(On the Svartalfar)
The Svartalfar (or dark elves) are a reclusive and private people and truth be told, the rest of the population of the earthlands is quietly thankful for that. Svartalfar, while not one of the truly evil races, are dark and brooding. They seldom smile and never (Odin forbid) laugh. They are a swarthy race, the darkest among the having such a black complexion as to appear blue in some lights. Their hair however is white as snow and some, especially the older among them, have hair the color of spun silver. They are in truth an attractive race in physical attributes, if not in temperament. They tend to be very condemnatory toward travelers or parties of travelers trespassing on their lands, sometimes putting such offenders to death. More often, however, the payment for such transgressions would include various tortures, indentured service (their term for slavery) or simply lifelong imprisonment. It was not uncommon for such violators to be tarred and feathered, flogged or tied to a pole and dunked in a pool (with an occasional inadvertent drowning). Such instances were offhandedly considered the will of the norns and paid no further mind.
As to their speech, it was commonly agreed among the other races that it was a guttural sounding language. When speaking the common tongue, their accent was so strong as to be nearly unintelligible. For instance; the sentence, ‘We have come to discuss very grave matters’, would sound like: ‘Vee hoff gum do dizcoos wary krave motters.’ This, it is believed, is from their reluctance to share any congress at all with the other races.
Common also among the Svartalfar was the practice of raiding nomad caravans and taking prisoners which were thrown into slavery for the rest of their lives, however long (or short) that may be. In this way every Svartalfar child could be properly raised and educated in the ways of warfare instead of having to perform menial tasks themselves. That being said, it should be understood that the nomads of Norgeve were a heartless and cruel race in their own rite. They were nomadic because no region would long tolerate them.
The Svartalfar, like all elfin races were long-lived but infertility among their numbers was rife, subsequently their population was relatively small. That is why they raised virtually all their number to be warriors. “’Tis we against the world,” was their motto. Every birth was occasion for high celebration, which took the form of a long hunt, war games or stoic supplication to their dark deities culminating in blooding rites. No mirth or merry-making, naturally.
Today was such an occasion,
Sverdegaard’s woman, Felja had successfully bourn him a healthy male-child after a hard twenty month gestation period (normal for elves) and Sverdegaard had chosen a hunt in way of celebration.
On this day he and his invited guests, after tracking a large hart, found themselves high above a grotto through which threaded Orming Pass. Ormwood, a vast and ancient forest, was the domain of the dark elves and Orming Pass, the only road through it, was little more than a cart track. If the hart had passed over the road (which it apparently had) they would have to descend the rocky grotto wall and scale the other side. As the party halted and formed up trying to discern the best way to make the crossing Ballur, a hot-headed young warrior raised his hand and called the party to silence. “Hush, listen!”
“Drums,” said Sverdegaard. “Marching drums by the rhythm.”
The warrior elves took up covert places amidst the underbrush and waited. Soon the cause of the incessant throbbing beat showed itself to be a long wending line of soldiers marching up the road to the grotto.
Sverdegaard squinted, searching for a standard bearer but could see none.
“Your young eyes are sharper than mine,” he said turning to Ballur. “Can you make out a standard?”
“They carry none,” was the reply. “If they travel without identification, they are trespassing. We have been out for three days so we can‘t be certain, but it’s obvious to me that this bunch has not applied for permission to pass.”
“Aye,” said Sverdegaard, “I’d wager you’re right.” He returned his attention to the approaching line. Suddenly the wind shifted and it was Bazeel, the eldest of their party that that spoke first. “Ugh! Gaw,what’s that stench?”
They all exchanged wary glances. Finally Sverdegaard exclaimed, “Trulls, damn”!
Soon they became aware of three trull scouts bungling their way through the forest. “Sheesh!” said Bazeel. “This is their scouting party? They make more noise than rutting hogs.”
“Let’s take them out,” said Ballur and turned to leave.
Sverdegaard grabbed his forearm. “Wait. Make no move just yet. If they don’t check back in, the trulls will likely be alerted to our presence.”
Soon the army was marching steadily through the pass beneath the Svartalfar hunting party. Ballur nocked an arrow and drew back his bow.
“Hist! None of that,” Sverdegaard warned, grabbing the arrow. “There must be thousands of them. Even if we were in the company of our whole army, they would outnumber us ten to one, maybe more.’
“We cannot tolerate this”, whispered Ballur through gritted teeth.
“Unless you are prepared to waste all our lives, I’d say we need to address this with calmer heads.” To Bazeel he said “Stay here and try to get a rudimentary head count. I’ll take the rest of the party back. King Ganzul must be apprised of this immediately.”
Bazeel nodded, “Go.”
Elves are natural marathon runners. They are possessed of a seemingly magical ability to run at high speed for days if necessary. The hunting party of Sverdegaard would put that ability to a true test this day. Over the course of three days they had ventured almost one hundred miles from the secret cave entrance to their subterranean kingdom of Craggsdeep. Sverdegaard and his companions made the sprint back in under eight hours and were completely spent upon their arrival. So much so that Kalimeer, the next eldest of their party suffered a stroke hours later and was paralyzed on his left side the rest of his days.
The party sat, backs against the cave wall panting and gasping for air as they were brought water by the sentries. Sverdegaard nodded his thanks and drained his small cup. “Announce me to the king immediately. Dire tidings, indeed.” The sentry saluted and sprinted down the corridor. Moments later Sverdegaard was kneeling before the king.
“What is this urgent news, loyal Sverdegaard?” asked Ganzul. The king was a commanding figure well over six feet tall with an athlete’s physique and snow white hair to his waist. He descended the dais and helped Sverdegaard to his feet saying, “come, sit,” indicating a padded wicker bench.
Sverdegaard swallowed and began, “Trulls my lord. Thousands of them at least. Marching right up Orming Pass as bold as kings themselves.
I’m sure they’ve not paid the tithe?” He referred to the toll that anyone passing through Ormwood was expected to pay.
Ganzul Shook his head, “That they certainly have not, and even if they‘d applied, I would have refused them passage. It has been centuries since Ormwood has seen trulls in such numbers.” Here he looked wistful. “Our own numbers and strength were much greater in those days and you can still find their bones in the loam.” He strode to an antechamber and summoned his cleric. “Marzh, call up the high council and have them assembled here within the hour.” The cleric bowed and left.
With all the council assembled and told of the latest development, the din was deafening. The members gesticulated, pontificated, related and debated, all loudly. Finally at the head of the long table Ganzul wrapped the pommel of his jewel encrusted dagger on the table and called for silence.
“Obviously this latest infraction against our people cannot go unaddressed.” Murmurs of agreement circulated around the table with much nodding of heads. “Good, we are all in agreement. Will wonders never cease! Are there any suggestions?” Again the murmurs and gesticulations circulated. Ganzul waited with uncharacteristic patience until Marzh tapped his staff on the floor saying, “Obviously war is not an option at this juncture given their numbers. Bazeel reported in only a few minutes ago to report that at least five thousand soldiers comprise the trull force”
Shocked stares and low whistles made their ways around the table. “I say we fight anyway,” said a tall, heavily scarred warrior named Grendaveer. “If we perish, so be it.”
“I might have expected as much from such as you, Grendaveer,” shot another named Terridor. “No one would ever doubt your courage. Your valor in battle is legendary, but you are childless. You have no Idea of the loss risked by those of us with children, or even grandchildren. No, I say that in view of the size of this army, we exercise caution for once. I do not speak from cowardice. My own record speaks for itself. But we risk much to go to war over principles this time. I admit something must be done. The question before us is; what?”
The eldest of the council was a wizened and hunched cleric/warrior named Wendlyn. She arose leaning heavily on her staff and spoke up before the exchange could take an antagonistic turn.
“King Ganzul, Honored council members, I think it is safe to say we are all in agreement that something absolutely must be done about this affront. We are faced with radical circumstances that require radical ways and means. Now, before you all jump across the table at me for what I am about to suggest, know that I have consulted the bones and my crystal and I have discussed it with Marzh, who is in concurrence,” At this Marzh nodded. “And frankly, our options are simply few.”
All present went silent and listened. Wendlyn’s opinion carried great weight for she was their oldest sage and her predictions were legendary for their rate of fruition. Finally she drew a deep breath and continued. “We have long been a solitary people, avoiding the other races of the Earthlands in the arrogant assumption that we don’t need them. Our wars with such as the Light Elves have made us jaded and cynical. Our victories have made us conceited. This policy has served us well enough, but there is something stirring in the world of late that we would be remiss to ignore. Things are changing, my friends, with or without us. We will not long endure or survive as a people if we don’t learn to adjust. If that means changing our policies, than change we must. The alternative at this point is bleak.” She looked up to realize that she had the entire council’s rapt attention from the king down.
“What I suggest is that we send emissaries to the other races to review and address these latest turns of events. Surely a mobilization of trulls in these numbers concerns us all. We simply must evolve or perish. Yes, we can hide in our caves for some time, but not indefinitely. The inevitable will catch up with us and then we will face this threat alone. Then we will perish as cowards, hiding in a hole, but that has never been our way I am proud to say. This will be a bitter pill for many of us to swallow, but it is high time we bite our tongues, doff out hats and hold out our hands. I see no other way. That is all I have to say.”
The room was silent. Grendaveer’s mouth worked on something to say, but nothing came out. A few eyes were downcast at the galling realization that the truth had been thrown out onto the table for all to review and was unimpeachable. Finally it was Ganzul who spoke. “Well, my dear, I’d say you’re bolt has found the mark. I would like to state for the record, that I am in complete agreement with Dame Wendlyn. I say we do exactly as she suggests and I am calling for volunteers as diplomatic envoys. Trust me, if I don’t get enough volunteers, I will have no compunction in drafting the numbers I need. See Marzh about volunteering.
I will be in my chambers drawing up the proper letters.” At this he rose and the rest followed suit and bowed. As he approached the doorway to his private chambers he turned and said, “Dame Wendlyn, Join me.”
Once inside his private quarters, Ganzul dismissed his chamber maids and closed and locked the door. “Wendlyn, I’m more than concerned. I know you are up in your years but in light of the situation, I must insist that it is you who go as envoy to the Light Eves. They will be our staunchest dissenters in this and I need your diplomacy and eloquence. Can you only imagine Grendaveer in the role?”
“No I cannot. In fact, even if he volunteers, which I daresay he won’t, Ganzul, do not send him. Keep him here and close. His worth is as military advisor. As envoy he would surely invite war.” She thought for a moment and then said. “Though there is one place and one place alone where you might send him, if you choose.” The king waited. “Fjellhiem,” came her response.
“To the Sverdmester? I’m not sure if there is even still an army at Fjellhiem.” Ganzul thought for a moment. “You’re right though, Grendaveer’s brand of logic would fit right in there. Plus, Flynn is a cool headed old knight. Alright, that’s where he goes.”
What passed for a smile graced Ganzul’s lips but did not find its way to his eyes. “Good, then we are in agreement on all points.” Wendlyn nodded. Ganzul continued, “I will have my finest sedan chair prepared for you. I want you arriving at King Tallen’s court well rested.”
Wendlyn nodded. “Thank you for that. I’m sure it will be a boon, but I intend to walk as much as possible. I’ll be thankful for the exercise. The fact is, I was going to request the honor of going. I’d like to bring my acolyte, Drizzit.”
Ganzul nodded, opening the door, “Bring whom you see fit but be prepared to leave by dawn on the morrow. Time is of the essence. Before you go, tell me; who do you suggest I send to the Dwarves? They are certain to be as immovable as the Light Elves.”
“Why surely you know there is only one among us equal to that task, my king.” Ganzul frowned his question with a tilt of his head. “Why ‘tis you, your Highness,” she said and left.
Ganzul closed and locked the door behind her. Leaning his back heavily against the smooth, polished oak he said aloud, “Shyte, she’s right.”