#8 A Sentinel's Fate
Hoping you're all keeping well! This month's update is particularly special to me, as it's one of my favourite lands in all of Alor: the never-ending and ever-changing forests of Arnwell.
Because music and illustrations speak louder than words, below you will find a timelapse of a Sentinel in one of his many days of duty. A thousand thanks to artists Beto Lima and Rafael Arame for this incredible animation, and to Manuel P. Pérez for lending me his musical talent once again.
And as always, below you can continue reading the storyteller's adventures and this month's tale. A slight twist of fate.
“Aiga, why did you pick the flowers?”
I look at the bard. She has them stuffed in a small pouch. It almost hurts to see how full the pouch is.
“I’m not planning to sell them”, she replies with a smile. “Just on a quest to find true love.”
“You mean bonding”, I retort.
We’re on our way to Aucel, north-west of Nariv. I had found it odd Aiga hadn’t complained about leaving Ásterle so soon, but seeing all the tyrle flowers she collected I’m glad she didn’t get caught. These flowers only bloom twice a year and are worth a small fortune.
“What’s in Aucel? Another friend?”, the bard says, striding alongside a cliff. She has little regard for her own safety sometimes.
“No”, I reply.
“What is it, then?”, she insists, her knee wobbling a little as she steps on muddy earth. She jumps back away from the edge.
“Birds”, I finally respond.
“Birds? As in Irnellii?” Her eyes gleam.
“Actual birds”, I retort. “Although… There is an Irnellian community there, if memory serves.”
“Are there matchmakers?”
“None that you can afford.”
The disappointment in her expression is evident. As we are about to arrive to the end of the path and to the entrance to silverberry fields we encounter a group of Arnwellii. You know, hare-eared folk. I wonder why they’re so far away from the forests of Arnwell, and I’m almost praying Aiga won’t say anything rude.
They look tired. Their faces, covered in bone like ours, have been fractured here and there, as if they had once been honourable warriors that, in the end, had retired to a more peaceful land picking berries during the summer season. Greetings are exchanged in silence. Their eyes aren’t really looking at us, but have stayed somewhere far from the here and now.
“What happened?”, Aiga whispers. She keeps looking back as we’re slowly leaving the Arnwellii behind.
“Don’t stare, just walk”, I say. “They’ve probably had an encounter with vasarigæ. The wrong kind of vasarigæ”, I clarify. “You were probably too young to recall, but fifteen years ago Arnwell declared war on all vasarigæ, and banished them from their lands.”
Though Narivii call these silverberry fields, they are in fact perfect lines of shrubs and tiny trees that nature couldn’t have placed in such an orderly manner. Fruits and berries grow all around us, too tempting not to grab a handful if it wasn’t for the mahrymic rune circles around them. Aiga seems to have noticed the runes too.
“Have you ever been to Arnwell, storyteller?”, the bard asks as she takes her latest invention out of her backpack. It looks like some sort of elongated cord instrument. “I’ve almost finished my lyrute”, she announces with pride. “Someday I’ll perform Melinor and Merlenir’s song before the Music Courts of Falkor.”
There we go. That dreamy look again, probably imaging herself before those snobby asshats who think they own the world. She probably thinks music can reach their ice-walled hearts.
“I’ve been there on several occasions. To Arnwell, I mean. It is huge”, I finally reply. “It would take a lifetime to visit its every mile.”
She plays a note or two, rather out of tune, on her lyrute. We both grit our teeth at the sound.
“Do you have any stories from Arnwell?”, she asks as she puts the lyrute back in her backpack. Our voices are only interrupted by our steps on the path.
“Mostly stories of war, I’m afraid. Arnwellii are rather serious folk. They consider themselves protectors of all living beings.”
“Is it true they feel another living creature’s pain?”
“Most do, yes.” I hesitate for an instant. “If you’re planning to go there, for the love of Mirai, don’t take anything from the forest you don’t need. And whatever you take, you must return it multiplied by three.”
The bard pretends to ponder and nods in understanding.
“So you do have stories”, she says. “Do you have any about love?”
“Again? Didn’t you have enough with yesterday’s tale?”
“Ah, but not all loves are the same, are they? Some are meant to be. Fate!”, she exclaims. I look around to make sure no one is close enough to hear.
I ponder for a moment, my blurred memories only interrupted by the wind and the threat of rain over our heads.
“I may have a story about fate”, I venture.
“As long as I can make music out of it”, Aiga smirks. I can’t help but sigh.
“Just don’t mention his name in the song. Oh, and please don’t take any silverberries. Mind the rune circles.”
She nods once and tilts her hat slightly to a side. I clear my throat.
A Sentinel's Fate
To say that Ilderil’s father was disappointed in his son is an understatement. He was angry, furious, frustrated. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t raised him better.
“Do you have any idea how many people would give an arm for the mahrym you inherited?”
“You’ve only mentioned it a thousand times”, Ilderil retorted. “Speech mahrym is overrated.”
“Not Wind Speech, no”, his father insisted. “Understanding and speaking to the winds of the forest is precisely what the Sentinels need in their ranks. It’s your responsiblity… No, your duty, as an Arnwelli.”
But Ilderil had no intention to become a Sentinel. He had little interest in spending his days atop of a giant tree seeing life fly by, deprived of any contact with his people except in times of dire need. His only company would be the stealthy arnädraig pretending to be leaves on the treetops.
One day, he met his friends at the border between Arnwell and Boscaria. The land had been burnt a long time ago by the vasarigæ, a wound that had not yet been healed, and a pain that had not been forgotten.
But Ilderil and his friends weren’t there to reminiscence on the past. They had been drinking and laughing all afternoon, and dusk was bathing the forest in beautiful lights.
They had grown tired of playing leavencards and betting coin, and one of them, Dáil, proposed a different game.
“I’m betting a hundred ræ you can’t stand in the middle of the burnt grounds for a minute”, Dáil said.
Ilderil and the other friends laughed.
“This place is dead. There haven’t been any attacks in months, so what’s the thrill?”, Ilderil said.
“A hundred ræ? I’ll do it!”, another friend, Téuvil, said.
Téuvil tipsily crossed the runes between the lush grass and the ashen earth, walked a good thirty steps and stopped, mug of ale in hand. He waved idiotically at the rest of the group, his nervous laughter spreading among the other Arnwellii.
As a minute passed, he went back to his circle of friends, jumping over the bushes. He extended his hand to Dáil, who gave him the promised coin.
“I don’t think that was far enough”, contested Ilderil. “I say we place a hundred ræ each right here, in a pile, and whoever runs farthest and stays longest in front of the end of the ashen grounds gets it all!”
A roar of cheer and agreement followed, and as soon as each of the four friends had dropped the ræ, they hurried to the border. There was no countdown as they all dashed through the ashen grounds barefoot, pushing one another to see who would make it quickest to the forests of Boscaria.
“Wow, Ilderil, for someone who’s proposed a bet you sure are slow!”, another of his friends, Sáetel, said.
Ideril smirked, whispered to the wind and propelled himself forward. He swiftly dodged his friends and made it the farthest right at the front, laughing as the cool breeze of the evening grabbed onto his long hare ears.
“That’s cheating!”, Sáetel shouted as she morphed into a nightdeer.
“We never stated we couldn’t use mahrym!”, Ilderil retorted. The wind whistled in his ears as the wind carried him forward faster.
As Boscaria drew closer, he halted. That was far enough for any vasarigæ to spot him, unprotected by trees or mahrymic runes. His heart raced despite he had barely made an effort to run that far. He couldn’t even hear his friends behind him anymore. That far he’d gone. He breathed in some air as he laughed.
“I know you feel discouraged, Sáetel, but that’s no reason to stop”, he said as he turned his head around. “I guess I’ll have to take all the—“
There were several arrows on each of his friends. How could he have not heard them? A cold feeling began to crawl in his gut as he looked back to Boscaria in sudden realisation.
“Run!”, he told himself.
The moment he turned his head, an arrow grazed him in the face. The bone chipped off almost instantly. It burned. There was a faint purple glow vanishing in the air. Armagia. The arrows were made of armagia.
He begged the wind to help him escape, but all that was carrying him away from the ashen border were his own legs.
“Wind, hear my plea!”, he huffed as he constantly changed direction. He heard the arrows wheezing right past him. The vasarigæ weren’t advancing, but he know they would as soon as they realised one of their arrows had brushed his face and he couldn’t use his mahrym.
“Mirai, have mercy!”, he begged, the veins in his throat throbbing as he gasped for air. He didn’t recall the distance between Arnwell and Boscaria to be that long. “I promise I’ll protect this land. I won’t turn my back at her no more. I’ll guard her and her winds with my life if I make it out of this!”
Three gigantic vasarigæ jumped out of the bushes and ran behind him, bows in hand. They were laughing too, though not because they had drank an extra mug of ale.
And though Ilderil couldn’t understand the Boscarian tongues, he could swear he heard them say: “It worked.”
They took aim again. He was now a clear shot. It mattered not whether he moved right or left. They weren’t novices. Their beards were so long they almost reached their belts.
Ilderil felt the whistle of three arrows against the wind in this direction, but he didn’t stop running. He wanted to spend his very last breath running. He could almost see Arnwell’s runes glowing on the ground.
Suddenly, the arrows bounced in all directions, impacted by an invisible force. He began to feel the air around him become lighter, his feet quicker on the ground, the familiarity of the wind around him. Neither his mahrym nor the goddess had abandoned him after all.
He swiftly crossed the Arnwellian border and looked behind. The vasarigæ seemed to care very little that he had gotten away, and began to rip off the bone off the faces of the dead. His fellow osvarii. His friends. Dáil, Téuvil, Sáetel.
“If we wait, the bone will fall on its own”, one of the vasarigæ suggested.
“Waiting will get us killed. Hurry and gather what you can, today’s been a good hunt.”
By the time Ilderil got back to the city gates, the news of the dead teenagers at the ashen grounds had spread like gunpowder. He sought refuge at Mirai’s temple until his father came to find him. Anything, even his anger or disappointment, would have been better than the look of pity in his eyes.
“I should’ve listened to you”, Ilderil lamented. His words echoed against the tall walls of the temple and made it feel emptier than it was. “I should’ve stayed, trained, put my mahrym… No, mother’s mahrym, to the service of others. This….”
“This would’ve happened whether you had been there or not”, his father tried to comfort him. He had never been very good at comforting people. “And your mother made sure it would be you, and nobody else, who would inherit her mahrym when she died.”
“It was me who proposed the dare, father”, Ilderil retorted. “The least I can do is to make sure nobody else meets the same fate.”
It was fifteen years later, after endless days and nights of training even when the forests were asleep, that Ilderil finally joined the Sentinels, much to his father’s content.
Every time he felt tired, lonesome, bored or missed life on the ground below, he would remember that afternoon when he and his friends dared their lives away after drinking their worries away.
He was known as one of the most dutiful guards in all of Arnwell, for nothing and no-one would escape his gaze, and he would never leave his post. He’d fright teenagers away from the border, push wandering fools to safety, and help younglings to their way back home, without any of them ever knowing his face. To them, it was either the mahrymic runes or a very discouraging wind.
It is said Ilderil’s bow needed no string nor arrows, that strong a friendship he had with the wind. They spoke often, the wind bringing him scents and whispers, and him delighting it with songs of old.
He is there now still, atop of one of the tallest élaran, watching over the land and her people, with the wind as his only companion.
“Poor Ilderil”, the bard sighs. “He and his friends were only playing around. They meant no harm.”
“I’m not sure the vasarigæ would agree to this”, I retort. “The ashen grounds are there as a reminder of what vasarigæ can do. The mahrymic runes are there as well, for protection.”
“Why don’t the runes prevent someone from crossing them, then?”
“Well, there are scouts. Morphers, in particular, that can turn into a bird or a rat, or a deer. Would be pretty inconvenient if they were unable to leave Arnwell and see what the vasarigæ were up to.”
“Perhaps, perhaps”, Aiga mumbles, stretching her arm in the direction of the silverberries. “I’d love to visit Arnwell. As long as we don’t get too close to the border it should be fine, right?”
Before I can utter a warning, she plucks a handful berries out and stuffs them in her mouth.
She’s done it. She’s eaten them. A shiver crosses my spine as I wait for the mahrymic runes to detonate some sort of trap for those who dare steal berries from the Narivii in the region.
“Relax, storyteller. It’s harvest season. The runes aren’t even active.”
Her laughter fills the air as she plucks a few more and hands them over to me. Reluctantly, I eat one, and another, and the whole handful.
“We should give them a ra or two for this, at the very least”, I say, feeling the light weight of my ten ræ in my pocket.
“I’ll gift them a song then”, she replies with a smile.
She begins to sing a tune. A tune so merry and unique that I’m sure the winds will carry to Ilderil’s ears, far away in the forests of Arnwell.