Author's note: My most sincere apologies on the length of time between the last update and this one. I never planned to let this story go so long without an update. Unfortunately this has been and continues to be a very difficult semester for me and I have not had a lot of spare time to write and to update things.
I have not abandoned this story. However, I can make no guarantees as to when the next update might be. I thank all of you who have been reading and have submitted reviews very much for your input and ask you to please bear with me for just a little longer.
Sooner or later this semester has to end, and then I will have the free time I want and need to be able to work on this properly.
Though Dathien had no memory of what his life had been like before he lost his memory, he had little doubt that the following month was the happiest time that he had ever spent. The peace and serenity of Iria's forest home seeped into his soul and seemed to nestle there. He gave up on trying to decipher what he had been and settled for enjoying his new life to the fullest. His past did not matter anymore because he was a completely different being now. He threw himself into the lessons that Iria offered, reveling in the challenges and he learned what she had to offer with astounding speed.
The only thing which he found himself uneasy around were Kannath's and Iria's weapons. Upon Iria's request, he had borrowed a set of mistmatched swords in order to prove to her that he knew how to handle them. He had felt unclean for days afterward, but at doing so had given him the right to decline to the practice bouts that she had been so insistent on him taking in order to sharpen his skills. What exactly caused that level of uneasiness he wasn't entirely certain, but he preferred not to dwell upon it.
"How is it that walking about weaponless does not bother you?" Kannath asked one late afternoon when the two of them were alone. By then Dathien's eyes had adjusted well enough to the sunlight that it no longer bothered him to walk about in daylight. Dathien glanced down at his ragged clothing, then back up at the elf before answering.
"Why would it? This place is a sanctuary and we have yet to meet a visitor other than Iria's creatures. Other than yourself and Iria, there is no one who could use a weapon against me, and the two of you I trust completely." The drow brushed his hair back from his face as he continued, "Both of you had the chance to kill me yet you decided to trust me, how can I do any less?"
Kannath shrugged and said nothing more, though to Dathien the elf still seemed uneasy about the prospect of the drow going weaponless. Still, the elf did not try to argue, changing the topic of conversation to something more neutral, much to Dathien's relief.
About two tendays after they arrived at their forest home Kannath rode off into the wilds on his horse, promising to be back soon but stubbornly refusing to explain why it was that he was leaving. Dathien asked Iria and met with the same lack of response, though her secretive smile informed him that she was perfectly aware of what Kannath was up to.
Dathien's answer came a few days later when Kannath returned quite unexpectedly and in uncommonly good spirits. Dathien heard the jangling of the traces and Kannath's accompanying whistle and raced off to find the elf long before he reached the encampment. At the sight of the drow, Kannath dismounted cheerily and untied a pack from the horse's load, tossing it at the drow.
"Open this." Kannath ordered as the drow caught the heavy package with a grunt.
Dathien undid the tie that held the pack closed and opened the flap, then nearly dropped it in disbelief. With hands that trembled slightly, he withdrew a fine cloak, followed by a set of clothes all in the same shade of rich green, along with a chain mail shirt and a set of boots.
"To make up for your torn shirt." Kannath explained. Dathien knew better than to believe that. If Kannath had owed him anything for the attempt on his life, that debt had been long since repaid. Speechless with gratitude, the drow struggled to find a way to properly convey his thanks. After a few false starts the elf laughingly put up a hand in protest.
"You earned those. Now, put them on so you can show Iria."
Dathien ducked behind a tree as he changed, admiring the smooth feel of cloth against his skin and the flash of metal though he sincerely hoped that he'd have no need for the armor anytime soon.
Iria met them halfway back, her eyes lighting up when she saw Dathien's new outfit. With a spirited whoop she threw herself into the startled drow's arms and hugged him, then hugged an equally startled Kannath.
"Did you give him the rest of it?" She asked curiously, her head tilting to the side with curiosity.
Kannath shook his head. "I thought you would want to be here for that." The elf explained as he pulled a second pack down from the horse's back and handed it to Dathien. Metal clinked against metal as the drow accepted the heavy package. With Iria and Kannath both watching he opened it.
The sunlight reflected off the hilt and sheathes of a twin set of swords. Speechless yet again, the drow looked to Iria and Kannath, then back at the blades. He drew one of the blades, studying it. It was a beautiful blade, with no visible flaws or scratches visible along it's edge. He tested his finger against the blade, barely touching the edge before it cut. The sharpness had to be unnatural and the detailed embellishments along the hilt and pommels of both swords bore testament to the amount of work that must have gone into their crafting. The one he held in his hands was shaped to look like a dragon, with it's body making up the pommel, and it's mouth opening to breathe flames which were etched into blade which extended up from the hilt and went nearly halfway up the blade, diminishing in size as they traveled.
He looked back at Kannath and Iria once more for reassurance before giving the sword an experimental swing. The blade was perfectly balanced, he knew. He'd expected little else.
He took the other blade in hand, feeling a rush of familiarity as he did so. Experimentally, he twirled the swords, feeling a rush of exhilaration. The blades fairly sang as they moved, and they felt like natural extensions of the drow's hands. After a few twirls he brought the swords together in a cross parry, the sound of metal against metal singing out clearly. Iria and Kannath both looked on in excitement, wanting to see what their friend was capable of doing with real metal in his hands, however the drow noticed none of this.
The sound of clashing metal triggered other, darker feelings as half-formed images flashed in front of his eyes. Again he heard the sound of children screaming, this time accompanied by the sound of frantic chanting, shouts and screams. More horrifying than this, however was the sudden surge of adrenaline he felt at those sounds. The blades in his hands were ready and hungry for blood, as was some part of himself. Sickened by this image, the drow took an unsteady step back. His vision cleared and he saw Iria and Kannath again, watching him, eyes alit with the expectation of seeing what he was capable of, of the damage and death he was capable of dealing.
The drow dropped his swords and ran.
Sometime later Shavariel located Dathien perched high up above the forest floor on an exceptionally wide branch. The hawk landed on the branch next to him and chirruped at the drow curiously.
The drow's head rose from between his arms to regard her and she hopped forward expectantly, head angled upward as she watched his every move.
"Why do I remember these half images of battles, and what part did I play in them? I felt excitement at the thought of returning to them, even as the thought of fighting again terrifies me." He mused aloud.
"Of course, that is the problem. I do not want to return to fighting. I worry that by doing so I will do something terrible and truly earn the reputation that my people as a whole have obtained. Yet at the same time I find myself looking forward to the prospect of battle. Which of these two sides do I honor? Do I truly have a choice if I want to survive?"
Unable to answer that question, Shavariel merely nuzzled the drow with her beak as he stared out over the forest floor. Soon after that he saw Iria walk below him walking at a rapid pace and calling his name worriedly. He left a stab of guilt then for simply running off as he had done without giving an explanation. Iria and Kannath had saved his life, he owed them that at the least. He opened his mouth to call to her but stopped as Shavariel called out in his place and launched herself off the perch and down to the wood elf.
Iria looked up and spotted the drow, and her expression immediately changed from one of worry to one of relief, making Dathien feel even more guilty. She studied him for a moment, then started climbing the tree, moving with typical elven grace. She hopped lightly onto the branch he was on and took up a sitting position next to him as Shavariel flew off into the woods.
"She will be off to let Kannath know I found you." Iria explained as he watched the hawk depart.
"We were worried about you." She added quietly after a long silence.
"I shouldn't have run off like that." Dathien admitted, a guilty expression coming to his face.
"Perhaps." Iria replied as she studied him. "Then again perhaps it was the only thing you could rightly do."
Dathien turned to meet her gaze, startled by the thought. She winked at him, then continued.
"Of course, whether it was the right action or not depends upon what your reasoning was for running. There are many times when the best course is to run from a conflict, but there are just as many where one can not or should not." Iria chuckled, "From experience I know that some conflicts chase after you if you attempt to run from them, and often times when you face them again they are much more difficult to win against."
"How do you determine if a conflict is one which should be confronted?" He asked.
Iria considered the question for a moment, her gaze going back to the forest around them.
"If the conflict is going to follow you, it's best to face it that first time. The more you run from it, the larger it will seem to get and the harder it will be to face it. No matter how much you would like to avoid them, those are the confrontations that you must face. Otherwise, you run the risk of losing everything later on.
"You've experienced this." Dathien observed.
Iria nodded. "I have. When I was younger I used to think that I wanted to be an adventurer and travel from realm to realm looking for excitement and battle." Iria chuckled, though the laugh came out sounding almost painful. "I later realized that enough battles came my way without me looking for them and that battles are never as heroic and free of loss as I had imagined. I traveled with a group of friends then, elves equally dedicated to the sounds and sights of the battlefield and equally ready for combat. While we were staying in a small town called Sembridge, rumor came to us of a small encampment of ... enemies. We knew that they would cause trouble but we were tired and wanted to rest and recover."
Iria said the last part rather sheepishly and shot an embarrassed smile before clearing her throat and returning to her story. From her expression Dathien realized that what was about to follow would not be humorous, and he was right.
"The group that we didn't feel were worth the trouble to confront turned out to be the scouting force for a much larger group. They were merciless killers whose reputation preceded them... Word reached Sembridge of their approach only a day before... The villagers refused to leave their homes and called in as many re-enforcements as they dared to counter the ... the enemy. Despite that, despite all of our work to prevent the worst, the battle was terrible."
Iria put a hand to her eyes and shivered.
"It lasted a long, long time. My group fought as hard as it could, and the invaders were driven off, but just barely. Most of Sembridge was destroyed, and most of my party as well. All of us were seriously injured. I was hurt the worst ... out of those who survived. A priest who acted rather than thought is the only reason I did not die. As it is ..."
Iria lifted her shirt to show the angry scar which ran from her navel to her chest, along with several other, fainter scars that criss-crossed her torso.
"The result of being completely surrounded and outmatched." She explained before the drow could ask. "Considering what happened to the others I was fighting with ... I managed to do fairly well. After all, I survived."
Iria laughed harshly, and Dathien winced at the noise. While the injury might have healed, from her laughter it sounded as if the memory was still painful.
"The town was saved though, right? At least you succeeded in that."
Iria made a choked noise, then nodded. She met his gaze for a moment, then looked back down to the forest floor.
"At least." She agreed grimly. With an abrupt false cheer she turned to him.
"The townspeople were extremely grateful for our efforts in helping them to save the town. They had little to spare after the attack, but the helped us as best they could. Even now I have to admire that: their determination, their courage, and their refusal to back down, even when they knew it was hopeless..." Iria's voice faltered and died. She buried her face in her arms and fell silent.
While Dathien understood that what Iria was telling him was true, he also suspected that there was more to this particular story than she was telling him. It did not escape his notice that Iria had refused to explain exactly what the group attacking her had been after, or where they had come from. The pauses that she made as she spoke, the slight tremor in her voice and the way she avoided his gaze led him to believe that he understood why.
"The ... group that attacked you ... they were drow, weren't they?"
Iria's sharp intake of breath affirmed it for him even before her hesitant nod.
"Few others are as determined to destroy anything they can, and few others would enjoy it as much as my people do." He explained.
"You are not them." Iria said quickly, determinedly as she looked up and met his gaze once more.
"No I am not." He agreed, touched by the force with which she seemed determined to use to ensure him that he was not to blame. "However ... I fear that I might have been like them. I am willing, very willing to begin a new life. However, what I am does not change what I might have been, or what I might be once I take up those blades."
"You fear to take up a blade." Iria stated.
"I fear what I might become when I take up a blade." He explained. "Holding them brings the memory of battles, or at least the feelings of such. I faced such battles once enthusiastically, I enjoyed the killing, I think." The drow sighed. "If I take up a blade again, will that part of me which I do not recall take over? I cannot return to what I was."
He glanced over at the female elf, thinking that she could not possibly understand what he was attempting to explain. Iria wore a thoughtful expression, and their gazes locked for a moment. He opened his mouth to say more but no words came out. He looked away, feeling horribly out of place.
"You must think I am a monster." He said sadly.
To his surprise, Iria moved closer to him, putting an arm around his back and leaning slightly against him.
"No, I do not." She replied. "It seems to me though that we are at very opposite attitudes with who we were. You fear what you might have been while I, in many ways, long to return to what I was. Although I recovered from that fight I have many scars which have never truly healed. Of course, I am not talking about scars of the flesh. It has been many years since I ventured away from my own haven in the woods. I attend to the calls for aid that come to me but I no longer go out seeking adventure as I once used to." Iria smiled sadly. "Part of me misses those adventures but another part is terrified at the prospect of going out there and of being attacked ..." Iria shuddered a little, a move the drow felt distinctly as he wrapped an arm about her shoulder in comfort.
Iria shrugged off his arm. "Do not worry about me. This feeling of self-pity will pass."
"But not the problems underneath it." Dathien pointed out. Iria shot him a puzzled look.
"You said yourself that there were some things that you have to face at one time or another. Is this not one of them?"
"I have managed not to face it thus far..." Iria began to argue, and then stopped.
"What would you have done if instead of me you had encountered a patrol of them?"
"Shot as many as I could from afar, then died slowly and quite painfully, I imagine." Iria retorted sharply.
The drow put up his hands in a motion of mock defense and Iria made a noise of amusement.
"I understand your point. Whether it is drow or another group bent on my village's destruction, eventually I will find myself in a position where I must fight even though I fear the outcome might be my death. Such is the fate of any good ranger, after all. Thus far, these past few years have been fairly quiet, and I have been lucky. However, such cannot always be the case. If that battle comes, I want to make a proper accounting of myself, whether I win or lose, rather than to freeze in fear as I new believe I would. Still, I fear that I shall repeat the past."
"I doubt it." Dathien replied. "You carry with you more than the scars from that battle. Wisdom, caution, and new allies. You will not repeat your past. Not with us here beside you."
Iria considered that for a long moment and Dathien felt a surge of pride at being the one to offer assistance rather than the one to receive it for once.
"So ... by offering to be beside me, you agree to fight?" Iria asked, shattering that sense of serenity.
"I never said-" Dathien started to protest, then realized that he for the most part had.
"Our problems have the same solution." She explained, "You have to fight, like it or not."
Dathien shook his head in denial.
"You will remember who you are, bit by bit." Iria explained. "You have been doing such since you first awoke with no memory. This is only a speeding up of what would come naturally. It is for your own protection as well. Eventually you will find yourself in a position where you have to fight to defend yourself." Iria shot him a wink. "Kannath and I cannot defend you always."
The drow shook his head, trying to find a way out of the logic and utterly failing.
"You said yourself that there were some things that you have to face at one time or another. Is this not one of them?" Iria parroted his words back to him with an impish expression on her face as the drow threw up his hands in defeat.
"If you're going to force me to pick up a sword, I will expect you to uphold your part of the bargain." Dathien said at last, taking petty comfort in the fact that he was not the only one being forced into something they'd prefer not to do.
"Agreed. Just ... not yet. Both of us, I think, need more time. You need to learn about the people and events around you so that you understand when a sword should be used and for which side, and I need to gather my nerves." Iria chuckled. "This will not be easy for either of us, I imagine but we will do it."
Dathien agreed, perfectly willing to allow this matter to sit as it was. There was no need to rush.