Pale moonlight filtered through the trees, and I sniffed the light breeze that brushed my face. Moss, pollen and the other smells of the forest registered, but I ignored them. I caught the faint traces of something flowery, something that had no business being here. The source was upwind, and I made my way along a low spot in the forest where a small stream ran in the rainy season.
This was elven territory, where I was not welcome, so I moved carefully through the trees and brush. I gripped my battleaxe, although I had no intention of killing if I could avoid it. I stepped around a small tree, not allowing it to brush against my leather breastplate, and possibly make noise. I was stealthy, but I was no elven hunter. If there were some of them around, my first warning would be the hiss of an arrow.
I sighed at my own bloody-mindedness that had led me here. I was a war leader, and my clan depended on me in our struggles against other clans – and practically everyone else we encountered, it seemed. Our chiefs said that it was our lot to be against the humans, the elves, and even other clans of our supposed brothers.
I carried war trophies of my own in the necklace I wore. The teeth of my enemies made an impressive totem, and a few locks of hair decorated my axe’s haft. Though I told no one, I was tired of the fighting. I had no mate, and the females in my clan held no interest for me. I sighed and paid attention to where I was going.
Finally, I had worked my way around to the edge of a small clearing. Powerful magics had been worked here - I could feel it through my boots. Now, though, there was no magic at work, but a power greater still, it seemed. At the center of the clearing stood a stone post twice my own height, with an iron ring set in it. Chains hung from the ring, stretching down to a lithe figure standing at the post’s base.
I sighed again, sheathed my battleaxe across my back, and stepped into the clearing. The post was a dozen strides away, and I quickly covered the distance. As I approached, the slim figure turned toward me.
“You came.” The voice was high and sweet, like the songbirds that inhabited the forest. She seemed glad to see me, and that lifted my hopes.
I stopped in front of her and looked down from my imposing height. “Melodrin, we can’t do this.” She was slim and tall for an elf, though her head barely reached my chest. Her skin was pale and pink, and the thin dress she wore showed a lot of it. Violet hair spilled down her back to her waist, thick and luxurious. She looked up at me with a crooked smile, her light brown eyes dancing with merriment.
“Oh, don’t worry so much,” Melodrin rejoined as she released the chains and tried to wrap her arms around my waist. “I told my family that I was hunting, which is true enough. Though, I neglected to tell them exactly what I was after.”
I leaned down to carefully wrap her into a hug, hiding my surprise. “I do worry, my love. You have so much life ahead of you, and it would be more than I could bear to see it taken from you.”
“You saved my life, remember? I would have been used up and killed if you hadn’t intervened.”
That was true enough, I thought. She had been taken by a patrol from another clan, and I had happened upon them soon afterwards. I was alone, and there were five warriors in their band. I had scouted against them, and, when I saw Melodrin, she had also seen me, and the look of terror in her face was more than I could bear.
The battle was epic, or would have been if I’d been able to tell of it. Our clans were supposed to be on friendly terms, so I was defying my chiefs to fight for this elven girl to whom I owed nothing. In the end, all five lay dead on the ground. I lay on the ground, too, as the last warrior had driven his spear though my body just as my axe took his head. I heard the girl scream as I closed my eyes and prepared to die.
When I awoke, I saw her looking anxiously into my face. She had used her magic to heal me, and we had spent several days together as I regained my strength. One night, she crawled into my bed, and we mated. Too soon, the time came for us to return to our own homes. Before we parted, she gave me a small coin that I hung on my necklace. With it, she could summon me, and know where I was if she sought me.
Time passed, and we would meet each other in the forest as often as we could. Sometimes the meetings were brief, and sometimes we could bed down together for several days. She was an ardent lover, and my heart was full when she was near.
Then, her father found us together.