. The landscape of Celador expanded before them. Beliranor moved to its center. “As this council is aware, for reasons unknown to the Denemir, the veil has been breached. Rifts between our land and that of Celador have opened without explanation. Though we have inquired with our learned kin the Elehir, the Lady and her mystics offer no answers. “
“Despite the accusatory tone of the Commander, be it known that at this time, we have no answers,” Tihr chimed from behind.
Beliranor ignored her, continuing. “As protectors of this land, it falls on me and my kin the Denemir, to determine the threat these rifts pose. For purposes of full disclosure, I should like for it to be known that we have sent scouts through rifts not under the control of the Elehir in order to assess this threat.” He let his words echo in the chamber savoring them, knowing without looking that behind him Tihr a’ Lahn was struggling to hide her surprise.
Beliranor brought his staff down with a loud crack that bounced off the stone walls of the chamber. “The kingdoms of men span the entirety of Celador to some degree or another. They have small fortifications throughout all of the regions that we have been able to explore to his point. Men remain as unpredictable and foolhardy as ever. They have been on the land so long that most have long forgotten that they are strangers to Celador. The rifts still pull their kind from wherever they come but their numbers seem to be ever fewer. Though mankind in and of itself is a threat, they are not the worst of it.”
Beliranor moved to the western edge of the map. “Here there is a vast and desolate desert, populated by all manner of vile creature that if unleashed on our land would bring about ecological disaster. Men call this land The Barrens. Few of them dare to inhabit this place – but other races have made a home of it.” Again, his staff came down with a loud crack. “A warrior caste of ancient human called the Bardaga resides in this region. They may well have always lived in Celador. They recount their history orally, through song and story so there is no written literature to examine and scrutinize. Interrogations of captured Bardaga gave us limited insight. What we do know is that they live by a code they deem to be honorable, but which is in essence little more than the law which governs beasts and nature. They abide by the ancient notion of survival of the fittest, which allows them to prey upon one another and those unfortunate enough to cross their path. This unevolved mindset has kept their numbers few, which might be the one saving grace of their philosophy.”
“Pardon the interruption, Commander,” a voice from the dais above chimed, “If these Bardaga pose such a threat, how is it that men have not found themselves overwhelmed by their presence?” Luna asked.
Beliranor looked up from the map, “Lady Luna, men have contained the threat to the desert. It is a brutal place that has made it difficult for the Bardaga to press a war effort while struggling to survive, but the fact remains that if given the chance, they would be a brutal and unforgiving enemy.”
“I see,” Luna said, not sounding convinced. “Carry on.”
Beliranor moved to the center of the map. Sensing that he was losing favor with the council he scrapped the rest of what were surely rehearsed remarks and strove to make his point. “I will not waste your time recounting each and every threat to our realm. There are orcs, there is a wild use of magicks, and there is humanity and the uncertainty that is their nature. The Lady Tihr and her allies are reckless. They enter and exit that land at will, and it is the opinion of this commander that she puts us all at risk.”
Tihr stepped forward, “May I respond to these claims?”
“By all means,” Lord Drakmeer replied.
“It is true that I and some of my colleagues have been engaging the portals and investigating Celador. We have been cautious in our dealings.”
“I beg to differ,” Beliranor interrupted. “We found your little base camp with your man posing as an archaeologist. He seems to have taken up residency! What if he were to be exposed and forced to divulge information as to his purpose and the fact that the rifts have penetrated the veil?”
Tihr turned to face Beliranor, “We have been far too long isolated behind the veil. Our resources have become depleted. At some point we need to engage. The rifts have opened for reasons still unknown but one thing is plain, these rifts have opened to all races. Men and Dwarves are already exploiting the resources of this region. They have embraced opportunity and while I understand that this is a curious circumstance that invites scrutiny, we cannot continue to cower behind our walls.”
Beliranor’s face was sour. “Cower? You have a nerve Elehir witch! Your recklessness would in the end have to be answered by my kin. It would be we who would be tasked with remedying your error in judgment. I am not comfortable…”
“Elehir witch? How dare you. For centuries you and your kind have been training, for what?” Tihr a’ Lahn shot back, angry. “It seems all you are capable of doing, is strutting about like arrogant peacocks. This display is all the evidence…”
Beliranor’s face sour, now was full of rage. Behind him his men glared at the Lady of the Forest. “The Lady oversteps! I demand… “Beliranor interrupted.
“ENOUGH!” Lady Zarah’s voice boomed from above.
Lady Lana reached a hand out to Zarah and placed it on her arm, trying to calm her. “Zarah is right, we have heard enough.” She struck a somber tone. “What a price we paid when we divided ourselves into castes. The mystic Elehir are learned yet reckless mingling magicks and technology. The warrior Denemir are stoic and serious, incurious and isolationist. The vagabonds of our kind the Oromir, young souls that have embraced neither philosophy are outcast and wanderlust. I find it sad that while your disagreements seem absolute, the one point on which you likely agree surrounds your pity and apathy for your Oromir kin.”
Drakmeer pulled back his hood from his head. His golden hair fell around his shoulders, his eyes still wide and bright after all of the ages he had survived. One of the three he was from a time before the sundering of the elves, a time before the castes when elven kind was one. Tihr remembered that time, as did Beliranor. Yet they had chosen a path. The council had not. “For too long, we have hidden behind the veil.”
Luna and Zarah did the same, pulling their hoods from their heads. The three of them seemed to radiate a light.
Tihr stepped forward. “Then you agree, we must abandon the veil!”
“Nonsense!” Beliranor said moving in front of her.
Luna’s voice was a whisper. Her hair was silver her eyes twinkling with tears. She seemed to ignore Tihr’s observation and Beliranor’s assertion. “You both remember the time before and after. We are well aware of the sacrifices that each of you made. We are saddened by the ways in which you have each been changed.”
Zarah leaned in. “We show our faces now so that you may know that our judgment is absolute.”
“Celenaress is but a dream to all of us now. It lives in a time so long gone or so far into the future, that it should have evaporated from memory, but we three and you two recall,” Drakmeer said.
It would have seemed an impossible riddle, but Beliranor and Tihr understood. Time was inconsequential. They bowed their heads in surrender and servitude. For all of their power and all of their glory they were in the end servants to a cause.
The three members of the council spoke in unison their voices combining in what seemed a song. “We have been too long behind the veil. We agree with the Lady of the Forest that it is time that we press our boundaries. We will exploit the rifts.”
Emboldened by their words, Tihr’s head raised, her eyes meeting their gazes.
“At the same time we agree that this move is a threat to the sanctity and wellbeing of our kind. We understand the inherent risks and so, we also agree that prudence is a keen course of action.”
Beliranor’s head rose at hearing those words.
“And so, it is our judgment that you will both press our cause and will proceed henceforth as allies in this task. Commander Beliranor you will ensure our security and Lady Tihr you will endeavor to seek answers. You two will find a medium, whatever that may be and you will work to a common goal. We cannot remain behind the veil. We must interact. Yet we cannot yield our advantage. So you will both go to Celador.”
Tihr and Beliranor looked to one another, their faces a mixture of contempt and sympathy.
“It should not be so, but we three shall feel a comfort in being rid of you both. Neither of you will burden this council with conspiracies against the other but will instead provide reports on your progress that are agreed upon and are wholly truthful. On this matter there will be no wavering. You will succeed or fail as a sum of two parts.”
Beliranor and Tihr nodded their heads in silent affirmation but kept their heads low as judgment was rendered.
“You have your orders. Elehir and Denemir, you will rise or fall of your own accord. Make no mistake, if we should find ourselves in this setting once more, neither of you will favor the outcome. Go forth and stake our claim as the rifts have anointed.”
Tihr and Beliranor were silent their heads still bowed.
“State your agreement so that it may be known to the winds of time for all eternity,” the three voices sang in finality.
Beliranor sank to a knee and looked up to the council, “Aye,” he said.
“Agreed,” said Tihr her head still bowed.
“Then begone from this chamber. You have our command, make it whole.”
The callous way in which the council ordered them about bred resentment in the heart of the Lady of the Forest. She looked to the dais, her eyes hard. The world seemed to shiver around her. Beliranor now stood beside her and put a gloved hand on her shoulder, “Sister,” he said his voice an unexpected kindness that stymied her anger. He motioned with his other hand toward the doors to the chamber. He knew well that their powers in unison were absolute, but this was not the place for such displays. They had sworn their oaths long ago and an angry manifestation of their gifts against the council would be a betrayal. “A world waits,” he whispered.
Tihr breathed deep and took Beliranor’s hand from her shoulder. The two of them walked together to the doors to the chamber. Beliranor’s guards pushed the two doors open before them. They walked through together. They stopped in the foyer and turned out of respect lowering their heads as the guards shut the doors behind them.
“What now?” Tihr asked.
Beliranor smiled, “It seems we are stuck with one another, sister. We have our orders.”
“Orders,” Tihr said through clenched teeth.
“Stubborn as always, Tihr a’ Lahn,” Beliranor laughed. “By my account, you have won the day.”
Tihr seemed unsure but Beliranor was right, they had their orders, “I will provide you with details of the rifts and the timeframes in which they open and close. We will send through combined units as commanded.”
Beliranor nodded and smiled, “Agreed.”
“If it be their will that we press the agenda in Celador as a combined force so much the better. It is time our people were united in some cause.”
“Dear sister, on this we aligned. I only wish we could have come to this place of our own choosing.”
Tihr smiled, “The time for choosing is at an end. The council has made certain of that.”
Beliranor nodded, “Indeed. And so we are to succeed or fail as one. If you cannot see the comedic irony of it, I assure you that I can.”
“I see all,” Tihr said. She turned and moved for the exit to the great hall proper. “I will see you on the other side of the veil, brother.”