I didn't pace- that was not the elvish way. Instead, I retreated under a willow tree to think in peace. Truthfully, common elves were more likely to think about amusement than serious matter- leave that for the lords- but I was willing to try. Absentmindedly, I whittled to occupy part of my brain, and used the rest to ponder my proposal. After a short time, I decided to cut my losses. I left the sanctuary of the bows and stealthily returned to my master. "I'm ready to go." I whispered the pack spell he'd taught me, and my possessions neatly arranged myself into my sack.
The storyteller did not question me as we left, but I questioned him. "Are we headed towards the King's Camp?" I asked as we veered in an unexpected direction.
"You aren't ready for the King's Camp." He replied candidly. "We're taking an indirect route to Archer's Eye Star Camp, where you will perform again." My master offered no other tips and left me to stare around at the lengthening shadows. As the world lost its color to a nebulous grey fog, we pulled off trail and made camp. I crawled onto my pallet, which conveniently had expanded from its travel size to provide maximum comfort, and closed my eyes. The night's events had exhausted me, and I wanted nothing more than to sleep until the sun senesced.
Unfortunately, the storyteller had other plans. "You seem rather composed…" he initiated.
I growled and pulled my cloak's hood over my eyes. The weak dawn sunlight was already causing me to see spots. "Meaning?"
"You didn't flee the camp, and you weren't tearful at departure. Are congratulations in order?"
I didn't want to talk about Moerin, I wanted to sleep. And ignore the entire situation. "I wouldn't have been able to hunt for her, words don't fill empty stomachs."
A slight rustle of fabric indicated that the storyteller nodded. "It's a shame; Lady Moerin is a lovely girl."
Closing my eyes entirely, I ignored his suggestion. "You don't have a wife to share your travels. Why would I want one?"
It wasn't the proper time for a story, but he seemed inclined to share anyway. "When I was a little older than you, my heart was ensnared by a beautiful maiden. With eyes as dark as a still winter pool and hair that curled like a fiddlehead, Delai was our camp's enchantress. One midnight, she pulled me into the dance, and I never let her go. When I began my apprenticeship, she begged to go with me, and her father gave her permission.
Many nights, I would leave the King's Camp with my own master for inspiration in the forest, and she would stay behind. The camp offered her many distractions, but she most loved to wait for me and the sun at the eastern border. One particular day, I arrived to see blood in the snow and signs of a magical fight. Delai was gone, and irregular tracks were everywhere. She had been taken by goblins merely weeks before our marriage moon." The elf man tapered off, but I could hear him say softly, "I wish she were still with me."
Soft snores indicated that he wished to be left alone. And so I lay awake in the brightness wondering if his story was true. It was so similar to the story I had told, uncannily so. Did listening to me hurt my master or did he appreciate it. Was there a moral to the story he told? Eventually I sank into an uneasy sleep, but the day birds had been long singing by that time.
We reached the next camp in chaos. Several nights had passed since my master shared his story, but I hadn't mustered the courage to ask about its verity. He hadn't pried into my affairs either, and our journey had been uneventful. But flashes of light between tall pines indicated that Archer's Eye Star Camp was anything but peaceful. On the border of the goblin kingdom and the forest, this camp was renowned for its militaristic approach to life, but tonight there was no organized tramp of drilling feet and there was no marital music piping. We slowed to approach the camp, and I worriedly glanced at my master. A glint in his eye warned me to be on my best behavior, and on guard.
The camp border stopped our entry, but we could see beyond it. Many spell casters were vigorously gesturing around and muttering spells. I couldn't tell what they were doing, but was effectively intimidated by their actions. We were stopped by a handsome blond elf who greeted us with a scowl. "Names?"
It was my master's turn to scowl. "Revealing my identity would harm my professional life. I am a storyteller and the boy is my apprentice. We are travelling and would like to exchange a tale for some stew and a day's rest if possible."
The guard looked unconvinced, but after looking us over decided that my lordly master was not a threat to camp security. He led us through the border but gestured us to wait. I used my powers of observation to deduce that the elf men were strengthening the camp spell, and that the women were absent. "There's been an attack?" I asked my master.
He too was looking around. "Yes, I think. But I don't think the raid happened here."
A dangerous looking lord with flinty eyes came behind us. Red rings around them indicated that he'd had several sleepless days. "I've been informed that you are storytellers?" He looked us over and I wrapped my cloak more tightly around me.
"Yes, we're on our way to the King's Camp." My master was less intimidated than I. "What happened?"
The lord sank onto a rock by our sides and rubbed his eyes in exhaustion. "A goblin raid nearby, the runners came two mornings ago. Our camp spells haven't been updated in years; I haven't had a moment's rest." Normally elf men are more aloof, but tragedy brings us closer. My master's noble appearance also makes him a better confidant than a commoner's look would. "I'm sorry, I forgot my formalities. My name is Heron, I'm the lord of this camp."
"No offense taken. If I may ask, where were the runners from?"
"Archer's Right Hand Star Camp. Apparently three unwed children went walking late in the night and only one returned for the morning meal. I can't allow such a tragedy to occur here. So close to the border, we should be better prepared but…"
I didn't hear the rest of his thought vocalize. The world blurred and a soft buzzing filled my ears. Moerin. The lord's daughter was adventurous and would leave the boundary. She thought herself invincible. She loved the outside world, loved trees and dancing and acrobatics, had she been taken? I politely made my excuses and ran.