Chapter 1: Return
A/N: And so it begins, as they say. This is the first chapter of the sequel to The Lost Prince of Caledor. If you haven't read that story yet, this will make very little sense to you, so I suggest going back and reading it. Those of you who have read The Lost Prince, welcome back! As you can see, I've upgraded to chapter titles :p Sorry this is a little late, but I have been spending a lot of time doing intense research for this story (Read procrastinating). You've read the summary, so let's get right into things!
Disclaimer: I own nothing except for myself and my OCs.
From now on, please assume that if High Elves are talking to each other, it'll be in High Elven.
"Archers, on my mark... Loose!"
A volley of silver arrows streaked away from Princess Eladriel's position, striking with unerring accuracy at the horde of Norsemen piling off of their crude longboats. Many were scythed down before they could set foot on Ulthuan's shores, arrows sprouting from their heads and chests, but many more came on, howling to their dark gods.
"Reload! Spearmen, into position! Protect the shrine at all costs!" Eladriel's orders were swiftly carried out. The disciplined spearmen of Chrace moved down towards the beach in a line of shining shields, emblazoned with the red lion of Chrace. Eladriel looked to her allies, Tellion and Calamir, the young nobles from Cothique that brought word to Chrace of the impending invasion. The two commanded less than fifty sailors of Cothique, but they had joined their meagre force with Eladriel to defend the shrine of Kurnous.
As it was, Eladriel's forces were not as numerous as she would have liked. Two regiments of spearmen, two of archers and a small unit of silver helms held in reserve behind the copse to her left. It was a vastly inferior army to the ones that were usually defending the coasts and the shrine, but it was all that could be mustered at such short notice. She had sent word back to the shrine to ask for reinforcements, but none had come. They were alone.
"Tellion, take command of the archers, keep them firing at the beachhead. Calamir, take my horse and ride to the silver helms. When you hear my horn, charge the beach with all speed," she said as the nobles approached. She dismounted and handed Calamir the reins of her horse, then drew her sword.
"Where will you fight, my lady?" asked Haemon, the Hawkeye of one of the archer regiments.
"In the front, as is my duty. Farewell my friends, Kurnous smiles on us, we will carry the day!" With that, she charged down the hill towards the assembling spearmen. They parted ranks without command, allowing her swift passage to the front of the unit. Antigone, the female sentinel of the spearmen bowed her head as Eladriel came to the front. The Norsemen were still being thinned out be accurate volleys from both the archers and the sailors of Cothique, but that would not be enough to stop them.
"Lock shields, form phalanx!" yelled Eladriel. She felt the spearmen tighten their ranks around her, locking shields together to form an unbroken wall. As one, they levelled their shining ithilmar spears. "Hold your ground, for Kurnous watches us this day! Fight for Ulthuan, fight for Chrace, fight for your homes!"
Thunder struck as a storm rolled in. Rain lashed down at the defenders of Ulthaun, freezing their skin and weighting them down. The Norsemen came on, barrelling up the beach towards the elven spears. Eladriel took a deep breath and readied her sword. They were close, less than twenty yards.
"Steady..." Murmured Antigone, her spear levelled.
"Strike for Ulthuan!" cried Eladriel and hurled herself forwards, slashing down two of the barbarians with a single stroke. She heard the swish and thump of the first rank of elven spears slamming home into the Norsemen. Some screamed in pain, others cried for vengeance. A second later, another swish and thump signalled the second rank's attack. More humans died, screaming for their mothers. Swish... thump. The third rank struck. Blood stained the white sands of the beach as Eladriel cut down man after man. Such was her fury that she soon fought on a small hill of corpses. Swish... thump. The forth rank thrust their spears forward into the melee. More screams. A bellowed order in the coarse tongue of the Norse and the barbarian reavers began to retreat, their cries of terror mingling with the screams and moans of the dying. Eladriel sounded her horn and waited for the silver helms.
"Dispatch the wounded, leave the dead," she said to the spearmen. A thunder of hooves announced the cavalry's arrival. They swept down onto the beach, putting the fleeing Norse raiders to the sword. The tried to scramble aboard their ships, many of whom were already withdrawing back into the northern sea. The young nobles looked ready to follow the humans into the surf, but Calamir got them under control and brought them back up the beach to where Eladriel stood smiling.
"A good fight!" he called when he was within hailing distance.
"Indeed. Did you lose anyone?" asked Eladriel, trying to repress a smile.
"Nay, we slaughtered them. Hardly worth calling a figh – " Calamir was cut off by the sound of a war horn. It was deep, powerful and evil. Out at sea, the longboats that had fled the field reversed their course. Behind them, more ships were approaching the beach and at the head of the nearest longboat, a red armoured warrior bellowed a challenge.
"By the gods..." said Tellion as he approached, bow in hand. The original attack had consisted of between three hundred and four hundred Norse raiders, hardly a challenge for a High Elf army of around two hundred and fifty fighting souls. This second wave, however, was at least double the size of the first, if not bigger. The elves were outnumbered and with the arrival of the Chaos warrior, perhaps they were also outmatched. If the red armoured champion had the blessings of the Dark Gods, then they were in serious trouble.
"Stop staring and prepare to repel another wave! Tellion, get back to the archers, Calamir, gather the silver helms and station yourselves on our right flank. I'm trusting you to know when to charge, do not let me down. Spearmen, reform your ranks, the fighting has just begun!"
The High Elf warriors leapt to their orders, preparing to meet the new threat. Archers fitted arrows and began a disciplined and deadly barrage on the oncoming craft, but they would soon be out of ammunition. The sailors of Cothique had retrieved an Eagle Claw repeater bolt thrower from one of their craft that they had beached nearby and were adding its fire to the hail of death being thrown at the longboats. A single bolt cleaved the hull of one of the ships, splitting it like a melon and spilling the raiders into the churning sea.
It wasn't enough. As the spearmen reformed their phalanx, the longboats began to beach themselves. This time, the raiders waited inside their boats, covering themselves with shields to protect themselves from the archer fire. Slowly, more and more longboats arrived on the beach. Then, as one, the Norsemen disgorged themselves and charged forward, the great Chaos warrior at their head. He bore an axe in each hand that shrieked like a tortured daemon.
"Khorne will have your skulls! Blood for the Blood God!" he bellowed as he advanced. An echoing chorus of "skulls for the skull throne" followed his war cry.
"Soldiers of Ulthuan, destroy this evil and cleanse these shores of their filth, once and for all! For the Kurnous!" Yelled Eladriel as her spearmen advanced towards the Norsemen. It was a battle they could not hope to win without a miracle. Thankfully, the gods were watching over Princess Eladriel. As battle was joined and the screams and cried of the dying mingled with the clashing of sword and shield, a shadow appeared in the sky above Chrace, a shadow that would change the course of elven history.
Imrik of Caledor had returned.
-Two hours earlier –
"Where are we?!" yelled Lutheni as the wind whipped her hair about her face and her cloak streamed out behind her over Gwihir's back. Imrik scanned the mountains with a worried look on his face. He did not rightly know where they were.
"Chrace I think," he yelled back.
"Indeed. We are north of the Tor Archare, at the border with Avelorn," rumbled Gwihir into their minds. The sound of his wing beats against the storm was loud in the elves' ears. "I will need to land soon, or this storm will blow me out of the sky."
"My family's mansion is not far east of here! If we can make it to the shrine of Kurnous tonight, we can wait out to storm and fly on in the morning," bellowed Lutheni. Gwihir grunted his acknowledgement of her statement and continued to push through the howling winds.
"Once we are out of the mountains, fly lower to the ground. There will be less risk of being attacked by manticores in the lower sky," said Imrik with care, looking about him for any signs of another attack. They had passed back into Ulthuan an hour ago and had almost instantly been set upon by a manticore. Gwihir had defeated it with ease, but any more attacks may prove tiring and eventually fatal.
The passing between realms bad been less tiring than Imrik had imagined, and far more hospitable. It was like sailing through a void of colours, trying to keep your mind focused on a goal to avoid becoming lost in the thousands upon thousands of possible destinations. It had opened Imrik's eyes, for now he could see that there wasn't just his world and Arya's world, there were millions of worlds just waiting to be discovered, untold amounts of things to see and people to meet. It filled Imrik with a strange wonder and awe.
They flew on for another hour before Gwihir deemed them out of the mountains and dropped his altitude to just above the cloud layer. The storm was shifting, moving north with them. The rain began to fall as they passed the Burned Glades and turned west towards the shrine of Kurnous. Despite the freezing conditions, Imrik felt good to be home. This was his land, his world, and he knew that he would always feel most at home here. Even with the threat of Chaos and the Dark Elves, Imrik knew he would never truly abandon Ulthuan, nor could he ever forget it.
"My father is going to kill me..." muttered Lutheni from behind him. Imrik chuckled, then thought of his own father, his mother and older sister. How would they welcome him home? And his cousin, Imrik Dragonlord... would he be pleased to know that he was alive? Imrik hadn't spoken to the Dragonlord in a long time, too long in fact. He would have to seek him out and hope they were still firm friends, as they had been after their first meeting.
Gwihir had slowed his pace to try and preserve his strength. They glided over the wooded plains and hills of eastern Chrace towards the shrine, Imrik and Lutheni exchanging the odd bit of news from their days spent in Alagaësia. Imrik felt closer to her in those moments than he had done ever before. She was the only soul, save Gwihir, who had been to another world with him, experienced the same things as he had, shared the wonder and amazement that he had felt. In that moment, Imrik was glad of her company. "Thank you," he whispered, too softly for her to hear over the beating of Gwihir's wings.
They heard the battle before they saw it. The clarion call of elven war horns mingled with the clashing of metal and the bellowing of Norse raiders to produce a cacophony of noise that reached up into the heavens. As Gwihir swept over the shrine of Kurnous and down towards the beach, Imrik and Lutheni made ready for battle. The clouds parted, and they looked down upon a scene of horror.
A horde of Norse raiders, perhaps five hundred strong, were attempting to storm the beach. The front ranks of their horde were already engaging the defenders. Arrayed against them was a small elven army, less than three hundred souls. A line of silver spearmen bearing the banners and heraldry of Chrace engaged the barbarian horde while archers and a detachment of sailors of Cothique fired arrows into the back ranks of the oncoming Norse. Imrik saw a regiment of silver helms moving into position on the right flank, but their numbers were too few to make a difference. Lutheni's breath hitched behind him.
"Imrik! Look there, in the centre of the melee!" she pointed with her axe. Imrik peered down at the ruck of bodies and saw a nightmare scene.
A Chaos lord, for he could be nothing else, strode into the ranks of the spearmen, dealing death with every stroke. A noble warrior rushed to meet him, a lion cloak billowing behind them, a gleaming sword clasped in hand. The elf was clearly outmatched, yet that lone warrior was distracting the Chaos lord, and allowing the spearmen to recover and fight back at the horde of human barbarians. But the damage was done, the line was broken. Only a miracle could save them now.
"Let's give them a taste of the wrath of Caledor, eh Gwihir?" said Imrik, his voice tight with anger. Gwihir growled low in his throat and began to dive towards the combat. Imrik felt the roar building inside the dragon and made ready to throw his spear. He would only get one chance...
Eladriel knew she had lost. The red armoured warrior was no mere warlord, he was a chosen of the Dark Gods, a champion of Khorne. Her phalanx had been shattered by his charge, and only her ill-advised assault on him had kept him from butchering the whole unit. As it was, many of her finest spearmen lay dead because of him, including Antigone.
She knew this knowledge should inflame her with anger and a will to avenge her fallen comrades, but all she felt was despair. She could barely block the next blow from the shrieking axes, which seemed to be sucking the very life from her soul. The force of the blow drove her to her knees and a kick to the chest sent her sprawling, her armour dented from the force of the blow. The Chaos lord laughed at her as he stomped towards her. A brave elf tried to intervene, but the red armoured warrior sliced him in two without a second glace. Eladriel tried to rise, but a massive armoured boot slammed her to the ground. She looked up at the faceless mask of her slayer. He raised both his axes over his head and bellowed in triumph.
"BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD! SKULLS FOR THE SK-arghh!" The chant was cut off as a spear with a glowing green blade scythed into his back and burst out through his chest plate. The shrieking axes fell from his twitching fingers as the champion of Khorne crumpled. A roar of savage power and rage filled the air. Eladriel thought she must have strayed into a dream. Hanging in the sky before her was a dragon, one of the ancient drakes of old, and on the back of the dragon were two figures. One was a hunter of Chrace, the lion cloak flowing out behind her. A crested helm obscured most of the elf's face, but Eladriel could see by the elf's posture that it was female. The other figure looked as if he had stepped out of the ancient stories of Eladriel's childhood. Ever had her mother recounted the deeds of the Dragon Princes of Caledor and here was one in front of her. His armour was magnificent in gold and ithilmar, winged shoulder guards and a skirt of scales. A large shield painted with an intricate family crest and a mighty winged helm. The dragon itself was armoured for war, enclosed in shining ithilmar plates from head to tail. His green scales shone bright in the gathering dark and the thunderous bellow of his roar echoed about the beach.
"Foes of Ulthuan, despair and die! The wrath of Caledor is upon you!" yelled the Dragon Prince, drawing his sword as the dragon dived for the Norsemen, spewing a jet of flame into their ranks. It was too much for the humans. Their leader dead and the sudden charge of a terrifying dragon from legend broke their courage and as one, they fled from the fight. Eladriel recovered herself.
"Well? Shall we let him fight alone? Charge forward, cut them down! For Ulthuan!" she yelled as best she could from her position on the ground. Thankfully, Tellion took up the call and led his sailors forward from their position to join the spearmen in the pursuit. The Norse retreat became a rout as the silver helms charged in, lances down, with Calamir at their head. The dragon swooped over the battlefield, slashing down with razor sharp talons or breathing fire into any group that looked like they might rally. The prince leaned out of his saddle at every pass, taking of the heads of any raiders that turned to challenge the dragon.
The Norse ships had again begun to leave the beach, but before they got far, the dragon had swooped over them and set them all ablaze. Those left on the shore turned like beasts at bay, fighting for their lives, but were all eventually overcome by the elven soldiers.
As the last Norseman fell to the ground, a great cheer rose up among the wearied defenders of the shrine. They had won, the shrine had been saved and their homes and families along with it. The thud of wing beats drew the attention of every elf on the battlefield as the dragon and its riders landed. Eladriel, supported by two of the archers, made her way slowly towards the great drake. Calamir and Tellion fell in behind her. The elves had made a ring around their saviour as the Dragon Prince and his White Lion bodyguard dismounted and strode forward.
"Hail Prince of Caledor. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts, and give praise to the gods for your arrival. I fear without your timely intervention, we would have been overwhelmed. I am Princess Eladriel, of House Tiothen, and I owe you my life. If ever my House can be of service, you have but to call upon us, and we will answer," Eladriel was truly spent from her battle with the Chaos lord, yet seeing this Dragon Prince gave her a burst of energy that she had never known she had. She took off her helm and smiled.
"Hail Princess Eladriel. I am Imrik, of House Gwindorian. I accept your thanks, as it is true that our charge swung this battle in your favour," He removed his helm to show a young face with proud features and long, dark hair. "I also accept your offer of aid in my time of need, for I shall be in need of strong warriors like you and your soldiers soon. My companion is Lutheni, of House Tellatén, a White Lion of Chrace and a dear friend of mine. My dragon is Gwihir, a Sun Dragon. We are glad we could assist you." Eladriel felt her world spin. Imrik of Caledor? A descendant of the original Caledor Dragontamer had come to rescue her from the jaws of death? It was almost like a fairy tale. She felt like she might collapse right there, yet she had to remain focused.
"Princess Eladriel, are you wounded?" asked Lutheni, her voice concerned.
"No, I am fine. If I may introduce Tellion and Calamir, two young nobles of Cothique, without whom the raiders would have been able to beach their craft with no opposition at all," replied Eladriel a little lightheaded. She gestured to each of the nobles in turn. Calamir walked forward and knelt at Imrik's feet and lifted the spear that had slain the Chaos lord above his head.
"Your spear, my lord," he said with reverence.
"Thank you Calamir. Rise, for you are not my squire. Today, we are equals on the field of valour. I saw your charge. You acquitted yourself well. Tell me, are you accustomed to cavalry fighting?" inquired Imrik.
"No lord, though I have trained with lance and horse like any other noble. My place is at sea, with the ships of the fleet."
"I think you are denying yourself Calamir. You commanded with expert control, and fought with excellent form. If you ever find yourself in a land battle again, get yourself a horse. Which of the Houses are you sworn to?"
"House Elvirion, my lord, as is Tellion."
"Then I have a message you the head of House Elvirion, if you are willing to deliver it?" asked Imrik.
"Of course, my lord," replied Calamir. Imrik grinned.
"Ask your lord if he will come to court in Lothern, three weeks hence. I must discuss with the Phoenix King a matter of grave importance. And, if His Grace consents, I would ask that the two of you accompany me in that business. Will you ask this of him?"
"I will my lord. If I may, what are you planning on doing?" asked Calamir, curious.
"You will find that out in Lothern, Calamir. I must talk with the Finubar about certain matters that are best kept private until a better time. But come, enough talk. Let us tend to the wounded, give a proper funeral to our honoured dead and dispose of this filth."
It took them most of the night to burn all of the corpses of the Norse raiders. Imrik personally destroyed the two shrieking axes, banishing the daemons bound to the hell-forged steel. After they had set the pyres burning, they turned to their own dead, the wounded having been taken to the shrine for healing. They dug graves atop the dunes and set grave markers above their bodies. Seventy dead elves, eighty more wounded, the vast majority of which were from the spearmen regiments. It had been a costly victory.
Imrik and Lutheni, who had now removed her helm, stood atop the dunes and watched the waves rolling in and the lighting strike at the sea. The rain had passed over them now, and was only visible as a murky haze out over the water. Imrik sighed and turned back towards the shrine, making the short trip to the sacred ground.
The shrine itself was an open pavilion of trees, the upper bows of which had been magically sung into an interlocking latticework of branches and leaves. Imrik stared at it, for it seemed as though the craft of the Alagaësian elves was here already. Then he mentally shook himself for being so foolish. This was the work of special magic, the same that was used to craft the ships of the Navy. It required the mage to force the trees to grow in the way that they wished them to grow. It was not dissimilar from the magic of the Alagaësian elves, but Imrik now viewed the work of his own race as crude in this respect. It was a shock to him.
"Prince Imrik," Eladriel was calling him over. He approached, Lutheni at his side. The princess was propped up on a cushion of silk. Her armour was gone above the waist, replaced with a ring of bandages and an unbuttoned tunic. She smiled weakly at them. "My apologies for my state of dress, but the healers insist that I leave the armour off long enough for my bones to heal. It seems I was more hurt than I originally thought."
"Perhaps I can assist you there..." Imrik knelt next to Eladriel and drew the glove off of his left hand. Carefully, he placed two fingers to the centre of her chest, feeling downwards into her chest with his mind. He identified the broken bones and murmured the words of healing that he had memorised during his tuition by Oromis. Eladriel let out a gasp of pain, but then mastered herself and kept silent as Imrik worked. Slowly, the bones knitted back together. Imrik looked for any other injuries and, seeing nothing serious, withdrew his mind and his fingers.
Eladriel looked at him in awe. "I knew you were a mighty warrior Imrik of Caledor. The stories of your deeds over the past centuries were always my favourite as a child, but I would not have taken you for a healer."
"You mistake me with my cousin, Princess. I am not Imrik Dragonlord. I am Imrik the Younger, as they call me. As for being a healer, it serves you well to know how to take care of yourself," replied Imrik with a smirk. Eladriel's face morphed from confusion to slight disappointment, then an embarrassed smile.
"Forgive me, Imrik. I did not mean to cause offence," she said with humility.
"None taken," he said offhandedly. "Where do you head now, Eladriel?"
"An hour or two to the south. My family home rests at the foot of the mountains in Lion March, and these warriors come from the surrounding villages. And yourself? Will you return to Caledor?"
"Not yet. We fly to the Lion Fang Hills at first light. Lutheni's home rests in those mountains. From there, I will fly on alone to Caledor to meet with my own family, then to Lothern to speak with the King. I shall see you at court, I hope?" Asked Imrik, hoping he would have at least one ally that day.
"Of course. Once I have made my report to my father and recovered sufficiently, I will make for Lothern."
"That is good. I will see if I can of any more assistance, please excuse me." Imrik stepped away towards the priests of Kurnous and asked them if he could help in any way. Eladriel looked after him with an expression of awe.
"I wouldn't entertain the thought, Eladriel," said Lutheni, her eyes following the young Caledorian with a sad smile on her lips.
"How do you mean, Lutheni?" asked Eladriel, quite surprised by the keenness of the other woman's perception.
"He has eyes for only one, and she is far away and out of his reach." Eladriel looked dismayed
"Is she the Everqueen herself? He is a Prince of Caledor, there is little out of his reach," said Eladriel in hushed tones as Imrik moved towards the wounded and began to help those within his power to heal.
"It is not that she has been placed out of his reach, but it is he that will withhold his hand... for her sake, not his own. He cares for her deeply."
"Does she know? Is it love?" asked Eladriel.
"Nay, she knows nothing, nor suspects it. Come, leave this talk and see to your soldiers. You're fully recovered now," replied Lutheni, walking off to join Imrik in his rounds. Eladriel felt her ribs, prodding her skin. She felt no tenderness or pain. Looking at Imrik and Lutheni, she wondered what other strange powers they may have.
Morning came swiftly. The bright sun shone through the scattered trees and illuminated the scene of last night's battle. The sands were stained a muddy red with the blood of the fallen, their arms and armour littered about. Near the shore, the remnants of the large pyres built for the Norse smouldered on, the smoke leaving a dark smudge in the sky. Most of the wounded were on the road to recovery. Imrik's healing powers, along with the ministrations of the priests, had meant that many who would have died of blood loss or infection were up and walking, although with a careful measured gate.
Imrik watched impassively as the ragged ranks of spearmen formed up, ready for the mark home. The archers formed up behind them, and the silver helms trotted to the front of the column. Calamir and Tellion had assembled their sailors and returned to their ships before dawn. Now Imrik could see their sails on the distant horizon as they sped homewards, bearing Imrik's greetings and message to their lord. He turned his head to Lutheni, how was looking off into the distance in the direction of her home.
"We will fly soon. When Eladriel emerges, we will take off and be within sight of Tellatén Manor in hours," he said softly.
Lutheni turned and nodded, then resumed her vigil of the horizon. Eladriel emerged from the shrine, mounted her horse and cantered over to them.
"Well Prince Imrik, Princess Lutheni, this is where we part for now. I wish you safe travels and I hope to see you both in Lothern before the month is out. Farewell, may the gods watch over you," she said with a smile. She looked around at her depleted army and sighed. "There will be much mourning tonight."
"Farewell Princes Eladriel, do not let your heart weigh heavy on such things. Death comes for us all, be glad that your warriors met such a noble end as to fall defending their homes. I will look for you at court, give my regards to your family!" Replied Imrik.
"Farewell Princess, we will meet again," said Lutheni. She turned and mounted Gwihir. Imrik followed her, then pulled himself up in front of the hunter. Eladriel gave them a salute with her sword, then rode off to join her soldiers. Gwihir shook himself, then spread his wings and took off. As they circled the shrine, Imrik and Lutheni looked down on the small silver column making its way east. Gwihir roared once, then adjusted his course and flew towards the Loin Fang Hills.
It was around midday when Gwihir came up upon Tellatén Manor. The Chracian nobility built their homes with safety and security in mind, due to the frequency of Dark Elf raids. The mansion was encircled with a boundary wall twenty feet tall with towers spaced evenly along it. A reinforced gateway was visible in the centre of the fortification, accessible only by a narrow bridge over a gorge. Behind this outer wall was a courtyard with gardens, stables and other functional buildings. A higher second wall guarded the Manor and the more important buildings, again interspaced with towers. High on a nearby mountainside, a watchtower was built. Currently, an alarm bell was ringing and the complex was buzzing with activity as the household garrison took up arms to combat the incoming threat. Eagle Eye Bolt Throwers were being levelled at the incoming dragon from the tops of several towers, although they were not yet in range.
"Touch down out of range, we'll dismount and proceed on foot. They should recognise us as friends soon enough," said Imrik to Gwihir. The dragon snorted his agreement and began his descent. Once he had landed, Imrik and Lutheni dismounted and strode, shoulder to shoulder, towards the imposing wall.
"Halt strangers, and state your business!" called a voice from the wall when they were within bow range.
"I am Lutheni, of House Tellatén. Do you mean to deny my homecoming, Lyndas?" yelled Lutheni in reply.
"Lady Lutheni, is it really you? We heard you were lost," the voice, Lyndas, said.
"Do I look lost? Open the gates and let me see my family again," called Lutheni.
"As you say my Lady! Open the gates! The Lady Lutheni returns!"
Lutheni turned and grinned at Imrik. He smiled back and they made their way towards the bridge. As Imrik and Lutheni entered the courtyard, the doors of the second wall were opened and a party came rushing down the steps towards them. Lutheni broke into a run to meet the foremost member of the party, disregarding her helm as she ran. Imrik looked up and recognised Lutheni's father.
The embrace was more of a running tackle, both Lutheni and her father coming together in a muffled thump. Her mother joined the embrace and together the three of them held each other and wept with joy. Imrik smiled at the sight and the members of Lord Arion's court stood around with tears streaming from their eyes.
"Lutheni..." said Arion, his voice muffled by Lutheni's cloak and thick with emotion.
"Father... Mother, I've missed you so much," mumbled Lutheni into her parents' ears.
"We missed you too... Oh Lutheni dear, what happened?" asked her mother, Filauria.
"It's a long story mother, perhaps we should head inside first?"
"Of course," said Filauria. She broke the embrace and held her daughter at arm's length. Arion stood back as well, and noticed Imrik standing behind them.
"Prince Imrik! I had not thought to see you here, although your presence would explain the reports of a dragon. Tell him he may enter here, we have only friendship to give the dragons of old. Bolt throwers! Stand down!" said Arion, directing the last part towards the towers. The elves manning the Eagle Eyes unloaded their war machines and stood back.
"Come on in," said Imrik to Gwihir.
"Thank you for the invitation," replied Gwihir sarcastically. With a beating of wings, Gwihir took to the air and swept over the outer wall. He circled once and then landed in the courtyard a few feet from them.
"May I introduce you, Lord Arion and Lady Filauria, to Gwihir?" said Imrik with a smile.
"Honoured to meet you, Gwihir," said Arion with a bow.
"Graced by your presence, mighty one," curtsied Filauria.
"He greets you both and thanks you for your courtesy," Imrik relayed to Arion and Filauria. They seemed shocked that Imrik could tell them such things without even looking at Gwihir. They probably assumed it was a trait of the Dragon Prince, and the truth was not far from this, but they would learn all in the story they were about to be told, so Imrik did not try to explain.
"Come, let us talk in comfort on the balcony. That way, Gwihir may join us and, if he wishes, participate in our... err, conversations. He seems like he has the power to communicate through you Prince Imrik, will you mind translating?" said Arion with grace.
"Not at all, Lord Arion. Please, lead on," replied Imrik with a small dip of his head, for he held great respect for the father of his dear friend.
"Come daughter, we have much to discuss. Stewards, have food and wine brought to the lower balcony," said Arion, slinging an arm around Lutheni's shoulders and leading her back towards the manor house. Filauria walked beside her daughter, holding her hand and smiling. Imrik walked behind them, and the court behind him. Gwihir took off again and flew to the balcony, where he made himself comfortable on the polished stone floor.
The short walk through Tellatén Manor reminded Imrik of his first meeting with Lutheni. He chuckled internally at the memory of the ball, and their subsequent competitions. The long stone corridors interlaced with wooden support beams that held an arched roof seemed to be full of his memories, although he had hardly spent any time here in the years leading up to his adventures in Alagaësia. He felt a sudden pang of homesickness.
Lord Arion led them out onto the balcony. A handrail of intricately worked wood ran around the edge of the expansive space. The floor was polished white marble, save for a centrepiece of red marble in the shape of a lion rampant, the Tellatén family crest. A few low tables were place around the balcony, with chairs and couches to relax on. Gwihir had made himself comfortable on the far right, and Lord Arion led them to the table nearest to the green dragon.
"So," said lord Arion after they were all seated around the table. Imrik next to Filauria and Lutheni, who was next to her father as well, "tell us Lutheni, what befell you?"
Lutheni told her story, of her part in the battle and her travels in Alagaësia before meeting Imrik. Imrik briefly interrupted her to summaries his own tale up to that point. Lutheni then told of the journey to Ellesméra, mostly leaving out her feud with Arya, which surprised Imrik. She told her parents of how she had whiled away the months while Imrik trained, then of her experience at the Blood-oath Celebration. Food was brought part way through her tale, along with a fine red wine for them to drink. By the time Lutheni had finished her tale, the food was gone and her parents looked thoroughly bewildered.
"Well my daughter, you seem to have had quite the adventure! Another world... I would never have dreamed of such a thing," said Arion, sitting back in his chair and sipping his wine.
"I am simply glad you are home safe," said Filauria, reaching out to hold hands with her daughter over the table.
"I won't be staying long, I'm afraid. Imrik, tell them your plan," replied Lutheni, her eyes sorrowful. Filauria turned to Imrik, her face a mask of confusion.
"What does she mean, Prince Imrik? Do you mean to return to this other world?"
"And drag Lutheni with you? You assume much, youngling," said Arion, his voice rising.
"In answer to your questions: Yes, I mean to return. No, I do not mean to drag Lutheni with me, but she has volunteered to accompany me, even if my plan fails. Please, Lord Arion, hear me out. If the Asur can establish a colony in this new world, a world where Chaos cannot touch us and where we can focus more on domestic affairs, them our race can be saved. The death rate of this new colony would be out-weighted by the birth rate. A new age of prosperity could begin, knowing that the future of our people was secured. To this end, I intend to lead an expeditionary force into Alagaësia to defeat the human tyrant Galbatorix and establish a kingdom for our people to inhabit for the rest of time. I will be going to court in a few weeks to present my case to King Finubar and, with his consent; I will gather support for the cause. Once a substantial force has been assembled, I will lead them back into Alagaësia and begin my campaign in concert with the native elves, dwarves and the Varden. On our victory, those who wish to return to Ulthaun may return, and the rest will remain in Alagaësia to be the foundations for the new colony. I ask you now, Lord Arion, will you pledge to me your support? I do not expect your answer now, nor do I expect it to be positive. When you have considered my proposal, tell your answer to Lutheni, who has agreed to meet me in Lothern three weeks hence," said Imrik, his face impassive. He knew that the Chracian was a hard elf and liked to deliberate his decisions when he could. What Imrik was asking him to do was almost lunacy, and yet... It held the hope of the entire race. "As for myself, I must return to Caledor within the week, which means I must sadly leave immediately." Imrik stood and bowed his head to the family.
"Now? Imrik, you must at least stay the night! You can't just leave!" cried Lutheni, standing sharply.
"I must leave Lutheni. I must return to Caledor, inform my own family of my story and proposals, then call together the council of Caledor. I thank you for your hospitality, but I must leave." Imrik clapped Lutheni on the shoulder and turned towards Gwihir. He started undoing the saddlebags that contained Lutheni's belongings.
"Prince Imrik," Imrik stopped and turned to face Arion. He had his fingers linked in front of his face and his eyes were looking out over the Chracian hills. "Do you believe you can do this? Do you believe you can save our race from extinction? Do you believe you can win?"
Imrik stared long and hard at the Chracian lord. Slowly, Arion looked up and met his eyes. A spark of understanding passed between them. "Yes. I believe I can do this," said Imrik resolutely.
"This is either the greatest action of a prince of Caledor since the Great Vortex, or the worse. Either way, you have the support of House Tellatén. Fair winds to you, Dragon Prince."
Imrik felt as though a great weight had been lifted from him. One of the lords of Chrace was behind him, he had support. He had hope. "You have my most deep and sincere thanks, Lord Arion. Your generosity and support will be remembered."
Imrik bowed properly, a true statement of his debt to Arion. Arion nodded his head, and stood. Filauria curtsied to Imrik and Gwihir, then left the balcony. Lutheni stepped up and accepted her things.
"Take care, you headstrong fool," she said, then hugged him tightly. Imrik returned the embrace, then held her at arm's length.
"You too," he said, then released her and turned to Gwihir. He grabbed his spear and shield, securing the latter to his left arm. He then leapt into the saddle and strapped himself down for the long flight south. He took one last look at Lutheni and Arion, then Gwihir swept off the balcony and down towards the plains. As they sped away from the manor, Gwihir roared in joy. Finally, they were going home.
"Father, will you not come in? You have been out here since dawn with nothing to eat or drink."
"No, Feldra, I will not. Each day I have kept this vigil, and shall do until my sons are returned to me."
Lord Calith, the head of House Gwindorian, leant heavily on the stone balcony on the highest tower of the Gwindorian mansion in the Dragonspine Mountains. He had been thus since daybreak, three hours ago. Ever since the lost of his youngest child, Imrik, he had felt less and less in touch with the world at large. Food and drink mattered little now, as did sleep and training. All that mattered was the vigil, to keep watch for Imrik, and his brother Anillius. They would return to him, or he would spend the rest of his long life on this tower to watch for them. Even if Ulthuan itself was to be destroyed, he would not leave his vigil until his sons were home.
"Father, they are gone. We have grieved for them, but now we must move on, focus on the upkeep of our estate and armies, and with the troubled tidings that are being brought before us. You are the head of this House, yet I am the one who has been doing your job for the past months... Father, are you even listening to me?!" Feldra, the oldest of Lord Calith's children, demanded. She was a strong-willed and efficient person, able to get things done. She was also a great battlefield commander, leading many armies of Caledor to glorious victories in the past. Her flame-red hair, which she had inherited from her mother, rippled in the wind.
"Yes, of course I am, but your words have little meaning to me anymore," replied Calith, his eyes still fixed on the horizon.
"If Imrik and Anillius could see you now, they would be ashamed of you. Where is pride, Lord of Caledor? Will you abandon all that your ancestors died for so that you may be consumed by your grief and forget the outside world? Your sons would call for vengeance, not for weeping. Pick up your sword, father. I beg you, return!" Feldra lashed out with these winged words, trying desperately to rouse her father. She wondered if she had gone too far, and perhaps plunged her father deeper into despair.
"You dare speak to me in such a way?!" bellowed Calith, spinning around to confront his daughter, his eyes stung with tears. "You think I don't know the truth in what you say? You think that I am trying to ignore the outside world so that I might preserve my grief? You are wrong, Feldra! I grieve here because I am consumed with my shame. I have failed all of those who came before me. Your mother cannot survive another childbirth, and now the last vestiges of our House have died. The line of Gwindorian, started by Calith, the second son of the Dragontamer himself, is ended with me. I, that should have the shame to sully that great name with my failures. There is nothing left for me in this world. I will wait for my death, the last of the Gwindorians," Calith sunk to the ground, his head in his hands.
Feldra looked on the kneeling form of her father and felt the anger drain out of her, only to be replaced with sadness. She knew now her father's feelings, and understood them all too well. She could not keep the line alive, for she had little chance to marry now with war brewing on every front. She was likely to die in the fighting at some point, and the last hope for her family would be snuffed out like a candle in a hurricane. She knelt next to her father, and held him in her arms. He felt feeble and weak, two things she would never associate with her father until this day. He had taught her to fight; trained and inspired her. She had never seen him this vulnerable before.
"Father, I beg your forgiveness. I did not understand," she said, cradling his head like a newborn. She held him thus for many long minutes. The time seemed to slip by without her notice, with only the mournful sounds of her father's grief for company. Oddly, she felt suddenly at peace with herself. Up until now, she had been troubled over her father, over the running of the estate and of maintaining the armies of her family. Now, that all seemed trivial. This moment was all that mattered. Slowly, Calith regained his composure and looked her in the eyes.
"Thank you, Feldra. I have strayed from the path, and you have returned me to the light. My sons may be gone, but there is still strength in these old limbs. If it is truly the fate of the Gwindorians to pass out of the world, then we shall make sure our names are remembered for ever more." He stood, and took a deep breath. Feldra rose with him, and saw the elf of her youth once again in her father's figure. He stood straighter and taller than he had done in months, and his eyes seemed sharper and focus. She smiled, happy to have her father restored to her.
Suddenly, the door to the tower burst open, and Lady Eriviel hurried onto the balcony. Her long red hair was tied up in a braid. She wore a long green dress embroidered with golden designs of dragons and flames. Her face was kind, yet she walked with the confidence of a warrior and when she spoke, her voice carried currents of steel.
"News from Chrace," she said by means of a greeting, but stopped when she say her husband's expression, "Calith... have you returned to me?" she half whispered.
"Aye, I have. I beg your pardon, Eriviel, for my cowardice and faithlessness. I did not see what I could do, but now our daughter has restored my sight and given me a direction," replied Calith, bowing to his wife. She approached him, raised him up and embraced him.
"You have my pardon, you foolish elf. I am simply glad to have you back."
They held the embrace for a few moments more, then broke apart. The three of them stood together and looked out across the lands surrounding the fortress-mansion and smiled, a family again.
"Mother, you were saying something about news from Chrace?" said Feldra after a while.
"Ah, yes. Well, it seems that a force of Norsemen made it through the northern seas and attacked the Shrine of Kurnus. They were repulsed, however, by the actions of a few brave Chracian elves... and a Dragon Prince,"
"But, to my knowledge, none of the Dragon Princes have been dispatched to Chrace. Most of them are still at their stations, either in Caledor, or in the colonies. This Prince if a mystery... is there any other information?" said Feldra, her face a mask of confusion.
"None, only that he left the morning after the battle and flew east."
"When did this happen?" asked Calith.
"A week ago, or so the report says," replied Eriviel.
"This is troubling... A Dragon Prince that we do not know of could be dangerous."
"Agreed. For now, we should contact our friends in Chrace and try and find out – " A roar interrupted Calith's sentence. All three elves looked up as horns rang out across the valley. Above the fortress, a dragon hung in the air. As they watched, it tucked its wings and swooped down towards to tower, making to pass over it. Feldra drew her sword, not that it would do much against a dragon on the attack from altitude. She was still a little stunned that they may be under attack from a dragon, the ancient allies of the elves. Not all dragons are allies, she reminded herself sternly.
The dragon roared again, and swept in closer. Feldra thought she could see a rider on the dragon's back, and armour plates encasing its form. Yes, he was certain of it now. The dragon was armoured for war and on its back was a rider... a rider in dragon armour.
"It can't be..." she whispered.
The dragon drew in, then passed straight over the tower. As it did, the rider hurled himself towards the balcony. He landed with a roll and tackled Feldra to the ground and she didn't resist. Instead, she wrapped her arms around her baby brother and hugged him to her chest, tears of joy falling down her face. She knew that armour anywhere; Imrik was home. Against all the odds, Imrik was home.
"Feldra..." he said, his voice thick with emotion and muffled against her clothes.
"Oh Imrik, you're home," she choked out, blinking tears out of her eyes. They sat up and looked each other in the face, Imrik removing the winged helm of his armour, then laughing and hugging her again, exclaiming in a language she didn't know. She understood the sentiment though. Suddenly, her father and mother were there as well, hugging tight to Imrik and crying tears of joy.
"Oh my son, I thought you were lost!"
"Imrik, on my child, Imrik!"
"Father, mother... oh it is good to be home," said Imrik, his eyes streaming. He was completely overcome with emotion. He had not realised just how much he had missed his family until that moment, when he was returned to them. It felt better than anything he had ever felt before. He was home.
"... and that is my story," said Imrik. He sat in the dining hall of the mansion with his family around him. He had been telling his tale for an hour or so now, for he had included many trivial and rather unimportant details, but they seemed appropriate to talk about now, such as the abundance of mushrooms amongst the dwarves. His family had all listened with rapt attention, only posing questions where they did not fully understand something. When he had finished, they all sat back in silence, thinking over what they had just heard.
"That is extraordinary Imrik. Another world... it's almost impossible to think about, yet it exists. I'm just glad you survived and came home, both you and Gwihir," said Feldra, leaning out of her seat and hugging him tightly. Imrik returned the embrace warmly, then looked to his father and mother.
"You did well Imrik. You brought us and yourself much honour by your actions. I am so proud of you. Welcome home, my son," his father smiled at him. Imrik smiled back.
"It is good to be home. I have missed this place greatly since I left. However, I fear I will not be staying long," said Imrik, his voice subdued.
"What do you mean? You've only just arrived, where could you possibly be going?" asked his mother, her voice layered with fear and concern.
"First, I must go to Tor Caled, to see the Dragonlord. From there, I mean to call together a council of the lords. After that, I will travel to Lothern to speak with the Phoenix King. That done, and my goals accomplished, I will return to Alagaësia to assist in the war effort," he said, trying to keep his voice even. He knew his family would not welcome this.
"What?! But Imrik, you've just returned, you can't just leave again! We need you here, Caledor needs you, Ulthaun needs you! Will you abandon us all?" asked Feldra, her eyes ablaze with emotion.
"Hear me out, dear sister. This new world is untouched by the influence of Chaos. Such a place is an opportunity of untold magnitude for our race, and should not be ignored. If we can establish a colony in Alagaësia, then we can be ensure the survival of the Asur so that, even if Ulthuan were to fall, we would not be destroyed. To this end, I mean to lead a force into Alagaësia to assist in the deposition of the tyrant Galbatorix and to ensure a place for our people in the rebuilding of the world when the human is overthrown. This is why I shall return, that and my honour buds me to, for I have given my word that I shall help those in need. Would you have me break my word, sister?"
"Imrik, what you say is dangerous. Even if you were granted leave to lead a force into the new world, how could you ensure your victory? There would be no reinforcements for you. And how would you even take your army to Alagaësia? Your skill in magic must have increased dramatically for you to undertake such a thing. Imrik, are you sure you could be responsible for an event that could change the course of our history? Think long before you answer me son," said his father, his tone grave. Imrik looked him in the eye, and felt the doubt and pressure return to his shoulders.
"Fear not Imrik, for we shall triumph no matter the odds. With the help of the Varden and the elves and dwarves, how could we not? Your magic has vastly increased, to levels untold. Take up the mantel with the pride of your ancestors. Caledor the Conqueror was a reluctant ruler at first, yet he was one of the greatest Phoenix Kings Ulthuan ever had. You have the blood of the Dragontamer, never forget that," spoke Gwihir into his mind. Imrik smiled at the words, and fixed his eyes on his father again.
"I know I can do this. With the armies of Ulthaun allied to the Varden, elves and dwarves, there is nothing that could stand in our way. I have the blood of Caledor, and the strength to carry this burden. I can do this. I will do this," he replied, standing up and facing his father fully, his eyes set and determined.
His father met his eyes, then looked down for a long time. Feldra and Eriviel looked on in anticipation of what Calith would say. Finally, he raised his head. "You are my son, my only son now. You have the blood of ancient days, so nothing I can say will change your mind. I wish you would stay and live a long and happy life with your family, yet I see now that that was never your fate. You were destined to fight, to conquer, and to be the warrior. The only thing I can do for you now is give you my blessing, and tell you that our House will stand with you Imrik. You shall have access to all of the resources and troops that are sworn to us. Fight well my son, bring honour to our House."
"Father! You cannot be serious! Imrik has barely returned, yet you mean to let him go gallivanting off again? He's still a child! This quest of his is foolish," shouted Feldra.
"No Feldra, Imrik is no longer a child. He has made is choice, nothing I can say or do will persuade him otherwise."
"You are right father. I thank you for your blessing, and your support. Feldra, my dear sister, you always cared for me, yet now the time has come for me to step up and take on my destiny. I ask that you do not make this harder for me that it already is. Not only must I convince the Dragonlord, I must convince the council, and then the court. I need all the support I can get. Please, don't try to stop me," Imrik said, his voice soft. Feldra looked at him with eyes of hurt and fury. He met her gaze with sad, yet determined eye. They stood thus for a few minutes, until Feldra sighed and looked down.
"You will not change your mind?" she said quietly.
"No, I cannot do that now," replied Imrik softy.
"Then you have my blessing. I will not go with you on this quest, for it is your destiny, not mine. My lot is to guard our home, to protect what is left of the old Gwindorian while you build a place for us in the new world... Good luck Imrik, you'll need a lot of it." With that, Feldra left the room. Eriviel looked from her husband to her son, then stood and walked to Imrik. She embraced him, and Imrik held her close. He felt the tears slide down her face and onto his neck. He was suddenly aware that he would never see his mother again. She broke the embrace and left the room through the same door as Feldra. Imrik looked to his father, who simply gave him a reserved stare in response, then left for his bed chamber.
Imrik found the room just as he had left it. His bed neatly made up, his weapon racks empty and his wardrobes clean and ordered. He looked out of his windows into the distance and saw the sun sinking under the waves. He drew the curtains and turned back to his room. He saw his first sword, a child's weapon made for him by the fortress smith, in the glass display case he had placed it in. It seemed now that the younger Imrik inhabited this room more strongly that the present day Imrik. He was a changed elf, no longer who he had thought he would grow up to be. It was a sudden and uncomfortable realisation, one that he was not fully settled with. He underdressed and got into bed, yet it felt cold and unfamiliar. He did not sleep at all that night, and when dawns first light began to show through his curtains, he rose and dressed, almost eager to leave the room he had once called home.
A/N: I think I'll leave it there folks. I hope you enjoy this first chapter of The War of Fates. I plan to write more than this in the next few chapters, but for now, it's just an introductory chapter. As always, please review and leave me with your feedback!