Fortress Town



            Chrigo the Elf sat on his unicorn, waiting for his bird to return.  The unicorn’s smooth, curved horn wagged up and down as he nodded his head impatiently.  The animal stayed obediently put as Chrigo sat watching.  He was riding bareback, dressed in leather chaps with his hawking gauntlet over one arm.  The gauntlet was thick and soft, providing the bird with a comfortable place to land.  Chrigo was a young elf and like most Elves, he was brown and lean.  He looked almost human, but with a low forehead, protruding jaw and large ears adorned with tufts of hair that created the illusion that they were pointed. Compared to a human’s, an elf’s face would seem simian.  Chrigo was watching his hawk as she hunted, taking advantage of the wind as it blew around the gray cliffs that towered beside him.  The gray, jagged rock wall was part of a plateau, the largest of several that stood on the boarder between the plain of grass that Chrigo’s tribe had called home since ancient times and the thickly forested hills belonging to the Goblins.

            A flock of fat grassbirds was nesting on the cliffs, as they always did this time of year.  They inhabited nooks within the cliff’s face, flying over the nearby plain when they needed to harvest the seeds that topped the tall grass covering it, which would blow away in the wind before winter came and sprout in the spring.  Chrigo’s people had unlimited culinary uses for those seeds, but also enjoyed meat, so he had nine fat grassbird carcasses hanging from his belt.  The hawk had plucked ten out the air and off of the cliffs.  Chrigo always let her have her first kill because he knew that, if he took all of her kills, she would be hunting hungry and would not return and give up her prey. 

            Chrigo watched as the hawk turned sharply and began flapping her long, brown wings.  From where he sat, he could not see her clawed feet tensing in anticipation, but he could almost feel it happening.  A round, black grassbird was dashing away from the cliffs, flapping desperately with its stubby wings. Others of its kind gave shrill whistles of warning from their nests.  The hawk folded her wings backward and dove face first, her yellow, hooked beak aimed at the fleeing grassbird.  The hawk accelerated steadily, racing after her prey, and crashed into it in mid air.  She seemed to drive through the grassbird and spread her wings, slowing and turning as her injured prey bounced away and plummeted toward the ground.  The hawk plunged, feet first and caught the bird in her talons just before impact.  She landed with a few rapid flaps and Chrigo could see her head dip, once, and twist as she delivered the quick, clean death that hawks deliver to their prey.  The hunting bird rose laboriously into the air and returned, carrying the carcass.  She deposited her burden into Chrigo’s waiting hand before landing on his gauntlet, to receive his soft-spoken praise.

            The hawk took to the air again, soaring high above the plateau.  Having alarmed the birds in the area, she was looking for more favorable hunting.  Chrigo gave his unicorn a gentle squeeze with his legs.  The steed, which resembled a long, slim rhinoceros with short, horse-like brown hair, walked forward on his round feet using a relaxed and confident gait.  His ears twitched in the relentless warm breeze that also made Chrigo’s long, black hair dance as his brown eyes watched his surroundings.  Chrigo rolled up and down with the movement of the animal’s shoulders, steering the unicorn occasionally by shifting his weight.  Riding a unicorn without a saddle or bridle, as the Elves did, involved preparing for the next move that the rider wanted the steed to make.  If the rider squeezed, hanging on with his legs so the animal could feel it, the unicorn would speed up and leaning in anticipation of a turn would steer the mount. Chrigo followed the hawk as she descended for a closer look at the area ahead and then leaned back, as if preparing for a sudden halt.  The steed stopped, stood and put his head down, grasping the tops of tall grass around him with his lips.

            The hawk had led him close to the Human town, nestled inside its walls at the high end of the plateau overlooking the Elves’ land as well as the Goblins’ forest.  Chrigo could smell the rotting refuse that the humans regularly threw over their walls.  He hoped that his hawk would not be distracted from hunting grassbirds.  It would be a waste if she decided to pick through the trash or fight one of the powerful carrion birds that the place attracted.  Or worse, he though, went into the city and stole one of the fattened hens that the humans kept.  Although Chrigo thought of Humans as a bit ridiculous, he knew better than to provoke them.  They stayed in the same place always, so they had to build walls for their protection.  Wandering made more sense to the Elves.  Enemies would have trouble finding them, if they had enemies, and they did not need a dumping ground.  Instead, the Humans stayed put while farming, keeping animals and trading, paying others to bring the goods that they wanted to them, instead of finding what they wanted as they traveled.  However, Humans could be dangerous.  Their town was guarded by an army that employed a number weapons as well as wearing armor.  Some of them knew sorcery as well.  Although every elf knew the basics of that art, a human sorcerer did things differently and often in unexpected ways that could take an elf by surprise.  Chrigo did not know of any hostility of Humans against Elves and Human traders often bartered for unicorns with his tribe, but provoking them would do him no good.  Chrigo was relieved as his hawk circled lazily back over the cliffs and shrieked in an attempt to spook the grassbirds.  He waited for her to bring him another bird.  Chrigo planned to hunt until sundown, taking as many birds as he could home with him.  He knew that the long grass was haunted by predators at night, but even a wolf pack would be deterred by a full grown unicorn, in spite of the tempting smell of grassbird meat.

Vanlia sat sipping cranberry wine in the Skyhome Restaurant.  She had been reading, part of her studies at the local university, but was staring out the window, distracted.  A caravan had recently been in town and patrons were taking advantage of the restaurant’s new offerings.  Normally, she was not particularly studious, but reading was a good signal to tipsy young men that she was not there to attract them.  Like most young people, she had the choice of being educated or working.  Reading and hearing lectures was the less unpleasant of the two options.  Skyhome had been built on the top of the owner’s trading house, higher than the town hall, and was able to charge more than other establishments because of the view over the cliffs that the place offered.  She had been contemplating the sea of grass below, watching the wind slither on its surface, but a hawk caught her attention as it hunted.  She also noticed an elf on the ground below. He sat on a unicorn and was barely close enough to be seen clearly.  She could see that he wore a leather gauntlet over one arm, held by thongs that crossed his bare, narrow chest and assumed that the hawk was his.  She contemplated his naked savagery and what little she knew about the absurd life of the Elves.  For as long as any human had known, they had done the pointless wandering that they did.  Vanlia could not even guess why they refused to accomplish anything of their own.  It was easy enough to trade inexpensive wares for their unicorns and even though it was hard to figure what an elf thought was of value, it was obvious that they liked civilized goods.  She wondered why they made so few things for themselves.  This particular elf did not even know how to ride the unicorn he was on, she thought.  He sat on the beast without a saddle or harness, while it stood grazing.  She supposed that he simply sat on it while it, too, wandered on the plains.

            Vanlia sat watching the hawk as it circled and then swooped.  As the bird plunged out of sight, she went back to pretending to read.  The book she held consisted of several thin parchment pages, with hieroglyphic pictures and abstract symbols drawn on them, held together with three nails.  It was a written lecture used by one of her professors at the university.  Vanlia barely paid attention to it and secretly listened to an elderly man at the bar as he played a pipe.  The music was festive, but played with a tinge of sentimentality, as if expressing an old man’s memories of good times.  Around the man, a few of his friends listened, but most of the crowd continued drinking and talking.  Vanlia stayed in her booth by the window.  She was small for her age and dressed in basic white linen.  Her family was not overly prosperous and she shared their small apartment with her brothers and sisters, so she often looked for places like Skyhome to retreat to.

            The music stopped suddenly, replaced by urgent questions.  People were gathering by the window on the opposite side of the restaurant, watching to see what was happening in the forest.  Vanlia made her way through the crowd until she was close enough to see out of the window.  In the forest below, she could see the path through the woods that was typically used by caravans.  The caravan that had recently visited the walled town had been making its way along the path.  It consisted of a line of eight fully-grown mammoths, each loaded with goods and with a single rider on its shoulders.  Now, the large, brown beasts had taken a fighting stance, raising their long, curving white tusks to ward off an enemy.  The caravan also had an escort of three unicorn riders in armor with long, curved swords.  The watchers could barely see what was happening to the caravan, but they could see enough.  A crowd of black goblins surrounded the line of mammoths as the beasts turned, clumsy under their burdens, swinging their tusks deter the advancing creatures.  A goblin stands about half as tall as an average human, covered in thick black fur and with an apish face that often held an evil grin displaying a set of four long fangs.  Although they were never friendly and shunned contact with the world outside their territory, Goblins had never been a threat.  They had only crude clubs for weapons, except those few who were fortunate enough to steal something more substantial, and were only capable of very basic speech.  Although a troop of Goblins was normally large, a crowd the size of the one attacking the caravan was unheard of.  Normally, they would do nothing more mischievous than stealing something shiny.

            The goblins were attacking the caravan.  They swarmed out of the woods, throwing stones that slapped against the mammoths’ hides.  The unicorn riders plunged after them.  Although the riders were unable to build up enough speed to use the charging tactics that typically made a unicorn unstoppable, the dipping and thrusting horns were finding targets.  One after another, the riders were pulled off their mounts by goblins.  Although small, Goblins are very strong and a few of them could easily grasp a rider’s foot and yank him down.  A hail of stones kept flying out of the forest, assaulting the mammoths.  The riderless unicorns continued to fight, aimlessly.  As the goblins robbed the fallen riders, a fire glowed.  Someone among the goblins had stolen a tinderbox and the shaggy creatures were setting their dry, wooden weapons on fire.

            Holding their flaming clubs high, the goblins shrieked and jumped, causing the mammoths to turn and flee out of the woods.  The horde of goblins chased them, driving them back up the steep, bare slope toward town.  One of the massive beasts stumbled on the rough terrain and greedy goblins fell upon it, looting the helpless creature’s load.  As the mammoths were trapped between the black sea of goblins and the town walls, the slab of wood that blocked the gate fell outward, causing a cloud of dust to rise and drift in the wind.  The fortress town’s cavalry streamed out in a well-practiced formation. Their unicorns charged with lowered horns, forming a triangular wedge that slammed into the advancing goblins. The goblins scattered, desperate to escape the speeding horns and slashing swords of the cavalry.  In the din, the mammoth riders struggled for control. Half of them had fallen off of the running, bouncing beasts.  The goblins lost their unity of purpose.  Many fled in panic, while others fought a desperate and disorganized battle against the cavalry.  Still others continued to chase the mammoths, brandishing fire.  One frightened mammoth plunged to the safety of the town’s open gate, with a small mob of goblins sprinting after it.  The gate was guarded by foot soldiers.  Some ringed the opening with a wall of tall, heavy shields, while others were ready with bows.  They broke formation, knowing that they would not be able to stop the fleeing mammoth, and the Goblin pursuers sprinted into town.  Outside, the cavalry forced the crowd of goblins to retreat back to their forest home.  Inside the wall, the soldiers closed in.  They drew their longswords and skillfully engaged the knot of berserk goblins hand to hand.  The skirmish was over quickly, but one spiteful goblin hurled his burning club before he fell.  The smoldering weapon flipped through the air and landed on a thatched rooftop in a less than prosperous part of town. 

            The fire spread rapidly.  Some of the townspeople brought buckets of water, but they soon saw the futility of attempting to quench the flames as they spread from one wooden hovel to the next, driving the occupants into the street.  In Skyhome, people poured out the doors.  Vanlia waited for the crowd to clear and headed for home, working her way through the packed, narrow streets as she hurried to warn her family. She arrived and saw her parents standing outside among a mob of frightened neighbors.  Her father still wore his muddy potter’s apron and her mother was in her house cloths as the two of them gathered her two sisters and one of her brothers together.  Her mother rushed over, putting an arm around Vanlia and hurrying her back to the family with quiet intensity.

            Vanlia related what she had seen while her family listened in wide-eyed silence.  Then her father questioned her. “Have you seen Rangi?” 

            Vanlia shook her head.  Rangi was her older brother.  He was the firstborn child and, like her, tended to look for places away from home to spend his time.  Vanlia’s father spoke sternly.  “You children wait with your mother.  I will find Rangi.  Do not abandon our home without me.”  His wife nodded, holding her youngest daughter against her hip.

            The cavalry rode back through the gate.  They had beaten back the goblins, but the fire continued to grow as it devoured the tightly packed buildings made of wood and stone that the town consisted of. The cavalry commander instructed his troops to organize an evacuation.  He stated that the buildings could be rebuilt, but burnt people could not.  The troops spread the message that all townsfolk were ordered to leave.  The cavalry and foot soldiers ringed the slope outside their gate, where their battle had been fought, and the five hundred or so townspeople slowly evacuated.  The Prime Councilor, leader of the town council, was one of the first out and was riding the mammoth that had fled into the town.  The beast had calmed down and was behaving itself under the old man’s hand.  The cavalry riders took positions around the crowd of townspeople, watching for the goblins’ return.  The forest around them was quiet, as if nothing had happened.

            Chrigo was still hawking when he smelled smoke.  The plateau had blocked any view he might have had of recent events. He had heard the shrieking of Goblins in the distance, but that was hardly an unusual sound, and not one that would attract a solitary elf.  The smoke rising from the fortress town did make him curious.  Although he wondered what they were doing in there, it did not alarm him until he noticed the glow of fire over the wall.  He whistled long and loud and his hawk returned to the gauntlet that he held invitingly in the air.  He gave his unicorn a steady squeeze and beast trotted around the cliffs to the slope where he knew that the single opening in the town’s man-made shell stood.  He saw the cavalry guarding the crowd of people as they hurried out of the burning town and the scattered bodies of goblins on the slope.  He leaned back urgently, halting his mount.

            Vanlia and her family waited as the town burned around them.  Their modest home had not been touched by the flames, not yet, but there was nothing worth going back for inside, so they simply waited for Father to return with Rangi.  A foot soldier arrived and ordered them to evacuate.  Vanlia’s mother tried to explain that they had to wait, but the soldier silenced her with loud insistence that it was not safe.  He told her that she would find her husband and son outside, as everyone was being evacuated.  Vanlia’s mother picked up her youngest daughter and herded her children along through the tightly packed crowd.  The nearby fire intensified the thick, stuffy late afternoon heat.

            Vanlia felt much safer outside the wall.  Rangi and her father were still missing and she could tell that her mother was worried that the two men had gone home to look for the family. Vanlia was wondering if they would return at all.  Although she had held her tongue, she knew that her father would want them to survive, regardless of his instructions.  With the cavalry soldiers towering over the townspeople on their steeds, she was not worried that the goblins would return.  This was not the first time the town had been evacuated because of a fire.  The townspeople would simply wait until it burnt out and then return.  The town council would call for volunteers to help rebuild and the town would throw a party while they rebuilt, turning the disaster into a civil holiday.  Vanlia noticed the elf, probably the same one she had seen earlier, watching with concerned curiosity from a safe distance. 

            Chrigo watched the unusual behavior of the humans as they abandoned their walls. He knew that they made homes out of dead wood and figured that, in their ignorance, they had built a fire waiting to burn.  He also knew that it had not rained in days, a condition that would encourage a hungry fire.  A cavalry soldier had noticed him and instructed the unicorn he rode to carry him over to meet Chrigo with a tug on the leather harness that humans used to pull on an animal’s head.  Chrigo waited calmly and it occurred to him that humans knew very little about riding.  The man wore chains of thick, silky armor, painted orange, and had armor strapped to his unicorn as well, between the animal’s back and the leather saddle that he sat on.  The elf wondered what the man was afraid of, that he would go to the trouble of wearing the stuff in the summer heat, even though he was on top of a unicorn.  Chrigo’s eyes twinkled with amusement as the man rode up to him. 

            “Do you speak our language, elf?”

            Chrigo knew by the rider’s tone that he was asking a question, although he did not know the man’s words.  He shrugged, letting the rider know that they were at an impasse.  The hawk on his arm adjusted her feet, nervously. He could not read the man’s face, as only his dark eyes were visible under his orange armor.  The human trotted back to his fellows, asking if anyone spoke Elvin.

            Vanlia was standing on the fringe of the crowd looking for her father when her mother nudged her.  “I know you learned their language at the university,” the woman observed.  “Tell the soldier you will help, if he helps us to find Father.”  The idea made sense, so Vanlia waved. 

            The man rode over.  “Come,” he ordered. 

            Vanlia was unmoved by the order.  “I can speak to the elf for you, but I am looking for my father, Manlori the Potter, and I would not abandon the search for him.”

            The rider exhaled.  “We will find him after we speak with the elf,” he agreed.  “The evacuation has gone smoothly and I have little doubt that he will show.” 

            Chrigo watched the rider return, walking his mount with a small human woman next to him.  The girl looked brown and shapely, even though she had the stocky figure of a human.  The sleeveless white linen she wore glowed as it caught the light of the setting sun.  Chrigo favored her with a welcoming smile as she approached him. 

            Vanlia had seen elves often, but had never been close enough to speak to one. Although she refused to show it, her nervousness increased when the creature looked at her, grinning a savage grin and showing her the sharp teeth in his simian mouth.  The elf was sitting half-naked on his unicorn without shame.  As she approached, she was surprised that he did not stink, as she had been told Elves do. 

            Behind her, the rider spoke and his words cut through her contemplation. “Ask it what it is doing here.”

            Vanlia spoke in halting Elvin.  “Greetings,” she began politely.  “Why you visit us now?”

            Chrigo fingered one of the grassbird carcasses that hung from his belt.  “I was hawking near the plateau and I saw smoke. I was simply curious and did not mean to trespass.”

            “He smelled smoke,” she translated.

            “Tell it that the our Goblin neighbors started a fire in our town. They have gathered together and attacked us and we taught them a lesson for doing so.  Ask if its people have had difficulties with the Goblins as well,” the soldier instructed.

            “Goblins started fire, they pound traveling traders and turn to us before we sent them away.  Have you had hardness with them?”  Vanlia struggled with the language.

            Chrigo fought to keep his composure.  He knew that the human was doing her best and that laughing at her would be cruel.  He thought he knew what she meant.  “The Goblins leave us alone,” he responded.  “If you need our help, we elves would be happy to bargain with you.”

            “They have not had problems with the Goblins, but he is offering to help us, if we need it.”

            The cavalry rider snorted.  “We can defeat those animals without Elvin help,” he declared with a warrior’s pride. “Tell it we do not need assistance.”

            “We well, thank you.” 

            “My people would be interested in news of this, may I stay?” Chrigo asked. Delivering the grassbirds could wait and he wanted to know why the goblins had attacked.

            “He wants permission to stay and observe,” Vanlia informed the rider. 

            “Tell it that it will be permitted to stay, but only so long as it does no harm. We will be watching.”

            “You welcomed,” Vanlia told him. 

Chrigo stayed and watched as the sun went down.  Soon, the only light was the cruel orange glow of burning rooftops.  He lingered as close to the humans as he dared.  He knew that they did not want his help, but it looked to him like they might need it. 

Vanlia walked back, next to the cavalry rider.  She studied the crowd.  Her mother still stood, waiting anxiously, giving her an expectant look.  She turned to the rider.

“You will help me find my father?” she reminded him.

The rider nodded under his armor.  He helped her onto the back of his unicorn and they moved easily through the crowd of evacuees.  She examined the sea of faces around her, looking for him.  Eventually, she spotted Father and Rangi near the gate.  She was relieved to see that Rangi was unscathed.  She grasped the rider’s armor from behind, exclaiming that she had found him.  The rider walked his mount over and let her down.  As she was thanking him, her father took her by the arm.

“You are alright? It warms my heart to see you!” He was breathing heavily, his haggard face seemed to crack into a broad smile.  He still wore his apron and dark ash was mixed with the gritty clay that adorned it.  “Have you seen your mother?”

“We all made it out,” she reassured him.  She led him to the rest of the family.  As the night fell around them, the evacuated townsfolk spread out and sat in clusters.  To their dismay, the fire continued to fill the night with a hungry orange light.  As the dawn broke, the Prime Councilor rode through the gate and back into town on the mammoth he had taken.  The beast grunted with apprehension, twitching nervously as it smelled smoke.  Soon, the elder returned and spoke with the rest of the council.  As the people waited, the council announced their decision to abandon the fortress.  As the cavalry delivered the news, a murmur of despair flowed through the crowd of people. Under the council’s guidance, groups of townsfolk went in to search the smoking remains of the town for anything left of their belongings.  Vanlia’s family stayed outside with a few of their neighbors, who were also people with little to return and look for.

As Chrigo watched the humans go back inside, his instincts distracted him.  A feeling kept drawing his attention to the fringe of the nearby forest.  Unable to shake the feeling that something was out-of-place, he kept glancing back at the woods.  He began to notice what the humans were oblivious to, the occasional shift of greenery or stealthy rustle.  Soon, he saw why.  He spotted a goblin face nestled in cover.  With a gentle squeeze from him, Chrigo’s unicorn strode toward the knot of people waiting outside the yawning opening in their walls.  Chrigo recognized the young woman he had spoken to earlier and called to her. 

“Goblins!” he announced the word, pointing to the woods. 

Vanlia saw the elf pointing and shouting a word, the meaning of which escaped her.  She reviewed what she knew of the Elvin language and fear electrified her as she realized what the elf was saying.  She shouted in her own language.  “Goblins!  Goblins in the woods!” 

Chrigo rode in closer, placing himself between the humans and the cover provided by the woods at the bottom of the slope that descended away from the fortress walls.  The Human cavalry had gone back inside and his was the only unicorn in sight.  Chrigo waited and watched, silently.  As the dawn light grew, the forest was as still as the sticky morning air.  Chrigo was relieved but still watchful as Vanlia approached him.

“Thank you for help,” she stammered. 

Chrigo nodded. “What will your people do now?” he asked. 

“Not know,” Vanlia responded.  “Here no good to stay.”

This did not surprise Chrigo.  He supposed that even Humans had realized that staying in their burnt home and waiting for the goblins to come was not a good idea. 

“Will you bargain for the help of the elves, now?”

Vanlia thought for a moment.  “Cheap few to bargain with,” she observed. 

Chrigo smiled. “I can lead you to our tribe, we can figure something out.”

Vanlia’s youthful smile warmed the elf.  “Thank you,” she said again. 

Vanlia told her family what the elf had said.  Her father insisted on taking her to the town council.  They went back inside the gate and Chrigo followed.  Their town really was not worth saving.  In the summer dryness, nearly all of the rooftops had burned and collapsed and too many of the homes and businesses were gutted and still smoking.  The fire appeared to be out, but smoke rose from too many places for one to be certain. They found the Prime Councilor in what had been a prosperous area, standing with the mammoth he had ridden. He was whispering to the animal, soothing the creature’s fear that was fed by the smell of smoke and ashes. Vanlia approached him.

“Greetings, sir, I bring good news.”
            He looked forlornly at her and groaned a question, “What good news would that be?”  The elderly man’s face looked worn and hopeless.

“We can have help from the elves.  I have been speaking with him and he has offered to lead us to his family, who will give us sanctuary.”  She gestured toward Chrigo as she spoke.  The old man smiled a politician’s grin and waved to Chrigo. The elf returned the gesture, wondering who the thin, gray-haired human was.  The Prime Councilor walked over to Chrigo and the two of them spoke in Elvin. The Councilor then approached Vanlia’s family.

“We will go with him,” the Prime Councilor said, sounding relieved.  “He has asked that the young lady ride with him, to help guide us.”

Vanlia’s father’s eyes narrowed at that.  “Why does he need that help?” 

The Prime Councilor answered him in a hushed tone.  “I, too, wonder why the elf asked for what he did, but we have little choice.  Trust that the cavalry will be watchful of her, I will see to it.”

“If you do think it is necessary,” Father conceded.

“The help of the elves could be our only salvation,” said the councilor, gravely.

“I would be happy to ride with him,” Vanlia interrupted.  “Or will you men decide for me?”

“Vanlia!” her father rebuked her.  “Your protection is my responsibility.”

“Yes, Father,” she said, not wanting to argue.  “But if the elf meant us harm, he would not be assisting us.”

“There is no figuring an elf’s ways”, her father complained.

Vanlia ignored his overprotective grumbling.  “If it means sanctuary for us, I’ll take my chances,” she said, expressing her resolve.  Standing tall, she left her family and strode over to Chrigo.  He helped her onto the back of his unicorn.  Word that the elf would lead them was taken through town.  The cavalry was assembled and the people gathered near the gate, carrying what they had salvaged.  Chrigo waited while they took their time and made sure that nobody was left behind.  Soon they were on their way down the slope, around the plateau and across the plains in the growing morning warmth.  Chrigo led the way, followed by the Prime Councilor, still riding his mammoth.  The people followed, surrounded by the cavalry in formation.

As they rode, Chrigo talked with Vanlia.  He had requested her company because he thought that taking a translator with him would be easier, especially if anything unexpected were to happen quickly. Also, she seemed likable as someone to talk to and her attempts at speaking his language amused him.  The girl had questions.  He told her his name and that he was a hunter as well as a husband and father.  She also wanted to know how he controlled his mount without a saddle and he explained it to her.  He did not know how much of it she understood, but he did give her a demonstration, speeding and slowing the animal and making a few turns.  She also asked him about the bird carcasses hanging from his belt and he engaged her in a long conversation about hawking and the habits of grassbirds.  She reached over and caressed his hawk gently, introducing herself in a quiet tone.  The hunting bird did not seem to mind the attention. 

Chrigo led the humans back to the Elvin camp.  The elves had found a hospitable stretch of plain and set up tents, after clearing the tall grass and saving the seeds and greens to eat.  As Chrigo and the humans approached, the elves emerged from their tents, alive with curiosity.  An elderly Elvin woman shuffled out to meet Chrigo.

“Ask your people to wait here,” Chrigo said to Vanlia.  She turned and told the Prime Councilor to call a halt.  The order traveled to the cavalry and they stopped, waiting on their mounts in a circle around the townspeople.  Chrigo walked his unicorn onward to meet the old Elvin woman.

The woman was gray-haired but stood straight.  As Chrigo approached her, she eyed him with quiet reproach, as if he were a child that was misbehaving.  “Where have you been, Chrigo, your family is worried.”

“Yanna,” Chrigo began, conveying seriousness by the way he said her name.  “The human’s walled home was attacked by goblins and burned.  They want to bargain for our help.”

Vanlia tried to follow the conversation as she sat behind Chrigo.  “We have not to bargain with,” she reminded him in a private whisper.

“Sssssh!” Chrigo hissed gently to quiet her, almost as if he were giving a command to his hawk. He turned back to Yanna.  “I should hope you would not turn them away?”  He was prompting her.

Yanna smiled.  “Who is this you have with you?”  She was teasing him.  “Will your wife be pleased with your new company?”

Chrigo shot her a look that told her not to be silly.  “We are traveling together,” he said.

“Yes,” she commented.  “You travel with a lot of new friends, more than we can feed.”  She paused, looking over crowd of humans with a satisfied, amused look on her simian face.  “The goblins attacked, heh?  Not surprising.  Three competing tribes have met in their woodsy hills.  They are trying to impress each other with their bravery.  Goblins are best avoided at this time, but I suppose anyone would be hard to avoid if you wall yourselves in.  What have you told the humans, have you spoken for us?”

“Only that I would lead them here and we would make a deal,” Chrigo defended himself.

“Good,” said Yanna. “It is I who speak for our tribe.” The Elvin woman looked hard into Vanlia’s eyes.  “With Goblin trouble looming, you do have something to offer.  Although your ways are odd, Humans are skilled at battle and you have brought your soldiers with you.”  She motioned to the Prime Councilor, waiting atop the mammoth between Chrigo and the humans.  “He speaks for your people, does he not?”  Vanlia nodded.  Yanna Shuffled over to the Prime Councilor and spoke with him, addressing him by name. While the two leaders negotiated, Chrigo rode back to his family.  He walked the unicorn near their tent, dismounted and helped Vanlia down off of the creature.  The animal walked away to join a small herd of unicorns that grazed near the Elvin camp. Vanlia wondered if they belonged to the elves, since they were not harnessed or corralled in any way that she could see.  Chrigo’s wife came to embrace him, telling him how relieved she was to see him safe after his unexpected absence the previous night.  She was a small, slim elf, holding an infant wrapped in a leather bag that covered all but the child’s face and arms.  The Elvin child reached for Chrigo as he embraced his wife.  Chrigo motioned Vanlia to come closer.

“This is Osalla, my wife, and my son Chenallo,” he said formally.  The Elvin baby welcomed her with an innocent smile.

Osalla invited Vanlia inside the tent and offered her a cushion to sit on and something to eat. As Vanlia munched on dry, salty unidentified meat, her host convinced her to tell her story and listened to her patiently while she struggled to relate her experiences in the Elvin language. Chrigo brought in his grassbirds and the three of them began plucking their feathers as they talked.  Outside, Yanna and the Prime Councilor worked out a deal.  The humans would be welcome in the tribe’s territory, so long as they were willing to stay close and assist the elves in any upcoming conflict.  The humans were also responsible for feeding themselves, but the elves were willing to teach them how to live off of the land, if the humans would share their knowledge of metallurgy, pottery and brewing.  The elves decided to commemorate the new arrangement with a feast.  Campfires were built and both elves and humans enjoyed Chrigo’s harvest of grassbirds, as well as other food.  Soon, the elves invited the humans to dance with them and brought out drums, which some elves played while the others encircled the fire, turning and writhing to the beat and the dancing firelight as they circled the campfires.  Later, many of the elves offered to share their tents, as, one by one, both elves and humans looked for a place to sleep.

The coming autumn months were peaceful.  The elves were far from Goblin territory and the exchange of knowledge went well, although trust between the two peoples came slowly.  As the humans adapted to their new way of life, they built their own tents and even showed the elves new ways to build one.  Elvin craftsmen helped them make forges for metalworking and stills for brewing.  Even the soldiers became willing to share their art with the elves.  As winter approached, the elves decided it was time to relocate.  To their surprise, most of the humans wanted to go with them, rather than look for a place to build a new town. 

Years later, Chrigo became chief of his tribe, having gained popularity for his decision to take the humans in.  The tribe had changed, though.  Together with the human members, they had more possessions and had learned to keep mammoths, so that the tribe became a mighty caravan when they migrated to and from their seasonal locations.  They were also making metal weapons and were able to use them from the back of a unicorn while riding bareback with both hands free, making them formidable enough that no enemies came to challenge them.  Under Chrigo’s leadership, the tribe had chosen a new saying, which was said often, especially by the human members. 

“Together, we are stronger than a fortress.”



back to main page