After a long day of working at his Erai master Lord Fiehri’s forge, the fire Enai Heri put his tools away and bade goodbye to his fellow smiths, preparing to leave the volcanic palace for his home in the nearby caves. As much as he loved his wife Narya, being married to a member of the mountain clan had certain disadvantages. Unlike the fire Enai, these mountain elves were the servants of Lord Fiehri’s queen, Lady Lavinia the goddess of earth and harvest. Although their realm was located a short walk away from the volcano, they were unable to withstand its scorching heat unlike the fire clan. So Heri and his wife lived in a cave with other mountain Enai and he often spent a large part of his free time commuting between the two realms.
Having left the forge, he fetched the remnants of his lunch from the kitchen. He put his coat and shoes on and slowly began the descent from the volcano. His lunch comprised a flatbread sandwich filled with troll meat, lingonberries and fresh herbs. Despite several years of living with the mountain clan, most of whom were herbivores, Heri enjoyed the taste of a roasted troll. It was a bit of a guilty pleasure that Narya didn’t approve of, hence the reason why he only ate meat at work.
Trolls were a nuisance to the fire clan. These large and extremely ugly-looking, wild beasts lived deep underground, usually in the same spots where the fire Enai dug their mines. They also had an obsession with shiny objects and loved to steal any crystals or gems they could get their claws on. Lord Fiehri knew that one troll was big enough to provide food for most his servants and their families, so he regularly ordered the Enai to set up traps inside the mines. Some of the trolls they caught, occasionally escaped the mines and ran off into the woods where they were hunted down by Fiehri’s brother Lord Silyan and his woodland Enai. Those who didn’t escape, were swiftly killed. The fire Enai cooks chopped them down with razor-sharp axes, and threw them into a huge pot to be roasted over hot volcanic ash. The slow roasting made the troll meat very succulent and tender.
The sun was setting by the time he had left the volcano. Heri consumed the rest of his sandwich whilst continuing his walk down the mountain path towards the caves. As he stopped for some water from the nearby stream, he heard the sound of wings flapping and a child’s voice shouting “Lietr!”
Heri smiled and glanced upwards as the little figure flew towards him. The duo lovingly embraced each other. Even at six years old, his son Ori was a curious sight. To the untrained eye, he looked like your average fire Enai child with tanned skin and pointy ears. Yet any member of the fire clan knew that he was part mountain Enai. Not only had Ori inherited his mother’s silver hair, but he also had tiny transparent wings stretching from his shoulders. The little fire-mountain Enai hybrid was barefoot, dressed in a plain silver tunic and matching shorts.
Greeting Ori on his way home was usually one of the highlights of his day, making the commute worthwhile. Heri loved the way he would always appear out of the blue, in the same cheerful and playful manner. It reminded him of himself at that age minus the wings. The wings were what made Ori special. They gave him a look of innocence, which masked his mischievous side. Like many of the mountain Enai, he often used his wings to sneakily glide into tiny hideouts and eavesdrop on conversations. Being part fire Enai, he also had the ability to set objects on fire with a spell. Though Ori hadn’t quite mastered the fire magic skills yet, Heri knew all too well, that it would only be a matter of time before he did. He would have to make sure his son wouldn’t use that power to cause any damage. Luckily this seemed unlikely given Ori’s gentle and kind nature.
After their greeting, Ori followed his father towards the caves. They were only mere minutes away from their destination, when suddenly they heard the sound of heavy footsteps from the other side of the mountain path, marking the border between the mountain Enai realm and the mortal province of Lavinium. In addition to this, there were voices shouting something in an unrecognizable tongue. The commotion caused Narya, and various other Enai to come out of their caves to discover what was going on. A group of children slightly older than Ori volunteered to investigate the situation. Ori wanted to go with them but Heri forced him to stay insisting that he was too young. As the volunteer scouts took to the air and flew towards the direction of the noise, their parents considered whether it was time to fetch their weapons.
It didn’t take long until they returned and announced their findings to the others. One word was all it took to get everyone’s blood boiling and that word was “Ihi” – the Enai word for human/mortal. It had been almost a century since the last time either of the immortal clans had seen a human on their lands. Nearly a hundred years of peaceful existence among their own kin, and the freedom to go on with their lives as they had always done.
Long ago the four Enai clans; the war god Lord Atar’s warrior elves, Lord Silyan’s woodland Enai, Lord Fiehri fire Enai and Lady Lavinia’s servants made a promise to their Erai Lords not to intervene in the lives of the mortal folk. This vow proved easier for some than others. For example the warrior Enai rode the skies on their flying horses, only watching human battlefields from a distance. The fire clan lived inside a volcano. Most of them had never seen an Ihi in their long lives, unless they had any dealings with the mountain Enai. Lord Silyan’s servants kept their distance, staying in the trees when they saw humans enter their woods. The mountain clan struggled the most, as their realm shared a border with a human province and the mortals would occasionally wander off into their land. More often than not, these clashes with humans ended in bloodshed, as the mountain clan took up arms in an attempt to drive them away from their realm.
As the children returned to their parents, Heri and the other Enai men retrieved their axes, spears and bows from the caves in preparation for defending their land. Their neighbor and Narya’s friend Dri embraced her twins Gwen and Gwyn, as she watched her husband Brym grab his ax.
“Why must we always resort to such violence? Why is it that whenever the Ihi enter our lands it always ends in bloodshed? This is not the Enai way. We’re a peaceful clan. That’s what our Lady Lavinia taught us. Can’t we at least try to reason with them to avoid the needless slaughter?” she lamented to her husband.
“You’re right, we are a peaceful clan. They’re the ones who come here uninvited, into our lands, threatening our way of life. We’re just protecting ourselves,” Brym explained.
Dri glanced at her children again before responding:
“If only you could see what’s happening in the mortal realm right now. Every time our girls fly to the other side of the mountains, all they see is people fighting, homes on fire, death, destruction and misery with the grim judge’s Morkrai lurking in every corner as more souls are gathered to enter his kingdom. The Ihi are at war with each other.”
“Dri is right. There seems to be a war going on. It pains me that our children have to see this. They deserve better. They should be gathering flowers and berries, flying in the starlit skies chasing fireflies or dancing in the fields, instead of watching humans kill each other,” Narya commented.
“It’s not our fault if the Ihi are at war. It’s their war, not ours. I say we let them kill each other. We swore an oath not to interfere with human lives and I intend to keep that promise. If they leave our lands on their own accord, I won’t hurt them but if they don’t listen to reason, I will use my ax to chase them away,” Brym replied.
“That seems fair. Still I refuse to participate in this. Go if you must. I’ll save my bow for chasing pesky trolls away from our home. I’ll stay here with the twins,” his wife stated.
“As you wish. I respect your decision. Also it’s best if our children don’t see this. I’ll see you later in that case.” said Brym.
Dri bade goodbye to her husband as did their children. Many of the mountain Enai women also decided to stay behind.
“Can I go with you? I’ve never seen an Ihi up close.” Ori asked his parents as they got ready to join the others.
Heri shook his head, “No, it’s not safe. You’re too young. You need to stay here with your mother.”
“Actually Heri, I want to come with you. You might be in need of a healer of a fight breaks out.” Narya commented.
They both glanced at Ori, who made no attempt to mask his disappointment. Whilst they understood his curiosity, taking him with them posed several risks. Though immortal, the Enai could still be wounded and, at just six years old, Ori was still learning how to use his healing powers. He was also too young to use a weapon.
“Maybe Ori can stay with Dri and the twins for a while? If that’s fine with her that is,” Narya asked her neighbor.
The twins grinned at the thought of spending a few hours with their favorite playmate.
“Yes of course. I was planning to head out with Gwyn and Gwen to collect some wild honey, blackberries and rowan berries for pancakes. We will be home before it gets dark. Ori is more than welcome to join us. He can even stay for the night,” Dri replied with a smile.
“That sounds great. I love pancakes,” Ori’s face lit up with a newfound joy.
Ori flew towards the twins Gwen and Gwyn. Within seconds the trio started doing somersaults followed by a little dance. This short, carefree moment of pure bliss made everyone smile.
Ori quickly bade goodbye to his parents, before flying off with the twins as they joined Dri in her search for pancake ingredients. Content that their son was in safe hands, Heri and his wife left with the other Enai venturing further towards the border of their realm.
Silently they climbed past their caves in the highest peaks, towards the lower regions where the human noises were more audible. Even though she had decided to take her bow, Narya was incredibly reluctant to use it in unless absolutely necessary. The thought of killing humans filled her heart with dread. She really hoped they could force the mortals to leave without violence. As they approached other side of their realm, she worried about how their little boy would react to seeing their clothes stained with human blood.
In addition to the bow, Narya also carried a sack of yellow quartz crystals, which her clan used as lights during the night instead of flaming torches. She took out a handful and whispered a spell to make them glow and fly around the clan lighting their way. They continued their descent past the highest peaks, towards the lower regions of the mountains.
What puzzled everyone the most, was what had led the humans to encroach into their lands. With a war going on it seemed unlikely that they would just wander there without a good reason, given how hostile the relations between the two races had been in the past. The only logical explanation they could think of, was that the humans were desperate for either food or medicine and, thus decided to risk their lives by trespassing into Enai territory.
As they came down from one of the hills, they heard the noises again and glanced down. The sight made it clear these were not civilians but an army. There were least sixty, possibly more, armed men in leather armor with horned helmets equipped with swords and axes. Remembering his wife’s plea, Brym decided to speak to them and descended from the hill.
The warriors were shocked when they saw him, as though they had never seen an Enai before. Their reaction surprised the elf, for the locals were accustomed to seeing mountain Enai. He swiftly approached them and spoke up in Gragiyan, the only human language he knew:
“You have no right to be here. These are our lands. You must leave now. If you stay we will kill you.”
The human soldiers remained silent, still in shock. One of them shouted “alfar” and stared in awe pointing at Brym. Another came up to him and touched the Enai’s face as if trying to see if he was a dream or a real being.
This angered the Enai and prompted him to grab his ax.
“How dare you touch me? Go back to whence you came or I will kill you all!” he bellowed before rising his ax ready to attack the humans. The soldiers didn’t move, still bewildered by what they saw. Soon the other Enai descended from the mountain and took their places by Brym’s side.
They drew their weapons, as a small group of soldiers stepped towards the Enai and a fight broke out. Swords and axes clashed. One of the human swords slashed Narya’s arm. Heri responded by grabbing her attacker’s hand and whispering a spell to set him on fire. As the soldier burst into flames and screamed, Heri rushed in to help his wife. He call out for another Enai, who swiftly whispered a healing spell to treat her wounds.
Once her wound had disappeared, Narya drew her bow and began to shoot. Heri continued to cast his fire spells on other humans, while the other Enai fought with their weapons. Once some of Narya’s arrows killed a few humans, she decided to help the other Enai by healing their wounds. The elves were so relentless at killing mortals, they swiftly slaughtered over half of the soldiers and tossed the bodies off the cliff. The humans began to retreat, having realized that it was impossible to kill an Enai and that wounding them only slowed them down.
The elves followed them in pursuit, determined to make sure that they left their realm. They shot more arrows at them until the last soldier had escaped back into the human province of Lavinium.
“Good riddance. I’m glad that they’re gone. I hope that they never return,” Brym muttered, as they began to make their way home.
No-one else spoke on the way back to the caves. As they climbed higher up, they briefly stopped and glanced down at the pile of bodies on the ground below. Some were scorched, others were bloodstained with carrion birds already pecking at the corpses. Narya shed a tear thinking of the soldiers’ families, who would never see their loved ones again.
Once they reached the caves, Heri and Narya bade goodbye to their friends before heading home. Brym did the same. As he entered his cave, Brym noticed that all the crystal lights were off, with just the fireplace in the middle of the cave as the only light. He swiftly removed his shoes and cloak in the corridor before leaving his ax by the fireplace. Hee walked past his children’s room where the twins and Ori were sleeping. The peaceful sight brought a smile to his face. He checked the bedroom to see if his wife was there but she wasn’t. Instead he found her in the kitchen.
“Oh good, you’re back,” Dri said as she saw him enter the room.
They embraced each other in silence for a few minutes. Then Brym spoke up:
“I thought that you would be asleep already.”
“No, I tried to go to bed once the children were asleep but I couldn’t sleep for some reason. So I came here for some elderberry wine,” his wife commented,“This is the one that Cri likes to make. It usually helps me relax. Do you want some?”
Brymir nodded. Cri was his wife’s twin and he was fond of her wine. Also after everything that had taken place, Brym really needed a drink.
Dri swiftly took out a ceramic jug from the cupboard along two goblets and poured some for herself and her husband.
“So what happened out there?” Dri asked once they had emptied their goblets.
“We found an army of at least sixty Ihi soldiers close by, inside our realm. I tried to convince them to leave but they wouldn’t listen. They were acting really odd, almost as though they had never seen an Enai before…” he began.
“That’s really strange. Surely they would be used to seeing us by now. After all our children fly into their realm almost daily..”
“I know…It was very strange indeed. They looked different too. They were pale and they wore horned helmets like I’ve never seen before. Anyway, I feel awful about what happened. I really hoped that we could have avoided the bloodshed. I tried to reason with them but they wouldn’t listen. They refused to turn back, so we had no choice but to use our weapons to chase them away. You did the right thing by staying here with the children. I’m glad that they didn’t see this,” Brym commented as he stared into her blue eyes.
“At least you tried and for that I thank you. I know that there’s no malice in your heart. I can see from the look in your eyes that you took no pleasure in killing them.”
“You’re right rakaserdu, I did not. I’ll never forget the look on their faces as I dispatched them to the Halls of Makar with my ax. I hope that they are at peace now in the afterlife. Surely the dark Erai would have pardoned those who lived noble lives…” Brym whispered as Dri gave him another hug. He held her tight, stroking her long silver hair.
They remained in the kitchen for a few more minutes, before heading to bed. Despite the wine and his wife’s loving embrace, Brym couldn’t get the image of the pile of human bodies from his mind and woke up several times in the night.
The following morning Ori left their cave and flew home. He showed up just as Heri was about to leave for work.
“Lietr!” he shouted and threw his arms around his father.
Heri embraced him.
“So did you see the Ihi? What did they looked like?” the boy asked.
“Yes, I saw them. I’ll tell you later. Right now I really have to go to work. Lord Fiehri will be furious if I’m late. The last time he whipped me as a punishment.”
“Fair enough. I’ll see you later in that case. Noraiohi.”
“Noraiohi,” Heri responded before leaving the cave.
Meanwhile back in the mortal realm, Lial, one of the guards from Lady Lavinia’s temple was rummaging through a pile of bodies in search for survivors. They may have managed to stop the Misoans from capturing the temple, but their casualties were still high. After turning over another lifeless corpse, he paused put his hand over his mouth to try to stop the gag reflex. He turned away before spotting a familiar face, his friend Maxil lying on the ground with his leg trapped underneath a pile of bodies.
“Lial! Help, I can’t move. I think my leg is broken,” Maxil cried out in agony.
“Hold on. I’ll get some help,” Lial replied before dashing off towards the field hospital.
Lial managed to find a medic and sent him over to help Maxil. He was just about to head out again, when a female voice called out his name. He turned to see a tall, teenage girl, dressed in leather armor with her shortly cropped, brown hair hidden under a silver helmet, decorated with a blue horse.
“Yes Kiia, what is it?” he asked the Arhian warrior.
The girl approached him before responding.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you. General Rekihais wants to see you. He’s inside the temple by the altar. ”
“I see. Thanks for telling me. I’ll go there now.”
Lial left the battlefield and climbed the hill towards the temple. He walked inside and made his way towards the altar, where the General stood watching a priestess light a series of candles.
“You asked to see me sir?”
Hearing his voice, Rekihais turned away from the altar to face the guard.
“Yes, Lial. I’ve been told that, you were the one who came up with the idea of luring the Misoans into the Enai lands. The elves reacted just as we predicted. They slaughtered most of them and we caught the rest as they tried to escape from the mountains. They must have had a fire Enai with them, some of the bodies were scorched. Anyway, your little stunt made a massive difference and I don’t think we would have been able to stop the attack without it. We could use a man like you in Dux Kernis’ army. Have you ever considered joining the ranks?”
“It’s never occurred to me before. I’ve spent most of my life living near the temple so this is all I’ve ever known.” Lial replied.
“Well I think that you should consider my offer. The monthly wage of a lower-ranking legionnaire is bound to pay more than what you’re currently earning as a temple guard.” the General suggested.
“I will consider your offer. Now I really should get back to my duties. Is there anything else or can I leave?”
“No, that will be all. I’m staying in the temple for a few more days. So think about my offer. Once you have decided, come find me here and let me know. If you decided to join you can march with us back to Isfienia. Goodbye for now.” Rekihais added.
Lial bade him goodbye, before departing from the temple. He headed to the field hospital to check on his friend. Now reassured that Maxil was in good hands, Lial returned to the temple to resume his shift. Here he remained for the rest of the day. As another guard arrived to take over, Lial left the temple and slowly made his way down the hill towards his home. He soon noticed that the light was on, which was odd considering he lived alone and wasn’t expecting any visitors, so he hurried inside. There he soon found his mother sitting by the fireplace.
Seeing him enter, she quickly rose from her chair and rushed straight into his arms.
“Oh Lial… I’m so glad that you’re safe. Your neighbor Selanus let me in. I spent most of the day here waiting for news. I heard the battle. They said that hundreds died. I thought that the Morkrai had taken you too.”
Lial suddenly remembered why he had given a spare of pair of keys to Selanus. Once a month he and Maxil worked the night shift at the temple. Not only did it pay more, but it also had another advantage; any guard who worked two night shifts in a row was entitled to a day off to catch up on sleep. Last year Maxil talked him into going to The Blind Troll tavern after their second shift. The plan was to have dinner there and maybe a glass of wine. One glass of wine soon become several, and by the time they left the Blind Troll, Lial was so drunk he fell over several times and lost his keys somewhere on the way home. After that incident, he visited the local smith and had an extra pair of keys made, which Lial gave to his neighbor just in case he lost his own again.
“Oh yes, I forgot that Selanus has a spare key. No need to worry. I’m alive. We won the battle. We managed to lure the Misoans into the Enai territory and the elves killed them. They slaughtered our enemies. I wish there was some way that we could thank them.” he replied.
His mother was silent for a while, pondering over a suitable response.
“Well, it’s too dangerous to enter their lands but maybe they would accept an offering similar to that which we leave in the forest for Lord Silyan and the woodland Enai…” she suggested.
“That’s not a bad idea. Thank you mother,” said Lial.
“I might help you prepare something for the elves tomorrow. For now you really need to rest. I visited the market earlier. There’s some chicken soup in the kitchen if you’re hungry.”
Lial nodded and followed her into the kitchen. After the meal his mother left the house while Lial took a bath and got ready for bed.