Sunday, March 4, 2012

A sapling in the treetops FGC (2012) #4

Elmtax pressed his back against the smooth trunk and crept his fingers around its side, feeling for the vine tendril he’d wound around a broken branch earlier on. His barefeet eased across the wide branch, connecting to the solid presence of the living tree. Leaves stirred to the right above him. His fingers froze as he held his breath. A delicate branch bent with the weight of a tiny bird as it cocked its head at the elf. With no movement response from the larger being, the finch sprang from its perch and darted into deeper foliage.  Elmatx let out an even breath as his fingers continued to explore the bark. The instant his fingers prodded against a warm spongy material, he cat-rolled along the branch. An arm slammed into where his head had been a scant few seconds earlier. 
Elmtax crouched glaring at his attacker. “No magic, no fair, Zirrah.” 
Putting a gloved fist on one hip, she snorted. “Who’s using magic? Not my fault if you are unobservant.” 
His hands flung up from his sides and opened, launching tiny coloured pebbles towards her. “Me. You’re the idiot for sticking by the rules.” Mini explosions of unpleasant gasses popped around her upper body. Elmtax took the opportunity to escape from his perch while she coughed and fluttered her hands to clear the air. 
Unwilling to allow her prey to slip away that easily, Zirrah’s foot swept to collect his ankles as he launched himself upward and caught a branch with his fingertips. With a flick, his body propelled itself through the treeline and Zirrah was left listening to the crashing sounds of his escape. With a determined smile, she carefully unwound the vine he’d been searching for and pushed herself away from the tree in pursuit.
Elmtax swung through the trees whooping as he narrowly missed a squirrel.  He landed on a wide decking in a crouch and leapt immediately to the side, catching his launch into space with his fingertips onto a well placed vine. His body slapped around the tree, just as another body, less nimble, but lightning fast; slammed onto the deck. The double eruptions were followed by the tinkling of a thimble as it clinked its way down the giant tree and onto the unseen forest floor.
Ignoring this, Elmtax’s face poked round the trunk and poked his tongue out. “Ya missed, troll features.”

A silken rustling to the side caused his face to drain of colour. “Llelanhn.” He pushed himself upright and brushed his clothes, bowing his head and averting his eyes. “I. I didn’t see you there. I didn't mean that you were -”
The older elf looked up from her craft and put a finger up in the air to halt his babble. Elmtax sucked in his lower lip, and scuffed the deck with his barefeet. He scampered away as she waved to dismiss him. 
Zirrah stood and bowed. “My apologies for disturbing you, Llelanhn. We were finalising our strategies for the skills test tomorrow.” Although younger than Elmtax, Zirrah held herself proudly, averting her eyes in respect.
Long moments passed. Zirrah’s silent poise continued as the leaves rustled around them.
“You would do better to study strategy, rather than practice it.” Zirrah nodded, knowing she had escaped a scathing lecture for the sake of the festivals on the morrow. Her eyes flicked up momentarily, expecting to see Llelanhn pursing her lips or folding her arms. She was instead surprised to see her with company, though her facial expression gave no indication of her thoughts. Zirrah gracefully leapt from the decking and caught a limb across the expanse, flicked her body round it and landed to join the slumped figure of Elmtax.
“He’d get that from his fathers side of the family, no doubt.” Llelanhn’s companion murmured.
Llelanhn cleared her throat in annoyance. “He is still searching for peace in his life. Not yet 73 years old - what can you expect for one so young and with no parental guidance?” 
Murlik smoothed his  gossamer waistcoat at the chest.  “One wonders at the leniency he is shown by the Chancellor. I couldn't imagine what may have happened when we were that age, if we had conducted ourselves like that.”
Llelanhn’s trademark lip purse came into play as she picked up her embroidery and studied it. 
“In any case, I don’t like him taking up with that one.  She’s - “
Putting her fabric down, Llelanhn spoke evenly. “Its beneath you to judge another elf.” 
“Her mother. Odd to say the least. Tomorrow will be interesting. Choosing ceremonies are always an interesting time.”
The pair watched the two young elves push their heads together whispering. Zirrah and Eltax slid down the trunk and swing onto the common areas decking, disappearing amongst the leafy walkways. 
Llelanhn picked up her craft again and began stitching carefully. “We all have our paths. Hers was to seek. No doubt it will be her daughters as well.”
“Seeking. Trouble; dark ways, knowledge best left to the drow. We should never have accepted her back into the clan. Sullied our town with her stories, filled that poor girls head with nonsense about traveling into far countries.  Someone needs to take that boy aside. Tell him to spend time with more suitable companions. She’s headed for trouble that one, and unless we want Elmtax to follow, you’ll do best to sway his ideas about who he spends time with.”
“Take care, Murlik you are starting to sound like a high elf. Raising the young is the clans responsibility. With Elmtax, we abide by the Chancellors decisions”. 
Murlik sniffed and gathered his things.  “I’ll see how the celebration dinner planning is progressing.”

Elmtax brushed his floppy fringe from his eyes and scanned the leafy surrounds.  He pressed his body into the trunk of the tree and listened to its whispering song. Zirrah hand squeezed his lightly. “Its all going to change tomorrow isn’t it?”
Elmtax studied the high green leaves. “It doesn't need to. Who knows what training we will be chosen for?  Its not like there is a travellers apprentice.”  Zirrah allowed herself to smile. “I could only wish there was. I feel like I am suffocating here.”
“No matter if I become the leaf cleaner. We will still have fun together.” His lopsided grin spread across his face as he turned towards her.

Zirrah pushed herself away from the tree. “Leaf cleaner!  When are you going to grow up Elmtax? Take things more seriously?  We have obligations now.”
Puffing himself up and blowing his cheeks out, Elmtax strode around postulating nonsense until Zirrah collapsed with giggles. “If Murlik ever saw you do that…”
Their heads turned as high whistles shrilled around the treetops. It signalled newcomers being pulled up into the boughs. Humans didn’t have the agility or strength to climb their way to the village heights. Although choosing to remain separate in most things, unlike many other elvish tribes, their clan had welcomed travellers and human trade from the start of time. 
Slapping her hand, Elmtax gestured. “Lets see who is visiting for the feast day. See who is looking for an apprentice.  Do you think you could; you know -  hide us so we can get closer?”
Zirrah made a face. “What about the no magic rule?”  Elmtax shrugged. “All is fair in peace and perving.” Zirrah’s fingers dextrously manipulated the air as she wove a transparent cloak to cover their bodies. For the casual onlooker, if the pair remained silent and unmoving, the space they occupied reflected the surroundings; effectively cloaking their presence. Anyone looking for them, or noticing something unusual, would immediately see straight through the shimmery pocket of air.
Elders stood in pristine gowns and welcomed bards and masters of trade.  Llelanhn  graciously greeted each guest and effortlessly guided them to attendants to take them to rooms. As the pair crept slowly closer to the Chancellors chair, Llelanhn’s brow puckered for a second as her eyes swept the decking. Elmtax and Zirrah held their breath but relaxed as her icy glare caught one of the younger attendants dropping baggage. 
A bedraggled human messenger bowed clumsily and offered a scroll to the Chancellor. Smiling, he took it and continued to greet other visitors.
The young messenger pushed his way to stand in front of him. “Aren’t you going to open it? Its from Lord Justyn. Its urgent.”
The Chancellors grey eyes fixed on the human before him. “Your first message to us I believe? A smile that didn’t reach his eyes stretched out.  “It will be open in due course and given our fullest attention then.” A robust warrior burst from the side. He swayed slightly on his feet as his eyes attempting not to look downward though the cracks in the decking. “Forgive his rashness Chancellor. He meant no disrespect. He is only obeying his orders.” 
The Chancellor folded his arms loosely in front of him. “Son of Adriac?”
The warrior bowed his head. “Great Grandson. I’ve been told I have similar features.”
Tapping his fingers on his chin, the Chancellor mused. “He used to hunt with us on the lower plains. A skilled marksman.”
“My family still have the knife you gifted him.”
The Chancellor pressed his lips together. “A messenger with an escort. On one of our most revered feast days. Lord Justyn must believe its important. Be rest assured I will open it with care and consideration. It will be my first duty.” He waved to an attendant to take the scroll and the new guests away. “You are our guests for the feast tomorrow.”
Simon stiffly bowed, “We would be honoured. Please forgive our hasty withdrawal as soon as we have your answer to the message. My Lord is anxious and will be scanning the forest for our return.” 
As the warrior and messenger were shown to their quarters, Zirrah and Elmtax crept along behind them. They sat on a bough outside their room, listening to the humans conversation. Zirrah mimed a bored yawn and pointed upwards. Reluctantly, Elmtax agreed and they made a silent retreat.

“Well, this is a better than listening to the bards isn’t it?” Elmtax’s eyes glittered with excitement. 
“Its all the same stuff with humans though. Wars, jealousy, fighting, conflict over land. They never change. I think I’d rather listen to the bards.” Zirrah beckoned him to come with her. Elmtax shook  his head, “You go, I’ll catch up.”
Zirrah studied the Chancellors face across the fireplace as the bards dramatised their stories. Although the message was no doubt about an upcoming conflict, she was surprised to see him concerned about it. Normally, the tribe kept away from warfare and cultural squirmishes amongst the humans. Her brow furrowed as she caught a slight hand gesture from him across the room. Three messenger elves melted quickly away from the circle. Her acute hearing caught sounds of them speeding through the trees and away from the village.
A cold round metal broach pressed itself into her neck as Elmtax slid in to sit beside her.  She brushed it away from her in frustrated annoyance. “You know what the old ones say about you borrowing things.”  He shrugged “I’ll return it. Humans are so slow witted, especially that one. He won’t even know its gone. Come on; lets go.” They excused themselves from the circle. He turned the broach over and held it out to her. “Wonder what it is?”
Zirrah felt her fingers tingle and withdrew them immediately into a tight fist. “It has magical qualities. You shouldn’t touch things you don’t know what are.”
He pressed the centre and nearly dropped it through the cracks of the decking. He shook his hand and sucked his fingers. “It bit me.”
Zirrah conjured a small envelope around it. As the air thicken around it, she picked it up and pushed into her waistband. “I’m going to get it back to him right now. Who knows what else it will do?”  Elmtax whistled innocently and winked at her scowling face as she shimmered out of sight. 

His body slammed onto the decking a little later.  He grinned. “ I knew you were there. I let you hit me.” Zirrah pushed against him and growled as she stood. Elmtax sat up and continued to smile at her. “You are only mad because you can see the Elders doing nothing about this war.”
“Its got nothing to do with us. We stay out of the affairs of other races.”
“You sound like Murlik.”
“Are they still talking about the message?” Elmtax nodded. “I don’t know why this one is so important though. Humans are always fighting over something.There is something that they are not saying out loud.”
Zirrah gripped Elmtax’s hands. “This is our chance to do something , be something. Not sit around and earn to play instruments, embroider and paint. Tomorrow, when the choosing ceremony happens, what if you get the role of leaf cleaner?  What if I am the rope apprentice, where I just pull on the ropes for visitors. All day. Can you imagine? I was meant for more. You were too, if you weren’t so immature about things.”
Elmtax punched her in the arm. “So what do we do?” 
“Nashira’s has given me blessing to journey - like she did at my age. I’ve just been waiting for the right time, the right people to go with.”  She fiddled with her sleeve and looked up at him. “I want you to come with me. I say we follow that warrior; find out what we can from him”

Elmtax's face showed mock horror. "I saw the way he watched you earlier on. Was that the reason you wanted to go back to his room?"
Flushing, Zirrah turned and sprinted along the walkways, following twists until they came to an open roomed home on the edge of the high tree topped village. Silently they climbed to the top to another room. Here they found Nashira scanning the mountains in the distance.
“The elders are arguing no doubt.” 
The young pair nodded.
“They’ll continue for days. Nothing will be decided and the messengers will leave empty handed.” She kept her back to them as the silence filled the room. “There is smoke on the escarpment. Its built over the last few hours. A shame that village has burnt. The human healer there had potential.”
Nashira’s skin glowed with accumulated age and power.  She turned and glided towards them, stopping to lay a hand on Zirrahs shoulder. “You didn’t need to ask for my blessing. Its time you went. Had your own adventures. Return to me with a bard. I was never much of a story teller. Its one thing I wished our group had brought along. Though, I guess they are normally the first to be killed or run off.”
Zirrah gripped her mothers hand. “I’ve wanted to go for so long. now there is an opportunity, I don’t think I’m ready, I haven’t trained enough, know enough.”
Nashira helf her hand out towards Elmtax and frowned. “Slick, but not quite good enough. You’ll fool humans, especially if you turn on that charm of yours.”  Flushing he retrieved the small satchel from his shirt and offered it back.
“Daughter of my heart, Child of my body. You have been in training from birth. Your innate ability to conjure and use illusion is breathtaking. Although you could stay here, study for decades alongside me to strengthen these, you must go out and experience these gifts; use them in real situations.”
She unclasped ornate necklace and drew it around her neck. It felt warm against her skin. Zirrah looked up at her mother and closed a hand over the top of it. “Your charm. You’ve never taken it off.”
“I know you will always be protected while you wear this. Guard it with your life. it will save yours in more situations than you can imagine.” She smiled and looked over at Elmtax. “Now both of you are adequate with a bow and passable with a knife. Though Goddess protect you if you ever get that close to something. Go to the trunk .Open it.”
Zirrah opened the wooden trunk and brought out a well oiled satchel. 
“My journey satchel. Yours now for new adventures.”
Zirrah ran her hands over the bag, investigating the pockets. She frowned as a front pocket produced metres of thick rope and a hook.
“It has a minor enchantment. I’ve heard of travellers with bags of holding and the like but never saw one in the century I journeyed. Though it looks and feels empty at the moment, you’ll find it has a small tent, cooking utensils, that rope  and room for dry food, extra clothes and boots.  Don’t try and put anything alive in there. They suffocate very quickly.  You can carry some normal things inside the pack as well - it will confuse anyone if you bring everything out at once, so take care where and when you unload. The straps are enchanted as well. They will never chafe will cling to you as a second skin and cannot be cut or torn from you - so thieves”, she looked pointedly at Elmtax, “will never be able to rob you.”
Zirrah shook her head. “I don’t know what to say.”
“No-one in  the clan understood the yearning I had when I looked towards those mountains. I started off from here with very little and learnt alot along the way. I am only too pleased to be able to endow you with these gifts to help you.”Nashira waved both of them away. “Downstairs the both of you and lets see whatelse we can outfit you with.”
Later, standing at the base of the tree, they embraced.  The ground felt strange to stand on as trees loomed overhead.
“You’ll never be far from my sight.”  Nashira tapped the necklace. “You’ll feel it when I look in.”
All I ask is a message through a bard every few years. Its alot of world out there to explore. These skirmishes and unrest amongst the humans is nothing. A flighty unreliable lot on the whole. Useful for short term things. In fact, it may be prudent to make the acquaintance of Lord Justyns messenger and escort.”
With a knowing smile, Nashira ascended the tree and the young elves were left alone.


This  story was written in response to Write Anything's Form and Genre Challenge  and was submitted for #4 of FGC. 


For those of you who 'lived' through D &  D... this begins my chronicling of adventures my group had nearly 20 years ago... with a little artistic leeway of course. It funny the things that I remember...

This  was also submitted to Friday Flash.


Storm Dweller said...

I love all of the imagery in this. It resonates deeply of the Hobbit, a tale I have always enjoyed.

Barbara @ de rebus said...

What a wonderful world you world you have captured here in exquisite detail!

You raise some interesting questions about what is really going on in your reader's mind and set your two young heros off....

will you go on to tell what they find?!?! :)

Cat Russell said...

Love stories about elves! I'm a D&D fangirl too, but nver got into it when i was younger. Now, we sometimes do the weekly Encounters. Nice story!

Small typo: 8 lines down in the first paragraph, you typed "Elmatx."