It is love at first sight when Elwin and Shaera meet, but there is another who loves Shaera, and he will stop at nothing to have her. Thus begins a tragic love story that thrusts the Elven nation of Aranorn into civil war and threatens to destroy all that the Elves have rebuilt since the Reckoning.
Scenario 1: The Lovers
A diplomatic mission along the coast of the Gold Sea turns tragic when pirates attack. Elwin and Shaera barely escape the mayhem, but soon realize they are lost in this wild part of Aranorn. It is up to Elwin to get them home again, but the courtly elf must first learn to survive in the wild and lead soldiers into battle if they are ever going to make it safely through this wild and dangerous region. Shaera:
"Despite Elwin's reputation as a scamp, I felt drawn to his bold spirit. Not even Elwin knew his true potential. I saw it though, when we were lost in the forest with all sorts of bandits and creatures around us. He was probably more afraid than he had ever been in his life, yet he seemed more concerned with my mood. He kept trying to make me laugh. I will always love him for that."
Luckily, that night I dressed in a brand new ensemble. My shirt and trousers were purple silk accented with white lace. I wore a wide-brimmed hat adorned with peacock feathers, and a belt of golden disks. My knee-high boots were made of snow rabbit fur. I had spent most of my money on the outfit, and I think fate made me wear it, because that was the first time I set eyes on Shaera. Ever since the day she entered the Elven Court, everyone claimed she was the most beautiful woman in all of Aranorn. Now, I had heard that title thrown around many times before, and in a court filled with countless beautiful women I never understood what made one stand out from another. But Shaera was different. Her waist-length hair glimmered like rays of golden light poking through the treetops. Her large eyes, the color of a clear winter sky, dominated her slender face, and they were capable of piercing your soul. I danced with her for more than two hours that night, and soon I learned that Shaera wasn't just a beauty. I've danced with lovely women in the past, but abandoned them when I found their personalities about as interesting as a rotting log. Shaera was different. She was quiet, but intelligent. And I got the sense that she longed for something but didn't know what - just as I have my entire life. That's when I asked her, "What do you do? I mean, when you're not capturing the hearts of every man in the room." Shaera looked deep into my eyes as if seeing me for the first time, and smiled at me. That's when I fell in love.
Shaera is the kind of woman that makes you do things you wouldn't normally do. She can make a lazy man athletic and a greedy man a philanthropist. She inspired me to draw on a few favors so I could be named one of the druid advisors for a diplomatic journey along the coast of Aranorn. I didn't exactly enjoy traveling through the wilderness, and I liked sea travel even less, but this was my chance to steal a few moments with Shaera without the prying eyes of the Elven Court watching us. The only person I had to worry about was her father, Gramin. Gramin was the leader of this expedition. He was supposed to visit the port towns to solidify their relationship with Aranorn and hopefully bring them completely under the loose authority of this new elven nation. I soon found out that Gramin had tried to block my appointment to this mission. Why, I didn't know. Luckily, he was unable to sway the vote. I have a feeling that Menathat, my mentor and strongest supporter, had something to do with it. It was nice to have a member of the Elder Council as a good friend. And if I had known Gramin would be so vigilant in keeping his daughter away from me, I might not have bothered. We were on our eighth day of travel when Shaera and I finally managed to sneak up onto one of the masts to talk and stare at the stars. Above in the crow's nest, we could hear the soft snoring of the watchman. I had slipped him a sleeping draught earlier so Shaera and I could be alone. If you ask me, it was about time my druid training came in handy. I impressed Shaera with my knowledge of the heavens, naming every star she pointed out. "Let me show you my favorite ones," I said. She rested her head against my arm to stare along its path as I pointed to the eastern horizon, but all I could think about was the beautiful smell wafting up from her hair. I closed my eyes, knowing that I would remember that scent forever. "There," I said, "just above the skyline, see the blue one next to the red star, almost touching. They blink in time together. Those are the Lovers." "And why do you show me those stars, Elwin?" Shaera said, toying with me. Before I could answer, though, a shadow passed across the Lovers. I tensed as I followed the shadow down to a larger darkness floating across the sea. It was a ship, and it was approaching us too quickly to be any mistake! The pirates attacked so quickly that most of the crew was still below deck when the rogues swung across on ropes to our ship. I don't remember much except the screaming and clanking of metal on metal. There were fires everywhere. Smoke burned the eyes. And people everywhere were dying. It was horrible! All I could think about was getting Shaera to safety. We made it to one of the dinghies, and thanks to the battle being fought on the two ships, I cut it free and escaped into the darkness unnoticed. We watched from a distance as both ships burned. Shaera cried on my shoulder, for she did not know her father's fate.
You hear a painful yowling coming from somewhere off the path, and for a moment you consider heading in the other direction. You've heard plenty of bard's tales, and people always die while investigating strange sounds. But you can't stand the moaning any longer, so you creep quietly from tree to tree. You must be close, but you can't see anything. Could it be some forest spirit? You've heard the stories about them too, and they're never pleasant. Then you nearly put your foot in it. A pit, that is. You drop to your knees and stare down into the steep hole. At the bottom is a small wolf pup, clawing pitifully at the sides of the trap as it howls for help. It seems to be favoring one of its hind legs as well, most likely injured during its fall. "Hold on, little guy," you say as you search for a branch or a log - some way to get the pup out. Of course, you find nothing large enough to help. So, you circle the pit a couple times, studying it closely. It's probably only a few inches shy of seven feet deep. Even a grown wolf couldn't climb out of that, but for once in your life, your tall, thin body is good for something. You take out your dagger and stab it firmly into the ground at the edge of the pit so you can use it as leverage when you have to climb out, and then you jump in right next to the pup. The small wolf barks and growls as you reach for it. It even snaps at your hand, ripping off a bit of flesh. "Ow! I'm just trying to help!" you say. But you sense that the creature is more frightened than it has ever been in its life. There isn't going to be any easy way to do this, so you quickly snatch up the wolf pup. You lift it toward the top of the pit, wincing as it scratches and nips at your arms. Finally, the pup realizes where it is and leaps to the forest floor. You hear it scurry away. "You're welcome," you say. Your hands and forearms now look like you rubbed thorns across them, and the sleeves of your silk tunic are ruined. This was the thanks you got. It takes little effort for you to lift yourself out of the pit trap, but as you reclaim your dagger you realize you are not alone. As silent as a whisper, a pack of wolves surrounds you. "Uh," you stammer, "I didn't dig this hole. Honest!" You remain still, afraid that the wrong move will get you killed. Even when a large, black female steps from the pack, you don't budge. She nervously presses her wet muzzle into your palm, sniffs, nudges, and then licks your hand. Her tail begins to wag happily. It seems you've made a few friends.
You pause to wash off some of the grime collected during your hike, quickly realizing that you will never be properly clean until you return to the Elven Court. A hot bath is what you need! But you wash your face and hands, and you're about to take a bath when you notice some tiny faces hiding in the bushes at the edge of the pool. "Hey, you! Come out of there!" Even before you see them, you recognize the giggle of a sprite. "What were you doing?" you ask. "Watching," says one. "Yeah, we were wondering if you were two elves in one!" says another. "Uh, huh! You're so tall. I bet you got another person in there under your pretty clothes." You know from experience that, if given the freedom, a sprite will talk all day, so you interrupt. "No, it's just me," you say. "My name is Elwin. I'm a druid of the Elven Court, and I seem to be lost. Maybe you can help." "You're a druid?" says one. "You don't look like a druid." "No, he looks like a funny, tall, singing minstrel man!" "A tall, skinny, colorful tree, yes!" "What kind of tree is he?" You raise your hands again, sighing because even sprites are joking about your size. "Can you help me?" you ask. "Think about it, if you join me you can make jokes about me all day long." The sprites fly in circles over the pool, giggling and hooting with pleasure. Then one of them waves at you. "Sounds like fun! Follow us to our home. We want to tell the others too!" she says.
Ever since we washed up on shore, Shaera has been somber and quiet. I've been more concerned with getting us to safety than anything else, but I can no longer look upon her worried expression. Her face simply wasn't meant to hold lines of sorrow. So, this morning I scrounged up some apples, and at noon we stopped to rest near a trickling stream. "Have a seat, my lady," I said, unfurling my purple cloak and placing it on the damp ground. It was already ruined. What did it matter if it got a little dirty? Shaera nodded and sat. She watched the clear water flow around a glistening stone. Meanwhile, I dug the apples from my pouch and proceeded to juggle them. "Now, my fair lady, three of these apples are likely the juiciest, sweetest morsels you've ever tasted," I said. "And what of the fourth?" she asked, reluctantly playing my game. "Why that one is magical! Although just as tasty as the others, she who bites into it will instantly fall in love with the first person she sees!" The corners of Shaera's mouth turned slightly upward. She said, "Then perhaps I shouldn't eat. I wouldn't want to take the risk of falling in love with the wrong person, would I?" "Oh, no! You must eat. Besides, I happen to know that this type of magical apple doesn't work if the imbiber already loves another." I caught each apple behind my back with a flourish, and then I presented one to Shaera. She took it, and without hesitation bit into the red fruit. Some juice collected on her full lips. Now, I've never had reason to want to be an apple before, but that day I would have given my legs to be one. "Don't you want to know which apple I gave you?" I asked. "No," she said, "it matters not which I ate."
I had not known there were small elven communities this far from central Aranorn. I guess my people had spread out farther than I thought after the Reckoning. I have found the people of Dandelion pleasant but paranoid. They fear just about everyone, and understandably so. They have been under constant attack from pirates and other bandits for years now. Every day is a struggle for these people, especially since they lack any sort of army or leadership. Choosing to live so far from other elves wasn't their only mistake. Unfortunately, they have also chosen me to lead them simply because I mentioned that I am a member of the Elven Court. Now, they're asking me to deal with the criminals in this region. If I didn't need their help to get Shaera to safety, I would sneak off in the middle of the night. Just about anyone would be better suited to lead. I would be doing them a favor by running away, but I had Shaera to think about now.
==To Dolphin Jump==
All my attempts to cheer Shaera up have only lasted for a few fleeting moments. It disturbs me when she is unhappy, but I can't blame her. She must be thinking about her father, about that night when we barely escaped the pirates ourselves. What of her father? Was he dead? Were they all dead? I have been thinking the same thing, especially since it was I who slipped the watchman a sleeping draught. If the man had been awake, he might've noticed the pirate ship in time for Gramin and the others to prepare a proper defense. I have really messed up this time! "You're thinking about your father, aren't you?" I asked during one of her quiet moments. She nodded. "We don't know what happened, Shaera. He could still be alive. From what I hear, he's a resourceful warrior." "I can't help thinking that maybe we should have stayed behind. Maybe we could have helped," she said. "What could we do, Shaera? Neither of us is a warrior!" My words were too harsh, too certain. They didn't help. Shaera didn't want to hear how hopeless our situation had been. She wanted to hear that her father was alive, that she hadn't abandoned him in his time of need. I took her in my arms, stroked her hair with my hand. "Your father is well, Shaera. I can feel it! Those were just pirates - no mere thug can outmatch Aranorn's trained warriors, right?" I said. "Well, yes, but..." "Right! And I think it is no secret that your father loves you more than anything. Would he not have preferred that you were safe? Of course! So, we did what he would have wanted us to do. Now, we have to figure out how to find him again." "He could be anywhere, Elwin! He's probably looking for me now - if he survived, that is." "Yes, but when he doesn't find you, he'll know there is one place that you will certainly go - the place we were supposed to travel to in the first place." I hoped there wasn't any fault in my logic. If I were Gramin, I would hope that my daughter would make her way to the nearest safe town. It would take too long to hike all the way back home, so why not a known safe port? "Dolphin Jump?" Shaera asked. "Yes," I said. "I say we make our way to Dolphin Jump as soon as we can. I'm certain we'll find your father waiting for us there."
I never thought I would lead a siege, much less win one. So many died in the long hours of battle. Luckily, most of them were the defenders of Jagged Den. I keep telling myself they were murderers and thieves. They deserved it. But that doesn't make me feel any better about what happened. When it was certain that I would be victorious, the leader of the town ordered the entire place to be put to the torch. Don't ask me why! It makes no sense. We didn't even have a chance to enjoy our victory. Seconds after the last man fell, we heard someone cry, "Fire!" My troops and I raced among the buildings and started bucket-lines to save the important structures. Homes that were unoccupied and already blazing were allowed to burn as long as they weren't too close to another structure. We fought the inferno for most of the night, and in the end we only saved half the town. So many were homeless or dead now, and for nothing! When I returned to where Shaera and a few others were tending to those who had succumbed to the smoke, or had been burned by the flames, she jumped into my arms and embraced me tightly. "What is it?" "I was afraid I would lose you too," Shaera said. "Too? We're going to find your father at Dolphin Jump, remember? You haven't lost anyone!" She nodded, hugged me again. I suddenly became very self-conscious of how I smelled. Sweat and ash and dirt had mixed into a potent odor that not even a fragrance alchemist could mask. I pushed myself away slowly, careful not to hurt my beloved's feelings. "There is still much to be done," I said.
==Quest: Desert Hut==
Before you even have the chance to knock, a disheveled beach bum swings open the door.
"My Ring of Strength has been stolen by a rogue sorceror! Defeat him and return the ring to me, and I will reward you handsomely!" Progress
"I can't believe you haven't done away with that ruffian yet!" Completion
"Thank you kindly. Here is a much more useful item for you!"
==At the Stream==
While we watered the horses, I slipped upstream to see what I could do about my attire, and to perhaps wash some of the grime from my body. I have never been so filthy in all my life! I don't know how some druids go on yearlong sabbaticals into the deepest forests to commune with the land. How do they go so long without hot baths, fine cuisine, and music? At that point, I was never more aware that such a life was not for me. My hat was a pitiful sight with its raggedy and bent feathers and a tear along the brim caused during battle. It wasn't even worth saving, so I threw it away. There were dark stains on the knees of my trousers, and the white lace frills of my shirt were gray now due to the smoke from the town fire. If I were to walk into the Elven Court today, they would probably ban me for the rest of my life! A twig snapped behind me, making my heart skip a beat. I was unarmed and alone. If something attacked me now, my troops wouldn't be able to reach me in time. I was about to make a run for it when Shaera stepped into view. "You really shouldn't be walking out here alone," I said. "It's not far from camp," she said, "and besides, I'm with you now." I pulled at the sleeves of my tunic, blushing. "I wish you didn't have to see me like this." "Like what?" There was a seductive softness to her voice as she moved closer to me. Like an idiot, I took a step back and my boot sunk past my ankle in the cold stream. "Ah! Cursed wilderness, and curse me, for I make everything a shambles!" I said as I extracted myself from the brook. Shaera laughed, but not in an insulting way. She was laughing at me as well as with me. "I'm sorry, Shaera," I said. "Look at me! I've become a symbol of my own ineptitude." She took another step toward me. This time I didn't retreat. "Birds," Shaera said. "Excuse me?" "Remember at the dance when you asked me what I do when I'm not capturing the hearts of men? Well, to answer your question, I raise birds. At least, I used to when I had time. Ever since I entered the Elven Court, I've had so many men courting me that I never seem to have any time to myself." The thought of Shaera spending time with other men made my stomach tense involuntarily, but what could I expect? I was only one of many. "You should refuse some of them," I said, knowing that I might be one of those who she denied. "It's important that you are happy too!" "Yes, but I don't want to hurt their feelings." Shaera reached up to place one of her slender hands on my shoulder. I slouched slightly, bending toward her touch. Then she said, "But when I heard you would be aboard the ship, it made me happy." "Really?" "Of course! You were the only one who ever asked me what I liked to do when I was alone. No one else ever seemed to picture me alone, not even Lord Harke, and he was always friendly and warm." I frowned at the mention of Lord Harke. Soon, the Elder Council would choose a new Elven King and everyone agreed Harke was the obvious choice. There had been much gossip about Lord Harke's infatuation with Shaera as well. I had taken a political risk when I got myself aboard Shaera's ship, but I felt so strongly for her that I was even willing to throw away my hard-fought position in the Elven Court. I tipped my head close to Shaera's and whispered, "As crazy as it sounds, I have enjoyed these days alone with you more than all my time at court - even if it destroyed my best outfit!" Then Shaera kissed me on the chin. "I think you missed, my lady," I said, grinning. "Well, you're so damn tall!" So, I picked her up and we kissed, this time on the lips. And it was better than I had ever imagined.