Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived an elf maiden. She was fair and wise, with eyes bright as jade and hair dark as shadow.
Alas! The Elf Maiden’s heart was shrouded in sadness, for she lived alone in a secluded tower.
“Wait, what? I’m not sad, and I’m definitely not alone. I have three cats, a company of goblins, and…and you!”
With the hint of a smile, he wrote: Her days were only lit up by the gentle presence of her caring uncle.
Alrune sighed and turned to the window.
“You know, Uncle, when I asked you to write our chronicles, I was thinking of something less lyric. Just a straightforward record of what happens in Embervale, actually.”
“Well, sweetheart, nothing ever happens in Embervale. I mean, we do have the occasional invasion of dire rats. Worgs in the forests. Dragon attacks. And way too many surprise visits from your mother. But nothing really interesting!”
Alrune smiled, absently watching the sunrays flickering in the rustling leaves in the courtyard below.
She had willingly left the royal court to carry on her research in peace and tranquillity, and her uncle Dresghar had been ordered to go with her. Much to his dismay. She knew he missed the court’s thrilling and refined lifestyle.
She also knew the poet in him enjoyed the beauty of the mountains around Embervale, the quaint charm of the castle, and the simplicity of village life. Soon, for sure, he’d love this place as much as she did.
“There are people requesting a hearing, Boss!” the goblin guard hollered from the entrance of the hall. “From the village!”
The goblin gestured for the visitors to enter. A pack of peasants hesitantly moved forward, impressed by the grandeur of the hall and its dignified architecture. Though small and provincial, Embervale Castle radiated a solemn atmosphere even the unseemly attitude of the guard could not tarnish.
“Good morning. What would you like to talk about?” Alrune asked after an awkward moment of silence.
“There’s a monster in the forest, my lady! We lost two lambs and several hens.”
“Sheep and chicken? Are you sure this is not a mere worg? Or even just a big fox?”
Wringing their hands, clearing their throats, the villagers did not reply immediately. And then they all began to talk at the same time.
“It screams at night, my lady. Bloodcurdling cries. Worgs are decent creatures, they do not screech like that!”
“My brother Ivo, he saw a beast, my lady! Green, as big as a horse! With horns and a shell like a tortoise!”
“It breathes fire!”
Moments later, if the words of the villagers were to be believed, it appeared that Embervale was threatened by a six-legged armoured monster with the head of an eagle and the tail of a dragon, taller than a house and faster than a hare, able to breath fire and spit venom.
“I see. Probably something mightier than a fox, then. Horns and a carapace – a tarasque, perhaps?” Alrune speculated. “Go back home and stay safe behind the village walls, we’ll deal with it.”
“So, sweetie, how exactly are we going to deal with that dubious monster?” Dresghar asked as soon as the villagers left.
Alrune avoided his gaze and remained silent, more concerned than she let on.
“Someone else, Boss!” the guard yelled again. “The guy who works for the neighbour!”
The goblin let the man in, a weary soldier with a stern face who gracelessly bowed to the Elf Maiden. He was no stranger in Embervale, as he had already delivered numerous messages from his quarrelsome master.
“Good morning, Evrart. What’s the matter this time?” Alrune asked before he even uttered a word. “Does a tree from my forests cast an outrageous shadow on your baron’s crops again?”
“Most likely, my lady. The old baron is…was a stickler for proper ground maintenance. But this is not my reason for coming.”
He paused, obviously searching for words.
“He happened to die a few days ago. The old baron.”
“Good to know! … Huh, sorry – I mean, sorry for your loss.”
Despite his lack of manners, the human did have the grace to go on as if the Elf Maiden had not foolishly cut him off. He was speaking in a low tone, his voice bitter as if his own words hurt him deeply.
“The young baron said he needed new blood. Dismissed us all who served his father. So I end up on my own, and I was wondering if you were hiring.”
A silence fell, somewhat altered by the squealing of Dresghar’s quill on the parchment as he decorated an initial.
“Well, actually, I have a problem with a tarasque…”
“A tarasque, my lady?”
“Or maybe a very weird fox. Whatever it is, it instils fear in the village. Investigate, find out what’s happening, and I’ll try to find you a place here.”
A few days passed, and the human came back. By his side were the two guards of Embervale the Elf Maiden had sent to escort him, as well as a small, armoured creature with tiny horns.
“And who’s that cutie?” Dresghar cooed, putting the Chronicles aside to kneel and pat the creature on the head.
“It’s a tarasque cub, sir. We found the remains of its mother in the marshlands,” Evrart replied. “It’s rather friendly, actually. It bites only when it’s scared.”
“It followed us home, Boss, can we keep it?” one of the goblins asked, coyly glancing at Alrune.
“Please, Boss?” the other one added with what he intended as a charming smile.
The Elf Maiden was gentle in heart – the kind of person who genuinely cared for stray kittens and fledglings fallen from the nest. Hence, at the end of the day, Embervale had welcomed two new denizens: a lovely little critter, and some ordinary human.