The Tale of Iryan and Nyanev
Iryan was the son of Lord Lassur, the sixth ruler of the halls of Aerin in eastern Iacata. Lassur was not of direct lineage from the previous king, Aletar. He was the advisor for Aletar's cousin, who was the King's most trusted warrior. Aletar had no children, and his closest heir was his cousin. Therefore, when his cousin died suddenly of a disease, Aletar's eye was drawn to Lassur. He was wise and thoughtful, learned and persuasive, and valiant in battle. Lassur married and had two children: Iryan, and his sister Emendi, who was sixteen years his elder.
Emendi was a great lover of nature. She would often walk alone in the Manguan Forest, singing in a clear voice beside the rippling streams, and she learned to communicate with the animals there. On a time they would come and sit by her and listen to her sing. When Iryan was old enough, she would take him with her, and he learned to know the animals as she did. He knew their fear, and they his. They would guide him if he was lost, and he would care for them if they were sick or hungry. Of all the royal family, the animals loved Emendi and the young prince the best.
There came a day when Iryan could not be found. Emendi was distressed, and she went into the woods to seek out Ammano, a great wolf who lived alone in a small den in the dark of the forest, but came to see Emendi often. Ammano promised to search for Iryan and bring him back to her.
The wolf followed Iryan's scent. The young prince had followed the path alongside the stream, but when it split and went in two directions, Iryan had taken not the wide obvious path, but the narrow, crooked path, crowded with fallen trees and tangled undergrowth. Along this path no grown man with weapons and armor could go, and so here it was that the king's tracking party had turned back. Ammano, however, plunged in, regardless of the bracken catching in his coat, and the thorns pricking his flesh. The path wound on for about five miles, twisting and turning every which way. Suddenly it stopped, opening into a large clearing. Right before Ammano rose a great stone wall.
Iryan had climbed the wall, but the wolf was unable to. He circled the wall, and was able to find a small wooden gate on the east side of the wall. One push of Ammano's powerful paws brought the door down. The wolf sniffed around cautiously before finding a trace of Iryan's scent. Swiftly, yet silently, he followed it. As he rounded a corner, a large house rose up in front of him. He skidded to a halt, all the muscles in his powerful body tensed. There above the doorway of the mansion was the insignia of the hated and feared men of the East. Ammano had never seen them-he had only heard tales of the fierce battles against them. These men, it was said, had been persuaded by a sorceress to fight against the free creatures of Iacata, for what reason, few knew. The sorceress offered them riches, saying that the free peoples were hoarding piles of gold and jewels. But she delved into their minds and broke their wills, and in despair and greed their minds turned dark and evil.
While Ammano waited, he heard soft footsteps and smelled that Iryan was close, along with another, who smelled of malice. The great wolf slid behind a pillar and waited for the two to come into sight. It was indeed Iryan; the boy was hand in hand with a tall woman with coal black hair. Malevolence hung about her like a dense fog, but Iryan seemed blissfully unaware of this. Ammano sprang onto the woman, tearing her away from the prince, who gave a cry of surprise. The sorceress let out a shrill whistle, at the same time bringing a club smashing down on Ammano's head. The blow would certainly have killed the wolf, had not he dodged out of the way and took it on his shoulder. Iryan cried out in dismay. He knew Ammano to be his sister's greatest friend, and anyone who tried to harm the wolf was to him an enemy. He drew a short knife and slashed at the woman. She rolled out of the way, but the small blade scored her face. Now Ammano was on top of her, pinning her to the ground with his huge body.
Suddenly the courtyard was filled with shouts and cries. Ammano knew he must take the boy and go: they were outnumbered. He lifted Iryan in his jaws by the back of his tunic and raced towards the woods. Iryan clung to the wolf's neck, his face rigid with fright. From the corner of his eye, Ammano caught a glimpse of the creatures following behind him. What he saw lent speed to his flight. These were not men. They were hideous creatures with knotted, crooked limbs and gruesome faces. As the wolf bounded on, an arrow came whizzing from behind and struck him in the leg. He stumbled, and Iryan fell to the ground. The prince was able to climb onto Ammano's back before the wolf took off again.
The goblins were swift, but even wounded, Ammano was swifter and more determined. When he reached the clearing where he had last seen Emendi, he staggered to a halt and lay down, allowing Iryan to slide off. However, the wolf was feeling his senses fade. The arrow that had hit his leg was poisoned, and the poison was beginning to spread throughout his body.
Emendi came flying into the clearing, gathering her brother into her arms, but looking in horror at Ammano, who lay on his side, his eyes clouding over. She had just time enough to run to him and take his heavy paw before he slipped into unconsciousness. Emendi called for guards to take Ammano to the healers as quickly as possible.
Emendi then questioned her brother as to where he had gone and what had happened. Iryan said, "I followed the narrow path until I came to a great wall. There was a small door on the east side that was open, and there were two men standing beside it who bade me welcome. I went in, and there stood a fair lady and tall, and she took my hand and asked me where I was from. We conversed for awhile...." The boy's eyes stung with tears. "Will he die?"
"That is in the hands of fate now," said Emendi. "Come, you need to rest. I will see to Ammano and tell you how he fares."
When Iryan had gone, Emendi turned to Lassur who stood nearby. "My father, surely this is the sorceress from the land of Colorron, far east of the great Manguan forest," said she. "The arrow that struck Ammano was branded with her sign."
Lassur nodded gravely. "She will have known from my son where we are to be found. We must prepare for war."
However, it was not for another twelve years that the first signs of danger began to appear. Iryan had grown into a tall man, strong and handsome, a brave warrior but with a love for peace. Emendi his sister had married and lived near to her father's court. The wolf Ammano had been healed of his wound, but the poison of the arrow had spread too deep, and though he was well in body, he would walk about recognizing nothing and no one, and hearing not even the loudest of sounds. Emendi grieved for him as she would for one dead, but nothing could be done to help him.
Iryan was not yet three and twenty when he was out with two of his father's soldiers, scouting the forest for danger. They had not been riding for ten miles when they came upon a maiden cloaked and hooded walking alone amid the trees. They reined in their horses and surrounded her, instantly suspicious, but she, seeing their garb and their armor, and the emblems on their helmets, knew them to be of Lord Lassur's court. She lifted from her breast a silver necklace shaped as two horses' heads, one with an eye of sapphire, the other with an eye of emerald-the insignia of King Aletar.
"Fair sirs," said she, "I am but a traveler from distant lands seeking a place to stay."
"Know you not," inquired Iryan, "that we are on the brink of war?"
"I had heard rumors," responded the maiden, "but I knew not if they were true."
"You must come back to my father's court," said Iryan, "for I am Iryan, prince of these lands, and the Lord Lassur is my father."
Then the maiden removed the hood from her head, and her hair fell down past her shoulders. And Iryan beheld that she was the fairest lady he had ever seen, with skin as soft and fair as silk, eyes of deep violet, and hair as dark as a night of no stars.
"I am called Nyanev," said she, "daughter of Lingil of Southern Iacata."
Then Iryan lifted her up behind him onto his horse and the party rode back to Aerin. There Lassur met her and she said to him,
"I am Nyanev, daughter of Lingil, the ambassador for King Mannae, king of Aigri in Southern Iacata. But my father has taken ill, and he sends me to you with this message: 'Travelers passing by my city have heard tell that the east of Iacata is at war with some long-forgotten enemy that has returned from the past. If this be true, I have sent a company of four hundred horsemen to aid you. If you have no need of them, however, kindly take them in and house them for a night, and send them on their way.'"
She was then welcomed into the King's court and shown to a room in his house. After they supped, Iryan went in search of Nyanev. He found her on a high balcony looking down on the streams trickling in the gardens below. She turned at his approach and bowed low to him, but he took her by the hand and raised her up.
"Nay, fair lady," he said, "bow not to me, for I am not one who is worthy of such acknowledgement."
She looked questioningly at him, but he frowned and said, "Ah, pay no attention to me. I will not trouble you with my concerns."
Then he took her hand and led her out to the gardens, and there they walked for awhile and talked of many things. And as they walked, there came towards them a great wolf, treading the path slowly, his eyes glazed over as one in sleep. Nyanev reached out to touch him and spoke soft words to him, and lo! the haze fell from his eyes and he looked upon Iryan and knew him.
Then Iryan was overjoyed, and looked at Nyanev in astonishment.
But she smiled at him and said, "Among my people I am what we call a hannu, a healer. I have healed many such creatures in my lifetime. My teacher was one of the best." And a faraway look came into her eyes.
"Tell me of him," said Iryan.
"He and my father were as brothers," said she. "In his youth he was a great knife-thrower and archer. Yet even the strongest must someday fall. There came a battle where his right leg was maimed beyond healing. So he became a healer, to learn the arts of the skill which he needed so direly, so that none would have needs to go through the pain that he went through. But age has overtaken him, as it must all of us, and it has not been a month since he passed."
The prince laid a hand on her shoulder. "I am sorry," he said softly.
She turned to look at him and saw in his eyes compassion and sorrow. His brow was furrowed, as if he were in deep thought or pain.
"What ails you, my lord?" she asked.
His face cleared, and he smiled. "Nothing. I am well. Truly I am." He lifted his hand off her shoulder suddenly and backed away. "I will see you on the morrow, lady," he said quickly. "Farewell."
He turned back ever so slightly as he went away, and saw in the lady's face a hint of laughter and confusion.
In the next days Iryan saw little of Nyanev, for he was often out scouting the forest, or holding counsel with his father's warriors as danger came nearer. News of an army of goblins had been reported to the king, and Aerin and the surrounding cities were quickly preparing for war.
Three days before Lord Lassur's army was to ride out and meet their enemy, the prince sought out Nyanev. He found her wandering by a white fountain in one of the gardens. He called to her, and she turned, and seeing him came toward him.
"My lady," Iryan said, "in my absence I hope you have been well?"
"Yes, my lord," she replied, and though she smiled there was pain in her eyes.
Perceiving this, Iryan took her hands and sat down with her by the fountain. "Surely news has reached you that the king's army will be leaving in three days' time, and I am to go with them as their captain," he said.
"Yes, lord, but why do you tell me this?" she replied, though she already knew his answer.
The prince's face then clouded also with pain, and he sighed.
"My lord, are you well?" Nyanev asked with concern.
"I am well in body," said he, "yet my mind is torn. Lady Nyanev, surely you know the reason that I come to you now. For I do not wish to leave you."
"Nor do I," she replied softly, and Iryan took her in his arms and kissed her.
And Emendi passing by saw this, and her heart was torn, for she knew that Iryan would soon go off to war, and only sorrow would come of their love.
But Iryan yet held Nyanev, and said to her, "I will return for you. Do not give up hope, for hope it is that we yet live by."
And so in three days the army departed. Iryan had been with Nyanev all the night before, yet when morning came he could not find her. He searched for her until it was time for him to depart, and finding her not, he left Aerin grieved in heart.
But Nyanev had disguised herself in armor and was riding with Iryan's company, though he knew it not. For she had wielded a blade since she was a child, and she feared not the peril of battle.
The evening of the second day after their departure, the company rode through a small clearing and there was ambushed by a band of goblins. Iryan's men defeated them, but many escaped and fled east. Iryan chose ten of his fastest riders to go after them, and among them he chose Nyanev, knowing not who she was. Nyanev was loath to be parted from Iryan, but she could not reveal herself, and so she rode with the other nine that had been chosen.
As the next day was dawning, the small party discovered signs of the fleeing goblins, and as the sun grew high, they overtook them. Though Nyanev's party was outnumbered by the goblins, so skilled and determined were they that the battle did not last long, and the goblins were soon slaughtered. However, just as they were preparing to leave and rejoin Iryan, a figure cloaked in black came riding out of the trees. The two foremost riders were unprepared and instantly slain by the sword that swept down upon them. The others fled before the figure's might and terror, but the horse that bore Nyanev reared in fear and threw her to the ground. As she lay there helpless, the figure bore down on her, and cast aside its hood. And lo! it was the sorceress from the far east, the same lady whom Ammano had attacked years ago.
"Know then, O Nyanev, daughter of Lingil," the witch said, her voice harsh and grating as stone upon stone, "that the Prince of Aerin lies dying on the fields of battle, and you are not there to save him. Long ago he eluded me, causing me great pain, and thus now do I take my revenge on his beloved."
But Nyanev, filled with a sudden madness of despair and anger, seized her sword and drove it into her attacker's neck. There came a great cry, shrill and despairing, that echoed all around, and those who heard it quailed, friend and foe alike. Thus died the witch from the land of Colorron east of the Manguan forest.
The seven remaining soldiers called out to Nyanev, for they beheld that some sort of doom had fallen upon her. For she was silent and seemed not to see anything before her, and did not respond to anyone. But Nyanev was heedless of their cries. Only one thing remained in her mind, and that was to find Iryan. She mounted her horse and rode away in great turmoil of mind.
Meanwhile, fate had seemed to turn against Iryan's party that day. Many of his men were weary and wounded, and the small band was heavily outnumbered. But when all seemed lost, there came the sound of thundering hooves and nigh on twelve score riders came out of the trees: the host that King Mannae had sent to the aid of Aerin. They rushed at the enemy and destroyed them utterly.
Yet as Nyanev drew near to the place where they had left Iryan, she heard the distant clash of steel on steel. She at once turned her horse to the north and galloped toward the battle. Yet out of the trees that rose up on the left there came riding half a score of men and goblins. Nyanev turned to face them, a fey mood upon her. There she would have perished, had not her seven companions come suddenly to her aid.
To Nyanev the battle seemed to last for an endless time, though it may have only been several minutes. Yet when her enemies lay dead before her, the noise of battle at the place where Iryan had been had died away. Swiftly toward it Nyanev rode, moving as one in a dream, with only one purpose: to find Iryan.
And there he lay: behind a fallen horse and beneath a slain goblin, unmoving. She ran to him and knelt by his side. His sword lay notched on the ground beside him, and his cloak was stained with blood from his many wounds. No sign of any living creature, man or goblin, could be seen, but what had become of them Nyanev heeded not. She knelt by his side and caressed his face, but he did not stir. She laid her head near to his lips but could feel neither breath nor heartbeat. Filled then with grief, Nyanev laid his sword in his hand and cast her cloak about him and kissed him. Then she mounted her horse and rode hard westward, and returned not ever back to her homeland.
But the men who had ridden with Nyanev came soon after she had departed, and coming to the place where Iryan lay, they lifted him up and bore him back to Aerin. As they drew near, Ammano came from his lair within the woods and met them on the path. He set his head to Iryan's face, and bounded suddenly away, leading the horses at a swift pace. The men wondered at this, but a great hope rose within their hearts.
The king called for the most skilled healers and brought to them his son, severely wounded and near the gates of death. And while he lay wandering in fevered dreams, the kingdom was silent. No harp was strung, no trumpet rang, and no voice was lifted up in song. The healers had little rest, and stayed always by Iryan's side. But at last, ten days after he was brought back from the field of battle, the prince stirred and opened his eyes. When he was well enough, he questioned the soldiers concerning Nyanev, but none could tell him aught of her. But one day Emendi came to his room and with her was Ammano. And he lingered by Iryan's bed while the prince asked him about Nyanev. The next morning Iryan bid farewell to his father and his sister and rode west with Ammano leading him.
Meanwhile Nyanev had ridden hard and far, heedless of danger. When at last her horse could go no further, she dismounted and drank from the stream that ran nearby. She had come to a small clearing in the trees, across from which ran a narrow path crowded with wildflowers. There, it seemed, she wandered for days. And as she sat alongside the stream, her mind wandered back to the days that seemed so long ago. Yet now they were gone, their memories fading from her beleaguered mind.
The wind stirred in the trees and the first of the stars began to come out. But Nyanev sat silent, hearing nothing, seeing nothing but what fading memories passed through her mind, and feeling nothing but deep consuming sorrow. Then suddenly thoughts tore through her mind, thoughts of her childhood and of her past, riding through the woods with her father, the battles she had fought, and the men she had killed, and the sick and wounded she had healed. The times that she and the Prince of Aerin had spent together. The last time that she had seen and spoken to Iryan.
Then Nyanev laid her down on the grassy sward and fell into sleep. The moon sank and the stars faded, and she was alone.
Not a quarter of an hour later came Iryan, guided by Ammano, hastening to the clearing where Nyanev lay. And there Iryan saw her white raiment against the darkness of the trees, and he leapt off his horse and ran toward her with hope in his heart. But alas! it was not there to stay. As fate willed it, there Nyanev lay upon the ground, her skin white in the moonlight and her dark hair cascading over the ground and about her head. And Iryan cried out as one mortally wounded, and knelt beside her, taking her hands in his. He kissed her lips gently and then laid him down to die at her side.
But Ammano, coming forth from the trees, beheld what had happened, and he bowed his head in grief. Then he went back to Aerin, and to Emendi, and from him she learned what had befallen the prince and the Lady Nyanev. They were mourned for many days after, and in songs and tales their story is yet told, of how Nyanev slew the Witch of the East and of the battles thereafter.
From Emendi came a line of great kings and warriors and men of great valor. And from her was descended the one who is said to be the greatest warrior of all time, Untridiano the Conqueror.