Prologue: The Last Stand

Through the dark he rode. The path down the pass was narrow to the bottom where it came out of the ancient forest to a small castle.

He held is side where he had been hit by an arrow. He knew that this would probably be his last night but still he rode on. Ignoring the pain, he urged his horse down and into the forest.

The moon occasionally showing through the trees gave him enough light to see the trail he had followed for two days and the previous night.

He saw the castle as he emerged from the forest. Watch towers with torches were clearly visible to him now. Only a short ways to go before he could deliver his message.

Even then, he knew, he would find no rest this night. He would have to lead the defenders of the castle back up to the pass. To save the castle, he would have to lead them on the shortest path to the pass.

He rode to the gate and yelled to the guard his identity. Although it had been some months since he had been this way, the Elves that defended the bastion knew him well. He had traded his firs with the castle since he had come to this strange and ancient land. They had been his first friends and teachers when he had arrived.

At last, he thought as the gate opened for his admittance. He told the commander of the gate guard to tell the lord of the castle that he had news of great import from the other side of the pass. The guard, seeing the blood on his side instantly ran to the entrance of the caste proper.

Shortly after, the lord himself came out to the one on the horse. Seeing the blood on the humans side and how he sat his horse, he tried to help him down.

The human said, "No time. rouse your entire guard. An army approaches the pass and we must go and meet it with as many as you can summon. We must go now. I will guide you on the shortest route to the top but be quick in readying your forces."

The Elven lord looked into the face of the human he had befriended five years previous to this and saw what the human already knew. He was dying from his would as the arrow had been poisoned.

The lord summoned his guard and told them to prepare to meet an invasion of the lands defended by the castle. After giving his orders, he went back in to tell his guests of the night the grim news. He also told his only daughter of the one who had likely given up his life to warn them and guide them through lands rarely traveled by Elves.

Hearing this grim news, she rushed to the side of the horse where sat the injured man. Placing her hand upon his while tears flowed down her pale cheeks, she said, "Always know that here you have a home. If this night you live, you will be welcome here as long as either my father or I live. This night, you have given us our lives."

The human looked upon this Elven maid and seeing her tears he said, "You and your kin have given me welcome since I came to this land. Always you have welcomed me and always you have been kind and generous even though I am human and not of your own blood. I have given you nothing more than what you have already gifted me with."

"Cry not for me, my lady," he continued. "All must die one day, even those such as your kind. I only meet my fate sooner than you. The arrow is poisoned and has spread too far even for the healers of your castle. A great mage or healer might help, but none are here and there is no time left to summon one even if they would come."

The Elven woman looked upon the human as he spoke, and while placing her hand over his wound she said, "By the blood spilled I say and by the pain you have suffered in our service I say, you will return to this place. Take my strength and lead as you must but return to us who are your friends."

A glow appeared around her hand and the human gasped. His pain was less and he felt stronger than he had in the two days since he'd been wounded. He looked upon the face turned up to him and saw the glow in her eyes that matched that around her hand.

Drawing another breath, he said, "I know little of the ways or the strengths of your people. I only know that five years ago I was lost. I am not of this land and I knew not of it's ways. I was hungry and thirsty. I was ill with fever also. A band of riders found me as I lay dying in the forest to the south of this castle."

"Here it was they brought me. Here it was that I was nursed back to heath by two beautiful women. Elves though you be and human as I am, these two beautiful women and their father made me well. They taught me the ways of the forest and the lands around. They gave me an even greater gift while they did this."

He paused for a moment than said, "They gave me friendship."

"This night I give freely. Live or die I give back what I received when first I came here. Feel no sorrow in my passing. This gift you have given me tonight will aid me in what I still must do. I must lead your father and what soldiers he can spare to the pass. I know of a way even faster than the one you use so I must guide them."

"On the morrow, I will stand with those who have given me this great gift of their friendship and live or die with them."

Drawing a pouch out of his jerkin, he took it off. He held it for a moment and taking her hand off of his wounded side he handed the pouch to her. "Take this as my gift to you and your sister. Tell her that I love you both like the daughters I never had. I have nothing much of value except what is inside and I wish you to have it."

While the two had been talking, the guard had formed up and mounted. The lord of the castle and another group strange to the human came out of the doors and also mounted.

Looking down upon the Elven maid at his side, the human said, "Take this and go to your sister. The two of you must ready the castle fold to flee into the forest in the event that we fail on the morrow. You have no chance to hold what comes even with twice the number of guards sworn to your father. The enemy is strong and has great numbers."

The Elven woman looked up on the human and said, "We cannot forsake our duty. Here we hold and here we will live or die. This is our trust and our honor. Ride well and know that my sister and I will pray to our goddess for the safety of you and our kin. Fight well knowing that you have our hearts and always have."

With these words, she ran into the castle. The human watched as she vanished from his site, then turned to the Elven lord and the stranger beside him.

The stranger came forward and held up his hand in greeting. "Grave news you have brought upon my visit to my kin. What know you of those who come?"

The human answered with a sigh saying, "They are from the kingdom to the east of the pass. The king there has decided that your lands should be his and the Elves here should be driven out or exterminated."

"Greed is his only reason for this," the human continued. "He has gathered a large army and even now they are less than a day from the other side of the pass. There is no hope of holding them here as their numbers are too great. Only at the narrowest part on the other side may we hope to hold them for any time."

The Elven lords studied the humans face for a moment, then the lord of the castle said, "I have sent out a messenger already. He left from the southern gate moments ago. By tomorrow dusk, there should be a force large enough to hold the castle and the pass if we succeed."

The human said, "Let us go then. We have only a few hours to get to the place where we can make our stand. I will guide you there by an old trail that I know. It is steeper than the main but we can make the top in half the time as the regular route."

So saying, the human turned his mount and started back the way he had come so shortly before.

He led them up to the pass and down to the narrowing part of the pass. Upon arriving, he said "Here we can hold them for a time. I don't know for how long but it may be enough to save your lands and people."

With these words he sagged in his saddle and started to fall.

One of the warriors jumped off his horse and ran up to catch him just in time to prevent him falling.

It was then that the others discovered what the lord already knew. Even wounded and the arrow head still in him, this human had led them to a point where they would have a chance of defending the route to their homes. To them, he had given more than a warning and a guide. To them he had given his life's blood

The warrior gently lowered the barely breathing man to the ground and called out for the healer who had accompanied them on this desperate ride.

The healer ran up and put his had upon the wound and focused his power. Try as he might, he could not defeat the poison from the arrow head.

Bowing his head, he stood and faced the lord and his cousin.

"He is dying, my lords," the healer said. "There is nothing I can do as I am not strong enough to defeat the poison within him. I have eased his pain and given him some strength but that is all I can do. He will be gone by tomorrow evening at the latest."

Hearing the grim news, the warrior standing there told the others the same.

Dismounting, the all came to him one at a time. Each thanked him for his bravery and his great gift to them that they could defend their homes. Each bowed his or her head and gave a prayer to the Goddess of the Forest to intercede for he who was lying before them.

This done, they went about what they had come here for. Already they could see a host approaching them from below.

Seeing it, they knew from the numbers approaching them that they would have little chance to hold for the day required. Even knowing this, they prepared. They knew that they would have had less chance at the castle for the enemy army approaching was large indeed.

As they readied themselves, the human sat up. Slowly he stood. Walking to his horse, he gathered his weapons. He only carried a staff and a large ax and a few knives. He was unskilled with the elven bow or the swords they carried.

Opening the bedroll behind his bloodied saddle, he took out a crossbow of strange design and assembled it.

Finishing his task, he walked to where the castle lord and his cousin were sitting.

Slowly going to one knee as was the way of the Elves before a lord.

The lord looked up at once and seeing who was before him he said to all within hearing, "Be witness to me my men." Stooping down to the human he raised him to his feet. He said, "Never again will you kneel before my nor will you bow your head. If we live this day through it will be because of you."

He looked upon his men and said, "To this man we owe a debt. Even if we die here today, we may save those we love. Only because of this man do we have the chance to do this and only because of his bravery do we stand here where we might yet do so. Never again will he sit at the common table. When we sit in my hall he sits at my table."

To a man, each Elf kneeled before their lord and the human. Even the lords cousin bent his head before drawing his ancient sword.

Placing the tip upon the humans shoulder, he said "Few are the knights of this land. I serve the king and am his knight. Only one of us may name another. I name you knight and say before these who witness that you have already proved your bravery. If we live through this day, I say that you will be a brother to me for saving my home and those I love."

The ancient sword began to glow blue, surprising all who witnessed. The glow covered the human for a moment and then centered upon his wounded side. Slowly the glow seemed to seep in to the wound.

The human gasped and staggered, being caught by the lord before he could fall. There was a strange sound like water falling into a pool, and the arrow head fell to the ground.

The human again gasped as the glow slowly receded back to the sword still touching his shoulder. When the blue light had faded, the human fainted. Catching him before he could fall, the castle lord and the elven knight carried him to where he had been laying before. Two of the warriors carried his weapons and placed them beside him as he slept.

As they gazed upon him, the cousins noticed a change in his skin. The pallor that had been was fading and a healthy cast came to his skin. Even the gray in his beard had faded.

They looked at each other and stood. "My cousin," said the knight, "I have held this sword for many a year and never have I seen such. It has power, but it is a weapon of war. I have never seen it heal one who was near death."

The lord looked at his cousin and said, "I have heard many a story of this sword you carry. It has been in our family for countless years, from before our people came to this land. Never have I heard of it healing nor have I heard of it showing such power of any kind to benefit a human. Truly, this man is more than he seems."

"Agreed cousin," said the kings knight. "I have named him brother and so he is if we both live through this day."

"I shall call him so also," said the lord. "He was willing to die for us so now he shall live with us as he chooses. I will always have a seat at my own table for him and if either of my daughters still wishes and he chooses I will grant either of them leave to take him as husband."

The Knight nodded at this pronouncement and said, "If this should come to pass I will give the challenge and I will stand before all who would say nay. He shall always find me at his back if he has ever the need."

Shortly after this talk, the human again woke up. He felt no more pain from his wound and the burning from the poison was also gone. Standing, he felt healthier and stronger than he had in many years.

Holding up his right hand and looking at the back of it, he saw that the bent finger he had broken when he was younger was now straight and no longer pained him.

Turning the hand over, he saw that the scar from an old injury that had almost taken his thumb as a boy was now gone. All the pains that accumulate with age had faded to nothing.

Smiling for the first time in many days, he looked at the castle lord and the kings knight.

"I was going to tell you this before," he said. "The enemy has the custom of having a champion challenge to fight any who would face him in single combat. I ask for this chance. Before, I thought that I would do so as I was dying anyway. Now I wish it as a chance to pay back those who used a poisoned arrow."

The Lord looked upon the human and said, "You have already paid a price in blood so we may defend our lands. No more is needed nor is it asked."

I ask this for myself," said the human. "I won't be much use to you in battle, but I might be able to buy you some time in this way. Your warriors have worked together for years but you know nothing of me or how I fight."

"My name is Armetur," said the lord. "I give you this," he said handing the human a ring, 'to show that you are my chosen champion. Wear it always."

The man looked at the ring and then to the face of the Elf Lord and said, "I have no name now. I am called Hawk by my friends. I would be honored if you called me by that name."

Armetur looked to his cousin and said, "If you should live through this day and I do not, let his name be entered in the family listing. Let none forget the deed he did last night to bring us word."

The Knight nodded his head and said, "He shall be known as the brother of Deliand." Looking at the human, he held out his hand and said, "I greet you brother. One so brave that he would give his life for those not his kin should be kin at heart if not blood. I greet my brother."

The human looked at the hand offered to him then raised his face to the Knight and said, "I have no kin left. I am not of this land but the people here gave me a home for a time and gave me friendship. I would have died without that friendship. I only repaid a debt." He took the Knight's hand in his own and for the first time Armetur saw his smile.

"Last night, I knew I was dying," he said. "I brought you word to pay for the five years of life that I've had. Lord Armetur, you owe me nothing."

Turning to the advancing army, the human picked up his staff and handed the crossbow to Deliand. "Hold this for me while I go to meet the champion. If I fall, use it well for it was a gift from a dwarf who is my friend."

With those words he walked to where the pass again widened and stood watching the approach of the enemy. Calmly he stood waiting.

A herald with a flag of truce approached him. The elves saw them speak for a time, then the human walked forward and planed his staff in the ground and held up his ax.

Returning the ax to his belt, he picked up his staff and stood with his shoulders squared and his feet spread and waited for the enemy champion to come forward.

Suddenly the enemy lines parted and a huge warrior stepped forward. The man called Hawk moved to meet him.

The talked for a few moments although none on either side could hear them. After the short conversation, they both stepped back.

The giant champion drew his sword and Hawk lifted his staff in both hands. With this salute, they moved toward each other.

The exchanged blows so quickly that even elven eyes couldn't follow. The fight went on for several minutes and suddenly the giant warrior was on the ground!

The man called Hawk stepped back and allowed him to regain his feet. Standing, the giant warrior bowed slightly and saluted Hawk.

As he lowered he sword, an arrow was fired from the enemy lines. It struck Hawk high in the left side of his chest, staggering him. Lowering his staff to the ground, he held it with both hands to keep his feet. He said something to the giant warrior then collapsed and was motionless.

Seeing this, the giant warrior sheathed his sword and yelled out something to the enemy lines then turned and lifted Hawk like a child.

Standing again, he turned toward the elven forces and carried the wounded Hawk back to them.

When he came to the elven line, he said to them in his own tongue, "I had nothing to do with this evil deed. I will not fight you this day or any other until my honor is regained. If this man, your champion should die then I ask for the same fate. I will not live with his blood staining my honor."

Armetur looked upon the wounded human and said, "I saw the battle. This was not your doing so you are not to blame."

The giant warrior said, "I guaranteed his safety should he defeat me. I promised this on my honor. Now he is wounded by treachery. It does not matter who struck the treacherous blow. I gave my word and now it is broken. I will stay by him until the end of the battle. If he lives, I will take him through the pass to those who might help."

Walking through the line of elves, he saw where the bed had been made for Hawk before his healing earlier. He carried the champion to this simple resting place and laid him down upon the blanket.

Standing and drawing his sword, he placed it point down on the ground and said, "Here I will stand. It matters not who wins this day, none shall cause him more harm as long as I live."

Raising their weapons in salute, the elves moved into the narrow part of the pass and formed their lines to await the advance of the human army before them.

They formed two ranks of swordsmen and one of bow. Standing there, they waited.

The enemy began to advance upon them. As they closed, the bowman in the back began to fire their great elven longbows. Many of the enemy dropped as they advanced, but not enough to change the outcome.

Hawk regained his senses as this was occurring. He felt the arrow in his chest and knew that the wound was deep.

Looking up, he saw the warrior he had been fighting and in the tongue of the giant warrior he said, "The shaft is almost all the way through. Please push it the rest of the way and help me bandage the wounds."

The giant warrior looked down and said, "That wound will probably mean your death. I cannot do this deed as I have sworn to defend you if you live and to die at your feet if you don't. I will not be the cause of your death."

"It doesn't matter. The arrow is poisoned and I will not live out the day. Grant me this that I may stand and die at the sides of my friends and those who named me kin. I have no others and if die I must then I wish it at their sides this day."

Hearing these words, the warrior sheathed his sword and did as he had been asked. He helped Hawk sit up and pushed the arrow head through and broke off the fletched end thus allowing him to pull it out.

This task done, he took the bandaging that Hawk handed him and bound up the wounds.

Standing, he offered his hand to Hawk and helped him to his feet. Hawk said, "You are not to be blamed for the treachery of another. I release you from your vow and bid you live. Return to your home and kin knowing that I hold no ill toward you and if there is anything to forgive then know that you have mine now."

With these words, Hawk walked to the lines of the elves holding the pass.

The elven lord and the kings Knight saw him and were cheered that their adopted relative was alive. They stepped away from each other that Hawk might stand between them during the battle.

Hawk took the place offered and thanked them for the honor. Armetur said, "The honor is ours. Live or die today I am truly blessed to stand beside one so brave and good of heart."

Deliand said, "You are my brother and this is your rightful place at my side. I am honored that you will fight beside me this day."

The human looked at each of them and said, "When I first came to this land I was lost. You helped me and taught me the ways of the forest. You gave me a way to earn my way in all the lands that I traveled since I came to be here. You gave me friendship and a place to stay every time I visited your castle. Now you have given me your names."

He paused for a moment before continuing. "I lost my family and my home when I was somehow brought here. I lost all I had and all I cared about. You gave me a new place and friendship. Now you have given me your names, which I know is rare for an elf to give to a human. You have named me kin also. It is I who am truly honored this day."

Deliand said, "Well I guess there is no arguing with him, cousin. Let us except what he has said and consider each of us to be honored by the presence of the other."

Armetur said, "Agreed cousin. Now let us see to those who would take our homeland away from us."

All three turned back to the advancing enemy and the two elves raised their shields, making sure that Hawk was also protected as he had no shield of his own.

Hawk watched the advance of the great host and said, "When they get here I will fight as I know. I have no training in standing in a line such as this so I will meet them in my own way. Do not follow me as I will not be able to fight as well. Allow me to fight as I know how and stand to fight as you know. This is the best way for us."

Deliand said, "I have sworn to guard your back. If you move forward into the enemy then so shall I, my brother."

"No," said Hawk. "You know not how I fight. I will be more affective against these invaders if I get into their lines. You are not trained as I am and I am not trained as you. Do not follow me, please."

"Very well," said Deliand. "If this is your wish, I will honor it. But if you have need I will come for you."

Hawk smiled and said, "I don't believe I will have need. The arrow was poisoned. This was a stronger poison than the last. I will not live out the day no matter what. Do not follow me and let me fight as I know how and let me die as I must. This is the easier way of passing."

Hearing this, Deliand raised his sword to see if it would again heal the human. Hawk stopped him with his left hand and said, "No. You must save what ever power you have. The enemy has a mage with them and you will need the power of that sword this day. It is more important that we stop these people here than if you heal me."

"A mage?" exclaimed Armetur. "How powerful?"

"I don't know, but I don't believe he is too strong if your cousin has that sword. I will try to remove him from the battle before I die. If I succeed, you will have a much better chance, but if I fail you will need the power of that sword."

With that Hawk fell silent. The enemy was close now and it was time for him to ready himself. He took back the crossbow that Deliand was holding for him and using the sling, he placed it over his back. Taking his staff in a two handed grip, he prepared to attack.

When the enemy was fifty or so paces away, they charged the elven lines. They screamed their war cries as they ran forward.

When they were but ten paces away Hawk began his own charge. He suddenly ran forward and with his staff moving in a blur, he broke through the front of the enemy. All the elves saw many human warriors fall as he went.

He suddenly turned to the side and moved along the second line as the third line started stumbling upon those who had fallen in this surprise attack.

Turning again, Hawk broke through the third line and falling to his knees, he dropped his staff and drew up his crossbow.

Sighting on the one he knew was the enemy mage, he fired.

The clip holding the quarrel in place while the crossbow was on his back fell free and the quarrel sped true. Striking the mage in the heart, it killed him before he even knew he was being attacked.

With his mission completed, Hawk dropped his crossbow and slowly sagged forward and fell unconscious from the poison.

The battle raged for hours with many charges by the humans.

Suddenly a horn sounded from the top of the pass. Relief had arrived in time to save many who had stood there this day.

Deliand and Artemus stood side by side, though both had been wounded. They raised a cheer that the other surviving elves echoed.

Seeing a host of elven warriors approaching in numbers great enough to defeat him, the human king ordered his army to withdraw.

They slowly moved back down the pass knowing that the battle was lost and that there was no hope of defeating the new arrivals to the battle.

Moving forward, Deliand sought his adopted brother. Artemus was wounded in the leg and could not come with him but told him he would pray to their goddess for the one who called himself Hawk.

Deliand found Hawk laying to the side where the enemy had gently moved him. Although he was an enemy, they had treated him with respect because of his great bravery. All his weapons had been placed beside him and none had dared to rob the brave man.

With tears in his eyes, Deliand kneeled beside his adopted brother and checked to see if he still lived. Though faint, he found a heart beat.

Standing again, he called for a litter to carry the fallen hero back to where he could be cared for.

Two elves rushed forward with a litter and gently placed Hawk upon it and took him to where the rest of the wounded were awaiting the attentions of the healer.

Seeing who was on the litter, the healer came forward and said, "I checked his wound before the battle. The new poison is much stronger than before and I cannot help. I can not even give him strength. Unless our rescuers have a healer of great strength and skill, only the lady can save him."

Hearing this news, Artemus and Deliand knelt by Hawks side and silently prayed to their Goddess. Tears in his eyes, the giant warrior who had fought him walked up to Hawk and drawing his sword, he too knelt at the side of the fallen man.

Artemus called for two horses to be brought that they might put the man on a horse litter and take him back over the pass to the castle. He decided that if die the human must, at least he could spend his last hours in comfort surrounded by those who loved him.

On arriving, the healers with the new elven force came forward and helped with the wounded. A great cairn was raised above those who had died.

Finishing these tasks, a watch was set further down the pass and the elves turned back to the castle. Those who were able to walk did and those unable were either helped to mount or were placed in horse litters for the journey back.

At the head was the litter carrying he who had warned them and who was the first to fall in the battle after having defeated the mage.

It was a victorious but sad procession that arrived at the castle shortly before dusk that day.

As they entered the wall through the gate, elven warriors and kings knights lined the way. They drew their swords as the first litter approached and saluted all who had been wounded in the battle at the pass.

Hawk was carefully lowered from the horse litter and placed on a smaller one. Artemus took one side on the front and Deliand took the other. Four more came forward to help.

Limping on his wounded leg, the lord of the castle set the pace and guided the litter up the steps to the entrance to his castle. Their he was met by his two daughters and his son and heir.

The two maidens, seeing who was on the litter both started crying for he had always been kind to them and had brought them many gifts on his visits.

The elder walked behind her father while her sister and brother followed the litter to the family apartments behind the great hall.

They took him to a room and placed him upon the bed. Resting her hand upon his forehead, the older of the two elven women said, "Live for us. Don't leave this life before I can tell you that I love you. My name is Mellany."

Moving to the other side of the bed, the younger sister placed her hand above her sisters and said, "I too ask that you live. My name is Eldranna. Live and know that you are loved by us both."

Kneeling at his side, they both prayed to their goddess. Both offered her their lives that this man might live.

A glow appeared in the room. It was a green light that slowly grew stronger as they watched.

The seven elves and the giant human saw a female form appear in the glow. The elves still standing kneeled and bowed to the form that was their goddess.

The woman stepped forward to the bed and placed her hands upon the hands of the two kneeling at the side of the bed.

"Cry not, my daughters. I have heard your prayers. Do you truly mean what you said? Will you give up your lives for this man who lies here?"

Both exclaimed, "Yes! He saved our lives and now lies here dying for it.," said Mellany. "I would gladly give my life if you save him."

"As would I," said Eldranna. "He gave us warning so that we could meet the enemy and lead our warriors to a place where they could meet them in battle."

The woman in the green light said, "I will grant your prayers, but by the laws of the gods there must be a price. I do not ask for your lives but you will be bound to him for the rest of yours. You will ride with him and you will fight for him if need be. You will be his companions from now to the day of either his or your own deaths."

"I too am bound by laws as are mortals," she continued. "I can heal him but this is the price I am required to ask. Two times he was wounded near unto death and two lives are owed him for this. Do you accept this burden?"

"Yes," both exclaimed at once. "I will stay by his side for as long as I live," said Mellany. "I give him all my love."

"I too shall do this," said Eldranna. "I will go where he goes and I will love him for as long as I live."

"Very well," said the goddess. Raising her hands, she started to glow even brighter. A beam of light fell from her hands and struck the wound in his chest. Hawks body tensed up and he moaned as he lay there unconscious.

The light brightened and slowly Hawk relaxed. His breathing became stronger and easier.

Lowering her hands, the goddess said, "Daughters, he will live. He will live the life of an elf in length now. From now until he should die, you are bound to him. You are not servants or slaves, but are his companions until either you or he dies. Love him and cherish him for he is a good and brave man who would gladly die to protect those he loves."

Looking to the lord of the castle, the goddess said, "I am sorry to take your daughters. The laws of the gods require such payment and I am bound by those laws as you are by your kings laws. I had no choice in this."

"I understand," said Artemus. "All must live by law or there will only be chaos. Even the gods must have some laws."

"You are a wise elf," said the goddess. "Take my blessing upon you and lead your people well. I sorrow for you for the pain that you will have. Hawk will be ill for many days as he fully recovers and his body adjusts to the changes I have made. When he leaves, he will be gone for many years.

Bowing her head, she continued. "I don't know if you will ever see your daughters again. I can only see that this man will one day return here. I do not know how long it will be or whether you will live to see it or not. I only know that one day he will return here and I know that your son will great him at the gate. I see no more than that."

"I thank you for that much at least," said Artemus. "That gives me some hope of seeing my beloved daughters again one day. I will await his return regardless, though, as it was their choice to do this deed. I will honor their bravery as well as Hawk's. I thank you great lady."

The goddess said no more and the glow slowly faded until she was gone.

Artemus looked upon his daughters as they knelt beside the bed where the unconscious man lay. He said to them, "Daughters I am proud of what you just did. This man saved us all and almost died of it. Even though I may never see you again, know that I love you and cherish you. You have taken upon yourselves a difficult task."

"Many would have refused this task and let him die," he said. "You offered your very lives for him instead. Watch over him well and if ever you have need in this duty you have but to ask. I too have a duty to him but cannot leave my post as a Guardian of the land. Fair you well daughters."

With these words, the Lord left the room. With the pride he felt for his daughters, he also felt sorrow. The words of the goddess came back to him and he feared for their fate and feared also that he might never see them again after they left his lands.

Following his cousin, Deliand remained silent. He knew the grief that Artemus felt. He also knew that the debt owed to the human known as Hawk was greater than the lives of two elven maidens.

In the room, the giant warrior walked to the bed where Hawk lay. He said in his own speech, "Do you understand what I say? I know not your language."

The elder said, "We both understand your tongue. Speak what you need to say."

The giant man placed his hand upon Melany's shoulder and said, "I too owe this man. I swore to him his safety should he defeat me in single combat. The arrow was treacherously fired as we fought. Know that you do not ride alone."

"For some reason," he continued, "I understood the words of the goddess that was here. I swear unto you that as long as I live I will guard you all. My life is his to command and my honor is his."

Standing, he moved away.

The lords son said, "I cannot aid you sisters. I must remain here as duty requires. Know that when you leave my love goes with you always. Know also that any aid I might render is yours for the asking."

Eldranna said in the giants tongue, "Thank you both. This duty is ours and we will gladly except it. I ask you brother to let us into the arms room when Hawk is able to walk. He will need weapons and armor in his journeys. I will also ask father for horses for the four of us to aid him. He will also need coin as he has little. Will you aid us?

"I have coin enough of my own," said the brother. "All I have is yours and his. I will ask father for horses myself, and if he cannot help I will give you your choice from my own."

Mellany said, "I thank you brother."

Her brother moved over to the humans side and said, "My name is Dranco. remember me as your friend and kin as my father has said."

He stood and left the room himself.

The four remaining elven warriors stood and swore their allegiance to the human also, then they too left the room.

The giant said, "Ladies I am called Bear. I will await you outside the door and guard it. After saying this, he too left the room and stood beside it through the night awaiting the awakening of the man called Hawk.

Thus begins the story and the legend of the one called Hawk.

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Story tagged with:
Fiction / Violent /