And as always: Reviews make me squee!

Series: Children of Shattered Arlathan 4/?
Title: Stone's Repudiation
Author: Rhion
Rating: T
Disclaimer: Me no own, you no sue (though actually now that I think about it... I kinda do on this. Except any mentions of Arlathan and elvish that isn't Welsh-y.)
Summary: When the sun rises, it casts its golden rays upon the world. Even in the valleys, deep in the mountains, where those who abandoned their ancient forefathers' ways still speak, and remember when Arlathan was great. And so, primitive they are, naught but the ragged edges of stone that their people once claimed, they live. Subsist. Honor is paid for in blood. Dishonor is paid for in meat.
AN: Ah NaNoWriMo completed and 'won', holidays were hell, as always, and I'm behind on my posting. Of course. Unsure if anyone reads this story, but hey, it's still part of my lore for all my Zevrans, up until a point, but that's at lest six chapters from now. More like ten. But whatever.

Beta'd by briala much to my gratitude.

XXX

"I knew I'd find you here," Arr'weddu'durgen's voice awoke him.

Rolling to sit up, Eu'rai'ddvinnen leaned his elbows on his knees. "Only place I can get any rest."

The shemlen females were inside the hut, curled up comfortably, while he lay on a simple blanket laid over a mound of dirt. It provided a relatively comfortable bed, and its main benefit was that he could sleep alone and without interruption. His days started when the sun rose, sometimes earlier, and didn't end until the moon had risen high overhead. Managing the shemlen, hunting small game nearby, fishing, farming the communal and longhouse gardens - all of it... it took time. Here at least he had some peace and relative quiet. Eu'rai'ddvinnen was used to being gone in stretches of several days at a time to hunt, for most of his two centuries his only company his father and a hunting dog or two. Being around so many people, who each wanted something from him was...difficult.

"Time enough for rest when you die." Arr'weddu'durgen sat on the blanket beside him, adjusting his embroidered loincloth as he made himself comfortable. "Tell me what is wrong, perhaps this old man can help, neh?"

Closing his eyes, tipping his head back, Eu'rai'ddvinnen sighed deeply. "I don't know how I can handle twenty more decades of this. And in that time, I have to sire two, three children, to replace what my tribe lost, and what my parents were unable to give, as well as my own replacements." Shaking his head, ennui overtook him. "To tell the truth, I am at a point where I am so disgusted with the women bedding me to win my favor, that each one only loses it. As for the men? They make me ill. The hunters think with nothing but balls and belly, the mages make me uncomfortable, the craftsmen think me little more than a bumbling idiot when I turn my hand to their arts, and the women want me for two things: pleasure and power."

"And me? What do you think on that?" A warm, calloused palm lay on his head, a father's touch. "Are there no rewards here for you? No one who can give you family and support?"

It felt natural to lean on Arr'weddu'durgen's shoulder, and let a tear or two slip free. "I miss my father, my mother. My aunt, my cousin Bel'dar'fen even. You are the only family I have here, and I appreciate it, or I fear I would have gone mad long since. I do not make friends easily, I never have. My age-mates are fathers and Bonded, those younger than me seem dullwitted and selfish. It's odd that I feel more kinship with the shemlen here than my own kind. They look to me and see value, treat me without fear or desire. To them I am the person who treats them gently, and shows them how to live. They are like... children. Something to be protected and guided."

The hahren stroked his crown slowly, soothingly, sighing mightily before he spoke. "I have gained a certain fondness for them as well. It is hard to see in them the traits that caused war with our people. The Ga'hals Iuni'mas'ilsh have always treated with us fairly, and kept our secrets from the outside world. They do not encroach on our territory, and we do not go into theirs, save with permission for trade. But I take it, they are different from most shemlen, they even look different. And yet, I cannot doubt for I have seen with my own eyes, how these shemlen in our care act." Arr'weddu'durgen shifted, hugging Eu'rai'ddvinnen as his father once hugged him only half a decade ago. "They are gentle, and I look upon them, and feel no hunger. I feel only that they are our charges. Not all of them can be this way, I know that. Yet... these females, these... women... I have always been curious aboutshemlen, our history speaks so little of them."

"And our contact has mostly been with intruders or those that we know are not the average specimens of their peoples." Closing his eyes, Eu'rai'ddvinnen sighed to himself. "Do they really think we can go on for another ten or twenty generations like this? We have to do something..."

Arr'weddu'durgen pat the side of his head. "That is for another night, come, let's get you to bed. Tomorrow you go to see if there are any pups or dogs that would match with you. Go to my longhouse, take my bed. I will stay awake and watch over our wards."

Levering himself up, Eu'rai'ddvinnen popped his head into the women's hut to check on them one last time and ensure they were sleeping well. There were shallow, packed earth, lined with pebbles pounded into the dirt, stairs. Just four, but it made it easier to enter and exit. They had been Ddyfrha's idea, and she had come jogging up, a basket filled with riverstones in her arms, when they had been almost finished with the floors and walls. In the center, the women were curled on woolen blankets and some pelts that Arr'weddu'durgen had appropriated for their use. Eu'rai'ddvinnen and Arr'weddu'durgen had taken to curing the hides from the smaller prey that they fetched for the shemlen so that there could be something to keep them warm when the temperatures dropped. Of course it was a fairly large undertaking, but they usually caught four or five rabbits a week, which would add up into several very soft sets of covers by the time frost was on the trees.

Satisfied, he turned and saw Arr'weddu'durgen watching him very steadily. "One of the few things the histories that I have read said, was that Ar'lath'an fell because of love. That we quickened because of it."

"Is a life that goes on for thousands of years necessary? Is being alive for three or four centuries not enough?" Eu'rai'ddvinnen shrugged.

All the hahren did was hum, tucking him in close as he guided him to the longhouse his family resided in. It was stuffy with summer heat and bodies, far more stifling than the outdoors. But in some ways familiar for all that. Arr'weddu'durgen guided him to a back corner, were a large pallet was, covered in furs and a thin blanket atop, woven from the finest wool that the Ga'hals Iuni'mas'ilsh could weave. Allowing the old man to urge him to lay down, Eu'rai'ddvinnen was just begining to settle in when there was a surprised grunt.

"Father? What are you - why is he -?" Na'samahl'nehn rose from his bed and frowned in confusion.

Arr'weddu'durgen cut his eldest son off, "Eu'rai'ddvinnen is tired, he takes my bed this night, and I shall watch over the shemlen to ensure they do not stray."

A ripple went outwards into the hahren's family, the sons hissing at the perceived presumption. Eu'rai'ddvinnen shifted uncomfortably and stood, unsure of what to do. Usually such an invitation was only extended to family, whether adopted or of blood, and he was a mere interlooper. Remaining stock still as Era'adah'len stared hungrily at him, and her uncles glowered at him, Eu'rai'ddvinnen prayed for guidance from the blind Creators.

Na'samahl'nehn held up a hand, pressing his daughter back. "Father, I must protest this. If he is so tired, let him rest in the bachelors area."

Eu'rai'ddvinnen smothered the reflexive grimace. If he were to lay there, he would gain no rest at all, particularly not with how Era'adah'len was raking him with her gaze, sucking her bottom lip. Such a suggestion was no better than staying up the entire night, and in many ways worse, because he would be put to the test, his endurance sapped. And in the morning he was to go out to seek the small village Arr'weddu'durgen wanted to send him to to gain hunting hounds.

"He isn't family, father!" Mana'mahvir'nan snarled. "I'll not stay under the same roof as this affront!"

Arr'weddu'durgen's face went stony and hard. "You speak out of turn, both of you. Bah, you both shame me. I wish neither of you had been born, that a stranger is more my son and blood than you lot is a disgrace. Enough. Keep yourselves here, I'll not waste further breath on any of you. I repudiate all of you."

Until now silent, Melava'revas swayed. "Father, please, think a moment!"

The rest of the longhouse that had gone still and quiet as the family argument went on, eavesdropping, let out a collective gasp. Arr'weddu'durgen's family each went white-faced, and Era'adah'len exploded into tears. The old hunter said nothing, gesturing towards Eu'rai'ddvinnen to help him gather up the centuries of belongings. Na'samahl'nehn reached out to grasp his father's arm and was backhanded with such force that he was thrown back into the others, as though he were no more than a nuisance. The hahren's extended family began keening as Eu'rai'ddvinnen followed, laden with bundled furs and leathers, a huge basket on his back. Tears slid from his own eyes at the unbending way Arr'weddu'durgen simply turned his back on them all, proudly striding through the longhall as though none of them were there.

They returned to the shemlen's area, and Eu'rai'ddvinnen quietly set Arr'weddu'durgen's belongings down. He didn't know what to say, only shifted nervously, wrapping his arms about himself. The old man just dug through things to find a pair of blankets and tossed them on one of the other mounds, and bedded down.

"Don't just stand there da'len, rest, tomorrow will be a long day," Arr'weddu'durgen's voice was strong and seemed normal.

Ducking his head, Eu'rai'ddvinnen shuffled to squat beside Arr'weddu'durgen. "Hahren, I..."

"It was a long time coming, don't think about it," Arr'weddu'durgen waved off his concern. "If they had their way they would have sent my wife and I on our Journeys long and long ago, after first sucking us dry of our love and care."

Reaching down, Eu'rai'ddvinnen grasped the broad shoulder, squeezing. "I don't understand. You are a good man, a good father. Why..."

"Sometimes families just do not fit, Eu'rai'ddvinnen," voice muffled. "I was the one in control and mapped out their lives for them, telling them what to do, and never giving reasons why. This is the cost of merely ordering your family to do things, for when they are old enough, they find ways to stand on their own that have little to do with what you tried to impart. It is my mess, and I will deal with it. Sleep. In the morning I announce your status ashahren in training, and send a runner to the other councils informing them of your placement."

"Yes, hahren." Ducking his head, Eu'rai'ddvinnen gave Arr'weddu'durgen's shoulder another squeeze. "For what it is worth, I am sorry that the rift came to that."

XXX

The hunters were all gathered, but for the handful still out about their business. And the hahrenen were there as well, a large crowd around the largest communal firepit. Arr'weddu'durgen wore a heavily beaded loincloth and armbands, his hair woven with leather streamers and painted bones, the left half his face painted black.

"You have summoned us Hahren Arr'weddu'durgen," Uth'vir'vhenan's hair was white with the bleaching that happened with wielding the forces that a mage exposed themselves to. And he reeked heavily of blood, and foul humours to Eu'rai'ddvinnen's sensitive nose, the acidity biting the back of his throat. "And we have come to meet in moot. I trust it is something more important than repudiating your sons?"

Some of the elders bared their teeth, shaking their heads at such a thing. It wasn't undertaken lightly, particularly for someone as aged as Arr'weddu'durgen. With no wife, and now no family, there was nothing to assure his quality of life when he neared his Journey. Though, Arr'weddu'durgen was the eldest of the Ar'lath'an'len, he still appeared younger than the other hahrenen who seemed careworn by their status. There was a vitality to Arr'weddu'durgen that was fey, and he was like a force of nature, drawing strength from the world around him without effort. Eu'rai'ddvinnen took a moment to wonder if Arr'weddu'durgen was more like what their ancestors once were than the others. Age didn't hang about him, only wisdom, as though it were a cloak he would lift to share with others if they merely asked.

"For decades I have been pressed to find a successor worth enough, strong enough, to train as a replacement for myself," Arr'weddu'durgen's voice carried, unaffected by the digs sent his way. "The centuries have come and gone, and in the last twenty five decades I have not found a single one of my hunters to be worthy. Not even those sprung of my own loins to my shame. But at Yn Cwridd'vehn a hunter challenged me who was not afraid to face me. One who showed me respect and showed strength. He has shown intelligence and willpower. Wisdom in how best to use resources in ways that we have not considered." Eu'rai'ddvinnen tensed, not liking to have these things listed, and the other hunters who stood beside him shifted from foot to foot, all wary and knowing. "Times change, time has sped up around us. Those of us charged with seeing to the feeding and protecting of the tribe must also change. Because of this, I put Eu'rai'ddvinnen, only child and son of Dorf'adahl and Em'arla as my successor. I also claim him as my blood, and he is due any and all respects granted to my blood, for he is now the sole carrier of it besides myself. Eu'rai'ddvinnen, my son, come and be presented."

Such a formal adoption, in front of the hunters and hahrenen was binding as birth, but more so. Commonly parents would declare their own children that way, ensuring no repudiation was ever possible. And the fact that Arr'weddu'durgen had never done that for his children was telling. Shuddering, Eu'rai'ddvinnen felt the distance surrounding him widen sharply, though none stepped away from him. A chasm that was insurmountable stretched out, and his world tilted on its axis. Knowing he could show no wavering, he forced himself forward, through the hunters who let him pass, no outward signs given of their anger, but for Him'harel'lin who moved to stand before him. With a mocking bow, the younger hunter stepped away, his eyes promising retribution.

Eu'rai'ddvinnen was aware that Him'harel'lin thought that he would be named Arr'weddu'durgen's successor if he Bonded with Era'adah'len. And to be thwarted so publicly, so fully, was bad tidings indeed. Somehow, Eu'rai'ddvinnen knew he would be forced to pay. Dreading the knowledge that he would be forced to kill Him'harel'lin at some point, Eu'rai'ddvinnen carried himself forward to kneel before Arr'weddu'durgen. There was no choice, no protest that could be voiced. It was die today or die tomorrow. And he had too many responsibilities to risk such an offense to anyone, let alone the lone person in the tribe who valued him.

His face was turned up by Arr'weddu'durgen's strong hand, and the point of a dagger was pressed to his cheek and drew a line. Hot fire spilled down from the slash, and then the next one on his other cheek. Blood seeped from the cascading dots etched on his forehead. Finally Arr'weddu'durgen sliced the tip of his finger, and pressed the blood to Eu'rai'ddvinnen's mouth, forcing him to ingest it, formally binding them as father and son, successor and hahren.

"Rise my son," Arr'weddu'durgen held out a loincloth, not quite so elaborately beaded as his own, but the hahren's family and status mark stitched onto it in blazing colors, was a gift that was utterly priceless. "Now, I task you with going to gain yourself some worthy hunting companions. See to what you need."

The hahrenen bowed their acknowledgements, each pressing their hands over Eu'rai'ddvinnen, granting him their permission and blessings as the First to Arr'weddu'durgen. But he knew it was just for show, at least in Uth'vir'vehnan's case. Nehn'asha was smiling and kissed his bloody cheek, patting his stomach, granting him a warm welcome. At least from her, Eu'rai'ddvinnen knew he would have no trouble. As for the others, Eu'rai'ddvinnen thought they were merely irritated with an outsider being named, while relieved in the same breath: someone was named at last to take over.

XXX

Fen'dorf loped beside him, not having said a single word once Arr'weddu'durgen told them that they were to be paired together for the trip. The other hunter was settled, that much Eu'rai'ddvinnen knew from the goodbyes given by his Bonded and the little that they had. It was better he felt that Arr'weddu'durgen had put him with someone who was neutral and not seeking amongst the women. At least there would be no tension due to such competition.

A root that he didn't see made Eu'rai'ddvinnen stumble, tossing him into a flip. Snarling as he rolled to his feet, his ankle buckled. Flopping down, he stared at the rapidly swelling joint, red blooming beneath the golden bronze of his skin. Fen'dorf paused, glancing behind him to see what had happened.

A surprisingly sympathetic hiss came, the hunter squatting beside him and pulling from the small shoulder pack a jar. "Nasty."

Grunting, Eu'rai'ddvinnen applied pressure, squeezing his ankle to feel for broken bone or torn ligaments and found none of either. "Not too bad."

"Here," the small pot was opened, the pungent smell of unguent from fat and elfroot assailing their nostrils, and Fen'dorf spread a thick layer of it, as Eu'rai'ddvinnen pulled a wide piece of leather from his own pack. "Ah, step ahead. Good. Perhaps hahren hasn't truly taken leave of his senses."

"Neh," grunting as he bound his ankle tightly, noncommittal and probing for more information. "Speak. I would hear your words."

Fen'dorf got comfortable, passing strips of jerky to him, "It was time for a meal anyway. Some of the others think hahren has gone addled with age and his wife's Journey."

Chewing at the thick meat, Eu'rai'ddvinnen cocked his head. "And you?"

"When she took sick, hahren went mad and faded for a time, until Yn Cwridd'vehn and you were brought back," Fen'dorf explained. "But since, he kept to himself, other than you. Some say you whisper poison to him. Work darkling things on his fragile mind. I say, that I do not know. You don't smell like a mage. You work no charms like a witch. Yet you shun company as much as you can. Odd."

Swallowing the barely softened jerky down, he tore into another piece, mumbling around it, "I serve the tribe, but that doesn't mean I like being around people. My father, my born father, sired me young. Others ignored us, littles threw stones at me. I kept to myself. I prefer it. It's quiet. No pressure. Merely hunt, farm, serve. Leave myself to my thoughts, it is... better, neh?"

"A strange predicament then, surely," Fen'dorf stared at him hard. "To be a foreign man in a tribe, where few welcome you."

Snorting a laugh, "Not much different than my own then." Smacking his chest, the slap and sting on his flesh warming. "More tension here though, more toes to step upon. Doesn't seem to matter that I dance to a tune I do not know, steps that are unknown as well... Nothing I do is correct. People will always be upset by my presence it appears."

"Not the women," Fen'dorf grunted. "That is something, neh? And hahren, his consideration is good."

Shifting, Eu'rai'ddvinnen pressed at his ankle testing the swelling. "It is good personally, but it breeds bad blood for others. I do not want that, I want only to hunt, to find a woman to Bond to, raise littles. Arr'weddu'durgen, he is all I could ask for in a parent, and in that aspect, I am proud of his consideration. But to be his First, that is something I am unsure of, not because I am unwilling, but because I worry over the tensions."

"Perhaps you are smart as he says then," Fen'dorf rose, holding his hand out. "You will step on toes. But you must carry on. As should we, we have three more days to travel."

XXX

Little, stupid, foolish accidents happened on the way. Each was irritating, for they made him feel ungainly, and left him dented and bruised by the time he and Fen'dorf entered the small collection of easily collapsed huts. Littles came out to greet them, dancing around, and Eu'rai'ddvinnen stumbled over one of them, falling face first in a puddle of dog piss.

Hissing as he sat up, wiping his face off while the littles exploded in laughter, Fen'dorf raised a brow. "Fen'harel seems to have fixed his gaze upon youlethallin. Maybe we should ask to have a charm made?"

Levering himself up, Eu'rai'ddvinnen growled in aggravation. "I don't like the blood stickers."

"Yes, but you might be in need of one," Fen'dorf prodded him. "Remember who Him'harel'lin's father is."

Blanching, Eu'rai'ddvinnen nodded. "Yes, most wise to not forget that."

They spent the afternoon speaking with the clan, trading news, and Eu'rai'ddvinnen gave them the two knives and a bundle of metal arrowheads that Arr'weddu'durgen had told him to use to barter with. It was hard to part with the metal tools, they were worth more than Eu'rai'ddvinnen had ever held in his hands. But to get the clan to part with dogs already trained to hunt and guard, such a sacrifice was necessary.

The wizened hahren leaned over the goods, running calloused fingers over the items as she hummed her approval. "Good. Now, on to why you stink of hate, hahren in waiting."

Startled, Eu'rai'ddvinnen snapped his gaze up to the old woman. "Your will hahren?"

"I smell hate all over you," she leaned in sniffing at him significantly several times. "It is not your own. Aur," gnarled fingers probed at his face, then his shoulders, poking him mercilessly. "Neh, neh, no good! Ahh..." she bit her lip until it bled and sprayed spit and blood in his face. Eu'rai'ddvinnen closed his eyes, trying not to flinch away. More probing came, as she mulled, "Ah ah, I see, I see...Mph. Hate-hex, neh, no good. Bad, bad seed that."

"Can it be undone?" asking warily as he wiped away the spittle from his face.

"Not a mage, I can't remove it, aie, but I can shift it," she hummed, thumping him on the chest hard enough to make him rock back on his heels. "Eh, heh, that I can do, aie, I can." Pointing sharply at Fen'dorf, "You, you go get dogs, tell my girl to bring the youngest sire, and the old bitch."

What followed was a strange thing, designs drawn in the dirt, filled liberally with contents from jars that stank. Sitting still after he had been cuffed as the old woman scuttled around him, tossing dirt and other things, stinging powders around him in weird clouds. Eu'rai'ddvinnen closed his eyes, concentrating on remaining unmoving. Night fell by the time he opened his eyes again, the time having slipped away without him being aware other than the inner flame the old witch had told him to look for. He had prayed for steadiness, fanning the licking, golden flicker, urging the flame to give him the strength to do what was necessary for his people.

A mad cackle came and she clapped her hands, "Aiee, aiee, good luck now you have boy. 'Twon't nothing touch you now. Only turned to fuel the fall of your enemy."

Eyeing her, as she capered madly about the small fire, Eu'rai'ddvinnen thanked her. "Thank you hahren, I'm grateful. What price must I pay you for this boon?"

"Eh? Price? Oh, price you say," she halted in her dance, cupping her chin. "Lay with my daughter. Stay three days, lay with her each night. Your seed should be strong, strong, neh?" she reached down clutching at his groin, the touch making him grunt at its roughness. "New blood is infrequent. More valuable than these metal bits," she tossed one of the knives at his feet. "You lay with her three days, eat meat, meat, meat, meat. Each day. No work for either of you. That way, conception is assured, yes, yes it is. Her man hasn't been able to get her with child, no matter what be done. Now they're desperate. You do this, your luck will be good. And you keep that blade. No need of it. These other trinkets are good trade for the bitch and the bull."

Knowing he had little choice in the matter, Eu'rai'ddvinnen bowed. "I am grateful hahren for your kindness."

XXX

The dogs gamboled about his legs, tails wagging as they kept pace with Fen'dorf and him. His belly was the fullest it had ever been, consuming more food than he had ever brought himself to. Eu'rai'ddvinnen had been as kind to the old witch's daughter as he could. But the entire time he knew that the cost of his changed luck was a child's life. He wasn't sure it was worth it, which he had a feeling was why the witch hadn't said what the cost was until he was indebted to her. All in all, it left a bad taste in his mouth.

"Cheer up, lethallin, you got a good blade out of it," a light swat landed on his shoulder. "And the hahren's daughter was comely."

Casting a glance at him as they entered the fringe of the village, "Comely or not, she was another's Bonded. It was wrong to do it without knowing if all accepted the service."

"Mph, neh," Fen'dorf shrugged, peeling away to greet his own family.

Patting the shaggy coats of the dogs, Eu'rai'ddvinnen went to the shemlen's area. He felt the need for a warm greeting of his own, and was only likely to find it amongst the quicklings and Arr'weddu'durgen. One was all black, but with a white ruff about her neck, and gray along her muzzle. The bull was deep chested, and weighed nearly as much as Eu'rai'ddvinnen, a true bear hunting dog, one of the sort bred near his own village. As for the bitch, she was a faithful herding dog, sweet tempered, while the bull was snippy but only had needed to be shown who was the stronger. The first night out from the small shepherd village, Eu'rai'ddvinnen had gotten into a snarling match, that culminated in him tossing the beast into a tree. After that, the bull had settled down, a naturally surly disposition only softened by being given a foot to the ass.

Not paying much attention until he heard a whimpering cry, Eu'rai'ddvinnen's head snapped up and he sped towards the women's area. Bursting through, jumping the low hedgewall that seemed to have sprung up in his absence, he saw Mana'mahvir'nan kicking a curled up Gwiwr. Shouting, Eu'rai'ddvinnen dove to tackle Arr'weddu'durgen's former son to the ground. He was beaten there by an ursine roar, Arr'weddu'durgen exploding through the foliage, and bodily picking up and slinging the hunter until his back slammed on the ground.

"You!" the roar became intelligible. "You seth'lin, elvehn'alas! You disgusting creature!" Each rolling word was a continuing roar, and Eu'rai'ddvinnen had to hold the scruffs of both dogs as they snarled, echoing the hahren. "You were born into this world from my loins, and you have been discarded as useless!" Arr'weddu'durgen reached out, grabbing a long, brambled stick, which he slammed across Mana'mahvir'nan's back. "Was repudiation not enough? No!"

Mana'mahvir'nan rose, his arms folded over his head, "Father!"

"No father of yours am I, but I am still your hahren!" another beating lash landed, making Eu'rai'ddvinnen wince at the force. Skin split as Mana'mahvir'nan tried to scramble away, heading towards the main area. Arr'weddu'durgen chased after, lashing him. "Heeded me not as your father, and now you don't heed me as your hahren? I should cast you out, you filth, you vile thing!"

Motioning for the bull and bitch to guard the shemlen, Eu'rai'ddvinnen followed once he saw Ddyfrha and the others shielding Gwiwr's sobbing form. Across the communal garden, in front of the gathering, gasping villagers, Mana'mahvir'nan was chased. Arr'weddu'durgen howled his rage, uncaring as he beat his youngest son, no matter that he had been repudiated and denied. Eu'rai'ddvinnen had never seen such anger, and while justified, it was unreasoning. Soon, someone would have to step in, and he feared it would be him.

"You harassed the shemlen, abused them, they are defenseless creatures!" Dirt was kicked in Mana'mahvir'nan's sobbing face as Arr'weddu'durgen slammed down another blow, the skin splitting further and blood coursing freely. "You have no control over their fates, I do! Where is that bastard, Him'harel'lin, he put you to this, didn't he?"

"No, Father!" sobbing the denial, his bloodied face covered in muck. "No!"

Arr'weddu'durgen kicked hard enough that Eu'rai'ddvinnen heard bone snap, and Mana'mahvir'nan screamed. "If your mother was alive she would kill you now! I've no such mercy to grant you! You live with your shame, you unworthy thing! I should banish you, make you uhalamlin! At least then you'd feed the tribe, but your meat would be foul and maggoty as your mind!"

Eu'rai'ddvinnen sidled up cautiously, and when the old hunter moved to lay another strip into Mana'mahvir'nan, he stepped between them, turning his back and grunting at the pain as his own back split. "Hahren! Please!"

Arr'weddu'durgen snarled, tossing the branch aside, "You saw what he was doing! You moved to stop him as well, now you stand between my judgment?"

"Please, hahren," moving to face Arr'weddu'durgen, Eu'rai'ddvinnen wrapped his arms about the old man. "Please, this does nothing. He is away from them, he is broken, bleeding. What more must be done to slacken your rage? You have delivered the same to him as justice against the animals we keep, as is appropriate."

A mighty sigh was heaved, a shudder running through the hunter. "My son, you are... right," the words dragged forth, and Eu'rai'ddvinnen could feel the seething rage that was still unabated, vibrating through Arr'weddu'durgen's frame. "Mana'mahvir'nan, who put you to this action? Him'harel'lin, neh?"

The disgraced hunter curled into a ball, sobbing in pain, that Eu'rai'ddvinnen had the sinking feeling wasn't purely physical. "You love those things more than you care for anything else!"

That was precisely the worst thing for Mana'mahvir'nan to say, and Eu'rai'ddvinnen tightened his grasp on Arr'weddu'durgen, who began to shake anew. "Raaah! BEGONE FROM MY SIGHT!"

Eu'rai'ddvinnen tucked his head into Arr'weddu'durgen's shoulder, hanging on. "Father, please, calm, patience, please," begging quietly of the old man.

At the sound of his voice, Arr'weddu'durgen suddenly stilled, then shoved him away too. "Uth'vir'vhenan! Send for that old blood sticker! A healer is needed!"

XXX

El'atisha was all business, inspecting Gwiwr's wounds and healing them with alacrity. Eu'rai'ddvinnen sat at the fire, as Ddyfrha spread salve over his back. Arr'weddu'durgen was pacing furiously, hands clasped behind him.

"There," El'atisha sighed, rocking back on her heels. "It is done. Why you would waste my blood on such, I'll not know hahren, but your pleasure should be great at knowing that my father lent me to you, and in so doing, interrupted my studies."

Arr'weddu'durgen paused, staring her down. "You are as much a bitch as your father is an ass."

She flinched under the snapping gale of Arr'weddu'durgen's irritation. "Your opinion is your own to have."

Eu'rai'ddvinnen raised a brow, holding a hand up at Ddyfrha, stilling her ministrations. "Your brother is a trouble-maker, and you are young. Do not follow his path da'len. It only creates ill will amongst us all."

El'atisha turned to glower at him primly. "Your very existence is what heralds it. You are bad power here, words of twisting poison poured into any fragile ears."

"Your opinion is your own to have," repeating her words back at her with measured calm. "But you should also remember that your mind is also your own to have. Use it."

Violet eyes widened and a flush spread over her face. "You presume much."

Gwiwr silenced any rage that Arr'weddu'durgen would toss at the young mage, crawling towards him and hugging his legs. The hunter sat quickly, gathering her close like a frightened child, arms enfolding her protectively. Eu'rai'ddvinnen took it all in quietly, noting the instant change. Apparently he wasn't the only one who took comfort in the shemlen. El'atisha shook her head incredulously at him, not noticing the display behind her very back, as he held her steady in his gaze.

"I am elder to you, I have lived more than twice your life, seen many things," spitting into the fire in emphasis. "You still hang about your parent's bedroll. No scars. Nothing. Four decades of filed teeth are nothing to me. You're not even a woman yet. Don't tell me what I do, and don't presume. I tellyou what I presume. And I presume you don't use your own mind, instead allowing others to use it for you. Foolish da'len, you fall to the same mistakes that hahren's family did. Soon, you will find yourself repudiated as well if you don't learn to stand and think on your own."

Her hands clenched, "Stupid man."

"Of course," nodding at her, rocking forward to clasp his hands between his knees. "I am nothing but a stupid man. But prove to me that you are not a stupid woman, and then perhaps I will concede that you are vast in knowledge, and give you respect. Until then, I will merely be courteous as you are so courteous to me."

Nostrils flared in anger, she stomped up to him, standing over his seated form as she ground out, "Forgive me elder I will heal you now."

"No need, the stink of you fouls my nose," flicking a finger at her dismissively.

"You'd rather trust a beast to clean and care for your wounds?" she fell to squat before him, glaring over his shoulder at Ddyfrha.

Grunting, "That 'beast' has a name. And she can speak, and she can cook. She has clever fingers and a fast mind. There are only a handful of differences between you and she. Ears, teeth, years," touching his face as he indicated the minor differences. "Hair. Eyes. Magic. But I have found that she has wisdom of a sort. And knowledge to share... Of the outside world. Beyond our mountain homes."

Casually he noted that Gwiwr had finally slipped from Arr'weddu'durgen's comforting embrace to approach El'atisha. "Tu'nehn am giving. No pain," tapping her chest and then her face. "Tu'nehn"

El'atisha cast her a startled look, flicking her gaze over the woman. "Don't talk to me."

Gwiwr shrank, but held her eyes steadily anyway. "Abelas, but am being giving tu'nehn. Is good am being giving that."

El'atisha shifted away, disgust and confusion twisting her features briefly. "Fine, em'nehn."

"Now, was that so hard?" prodding her. "Mutual courtesy is always a wise thing to share. The first lesson in life is always the hardest, now you can possibly go on to learn more."

XXX

"You were gone many days," Arr'weddu'durgen shook water from his hair as they bathed in the warm river.

"Part of a trade, I was indebted to that old witch that is their hahren," explaining, Eu'rai'ddvinnen sank down until his chin was in the water. "She wished me to get her daughter with child."

Arr'weddu'durgen's look was surprised. "Truly? Was the barter not good enough?"

Shaking his head, he moved to float upon his back, water tickling his ears. "Fen'harel turned a bad look on me. On the way there I sprained my ankle on a root that seemed to suddenly be there when not a moment before it was clear. I tripped, bumbled time and again. In the village I fell face first into a puddle of dog piss. Fen'dorf counseled me to see a change in luck. The price was laying with her daughter, but I didn't know such until after I spent the day spit and bled upon, strange things tossed on me. Bah, witches and mages, they all stink the same."

"Mph, perhaps," Arr'weddu'durgen hummed.

Stretching in the water, the women splashing and playing nearby, Eu'rai'ddvinnen decided to broach the topic that had been bothering him since he saw Gwiwr in the hunter's arms. "May I speak plainly, hahren?"

"Only if you cease calling me that, and call me 'father' or even 'papae'," a wave of water crashed over his face as Arr'weddu'durgen shoved it his way.

Sputtering, Eu'rai'ddvinnen wiped water off of his face, snorting the excess that had gone into his nose, out in a brief spray. "Alright, father, I am taken to task!" Sighing he turned a serious face to his adoptive parent. "Winter will come. What will you and she do then?"

Arr'weddu'durgen's brows climbed high on his forehead. "She and I? Who and I?"

"Gwiwr," jerking his chin significantly at the women.

A loud barking laugh welled up. "She and I? She and I have nothing, she is a child to me."

"Years mean little sometimes," he pointed out. "And you are most... attentive to her."

The speculative gleam in his eye should have been a warning sign, but he didn't notice it for what it was until the hunter spoke, "Not quite so attentive as you are to Ddyfrha. While you were gone, she was quite off her food."

Stilling, Eu'rai'ddvinnen frowned. "I don't understand father."

"Hmph. She's quite smitten, wouldn't touch a bite while you were gone it seemed like," the tone was sly, and twisted into a laugh when Eu'rai'ddvinnen looked worriedly in Ddyfrha's direction. "And you say that I should worry over winter, when it is you who should."

Taking a deep breath, Eu'rai'ddvinnen shook his head. "It isn't like that."

"Hmmn, exactly what isn't it like?" that knowing look, the one that pierced straight through him, made Eu'rai'ddvinnen feel ill.

"I do not play with my food," which was true. He would never bring himself to use Ddyfrha for meat, not under any circumstance. He owed her that much respect.

"So you keep saying," nodding agreeably. "It is good then, isn't it, that neither of us do, and are about to chaperon each other, and quiet the whispers?"

Swallowing the bile that wished to work its way up, "Most fortunate indeed."

XXX

Eu'rai'ddvinnen had gotten sloppy. He only realized it when Era'adah'len's father, Na'samahl'nehn strode up to him, grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around. The smack of a hand over his back, where the scouring of Ddyfrha's nails had marked him, smarted under the blow.

"And whose longhall have you been to lately lethallin where a woman would lay her mark upon you?" it was evening, and many had gathered about the cookfires, and eyes spun their direction, as Na'samahl'nehn's voice rang out. "Who is this lucky woman that has gained such a fine catch as you, hahrenArr'weddu'durgen's First?"

Snickers came, and Eu'rai'ddvinnen turned to look in Na'samahl'nehn's victorious eyes, evenly. "I am not in the habit of explaining my exploits or bragging over them."

"Oh? And why not? Are you not a man? Do you think only with your brain?" false joviality in his tone as he chucked Eu'rai'ddvinnen under the chin.

Leaning back, crossing his arms over his chest, and shrugged. "I find it disrespectful to brag unnecessarily."

From the corner of his eye, he saw Era'adah'len seething, only held back by her mother's hand. Fen'dorf and his Bonded and their little were watching nearby, and he half suspected the hunter only held himself back out of propriety. Their friendship was easy, and he had found Fen'dorf to be reliable, pragmatic, and unlikely to simply jump to conclusions. A thoughtful hunter was a rarity, and so Fen'dorf was a most valued friend, for counsel as well as support.

El'atisha shifted by the fire, smacking away Him'harel'lin's hand, and approached regally. Her bare breasts bobbed gently and her loose hair swayed with each step. And her blood and magic stink came closer, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. From her, Eu'rai'ddvinnen expected only venom, so he was no less surprised by her actions after she leaned in, hand on her small chin giving him a close inspection.

"Lethallin I had not realized I was so rough," her voice chimed, violet eyes impassive. "You said nothing yesterday when we were through." Fingers trailed over his back, magic crackling against his skin, and he felt it heal with the pass. "I apologize."

Everyone but El'atisha and Arr'weddu'durgen's blood turned, satisfied that nothing important or scandalous was to occur. If Na'samahl'nehn and the others hadn't still be staring, Eu'rai'ddvinnen would have heaved a sigh of relief. Him'harel'lin looked ready to leap up and challenge him there and then, which at that exact moment, he would have welcomed it. Ridding himself of Him'harel'lin would expedient. And no little bit satisfying. Most any trouble Eu'rai'ddvinnen had could find its way back to Him'harel'lin's whispering and twisting. Mana'mahvir'nan and Melava'revas' didn't have half a thought to share between them, and in spite of them both being older than Him'harel'lin, they followed his steps and words like teachings handed down directly from the Creators. Na'samahl'nehn on the other hand was trickier, for when he actually got involved, it lent weight, as he was now the eldest in the family.

Na'samahl'lin watched him carefully, taking in anything that Eu'rai'ddvinnen may have shown. "And now why would you hide such a tryst, lethallin? A mage, and daughter to the hahren Uth'vir'vhenan, even not in full adulthood... quite a high notch on your belt. Do you not seek to make yourself fully stable and indispensable? Why not tie yourself to two of the strongest hahrenen, neh?"

Eu'rai'ddvinnen inclined his head. "It is not my way."

"You speak frequently on what is not your way, but never what is," Na'samahl'lin stated icily. "Why would that be, unless you have much to hide?"

El'atisha slipped her arm through his, and rested her head upon his shoulder. "Na'samahl'lin, have you never heard of allowing sleeping dragons to their rest?"

"If you had a use for your ears, lethallin, I would tell you what my way is," Eu'rai'ddvinnen lay a hand over El'atisha's, wondering what the price for her assistance would be. And here he had only been bringing in the results of the hunt he had gone on. Nothing more. To be accosted with all this was ill indeed. "Perhaps you would bring yourself to hear my words, but I doubt it is today."

Na'samahl'lin grunted, turning his eyes towards El'atisha. "Girl, go to your parents fire. This is men's talk."

"And talk that concerns me," she said primly, sidling even closer, turning her face into his shoulder she sank her teeth in firmly. Eu'rai'ddvinnen hissed but let her lay the mark. Later he would clean it, and thoroughly, but for now, it served a purpose. Licking her lips slowly, then over the small wound she had lay in his skin, El'atisha narrowed her eyes at Na'samahl'lin. "And that talk also is about my intended."

Na'samahl'lin rocked back, sucking in a sharp breath of surprise. "You? You are still a child, unscarred! What have your parents to say on this folly?"

Eu'rai'ddvinnen interrupted, "A woman is a woman, no matter her age if her mind and will are one." Holding up his hand, forestalling any further words or arguments, "Be that as it may, I have responsibilities to attend to. El'atisha, if you'll excuse me, I must be about my business. Ma serannas for your presence, you are a great blessing."

Striding away, he reached the well, where Arr'weddu'durgen was waiting, leaning against the stone's lip, watching. Not sparing his adoptive father a nod, he moved to pass him, but was caught by his arm above the elbow. Pulled to face the old man, Eu'rai'ddvinnen locked his jaw as he was pulled out of view.

Arr'weddu'durgen examined the bite on his shoulder, then held him by the chin. "Bond to her."

"Father?" frowning.

"It would solve many problems," Arr'weddu'durgen stared him down. "Take her, bed her, Bond to her. Na'samahl'lin isn't always a fool, and his assumption was a smart one. It would be a good path. Bond to El'atisha."

Blinking rapidly, Eu'rai'ddvinnen shook his head, incredulous, "Hahren- Father. She is a child."

"Does it make what you said any less true? Or Bonding to her any less effective? Her at least you can bully into...overlooking, your indiscretions," like grinding stone, rumbling gravel, Arr'weddu'durgen's words held a note of finality. "Bond to her, get the bitch with littles. Keep her busy with that, and she won't have time to question you."

Swallowing, Eu'rai'ddvinnen glanced through the trees at the tribe's fires. "I..."

"Don't take me for a fool," Arr'weddu'durgen jerked on Eu'rai'ddvinnen's chin, making him meet those all seeing eyes. "Bond to the brat, and Uth'vir'vehnen will no longer speak against you. Him'harel'lin won't be able to challenge you, and everything will fall into place." When Eu'rai'ddvinnen couldn't bring himself to speak, Arr'weddu'durgen hissed once. "I will wait until my first grand child you get on her is at least two decades old so long as you don't tarry too long on making the attempts on her. Now you have no more arguments, or reasons to drag your feet. Bond to the bitch, and take your place. Do your duty."

Closing his eyes, Eu'rai'ddvinnen bowed his head, reaching up to press his hand over the mark El'atisha had pressed into his skin. "Ma nuvehnen, hahren."

XXX

Characters:

Eu'rai'ddvinnen - Golden Dawn (Nune, Zevran's father, main character)
Arr'weddu'durgen - stone bear (oldest elf in new enclave, still hale and a hunter, hahren of the hunters)
Ddyfrha - water, also the name Eu'rai'ddvinnen gives the bold human woman
Era'adah'len - story/tale/dream of forest/dream forest/forest of dreams (Arr'weddu'durgen's granddaughter)
Him'harel'lin - becomes dreaded blood (hunter who's interested in Era'adah'len)
El'atisha - Uth'vir'vhenan's daughter, Him'harel'lin's sister. 90yrs old. Mage. mean's our peace.
Fen'dorf - hunter, gray wolf, friend of Eu'rai'ddvinnen
Gwiwr- squirrel, one of the shemlen females
Uth'vir'vhenan - haharen of the mages, and Him'harel'lin's father
Mana'mahvir'nan - future and past vengeance (Arr'weddu'durgen's youngest son)
Nehn'asha - joy woman (woman who oversees the littles)
Melava'revas - Arr'weddu'durgen's middle son
Na'samahl'nehn - Arr'weddu'durgen's eldest son, Era'adah'len's father

Words:
da'len - small child, affectionate
seth'lin - thin blood
elvehn'alas - dirt elf
uhalamlin - one without blood(family), forsworn, banished
tu'nehn - your joy, informal thank you
abelas - I bring sorrow/I am sorrow, I'm sorry
em'nehn - my joy, you're welcome/my pleasure
ma serannas - my thanks, a very formal way of saying thank you
ma nuvehnen - as you wish