Featuring…Alrune The Elf Maiden, Lady of Embervale, mage
Dresghar The Chronicler, her uncle, erudite
Evrart A soldier
Ancient heroes, long forgotten
“Uncle, would you please pay attention?” Alrune cried out, desperately trying to drag him away from the lute he was tuning. “I’m reading you a message from mom!”
“What does my august sibling want?” he asked, out of pure courtesy.
“She wants a heart.”
How great, this time he did react: he was raising an eyebrow.
“A heart? Well, I knew she didn’t have one, but I thought she was unaware of it,” he sneered.
“And not just any heart. She wants the heart of some girl named Lloergan. It seems to be important for her – she even says please. Twice! As if I had nothing better to do than…”
“Lloergan, you said?” Dresghar interrupted. “That’s interesting. What else does she say?”
“Nothing. She has just included an antique map, with a red…”
He snatched the map from her before she could finish her sentence. She rolled her eyes – with him, there was no such thing as a middle ground. Seconds ago he did not give a damn, and all of a sudden he was like a kid on Midwinter morning.
“Druidic. From the First Era, I’d say. Most probably authentic,” he mumbled, inspecting the map.
“So it’s likely to show the actual location of Lloergan’s mausoleum, sweetheart.”
“Holy pretzel, Uncle! Am I supposed to understand what you’re babbling about? Who’s that girl?”
He cast her a bemused look.
“What, you’ve never heard about her?”
She let out a sigh as a few notes suffused, and he began to sing. A hour-long epic drama – the story of Lloergan.
It was a rather classic legend, featuring an impossible romance, feuding families, and many curses. But in the end, it all boiled town to a shapeshifter, a druid of ancient times, who gave her life protecting her people from an – of course – evil sorcerer.
After her tragic fall, struck by a wicked spell, nothing intact remained of her but her heart. The druids of her circle embalmed it and placed it inside a mausoleum built in her honour, somewhere deep in the ancient forest, in a place long forgotten.
“And that’s the heart your mother is coveting,” Dresghar concluded. “Given the remote location of the mausoleum, there is a chance it has been preserved from tomb raiders and other inquisitive adventurers. Especially when youngsters like you have so little knowledge of ancient lore!”
“Whatever. I’ll send Evrart. He’ll retrieve that heart and mom will leave me alone.”
“You’ll go with him, sweetheart, this mission may require finesse! Besides, it will do you a world of good to go gallivanting around the forest. You spend way too much time inside with your books and your cats.”
“The Ancient Forest was tinged with gold and speckled with rust, yet still full of life and sounds: the joyous trills of lively birds, the gentle babble of puckish pixies, the rustling of leaves in the fresh breeze. Before long, morning mists would enshroud the lakes. Valleys would echo with the roar of mighty stags. And nature would slowly fall asleep, in a flamboyance of light and colours.
Valiant heart and noble spirit, the Elf Maiden had set forth for the mausoleum of the legendary Lloergan with a single guard. They had ridden for days, following broad paved roads, then proceeding on narrow paths winding through the forest, and finally making their way through the undergrowth.
And soon, in a beautiful glade bathed in sunshine, they reached their destination.
[Excerpt from Dresghar’s later telling of the journey in the Chronicles]
The druids had built Lloergan’s mausoleum in the shape of her favourite animal form, a moonbird. Its wings spread around a terrace, finely sculpted, the large figure was still pristine centuries later. At its heart, framed by opalescent stones, were a massive silvery urn and three delicate statuettes: Lloergan herself, and her two closest companions.
“I was expecting something more impressive,” Alrune mumbled – in blatant bad faith, Evrart judged, given that she was staring at the mausoleum with her eyes wide open.
“And I was expecting a ruin, my lady,” he retorted. “Could the heart still be in the urn? This seems way too easy.”
“We’ll know it soon. Let’s go and check!”
The heart, skilfully embalmed, was still in the urn.
And there was not a single trap protecting the mausoleum.
No protection spell Alrune could detect.
The situation was quickly getting on Evrart’s nerves. His conscience already bothered him about desecrating the grave of a hero and, somehow, seeing said grave be so cooperative with plunderers made their mission feel even wronger to him.
“That’s ridiculous!” he grumbled at the end of the day. “How can a centuries old, so-called forgotten place be so…immaculate? Apart from a few leaves on the ground, it’s impeccable. No wild grass, no creeper, not even a proper crack in the stone! And the heart is still there, just like the stones and the statuettes!”
“We’re in the ancient forest. Maybe some hermit comes from time to time to clean up? Anyways, no-one remembers that place and no-one ever passes by. There’s no-one to damage the mausoleum and loot its riches.”
“Well, that is, except from us. Aren’t we precisely here to loot the most precious relic from this place?”
A frown crossed the elf’s face, and she did not answer.
As she spent the rest of the day sulking, giving her guard one-word orders and replies, he began to suspect his remark had hit a nerve.
In the middle of the night, while he was sleeping fitfully, he was suddenly startled awake by a harrowing cry shortly followed by a low rumbling. Still drowsy, he drew his sword and rushed towards a faint halo gleaming in the direction of the mausoleum.
As a second thundering noise resounded, he spotted Alrune firing some kind of shockwave at two spectral beings hovering and wailing around her.
“What happened?” he shouted, rushing at her side before realising his bland steel weapon would have no effect on their opponents.
“I don’t know! I was in the mausoleum, and they attacked me!”
One of the ghosts brushed past him, cold and distressing, and he felt his strength failing him. The constant howling of the creatures kept ringing in his ears, clouding his judgement, slowing his moves. He stumbled, struggling to keep his balance.
He suddenly sensed a sharp discharge of energy, and his sword became colder in his hand. It occurred to him that the blade was now enshrouded in a shadowy, ethereal mist: the elf had cast something on it.
He heard her yelling something indistinct, seconds before the rumbling of one of her magic attacks rolled again.
One of the ghosts vanished in a last shriek.
Evrart pulled himself together and attacked the other one. He had been a man-at-arms since he was strong enough to wield a weapon, and his combat reflexes came back quickly. Already weakened by Alrune’s spells and vulnerable to the now magic sword, the second spectre soon disappeared like the first one.
“Why the heck were you alone in the mausoleum in the middle of the night?” Evrart asked more harshly than he actually intended, while glancing around to ensure that no threat remained.
“I was putting the heart back in the urn. I can’t…do that anymore. Obey orders I don’t understand. Do fishy things on the whim on my mother. I’m fed up with her caprices and dubious plans!”
Evrart remained silent for a moment. The lady’s words sounded somewhat bratty and unclear to him, and he had no idea what kind of things she had done before he got to know her. Anyways. Whatever her reasons, her decision of putting the heart back seemed fair to him.
“If you were setting things right, then why did the ghosts attack you?” he finally asked. “They were Lloergan’s two companions, weren’t they?”
“I think so. But they were probably not protecting the mausoleum anymore. Most spirits fade after un-death, losing conscience and memory. They might not remember who they were, nor where they were. Then nothing heroic remained in them, only the cold and despair at being trapped in between worlds.”
When they left the place at dawn, Evrart turned back one last time before entering the woods behind the elf.
And there, in the morning mist floating over the mausoleum, he distinguished the faint figure of a beautiful lady all clad in white, watching them leave with a smile on her pale face.
To be continued…