Dawn was just coloring the sky as his wife, curled in the crook of his arm, slept beside him. He watched the sun’s tableau while his hand absently ran through her hair. He sighed, and slowly lifted her head up, sliding silently out of their bed. It was chill. Goosebumps quickly forming over his body, as he stood for a moment watching her peacefully sleep. Long brown hair framed a delicate face and ivory skin with sharp green eyes that hid more than they revealed. She was tall, nearly as tall as him, and lithe. At times he still forgot to breath while looking at her.
He leaned down and kissed her softly. As he did her eyes opened and they looked at each other.
“You’re leaving today?” she asked softly, a twinge of sadness touching her voice.
“Yes. Today.” He said flatly. How many times had he been here? How many times could he be. He shut his eyes for a moment and shuddered, half from the cold, half from the pain that came whenever he left.
Her eyes betrayed her own pain, shimmering in the morning light that was now starting to spill through the window. She stood; the blankets wrapped around her, and enveloped him, clinging tightly as his arms came around her. They stood like that, not speaking, hardly breathing, feeling each other completely, knowing soon this would end.
“My beginning. My end.” He whispered softly. She clung tighter in response. “I’ll be back before you know it.” Another whisper. “Back to you and ours.”
“I know.” She said fiercely. Leaving it at that.
They separated and dressed together. At times she would stop in the midst of it to trace her finger down one of the many scars that lined his body. Each time he came back a new one seemed to appear. She had memorized every one. Made them her own.
Breakfast was quick. The children at once energetic and nervous, sensing their parents mood. He answered questions with a smile and soft voice; sometimes catching fervent glances with his wife. It all happened too quickly, as always.
The morning was bright now, the sky clear, with a gentle wind blowing from the west. The birch trees behind him where slowly changing color, at once yellow, green, and gold. Here and there a few oak’s lent a deeper gold to the scene, sometimes rippling in the wind. Farther up the hills surrounding his house evergreens grew, shading the world in deep greens. A stream rippled in the sunlight, seen down a gently sloping field away from the house. This was home, and he was leaving again.
Kneeling in-front of his children he looked at them all, one-by-one, steadily in the eyes. “You need to look after each other and your mother. Though I know you will.” He said with a serious tone. Gathering each up in an embrace he intoned to each, “Body, Blood, and Mind,” each of them holding a fist by their chest, then pressing it against them, then opening the fist to place a palm on their chest as he said the words. Lastly he stood, gazing at his wife. They stood, arms length apart, staring hard into one another’s eyes. After a time he reached to his side where a slender sheathed sword was pushed through his belt, grasping it he handed it to his wife. “Body, Blood, and Mind.” He intoned almost inaudibly. She held out a larger sword in its sheath, which she had been holding in one hand, mirroring his movements and speech. Their voices came together in a sort of harmony, melding into one. Deliberately buckling the swords to their belts they paused for a few seconds afterwards, or the world held its breath, and came together in a slow and long embrace. After a slow kiss and silent words he turned to stride down the path that lead away from them. Each step seemed heavier and more painful. As the road began to bend into the forest he looked back and saw his wife and three children watching. Lifting a hand in farewell, the forest blocked his view and they were gone. His shoulders sunk a fraction of an inch for a moment and eyes tightened, but just as quickly righted themselves as his stride lengthened.
The farther he got from the house the deeper fall touched the trees surrounding him, the forest thickening all about him, maples, oaks, and birches cascading from red to yellow to brown. Leaves were thick upon the path that meandered through the woods, occasionally he’d sweep aside a pile while walking, lost in thought. If someone had been watching him walk it would have seemed he wandered off the path for no reason, absentmindedly getting lost. But there was a purpose and knowledge to his stride, no root tripped him, no hole twisted an ankle, he glided through the forest as if walking through his house, and in a way, he was.
It was a clearing he’d been coming to, and a clearing he’d found. Going to the center of it he gracefully lowered himself to the ground, sitting cross-legged and waiting. A minute had hardly passed when a giant wolf, a shade of grey almost silver, trotted into the clearing. The wolf’s eyes bore into him as he stared back into eyes that seemed to shine with their own light, golden-yellow eyes surrounding iris’s that were a deep brown laced with silver. His coat shone with health, and there was a bulkiness around him that spoke of a fat summer, waiting for the winter. The wolf sat in-front of him, and each lowered their heads in greeting.
“The pack will watch them while I am gone?” He asked, already knowing the answer. The wolf cocked his head and seemed to find his need to even ask amusing. “You are pack, as are they. Wither you are here or not. They are watched and protected.” The wolf rumbled. He sighed, a tension going out of him. Despite how he knew this, he always needed to hear it.
After a pause, his eyes going far away, he suddenly looked fiercely at the wolf, who blinked at their sudden intensity. “This will be different than the other times. There is a great change coming.” He said levelly. “There is always change.” Was the amused reply, as the wolf looked meaningfully around the clearing.
“But this is different, an age is ending. Or perhaps it has already ended, and a new one is beginning. Either way many fair things will fade, while some may awaken. Be they fair or not. I go to do what I can to help this, yet the way is still unclear.” He said.
The wolf’s ears pricked up at this, and he sat in thought for a time. “Should I call the clans?” The wolf asked.
“No. Not yet, and hopefully never. Yet if the time comes my wife will know.” Was his distant reply.
As his voice faded away a horse came into the clearing, coming to stop beside the man. She was a tall and noble animal, sleek, black, and breed far off in Tuvina. Raised by the silent she was silent herself, yet her eyes brimmed with intelligence. At times he thought she would gain speech, and he did wait for it. Standing beside him, she was used to the wolf by now, having met many times before. “My friend.” The man said with a smile, reaching up to touch the horses head as she bent down.
Man and wolf stood in unison. They looked at one another silently for a time, then the wolf turned around and trotted out of the clearing. He watched him go, admiring the grace and power of the wolf as always. Turning to the horse he smiled at her again. “Are you ready for another journey my friend?” He asked softly. She dug at the ground with a hoof and snorted, as if to ask why they weren’t journeying already.
Jumping on to her back he took one last look around the clearing. The sun was shining brightly in the noon sky, and leaves were floating through the air, slowly blanketing the ground as if to protect the world from winter’s touch. He shut his eyes and breathed in deeply, emptying his mind of all else except the world around him, the feel and taste of the air, the warmth of the horse beneath him. Opening his eyes he leaned towards the horses ear and whispered. “Fly my friend.” And they flew.
That first day of traveling was wild and fierce, stretching far into the night. They were two old friends who had come together to travel roads most men feared to tread, and again their paths lead away from all safety and the home they knew. So they raced down those paths. A feral light was in his eyes as the horse thundered down roads, churning the earth beneath her. Sometimes he would laugh for no reason and she would neigh in-return, pulling him back in a sudden burst of speed, making him laugh all the more. The few breaks they had at streams, or a field the roads passed through, were quick, each would drink their fill, he would eat something from his pack, she would graze, then they would gallop away again.
They stopped in a clearing half-way into the night. Gathering some grass he wiped her down as best he could, cleaning the day’s sweat and toil off her coat. It was a long day of riding, each testing one another, each in some way reveling in the freedom while defiantly charging into darker days. The night was bright, the stars shimmering in a clear sky, the moon just beginning to wane in the sky. As he cleaned her coat he figured they must have come 80 kilometers or more in their wild dash, he smiled to himself, Yes, he’d make it in time.
She sensed his distraction and nuzzled him out of his thoughts, she’d come a long way today and expected a little more. Patting her side, he reached into his pack and handed her an apple, which she gladly took, looking at him as if to say ‘About time,’ while she chewed. He laughed softly at her and began to gather wood for a fire. Soon enough a small blaze was going. She lay down near the fire and he leaned his back against her. Both, more exhausted than they knew, were soon fast asleep. The fire crackling in-front of them, the stars shimmering overhead. His last thought before sleep overtook him was of his wife and children, his grip tightening on the sword beside him, his resolve firming for what he must do.
It was one of the last great cities, and it was dying. Walking through it now, with Jiana trailing behind him, a sadness laced each movement. When Feanra had first seen this city so many years ago it was vast and untouchable. The fountains flowed freely, trees lined the cobble streets, and even the bad parts of the city were safe at night. There was a lightness about the inhabitants, in their walk and in their eyes, which made the weariest traveller feel as if they’d come home. The walls of the houses were polished to a deep shine if wood, or gleamed white if marble. Now, many of the trees had died. There was dullness in every building, and a lingering smell of decay in the air. Though it was high noon, people walked about with a subdued air, staring ahead bleakly or watching the ground as they went about their business.
The cities name was Kul’Thanin, and before that name took it, it was already ageless. The Fi’ri had long held it sacred, their legends and culture shrouding the city’s inception in myth. Their nature had help keep the city strong and vibrant throughout the ages. And as the wars of men raged on, as great cities grew and fell, empires expanded and collapsed, Kul’Thanin remained a bastion of civilization, if not always untouched.
Now Feanra moved through the city with Jiana. But a sense of foreboding hung over him. With each glance that quickly darted away from him, and every dead tree he saw standing lifeless, that foreboding turned to anger. How could a people so proud, so fierce in their beliefs and pursuits have come to this. The resolve set into his eyes as he strode through the crowds, people hurriedly stepping out of his way, afraid of the storm-filled eyes set in a stoic face. Those eyes were set on a building in the middle of the city. It towered above the others, with seven spires that shot into the sky in a jagged pattern, each taller than the next and gleaming white in the sky. It’s purity mocked the town as he saw it, but it was the place were he would find the answers sought.
Two huge solid oak doors swung open quickly and silently. The sound of them hitting the marble walls thundered through a vast round chamber filled with light. The dustless air even tasted brighter than the outside, Feanra thought as he stood shadowed in the doorway. It was the seventh spire of the Fi’ri, a place where all were equal, were the wise sat, a place that had broken kings, warlords, and fools. In the middle of the chamber a pure white round-table stood with 13 seats. The light from the windows that spiraled up the walls seemed to fall in the center of this table, to cascade softly throughout chamber, lighting every space. A plain iron crown sat in the center of this table, a shadow in the light. There was a staircase that spiraled with the windows, and every 100 feet a balcony without seating ran along the inside of the spire. There were five balconies with the last 500 feet of the spire holding a railless stairs that lead to the top, where men and women went to find the Truth.
Several men and women sat around the table now, looking at Feanra. Most watched him with scowls lining aged faces, though an amused smile played across the face of an old man in white robes, whose eyes danced playfully. Feanra stood there silently, slightly abashed at his loud arrival. When did they fix the doors?
The women with the deepest scowl was inhaling to shout when the old man stood quickly to say, “Feanra, it’s been too long since you’ve graced us with your presence.” The breath the women had taken escaped in a squeak, not daring to interrupt the old man, and at the sudden realization of who had broken the chambers quiet.
Bowing, Feanra said in a solid voice, “Forgive the noise Master Thu’dan. My rustic ways have always been unsuited for this place.” A flicker of a smile played across both their faces. In the long years of Feanra’s education in Kul’Thanin they had become fast friends, both seeing something of themselves in the other. If things had been different Feanra knew he would have been seated at this table now, rather than living in isolation in the North. Though if the choices he made were presented to him again he would change none.
Thul’dan gestured at an empty seat across the table from his own. “Please, be seated.”
Feanra unsheathed the sword hanging from his belt and carried it by the blade as he walked to his seat. Before sitting he placed the sword with the point facing towards him on the table, the only sword on the table. “Ever the warrior Feanra.” Thul’dan observed thoughtfully. Feanra met Thul’dan’s eyes steadily for a few seconds than glanced at the sword on the table. “Yes.” Was his simple reply, as he looked back to those eyes, seeking understanding.
Thul’dan held his hands out in-front of him, palms outwards, sadness suddenly filling eyes that looked on an iron crown, though only those who knew him well could have seen that sadness. “It is not our way.” He said distantly. Looking back to meet Feanra’s eyes he went on, “Yet our way has sustained us through millennia while many other nations have risen and fallen. When their drums beat to the tread of legions ours have always beat to wisdom and truth.”
Feanra dropped his eyes and sighed suddenly. This was an old argument between them. “I know your ways, and have always loved them. But great change is coming. What has sustained you before will not keep you safe. And I will not see this place fall into memories.” The last sentence said with a quiet savageness.
“Perhaps our time has ended. And we must fade to make room for what may come.” Thul’dan said.
Feanra’s eyes came up to meet Thul’dan’s. A silence filled the chamber then, the others hardly daring to breath. There was a savage light in Feanra’s eyes that met the steady wisdom of Thul’dan’s. Standing slowly, his eyes never leaving Thul’dan’s. Feanra reached out to grip the blade of the sword in front of him tightly. “You know I cannot allow that.” Feanra said in a voice suddenly strong and sure. The sadness suddenly grew thick around Thul’dan as he said in a tired voice, “I know.” The words seemingly to age him as they left his mouth.
Feanra stepped on to the table. He walked to the crown, a trail of blood dripping from his hand that gripped the sword. Standing over it he stood in a world devoid of sound, the crown filling his vision. The light, once swallowed by it’s cold iron, suddenly seemed to pour forth from the crown as Feanra reached down for it. As his hand touched the crown the light became great, as all those except Thul’dan had to look away. Grasping the crown the light suddenly left the chamber, reappearing as Feanra stood, a crown of radiant white silver in one hand, pool of blood to his side. He was surprised by its lightness and warmth. Placing it upon his head, it flared, the chamber filled for a moment with its old light, before disappearing with the crown, which had faded into nothingness. Those who sat around the table looked up, seeing a man they hardly knew, a fell light shone from eyes now a deep silver, he stood with a confidence and poise that demanded respect. Emanating a strength men and women would die for, who would follow into heaven or hell. Looking about him, Feanra sheathed his sword with a hand clean and free of injury, his eyes fell on Thul’dan, who had turned deathly white. “I am sorry, there is no other way.” Feanra said in a clear and strong voice. Thul’dan turned away from him, too weary for words, hunched and broken. A flicker of regret passed through Feanra’s eyes, then he stepped from the table and strode out of the chamber. The sound of Thul’dan weeping followed his steps.