Everyone in Lesira, the far-away kingdom of the elves, was anxiously awaiting the ceremony that was to be held later that day in their capital city of Laem-Sujer. On this day, the millennial anniversary of the start of king Dordig's reign, the gray-haired and well-loved king prepared to abdicate from his throne, as was the elves' custom when one had ruled for a thousand years. Not only was there to be much feasting and celebrating for a long-lasting and good reign, but King Dordig would answer the question that pressed heavily on the hearts and minds of every elf in the nation: which of Dordig's two sons would succeed him as king. All had their favoured candidates and were anxious to see who it would be, but one elf in particular was more excited than the others. His name was Nornid, and he was, in fact, the younger of Dordig's two sons.
Prince Nornid, the king's son, was fairly young for an elf. He had pale skin, with a fair face and smooth features, as is the norm among elves, especially those of royal blood. His body was lean and slender, but tall for an elf of his age. His bright azure eyes served as a fitting complement to his golden hair that hung down to his shoulders. Though it is not common for elves to grow a full beard, Nornid had a slight amount of stubble around the lower part of his face that made him appear somewhat older than he actually was. The elvish prince usually composed himself of a cheery, comical disposition, but at the moment his mood was different. He was in the middle of schooling with a private tutor his father the king had hired, and though struggling to be attentive and alert, Nornid's mind wandered to the festivities, not to mention the important announcement, that were to be later that day.
"Nornid, I know you're excited about the ceremony this evening; trust me, we all are. Though perhaps not as much so as you, and not without good reason, we all are." Nornid's royal tutor, a wise old elf named Blarren, spoke to his pupil in his usual kind but lecturing tone. "But you must pay attention; your father, long live the king, has insisted that you not get behind on your schooling!"
The young elvish prince gave out a long, frustrated sigh. "Yes, I know this, sir." Even though Nornid was a prince and technically of higher status than Blarren, Nornid's father the king had wanted to instill in his son a moral sense of humility, and therefore still had him address his mentor as 'sir'. "I am aware of how important this is, and I wish I was better at keeping my mind focused. Still, I cannot help thinking about the ceremony; my father, long live the king, has not even told my brother Yoriff or me which of us he has chosen to succeed him."
"I know how you feel, Nornid," Blarren replied. "Or rather, I do not; I cannot imagine the stress and pressure that must be on you now, knowing that later today you may be king over our nation's population of hundreds of thousands of elves. I will try to have sympathy for you, but there is not much more material left in today's lesson. I know that you can do well if you put your mind to it."
"Thank you, sir," Nornid answered gratefully. "I shall do my best."
His mentor gave a small but understanding smile. "Yes, Nornid, I know you shall. Now, let us pick up with where we left off, in the historical accounts of our nation's past. Though for many centuries our country has been ruled by elvish kings, there was a different sort of ruler before Hift, the first elvish king, long live the king, came to power. And do you remember from your studies who that was?"
"Indeed I do remember," the young prince replied. "T'was not a physical being, but a spirit known as El, called the Great King and the Undying Light."
"That is correct," acknowledged the tutor. "For centuries before King Hift, long live the king, our nation was governed by the being known as El, and there was a time of great peace and prosperity. Even when King Hift, long live the king, did take the throne, our people still acknowledged El for a while after that. Today, however, our nation is ruled only by the elvish king, long live the king, and El is no longer acknowledged."
Meanwhile, a short distance away, King Dordig and his wife, Queen Jelia, were supervising the preparations for the celebration and dictating orders to all of the palace servants. The arabesque courtroom, and the entire castle for that matter, was abuzz with myriad servants and workers scurrying about to their various errands and requesting the king's or queen's special orders on what should be done.
"Yes, please do make the large banquet cake; it has been much favoured at previous such events and a personal favourite of mine," Jelia told the head chef.
"Please bring out my great sword for the ceremony; I have special plans for it," Dordig said to his chief squire.
"Are all the tables laid?" asked Queen Jelia to no servant in particular, as the thought had suddenly come into her mind but she did not know where the chief decorator was at the time.
Dordig sighed, happy but somewhat exhausted. "It seems even after one thousand years, being the king hasn't gotten any easier," he remarked. "It's almost hard to believe all that time has passed."
Jelia smiled, feeling the same nostalgia that her husband did, but wanting to comfort him. "Yes, but even after one thousand years, you don't look a day older," she said. "Only wiser and more experienced."
The king gave a slight chuckle. "I certainly hope that is true," he agreed. "Otherwise I have not brought our sons up well, and the nation is in a bad spot."
Jelia started, remembering something she had wanted to ask him. "Concerning our sons, are you sure you still wish to go through with your decision?" she inquired. "After all, it is not the custom--"
He interrupted her, set unwaveringly in the choice he had made. "Whether or not it is the custom matters not to me," he spoke firmly. "Both our sons are just and noble, but I believe the choice I have made is the best one. I have made my decision, and it shall not change."
At the palace courtyard's shooting grounds, a lone elf stood, shooting arrow after arrow from his finely crafted yew bow with almost flawless accuracy into a specifically laid out target. He was a strong and rugged elf who could often appear aggressive, but was truly kind and noble at heart. Light brown hair, uncommon in elves, flowed from his head down to where his neck met his shoulders and extended to a lesser degree to the lower portion of his face, where it gathered on the tip of his chin to form a small beard. He wore a dark blue tunic, almost appearing violet, which outlined his muscular physique.
As this skilled bowman perfected his aim, another elf approached him from behind, unnoticed at first but soon recognised with delight. The second elf was prince Nornid, who had come to discuss matters with his elder brother Yoriff.
Seeing his brother, Yoriff put down his bow and turned to greet him. "Nornid, my brother!" he exclaimed happily. "It is good to see you; how do you do? Have you finished your studies for the day?"
Nornid politely continued the light conversation. "I am fine, brother, and yes I have. Blarren kindly let me out early, knowing what today was. And yourself? How goes your practice?"
"I have fared well today," Yoriff answered. "It seems the wind blows in my favor."
Nornid slapped his brother on the back in a friendly gesture. "Wind? Ha! Your success comes not from the wind, but from your great skill in archery! I do not know of anyone else who can shoot as straight as you can!"
Yoriff smiled, accepting the compliment. "Thank you, brother. Though I never did have much skill with a sword, I suppose I do have something of a gift for archery, if you insist on mentioning it. " He paused to give a slight grin. "But I do not believe that you have come to compliment my skill in archery. What brings you here today?"
Nornid slowed his speech this time. He had no trouble in making small talk, but what he had to say now was very important, and he did not want to mess it up. "Yoriff, you and I have always been close brothers, not only in blood but in heart and soul as well. I am glad that the bond between us is strong. Yet even so, while both might like to be king, only one of us will be, and I do not know which one. Our father, however, is an elf of great wisdom; I believe that whichever of us he has chosen truly is the best ruler. All I ask is that we let not this division come between our friendship."
Memories of the past briefly ran through Nornid's mind as he said this. He recalled a time when he and Nornid had been much younger, both mere children, and they had gotten into some sort of a squabble. Nornid no longer even remembered what the disagreement had been about, but it had escalated to the point of physical fighting. Naturally, King Dordig had come in and broken up the fight, and both children had been punished accordingly. Nornid had felt awful then, not only because he had been caught and punished, but because he and Yoriff had both been unkind to each other. As a result, both had agreed never to let such a thing happen again, and though there were always minor arguments or disagreements, they had kept their agreement and had not since then encountered any problem that they had not been able to work out. Nornid did not want that to change.
Yoriff was silent for a while, considering his brother's words. He knew that what Nornid said was true, and he wanted it to be so just as his brother did. Finally, he spoke: "Yes, I agree. Let not the rise in status of one sever the bond between he and the other. Let the one not chosen be glad and joyful for the other, not envious and remorseful."
Nornid smiled. "Thank you, brother. I appreciate your understanding and consent. Good fortune to you, and may the best of us become king."
"And to you as well," Yoriff replied. He looked off into the distance. "Look, someone else approaches. Who could it be, I wonder?"
Nornid turned to look where his brother elf had indicated. "Yes, I see as well, and behold, it is the maiden Jeyra."
And so it was. Jeyra, a fair elf girl with ebony hair and eyes like jade, was coming towards the pair of brothers. Her family was, though not royal, still of high and noble blood, and had been good friends with the ruling family ever since she and Nornid were children. Her father had, many centuries ago, served as a Knight in the Lesiran army, and was one of the best; sadly, he had been killed in battle when Jeyra had been very young. Jeyra and Nornid knew and loved each other very well. In fact, she and Nornid were engaged to be married eventually.
Nornid smiled. "Hello, my love. It is good to see you."
"Greetings, Jeyra," Yoriff said politely.
"Pleasant greetings to both of you," she replied, curtsying out of respect for royalty.
"And what would bring you here on this fine day?" Nornid asked.
"The same reason both of you are here, I think, if I have overheard enough of your conversation," she answered. "I come to wish you both the best of luck in tonight's ceremony, and the decision of which will be king." She said this to be polite and respectful and earn good favor with both brothers, but secretly she hoped that Nornid would become king, for she was deeply fond of him.
"Thank you for your words, good Jeyra," Yoriff replied. "Though surely our father's mind is already made up; I doubt that luck shall help us now."
Jeyra smiled lightly, a beautiful smile that entranced Nornid's heart. "Even so, may the best elf and whichever is more fit to rule be the king."
"You have my gratitude, Jeyra," Yoriff told her.
"And mine as well", Nornid added in turn.
"Well, I should hope to have more than merely your gratitude," she answered Nornid with a teasing smile. "We are, after all, betrothed to one another."
"Oh, are we? Ah, yes, I had almost forgotten!" Nornid said in jest.
"Then it's a very good thing I'm always here to remind you," Jeyra countered.
Despite the serious mood of the upcoming event, Nornid could not stifle a grin at this exchange of repartee. "But that's certainly not all you're good for," he couldn't resist adding in.
"Look!" Yoriff interjected, interrupting them both. "Down the road a ways—there is a carriage coming."
"A carriage," Nornid mused. "A carriage must be occupied by somebody. Who could be coming into the city at this hour?"
"I expect we'll soon find out," Jeyra noted. "It's coming closer."
Pulled by two finely groomed horses, the wooden transport continued down the path and grew seemingly larger within the elves' vision. Looking closely, Nornid was soon able to identify the rider.
"Kristopher!" he exclaimed joyfully.
The carriage was occupied by one lone figure. He wore an old, tattered blue robe, and the upper portion of his face was presently obscured by a large, pointy hat of the same color. The bottom of his face was covered in light gray hair that extended a good length down to his waist. He was not an elf, but a man in appearance, though he was a close friend of the royal family of elves and had been for several years.
Kristopher, for that was his name, stepped out of the carriage, aided by the tall, wooden staff which he carried at all times. The old fellow chuckled happily. "Nornid, Prince Nornid, it is good to see you again! And Yoriff, you're just as I remember you!" He didn't know Jeyra quite as well, though he had been acquainted with her briefly in the past and proceeded to politely greet her just the same.
"Your presence is a most pleasant surprise," said Nornid, "But tell us, why are you here?"
"Well, isn't it obvious?" he asked rhetorically, lifting his hat up to reveal his eyes and upper face. "When I heard of what was about to happen, I came as quickly as I could."
"Ceremony! Ah yes, of course I came for the ceremony!" he exclaimed. "I wouldn't miss the chance to visit your parents again, and see one of you become king!"
"Well then, your timing is surprisingly accurate," noted Yoriff. "The festivities should begin in only a few hours."
"Yes, yes of course," said Kristopher. Kristopher had been known to be a man of mystery; strange things, thought to perhaps be supernatural, happened with him. Some thought him to be a wizard or a worker of magic, but he claimed that he was nothing of the sort. He had once said, "What power I have comes not from enchantments or spells, but from one who has even greater power than I." Since people knew him to be mysterious and often unclear, no one had thought much of this statement nor changed their opinions of him in any way because of it.
"It is good to see you, Kristopher," Nornid told him. "Though I certainly hope it remains just as good."
Yoriff and Jeyra both eyed him quizzically. Kristopher asked, "Whatever do you mean?"
"Well", began Nornid. "It seems that whenever you have come to visit in past years, it has been right before some great misfortune befell our land; a destructive force of nature, an invading enemy army, or some other sort of terrible disaster. I do hope nothing of that sort comes about this time."
"Fear not," Kristopher assured. "I'm sure nothing will come that is not too great for you and your people to handle. But why are we speaking of these things on such a happy day? Let us be merry and jolly to celebrate the day!"
"I agree," remarked Yoriff, unsure of Nornid's comment. "And I do hope that idle talk of improbable disasters will no longer ruin our mood. There has been peace in the land for threescore years at least; what could possibly happen now?"
Not far outside the borders of Laem-Sujer there was a large, prosperous river called Xeulia. The citizens fished there, swam there, and visited it often, but everyone who went made a point to stay away from the cave at the end that all the water emptied into. It was a large cliff face, perhaps twelve feet above the ground, and extended into the high mountain Xeunia. The cave had only a relatively small opening in the front, which most of the elves would be able to fit through had they the desire to do so, but no one ever did.
What was so bad about the cave? A few brave elves had explored it about a century back, and reported that it was completely and totally shrouded in darkness. They couldn't see a thing without a candle to light their way, but all lights they had brought in had quickly been blown out by the wind. Everyone knew it would be very dangerous to go into the cave--or anywhere, for that matter--without being able to see where they were going. Furthermore, though most would claim not to believe them, there were rumors and legends that the cave was haunted, or inhabited by evil spirits. Naturally, none of the good and noble elves in the city wanted to risk having anything to do with the cave.
However, there were some who did; not elves, but another sort of being entirely. They were not made of flesh and blood, but of pure darkness; their physical appearances reflected the natures of their souls. If one were to look at them, they would see what looked like a giant cloud of almost total darkness in the shape of a burly, muscular monster. The only parts that were not absolute shroud were the huge, cavernous maw waiting to devour the helpless; the lethal, pernicious claws and jagged horns like rotted bone; and the two piercing eyes that blazed red with the malice of an unquenchable fire. The already shrouded cave was the perfect hiding place for the nearly a hundred of them.
The chief among these vile creatures was a particularly evil one called Brance. And Brance knew that the time had come to put their mission into motion. He held up his hand to signal for the noise and chatter among his legions to cease so he could speak.
"It is time," he announced grimly with a raspy, bone-chilling voice that would have terrified any other creature who heard it. "The city's festivities are about to begin, and no one will suspect any danger during their precious ceremony. Once they know what has hit them, it will be too late; the entire country will be destroyed and every single inhabitant slain!" A gruff, heartless chuckle escaped his mouth and was promptly followed by scattered laughs of similar sound from the rest of the legions. "We go now to conquer; our moment of victory is at hand. Follow me."
With that, he ran up against the cave wall and passed through it into the open air, just as easily as if it were a waterfall. The rest of the creatures did the same and obediently followed him.
If you had been an elf of Lesira and happened to be fishing or swimming in the river at the time, you would have seen five score creatures more terrifying than anything you had seen before, marching towards your nation to destroy it. But there was no one else at the river at the time, so no one else noticed it; all the elves were too busy feasting, celebrating, and enjoying themselves.