Amalda was born in a time of great trouble. The woods were crawling with cruel and evil creatures. The great rampart to the West of the Harrow had not been completed and the land had not been sanctified. Her father, Marradin, was a warrior, strong as the seasons were short. He wanted more than anything to stay and fight for the life-giving tree. It was a point of constant argument for him and his wife, Entraius. She insisted that it was too dangerous a life to subject her child to, and that the exodus to the Feywild was the only way.
The days grew worse in the Harrow, as it did in the Ahindulin home. Marradin and Entraius’ fighting became a constant, until one day, Entraius had enough. She decided to sneak off the following day, when her husband would be at the council meeting with the scout leaders, and make for the exodus party with Amalda in stow.
Little did she know that Marradin had left some important contracts and schematics in his old oak chest. He returned home and immediately knew that something was amiss. He looked around the house, and then followed the hasty trail, asking anyone he could trust along the way. He hurdled over stones and limbs as his chase led him into the wood. Who can say whether it was the smell of smoke or the scream that hit his senses first, but in a flash, he was there.
The small scout party that the council could spare for these exoduses was easily overrun by the goblinoids. Screams flew out from all directions, the flames disorienting any visual certainty of who was where. Marradin slashed forth, like a blind gladiator, his only true focus was on finding his wife and infant daughter. Then he heard it, first the terrified squeal of the babe followed by the pleading calls of Entraius. He leaped over one branch and flew forward, using the falling, flaming Oak as leverage for the burst. Blood sprayed from the throat of one hobgoblin. The lower arm of another, still clutching its spear, flung aside as the large bugbear body dropped backward. Marradin reversed with a flip and planted his sword through the shoulder of the hobgoblin clutching Entraius, but with a half deliberate, half reactionary motion, the short blade slid across her throat. Her muffled screaming instantly replaced, by a gurgle and a spray of red across Marradin’s eyes. His mouth agape, as life slowed, taking in the sight, tasting the bitter iron that dripped on his tongue. Then there was only red.
Marradin was confused. He was wet, and hot. The red faded out and the sounds around him crept back in with quickness. Screams, from all around him, of suffering and pleading. He looked down at the end of his left hand. His sword was draped in red stained flesh strips and thin strands of glistening tissue. The rusty liquid stained him from head to toe. He looked at his other arm, hooked toward his breast. Cradling his daughter, Amalda, who looked up at him with wide eyes, not making a peep but gumming a piece of her blood splattered blanket with a curious calmness.
Four of the twenty eight individuals that left for exodus that day survived. But none of them ever spoke in detail of what happened, out of respect. Marradin devoted the rest of his days to the council’s strategic operations from that day forth. He was content in leading others, from his wide oak table and stacks of maps.
Amalda was a tom-boy. From age four to now, the only time she didn’t have that wooden sword in her hand was during school and when her father would slip it out of her sleeping hand and rest it by her bed at night. Even when other girls were interested in dances and faerie-flits (a slang term for teasing young men), Amalda still hadn’t outgrown that sword.
School was difficult for her, but her father’s constant insistence made her work through the challenge. She was by no means a prodigy, but certainly bright for her age. This wouldn’t last much longer though. A certain head mistress in Academy would push Amalda’s buttons past the breaking point. On one hand, the woman was simply trying to push Amalda harder, to realize her potential. On the other hand, this was Amalda Ahindulin.
How was anyone to know about the head-mistress’ pre-existing wrist injury? Without that mundane detail, the outburst would have been nothing more than a theatrical resignation. Unfortunately, Amalda, and her Father, faced some fairly severe public scrutiny over the event.
Marradin’s first instinct was to give Amalda what she “wanted” and send her straight off to the guard. But after he calmed down, he thought a more fitting punishment was to force her to devote her time to helping the less fortunate in their community, and four hours a day of research and reading.
Though the education didn’t last long, the selfless assistance to others lasted for years. It filled Amalda’s life with peace and joy. Relationships with those who had more wisdom, filled a place in her own life. But not a day went by that the bug didn’t bite. The lost lust of that simple wooden sword. The little sword that had been wrapped in a blanket and placed in her father’s oak chest. A childish piece of foolish, nonsensical… Excitement!
It didn’t help that she recently came across the sword, while looking for a fortification plan that her father needed for another council meeting.
She tried to put it aside, out of her mind. But while she was going about her day to day, she would see a party of scouts traveling through the village, on route. She would find herself staring and fantasizing about a life of battle and adventure in the wild. “Ugh”, she’d curse herself. Out of sight, out of mind.
One day, like any other, she went to Dara’s house, with her goods from the trade market. Dara was an elderly woman of 282 years. She was old, but not obscenely old. What was unusual was her debilitated state. Elves normally stay vigorous into their old age.
Dara noticed Amalda staring off into space. She asked the young fey what was troubling her. Amalda reluctantly told her about her struggle of late. The old woman laughed, and Amalda was almost offended at the lengthy outburst. Dara reached to contain herself and told the youngster to sit for a moment. Dara went into another room and emerged minutes later with some documents and some items wrapped in a leather satchel. Amalda perked up with a child-like curiosity. Dara untied some of the straps and let out some small trinkets and a sheathed sword. Amalda was shocked.
The hours passed and the sun went down. All the while the two of them spoke of Dara’s days of glory as a soldier in the old world, and one that made the transition to the new world and stayed. That was where Dara’s injuries had come from, nearly 200 years of fighting the good fight, as a woman from the old world, no less. They both shared tea and tales until Amalda knew that her father would die of worry if she didn’t return.
So Amalda returned home, but couldn’t sleep a wink. She would give it one week, to see if her thirst for adventure would pass. But the week came and went, and she was as thirsty as ever. So she informed those who she assisted, and worked toward replacing her aid. She informed her father of her decision, and after hours of debate, he finally submitted to her will. Everything seemed to be in place.
One night, Amalda walked out to one of the many forest springs for a night swim. It was then that she hit the first pothole in her otherwise well laid path. How was the guard going to accept this scrawny figure into their ranks? And can this waif even wield a sword? It was clearly time for some training.
“197….198…Hrrrrgggg-199! …..” Drop. Amalda hit the dirt with a sweaty thud. Her father ran over, lifting her face and fanning it.
“Aw, Treetop, wake up. I’m sorry. Three minutes was too much. Too much for that many push-ups.”
“…Hmmmm-Dad? No. Its fine, I just need some water. Some water and some stretches, right?”
It had gone on like this for nearly two years. Marradin had told her that she was ready for the last two seasons, but Amalda pushed further. She couldn’t stand the possibility of rejection before the guard.
Eventually Amalda did perform those push-ups, and then some. She could spar with the best of them and win. She would set out on a hike and be gone for days, but always returned without anything but some briar scratches and a smile.
The day came for Amalda to head off to assessment for the guard. Her father kissed her goodbye, and she gave a sweet goodbye to Dara, as she stood in line with the caravan of potential soldiers headed through the villages and eventually to the main training camp.
Amalda passed with honors. Her frame was lean, but her skill and perseverance led her straight to the elite guard. The headhunters, the goblin-slayers, the elite. This did not sit well with her company. She was young, she was a she, and she was NOOB. The worst thing you could possibly be.
First of all, women were mages or healers. Maybe a druid, if you were that sort of gifted social outcast, unfit for societal norms. Secondly, these men were easily twice her age. They’d survived through hundreds who hadn’t.
Granted, she wasn’t the only female soldier there, but after the scars and potions and decades of battle, who could tell the difference?
Training was tough. Alienated and bullied, Amalda kept her spirits high by thinking of the legacy of her father, and thinking of Dara’s stories of the old world. She would sleep with her sword, no longer made of wood, clutched tightly in her hands, and find it there in the morning. Father was no longer around to guide it to her bed side, but it felt right.
Four months in, it was the day of the company’s first outland training exercise. Everyone woke before the sun and headed to the regiment assignment. The task was such: Two “camps” would have to pass three lines of communication, through a middle point. The terrain was treacherous between each point, and it was up to each team to assign watch points, running parties, scouting parties, etc. A larger and more experienced third team would serve as the enemy. They would set live, though wooden, traps and ambush parties based on the collective knowledge of the enemy’s behavior.
Theren Volieness. That would be a name that Amalda would never forget. The one that took point on her running party. The one that would spot those “Gnolls” in the distance.
“Go on Amalda. Ready your bow. We have you supported.”
Reluctantly she would go on, inching forward, trying to spot the enemy, or at least a few arrows from behind that would reveal the location. But instead, the ground just tumbled back and forth. She braced herself and turned back.
“What’s the matter Amalda? Can’t you see it?”
They laughed as their legs rocked the old growth that had fallen across the ravine to serve as a bridge. But as Amalda tried to balance and charge back, the once tough earth now brittle clay, under the trunk crumbled rapidly. She could barely see the wide surprise and fear on the faces of her fellow guards as she plummeted to the dry ground below. She felt a force of earth knock the wind from her lungs and then it all went dark.
“See? See? See see?! SEEEE?!”
“By Kord’s thunder”, she thought,” What am I supposed to See?!”
Then it occurred to her, she could think. And if she could think, maybe she could see.
“See? Skee? Skwee! Skweee! Skwee skee!”
“I can see!” she proclaimed. “I can see all the- RATS!”
She tried to move, to shake them off, but could barely twist her body and shake one or two that were gnawing at her open cuts.
“Skweeee! Skweee skwee!” they all squeeked.
“Oh gods” she thought, and shut her eyes at the horror. Amalda reached out for some anchor to turn herself more.
“NO! I don’t want to see!” she cried out upon what she knew was her living death. But suddenly, she felt a burden lifted. The tiny claws seemed to scatter off of her person. She felt only one or two, deeply burrowed into her wounds. Suddenly, a force hit her body, and the stinging was gone from her side. Then the other pain left a split second after. The scurrying of tiny claws followed it out.
Amalda fought to pry her eyes open. The light hurt so good. At first the primal silhouette disturbed her, a winged beast of carrion feeding. But then things became clearer. This was no beast; it was a bird of prey, attracted by the canyon rats feeding. Amalda reached her hand forward, and the bird flapped its wings back, defensively, ready to fly off.
“Please, my friend. Show mercy-Cough-please.”
The bird slowed its flapping and settled.
“Water, dear bird. If you know of water, please send me a sign, or feast deep on my innards now. Because I’m a carcass without them, so your cousin buzzard would only reap the benefit. I beg of you?”
The Autumn colored bird dropped the remainder of the rat and propelled itself backward, wings flapping. Then it stopped, 12 feet down the trail.
“Fine. Don’t tease me. Just leave me here for the scavengers.”
“Don’t you –Kaff- mock my death. This is the worst kind of-“
“SKRAW!” The bird hopped back a few more feet and leaned its head toward a stone. And then again. There were several deeply set stones that jutted up from the packed soil of this canyon. But now Amalda realized it.
She reached for the first stone she could. She pulled with all of her might. It did seem hopeless.
“SKRAW!” The bird flitted about, staring with those dark outlined eyes.
Amalda looked on, grabbing at another stone and pulling, this time with both hands. The bird maintained a distance from her, but never left. Skrawing and flitting about, and pointing with its head at the next several feet of anchor.
Amalda didn’t realize that over an hour had passed. She just kept begging and cursing and begging again with that beautiful bird, until finally the sound of liquid trickling around stone appeared on her ears. She worked harder and faster. Suddenly she found her legs kicking. Harder and harder, she thrust forward, the bird egging her on the whole way. Now she didn’t even realize it, but she was crawling across the dusty crevice, to finally see an opening. The majestic bird let wings flap for a few feet, to rise up to an exposed root in the Cliffside, and before Amalda stood a crystal clear stream.
Amalda stumbled forward and drank from the stream like a dwarf from a cask.
“Blessed be to you, Golden Arrow!” She cried out. She thought for a moment from her teachings. “Melora’s blessing to you, as she has made you a blessing to me, Golden Arrow.” She cried at the stream. She’d received a second chance at life, but still sleep followed shortly after.
The sun rose, piercing the eyelids of the weak elf.
“Yes.” She said, “I’m awake.”
She tried to lift herself, only to discover she had a variety of herbs and sea plants laid across her wounds, packed with dirt from the shore. This bird had been busy indeed.
Amalda knew that these wouldn’t keep the way they were, though they likely fought off a great deal of infection. However, her tattered guard’s garb could serve as bandages. Who would see her out here in the wilderness anyways? So, throwing modesty to the wind, she set off to find food and shelter, the falcon never far from her sight.
Nearly a fortnight passed, as Amalda and her friend ,Aira-Pilin’as she came to be addressed, hunted together, rested together and seemed to have some non verbal way of communication. Amalda’s wounds healed over this time, and as the air grew more chill and the days slightly shorter, it became apparent that Aira had her instinctual urge to head toward warmer climates. Neither of the two wanted to stray too far from each other, so Amalda made a decision.
“Okay, I think I’m ready to move, Aira.” She said to the bird. “But first I have to tie up some loose ends.” Amalda cracked a smile.
The Guard camp was hustling and bustling as usual, but everyone dropped what they were doing in amazement when Amalda walked down the path through the camp, with the majestic falcon on her outstretched arm. Amalda went straight to the officer’s hall and gave a simple no-nonsense resignation that might have been contested, if anyone were more clearly headed in the presence of what they assumed was a dead woman. She only bothered to pack her things and order them sent to her childhood home, with a message to her father. She grabbed some simple clothes and a large camouflage cloak and on the way out of the camp, stared Theren Volieness down.
“I’ll see you again, in the wilds, I’m sure.” She said through gritted teeth.
Amalda and Aira had made their trek through the Highlands of the human domain once already. They stuck to the hills and forests mostly, only venturing into town for the very few supplies that couldn’t be found and crafted out of their wild surroundings.
Things continued on as normal. Amalda honed her skill in the wild and with her sword. On one run in with a goblin scouting party, she even found in one of the creature’s possession a rather well made short sword (likely stolen as it was far too good to be of goblinoid craft) and began using it as an off-hand weapon to balance her movements and exercise her strength. Aira and Amalda’s relationship blossomed as well. The spiritual bond between the two was thick as one between kin, by now.
On their second year of migration together, they took a new route, to avoid some possible new dangers that they’d detected. It was a lucky and unusual turn of events, as they would discover that while they were tracking and avoiding the uncivilized races, they were also being tracked.
While resting by a stream, a figure emerged from the thick brush a few yards away. Amalda reached for her long sword, but faster than the eye could catch, a forked dagger of some kind flew out and pinned the hilt to the tree trunk it was leaning on. Aira took to the sky to circle for an attack, but the man let out an unusual whistle of arranged notes. The bird seemed to calm and remain circling. Amalda was confused.
“Fret not, young elf. My name is Damaenus, and I mean you no harm.”
Damaenus explained that he too lived amongst the wild. He was what the bards speak of as a ranger, though he responded to no title of his own. He too made an exodus from the “civilized” parts of the world, and was trained in the ways of the hunter and the druids of lore. Amalda was instantly won over by the man, as was Aira. He offered them food and safety in his secluded thicket. A grand natural home of his own labors, perfectly in balance with Melora’s gifts that flourished around them.
Damaenus enjoyed the company of the shamelessly truthful, though polite and disciplined elf-woman. Amalda and Aira stayed with him, wondering when the request to take their leave would come, but it never did. Through the winter Damaenus trained Amalda in body and soul, force and patience, steel and skill. Amalda helped him with the many day to day chores of living, doubling his productivity and allowing the two of them to tackle several long-neglected tasks. All the while, protecting the beauty of their holy mother’s domain from the pollution of evil.
When the season beckoned the elf and bird back north, the three were sad to part ways. But Amalda had learned much more than she could have anticipated on this migration. They both knew they would meet again soon.
And So On:
The years marched on as they so often do. Every change of season meant the travel back and forth. Every winter meant the friends were united, to laugh and learn from each other. And every summer was a new chance to play out what she had learned to defend her homeland against their common enemy.
This was her seventh journey south, her seventh year with Aira, and she looked forward to what would soon be her sixth visit to Damaenus’ home.
The reception was warm as usual. The old ranger had tracked some wild fowl that morning, to serve for dinner, with cured fish and boiled root vegetables. The two shared wine and talked about what had transpired over the warm season, long into the night.
“Amalda my friend, my words can not describe how proud I am to have seen you grow, over these past years, into the woman I see before me. It breathes youth into this old heart of mine.” Damaenus confessed.
Amalda tried to spit out a thank you or something of the sort, but she couldn’t manage her tongue around the compliment that she had been bestowed, so she just blushed.
Damaenus gave a deep chuckle, “I’m going to have a gift for you my dear, one a long time coming. But for now, let us get some rest.”
Amalda lightly crept back into the nook where her hammock hung and blissfully faded into a relaxing slumber. When she awoke the next morning, Aira was perched waiting outside the door to Damaenus’ home, but the man was nowhere to be seen. After a thorough search, Amalda shrugged and decided to go fishing for the succulent trout that were abundant this time of year. She grabbed her bow and quiver, but couldn’t locate her long sword. She assumed Damaenus had used it for some reason and simply grabbed her shorts word instead.
She returned, hours later, with dinner but Damaenus was still gone. Amalda made use of herself and put her worries aside by going about some of the tasks she was familiar with, maintaining and fortifying the old home. The hours passed by while Amalda kept reassuring herself that everything was fine. Aira seemed to nod at every statement, agreeing that there was nothing to get worked up about.
The light of the sun was barely visible over the western tree line, when Damaenus emerged from the woods.
“Where have you been all day? You had me ill with worry!” Amalda cried.
Damaenus stared down into the stern expression and down-pointed, amber eyebrows, and then laughed. “Come my dear, I have something to show you.”
He revealed a slender length of wool and unrolled it. It was Amalda’s sword, but it looked somehow refined. It was clearly cleaner and sharper, but there was something more. It seemed to have a glow to it, not one that was seen, so much as felt.
“What is it?” Amalda asked, sensing that there was something amazing in front of her eyes.
“Your sword, my dear friend. A gift a long time in the waiting, as I said before.”
Amalda held the sword out and waved it left, then swept back to the right with a low spin. “It’s magnificent.” She cooed.
“Merely a small token of my appreciation, for having someone like you in this world.” Damaenus smiled. “But we have even more important matters to attend to!” He said in a gruff tone.
Amalda gave a daft look of confusion.
“I’m starving, dear, and you smell of fish. Let’s eat.”
The thaw was over in the north, and the first blossoms let their honey-like aroma fill the crisp air in the southern hills. It was that time again that elf and bird would make the journey to their wooded home.
The daylight stayed with the two just a bit longer as the weeks stretched on in their trip. But for the past couple of days, the two defenders of Melora’s grace were on the hunt. Orc and goblin activity had become apparent in the woods and dales of the area. This was particularly concerning, considering how close this area was to many human towns and villages.
On the third evening of the hunt, with only a handful of beasts having known the sting of claw and steel, Amalda was closing in tight on a group of scouts, likely four in total. She heard noises and then saw a bright flash of light through the thick branches and brush. She ran forward, silently. It was less than a mile ahead and could spell serious danger if those goblin fools had got their hands on some form of magic.
Through the brush she saw him, a human. Dressed in metal links, with robes bearing the sun and symbols of faith.
Whoosh! The light flashed again. It was he who created it. He was clearly trying to fend of the creatures. Three goblins and their leader, a taller hobgoblin with a kerchief tied to cover one eye.
Ssssssssssssssssswhip! Amalda’s first arrow pierced through the neck of the goblin nearest the human. It dropped like a sack of oats. Amalda burst forward with swords temporarily concealed in her cloak.
The man looked on with surprise, then a smile. He knew that he had an ally and his life may be spared this day. He raised his trinket and let forth a beam of light on the leader, as words of prayer left his own lips.
A moment later the monstrous scouts had been dispatched. The man was grateful but horrified at once.
“Forgive me Madame, but have you no respect for life at all?” He asked.
“You have much to learn, holy man. There is a balance in this world that these creatures overrun with chaos. Perhaps your parish has not touched upon this yet?” Amalda replied.
The man smirked and then extended a hand to her. “Brother Bernard, m’lady.”
Amalda winced at the formality then shrugged. “Amalda Ahindurin. This is Aira-Pilin’, and this…” she looked at the bloody length of magical steel in her grasp. “…This is ‘Orqutyel’.”
The two shook hands, and then set about making a fire to be rid of the bodies.
To Be Continued….