At the western edge of the Greater Faydark Valley and Forest there lay the small town of Upper Pass. It's named that as that is where it had grown from a tiny hamlet to a small town of nearly a thousand residents. Upper Pass sets at the eastern edge of a far-reaching mountain range stretching far to the north and all the way to the sea in the south several hundred miles away. The trade caravans could use this road in the summer months as it was the shorter route, but snow would block it in the winter.
It is a typical Elven town really. There are tanners, leather workers, woodworkers, and metal shops, Tailors and Cobblers, Farmers and cooks. The market sells just about all the items that the town's residents could need. The school is the best on the western edge of the Faydark; the old Elven man called Elder runs it. Once an alchemist and general magic caster, he retired and took up the mantle of the teacher of children. The Woodworkers, it has been said are the best in all of the Faydark, the Green Brothers, Heart, and Stave.
The Elven of the Greater Faydark, called the Wood Elven, are smaller than the tall humans, who would come by to trade cloth and tools, larger than the short bearded Dwarfs that traded metals for food and wood supplies. The Elven are slight, with sharply back pointing ears, with hearing sharper than any other race of Norrath.
The main road that crosses the Greater Faydark is well maintained and kept clear by the local tree harvesters. Much of the road is wide and clear with a hard gravel bed to prevent ruts from the many carts that travel on it. Axemen Arrowmark, a master at being able to see that a tree will cause trouble later in time, leads the western teams. The sale of the cut wood keeps Axemen, and his crew fed and the wood needs of the community met. Another duty of the road crew is to try to clear the snow from the roads to keep the Pass open as long as possible during the cold winter months.
The Elven High Council in the Great tree City of Kelethin insures the safety of travelers by having a guard outpost at the border to the Butcherblock Mountains. The duty of the guards that have been stationed at Upper Pass are to insure the area around the pass stays clear of rogues, bandits and other assorted riff raff that tended to haunt the remote parts of the Greater Faydark forest.
It is a warm spring day at the town's park when four-year-old Tama looked up at her mother who is sitting on one of the stone bench's. She would bring Tama here to be with other children, to mingle and play together in safety. "When will papa be coming home mama?" little Tama asked her mother.
Willow Arrowmark reached down and rubbed her daughters copper red hair, "He will come home when they finish clearing the deadfall off the main road that leads to the Combine Spires Tama. The four big curved towers that allow people to go to far places, do you remember that?"
Tama cocked her head to one side as if thinking about then smiled, shaking her head yes, then she saw several butterfly's around some wild flowers and ran off chasing after them. To be so young again thinks Willow. She watched as her daughter laughed and played when several more children arrived with their mothers in tow. They played the games all children have played through the ages when time permitted. Chase, hide and seek, tag, all the fun they knew they could have was with a few simple things to help pass the time.
One of the older boys had found he was able to climb the lower branches of the small trees in the park. When he found a nest in this particular tree, Tama told him the mother bird was very upset with him and wanted him to go away. The mother bird made her point by swooping at his head and screeching loudly at him. Once he had climbed down, the mother bird returned to her egg sitting, keeping a watchful eye on the nosy boy. Normal children's play was able to resume.
After playing and running around for a while this day, Tama noticed some funny marks on the sand that led off to one side of the park. She followed them and discovered a mouse nest under a bush at the parks edge. Like the boy, she left the nest and baby mice inside alone. After that day, she found she could follow tracks anytime she tried to, if she knew the tracks she happened to be looking at.
Life in the Greater Faydark went on its normal slow and peaceful way as it was want to do. Tama played with the other children, learned from Elder her letters and numbers at which she proved she was very good. He was even able to teach her the basics of how to track and hide in the woods. On the arrival of her sixth season, several new teachers entered the classroom and where introduced to the children by Elder, and little Tama's world changed.
Elder introduced the three guest, "Students, these are Bard Windwhisper, The Druid Oakenvine, and the Ranger Eaglesclaw. They are here today to give you demonstrations of the talents and some of the skills each possess.
Windwhisper was wearing a light suit of cloth in patchwork of bright colors. He carried a rapier sword and several musical instruments on his pack and back. One instrument, the drum had attachments that linked it to his belt in a way that he would be able to play it even on the run. The rest where in easy reach so he could bring each out at need without having to unpack to switch instruments.
The Druid was in his light leather armor for this lesson. His weapon of choice was a wooden headed, spiked mace. He carried a large satchel that contained healing herbs and clean wound wraps. Though he was considered a type of fighter, his real duty was as a field healer, to keep a person alive long enough for a cleric to use real healing powers on the casualty. His primary magic talents focused on nature. He could influence animals to serve him, and make plants grow quickly to act as impediments to the enemy forces.
The Ranger Eaglesclaw was the heavy fighter of the group. He came in his mixed leather and Chain mail armor. His weapons included thin Longsword and a matching short sword. He also had several daggers on his belt for when a sword just would not work. On his back, he carried his unstrung bow and a quiver of arrows. His duties were scouting and moderate to heavy combat. The Rangers favored combat skill was at range with the bow. One arrow from his bow could match the damage of a full warrior's sword strike.
Tama looked at each of them in turn and watched as they demonstrated their talents, yet it was the Ranger that drew her eyes back time after time. During the Druids demonstration, Eaglesclaw decided to move to the back of the classroom. He activated a power called Camouflage, this made him seem invisible to the untrained eye. Tama had been looking right at him as he vanished, causing her to take in a sharp breath of surprise. She looked at where he had been then slowly looked back and forth, searching for some sign of him.
As he started to move to the back, she could see him as a fuzzy outline and tried to follow his movements. I can almost see him she thought. The harder she looked, the clearer he became in her eyes. He had noticed her following him with a look that said I think I see you. He snorted quietly thinking that she was too young to be able to see him when in camouflage. Her head snapped around and looked right at him. She squinted and smiled at him, then said out loud, "I can see you now Ranger Eaglesclaw."
That startled Eaglesclaw enough that he dropped camouflage and decided to sit in the chair at the back of the room. He knew he had just found a possible ranger candidate. He was the best the Rangers Guild had to offer, and she was able to see right through him. Talent did not begin to describe her or her abilities that he could sense in her. Elder glanced his way, then asked him," Are you well Master Eaglesclaw?"
"Yes Elder, I am fine. That young girl there, the red head just startled me is all. She could see me as I was moving back here while camouflaged."
"Yes, little Tama would be able to see you. You knew her Grandmother I think. She was the great tragedy and loss at the last stand you know."
"You mean Tamalain? Tamalain Arrowmark?"
"Yes, that Arrowmark, the flame haired madwoman of battle herself. Tama go over to Eaglesclaw and introduce your self properly as you have been taught."
Tama was suddenly worried she had done something wrong in watching him. She was also a little shocked at hearing her Grandmother described in that manor. "Yes Elder." She stood up with a lithe grace that Eaglesclaw had not seen in decades in any child, she quickly and quietly moved to the back of the classroom almost as if she were trying to not to be seen while moving. The girl's footsteps made almost no sound and even the movement of her clothing seemed muted. Once she reached him, she stood straight and formally introduced herself.
"I am Tama, daughter of Willow and Axemen Arrowmark. And yes, I know about my Grandmother Tamalain, and you sir are?" She asks politely with a small curtsy.
"Young Tama, I am Guard Captain Eaglesclaw Farsight, Chief of the Rangers of the Southern Reach and Guardian of the Lesser Faydark Pass. I knew your Grandmother Tama for a time. I was one of her teachers at the Academy. Sadly, my forces were not able to arrive in time to save the towns, and villages or her."
"You taught her, can you teach me too? My parents don't like to talk about her much. My mama told me she is afraid I would be like my Grandmother Tamalain, and she doesn't want to lose me like that." Her expression was a bit wistful as if she hoped he would talk about Tamalain and tell her about her Grandmother.
"Hmmm, I will need to speak with your parents before I say more about Tamalain. It would be best if you returned to your seat child, and observe the rest of the lessons." Eaglesclaw looked at Elder who had a troubled expression on his face.
"I will tell you after the class is over for the day," said Elder.
She returned to her seat and watched the lessons being taught by the other instructors. When it was time for Eaglesclaw to demonstrate some of the abilities of the Ranger, he gave a short lesson on how to handle the sword, and then much to the entire classes delight, an archery lesson. He took them outside and set up a short range to shoot on. He produced a tiny short bow suited to the children's size of this age group, he taught them how to hold it, draw the bow and release the arrow.
"You hold the arrow nock to the bow string between the first two fingers, holding the bow with the free hand, aim the bow upwards about halfway to vertical then you push the bow away from your body, drawing down on the target.
He released the arrow and it flew and hit the target in the red center. Tama had watched the movements and asked, "Did the arrow jump up as you let it go?"
"Yes it did, you have to learn to compensate for that action as you aim or you always overshoot the target. It is practice, practice, practice, only then you will get better at shooting with any hope of hitting what you aim for."
The young Elven lined up and waited their turn to shoot an arrow. He very carefully stepped them through the process of setting, drawing and releasing the arrow. Most did not come near the target stand; they tended to overshoot or pulled to the side. Once Tama's turn came, she stopped and just held the bow for a few seconds. She asked for a glove after seeing how the other students were holding their hands. The string had bitten into the soft skin in the joints of their fingers. She asked him about the bracer as well. She saw that the string would also slap the inside of the arm holding the bow out. He pulled out a small leather finger shield and a leather wrap for her arm.
Eaglesclaw smiled and pulled out both and showed them how the protective equipment protects the hand and arm from the string. Tama then took to bow and picked up an arrow. Upon placing the nock on the string, she felt a strange feeling in her heart, it was racing as if it wanted jump from her chest. A quiet voice from deep in her dreams told her what to do; it guided her hands to make the bow do her bidding. She drew down on the target as she pushed the bow away, held on for a few seconds to get the aim she wanted then let the arrow fly. She hit the target in the upper outer ring. She asked if she could try again. He handed her another arrow with no expression on his face. She followed all the steps, letting the second arrow fly. It hit the target dead in the center, raising cheers from her classmates.
"Yes Grandmother, I know who you are, and who I will one day be," she whispered to the voice in the dream.
Elder looked at her in amazement. Eaglesclaw smiled, he knew he had found his apprentice after a long lifetime of waiting.
With the help of the students, all the arrows that missed the target where soon accounted for and put away in the quiver. Elder told everyone that they all did well. "All of you saw different paths that you can take as you grow up. Silor may very well become a bard, and Tama there, she has the makings to become a Ranger if that shooting was anything to go by. These are not the only paths open to the Elven though. The Warriors, Clerics, and Casters paths are also open to you. Over time, we will have members from each of the various schools pay a visit."
"Elder," asked one girl, "what if none of these skills seem right for us. What are we supposed to become then?"
"Well Lindia, there are the crafters. Tailors, Armor smithing, Weapons smithing, Carpentry, Alchemy, Jewelry crafting, all skills are needed. Then their will be some here that raising the family will be more important than needing an advanced skill set. Oh yes, let us not forget the farmers."
The class as a whole seemed relieved on hearing this. Most of the students did not feel any affinity with the three adventuring classes they were shown. Knowing that there are many more paths they can explore eased their young minds.
Elder was only worried about Tama. She had just shown massive ability in tracking and archery, even though today was the first time she had ever held a bow. His duty as her watcher and guardian had just taken on new meaning for him.
"Well class, that is all for today. Be careful going home and think well on what you have learned today."
All the children packed their bags and headed out the door, into a new and uncertain future.
After the students had all left, Elder and Eaglesclaw sat and discussed what Elder was concerned about. "Tama has not been told of the events that led up to the death of her Grandmother. Worse still, Axemen and Willow don't know the entire story of what transpired that day and over the next several months. If you do visit them, be careful in what you talk about around Tama. I was there, I saw what was done to her Slim, it was brutal, and evil."
"I will leave the story telling to you then. I will inform them only that the council has no knowledge as to their current location and status. It is best that it remains this way until Tama can go to the Academy at 12 years age."
"It is agreed then. I am for some dinner, how about you. The main road inn has excellent spiced pork roast on for tonight."
"That sounds good to me. Let's go then."
Tama had enjoyed her day at school very much and it showed as her face was almost glowing when she arrived home. Her mother could see the joy in Tama's eyes and asked how her day was.
"We had a couple of special teachers today. One was a Bard, his music made us all run really fast around the classroom. The Druid had little birds flying all around us. The Ranger was great too. He disappeared in classroom and I could still see him a little bit. Then he showed us all his weapons. The swords are heavy; I couldn't lift it more than a little bit off the table. The best part was when he set up a shooting range and taught us all a little bit of archery. I hit the center on my second try mama. It was fun."
Tama saw the look her mother had on her face; it was the look that bespoke of great pain that caused her heart too ache. "Mama, why are you sad, I didn't do anything wrong while he was there, I swear it, I was good today."
"I know dear, I know. I just dread what could happen to you if you follow in her footsteps." Willow turned away and decided she needed to get their dinner started.
"Mama, I will not die in a battle like she did." Tama went up behind her mother and hugger her from behind. "I plan to live to a ripe old age of 350." After she said that, she started to giggle. "Mama, I will try my best to be careful." She proceeded to help her mother around the kitchen as well as she could.
Here mother did ask her, "Who was the ranger Tama, you never gave his name."
"Oh, his name is Eaglesclaw. I thought it was a strange name until he said he was attacked as a baby by an eagle and the marks have stayed on him all his life, I asked him."
Willow went deathly pale at the mention of the name and sat down. "Dear Tunare, they have found us," she thought. She got back up and quickly finished dinner preparations before Axemen could get home.
Tama set the table and had the drinks served and ready when he came in. He started to ask Willow how her day had gone, he saw the look of fear on her face and stopped. "What happened Willow, why are you looking like death has paid a visit personally?"
"Eaglesclaw is here in town Axe. I think they have found us."
"How did you hear he is around the Upper Pass?"
Willow looked at Tama, "Tell him, tell him everything about today."
Tama was scared now. Something terrible was happening and somehow she might be the causing it. She told him everything that had gone on, including how Eaglesclaw had acted when he found out who she is."
"Willow, he didn't know, he wasn't looking for us. It was just a sad chance he found her. I say we eat dinner, then wait and see what happens. Be sure of this, I will fight to the last if any try to take Tama from us."
"Why would I be taken away Papa? I wasn't bad, I swear it." Tama was terrified now. Tears were pouring down her cheeks and she wanted to hide.
Axemen took her in his arms and said, "A long time ago, some bad people wanted to keep us and take you when you were born. They wanted to raise you to replace your grandmother. Your mother and I ran away to protect you from those bad people. That is why we have lived here all this time."
"So it isn't anything I did?"
"No little Tama, it is nothing you did. Now get to your seat, we have some really good looking stew to eat before it gets to cold."
They ate in peace, not wanting to stir up the pain that was lurking in all their hearts. If Eaglesclaw tried to take her, Axemen would use all the power he had to stop him, even though he knew to do so would kill him as well.
Shortly after Willow and Tama had cleaned up the dinner mess, there was a firm knocking at the door. Axemen looked at Willow and quietly told her to get Tama out of sight and be ready to grab her and run. He went to the door and asked who it is that was knocking at this hour.
"It is Eaglesclaw, Axemen Arrowmark. I would like very much to speak with you. Just to put certain thoughts at ease, I am not here about following the Council's orders. In fact, Elder and I got the order for your capture lifted the day it was given, but you had already fled with Willow."
Axemen looked at Willow and nodded to stay back. He released the bolt and opened the door just a crack so her could peek out before committing to letting Eaglesclaw near his wife and daughter. Not seeing anybody else outside, he slowly opened the door for a better look around.
"I am alone Axemen Arrowmark. Besides, had I desired to take Tama, I could very well have done so earlier today at the school."
Axemen saw the truth of that statement and opened the door so that Eaglesclaw could enter. After he was inside, Axemen re-bolted the door. Eaglesclaw noticed this and was pleased that even with things as they are, Axemen was still being cautious.
Axemen offered a seat and once seated, Eaglesclaw started. "Just so you know, the Council has no idea where you live, nor anything about Tama. The Rangers Guild has seen to that. As to the arrest order, we had it rescinded less than a day after it was issued."
Willow took in a sharp breath, "We have been in hiding all this time for nothing?"
"No, it has not been for nothing ma'am. The Thornbreaks are still looking and the clan wants the child of Axemen badly."
"Why would they want Tama so badly?"
"Ma'am, Tama is special, I can't say in what way at present, but she has incredible talents already. As far as I am concerned, I never encountered you on this stop."
Axemen asked what was bothering him the most. "What did happen to my mother, I never have been able to find out the entire truth about her final fate."
"That I leave to your guardian to disclose."
"What Guardian? I have never seen anybody in Upper Pass that could be our guardian."
"I bet Tama can figure it out, can't you little one."
Tama looked thoughtful, screwing up her nose a little as she tried to solve the mystery. After a few seconds she smiled and said, "Elder is the Guardian."
"She is intelligent as well as talented, right in one. Now I must be on my way. We leave at sun up for the northern logging towns to visit the schools there. There are a number of items that the school doesn't supply for archery. She will need to obtain them for herself. First being archery gloves to protect her hands, next a leather arm bracer. The last will depend on whom she follows in development, a steel chest guard.
They all stood and Axemen unbolted the door, opening it so the Ranger could leave. Eaglesclaw turned and looked at Tama, "Tama, you must start now on building your muscles. Think about how the bow works and the motions of a swinging sword. Ask one of the Road guards how they exercise. Willow, go with her and have them teach the basics. She will need this badly in later years, I have a feeling about it."
"I will Eaglesclaw. A question if I may, what is your real name?"
He looked at her, almost sadly, "I have no other name. I was exiled from my family, stripped of my name many years ago. I must leave now. It has been a pleasure meeting you Axemen, Willow. Tama, stay out of trouble if you can."
He turned and vanished into the night. Tama had come to the door and started laughing. "I see you Ranger, you can't hide from me like that." Then he was gone.
With the sitting room straightened up, Willow confronted Axemen, "Have you known about the orders being lifted husband?"
"I had heard, but did not believe them. Willow love, the Thornbreak clan is evil. They abide by the law only if it suits their needs and wants. Yours and Tama's safety made sure I did not take us back to Kelethin. By the time I found out, Tama was already two years old and I was running the road crews. You seemed happy here, and Tama was getting ready to start school with her friends by the time received confirmation from the Rangers guild."
Willow could not decide if she should cry, be angry, or just love her husband for his caring so much. Love and caring won out. She took him in her arms and gave him a kiss that carried promises she intended to keep later that night. Tama on the other hand saw the kiss and said a typical child thing at that behavior.
"EEWwwwwww." She was grinning so it was not serious.
The next morning, after Axemen had departed for work, Willow took Tama to the market with her. She needed to restock several staples that had run low or out. Some fresh meat from a local farmer that had extra meat beast, vegetable, both dried and fresh, and fresh apples from a near by orchard. The total ended up being two full silver coins, not to bad for hard bargaining.
"Mama, can we go to the Woodshop for a little while please, I want to watch some more."
"How about this, I will take you there and ask Heart Green if you can stay and watch, and maybe ask a few questions. I need to run the food home and get it in the Cold hole." This is a stone lined hole in one corner of the kitchen. It has a small enchanted stone that keeps a small area not quite freezing.
Tama started jumping up and down, clapper in excitement; she loved watching the wood workers. "Oh please can I, I will be good and stay out of the way mama!"
"Come on, let's get over there." Willow smiled at her daughter's excitement. "If she decides to be a woodworker, maybe she will avoid being a Ranger," she thought, but she knew it was a faint hope.
It only took a few minutes of walking for them to arrive and The Green Brothers Woodshop and School. They always had half a dozen apprentices and journeymen working for them. "Heart, you in here today," Willow called in at the open door?
"Sure am Willow, what can I do for you today," glancing down at his favorite redhead, "Hello Tama."
"Heart, would it be alright for me to leave Tama here for a little while so she can watch. I need to run this basket home right away and she wanted to stop by and observe woodworking."
That's not a problem ma'am, Tama knows the rules and has always behaved when she is here. Her questions always cause the apprentices to sit up and take notice. She asks about things they've not considered."
"I will be back in about an hour then. Tama, you behave and do as you're told while I am gone."
"I will mama." Tama had a smile that would light a room if it had been dark.
Once Willow had departed Tama moved to the spot she knew she was allowed to be in while at the shop. It allowed her to see what was going on, but not close enough o be hurt should something break loose in the shop.
"Hey Heart, "called his twin brother Stave. "I see the kid is back. Mind if I borrow her for a few minutes?"
"Sure Stave, just keep her out of trouble or danger."
"I'm just going to let her observe a first test of a new bow on the tiller."
"NOT A CHANCE Brother," snarled Heart. "If that bow fails, it could do so catastrophically and I will not risk a non-student being hurt, especially a six year old girl. So forget it." Stave quickly retreated back into the tiller room.
He looked at Tama, "What he wanted to show is a first test on pulling a bow. That is the most dangerous time in making any bow. Were it further along and had been..." His explanation was abruptly interrupted by a loud cracking sound and the follow up of a cry of pain from the apprentice that was in the back room. "Stay put Tama, don't move until I come for you, got that?"
Tama was getting scared now this as was new to her and sounded bad. "Yes sir, stay right here until you release me." He nodded at her understanding and took off for the back room.
Tama noticed that work had stopped at all the tables and workbenches. One of the other apprentices stepped over by her and whispered, "The bow exploded on the tiller Tama, the girl, Whittles is hurt from a large sliver cutting her arm, I saw it from where I work." She opened her hand and showed Tama a shattered bit of wood. "That landed on my table just a minute ago. That is why Heart got mad at Stave for wanting to take you back there just now."
"Will Whittles be ok? Was it bad," Tama asked quietly.
"They will take her to the clinic and the healer should be able to patch her arm up."
Tama looked relieved at that news but did not move from the spot. This was new stuff that she did not know about in woodworking. The rest of the staff returned to work as Stave helped a crying Whittles out of the back, her arm wrapped tightly in a cloth. Whittles saw her and gave a week smile, "Don't worry kiddo, I'll be fine in a while. The healers are good at fixing wounds of this sort."
Heart came back and sat Tama down on a nearby stool. "Now do you understand why I can't allow a non-student around the work areas Tama? It is just too easy for you to be hurt in here. I know you want to be a woodworker from the way you ask questions and observe us, but I always get the feeling there is something else lurking in the background that will be more important to you as you grow older."
Tama looked at the old man and smiled a tight smile, "I think I will be a Ranger someday Master Heart. I think that is my destiny." As she said that, she felt a sudden, painful twisting in her head and she cried out a little.
Heart almost panicked, at her quiet cry, "Tama, what's wrong. Did something hit you?"
"No, no, I just felt something funny in my head and it hurt for a second, it's gone now."
Heart decided on the spot that Tama would need some woodcraft skills if she wanted to be a Ranger someday. His only concern is that she is so young still to be working in his shop. "Tama, let me think about this for a few days. I want to see if there is a way that I and Stave can safely train you in the craft while still so young. Can you wait for us to work this out? I will also need to take time and sit down with both your parents to work out what rules and limits to place on you for your own safety."
Tama on hearing this started to get excited, but buried the feelings right away. Whittles injury had her scared of what could go wrong if she did not show absolute care in anything she did. Heart did allow Tama to continue watching from the stool and that was enough for Tama.
Willow returned after the hour to collect her daughter. Heart lowered her from the stool and escorted her from the shop floor. Willow saw this frowned, "Did she cause a problem Heart?"
"Tama? Certainly not, she was a perfect angel the entire time. It's my brother that's in trouble." He went on to relate the events as they happened. "So you see, I think your daughter has potential as a woodworker," he finished.
"Your right Heart, we all need to sit down and discuss this before anything is decided. And I expect your brother is going to be sporting a few bruises for allowing one of his apprentices to be hurt in that manner."
"Only to his ego, he did not follow the safety rules himself. His apron had a few bits stuck as well."
As they walked home, Tama told her mother everything that had happened. "I was scared at first when it happened mama, but once Master Heart explained it to me, I wasn't afraid anymore. I didn't know a bow could explode apart like that."
"Well I did, I am just glad your not hurt. If you had been, Stave would be sporting a lot of bruises and a few broken bones now."
Willow took Tama home and they ate a quick midday meal of bread and left over meats from the night before. Once they hade everything cleaned up, Tama gathered her schoolbooks and bag, then left for the schoolhouse. She tried to skip all the way there, but was always out of breath and tired before she arrived.
The days class consisted of; learning their letters, both Elven and common. Learning basic math and learning common, Dwarven, and Gnomish tongues. They had one break midway through the afternoon. This was to give the children a chance to cool down and think about what they were studying.
At the end of this particular day, Elder asked Tama to stay a moment. Once the rest of the students had gone home for the day, Elder asked her, "Will it be alright for me to stop by after you have you evening meal? I have much to tell you and your parents about past events."
Tama thought for a few seconds if she knew of any reason for saying no, none came to mind right off. "I see no reason that you couldn't stop by. I will let my mother know as soon as I get home that you want to visit this evening."
"Thank you Tama, I will see you in a few hours then."
Tama rushed home as fast as she could, angry with herself for not being able to run the full ways to school and back. Once home and having recovered her breath enough to speak, "Mama, Elder wishes to stop by this evening shortly after dinner. He said he has much to tell us about what happened."
"Then daughter, we have some cleaning to do, as well as getting dinner ready."
They went about the house, quickly sweeping and dusting everything they could easily reach. Once they had that part finished, they quickly prepared a simple dinner that would be easy to clean up. When Axemen came home, he was informed of the impending visit, he seemed less than pleased, but accepted it as inevitable.
Dinner was quieter than the norm, but Tama could see that her parents had a lot on their minds. They also seemed worried about something. The clean up only took a few minutes and the final straightening completed, Willow declared the house suitable for a visitor.
Elder arrived shortly after the evening meal. Her parents looked sad and worried, even more so than when Eaglsclaw had visited them. When there was a quiet knock at the door, Willow told Tama to answer it this time.
Tama went to the door and asked, "Who is it please?"
"It is Elder little Tama. May I enter your home?"
"Mama, it is the Elder, he is asking permission to enter."
"Let him in dear," said Willow.
"Come in Elder, and be welcome."
"Thank you Tama.
"Axemen, it is good to see you again. I have tried to avoid meeting with you as much as possible on the off chance you might remember me from Kelethin. That will change now. You know you have a treasure beyond measure here," pointing to Tama.
"We knew each other? I don't recall your face or voice from then," said Axemen.
"Well, that is to be expected I guess. I did much to change both so I could remain hidden as you yourself have. You gave up your future to protect your wife and unborn daughter. That is a commitment that few are willing to make at any time my boy."
"We trained together at the range for several months under your mother's tutelage. She was a real taskmaster too as I recall. I went on to join the Kelethin guard, while you began your advanced bow ability's training. By the way, did ever manage to learn the flame strike without burning your eyebrows off?"
Tama turned and looked at her father. She was looking hard and saw the marks were burns had once scarred his face. "No Elder, I never did, that was one of the reasons I had to leave the ranger training. I can't control the mana flows."
"What is Flame Strike father?" asked Tama.
"It is an archery attack that is magically enhanced. It would create a fireball explosion on impact, doing a massive amount of damage. I was never able to master it. It would explode as soon as I would release the arrow. My face ended up seriously burned a few times, my hands as well."
"Papa that had to hurt a lot didn't it," looking closely at his face.
"Yes Tama, it hurt, sometimes it still does. The magical fires never let you go once it burns you. I can never use my mana again. If I try, the fires would kill me in seconds. And that Tama; is why I could never be a Ranger like my mother."
Tama looked sad and she wanted to cry, but not in the presence of a guest. Elder remained impassive, not saying anything. Willow held his hand, trying to comfort him in this sad memory.
"This is part of what you need to know now Tama. Axemen, you are aware that your mana problems are repairable now. The arts have advanced considerably in the last few years."
"Yes Elder, I know ways have been discovered, but to seek out that aid, I would have to admit who I am publicly, for that reason I can't risk my family's safety. Also, I don't have the money it would cost to have the problems fixed."
"Yes, both valid points. Now Tama, I am going to tell you what happened to your Grandmother that horrible day. It is a sad and sickening story. Are you sure you want to hear this, and are you two sure she is old enough to hear this."
"We're sure Elder," said Willow. "Tama needs to know the truth from you, not what the schools and council will tell her later."
He seated himself and asked Tama to sit across from him. Once she was where he wanted her, he began. "Since the earliest days after the Elven entered the Greater Faydark, we entered a state of war with the Crushbone Orcs. This was not of the Elvens choosing. The Orcs consider this Valley to be theirs. Only the presence of the Fay had held them at bay for centuries prior to our people's arrival."
"The first assaults were small and minor. Then they sent larger and more heavily armed forces across the mountain ranges to attack us. What we did not know then, much to our great despair, the Orcs had been tunneling under the mountains for generations to make invasion easier. The tunnel finally exited in a small valley at the east edge of the main Faydark Valley. They quickly built a small fortress and began building the army to invade the Faydark in order to capture, enslave, and destroy all other races living here. Once we learned of the invasion, we sent scouting teams to investigate the new camps."
"Your Grandmother was the leader of the early information collection teams. Her main expedition group was soon discovered, then captured after several days when an Orc pawn stumbled into one of the observation post. Tamalain was on over watch and knew they would need immediate rescuing. The fortress commander was a young Orc, a grandson of Emperor Crush. She had watched as a young female Orc brought a young Orc child to show to him. He became very agitated, grabbed the child, and crushed its head with his bare hands and tossed it to the dogs in a nearby pen. That action set Tamalain in motion to save her people from certain death at the hands of an animal."
"Your Grandmother, that night, nearly wiped out the entire fortress guard. The Orcs had not yet learned that keeping a solid guard force out and awake at night was a good idea. She killed the guard commander, causing his father to vow vengeance against those that caused his son's death regardless of the reason for his being killed."
"He led his forces out to the outer watch and over ran them. He ordered all the captured Elven slaughtered and the heads removed and brought in sacks. He did the same to two villages along the march as well. His actions in what he did to the women, those that were with child that made him into Monster to the rest of the world of living beings, he had the unborn babies cut out and fed to the wolves."
Tama turned a bit green and ran outside. Willow went out after her to try to calm her down. She found her daughter curled in a ball under one of the trees, rocking and crying. She took her in her arms softly sang her the lullaby her mother had sung to her when she was upset and hurting.
Back inside, "Maybe I should stop now Axemen. She is not yet strong enough for the entire truth of that Tunare cursed day."
"No, she needs to hear it all now or she will get it in bits and the anger and hate will fester. Better to get it over with now and put her back together as a young child" said Axemen.
"Very well then, I will continue if she feels she can handle it. Now, how are you holding up, I know that some of this is new to you as well. Your mother was not faultless in this event as you are learning."
"I was aware that she had upset the Orcs, but not how or why."
"Well she was wanted for the one death. Ah, there you are child." Willow returned holding weeping scared baby girl in her arms. "Will you be able to continue? I am sorry to say that there is worse yet to come."
Tama looked at Elder with large tear filled eyes, "I have to know. She calls to me in my dreams now, not for revenge, but to simply know the truth."
"Very well child, about three days into the chase, the Orcs caught up to her scouting party. They killed all but Tamalain, they took the heads of the rest. The Orcs tortured and raped her brutally. She survived that torture and more, they forced her to watch as they sacked a third village. They came upon it in the dark so were able to destroy it easily. He did to the pregnant women there as he had done to first two villages."
"The Orcs did not know several things, a number of Elven scouts had witnessed all that was being done and runners were reporting events to the guard at the first lift station at Kelethin. The Emperor also had spies within his son's forces, he had been fully informed on what had been going on. This we learned later of course. Crush was enraged, he knew what the Elven reaction would be to these atrocities and he knew and understood that the Crushbone Empire would not survive the Elven alliances response if he did not act to forestall it."
"The monsters forces arrived at the lift station before the Orc runner could catch up to tell the fool to stand down and return to the castle. The runner witnessed the final act that nearly destroyed us all. The monster had all the captured heads placed on spikes, then dragged Tamalain out in front of his forces for all to see, to commit the final atrocity. He yelled up to the archers, "Here is you mighty fighter!" He held her up by the throat and slashed open her belly, reached in and pulled out her unborn daughter, your sister Axemen. He, he bit her head off Axemen. Gods, I can't even relate the last he did then." Elder closed his eyes for a moment and gathered himself. "He ground the poor unborn into the dirt."
"The screams of rage from above were unlike any before issued by our people. The command to open fire and take no prisoners was the order. A rain of arrows slammed into the Orcish forces as thunder bolts. Lightning, fire, ice, poisons, all of it decimated the Orcs. The monster though, he had run before the first arrow had flown. He was hoping to reach the valley with his own story before the truth did. He lost that race, the runner arrived at the keep and informed the emperor a full day ahead of the monster."
Crush ordered his son brought to him in chains, stripped of his armor and weapons. The monster tried to act upset at this treatment. His father silenced him with a backhanded strike with his spiked gauntlets, breaking the monsters jaw.
"You are a stupid blood mad idiot boy! That you are my son shames me even further. I must now kill you to prevent a war we are not yet ready to fight. It was bad enough when I learned what that idiot son of yours did with the infants. HIS OWN CHILDREN NO LESS! That Elven witch did all of us a favor in killing him! And you, you go tearing off without orders. Commit acts so vile that even Mayong Mistemoore has sent word to have you put down! MISTEMOORE, that boy, that takes serious doing to gain his attention in any manner what so ever that doesn't involve invasion of his lands. Headsman, your axe, now! Hold him down so I can be finished with this mess!"
Crush had his guards prepared to depart in a few minutes and they made for the Kelethin lift where the battle had happened. He personally carried his sons head to the councils table.
"The Emperor took the life and head of his own son Tama. Honor can be a strange thing at times. It can lead to acts both great and terrible. He had a small force gather under flag of truce, he came to Kelethin. He demanded and received an audience with the council where he opened the bag, pulled out the head of the monster. He slammed it on the table and stated that he considered the matter settled and closed. He then turned and left the hall. He ordered his forces pulled back into the valley and has not troubled us much at all that I am aware of to this day.
"Tama, Do you understand what happened that day?" asked Willow.
"The monster is dead then?"
"Yes Tama, it is most completely dead."
"He was evil so he paid with his life at the hands of his own father," said Tama. "Crush may be a bad person, but he did it because his son was evil and had caused problems that Crush didn't want to deal with then."
"Yes Tama that is pretty much the case," said Elder.
"Then I do not need to avenge her spirit. It has already been taken care of."
The Elder looked at Tama in slightly confused manner. "Yes child that would seem to be the case."
"I will go to bed now mama. I must speak with Grandmother Tamalain in my dreams now that I have what seems to be the story of those awful days. Good night Elder, goodnight papa, mama."
"Goodnight Tama," said Elder. He looked at her parents, "Were you aware of these dreams of Tamalain?"
"That is the first we have heard of them Elder," said Axemen. "That was not the reaction I expected. Rage, tears, hysterics maybe, but not a calm acceptance of the events."
"Yes husband. There are things we did not know about in that tale. Crush did what he did to save his people from total destruction. That shows a cold pragmatic leader."
"Elder, you said even Mayong sent word? He never involves himself in matters outside his realm unless some fool disturbs him," asked Axemen.
"Yes he did. I think it was that bit of information that prevented war more than anything. All the races on Norrath fear that one and for good reason. Even the Gods avoid matters that they know would arouse his ire. He was the last survivor of the great wars between the war mages and the gods. He was on the losing side, but he had the power to take them one on one."
The Elder gathered himself and stood. "I must head home now myself. It is quite late and as always, I have much to do on the morrow."
Willow sat quietly next to her daughter's bed and dozed. Her fears for her daughter though real did not seem as bad as they should be. As she relaxed her sleep deepened and she knew no more that night.
Tama was in a dark place, points of light raced towards her then passed away behind. One point started to grow and separated from the rest until it was a star before her eyes. Around it circled balls of rock and others of gas. A giant form seemed to fly into view, as it passed by it appeared to be a massive winged dragon, one mighty claw struck one of the rocky balls.
Where the claw had touched the ball, light spread outwards across it, and behind it was the blue of water and green of life. She watched the lands and sea's grow and shrink and move across the surface. Then a massive change occurred. The lands split and changed, and she felt herself pushed down towards the surface faster than any stone could fall.
When she stopped, she was on a grassy plain and alone for a moment. A small cloud of dense mist appeared and out of it walked a woman in a suit of silver and green chain mail. As the woman approached, Tama saw it was Tamalain, her grandmother.
"Grandmother, I heard the story as you wanted. I see now that anger will not serve me in these matters in my future. You had been avenged long ago from a most unlikely person. I am free to make my own path."
"Tama, you have been and always will be free to make that choice on your own. You are young yet, so enjoy life, learn all that you can from those around you and your future will be a glorious journey."
Another woman appeared and set about blowing up a target with arrows of fire, ice, lightning and poisons. Then she took out two swords and a practice dummy and worked her forms and skills. She moved so fast that she was a blur much of the time. When finished, she removed her armor and travel gear, pulled a blue and silver dress out and donned it. Even as Tama watched, the image changed and a man was next to her and she held a baby in her arms.
Tama turned to ask Tamalain who the lady was, but she was gone, and the other people had also vanished. Just as she would have started to panic, she heard her name being called as if from a great distance.
"Tama, it's time to wake up. We have a busy day today, so wake up sleepy head."
Tama opened bright shining green eyes and smiled at her mother.