Merewen paused after finishing her song, she was perched on the high branch of the oldest oak, a place she had become attached to with its great silence and peace. Suddenly a strange feeling surged through her, and she felt chills creep up her spine. "I am not alone." She thought silently, and quickly decided she was going to play ignorant, not knowing if the person spying had malicious intentions. She let another moment pass, then began singing softly.
"Methri Anue, Nagana Hal
Anoe Medrith Hida
Sote Anue, Ila Canhalath
Metene Heil Ethnas Hada"
A branch snapped in the distance, as the first verse of the lament had ended. An ominous chill crept through her, and her blood felt cold, out of instinct she held still showing no signs of notice.
And as suddenly as she had felt frightened she was washed over with relief. In the closing distance another voice, much higher than Merewen's began to reply.
"Dawn Is Empty, Again I Call
Mother Return Home
Together Empty, Alone We Wait
Come Back To Us, Before Day's End"
Nienna peeked over the side of the branch, and quickly Merewen pulled her over. "You remember it well, I could not bring myself to sing it in the Elven tongue as you do." Nienna commented, the tone in her voice was somber.
"Why haven't we spoken in so long?" Merewen asked her frantically, recalling memories of her twin that had once clung to her side.
"I was afraid you would ask that, and with all honesty, I cannot say." She replied in an almost silent whisper.
Merewen was overcome with frustration, "You've ignored me without reason! We're family, and when we came here I expected to stay together no matter what! All these weeks you've avoided my questioning, and that is your answer? It is utterly pathetic!"
Nienna stared at her lap, her hands were folded and her face showed no sign of emotion, her eyes were empty. Merewen reached out, and cupped her face in her hand, forcing Nienna to meet her gaze.
"What has happened to you? Do you have any idea what you've done to me? I see no reason for you to be here."
Nienna scoffed for a moment, doubting her sister in the beginning before quickly coming to the realization that Merewen was irate. "Well maybe giving one a moment to explain themself is too difficult for you, and I mean in regards to why I am here." She quickly added when Merewen shot her a glance of fury.
"I am here to remind you what day it is, because I find it hard to not remember your disregard for time and dates. Today is midsummer's party, and the families from Birkbank have arrived. I thought you would perhaps enjoy attending the celebration alongside your twin, though now I have begun to doubt that it is so."
Merewen sat back in surprise, tonight was the happiest night of the year in the forgotten village. Farming families from Birkbank would bring food, shopkeepers and townspeople of Shadywood would bring gifts and tall tales, while their home village supplied shelter, music, and drink.
"Thank you, I would have stayed here all night singing if you hadn't come." Merewen whispered to her sister, trying her best to convey her apology with her eyes.
Nienna recognized her sister's message, and then placed her hand on her shoulder. Briefly they exchanged glances, and the tension relaxed.
Setting their differences aside for the night they climbed down, and walked in perfect synchronization through the woods, everything about one was mirrored by the other.
"I hesitated to tell you this before, but now I must. Another visitor arrived before the Birkbanks, one we did not expect."
"Who, and why have they come uninvited? Are they the uncouth people of Antrak that the villagers so often complain of?" Merewen asked brimming with curiosity, things of interest to her never occurred within their small village, and so a quarrel or whisper of gossip became the entertainment and knowledge of all.
"No, they are not of Antrak, and although they were not invited nobody wishes them ill, everyone welcomed them heartily. Though I think all but I were taken aback."
Merewen already knew who had arrived before Nienna had finished, and as she did Merewen joined her in speaking their name aloud.
"Elves" They said in unison, Nienna stated, Merewen whispered in awe, utterly shocked.
"They've come back for us?" She asked Nienna desperately, feeling a glimmer of little hope, illuminating her dreams of escape from their living Hell.
"That I do not know, they are from Taranil so it isn't unreasonable. There were three of them, but I didn't take my time to see if I recognized their faces, I just went off to find you."
With that they finished speaking, immediately breaking off into a running pace, they soon reached the forests edge which they took no notice of. A few short moments passed and they found themselves across the field leading to the forest, now on the edge of their quaint riverside village.
The sun was beginning to set off in the distance, and hues of orange and pink covered the clouds hiding the newly illuminated lamps of red, blue, and violet, that hung in every tree. People were gathered around a great white tent with open sides that were lined with tables, inside the laughter, music and constant chatter was indecipherable to anyone outside.
"Shall we?" Asked Nienna, holding out her hand which Merewen accepted gladly, they danced into the tent, unnoticed by the crowd as newcomers, singing and twirling the same as everyone.
It didn't take long for Nienna to smell the Birkbank farmers legendary pies, the heavenly scent carried above that of the ale and smoke. She dragged her sister through the crowd and pushed her way to the table, where an old proud man and his wife stood side by side, handing their treats to every person who approached.
"Hello Mrs. Belunla, do you remember us?" Nienna greeted the woman eagerly, and Mrs. Belunla turned with a wide smile at once.
Mrs. Belunla laughed "How could I not my dears? What have you this year, apple, pecan, or strawberry tart?"
"I think I shall have myself strawberry, as it has not graced my taste in many months." Merewen replied, reaching out and thanking Mrs. Belunla graciously.
Nienna strode forward next, "I'd be grateful for some apple, it's been my favourite since I first tried your pies, although they are all heavenly." And as quickly as they had seen her, they bid Mrs. Belunla goodbye for another year.
As they sat together eating they both silently searched for the Elves supposedly attending for several minutes, and soon found their plates empty. "I cannot see them, where could they be?" Merewen whispered across the table.
Before Nienna could answer her Mr. Belunla sat at the head of their table. "Hello dears, fancy a chat?" He asked, and Nienna couldn't help but observe his appearance, which she had never done before.
He was a tall, slightly robust man, with dark hair and a scruffy short beard. His voice was very deep and distinctive, and his accent was unplaced for both the sisters, it seemed both foreign and familiar. When he smiled everything about him seemed to glow, he radiated kindness.
"Yes of course, your pies were delicious sir! We cannot thank you enough for your generosity." Merewen stammered, feeling herself filled with a bubbly glow that she was unaccustomed to.
"Now I believe myself to be a man of many winters, and I see in you two something I thought I would never see again." He paused to think, and surveyed the girls' reactions which were confused as he had expected.
He leaned in over the table, a grave expression clouded his face. "Do you know what I speak of? Perhaps this may help, do you know what follows you?"
The sisters looked at each other confused, neither with any idea what he spoke of. "Follows us? What would be following us?" Nienna laughed nervously,
"If you do not know then I will not say for the moment, but allow me to ask you, where are your parents? Today is a day for families to come together, and I cannot imagine why one would not want to rejoice."
"Our Father fell in battle before we were born sir, and our Mother was ill long before we were born and too weak to survive afterwards." Merewen blurted out, yet again feeling enchanted by Mr. Belunla's radiating warmth.
"My condolences I-…"
"No need, we do not remember them, so we cannot miss them. We've lived without them long enough, thank you." Nienna interrupted, angry with herself for being saddened by the subject.
"Why do you garb yourselves so strangely?" He asked, kindly nodding to them at the change of the subject.
"How is our cloth strange?" Nienna replied hastily, feeling slightly insulted.
"My dears look around! You dress yourselves richly, and with such fair colour and cloth, it is no workmanship of these regions!" Mr. Belunla chuckled, motioning towards Merewens hooded light blue tunic, and the trim embroidered with intricate yet soft golden patterns.
They looked at each other, and then at those around them, it did not take long for them to conclude that they were oddities. "You wear distinctly Elven garb which you have made on your own as Mrs. Baklin has kindly informed me."
Nienna shot a glare at Mrs. Baklin, who sat two tables over drinking to her hearts content.
"So tell me now girls, how did you learn the means to do so if not from the Elves?" He laughed to himself, while Nienna and Merewen stared gravely at one another.
During their life with the Elves they were raised no differently than Elven children had been centuries before. Taught reading, writing, sewing, swordplay, tracking, archery, and endless other skills expected of them. Nobody knew their secret other than them and the village elder who had succumbed to illness the previous year, and they were not ready to start sharing it with anyone.
"Do not fear me, I mean you no ill will. I mean only to help, will you not take counsel with me?" Mr. Belunla's face was earnest, without a hint of a lie in his eyes.
"We will hear your counsel, but do not expect action on our part, I am curious as to what you believe follows us. But by no means will we put faith in your words, as we know nothing of you."
His smile quickly reappeared, "I cannot tell you what follows, only that the Elven storytellers can. I implore you to seek them out, though only one shall have an answer worth hearing." And without another word he left the twins confused and unsure of themselves.
Several moments of silence passed by the twins, though the racket of the party was ever-present. Merewen held her head up with her folded hands and with her wandering gaze, accidentally spotted a group of three Elves entering the party tent all clad in silver and white tunics. "Let's go, while our chance is still here." Merewen muttered, forcefully dragging Nienna around the table and alongside her until she regained her footing.
After snaking, and tiptoeing their way through the crowd they found a small area cleared out, a rug was placed on the ground with decorative pillows placed upon it. In the centre stood the three Elves, smiling at the children who began to sit around them on the pillows and the curious men and women who stood behind them.
Nienna and Merewen threw themselves down onto the pillows, uncaring what surprised glances they received from others their age. "I am quite comfortable now, much more comfortable then I would've been standing." Merewen said loudly, and then glared at the others around them who called them childish.
One of the Elves stepped forward, he was the tallest of the group, with pale silver hair that almost matched his tunic. His eyes were a grey colour, and his face was beautiful, young, and kind as with all the other Elves.
"Today we each come to you with tales passed down throughout the ages, which we deem fit to share on such a festive night. I will begin, and I ask you to please bear with me if you find the tale uninteresting, for I am quite sure the others will put it to shame."
Merewen found herself on the edge of her seat, wishing that once again she could walk in the halls of Taranil, the Elven house where they were raised. The sisters eagerly listen throughout the first two stories for any hint of what could be following them but were sadly disappointed, the tales were common children's stories that they had heard many times before.
The first was the tale of Sade and Taelin, of how darkness seeped into their world.
"Through all of time an unspoken law was abided, that no Elf, Dwarf, or Human should ever love one who was not of their own kind. But love is a flawed and unpredictable emotion, and in the forests outside the Great City of the time Sade and Taelin met, and fell into deep and almost immediate love upon first sight of the other. Sade an elf, Taelin a man." The elf paused, watching the eyes of the children fill with light of excitement.
"They kept their love a secret for several days, but when Sade's sister saw the two walking close together they were discovered. The Elves held a great counsel with Sade, but she refused to leave Taelin already prepared to die for her love. And Taelin would not heed the words of his family, who begged him to forget Sade, but so madly in love he also refused. So they departed, exiling themselves to lands far from the Great City, deciding that they were better to remain together and forgotten, then apart and remembered by all in their homeland. For a little over a decade they remained forgotten, but soon their memory in the city was refreshed, and cursed by all."
Now the Elf stood silent for another moment, watching as even the once loud partygoers gathered into a crowd, deeply intrigued by the tales of Elves.
"They had broken the unspoken law, warned by their families and the wisdom of the Elves. A great evil suddenly spilt into the land, unknown dark creatures burning and pillaging, soon weighing siege onto the Great City. Word even came to the ears of Sade and Taelin, who occasionally visited and befriended members of a small hunting village. Although no one remembers how or why, they knew it was their own doing. And so they left their home which they had hidden and built in the forest nearby and set out on a journey of no return. On the third day of siege on the Great City, all hope seemed lost, and it was inevitable that the evil forces would pass through the gates of the city. They had laid waste to the troops on the ground, and archers from above. On that third day Sade and Taelin had made their way to a forbidden pool, known as the 'Elven Mirror'. And on that day, they sacrificed their lives and stood together in the pool, never to be seen again. With their sacrifices the creatures were returned to their evil realm, and the door to it was closed behind them."
When the Elf finished there was a long, drawn out moment of silence, and then a great applause broke out. When the clapping, cheering, and hollering had finished the Elf bowed his head and took a step back.
With his step, another grey eyed silver haired Elf stepped forward and began his tale.
"My tale is one many of you have heard, but never from my races side. We all have our lore, and I believe this to be the oldest and most reliable of accounts. Today I will tell you our remembrance of the passing of the Dwarves." But unexpectedly none of the crowd diminished or complained, still ever eager to hear the Elf's story.
"After the siege of the Great City where warriors of all races fell they were respectively returned to their homelands to be laid to rest. But when many Dwarves returned to their secret mountain halls with their dead, they found nothing. There was no sign of struggle or death, and everything was perfectly as it should be with only the absence of the living. Every Dwarf under the mountain was gone, and those who returned left the empty halls in search of their kindred. It is said that they left when the evil appeared in the world, and set sail towards the Northern Sea with only their clothing and what could be carried, fleeing back to the lands from whence they came. The Dwarves who remained soon returned to the Great City, bidding farewell to Elves and Men, never to be seen again. No one knows where they went, if they returned to their halls, or set sail into the Northern Sea in search of their kindred. And thus was the passing of the Age of the Three Divine Races." He finished to another great applause, though the crowd still felt the melancholic theme sinking in, regardless of the story's length.
When the third Elf stepped forward Nienna realized that it was in fact a she-elf, Nienna had mistaken her for a male because of how the other two resembled her, in length of hair and beauty. But she unlike the other two had vibrantly green eyes, not grey, and her face was narrower and fairer. Yet like the sisters, she preferred what was thought to be a man's tunic, when women were expected to wear gowns to celebrations.
"Tonight I will share with you the tale of 'The Last Queen and the Beginning of Shadow' it is an uncommon one, which I expect none of you to have heard."
She was correct, Merewen and Nienna both shifted with unease and impatience, being raised as if they were Elves and to have never heard this tale made them uncomfortable and curious.
"A decade after the Dwarves departed from our world a new leader came to the throne of the Great City, her name was Mirethil. With a sudden and swift rise to power she came to the throne, the first and last Queen of the lands. Mirethil was a tall, pale, and slender young woman, with hair as red as flame, and eyes a brilliant yellow. Her beauty outshone those of human quality and she was often called as wise and beautiful as an Elf. She expanded trade routes, bringing food, drink, and riches in a constant flow for many months. But her happy, peaceful, and powerful reign was short lived, not even a year had passed when a shadow once again dominated the world." A great silence had taken over the entire crowd, and even the musicians had ceased their playing.
"The people of the land recalled Sade and Taelin's sacrifice, which was first told by an Elf who had accompanied them to their deaths. He confirmed their sacrifice had sealed the evil, and that its return was unexplainable. Whether they could explain it or not, the door to this realm of unforgotten evil was reopened, and Mirethil was powerless to stop it.
The creatures consumed the world, and were drawing ever closer to Mirethil's peaceful City. She sent forces out to meet them head on, refusing to hide in wait, to be trapped as they had been years before. Like no leader before her, she rode out with her men, braver and more capable than many of the young boys and aged warriors whom she fought beside. Elven warriors within the city rode out with the armies, under no authority of the Queen who had no power over them, instead they rode out because she was a true leader, they believed in her. All who rode out followed her and would fight with and for her to their deaths. And a battle recalled by none ensued, but the outcome was apparent, as a small party of barely one hundred Men and Elves returned, carrying a wounded Queen with them, and closing in behind were the legions of evil." Some of the children hugged one another, frightened for the beautiful Queen of the story, and of the evil that pursued her.
"For three days the army waited at the gates, gathering and re-grouping, as the Queen lay in a sickbed, cut and poisoned by their dark weapons. All men who had ridden to the city with the same dark injuries had already succumbed to the poison of evil, and were taken. Those men were slain by the survivors who remained, before they could bring further harm from within the city. Mirethil however, did not succumb to the poison of evil, instead she lay in writhing sweat and agony.
On the morning of the fourth day she was capable of speaking and standing shakily, the poison had not lessened her strength, it had only mustered it. A hand maiden supported the weakened Queen, who had demanded to address her people. Though her exact words are not recalled, we know what she told her people, and what she ordered of them. 'The city is surrounded, every last man, woman, and child is to fight for their life, and attempt escape if given opportunity. We cannot win this war trapped within our city's walls, we must regroup by other means.' Soon she coughed blood, and could speak no more. Guards protected the city's gates, but by morning of the fifth day the city was taken. The Queen was taken by the creatures, and with her hands bound and her eyes covered she was shown as a public display to a large group of city prisoners, Elves and Men alike. A creature, much different from the rest appeared beside the Queen, removing her bonds. It declared itself Mokuruz, and the leader of the evil forces. 'In nine days we will leave this city, and take this world for our own. Those who fight shall die, those who beg shall die, and those who live shall die.' With that Mirethil threw herself upon Mokuruz brandishing a white blade, but was slain before she could harm him." Moments passed after the story was finished, and there was no applause, some women wiped tears from their eyes, and some men looked disdainfully at nothingness, while children quivered in fear.
The Elf stepped back and bowed, a thin smile was on her lips, which she could not hide. "Thank you for hearing our tales." Said the first Elf, they all stepped back and left the tent, quickly disappearing into darkness. Merewen and Nienna sprinted after them, and at the road only road leading out of the village they finally reached them. "Wait!" Nienna cried, as the Elves prepared themselves to leave.
All three Elves turned with surprise, and the shimmer of the moonlight illuminated their natural pale beauty. "We listened to your request, and heard your story out. Will you need heed our request, and hear our story?" Merewen panted, and the first Elf was taken aback.
"Those are well thought out and even wise words for one so young." He commented.
"I thank you and ask you again, will you hear us out?" She was eager for his answer, though she already knew it.
"Of course we will, I am quite curious as to who you are." Replied the she-elf, her eyes were glowing brightly even in the dark of the night, and her beauty was indescribable.
"We were born and raised in Taranil for a time, and those who raised us wished for us to be with our own people. They left us here with the village elder four years ago to the day, and although they meant well it has become apparent we do not belong here. We ask that you allow us to travel with you, only for a time, and give us the guidance to return to Taranil. I remember we took this road on the final leg of the journey, so our paths are the same, whether you would guide us or not."
When Merewen finished the she-elf smiled, and motioned for the girls to step closer. "What are your names?" She asked kindly.
"I am Nienna." "And I am Merewen." They answered hastily, never before had they felt so impatient.
The she-elf smiled again, and took each of the girls' hands in her own, "I think we shall get along just fine Nienna and Merewen, I am Tariel of Taranil, and I welcome thee to join us on our journey home."
Merewen and Nienna both blushed with embarrassment, and were introduced to the first and second Elves, whose names were Baelis and Borwin.
They spoke briefly before returning to their home to gather their belongings, then as the party grew ever louder they packed their clothing and food, realizing that there was nothing else they cared to bring, there was nothing that they treasured. Once again they met Tariel at the crossroads, and set off on the road that was surrounded by fields, but soon the road wound into the woods.
And as they were enveloped by the trees Merewen gave on last glance to the brightly lit village that was never a real home to her, and then turned and looked at the forests that cupped around the village, and instead said goodbye to them, for she feared she would never again sit in the oaks branches, and hear the perfect silence.