I wrote this story for an ElfQuest fan club called "The Gathered Holt". However it seems to have been shut down so I've decided to post the story here. Even if you've never read ElfQuest, the story should be rather self-explanitory.
Lirilen stood on top of a high cliff overlooking The Gathered holt and all the lands around it. She had to admit it was beautiful. Most of it was high rocky hills covered with lush green grass. Bushes and copses of trees dotted everything with darker green, and on the edge of the horizon towards sun-comes-up was the shining silver line of a distant lake.
Lirilen let a gust of wind whip her silver hair about her face. She had come to The Gathered holt only the day before. She didn't know how long she would stay, or if she would stay at all, but she didn't care. She was used to the wandering life.
She had left her own holt at the age of fifteen. To this day, she could never really explain why. She had simply felt called by the wilderness, compelled to leave her home and wander for the next six years, with no particular destination in mind.
There had always been something special about her--the entire holt had agreed on that. From the moment she could crawl, she had been everywhere, exploring everything. As she grew older, she could rarely be found close to the holt--always off near the other end of the rocky canyon where it was situated, and sometimes even, as her legs grew longer and she had the strength to travel farther, outside the canyon in the unexplored country.
At first they tried to stop her. Her parents worried about her going too far and getting lost, her relatives dissaproved of her dreamy wanderings, her older siblings thought she should be doing more to contribute to the holt. But nothing they said could tie her down. When she was finally forbidden to leave the canyon, in her twelth year, she became sick and weakly. Sleep no longer came to her, and she refused to eat.
So they gave up, and left Lirilen perfectly free to wander.
Lirilen pulled herself out of her memories and glanced up as the cry of a bird pierced the air. She called out a mental greeting as the silver-winged eagle glided to the ground to land beside her.
Silverwing was her mount. She had bonded with him shortly before she left her holt, climbing the steep canyon walls to the point where even the river that had carved the canyon was a small blue line beneath her. She had at last found an eagle's nest, and there, she had looked into the fledgeling's eyes and known that they were meant to be together.
Silverwing had grown quickly, and as soon as he was big enough to carry her, she made up her mind to leave the holt.
It was in the early dawn that she bid goodbye to her family and climbed on his back. As he soared into the air and the holt fell away behind her, she felt more freedom than she had ever felt before in her life.
Desert gave way to mountains and forest as she flew north. She eventually reached the sea, and then turned east to follow the shore for the next four years. Five weeks ago, she had reached the mouth of the river. Tired of the sea, she'd followed it inland until she reached the lake, then headed over to the cliffs she had seen in the distance. The cliffs that she was standing on now.
She rubbed her fingers in the grey feathers of Silverwing's back. "It's beautiful, isn't it?" she asked him.
"They want me to stay, you know."
**What do you mean?**
"The other elves. At The Gathered holt. They have something they call a Patrol, elves with eagle mounts that explore the countryside and do the hunting for the holt. They say I could join them."
**Do you want to?**
"I don't know. I'm asking you."
**If you stay here, I will stay. If you leave, I'll go with you. You know that.**
Lirilen was quiet for a minute. "I have to confess, the idea seems to appeal to me. It's...it's just been so long since I've had a permanent home. Six years. One year since I've seen any other elves. I can't help but think that it would be nice to stay, at least for a little while."
**I must say the idea of the Patrol sounds interesting. Other eagles.**
Lirilen nodded. They were both silent again. Then she spoke. "It's not like I have to stay forever. If I get tired of this place, I can always leave." She felt Silverwing's silent agreement. Then she smiled. "Want to give me a ride down to the holt?"
**Of course. It is a good day to fly.**
Lirilen smiled and climbed on his back. Silverwing lept off the edge of the cliff and spread his wings in the clear morning air.
Silverwing alighted on a high outcropping of rock, and Lirilen took the opportunity to catch her breath. They had been flying hard all day, toward the lake off to the east. Lirilen had come across it on her journeys, and it had occured to her that the fish in the lake might be a good food source for The Gathered Holt. The holt chieftess, Aroyan, had ordered her and Silvasrith, Aroyan's son, to go and see if this was possible--and if it was, to bring back some fish.
Lirilen, who had been flying almost every day of her life for years longer than Silvasrith, had quickly outdistanced him, and periodically had to stop and wait for him to catch up. She could tell he was slightly annoyed at this, and, not wanting to get anyone's bad side three days into her stay at The Gathered, now simply waved him on.
**Silverwing and I are tired,** she sent to him. **Go on, we'll catch up in a couple of minutes.**
**Suit yourself,** he answered, obviously pleased that she was not apparently as good a flyer as he'd thought--he'd been flying all this time without a break. Lirilen didn't enlighten him.
Lirilen sat there, giving him a chance to get a good ways ahead. A cold breeze began to blow and she pulled her cloak around her. The sun was almost setting. They would be spending the night at the lake, then flying back tomorrow or the next day.
It was the season of the first frosts, when it was not yet cold enough to snow, but the air held a deep chill and the grass on the ground turned brown and dead as the dew froze on it in the night. Down at the lake, where trees grew, she knew the leaves would be turning all sorts of beautiful colors. She would pick some while they were there, and bring them back with her to brighten up her small cavern during the long winter ahead.
It was too bad no trees grew anywhere around the holt, she thought, shaking her head. But this land was a land of rocky hills, deep valleys, green grass, small streams, and little else. The main food staple of the holt were rodents, salmon and trout from the streams, herbs, roots, and other small, wild plants, and berries from the occasional clump of bushes. The holt could be fed easily on a day-to-day basis, but it was much harder to store up enough food to last all winter long, and she knew it was something everyone worried about.
Deciding she'd waited long enough, she told Silverwing to go ahead and lift off. Silverwing jumped off the outcrop and was airborn in a few seconds.
The Gathered was a small and sheltered holt, still struggling to get back on its feet after a plague that had wiped out many of its members three--no, four winters before. The people were fairly friendly, for the most part, she'd concluded. Some, like Silvasrith, were inclined to be a little suspicious of outsiders, especially since she'd become a member of the Patrol almost immediately, a very special position in the holt. But most understood that everyone needed to contribute all they could, and as she was a skilled flyer, the Patrol was the natural place for her.
The Patrol needed all the good flyers it could get. It was responsible for providing the holt with a lot of their food, as well as making sure the area around the holt was safe--though from what, she didn't know. It wasn't as if they were bothered by humans, as had been the holt of her birth, or the trolls of which she'd heard her father speak so often.
She could see the small speck that was Silvasrith in the distance, growing steadily larger all the time. He'd reached the lake and appeared to be circling over it. She wondered briefly why he hadn't landed.
**I told you I'd catch up,** she sent to him.
He didn't answer her. She waited a few long moments until she could distinguish him more clearly, then tried again. **Hello?**
He glanced up now, as if just seeing her, though she was pretty sure he'd heard her the first time. **You'd better get over here, quick,** he said, gesturing frantically.
She asked Silverwing to try to go faster, and he sped up until she was about a tree-length away from Silvasrith.
"What's wrong?" she called.
For his answer, he only pointed down, at the shore of the lake they were circling over.
She stared in silent disbelief at what she saw.
"What was that I was saying?" she muttered. "About humans?"
Lirilen took a deep, shaky breath as she watched the group of humans below. It was small, mostly men on horses. A few others who looked like prisoners.
**What are they?** Silvasrith asked. **They don't look like any elf I've ever seen. And their mounts?**
Lirilen shook her head to clear it. **They're not,** she answered. **I know what they are, and I'll explain, but we'd better land before they notice us.**
**Why? Are they dangerous?**
Silverwing and Silvasrith's eagle landed on the far side of the lake just as the first stars were coming out and Lirilen could see a fire starting up near the human encampment.
"Okay," said Silvasrith as soon as they landed. "Explain."
Lirilen took another deep breath. "Those people," she began, "are not elves."
"You said that already."
"Yes, I know. They are a comepletely separate race--called humans."
Silvasrith stared at her. "That old myth? You actually expect me to believe that?"
"I know. This place is miles from any kind of human settlement--the last I saw is two days' flight from here. But they're there, and they're no myth. A village of them lived near my holt of birth. I've had quite a bit of experience with them--I ran into them all the time when I was out wandering around."
Silvasrith was starting to look nervous. "Is it true they kill any elf they can find for no reason?"
"Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The ones at my old holt were mostly afraid of us--they avoided the entire area where lived. But my father always told me tales of the humans who had raided his own holt of birth and killed everyone there, even the children, except for a lucky few who escaped. Those few left and started the holt I grew up in, far away.
"Either way, the point is, they're here, and we don't know why. It's possible they could be a raiding party from one village to another--it looked like they had some prisoners down there. We can't be sure. As it is, we should be able to avoid them for now and go back to The Gathered tomorrow, like we planned, but if they're going to be staying here, it could make the whole area unsafe."
Silvasrith was looking very uncertain. He knew what Lirilen was implying, though she didn't say so. If the humans were violent, and if they stayed, chances were the elves would have to leave. Their numbers were still too small to defend against humans on horseback, but if they left, they would have the whole winter ahead of them without a holt to shelter in. Not a good prospect for a group still weak and struggling just to store up extra food. She knew Silvasrith had experienced the horror of the plague that one winter, though she had not. She could see the fear in his eyes.
But then he suddenly became all bold and fearless again, the way he felt he had to be as the future chief of the holt. She was the last person he would show fear to.
"The first thing we should do is find out what their plans are," he said. "Can you speak their tongue?"
"Good. We'll have to circle around the lake, on foot, close enough to listen to what they're saying. We'll plan on from there."
The humans had camped near a stand of trees, so it was easy for Lirilen and Silvasrith to climb up from the other side of the grove, then swing through the branches close enough to crouch, tensely, almost directly above the fire where ten of the humans sat. Lirilen had suggested to Silvasrith that he stay back a bit, since only she understood the language, and besides, sneaking up on humans was familiar ground to her. She'd done it a lot, for fun, when she was still young, at her old holt. But he'd refused, and she didn't push the matter.
"We break camp at dawn," one, probably the leader was saying. "I want watches posted through the night--we can't have any chance of retaliation from troops at the citadel."
"If we wanted to move so quickly," another one piped up, "then why'd we bother taking prisoners?" He gestured to the five other humans who sat a short distance away.
So she'd been right, it was a raiding party.
"To please Lord Jokstan. He's uneasy from using outland bandits to do his dirty work for him, but he can't risk open confrontation with Baron Veshter just yet. If we want to get hired again, we'll stay on his good side."
"Oh, and ransacking an entire village and burning it to the ground isn't open confrontation?"
"Look, I don't know what goes on in Jokstan's head. We're just in this for the gold."
"Who said we wanted to become mercenaries, anyway?" another man grumbled.
The leader was on his feet in an instant, bending over the complainer. "Because I said we are," he said in a dangerously low voice. "And I'm your leader. If you don't like that, get out!" He pointed to away from the campfire, gesturing to the wild lands where the holt just happened to be.
"Best do what he says, Choste," a fourth man advised.
A fifth nodded anxiously. "Don't stir up any trouble Choste, please," he begged. "It's dangerous enough, staying overnight in these lands. The last thing we need is someone wandering away from camp and stirring up a ghoul or something."
Choste turned on him. "Shut up, Agnor!" he snapped. "We've had enough of your stories of these lands being haunted by eldritch creatures! It's all just a myth and everyone but you is smart enough to know it."
Lirilen signaled to Silvasrith began to creep away, deliberatly rustling the leaves a tiny bit.
"What was that?!" she heard Agnor exclaim behind her.
"Probably one of your ghouls," someone else said. "Leave off, Agnor, Choste is right."
"You made quite a bit of noise," Silvasrith accused her, once they were far enough away to safely talk. "I thought you said you were experienced at this!"
"I am!" she came back at him, jumping to the defensive a bit before calming herself down. "I did it to scare that Agnor fellow. It's fun! I did it all the time when I was child."
"What's an agnor?"
Lirilen sighed. "Sorry, I forgot you couldn't understand what they were saying. The basics of it are, they're a raiding party from some land to the west of here, doing a raid on a village in the east. They're breaking camp at dawn--they're not staying. Unfortunately, this area could become a frequently traveled road if war breaks out between the two lands."
Silvasrith shook his head in disbelief. "These humans are more primitive than I thought," he said. "Killing their own kind!"
Lirilen shook her head, feeling sad for him. "Elves do it too, Silvasrith," she said. "Believe it or not, it happens."
Silvasrith looked at her aghast. "No! I will not--I cannot believe that."
Lirilen just turned away, letting a little sigh escape her lips. She hadn't expected him to, and she really didn't see the need to convince him.
"Anyway," she said, "we're safe for now."
Silvasrith nodded. Then he frowned, as if an idea were coming to him. "What did you mean, about an agnor?"
Lirilen laughed. "Agnor is the name of one of the humans," she said. "I heard it when they were talking." She explained to him what 'ghoul' meant and Agnor's fear of them.
Silvasrith nodded, a smile beginning to play around his lips. "Suppose we used these 'ghouls' to keep them from coming back?"
Lirilen raised her eyebrow. Maybe Silvasrith had a sense of humor, after all. "Just what did you have in mind?"
Later that night, when all the humans but one guard were asleep, Lirilen crouched waiting in the trees. She sat quietly until the guard's back was to her, then slipped down to the place where the horses were tethered. One whickered softly at her approach, and she had to crouch down behind it while the guard looked around suspiciously. Once he turned away again, she broadcasted calming thoughts and managed to keep them quiet while she untied their reins.
Placing her hand along a small bay's back, ready to mount, she waited Silvasrith's signal.
**Ready?** he finally asked her.
**Yes. Send Silverwing out.**
Lirilen sent a quick mental affirmation and then turned her mind to Silverwing. **Okay, you know what to do, right?**
**Of course,** he answered.
**Then go for it!**
A moment later, Silverwing launched out of the tallest tree and, manuvering so that he made a perfect silhoutte against the full moon's light, let out an ear-piercing shriek. As the guard whirled around, hand on his sword, and several others lept to their feet from a sound sleep, grabbing for weapons, Silvasrith, on back of his own eagle, lept out of the trees and swept low across the camp, scattering the fire with a long pole so that everything was plunged into darkness, save for the light of the moon, which ominously winked out every few seconds from Silverwing's shadow.
Lirilen jumped onto the horse's back and kicked her heels into his sides. She had only ridden a horse a few times before--the few people with mounts at her holt of birth bonded to horses--but she remembered the basics.
Broadcasting fear and panic to the horses' minds, they all took off, galloping right through the camp. There was a great deal of shouting and she heard the human leader desperately trying to bring order, but to no avail.
Silvasrith had used his knife to cut the prisoners free, just outside the encampment. Lirilen stopped the horses beside the small group. "Take the horses and go!" she told them in their own tongue.
The first four, all adults, were unhesitant. But at the last moment, as Silverwing landed on the ground to carry Lirilen to safety, she found herself looking at the last former prisoner.
She looked to be about four years--at first glance. But Lirilen saw a four-fingered hand and ears tapering to a point on the tiny face, and her eyes widened.
This was no human. This was an elven child.