A Night at the Dancing Dolphin (pt. 1) (2000)

The beginning of my senior project for my B.A. It was/is a collection of stories linked by the story of the storytelling narrator (in a sort of meta-narrative).


Greetings one and all. Ladies and gentlemen. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Taran Red. The monks gave me that surname for my hair, which the Hyranins tell me is the color of my mother’s.

Yes, I have a story. I have many stories of wizards and faeries, knights and demons, innkeepers and scholars, weavers and farmers. I am the embodiment of all of the stories of the people of Demelldivan. Everyone here has a story, and I know most of them. Those I do not yet know, I seek to discover. And this city creates more stories every day as new travelers decide to visit or remain and young ones are birthed. And, yes, if you like, I shall begin with my own:

I do not remember much about my birth, I was rather young at the time after all. But a monk told me one day as we were going over the values of grain that my mother was a strikingly beautiful woman with a full mane of fiery hair. He said he knew this because she ran past a torch after setting me on the doorstep and slamming down the bronze knocker just as he had come to open the gate to see who was there. But he only saw her hair and a glimpse of her pointed ear clearly.

The Hyranin monks raised me as one of their own, austere by the standards of Tya’s bejeweled priestesses and acolytes, sumptuous compared to the farmer in the field. The day was ordered according to the times of prayer as well as the business knells of the market. Journeys into the open Market District, guarding the clergy, followed morning prayers to the Lady and were in turn followed by the midday meal. Above all, the monks taught me the correct ways to worship the Lady of Commerce, Tya, as well as the ways of the weights and how to haggle with the best. Knowledge I promptly forgot, obviously, as I am not charging you extra for this story.

They also taught me to defend myself with a staff of stout wood and bare hands, lessons I paid rapt attention to. Reading and skill with the lyre were also taught to me, though they were secondary in the eyes of the monks, whose first loyalty was obviously to Lady Tya with her scales, brocades, silks and jewels. But, I fell in love almost immediately with the works of Oifa, Mother of the Bards, the Font of Books and Song.

So, at the impetuous age of fifteen, I let myself out of the compound and ventured forth into the City itself just in time to see my first sunrise free of the monks and their holy timetables. And, for the first time I fully understood the words of the poets of Oifa’s temples:

For the first time Weila came

over

the peaks

of the massive Covars

shedding the brilliance

of her

life-bequeathing gaze

upon the golden

straw

and pristine

verdancy of

Arevas’ paradise

This sight alone is, to me, the most memorable moment of my life. The light glinted off the gilded temple of Elren Skylord and yet simultaneously appeared to be absorbed by the squat dark temple of Amané. It was certainly an awesome sight of the abodes of the two deities who protect our city whether by filling the sails of our trade ships or by patronizing Demelldivan with divine protection. Thus, I stood staring, as the sunlight touched each spire of the Temple District, completely heedless of my surroundings. Then the first fist connected with the back of my head. Followed by a boot as I hit the ground.

When I came to, I was clad only in my thin, threadbare tunic. And, of course, my money was gone. Fortunately, I learned from that event to always watch my back, even in the City’s better districts.

After stumbling my way through the streets for a few hours I fell flat upon the rear stoop of The Dancing Dolphin – a very fine establishment by the by. It really is a quaint little place, and run by such a lovely lady, too. The owner of the establishment, the incomparable Mistress Kaiura Seastar, found my form prostrate upon her door and kindly nursed me back to health.

And all the generous lady asked in return was a story. So I gave her a rousing telling of the legend of Sir Magrad and the founding of the Knights. The tale is one with which I am quite certain most of you are familiar, since I told it last eve as well. But for those of you visiting our city, let me assure you it is a wonderful tale of bold and brave knights alongside the good creatures of the sea, aboard the vessels of our port battling fierce pirates who preyed upon helpless merchant ships just trying to please the goddess Tya through the humble plying of their trade. In any case, it was the most heartfelt and rousing performance I had ever done. Conversation had stopped in the common room, and I was suddenly aware that the good lady was not my only audience. All of the patrons whom my hunger had caused me to previously ignore were peering at me intently through drink besotted eyes.

Once I had finished the tale, Mistress Seastar requested my own story, the large part of which you have already heard. But the first time through my own story, I can tell you I stuttered and blushed profusely afterwards. For the first time in my life I was aware of more than one pair of eyes focused intently upon me, of a crowd hanging on my every word, of being surrounded completely by the very people the Hyranins had trained me to defend Tya’s priestesses from – the reassuring presence of my former brethren nowhere to be found. It was a little unnerving for a boy of my years, and more than a little exciting.

Ah, you cannot imagine one such as me blushing, can you, sir? Well, at that time I also did not think mine to be much of a story. It seemed hardly fit for the good patrons of this establishment. But, nonetheless, Lady Seastar offered me a job telling stories at her Inn. Well, I will tell you, for a homeless unloved half-breed it was an offer of epic proportions. Two meals a day , a bed in the hayloft and a copper a week! You laugh, but it was quite kind in those days. I was incredibly pleased, and thought Lady Tya must be shining her glory on me then! That much and for doing what I would never have dreamt of being able to do to feed myself.

My only problem was finding new stories. I wanted real tales, not bits and pieces I made up. The real stories about the people everyone sees everyday were the ones with which I wanted to move the crowds.

But, even I cannot express my surprise at finding out that those in the City, even the lowliest street beggar, had stories more interesting than those of the legendary heroes! Take for example, Aiden Elfbane and Haden Smith. Did you know that at one time they were the greatest of friends? Indeed, Aiden was apprenticed to the Smith before he took up the life of the Guardsman. Then they had a falling out over Haden’s most guarded secret. I swore to both I would never tell this tale during their lives, and soon you shall know why.

Ah, but isn’t the drink here better than any other in the city? Is it not so, my friends? And now where was I? Oh, yes, thank you, good lad. Here’s a copper to reward a good deed. Aiden and Haden. Well, here’s the story of the beginning days of their friendship, back in the first days of Baron Calirmorn’s reign, a tale I call “The Meeting of Aiden and Hadin.”

Back in the days of his youth, for he had only seen a half score and three harvests, Aiden Kivyon, later called Elfbane, came down to Demelldivan from northern Colcul. He arrived in the city with a roaming grain merchant from a small unnamed hamlet only one day’s walk from the border of the Elven Nations. Kalot, the merchant, said he had found the boy a short ways out of the village and that he knew not the boy’s name or kin, for the child did not speak. Having no need of another mouth to feed and lacking the means to pay the boy for service, Kalot did his best to relieve himself of his unexpected burden. But, none of the craftsmen or merchants had need of a boy who refused to speak.

So Aiden was set upon the street to fend for himself. Now, I am sure you good people can only imagine the problems faced by a young boy from the north having no kin or master on the streets of our expansive city. So, I shall illuminate you and explicate Aiden’s newfound situation. But, before I do so, for this tale is quite long as it encompasses many years of a young man’s life, I would suggest you all get a new drink.

For the first few days, Aiden huddled beside the buildings of the Tunnel in his well worn homespun with the cruel hawkish talons of Hunger raking at his belly. The Tunnel, for those of you visiting Demelldivan, is a narrow region on the north end of town between the elegance of the Elven Quarter and the shambles of the Breakers. It is an area dedicated to catering to the Elven merchants and the northern farmers and merchants. The whole three street region is comprised of inns, taverns and, on the Breakers side, houses of ill repute disguised as the homes of innkeepers. Most definitely not the place for a copperless lad in need, I can assure you. In many other wards of this city a person on hard times can expect to find succor from good people like yourselves or aid from the servants of Tain or from Kuoli the Altalian Goddess of Merciful Compassion, but not in the Breakers. Nonetheless, this is where Aiden found himself. He never told a soul why he chose to remain in such a state, but some have said he remained thus because he was punishing himself for some unknown transgression.

The boy spent his first days in the city gaining an ever increasing knowledge of the grumblings of his stomach. But he seemed to be too proud to beg, if indeed he could even speak in order to petition Tain of the Healer’s Hand to cure the ravenous growling of his belly. And, as each day passed, Aiden’s homespun cloak lost more and more strands to the hard stones of our streets until only a rough tunic and worn sandals were left.

Then, late one night, when Aiden was almost too weak to crawl to the nearest puddle to drink, two roguish men clad in cloaks of deep ebony and long hoods pulled over their faces approached the young lad. Fearing they were coming to beat him for money, though he had none, Aiden rolled himself against the wall and struggled to move his arms to cover himself.

But, it was not yet Aiden’s day to feast in the halls of Olfunr. One of the figures knelt beside him and whispered harshly, “Call out if the Watch comes, and this’ll be paired with its mate.” Then a coin fell to the ground near Aiden’s hand, a small glint of light across its surface as it clattered to a stop. Even though he could barely move, Aiden nodded. With luck, the boy thought, no noise would be needed. In those days, the Watch rarely left the better districts of Demelldivan for long, much less wandered the Tunnel.

The other details of that night are unknown to me, but I do know that Aiden got his second coin and that he claimed he had had to do nothing for it. It was the will of Nolminat showing itself to us. These two coins kept the boy fed for a few days, and the food gave him the strength of body to gather up a few stray scraps of clothing to augment the rags his farm clothes had become. Then Aiden snatched a couple copper farths from the hands of one of Tya’s priestesses on her way to transact a loan with a merchant on the verge of selling his home to stave off poverty. It was not overly easy, but Aiden managed to keep ahead of the Hyranin chasing him just long enough to reach the Breakers and disappear – for even the Hyranin monks would rather lose some petty coins than enter the Breakers near dark.

Over the next half year, Aiden swiftly progressed from swiping coins from under the hands of merchants to taking coins directly from their money pouches. By the harvest he was even entering their stalls in the Market and running off with their wares. The Watch even went so far as to put a price on Aiden’s head, albeit only a small one.

Now, Aiden’s life of crime would have certainly drawn the attention of the Guild of Thieves – and, yes my friends, I have heard enough tales that I truly suspect they exist. But, his life took a turn before they approached him.

One night, not more than one change of the moons before the chill north winds would turn themselves once again in our direction and signal a full round of seasons since the mysterious lad had arrived in Demelldivan, Aiden decided to try his hand at thieving from a craftsman by night. So Aiden, keeping to the full grown shadows, crept through the streets of the Market. In time, he came to the home-shop he had chosen the day before – a blacksmith’s home, not a poor man, yet not wealthy enough to have private sell-swords or magic wards guarding his possessions.

Aiden slipped up to the smithy, looking around to be certain he was unnoticed. Then he eased the shutter up – how he unlatched it I do not exactly know, though one would imagine it involved a thin rusty knife – and tore a hole in the greased lambskin that filled the side window. A quick jump and a short drop and the boy was in the smith’s workplace. Within, Aiden beheld the common tools of the smith’s craft, the bellows and forge, the tongs and the hammer and anvil as well as many common and uncommon products of the art – horseshoes and broken barrel bands, but also a dragon clawed cloakstand, and, resting on a worktable, a highly polished iron lily as well as an ornate door knocker that bore the crossed hammer and axe of Zargonin.

But something about the iron flower drew the boy’s attention – perhaps it was the stunningly lifelike appearance he noted in the red glow of the forge’s dying embers – and he found himself walking toward its shining bloom. Everything else in the large room seemed to clear a path between him and the lily, as if the other objects knew the boy and the flower were meant to be together.

Then the light of a candle appeared, followed by a deep rumbling voice.

“Who’s that, then?”

Aiden froze as any startled rodent does, his eyes racing furtively across the room, desperately seeking a hiding place. He could not understand how the smith had known he was there. Then Aiden’s eyes fell upon the upended bucket near the forge and he realized from the cool wet feeling of the rags on his legs that he must have accidentally kicked it over in his journey toward the wrought iron flower. His eyes also took in the brawny, nearly bald blacksmith just now entering the room, toting a hammer.

Even as he fled behind a stack of barrels and scrap iron, Aiden felt the smith’s eyes fix on him like a cat on a mouse. Then, a few heartbeats later the boy felt a massive hand grip the back of his tunic and Aiden discovered himself dangling as the smith turned him round and round while Aiden struggled, his hands and legs thrashing in the empty air. The mountain of a man chuckled. “Well, a little rat, eh? My fault for not having a cat, huh? So, little one, what were ye doing here?”

Aiden began shaking his head vigorously, but suddenly the layer of rags that the smith held gave way all at once and he hit the packed dirt floor face first in a cloud of choking dust. The smith shook his head. “Well boy, I suppose ye should pay for waking me and for ruining my window. But, it seems ye have no coin, so get on that bellows and bring the fires up. After ye work off the damage, I probably should turn ye in at morning. But that wouldn’t likely do much, now would it?”

The boy made no sound. He just picked himself and his rags up and started pulling down on the bellows chain. By the next toll of the Baron’s bell, the fire was roaring and the ching-dingdingding of the smith’s steady hammering rang through the stuffy hot air.

Aiden brushed streams of sweat from his eyes and removed a layer or two of rags. He shook his head as it seemed he could find no comfortable place in the world – too cold before, too hot now. Then as he pulled down on the bellows once again, the smith called out to him over the clang of the hammer and roar of the fire, “Ye can call me Haden, as everyone does. But that doesn’t change a thing. I’ll probably give ye to the Watch come morning. Though they’d let ye go in a couple days and ye’d do it again, eh boy?”

Then Haden shook his head despairingly. Aiden said nothing. He just pumped the bellows even harder, the ching-dingdingding continuing as Haden worked on fixing a flattened barrel band. Each ring of the hammer caused the red hot metal to bend outward once again. Within minutes the band was as round as the day it was made. Then Hadin began working on a pile of horseshoes while Aiden continued to stoke the fire.

Two tolls of the bell later, Haden started to mumble aloud as he stirred up the coals. “But the Watch is only a quick fix. And the hastily fixed shoe is always thrown. But can’t put him on the street. And I could use the help with all the jobs piling up.” Then the big man shrugged his shoulders and turned to face Aiden. “So, what do ye say, lad? Ye want to learn a trade that’s not thieving?”

Aiden nodded. Haden said nothing as well. He just shrugged before returning to beating strip after strip of bare iron into useful horseshoes as the ching-dingdingding returned. Anything was better, Aiden must have thought, than wearing old rags and running from the Watch.

And that, my friends, is how they spent the next round of seasons, the silent boy working the bellows and fetching water for the big talkative smith. It was agreeable for both. Haden gained an apprentice, while Aiden received a warm place to sleep, eatable food, and thorough instruction in the art of the smith. Over time, the pair came to be even closer than usual for Master and Apprentice. Then, one day, Hadin heard a voice over the roar of the fire, one he’d never heard before, saying his name. He looked up toward the open front of the smithy, thinking another customer had arrived.

It took the smith a while to realize that for the first time he had heard the voice of his apprentice. Hadin set down his hammer so as to better hear, encouraging the boy with a patient nod.

Aiden, for his part, began his tale in a dry and cracked voice. He told Hadin of his small village of Eldawood up north where the forests of the Elven Nations come south into our kingdom of Colcul. Aiden spoke of how the farmers of his village huddled in their meager dwellings at night, unwilling to believe the stories of the elders about the creatures that roamed the woods by night, yet reluctant to take the chance that the old people might be right. “A farmer who had seen at least four score and eight harvests said that it was the failed creations of Elvish wizardry that ran by night in the woods, luring good common farmers and huntsmen close to their dens, while his older sister said the ghosts of dead children haunted the trees, bemoaning their untimely deaths and wailing for the warmth of their lost lives.” But, despite these rumors all that the farm folk had seen before with their very own eyes were occasional strange lights within the trees or, quite rarely at that, a sheep or goat would go missing – so they felt safe enough by day.

Hadin watched as his apprentice went back toward the forge and picked up hammer and tongs again. Feeling that there was more to this tale, he spoke as quietly as he could, “So what happened to bring ye all the way down here?” Then the big smith immediately began work on a small pile of horseshoes, thinking the work would help his apprentice continue. Indeed, Aiden immediately got up and began pulling on the chain to bring the fire back up.

“Then,” Aiden said over the roar of the fire his voice dry and cracked, “a score of days, maybe, before Kalot brought me into the city, a beast came from the forest and attacked our herds and flocks. The beast had the horns of a deer, the head of a bear, paws the size of ripe pumpkins, hind quarters like a lizard, and a pair of oxtails. At least that’s what one of the older boys, who had been gored, told me before he collapsed into unconsciousness. He died a short time later. I only heard the shouts of the farmers and older boys as they tried to fight the creature off with their scythes and threshing flails. Meanwhile, I was rushed under a woodpile with some of the younger children.

Then the shouts became screams as the beast turned on the adults and older children and began mauling and goring. It was terrible, and I practically dug into the earth in order to better hide myself, all the little kids with me. I did my best to keep them from seeing what was going on. Some of the people were my friends and family.”

Aiden rubbed his eyes and a grim look of determination crept onto his face. “By the time the King’s border patrol arrived, only a half score or less of us were still alive, mostly young boys and girls hiding as best we could. But the patrol, a mere double handful of men, managed to do with their horses and armor and spears and bows what my entire village had failed to do. I watched as best I could from my hiding place. First they unleashed a volley of arrows from afar, which set the beast to howling. It may have charged them finally, but the soldiers were ready with their spears. The beast impaled itself on one spearhead while the others moved in to bury their own blades in the horrible thing. But the fight was far from over. In its thrashing the creature knocked one man off his horse and impaled another horse before one of the men, the one whose horse had been mauled, hit the beast in the head with a large bladed axe that almost split the creature in two. Then all seemed tranquil.

But, as the soldiers recovered their arrows and built something with which to carry off the dead beast, and right when the children ran out into the open, a hunting party of Elves emerged from the woods. I heard the Elves and kept to my hiding place, fortunately. I could not hear clearly, but the Elves seemed to argue with the soldiers. At least I think they were Elves, because grandpa spoke a little Elven and it sounded like that. I heard one say ‘Lord’ and ‘pet’, though he sounded kind of funny. I guess they were meaning the beast.

“The soldiers got angry, then I heard the sounds of bows and swords, so I guess there was a fight. I stayed under the woodpile, wishing I could become part of the ground. When the sun went down I climbed out and looked around. I didn’t see anyone else. I guess the Elves got everyone their beast missed. So, I started walking toward Meet, the nearest big village. Kalot found me on the way and brought me here. The rest of my story you know.”

Haden was on the verge of asking a question but then shrugged. The moment was already a very traumatic one for his young friend. Instead, Haden pulled the bellows chain a few more times and set to work again.

Neither spoke of the incident again for many years. Both the smith and his apprentice fell into a working routine which worked for both of them. At first, Aiden just gathered water, cleaned up, and carried things for Hadin. But as he learned more from the smith, Aiden began to do more and more of the smith’s work. Aiden worked on the easier jobs – such as making and fitting horseshoes and the bands of barrels, while Hadin spent more time with the intricate jobs, door knockers, cloakstands and the like. Then, after two harvests, Hadin began to leave Aiden in charge more and more often. Hadin needed to visit the smiths in nearby hamlets and villages, he said, because he was their liaison with Demelldivan’s Guild of Smiths.

But the matter of the beast came up indirectly in the fourth harvest time after Aiden had worked with the smith. Aiden first broached the subject one chill morning as they were starting up the forge fires; out of the blue, or so it seemed to Hadin, Aiden told the smith he wanted to join the city guard, that he felt the need to do his best to protect people, and that he did not feel the life of a smith was right for him, that in his mind even the service of making things for people was not a great enough service to the community.

Hadin, as you surely know, friends, was and always has been a peaceable man, so he was understandably not fond of the idea of his apprentice going onto the City Watch. But the big smith took to his own heart the same advice he had doled out to his neighbors when they had problems with recalcitrant children. “It be his choice what he becomes, just like the iron; ye can’t make a good fire poker out of iron that wants to be a good horseshoe.” Thus, after thinking on Aiden’s request for a couple of days, Hadin acquiesced – on the sole condition that Aiden assist him with one more job before he left.

All night they worked on a large pillar of iron, carving and beating where they felt it needed shaping. The next day, when both men could not withstand the need for sleep, they took turns at the task so that at no time would the ring of hammer on iron cease from filling the air.

Many days passed, and slowly the piece took form. The trunk of a large black tree grew upwards from an iron disk as wide as a stool and as tall as a dagger’s blade. From the top sprouted many branches, young and old, ending in delicately veined leaves. And, from there the branches flowed even further upward, terminating in yet another disk of iron which was the base’s twin.

Then, as winter drew near, master and apprentice went to work with other metals, bringing color to the pedestal by adding gildings of silver, gold, bronze and brass. Later, as Winter’s white cloak covered the land and its icy breath blew through minuscule holes in even the finest fur cloak, master and apprentice still sweated before the forge, bringing still greater detail to their work with cunning twists and chiselings of the tall metal pillar.

Then the cold season passed and the Children of Spring struggled forth from their places deep in the earth to display their blooms. Then, and only then, did Hadin and Aiden bring forth the results of their labor. The pedestal stood almost as high as Hadin himself. Above the base, the black trunk gave way to leaves of silver and polished steel that glinted in the morning light. Squirrels of burnished brass stood frozen amidst the branches. A troop of golden ants twined around the trunk while silver beaked larks and warblers with plumage of copper and bronze lifted their heads in frozen song.

Hadin slapped Aiden’s back proudly, while Aiden extended his hand to clasp the big smith’s callused paw. But neither man spoke. Then, silently, Aiden went back inside the smithy to gather his few belongings. As he strode away, Hadin handed his former apprentice a small bundle wrapped in moleskin.

Since Aiden’s duties with the Guard kept him in other parts of Demelldivan, the two friends saw each other infrequently over the next cycles of seasons. It is said that for a while Aiden left the city to go north with the border patrols and that it was there he earned his new name. Indeed, rumor says he was given the title Elfbane due to his relentlessness in tracking down Elven bandits who came south from the Nations into Colcul. Also, he gained a reputation for great valor in tracking down and dispatching various unsavory creatures that had escaped from the north.

Be that as it may, my friends, Aiden eventually returned to Demelldivan, where he swiftly rose through the ranks of the City Guard. It was then that he learned of Hadin’s secret and the great rift between them grew.

You see, it had been a long hard winter and the wolf packs in the forests were becoming bolder, attacking the farmers’ herds that were in their pens for the night. One farmer even claimed to have locked his meager flock of sheep in a small cave, only to find mere bones in the morning.

Tales of the problems came to the Baron’s ears, so he had a party of the Guard sent out to contain the predators. Aiden, due to his reputation from the north, led the party. He chose to begin a hunt at dusk with half the guardsmen following him into the forest, while the other half kept watch over the herds and flocks. Because of both the weather and terrain, the guardsmen, Aiden at their head, entered the forest on foot with torches and hounds, creeping through the dense wood and thick fog rolling slowly inland off the sea. After nearly a watch’s worth of searching, the lead dogs, followed quickly by the others, began barking their heads off, then leapt away at a run, dragging their handlers behind them.

Somewhere amidst the howling hounds and fog, Aiden became separated from his party. Cautiously he felt his way through the woods, hoping to rediscover his companions before he encountered any wolf packs, for he had seen their ilk in the north and knew their savagery all too well. In fact, Aiden found himself even thinking of the pointed horns and flashing teeth of the beast that ravaged his village years before. The creature had passed on, and he knew that well, but Aiden had seen a few of the beast’s brethren and cousins in the intervening years.

It was when the fog began to lift that Aiden saw his torchlight reflected all around him in the darkness. Carefully, Aiden knelt, put down his torch, then lay his spear to the side, realizing there were too many adversaries in what could quickly become cramped quarters for the spear to be effective, as he pulled his unadorned sword from its scabbard. The polished blade gleamed red in the torch’s flame. Around him it seemed as if the forest was alive, moving in a silent tight circle around him. He saw shadows slinking along on four legs, gleaming yellow eyes watching him hungrily.

But Aiden was surprised that the pack did not leap. Instead, a large wolf with sparse black fur emerged from of the darkness, ceasing to advance only a few paces beyond the tip of Aiden’s sword. Looking into the wolf’s eyes, Aiden soon found himself thinking that he looked upon an almost human intelligence, though one very near a feral state. There was a certain spark there that one only saw in the eyes of humanoids and certain cats.

Aiden struck. He later said that beyond that first movement everything was a confused blur. He felt his steel bite deep in the wolf’s flesh, but was only aware of swinging wildly after that.

He told me, friends, that he stopped swinging only after he noticed that his blade was no longer connecting with anything. Then, after he lowered his sword, Aiden panted for many heartbeats, looking around in the dying light of the torch to see what had happened, thinking the pack must have run off. Then, quickly lighting another torch, Aiden noticed the many cuts and bruises on his own person that his hauberk had barely protected him from. All around him were carcasses of wolves. And one naked human. The human was large, male, and had a long deep gash in his side, right where Aiden thought he had struck the lead wolf.

The Guardsman’s eyes widened as he recognized Hadin’s callused palms, gigantic frame and bald pate. Aiden knelt beside his friend, his fingers losing their grip on his sword.

The moon began its descent toward the lands of Olfunr. In the distance, Aiden could faintly hear the baying of hounds and shouts from his men. Hadin whispered hurriedly to his former apprentice. “It’s not what ye think, lad. This here’s not my normal form. But, it is the one I’m most comfortable in and the one I can speak to you in.   My people have no name for ourselves, and the names Man and Elf gave us have long been forgotten. Many thousands of summers ago our peoples were friends, lad. Then yours began hunting us, so we secluded ourselves in deep inaccessible places. But some of us were cursed at birth to wear the form of our former friends as well as the form of our birth, that of an animal, some can shift between mammal and bird, others between mammal and mammal, and still others can take the form of other creatures. The best and wisest of my people don’t know why most are spared and some are not. The closest we have to a priesthood claim that it is our deities reminding us of our downfall. I am one of those unfortunate few. We’re outcasts among our people, all people, so we either go off on our own and become hermits or join your people’s communities or gatherings of our other form’s kind. But go now. Leave me, boy. I fear I will not be in this world too much longer.”

But, he did indeed survive, although barely. The rest you likely know, my friends. Neither man saw the other again. Each avoided the other for his own reasons. No one is quite sure why, but one can guess that there was a sense of betrayal on Aiden’s part as he came to consider his former master to be akin to the beast that had his home, although one of a more insidious nature, and knowing Hadin, he probably would rather not see his old friend and apprentice rather than continue an open conflict. In any case, Hadin’s wound never completely healed and he lay on his deathbed a few seasons later. Aiden left the Guard soon after that fateful night and lived as a coppersmith until the fortieth anniversary of Baron Calirmorn’s rule, when he went to join Hadin in Olfunr’s Joyous Hall. To this very day an exquisite iron lily hangs over the front gate of the home of Aiden’s descendants.

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