From a new work in progress:
TEKHAG MEANS WAR
David L. Burkhead
Smoke rose in thick black plumes from beyond a low ridge of hills. The breeze carried on it the scent of ash and burned meat. Elara, queen of the elves of Greenwood, also called Talen in the old tongue, turned in her saddle and raised a questioning eyebrow at Witharin, Court Wizard and her closest advisor.
Witharin shook his head, his lips pressed together in a grim line. “Telaris, Majesty. The smoke comes from Telaris. I fear…”
Elara nodded. “Reigning Duke Valles wastes no time. Not even a formal declaration of war.”
Witharin snorted. “No doubt he considers the death of his son all the declaration needed.”
Elara sat silent for a moment before replying. “And should I, perhaps, have permitted him to slay me?”
Witharin sighed then opened his mouth to reply. Elara held up a hand, forestalling what he was about to say. A rider, one of the forward scouts, topped the ridge ahead of them, galloping back to the column.
Elara urged her horse forward, trotting past others in the company of elves that served as her escorts until she reached the front of the column. Witharin followed in her wake.
The returning scout rode up to her and saluted. “Majesty.”
The scout, an older elf of at least three centuries, nodded. “Telaris burns. According to a survivor, half a dozen ships landed two days ago and disgorged no less than three hundred elves. They attacked the town without warning, slaughtering all they could find. they then looted the town. Yesterday, they set fire to the buildings and returned to the sea.”
The scout wiped his arm across his forehead. “I have left the bulk of my detail to gather and organize the few who survive and see what might be recovered from the ruin–” He licked his lips. “–and to see to the Rites for the bodies.”
Elara sat in silence, her own heart in a turmoil. Mere days before she would have welcomed the news. Elf killing elf would have brought her no end of joy, a just vengeance for the death of her adopted family, for the husband she had loved.
Now? Now, as memories hit her, she did not know what she felt.
“You have done well,” Witharin said when her silence threatened to drag.
Elara dragged herself back to the present. “Yes, Scout. Very well indeed.” She lifted a waterskin from its hook at the rear of her saddle and held it out. “Drink. Then return to your detail. Take this word with you, we come quickly to render what aid we can.”
The scout took the skin and poured a long stream of water down his throat before returning it. “My thanks, Majesty. I go.”
The scout reined his horse around and headed back up the ridge in an easy canter.
Elara took a drink before hanging the skin back on its hook. She stood in the stirrups and turned to look at the column of elven warriors behind her. Spotting the commander, she beckoned him over.
Celedan, the elven commander, reined his horse up next to Elara and saluted. His gray eyes burned as the studied her. His hair spilled in silver waves from beneath the rim of his helm. And while his face showed the subtle signs of age appropriate to an elf well into his fourth century, his body retained the lean hardness of a warrior.
“Telaris has been sacked.”
Celedan tilted his head to one side, his expression clearly, indicating that he knew this already.
Elara sighed. “I ride ahead to see what may be done. Have your men make haste to follow.”
Celedan hesitated. “Majesty…”
Witharin interrupted whatever Celedan had been about to say. “Have a detail of bodyguards selected for her majesty, immediately.”
Celedan saluted, then looked at Elara.
Elara grimaced, then nodded. “Go, commander. You have your orders.”
“As Your Majesty commands.” Celedan turned his horse and began barking orders.
Elara turned to Witharin and raised an eyebrow. “Bodyguards, Wizard?”
Witharin sighed. “You are the last survivor of the old royal house. When your father was slain and you…lost, the kingdom nearly disintegrated. I do not know if it would survive losing you again.”
Elara shrugged. Truth be told, she did not care whether the kingdom survived or not. A part of her still wished its destruction for what Elves of Greenwood had done to those she cared about. But…Tanya. She had promised Tanya’s spirit to try not to see only enemies among the elves.
And that meant, she had to preserve the kingdom…for Tanya’s sake.