Elantra: the Lie of Adelar
"The Elantra, the queen of our people, dwells high in the clouds alongside the Moragon, her king and husband. Daily the laughter of the Elantra fills the sky, causing a magical rain which provides Adelar with all it needs for its success, happiness, and prosperity."
Lies. Children's fairy tales.
He hugged his knees close, as if he knew he shivered violently and comprehended the snow falling thickly, coating his hair and clothes, as if he actually sensed the intensely piercing iciness. But he did not. Because it was the truth which pierced harshest of all. The truth that his entire life had been a lie up until that point. The point when someone revealed the lie, the children's fairy tale. The day he'd been inducted to become a 'knight' of Adelar, a true 'man,' the next potential Moragon of the land. Well, if that's what being a man meant, if that's how noble was defined, he would remain a cowardly boy the rest of his life.
Then again, wasn't he a coward already? No, not by the Walkers' standards. The Walkers, like himself, fled from the truth, unable to face its horror. Yet perhaps there was a way for him to do something more, to breach the borders of Moragon's domain. But how to even find those borders? One chance. The riskiest of all. Yet that was his life from this point on. Flee from the truth or risk his life trying to change it.
He stood, some of the snow falling from his golden-red curls and the thin cloak draping his shoulders. His deep blue eyes set, determined, harsh as the surrounding cold—the cold he still did not feel—he started trudging through the snow.
Each step was made with a force which crunched through the thick layer of snow and ice blanketing the Wood, a force of anger and rage as he recalled the events of that past week...
He had just turned twenty-two, the coming of age for both men and women alike in Adelar. The age when they could legally marry, own property, join the knight hood, engage in other adult responsibilities.
The young men and ladies were always taken separately into the Wood for the ceremony, each group led by a respected male elder.
Crispin remembered when his sister, Joellen, had been inducted. She returned so different, so changed. Quiet, reserved, seemingly afraid. Afraid of what? Crispin could not tell, and she never would. Thus Crispin made his way a bit nervously with the other teenage boys into the deep and seemingly endless Wood. But his curiosity far surpassed his fear. This was the farthest any of them ever traveled from the high city of Adelar. The whole thing felt dangerously exhilarating. The orangish tints and grey cast of the twilit sky added to this mood, as did the increasing dark as they moved deeper into the Woods.
"Excited, Crispin?" Tytonn bounded next to Crispin, eyes gleaming. He was one of Crispin's closest friends, though that didn't necessarily mean much.
"Guess so," Crispin said. He was more excited about the whole experience than the actual ceremony. He hadn't given too much thought—or care—to what it meant to become a man.
"You guess? Is that the best you can do? Well, I can't wait for the whole thing to be done and over with!"
"You just want to marry Johanna, that's why," one boy joked.
"Hush Snip," Tytonn snorted.
The boy laughed. "Nothing to be ashamed of; she's a mighty pretty girl, smart too. As for me, I can't wait to settle down with a shop of me own. Finally be able to display as much of furniture and other carvings as I please without sharing the profit with Father."
"What about you, Crispin?" Tytonn asked. He bounced with excitement, and Crispin held back a laugh, walking along calmly.
"Must be a girl you have your eye on or something?"
Crispin shook his head. "Afraid not."
"Awe, Crispin. You can be such a bore."
Crispin smiled and said nothing. There was something he wanted. Freedom. Freedom to travel and explore beyond the world of Adelar. Why not? He had no family left save his happily married sister. He could always return to visit friends. He owned no real roots. He would miss his home, yet perhaps he could establish deeper ties somewhere else...
"Halt!" sounded the deep, commanding voice of the elder.
The boys came to a stand-still and a hush fell.
"We have arrived at the glen where the ceremony shall take place."
Eyes darted curiously about the seemingly ordinary, tree-shaded glen. Except for Crispin's, studying the elder.
He was tall, and though lines on his tanned face and balding head showed he was aging, his body still held an evident strength, just as his eyes always held that stern glint even when he smiled. A slyness, a cunning often lingered in those eyes too. It was there as he smiled at the boys. It was there as he met Crispin's staring gaze.
"Crispin, why don't you start a fire for us. Tytonn, Snippet, help him out."
It did not take long to gather enough twigs and branches and get a good fire blazing in the midst of the clearing. When all the boys were seated, encircling the fire at the elder's command, he stood and said, "Welcome to the coming-of-age ceremony, one of the most important of ceremonies held in Adelar, and, I am sure, in your lives. During this week, we shall sleep under the stars together, learning the most important skills of survival and those you can use to best serve your kingdom, your future families, and yourselves. But for now, we feast. And after the feast, I've prepared a special surprise."
Whispers of excitement coursed throughout the glen. The boys looked up the trees rustled. The young maidens appeared, bearing baskets of freshly-prepared foods. The boys were prohibited from touching or even speaking to any of the girls during the coming-of-age rituals. Tytonn always thought of it as "a male-bonding type of experience." But no one could prevent them from looking, and they looked on longingly, especially Tytonn as Johanna set a basket next to him, winking and smiling at him.
After the meal was finished, the elder stood once more. "And now, the root tea shall go around. This is a rare and special drink, offered only at the most special occasions. Each of you take a sip and pass it on to the next person."
"Isn't this brilliantly exciting?" Tytonn whispered to Crispin as he passed the cup on.
"Oh, yes," Crispin whispered back, somewhat sarcastically, inwardly thinking the root tea tasted a good deal like...well, things he'd rather not say, even to himself.
Finally, the goblet was returned to the elder who yet stood.
"Well, boys, you have just taken place in your first ceremonial feast and root tea drinking. More of that to come in the following nights. But now, for your surprise..."
A few of the boys were still finishing their grapes, but most stopped in mid-chew. Crispin didn't stop, but studied the elder carefully. The sly look shone in his eye again. Crispin narrowed his eyes subconsciously.
"You're in for a treat tonight, boys; tonight we head for the clouds to see the Moragon himself."
The most complete silence ensued. Crispin's head shot up as he stopped in mid-chew, eyes gleaming excited curiosity. The elder glanced at each face in turn, casting a slight nod and smile at Crispin before saying, "Well come on; what's with all the long faces? Not excited about getting to see your king? You should all be honored!"
Glancing around, Crispin saw worry, skepticism, fear upon each face. What were they all scared of? Were they all just nervous? No excitement seemed to grip any of their expressions at all whatsoever. Even the fearless Tytonn looked grave. Worry passed over Crispin's face as he finished chewing and swallowed. Then again, why worry? The elder was getting annoyed. Crispin didn't want this to spoil the other boys' first ceremonial night, so he jumped up and volunteered, "I'm ready, my lord. Let's get going."
The boys' eyes pierced like icy knives. Were they angry? Did they really not want to go that badly? He felt awkward but managed to keep his cool, though the elder smiled forcedly in a lousy attempt to conceal his surprise and disgust. Crispin wondered but didn't worry. The elder was often disgusted with Crispin whether he had cause to be or not. Or, in this case, even if Crispin reacted exactly the way he seemed to want them all to react.
"Very well then, you all heard the boy. Everyone stand and we shall make for the Moragon's domain, Thunder Castle."
The boys reluctantly stood. Several moved to put out the fire, but with a swipe of one of the elder's arms, the fire extinguished. A few of the boys' faces showed mild interest through their worry, and the elder explained, "Magic. More of that to come as well in the following days. Alright now, everyone form a circle and hold hands—tight."
As Tytonn took Crispin's left hand, he squeezed it unnecessarily tightly and hissed, "Good going, Crispin."
The boy who took Crispin's right hand held it loosely as possible. Apparently, he'd rather ignore the elder's warning and risk his hand exploding--or whatever could happen if the spell went wrong--than hold something as disgusting as Crispin's hand. Crispin was used to being disliked, but this was just ridiculous. He was the verge of telling Tytonn so when the elder's voice boomed: "Everyone ready? Hold very still...Fyre Claudia!"
In a whoosh of wind, fire, and smoke, they surged upward. Pressure, force and warmth consumed, yet they remained unharmed. It proved an entirely unpleasant experience though, so they were glad that it ended in only a few seconds.
But relief proved a short comfort. They stood upon semi-transparent, white wisps. Clouds. Dark clouds billowed in the night sky, shielding their view of the stars, robbing their last, visible points of light until a burst of light shot out. They jumped for even this light provided no comfort. Its edges were jagged, cruel, its movement swift and sharp. Again it flashed, illuminating great, billowing clouds formed into a great castle. Points of faint orange light shone from within the windows; these too offered no comfort. Crispin now understood the boys' fear in coming to such a place. But how could they have known what sort of a place the Moragon, the high king over all Adelar, lived in?
"The Thunder Castle," the elder said proudly. The lightning cast an unfriendly look upon his already-unfriendly face, enhancing the glint in those dark eyes, a glint focused upon—
"It's the Moragon," Tytonn gasped, squeezing Crispin's hand more tightly than ever.
Crispin looked. At the top of the steps leading to the castle, two great doors had opened, and in the doorway stood a man. Crispin could not see him well, but as the lightning cast its cruel illumination, he could see dark clothes, dark hair, dark eyes. Eyes dark in more than one way. Dark like the elder's. Otherwise, he appeared just an ordinary man, though with something amiss.
"Do you see now what mess you've gotten us into?" Tytonn hissed, finally realizing he still held Crispin's hand and releasing it.
Crispin saw. And he wished very much he'd held silent when the elder asked who wanted to see the Moragon. But it was too late to turn back now.
The Moragon strode proudly down the steps, throwing his arms wide open in a welcoming gesture. "Well, well, welcome to the Thunder Castle, my boys! And you, Gernaldo, so good to see you again."
"My lord." The elder bowed as the Moragon stopped before him. The boys clustered behind the elder, as if standing too near the Moragon might somehow poison them.
"Well, come in, all. No need to be shy. I've much to show you."
They followed him up the cloud steps but not before he had the chance to glance at each face. He did it so quickly, yet his stare was like ice. Crispin felt the Moragon's eyes lingered upon his longest of all. Crispin tried to not look afraid but found this hard to do without looking defiant. The Moragon smiled for a half-second before his eyes roamed to the next boy.
They climbed the steps and entered the double doors which closed with a clap like thunder.
They stood in a great hall, the walls, floor, and ceiling all made of cloud smoothed as much as it is possible to smooth cloud. A great chandelier hung from the ceiling. Furniture and pictures tried to offer comfort unsuccessfully.
"Welcome," the Moragon's voice sounded even larger in the vastness of the hall, "to my abode. I am honored to have you all with me this evening. The elder and I are old friends, so I arranged this special meeting."
"And the boys are quite grateful, I am sure." The elder's eye was sharp. They all bowed and pretended to be quite grateful.
"What shall I show them first?" the Moragon asked.
"It is your castle, my lord," the elder replied.
"And you are my guests."
"Yes, my lord. The Elantra then?"
The Moragon looked surprised. No, amused. But not surprised. Crispin wondered if anything actually surprised the Moragon.
"You think they are ready?" he asked.
"May as well cut right to it, eh?" The elder's eyes gleamed greedily.
Moragon nodded and smiled. "I usually save the best for last, but if my guest so wishes, that is what tonight's lesson shall be. Come, boys. Tonight I take you to meet your queen, the Elantra."
As they began to follow him to the far side of the dimly-lit hall, Crispin wondered who would marry such an ominous man. Unless she too was just as frightful. Tytonn looked both grave and even more terrified than before.
They were led out of the hall, into a corridor, and down a flight of winding steps. Distant thunder echoed outside. This sound became muffled then altogether disappeared as they descended deeper and deeper into the castle. Torches lit the way, though their eerie light offered as much comfort as had the lightning.
Finally they reached the bottom of the stairs and another door which the Moragon opened.
They stepped into a narrow hall with many doors on either side, all of them closed and secured with heavy locks. But the Moragon focused on the one at the far end of the hallway. A strange place for a queen.
"Alright, boys." The Moragon slipped a key into the lock, turning it. "Meet your lovely future queen..."
The door swung open. They peered inside, Crispin pushing forward.
All he could see was a small form cowering in the shadows. The outline of her small, huddled body. Thick, wild waves of hair as they draped over her shoulder. And, very clearly, her eyes. He stared. They were the most beautiful eyes he ever beheld, a wondrous, bright blue. Such beautiful eyes should have been shimmering. He felt they once were, for she must be a Scintillate. No other race possessed such blue eyes. But they shimmered no more. They held only wide-eyed fear as they passed from one face to the next. So completely hopeless. As if she could not help but be frightened, knowing she must feel that way the rest of her life. He had never seen such an utter hopelessness. It broke his heart.
Her eyes lingered on his a bit, and he thought he saw a trace of the glimmer which once shone in them. At first he thought he returned a small bit of that hope. But she looked slightly dazed, as if she thought she was dreaming, kind faces an impossible thing...
"Who is she?" he asked.
"Why," said the Moragon, "this is your future queen, the Elantra."
Crispin started. This is a joke. He didn't speak the words aloud. But he felt them. And he thought them over and over in his mind. Instead, a different question slipped from his lip,: "What is her name?"
There was a pause, then laughter. The Moragon was laughing. The Moragon was laughing at him. Then the elder laughed, and all the other boys. Crispin finally tore his eyes from the poor girl to stare at them all sharply but found himself caught off-guard yet again. He was the only one who had been shocked. He was the only one who stared in horror. They all laughed the same, nonchalant laugh, as if this was all okay. As if it was normal.
"Ah, you amuse me, my boy." The Moragon slapped Crispin casually on the back Crispin cringed as though something very dirty touched him, glowering. "Does it look like she's worth having a name?"
"But she's your wife—she's our queen!"
"She is our queen, yes. She still has a few months left before she's old enough to be made my wife though."
"Queen, wife, what does it matter? She's a human being! What is she doing locked up in that cell!?"
"Calm the boy's curiosity and show him, won't you, Tytonn?"
Moragon held up his hand. A whip materialized in clutched fingers. He handed the whip to Tytonn who blankly returned the knowing smile. Crispin glanced at both their eyes, the overwhelmingly gleeful yet cold glint stunning him. It was not til Tytonn was in the cell, whip raised over the girl, that Crispin's senses returned and he shouted, "No!"
He lunged forward, but the elder held him back. He squirmed away, but then the Moragon pinned him to the ground, forcing his head up. Crispin watched, he had to. As though the Moragon placed some spell upon his eyelids so they would not shut. The strokes lurched, one, two, three, and with each a small whimper. He stopped counting after ten and tried to shut out the whimpers culminating into blood-curdling screams . But they echoed in his mind, and she writhed as Tytonn beat her mercilessly, and finally—
"Enough," the Moragon commanded casually as though bored. Tytonn returned, breathing heavily, as though he just received the greatest adrenalin rush of his life. The Moragon let Crispin up and he raced towards the girl but was bounced back by some invisible barrier.
He could only look around wildly into the faces of each man. No—boys. They were all like foolish, hateful boys, unworthy to be called men. He breathed heavily. His eyes passed over the Moragon who smirked. Then he quickly let his eyes dart away, lest the temptation to throw himself at the Moragon overcome. His eyes locked on the elders,' as cool and resolute as all the rest. Crispin growled lowly, "What was that? What did that girl do to deserve that? No, never mind.
"Nothing could warrant such a terrible punishment."
"Punishment?" the Moragon mused coolly, still smirking. "Why, tis not a punishment, but an honor to be the Elantra."
Crispin continued to glare, not sure where he was going with the conversation.
"Why," the Moragon added, "where did you think the rain of Adelar came from? That daily silver rain that keeps us all healthy, prosperous, happy? You didn't really believe all those stories of 'laughter filling the sky with rain,' did you? No, my boy. Our happiness takes sacrifice. Someone must make a sacrifice so we can live the best life possible. And after all, she's just a girl. And she's just one girl. You don't even know her. Why should it concern you?"
Again, Crispin stood speechless. This was the most absurd thing he ever heard of, something he expected of some pagan, uncivilized tribe, not from an Amielian, civilized kingdom. If that's what they could be called anymore.
"The boy had no parents," the elder said.
"Ah, of course." The Moragon turned his focus back to Crispin who still stood in an angry daze. "Our laws state the secret of Adelar can be revealed only by a person's parents before they come of age, if those parents so choose. So I understand if all this is a bit of a shock to you."
Crispin's eyes flashed up as if to say, "Shock? That's not even the half of it."
But then the elder was saying, "I think we'd best get back to our ceremony."
"Of course, of course. It was so nice to have you all over. Great fun. Allow me to escort you out..."
He led the way through the winding castle. Walking like an incomprehensive zombie, Crispin glanced at the faces of those he thought he knew, thought were his friends. But all the boys looked calm as ever; some even looked amused. So they had known. They knew the whole time and thought nothing of it.
"Til tomorrow night then?" the Moragon asked once they stood safely outside the castle.
"Til tomorrow night, my lord," the elder replied.
With that, the Moragon nodded at each of them, his sharp eyes meeting theirs. Crispin caught the slight smirk once more as they fell upon him but a moment longer. Then he slipped up the steps and disappeared into the castle.
The elder merely said, "Hold hands, boys."
They all did so. And again the uncomfortable whoosh took them, this time back to Adelar. But Crispin was too sick with horror to feel its uncomfortableness.
Back on firm ground, the elder said, "It's been a long night. Tomorrow shall be a long day. Let several gather wood for a fire, and let all make ready for bed."
All marched solemnly to obey. Crispin still couldn't judge their faces. They no longer seemed so ecstatic. Nor did they seem upset...
"My lord," Crispin tried to keep a patient, steady tone, "May I speak to you in private a moment?"
The elder's eyes narrowed, weighing whether it was worth his time. But he said, "Of course, Crispin. Come."
They moved to the edge of the clearing.
"What is, Crispin?"
"My lord, I mean no disrespect. But what went on tonight—I think you know it was entirely unacceptable. It was just wrong."
"What are you talking about, Crispin?"
Crispin blinked. And stared. And blinked again. And fought the urge to throttle some sense into this man they were supposed to be looking up to for council and guidance.
"What am I talking about?!" he shouted, for once abandoning the thought of holding back.
"Crispin Rachendorf, if you would kindly lower your voice—"
"I will not!" he yelled even louder, just to spite the old fool. A fire already burned, and the boys stopped to watch and listen.
"I will not! I just learned that everything I've ever known ever in my entire life is a lie! And the worst part is how disgusting the truth really is!"
"Crispin—" the elder tried to cut in, but Crispin wouldn't let it go.
"We claim to be an Amielian kingdom. Bull-feathers! Amiel tells us in the White Scrolls for to honor women and respect them, to treat them like treasures. And how does telling us we all live in some perfect, fantasy world then crushing our spirits at seventeen do us any good?" Crispin half-yelled, half-cried. His mind was still half trying to deny, half accept and cope with the horrified truth. He caught his breath in an attempt to calm down then he continued, "When my sister came back from her ceremony, she was so changed, and now I know why. Because when she learned the truth, she was scared out of her wits about becoming the next Elantra. That was years ago, and she's still never really been the same!"
"But your sister was not the Elantra. Nor my wife. Nor anyone we love or hold dear. So what does it matter?"
Crispin blinked and stared. The man's tone was so cold, so completely and unfathomably heartless, that he could do naught but blink and stare. His eyes passed the other boys'. The fire added to their vacant expressions a dark, unearthly glow. They too seemed resolute. Crispin could hardly believe it. His breathing quickened as he glanced frantically at each face. Certainly there must be one other who questioned. How could they all just accept the truth as right, just because some man's law told them that was just how things were? How?
"Do you mean to tell me," he said finally in a quiet tone, struggling to steady his voice, on the brink of another outburst. He dare not let his eyes meet those of the elder, wanting to poke those cold eyes right out of the man's head, "do you mean to tell me you think it's right or just that one person's happiness should be sacrificed for that of all others?"
The elder pondered for what seemed a very short moment then replied, "I do not care for the happiness of all others, Mr. Rachendorf, only my own and my family's. And so long as the magic of Adelar protects that, I voice no complaint. You would be wise to do the same. Content yourself. You are in no danger. Why, you could end up being the next Moragon yourself—"
That was the breaking point. Crispin's smoldering eyes blazed at the elder, the fire reflecting in them a burning red glow.
"I will NOT be the next Moragon! I would never be charged with such a filthy crime—!"
"You'd do best to quell that temper of yours, Mr. Rachendorf. Sit down and rejoin the ceremony—"
"No, my ceremony is over! I'm more of a man that any of you will ever be. You're all cowards!" His eyes flashed into each of their blank, blinking faces, then back to the elder's dark eyes.
"Most of all you," he growled lowly. "For getting them to believe in something you know is wrong."
He stormed off, brushing past the elder who threatened, "I'm giving you one, last warning, Mr. Rachendorf. I don't think this is something you want to take so lightly. Come back, join us, let us talk."
"No, thank you!" he shouted bitterly, sprinting into the shadows of the Wood.
The elder's dark, heartless eyes turned upon his new clan of loyal, unsuspecting, already-brainwashed allies.
Some looked at each other questioningly, some jumped to obey;. In the end, none would refuse the stare of the elder and rushed into the Wood after their prey.
Crispin ran faster than he'd known he ever could, and it seemed for a time they lagged behind. Sounds of feet crunching upon fallen branches and snow melted into the distance.
Crispin nearly tumbled, stopping short at the sudden command.
He looked up. Tytonn stood glowering, holding a branch, the end blazing eerily.
"Crispin, turn back now while you still have the chance."
"I could say the same for you," Crispin said in between gasps. "You can come with me, Tytonn. You don't have to stay and be subjected to—"
"It's over, Crispin,don't you see?" he snapped bitterly. "The Moragons grow in power with each succession. Even if we wanted to fix things...by our generation, they've gone too far. It's too late.
"Go, Crispin. I'm giving you a chance."
"And I'm trying to give you one as well, Tytonn."
One of the boys shouted, "Over here! I see him!"
Footsteps grew nearer.
"Go!" hissed Tytonn.
Crispin hesitated for a moment, but seeing his friend wasn't going to budge, bolted for the trees.
Crispin skidded to a halt and faced Tytonn, who said, "If you do come back, don't expect me to able to defend you again. This is your only chance."
Crispin nodded then he disappeared into the shadows of the forest, the darkness of the night.
* * *
And that had been the end of it, his parting with the world of Adelar. The world he once thought he knew. The world of lies and false happiness.
Now he was going back to meet that lie, his home.
His greatest enemy.