PrologueThe winter sun struggled over the snow-capped mountains, so the warriors on the battlefield below relied on the many lit torches for light. Even with the hundreds of torches, darkness reigned over all, along with the cold. The breath of the warriors transformed into a white mist when they exhaled and they shivered in their metal armour.
"This place is a living hell" one of the men whispered to his comrade as they huddled together in a group.
"They're waiting for us to freeze to death. Those cowards" another whispered. Murmurs of agreement ran through the group.
"Silence!" an honoured warrior hissed. All talk ceased immediately. Talon was a man that no one wanted to anger. His body was covered with scars he'd earned during previous battles. He was a veteran of hundreds of battles and one of a handful of survivors of the Sacred Falls massacre and because of Talon's impressive record; he was in control of this campaign.
"When will we attack, sir?" Talon's young apprentice asked quietly. The apprentice was nothing more than a scrawny ten year old boy with scruffy sandy blonde hair and curious bright blue eyes. Hardly warrior material.
"We? Oh, you must mean us men. We 'men' will attack when the sun reaches the first line of tress. But such information is not important to a girl like you. Now go to the back of the company where you belong, child" Talon ordered bitterly. A few of the warriors laughed. The boy puffed out his chest and tried to look brave.
"So what if my features are more girly, I'm just as brave as any of you. I want to defend our lands against the Elves! I want to fight!" he replied staring his teacher in the eye. Talon looked down from his height at the child. Talon recognised the determination in the apprentice's eyes from his own youth. So he did what every other teacher did in his situation.
The back of Talon's hand knocked the boy to the muddy ground in seconds. Apprentices weren't supposed to argue against their teachers decisions. Punishment was expected if an apprentice spoke out of turn.
"Boy, a common cold could fight better than you. But if you're that determined to get yourself killed then so be it. You can fight. Just don't expect me to protect you" Talon growled and spat on the ground. The boy got to his feet, ignoring the stinging mark on his pale cheek. The punishment wasn't as bad as it could have been. Normally he would be beaten to an inch of his life. A bruise was nothing.
The boy listened carefully as Talon told him where to stand. Every warrior had to be in his correct place otherwise many men could be lost just because of one mistake, or that's what Talon always said.
The apprentice didn't look at the warriors as he walked towards his destination. This would be the first time he would see an elf. He'd heard many stories about them through. Elves were supposed to be the heart of all nightmares. It was said that they had waxy grey skin and eyes like a cat. The crawled on all fours, drooling over themselves like dogs. Apparently they smelled worse than dogs too.
And those were only the male elves. The females were supposed to be much worse. Rumour had it that they were twice the size of their male counterparts as well as being more vicious than four bears. It was also said that they seduced men with their magic only to suck the soul out of them which is why they were known as Soul Devourers. Appropriate but mot that creative.
By the time the boy had reached his place, the sun's light was closer to the line of trees than he'd originally thought. The sun's presence brought comfort but not warmth. The boy hopped from one foot to the other in a futile attempt to keep warm.
"Tell me, are you afraid?" the man next to him asked.
"I would be lying if I said no, sir" the boy answered quietly as he watched as the many catapults were pushed into position.
The man laughed in good nature. "You're honest and that's a good trait in a man, sometimes more so than courage. Most of us here are afraid, including myself, but mark my words; a majority of us won't admit it because of pride. If you survive this battle boy, never let you're pride get in the way."
"I will, sir."
The sunlight was almost upon the trees and several last minute preparations were being made. Barrels of oil were being placed on the catapults. A tattooed warrior walked along the line of catapults and archers, a flaming torch in both hands. The apprentice watched as the man lit a small trench full of oil with one hand and lit the barrels with the other.
The boy watched as the warriors around him readied their weapons. An involuntary shiver went through him. A hand gave the boy's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. The simple gesture gave the apprentice enough courage to calmly draw his sword. The weapon felt heavier than usual. He swallowed. Perhaps Talon had been right. Maybe he should be at the back of the company where he belonged.
A simultaneous roar went up from the army of me, causing the apprentice to jump. The clashing of swords against shields was deafening and it drowned out the pounding of his heart.
The boy watched as the archers dipped the heads of their arrows into the flaming oil trench then take aim. Suddenly a volley of enemy arrows emerged from the line of trees. The apprentice watched wide-eyed in a mixture of fear and amazement as many of the archers fell, arrows producing from their chests and throats.
The beginning of the battle started too quickly for the apprentice to remember everything. He was jostled around as the men rushed forward, eager to fight and he slipped on the wet ground numerous times. Strangely enough, the man he'd spoken to was always there to help him to his feet.
"Thank you" he said for the hundredth time. AN archer screamed in agony as he was shot in the eye. The boy watched the warrior sink to the ground, blood streaming out of his wound. The apprentice looked around any saw other warriors falling too. Screams filled the air like macabre music and the blood had almost stained the mud red.
The boy began to shake as hatred spread through his body. These men probably had family. Wives. Children. Did these monsters even understand the concept of family?
The apprentice snatched the bow and an arrow from the fallen warrior's grasp. If there was anything he knew well, it was archery. His father had been the first one to put a bow in the boy's hands. He remembered everything he'd been taught, although everything he'd learned were hunting skills. The boy didn't know whether or not he was good enough to be able to kill an elf, but then again elves were animals so it didn't make a difference. He took aim.
"No!" the man yelled, knocking the weapon from the child's hands. "Elves will kill anyone who holds a bow." Surely enough two enemy arrows flew past, narrowly missing the boy by millimetres.
"Thank you, again."
"No problem. Even brave warrior boys like yourself sometimes need someone to loom out for them" the man replied smiling. "You watch my back, I'll watch yours."
Talon's voice boomed out over the army, ordering the catapults to be fired. The wooden catapults creaked and groaned as they released their loads. The barrels sailed through the air until they hit the trees. Ribbons of fire cascaded down to the ground, igniting the trees at the same time.
"Yes, aim for the trees; drive them out into the open so we can slaughter them like lambs!" Talon roared.
More barrels were released and the apprentice watched as elves fell from the burning trees, their bodies' charred black from the oil-fuelled flames.
A war cry sounded from the enemy. It could have been a melody to the boy's ears but he was more worried about the fear it brought him. Although he had expected something more like animalistic roaring or grunting, it caused the blood in his veins to turn to ice just the same.
Suddenly hundreds of elves burst forth from the now burning forest of trees, weapons gleaming in the weak sunlight. The apprentice gasped. They weren't what he'd expected. They looked human! Nothing like the tales he'd heard.
"Yes, the tales told about elves are wrong. They are not monsters as we are meant to believe but they are still our enemy" the man explained when he saw the look on the boy's face.
"Not monsters" the boy whispered to himself. That was when the battle really began.
High above the battlefield on the side of the mountain two sets of eyes watched silently. These eyes belonged to two girls. The eldest was on the verge of womanhood while the other was a mere child of ten.
"Come, we must leave! The Elders will wonder where we are if we do not appear for the morning meal. You know what would happen if we were found out" the older girl said quietly trying to get her friend to leave.
"But I want to stay, Fraya. I want to see who wins" the little girl replied.
"No! The battle may last for hours, days even. What if we are spotted? Even someone as young as you knows what both Men and Elves do to Half- Bloods." Fraya replied harshly and tugged on the smaller girl's arm, who hesitated at the thought. Yes, even at her age she knew. She'd seen the tortured bodies of her kin strung up on the walls of the huge castles Men built. She'd witnessed the harsh life that the Half- Bloods led as slaves to the elves.
"We are no different from them, so why are we outcasts?" the young one whispered, but she got no answer, just as she'd expected. The answer was already well known. For as long as Half- Bloods had existed they had been shunned by bot Men and Elves alike. Neither community wanted anything to do with them beyond their conception, and even that was considered a mistake.
"Nalani…."Fraya was desperate now. Her voice shook with fear and her hands trembled inside the sleeves of her cloak.
Nalani watched as the sun gleamed off the armour of the Men below. Such a force would surely be enough to destroy all the Elves. But then again, if the army of Men had a large number of survivors after the battle then her village could also become a target.
"Fraya, what if our village is attacked after this battle?" she asked.
"Nonsense. You speak of silly things. We have just moved camp. There is no way anyone could know where we are" the young woman answered quickly.
"But…." Nalani began but Fraya cut in.
"Come, we are leaving now! I think I just spotted several elvish sentries." That got Nalani' s attention. An image of a young Half- Blood woman who'd just been released by the elves flashed in her mind. She'd been covered in ugly purple-black bruises and was heavy with child. That had been the only reason she'd been released. Nalani had promised to herself that would never happen to her. It was a promise she desperately wanted and had to keep at all costs.
With a final glance at the battlefield, Nalani allowed Fraya to lead her back down the mountain.