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Sword of Kings: Tempered By Fate

 by Bill W
Copyright 2015 by billwstories
Chapter 6 -
Frustrations, Delays and Discoveries

Although the dwarfs were still many leagues from the battlefield, Commander Elgin had some important decisions to make and he needed to make them quickly.  The sun would be up soon, which meant his troops would be exposed and vulnerable to attack from any of the Dark Lord’s confederates that happened to be nearby, including the condor.  In addition to this, there were several other issues the commander needed to take care of before they'd be able to join up with the rest of the Tarolian army.  Acknowledging these factors, the experienced military leader called a quick meeting of his officers to discuss the situation.

As you know,” Commander Elgin began, “we're already behind schedule and need to make up for lost time, but there are some other considerations we must address as well.  First of all, it is imperative that we cross the River Sterling as soon as possible, if we intend to reach the battlefield on schedule and carry out our assignment.  At the same time, we have just endured a grueling couple of days, so I realize our troops could use some additional rest as well.  Regrettably, we can't do both at the same time, so we'll have to establish our priorities and then plan accordingly.  Do any of you have a suggestion concerning this situation?" 

I hate to be the one to point this out, but I'm afraid we're going to find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get to the battlefield now,” Elgins second-in-command stated.  “Seeing the bridges were all destroyed to prevent Madumda's troops from following those fleeing Tunstan, it means we'll need to find another way to cross the river.  Since we don't have any boats or ferries to use and the heavy rains have made the river too deep and swift to ford, I'm not sure what else we can do.  Do you have an idea as to how we're going to get to the other side?" 

Commander Elgin looked at his subordinate and flashed him a wry smile before speaking. 

I have analyzed the situation thoroughly and studied the maps to find a solution.  I have discovered only one possibility.  We'll have to go around the river.” 

There was a moment of stunned silence after the commander said this and the other officers' faces showed their confusion.  They were considering whether their superior was being serious or merely making a joke to relieve the tension.  After a slight delay, one of the junior officers decided to find out which of these possibilities was correct. 

Excuse me, sir, but how do you go around a river?” the young officer asked, quite innocently.

In this case, it won’t be as difficult as you might imagine,” Elgin replied, totally amazing those under him.  “If you didn't already know this, the River Sterling originates not far from here, at a spot where the Citadel Mountains and the Devil’s Horseshoe come together.  Since we are very close to that location, all we will have to do is make a slight detour to reach the river’s source.  As soon as we get there, we should be able to ford the river where it is narrow, shallow and flowing gently.  Although we will be more exposed as we travel along this route, I see no other option.  We’ll just have to remain vigilant, and if our adversary should happen to pass overhead during this time, we'll have to hope it doesn’t notice the slight difference in the terrain or the plant life we've used in our disguise. 

As soon as we are on the other side and have arrived at a spot close to where Tunstan once stood,” the commander continued, “we should be able to stop and get some much-needed rest.  We will still have a considerable distance to go before we are able to reach the rendezvous location, but the journey will be much easier to make once we're refreshed.  We will be of little use to Beraut and the others if we don't take time to recuperate first and then discover we're too exhausted to participate in the fighting when we finally reach the battlefield.  Even though it will delay our arrival even more, I believe Beraut would prefer we show up a little later than planned and ready to fight, rather than fatigued and ineffective.  I just pray our tardiness will not change the outcome of the conflict.”

Before long the small army was back in formation and marching northward, as they moved along the western bank of the river.  Commander Elgin paused before leaving the area, so he could take the opportunity to gaze across the water and examine the smoldering remains of Tunstan one final time.  He wanted to burn the image into his brain, as he silently vowed to wreak as much destruction and havoc on Madumda’s assassins as they had done here.  Having made this silent pledge, he returned his attention to the task ahead. 

As the dwarfs made their way toward the junction where the two mountain chains merged and the river began, they traveled as briskly as the muddy ground would allow.  With each passing step, their current surroundings started to evoke memories of the dwarf homeland and made their spirits soar.  However, as the mountain peaks began to surround them, it also heightened their concerns about the dangers that might be waiting for them along the way.  These conflicting feelings elicited a wide-range of emotions within their ranks, which ran the gambit from foreboding and apprehension to euphoria and anticipation. 

Commander Elgin was keenly aware of the conflicting feelings building within his troops, since he was acutely attuned to the psychological needs of those under him.  Due to his sensitivity to these issues, as well as recognizing this foray was not part of their original itinerary, he decided to address the troops briefly to ease their concerns.  After halting their progress, the dwarf commander had them form up around him. 

The mountains have the potential to be an extremely dangerous place for us,” he began, “since the area is under the influence of the Dark Lord and his minions.  Not only does this location harbor many natural hazards that you are already familiar with, but the terrain might also conceal Madumda’s confederates that are waiting to ambush those loyal to the kingdom.  I imagine there are numerous places where a small force could easily hold off or possibly even destroy a much larger and stronger opponent, so it is imperative we consider these facts before we proceed.  For that reason, I've decided to send scouting parties out first, so they can thoroughly investigate the area ahead.  Hopefully, this will be sufficient to prevent us from falling prey to another of the Dark Lord’s traps.”

Once this announcement was made, several small scouting parties were formed and dispatched.  Shortly after they were sent off, the rest of the army reassembled and cautiously began to make its way toward the spot where the river was born.  As they moved forward, the dwarfs in the rear of the formation soon discovered the muddy soil was made worse by those traveling in front of them and their footing became increasingly uncertain.  It not only slowed their progress, but it also forced the entire contingent to cut their cadence in half to accommodate those in the back of the formation as they dealt with the challenging conditions.  Due to the slower pace, they hadn’t gone very far when the first scout returned and made his report. 

Sir, we’ve spotted a group of enemy soldiers in the area, but so far we've been unable to determine what they are up to,” he stated.  “The others are keeping an eye on them, while I came back to report to you.”

A very wise move, trooper,” commented Elgin.  “How many are there?”

We have seen a dozen or more over time, but they haven’t all been together.  There may be others out there as well, but those were all we spotted.”

Very good,” Commander Elgin told him, before turning toward his second-in-command so he could speak to him next.  “Please dispatch a squadron of thirty soldiers to handle this situation.  The scout will lead them to where Madumda’s warriors are, but I want you to assign a seasoned officer to lead them, one who can make difficult decisions quickly.  He will have to decide whether it would be best to eliminate these troopers or determine if we can get past them without jeopardizing our mission. 

Once they have decided how to proceed,” Elgin continued, “I want them to send a messenger back to advise me about the course of action they have chosen to follow.  If they decide it would be best to remove the threat, then I would like for them to attempt to capture at least one prisoner, so he can be brought back and interrogated.  I believe it would be wise to discover if the captive has knowledge of any secret orders or possesses any information that may benefit our cause.” 

As soon as the squadron was dispatched, rumors immediately began to spread throughout the ranks.  Some of the soldiers at the front of the formation had heard tidbits of the information the scout had reported and tried to pass it along, but those facts soon became distorted and exaggerated.  Before long, several stories were circulating, but most had very little basis in truth. 

One account claimed the scouts had killed an entire squadron of enemy soldiers, while another report boasted the scouts had captured an enemy patrol.  Another version of the story claimed a messenger carrying secret documents had been captured or killed.  The biggest misconception of all, however, was a rumor that the scouts had killed the giant condor, after sneaking up on it while it was dining. 

This inaccurate gossip wasn’t entirely bad though, because its innocuous result was to lift morale and reinvigorate the troops.  Silently, each warrior now wished to be the next one to make a significant discovery or to do something spectacular to help the cause. 

Once the small army got underway again, they marched for some time before another messenger returned.  This warrior quickly reported that four of the scouts would be returning with a captive shortly.  He also advised the commander that the rest of the detachment would arrive shortly after that to deliver three more enemy warriors, but the remainder of the enemy troops had been killed.  In addition to the warriors, an elf that had also been captured and would be returning with the latter group.  This last tidbit of information greatly confused the commander, since he had never heard of any of the other races aligning themselves with the Dark Lord.  Befuddled by this news, the commander began to think of a series of questions he wished to ask the elf when he arrived, in order to determine the possible ramifications of this discovery.

When the first captive was brought before him, Commander Elgin questioned him thoroughly, especially about the elf, but the dwarf wasn’t able to learn very much from the prisoner.  He discovered this soldier had recently heard stories about an elf being with another group, but all he knew was that the elf had not originally been a part of their patrols. 

This news reinforced the commander’s belief that the elf was not working with the Dark Lord and had merely been discovered by Madumda’s henchman.  Possibly the elf had been a messenger they had intercepted and were currently holding so they could either interrogate him themselves or turn him over to their master to be questioned.  Either way, Elgin thought it might be important to learn how the elf came to be with them in the first place. 

Since the man had nothing of importance to share concerning the elf, Elgin turned his attention to questioning him about his current assignment and whatever tactical information he was aware of.  The trooper pointed out that he and the others were merely mercenaries that were paid by the Dark Lord to perform certain duties, such as scouting the mountains for intruders.  Therefore, he had little information about the army and wasn’t aware of the details about Madumda’s battle plans.  After questioning him further, Elgin reluctantly acknowledged this was probably true and ended the interrogation.  Now, he waited to see if the other captives might be more enlightening.

In due time, the remainder of the detachment returned with three more mercenaries in tow, plus a smaller figure that was bundled in blankets.  Commander Elgin immediately ordered his second in command to take charge of the three profiteers and instructed his subordinate to begin interrogating them immediately.  While that was taking place, Elgin planned on talking to the elf to see what he could learn from him.  As soon as the enemy scouts had been whisked away for questioning, the commander strolled over and stood in front of the still hidden curiosity.

I am Commander Elgin and I wish to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind.  First of all, I’d like to know what are you doing with the Dark Lord’s patrol?” 

There was no immediate response to his questions, but the commander was able to distinguish some muffled sounds coming from under the many layers of blankets.  Elgin wondered if the elf was responding to his query or if he was merely making some faint grunting noises.  The commander also wondered if the elf truly understood his current situation and realized he had been rescued. 

It's possible the elf thinks we’re a group of gnomes working for Madumda, rather than dwarfs,’ Commander Elgin reasoned.  ‘Maybe that’s why he’s not responding.’ 

Purposefully, the commander moved closer to the bundled form and carefully began to peel the blankets away from his head, so he could speak with the elf face to face.  As the numerous bits of cloth began to fall away, Elgin was shocked to discover this member of the faerie folk didn’t appear to be very old.  Then again, the commander realized that all elves seemed to look much younger than they actually were, at least to most of the other races.  Even so, this elf appeared to be quite young, even though the dwarf had no idea if this fact was significant. 

As Commander Elgin thought about this situation some more, he reasoned the elf's age might have been a deciding factor in why he had been chosen to serve as a messenger or asked to carry out whatever task he'd been assigned.  His superiors may have felt it was safer for him to do one of those jobs, rather than being held back to fight in the upcoming battle.  Now, the commander began to wonder if this elf had been dispatched to deliver a message to him.  Could Beraut have given the elf new orders for the dwarf troops or possibly be informing them about some other change?  Elgin was curious and eager to learn what, if any, information the elf might have been carrying. 

However, before Commander Elgin could ask the elf any further questions, he was distracted by the sounds coming out from under the lad's blankets.  While the commander was attempting to figure out what was going on with the bundled figure, Elgin realized the elf was weeping!  At the same time, the lad was also muttering something, but the commander couldn't make out what he was saying.  Since Elgin thought it might be important, he leaned closer to the elf and attempted to comprehend what was being uttered.  

I b-b-betrayed them,” the elf mumbled, in halting whispers.  “They’re probably all d-d-dead now because of me.  I shouldn’t have t-t-told the soldiers what I knew.”

Whom did you betray?" Elgin asked, perplexed, but when he didn't receive a response, he decided to change his tactics.  "I'm sure you did your best to hold out and didn't mean to cause the others any harm, but what was it that you revealed?”  

Commander Elgin was doing his best to comfort the elf, while at the same time attempting to solve this conundrum.  The dwarf felt it was imperative that he uncover the answer to this riddle, because it might be the key to understanding if there might be any far-reaching repercussions from the elf's involvement.  Elgin was also considering how it might affect his current mission. 

Did you betray your army?” Elgin pressed.  “Or did you have something to do with what happened at Tunstan?  Is that what you’re talking about?” 

Although the dwarf continued to ask him questions, the elf didn't respond directly and ignored Elgin's requests for information.  Instead, the inconsolable lad merely rocked back and forth, as he continued to mumble to himself.  His ramblings, however, indicated that he either hadn’t heard or didn't understand any of Commander Elgin’s questions. 

I w-wasn’t strong enough,” the elf added, while sobbing even harder, “so I t-t-told them about what they were d-d-doing.  I’ve betrayed all of them.  I’ve p-probably murdered my best friends.  I should have let the soldiers k-k-kill me instead, b-but I didn’t.  I c-couldn’t take it anymore, so I told them what the others were up to.”

What are you talking about?  Exactly WHOM did you tell the soldiers about and what were they up to?” the commander blurted out, somewhat annoyed by the elf’s unresponsiveness.  Elgin was frantically trying to piece this puzzle together, but it wasn’t easy, especially since the elf wasn’t answering any of his questions. 

Whom did you betray and what did you reveal about them?” the commander persisted, but a little more forcefully this time.  “You need to explain this to me.” 

The elf didn’t respond to Commander Elgin’s questions and continued to weep softly.  After many minutes of this fruitless activity, the commander wondered if the elf had been taking information to or retrieving intelligence from Tunstan.  If that had been the case, then what information was captured?  Would the additional details the elf claimed he revealed have any effect on the upcoming battle?

There was also a possibility that this problem had nothing to do with the elven army.  Maybe it only involved a patrol the elf had been attached to, but then he somehow got separated from his companions.  It was also possible this might not even be related to the upcoming battle at all.  There was an equally good chance the elf was just out with a few of his mates when he got picked up, although it didn't explain what he might have been doing so far to the north.  The elf had also mentioned something about murdering his best friends, but this didn’t automatically mean it was directly linked to Madumda or the war effort. 

Commander Elgin was still considering these possibilities when his thoughts were disturbed again.  This time it happened when the elf unexpectedly lifted his head and began to speak more forcefully.

I t-t-told the soldiers what they were up to,” he sobbed, while staring at the commander.  “Once they knew what my friends were trying to do, they went to k-k-kill them.  It’s all my fault.  They’re probably all d-dead now and I’m responsible.  They died because I wasn’t strong enough to endure the p-pain.  I killed my friends and the warriors too.”

None of this was making any sense to Commander Elgin, but since the elf had just mentioned something about warriors, he might have just provided another vital clue.  Now, the dwarf suspected the elf had revealed information about some sort of scheme the elven leaders had set into motion.  If that were true, then it still might impact the current conflict. 

Over the next several minutes, Elgin tried to gain more details from the lad, but the elf merely kept repeating the same things over and over again.  Elgin was growing frustrated and realized he probably wasn’t going to get anything more coherent from the lad, so he assigned one of his soldiers to tend to the elf’s needs. 

I want you to make him as comfortable as possible,” Elgin told the soldier that had been waiting quietly off to one side.  “Since he seems to be cold, build a small fire to help warm him up and try to find something more suitable for him to wear.  See to it that he also gets something to eat.”  Elgin paused briefly before leaving, because he thought of something else he wanted to tell the soldier.

If the lad should happen to say anything else that might shed some light on his situation,” the commander added, “I want you to report it to me immediately.  It would help if I could finally make sense of what he was mumbling about earlier, because it raised several questions.  I’m not sure, but there's a chance it could prove to be important and possibly effect what we do next.  I just won’t know for certain if it affects us, unless I am able to understand what he was doing in the mountains in the first place.”

Once the commander finished speaking, the soldier saluted and then began to look after the elf.  Since there was no further reason to remain there, Commander Elgin made his way over to where the other prisoners were being held.  As soon as he arrived, he noticed they had been bound, both hand and foot, while his second-in-command was intensely grilling them about their mission. 

What were you and your comrades doing in these mountains?” he demanded, but none of the prisoners were responding to his question.  “How did that elf come to be with you and where were you heading when my troops intercepted you?” he continued, but the three men still weren’t saying a word.

Since he wasn’t getting any response to his questions and the prisoners were remaining defiant and tight-lipped, the dwarf decided to stare them down.  However, the prisoners’ contempt for him was clearly indicated by their expressions, while their disregard of the interrogation process was evident in their body language and every movement they made. 

Elgins second-in-command was just about ready to begin the more physical forms of interrogation when he noticed his superior’s arrival.  The dwarf interrogator stopped what he was doing and turned toward the commander to report his progress, or lack thereof. 

It is apparent this will take some time and we will be forced to use other forms of persuasion to loosen their tongues,” he informed his superior.  “I suggest we begin using the stronger measures immediately, so we can extract the information more quickly.”

Let me see what I can do first,” Elgin responded in a hushed voice, so the prisoners couldn’t hear him.  “I think I might be able to entice them, without having to lower myself to using the Dark Lord’s tactics.”  He winked at his subordinate, before speaking in a louder voice. 

In the meantime,” Elgin continued, “I’m famished and in dire need of something to fill my stomach.  Please send someone to bring me some victuals and pass word along to the rest of the troops that we will take the opportunity to eat.  As long as we’re going to be here for awhile, we might as well put the time to good use.”

Yes, sir.  Very well.  If that is what you wish,” Elgins subordinate responded, before saluting. 

The officer then did a quick about-face, before he walked over to one of the soldiers under his command and passed the orders along.  Elgin's second-in-command added a special emphasis about the need for haste, so the trooper was off in a flash.  After being gone for a brief time, the soldier returned, but this time he was accompanied by several assistants.  Each one was bearing food and drink for the officers and guards, which they quickly spread out where everyone could get at them.  When they finished, Elgin told those with him to dig in. 

Eagerly, the famished warriors started wolfing down the various items set before them and the wily commander did the same.  After he had taken a few mouthfuls, he gave a very animated reaction about finally ending his hunger, while also keeping a watchful eye on the prisoners.  He was looking to see if the food was having any serious effect upon any of the captives. 

Almost immediately, Elgin began to focus on one particular mercenary, because the look of hunger was undeniably chiseled upon his face.  Shortly after the commander came to this realization, he made his next decision and determined how to best use this knowledge to his advantage.  Casually, he turned to his second-in-command and issued another order.

I believe it is now time to separate these men for some special attention.  You take this man,” he stated, while pointing at one of the more defiant mercenaries, “and see to it that another officer takes the one to his right.  Move them to different locations and see what you can find out.  I shall join you shortly to hear what you’ve been able to discover.  In the meantime, I will begin questioning the prisoner that is left behind.  With any luck, it won’t be long before we start getting some answers.”

The other officers immediately did as they were ordered and took the two prisoners away.  As Elgin watched them move off, the wily commander began to bait his psychological snare for the remaining captive.  First, he walked over to the platter of dried meat again, dramatically grabbed a large piece and took a healthy bite.  After he'd chewed and swallowed it, he released a mighty belch, as he shrewdly observed his ‘guest’ out of the corner of his eye.  The prisoner was now licking his lips lightly, so the commander knew it was time to make his next move.

Would you care for something to eat?” Elgin asked innocently, after turning to face the captive. 

The man was startled by the commander’s question, because it certainly wasn't what he was expecting.  He had actually been preparing for other soldiers to show up and begin setting out the various instruments they would use to torture him.  When this didn't happen, he was momentarily dumbfounded and unable to respond.  After finally regaining his wits, he gave an affirmative answer to Elgins offer of hospitality, so the commander broke off a hunk of bread and grabbed a chunk of meat to take over to the prisoner.  Even though he was still bound, the man was able to accept the items from the commander and quickly gobbled them down.  It appeared as if he didn't even bother to chew either of the items first, before swallowing.

There’s plenty more to eat and drink, and you can have your fill if you will tell me the information I wish to know,” Elgin advised him.

I should have known there’d be some kind of a catch,” the man sneered, after hearing what the commander had to say.  “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway, because I don’t know very much and there is nothing I can tell you that will help your cause.  I’m sure you realize I’m only a hireling and about as unimportant as they come.”

Let me be the judge of how much you know and whether or not the information is important,” Elgin explained.  “Just tell me what you were doing in these mountains.”

The prisoner thought for a minute or two before responding.  Since he couldn’t see how sharing this information would be of value to anyone, he found no harm in revealing it. 

We’ve been patrolling the mountains for several weeks now,” the prisoner began.  “I guess Lord Madumda was afraid some sort of treachery might begin around here.”

How did you end up with the elf?” the commander shot back.  Again the trooper hesitated briefly before he responded. 

He was found lying unconscious at the bottom of a ravine,” the mercenary replied. 

Do you know what he was doing there?” Elgin pressed, since the prisoner didn’t offer the information. 

Not really,” the man replied.  “We were on patrol in the foothills when we heard a scream, so we went out to see if we could discover who had yelled and what he was doing in the area." 

"And that's when you found him?" Commander Elgin persisted. 

"Not exactly," the captive answered.  "Before we got very far, we heard the rumblings of an avalanche, so we took cover.  A few seconds later, we watched the snow cascade down the slopes.  Fortunately, we weren’t close enough to be swept up into what was happening or get covered up by it.  After waiting a little while longer for things to settle down, we set out to investigate the incident." 

"So that's when you found him?" the commander asked again. 

"Sort of," the man replied.  "As soon as we dared, we started looking around the area to see if we could spot anything and noticed a boot sticking out of the snow.  We figured it belonged to the person that had screamed, so we began to dig him out.  We wanted to see if we could find out what he had been doing in the mountains.  When we finally uncovered the person, we saw it was an elf, but he was unconscious and nearly frozen.  Since he wasn't in any condition to answer our questions, we concluded he must have shouted when the snow started to give way under him.  It must have then sucked him down the mountainside and that's how we found him." 

"So he didn't tell you what he was doing in the mountains?" Elgin pressed.

"Since he was unconscious, he wasn't able to tell us anything," the prisoner answered.  "We didn't expect him to survive either, but somehow he pulled through.   He wouldn’t have, if we hadn’t discovered him as quickly as we did.  He would have either died from exposure, suffocated or been killed by the wild animals that scavenge the slopes for food.  I’m sure they would have enjoyed dining upon what was left of him.”

So did you ever find out what was he doing in the mountains?” Elgin demanded. 

Not that I know of,” the warrior responded.  “We left him with some of the others to be questioned, but I wasn’t made aware of what he told his interrogators.  I suspect whatever they learned must have been important though, because right after they finished grilling him a messenger was dispatched to Treblanc to inform Lord Madumda about what the elf had said.”

Then he was alone?” the commander asked, incredulously.

We found no others in our search,” the prisoner responded, “but they might have been buried under the snow and we just didn't find them.  We debated about going into to the upper reaches of the mountains to see if he had been with anyone else, but then we decided against it.  The snow was just too unstable and the conditions made it very likely that another avalanche might occur at any moment, especially if we disturbed it by tramping around.”

Do you have other patrols in the area?” Elgin followed, quickly changing focus.  

I have no knowledge about such things,” the soldier explained.  “All I can say is that I have seen very few others during my time out here.”

What of your army?” the commander pressed.  “Where are they and what are their plans?”

I cannot help you with that either,” the bound man responded.  He seemed to be quite pleased when he saw the frustrated expression on the commander’s face after he answered.  “I'm afraid I have no knowledge about the army or what they might be up to.  My companions and I were hired for this purpose only and have been out here for several weeks.  We have had very little contact with anyone else.” 

Commander Elgin studied the man briefly, to determine if he was telling the truth.  Since the dwarf felt he was, he spoke to the prisoner again. 

Seeing you have told me what you could, you shall receive your reward."  The commander then turned to the soldiers standing nearby.  “Guards, you will allow this prisoner to eat his fill from what is here.   When he is done, you will return him with the others.” 

After receiving a nod in response from those watching the man, Commander Elgin went to check on the other prisoners to see if they had shared any other relevant information.  Once he got to where they were being held, the interrogators eagerly briefed the commander about what the remaining captives had revealed thus far.  Elgin was also informed it had taken intense physical persuasion to extract the details from them. 

After listening to the report, the commander discovered most of the information this pair had supplied merely confirmed what the first prisoner had told him.  The details also seemed believable, but that was not the case with everything they had shared.  One of the tortured prisoners made some startling and bizarre claims as well, such as insisting there were large groups of soldiers, possibly even numbering in the thousands, assigned to patrol the mountains.  The dwarfs barely entertained the idea though, since it was so extreme and unbelievable, but they were also unable to find any evidence to support it.

Elgin concluded the captive had probably concocted this story in an effort to impress those questioning him, so he wouldn't have to endure any more pain.  The commander also deduced the captive hoped the dwarfs would buy into his lies and then leave the area, so they wouldn't run into these imaginary troops.  Whatever his intent, it didn’t alter Elgins plans. 

Seeing the commander was now fairly confident he had learned everything he could from the mercenaries, he went back to see if he could discover anything more from the elf.  Elgin now felt the lad may have been on a mission to Tunstan, but fled the city and went into the mountains after it was attacked.  Maybe he was thinking he would be safer traveling along the slopes as he tried to get away from Madumda’s army, but ended up being swept away in an avalanche instead. 

Elgin picked up his pace and walked briskly to the place where he had left the elf.  When he arrived, he quietly questioned the soldier he'd assigned to watch over the lad. 

Is he doing any better?” the commander asked, showing deep concern.

He has calmed down a little, sir,” the guard told him, “but he keeps repeating that he killed someone.”

Has he had anything to eat?” Elgin wanted to know.

We had some food brought to him,” the guard replied, “but so far he’s just ignored it.  All he does is sit there, rocking back and forth, while talking to himself.”

I’ll try to see if I can get through to him then,” the commander responded, while glancing over at the elf.  “Did you get anything to eat?”

No, sir.  Not yet,” the trooper responded.

Then go grab some food, but before you do, send someone else back here to replace you,” Elgin commanded.  “I’ll stay with the elf in the meantime.”

The soldier acknowledged the request, saluted and then turned to leave.  After he walked away, Elgin moved next to the fire, near where the elf was sitting, and knelt down beside it.  He made it appear as if he were merely going to warm his hands, but he remained silent and studied the elf discretely.  He wanted to see if the lad was going to say anything more on his own, while he continued his observation.  Elgin carefully noted the lad’s movements and listened to his mumblings, yet at the same time concluding the elf looked slightly better now.  No matter how much improvement he showed, the commander also realized the elf was far from being all right. 

As he studied the enigma before him, Elgin noted the guard had obviously helped to clean the elf up a bit and apparently found a few warmer garments for him to slip over what he was wearing.  Unfortunately, none of those things had managed to help soothe whatever demons were still haunting the lad.  As Commander Elgin continued to monitor the elf's actions, he suddenly felt a glimmer of recognition.  In an effort to determine if he was correct and he'd seen this lad before, the dwarf moved closer to the elf, so he could study his features more closely. 

Could this possibly be one of the elves I ran across during my travels?’ Elgin wondered.  ‘I somehow get the feeling I’ve seen him before, and quite recently too.  If I can decide where and what we were both doing at the time, it might give me an idea about what he might have been up to and how I should proceed.’

Excuse me, but where you at Leander recently?” Elgin asked, as he moved closer to the elf.  “Did you journey there with either the representatives from the Wood Elves or the River Elves and attend any of the planning sessions?” 

The elf lifted his head slightly and looked at the commander, once he'd mentioned those things, and a slight glimmer of recognition flickered in his eyes.  This caused the commander to realize this line of questioning might be the key to getting through to him now.

Yes,” the commander continued.  “I’m sure you must have been there.  I’m just not certain whether you were with King Dylan or Balaster Rombaire’s delegation, but it doesn’t really matter.  What’s your name?  I must have forgotten it, if I even knew it to begin with.” 

There was a slight pause, as the elf glanced at the commander, but he didn’t say a word.  It seemed as if he was somewhat embarrassed that he had been recognized, because he shyly turned away from Elgin and didn’t respond. 




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I wish to extend my thanks to Scott, Emoe57, Andy, John and Donny for editing or their suggestions with this story. 


E-mail responses to the stories, story suggestions, or other ‘constructive’ comments or advice may be sent to: bwstories8@aol.com  - but please put the story title in the subject line, so it doesn’t get deleted as junk mail.  


My other stories can be found at: http://www.nifty.org/nifty/frauthors.html

listed under BW in the extreme left hand column.