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Esperan's Tears - The Sun & The Moon (Chapter One)

Oraeon (Bryan Moffett)
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A harsh wind blew through the leaves that surrounded him, ruffling his feathers and chilling his ancient bones; an autumn wind, fresh and clear-he didn't much care for either its purity or the pain its cold brought to his creaking joints. He shook his head in irritation, and preened his jet feathers with a time-worn beak. Cawing softly he stared through the canopy of silver veined leaves to the once dark sky, now lighting with the first signs of predawn. It was time.

He ruffled his dew-speckled feathers for warmth, and then spread his wings tentatively, listening to the bones creak in the chill morning air. With a sudden clatter and spray of leaves, he launched himself onto that hated autumn breeze, using its upward force to drive him heavenward. Below, the Ironwood tree in which he had concealed himself fell away, in moments the hundred-year-old leviathan dwindled to the scale of a mere shrub. His wings churned the air currents, turning his fragile frame to face the rising sun.

As far as his eye could perceive, the great forest spread below him challenging the endless blue of the heavens with its vast assortment of greenery. The broad leaves of the great Ironwood trees caught the dawn's birthing rays on their silvery surfaces, and sent it hurtling skyward in all its crimson glory. This gave the landscape a surreal appearance, almost as if looking through a ruby, or perhaps more appropriately, through the finely wrought stained glass of a cathedral.

At last, he saw his destination: a tower of solid rose quartz rising above the seemingly flame-wreathed forest, challenging the sun itself for radiance. The stone from which the tower was built was not cut from any common quarry, but was instead one continuous magic-worked stone. This allowed the great sweeping spire that formed the top of the tower to rise upward in a corkscrew fashion, such that it resembled nothing so much as the horn of a unicorn. The edifice caught the rays of the sun, making them its own. The sun warmly lit its structure from within with a rubric glow that continued to intensify with each passing moment, robbing the Lady of Night of her sleepy glen, and sending her fleeing for the horizon. He glanced back at the receding darkness almost wistfully, wishing he could join her, but it was time and he had no patience for shadow's solace.

The incandescence of the tower revealed that the ironwood trees (here more ancient and mammoth than those over which he had thus far flown) grew in concentric rings about the spire, and at their bases were built houses, mansions really, created of the same magically grown stone as the tower. Those houses nearest the Spire were the largest and most finely built, with flowing catwalks and high balconies-interwoven with the lower branches of the ironwood trees that nestled them--a handful of gems cast amongst the silver filigree of the forest.

From the distance came the sounds of an ethereal chorus, elven acolytes their voices raised in joyous prayer rose from the spire like angels come to earth:

Oh Esperan, Esperan our father

He who brings the light of the newborn sun

He who is the tree and the river flowing

By green of your earth mourning prayers are sung

Oh Esperan, Esperan our father

We are the children of the newborn sun

Forgive us our wrongs your wayward children

We know your tears can never be undone

In youthful pride we forgot, we stumbled

Forgot our father and what had begun

Forgot those chains which bound fast the prison

Forgot the price of the forbidden ones

By their harsh dreams our people were sundered

No longer one beneath your mourning sun

A crystal tear for all your children

A point of light amidst the dark begun

We are your children so bright and golden

We bear now the marks of the morning sun

Alas we were prideful and forbidding

Blinded by the light that the others shun

We are your children of night and magic

We tread shadowed woods and the forest run

We laid the blame without ever looking

Cast down your dark children and forbade the sun

We are your children so long forgotten

We delve the deeps, where the oceans run

We ride the waves to shore unbidden

Forgotten by our father as forgot the sun

We are your children of cold unforgiving

We run the waste our minds undone

We remember things long forbidden

Here in the land of the eternal sun

We are your children cast to darkness

Deep in mothers womb we curse the sun

How we hate you our silent father

Who left our fates with the ancient ones.

Oh Esperan, Esperan our father

He who brings the light of the newborn sun

He who is the tree and the river flowing

By green of your earth mourning prayers are sung

Oh Esperan, Esperan our father

We are the children of the newborn sun

Forgive us our wrongs your wayward children

We know your tears can never be undone

With his keen sight he spied a suitable branch amongst an orchard of cherry trees, two hundred feet from the base of the spire and began his rapid descent. With a few strokes of his wings, he landed amongst the shadowed branches of an ancient cherry tree-now more dead than alive, with great mounds of moss hanging from its gnarled branches like so many cobwebs.

He caught a glimpse of motion out of the corner of his eye, and with lightning speed speared a fleeing caterpillar with his beak. He set down to enjoy his repast when a branch off to his left cracked and fell twelve or so feet the black loam of the forest floor, followed shortly thereafter by a small pebble. He looked up in irritation at two bipedal creatures some twenty feet away, and let out a pleased caw. This was what he had come for.

* * * *

"Kayla! Leave the damned bird alone." said the elven boy as he ran his fingers through long, black, corn silk soft hair, placing a few loose strands, which had fallen over his chestnut colored eyes, behind elegantly pointed ears. He rolled those same eyes in exasperation at the elf girl who stood a few feet away, looking over her shoulder at him in obvious annoyance. Words could hardly begin to describe Kayla's beauty. Her eyes were almond shaped, like her brother's, but hers were the blue of a winter sky, and nearly as majestic and all encompassing. Her countenance was like that of an ancient statue, crafted by a love inspired artisan bent on capturing earthly beauty at its finest. She would have had the alabaster skin of such a work if not for the warm red glow that poured out from the spire like so much red wine, pooling in the glade-leaving no niche untouched.

The elven girl dropped the stone she was about to hurl at the raven and pursed her lips in annoyance, "Why? It's just a bird, and an ugly one at that." She paused and pursed her lips prettily before continuing, "It's a raven isn't it Dal? I don't think I've ever seen one before." Dalanthanar shrugged, "I've never been out of the forest-just like you. So how would I know?"

The girl continued undaunted, "They are a bad omen this close to the Sun-spire. I know this isn't Luna'shesti, but I seem to remember the Moon-singer chanting something about how 'Children of shadow cannot stand the glory of the Moon-spire until the day when the Tear is no longer of Esperan's children?'"

Dalanthanar looked at the bird with that bored look he had affected of late and spoke with biting sarcasm, "Omens are just words priest use to keep the sheep within their fold. But I am impressed, I didn't think you paid enough attention during prayers to remember scripture. What, with worrying about what dress to wear to Everandale's ball, and all."

Kayla ignored the barb, and continued undaunted, "If you care so little for priest and the sacred canticles then why did you leave your precious Academy? Tomorrow begins our religious pilgrimage." She paused for effect and sniffed, "Ever since you arrived two days ago, you have been dark and moody, not just plain moody like normal. What's wrong, Dal?" A few moments of silence passed as the girl glared at the raven, which had gone back to devouring its disgusting repast. Unable to take the silence she shouted, "Dal! Dal! Are you even listening to me?"

While his sister had prattled on Dalanthanar had sat heavily upon a picnic blanket they had laid out while eating breakfast and awaiting the sunrise. One of the acolytes had told them the view from this location was most spectacular, and Dalanthanar had to agree, the boy had been absolutely right. He began to absentmindedly pull and twist the sleeves of his finely made silk tunic, wrinkling its cream colored fabric. It was a nervous habit he picked up as a child while under the tutelage of Master Erilith, an ancient taskmaster who had neither compassion nor tolerance of sloth.

Kayla stared at her brother in exasperation, something was really bothering him, he was usually so poised. She had to do something to break his dark mood, besides he was destroying the silver embroidery about the cuffs of his shirt.

Kayla picked up the stone she had dropped but a few moments before, looked wistfully at the dreadful Raven, and hurled it with all her force at Dalanthanar. The stone struck Dalanthanar on the shoulder, drawing a startled yelp. Dalanthanar sat up, glaring angrily at her, "Why did you do that?"

Kayla returned his glare evenly, "It got you to react didn't it? Esperan's Tears, I'm your sister, and though I have not seen you in nearly five years, I always know when something is wrong. Ever since you returned you have been as inhuman & cold as one of those golems your precious Academy uses to guard its gates."

Dalanthanar got to his feet and looked away from Kayla, towards the almost painful radiance of the Tower. He whispered absent-mindedly, "It beautiful isn't it, and arrogant. Challenging the sun like that."

Kayla put one hand on her brother's shoulder, and words echoed through her thoughts, quicksilver fast as they had so often in childhood, one less mercurial could not escape her prying mind, 'Academy'. She made her voice as soothing as possible, "Why are you here Dal? Why did you leave the Academy?"

He looked over his shoulder at her and his eyes were suddenly defiant and angry, "In his infinite wisdom Cervashar Shalanthas, hero of the War of Tears, and, I might add, our reluctant father, decided I should take leave of the esteemed Academy Tethaula to act as liaison for the Lunari nation, on this most esteemed mission of peace to our Solinari brethren-his sworn enemies not a century before."

She shook her head and said, "You're being foolish. You can reenroll next year. I'm sure th-"

"They what? Will let me return because my father, the war hero sent me away? Don't be silly, of course they will. That's not the problem."

Kayla sighed, "No need to be so sarcastic. I just don't understand what's upsetting you. You are only sixty, you have many years to study at the academy. You can take a whole of human lifetime if you want, even a dwarf's lifetime if you're so inclined."

When Dalanthanar looked at the tower again his voice had regained its distance once more, "I don't care about any of that. I don't care about lost time, or even having to beg like a commoner to be let back in. Father doesn't want me in the Academy-you know that. He wants me to be a merchant, as he is now, instead of the soldier he once was." Dalanthanar began to pace angrily, "I overheard him talking to the headmaster. He wants the school to give me five years off, as a 'reward' for outstanding service to the Lunari people." His next words were more of a hiss than coherent speech, "He doesn't care about returning the Tear or giving me time off from the Academy. It's time for him to convince me to give up my silly dreams of being a blade-singer and go back to being a good son. He thinks I should run the family shipping lines without a single word of complaint."

"With father's continued interference they are never going to let me return," he said sullenly, while staring blankly at the tower. "I confronted him, and he told me I would never be a blade-singer-not so long as he drew breath."

Kayla felt her stomach lurch downward. Being a blade-singer, one of the Lunesti Nation's elite troops, had always been Dalanthanar's dream. Imagining her twin brother without the blade-singer tattoo was nearly impossible. She shook her head, "Dal. I didn't know. I'm sorry, you must be crushed." She took the hurled stone from the edge of the blanket, and handed it to him. "You can throw that at me if you like."

He smiled at her gesture and embraced her affectionately, "I don't think it would discomfort you half as much."

Dal squinted against the brilliance of the spire and threw the stone in its direction. When he spoke next his tone had regained some of its former bravado and more than a little of its notorious arrogance, "I am Dalanthanar Shalanthas, and I will not tolerate this treatment. I am the highest ranked amongst all my peers. I am the one who lit not one, not two, but three candles his first day at the Academy. I am. . .I was the most apt student the Academy had ever seen."

Kayla's voice held doubt, "Then you will oppose father?"

Dalanthanar's shoulders sagged and he looked particularly dejected once again; his handsome features contorted into a frown. He glared resentfully at the Spire and said, "Father always wins Kayla. He won at the battle of Ductafalthas, when his troops were outnumbered five to one. Neither you nor I have ever won an argument against him. How can I possibly oppose him?" Kayla embraced him, "All will be well, Dal. I promise."

Dalanthanar smiled bitterly and buried his face in her shoulder, "I always thought I would be skewering goblins, not unscrupulous merchants, but I guess things change."

Kayla tried to picture Dalanthanar haggling the price of crates for their latest shipment of silk, and shook her head in bewilderment, "I guess so, but not always for the best."


* * * *

"Astagar! Astagar Sunchild! Wake up you waste of Esperan's Tears!"

Astagar swatted at the shrill voice in irritation and pulled the soft down of his pillow tighter against his ears. Despite his best efforts he could still hear the shrieking voice of the Master of Acolytes. Finally, after many minutes of feigned sleep, the offending voice faded and Astagar smiled smugly, sure he had prevailed-then cold water splashed over him. He sat up sputtering and cursing, throwing the now drenched pillow across the room and stared with open animosity at the wizened Master of Acolytes. The master stood a few feet away, bearing an empty bucket and an unpleasant grin, which threatened to split his weathered face like golden leather left too long in the sun.

Astagar wiped water from his bleary eyes and hissed, "Why did you pour water on me, old man?"

The Master of Acolytes dropped the bucket and brushed a few stray droplets of water off his fine red velvet robes; he paid particular attention to an offending drop which had the audacity to land on the Harp and Grape vine emblem of Esperan. When the drops were gone the ancient elf smiled happily-senility thought Astagar-but that grin quickly gave way to exasperation balanced by an equal measure of disapproval, "Old man? Astagar, really! I am supposed to be your superior and I am, in truth, something of a respected figure. Is it too much to ask that you show me a modicum of respect?"

Astagar shrugged with vexation and retorted, "All you do is complain!" Astagar's voice suddenly took on the shrill pitch of the Master, a bit of mimicry that delighted the other Acolytes, "Astagar, did you clean the cook pots? Astagar, did you mop the northern stairwell? Astagar did you feed the swans? It drives me to the drink!"

The Master of Acolytes almost lost his composure and cast the bucket at the impertinent acolyte. Instead he dropped it to the floor, there it clattered loudly in the crisp morning air. When he spoke once more his voice was harsh, and had a finality that made Astagar suddenly regret his impertinent behavior, "I nag because you never do any of those things. You will report to my office in one hour. And you drink regardless of my presence, and, I might add, far more than is healthy."

"I'll come if I have time!" Astagar shouted at the back of the Master, who had already half crossed the threshold door. The Master of Acolytes noticed, with some satisfaction, that his wayward pupil's voice held the echo of false bravado.

After the Master had left, Astagar sat heavily on his bed. His hands covering his aching eyes, he began to mutter, "Why did I stay out so late? Moreover, why did I drink so much?" Rubbing his aching temples Astagar stood up, a bit more unsteady now that the Master wasn't present to stare at him with open disapproval. His vision suddenly filled with a million dancing points of light and as the room began to spin wildly he fell heavily onto his hard cot. "Why did I talk back to the Old man?" he cried plaintively. As the room shifted disconcertingly, overhead he began to laugh, a high nervous sound, as he answered his own question, "Oh yes, I'm still drunk!"

With some effort he pushed himself back to a sitting position, ignoring the queasy feeling in his belly, and thought, with some humor, that there were far to many whys in the world, and not enough reasons. He shrugged, none of these whys really mattered, he was a cleric-the genuine article. The Master could rant and rave all he wanted, but only a few Acolytes ever expressed any sign of Esperan's favor. Some priests could mend the wounds of the dying, while others could mold the rocks that comprised the homes of the Solinari people, but most could do nothing at all. It was said the Sun-bringer once laid his hands upon the body of an elven child, who had been killed by a runaway cart, and led the child's soul back to the home of its body-cheating death itself. Esperan's favor was very whimsical, Astagar had decided long ago-he knew he made a poor priest: Esperan was the god of hope, Astagar's only hope was that he wouldn't get caught sneaking out of the servants door down by the kitchen; Esperan was also the god of the forest, Astagar hated the woods. In fact the only one of Esperan's tenants that Astagar followed was his love of art-Astagar loved painting and music very much.

Astagar forced himself to his feet once more and gazed into the mirror. Puffing out his chest for effect; it was a poor showing. Like all Solinari, Astagar stood around seven feet in height and was unnaturally thin. He looked at his molten red eyes, supposedly a sign of divine favor, and noted with some displeasure that the whites were nearly the same crimson shade. He was also very displeased that his long hair, which normally had the sheen of burnished copper and came halfway down his back, was hanging flaxen and matted on one side of his head-the wet one. He tugged angrily at the knotted strands with his four fingered hands, and sucked in his breath sharply as they tugged painfully at his scalp; Astagar had never liked to see anyone in pain, particularly himself. Once the last tangles were gone, he stared once more into the mirror and smiled-his golden skin still held a healthy metallic sheen, despite his late night carousing. His skin was his source of pride, smooth, unflawed in any way. He laughed and turned about to view himself at all angles, after which he whistled with absolute sincerity, "I'm beautiful."


* * * *

Dalanthanar winced the saddle tighter and patted his stallion, Relad, on the neck. Relad looked back at him with large forlorn eyes and shook his mane in annoyance. Dalanthanar rubbed the big horse's snout and sighed heavily, "I know boy. I would rather stay here in a warm stable myself."

Kayla looked over from where she had just finished saddling up her mare, Chala, and pulled her fur cloak tighter about herself. Shivering, she spoke to Dalanthanar through chattering teeth, "I can't believe how the temperature has dropped. It never gets this cold in the Luna'shesti forest."

Dal smiled, "No, it doesn't. But this is the Sole'shesti forest. Remember?"

Kayla stuck out her tongue and threw the last of her saddlebags onto Chala's back. When she spoke again her tone was playful, "I don't know Dal. We all can't be all great and powerful sorcerers like you-using our mystical powers to divine the obvious! I guess I thought that tower was the Moon-tower, and assumed that rosy glow was the reflection of your brilliance."

Dalanthanar laughed and drew back his hands in a classical wizardly way, and slipped into ancient Espuar-the language of their elven ancestors, "Alas, this witch . . . nay this hag hath challenged the might of this our most glorious personage."

Frantically they both dove for the snow, a thin layer of which had fallen the night before, and began to make snowballs. Kayla finished her icy weapon first & was raising her hand to throw when a hand bound in a hard leather gauntlet gripped her wrist with such force that the bones ground together most painfully. She turned angrily to see the face of her attacker, and wished immediately that she had not.

His one good eye was icy blue and his skin was but a tad paler, all Lunari skin was tinted thus, but his was stark, like a corpse preserved in an icy snowdrift. That icy blue skin was marred by a livid pink scar that ran from the middle of the left eyebrow to the side of the elf's chin, disappearing only for an instant behind a black silk eye-patch. His brown hair was graying at the temples and cut short, a severe style uncustomary for the highly refined elven people. Kayla couldn't help but stare at his left ear, of which the upper three inches were missing.

Trying to mask the pain in her wrist Kayla made her voice as cold as possible, "General Morlanditha, would you please release my wrist." Morlanditha smiled most unpleasantly and gripped her wrist tighter, "Can the two of you act like adults instead of the children you so obviously are. I don't think I need to remind you that we are in enemy territory."

"I do not think I have to remind you that the Solinari are not our enemy anymore. We aren't at war-remember?" Kayla spit out through gritted teeth Morlanditha's smile became more feral yet, and his voice became a sibilant whisper as he rejoined, " I remember the killing . . . the hatred. I remember the days when the shores of Ductafalthas flowed red with elven blood."-His eyes narrowed to slits-"They will always be the enemy. They may play peace with us now, but I remember the war, and so do the dead."

He suddenly seemed to realize he still held Kayla's wrist and as though in apology released her hand. Bowing perfunctorily he snarled, "Forgive me, Lady. I overstepped my bounds as a commoner, and regret any discomfit I caused you." Doubting his sincerity, Kayla glared at him suspiciously, but his face was that of a statue, or she thought morbidly, a dead body-something about the general's color was most disquieting. Kayla attempted to smile graciously, but faltered under his unwavering, almost predatory, gaze. She looked to Dalanthanar for support, but he was staring at the general with something akin to hero-worship. She sighed, Dalanthanar had grown up on tales of the General's exploits, and the grizzled elf now taught classes at the Academy.

Dalanthanar took the opportunity the silence offered to voice his unsolicited opinion, "It was my fault General. If the Solinari are looking for signs of weakness then we have shown them plenty." Kayla rolled her eyes at the last touch of melodrama.

Morlanditha patted Dalanthanar on the shoulder and said, "I understand that you are young and will make mistakes." Seeing Dalanthanar's down-turned face the general continued, "No harm was done. I didn't see any Solinari about and so your antics were witnessed only by me." The General looked at Kayla expectantly.

Kayla decided she should make some show of forgiveness, even if she didn't really think the general was actually repentant in the least. The elven way of life was built on politics and ameliorating the feelings of others. Besides which, it was the only way to save face after the General's apology. She forced herself to place one hand on the general's shoulder, "You fought long and hard in the War of Tears good General. Thus it seems rightly so that you should be so very suspicious. But tell me, if you so loathe the Solinari, why are you here?"

Morlanditha nodded, "Fair question. I made this journey because the Tear is the most sacred artifact of our people, and many of my troops died trying to regain it." The general smiled sardonically, "Quite frankly, I am curious what my fellow patriots died for. At the time the war seemed the just thing to do, but in retrospect I'm not sure one elven life was worth a diamond, even if it is the size of a elf's fist."

Dalanthanar looked aghast, "But General, it was a just war, they raped and murdered a high priestess of Esperan and her daughter." Morlanditha sneered, "Correction. They stole the Tear when we refused to give it to them. The woman was coincidental-an unfortunate tragedy. Nations do not go to war for individuals, only profit and power. Only youth could be so naive, my dear Dalanthanar."

"But in class your books say that the Tear was given as a gift a few months prior to the attack," Dalanthanar stammered. He didn't much care for the walls of his peoples history to begin shaking so-particularly when the source of their weakness was supposed to be one of their pillars.

Morlanditha smiled and continued to loosen the ancient mortar, "And who writes your books? Who teaches your classes? Do you forget that I teach the history of warfare at the Academy? I helped write your histories." The elf shook his head sadly, "The Moon-singer likes it so much better the way we wrote it-everything is cut and dried. Black and white. Good and evil-nothing is ever so simple as that."

Dalanthanar looked very confused, "But isn't it? Esperan embodies good. Prevashyla is evil."

Morlanditha laughed and when he spoke his voice dripped of cynicism, "Prevashyla had nothing to do with the War of Tears, and elves had everything to do with it. Are we evil then"-the general's eyes seemed to bore into Dalanthanar's soul-"or are the Solinari?"

"We certainly are not!"

"Well then. The Solinari must be evil, or maybe Esperan, since the war was fought in his name," Morlanditha said with a self-satisfied smirk. Dalanthanar shook his head at the blaspheme, "Esperan isn't evil. The Solinari can't be evil either. They are elves, and all of Esperan's children are lit from within by the purity of the morning sun."

Morlanditha was quick with a response, "What of the Drow? They are children of Shadow, and yet they too are elves. I suspect they are not illuminated by your bit of religious scripture."

"That's immaterial. They were once good, but they were seduced by the darkness, and the Esperanesti Empire forced them underground, where they could not corrupt the lands of Esperan. They are no longer true elves. You know this to be true General."

Morlanditha turned his back and began to walk off, favoring his right leg, "I am sure the Singers would be proud to hear your recital. But you will find that Good and Evil tend to rely very heavily on one's perceptions; I would check yours Dalanthanar. You rely to much on what others tell you, and not enough on what you know to be true."

Dalanthanar shouted after him, "But who was in the wrong? You said it yourself, 'They stole the Tear'" One phrase reached Dalanthanar and Kayla's acute elven hearing, "Then they must be the enemy."


* * * *

The Master of Acolytes glared at Astagar over a pair of gnomish spectacles, and tapped one side of his nose in a rather absentminded fashion. A wry smile touched one corner of his mouth, "I suspect your tardiness had more to do with the fig wine you consumed last night, than doing your chores. You and your rapscallion friends are always up to some debauchery." Astagar started to stammer a hasty excuse before deciding he really didn't care to apologize. "I am one of the chosen-no matter what you might prefer. So there is no way you can kick me out. Yes, I drank wine-a lot of it! But it was Lorenthian Fine, not fig wine." Astagar's tone was scornful, "Hurry up and tell me why you drug me in here, so I can go back to my bed. Is it cleaning the cook pots? Digging mandrake roots for the laboratory? Or am I to take twenty lashes like the last time."

"No. No. None of that. I have a much more rewarding punishment for you, my astute pupil."

A frown creased Astagar's perfect forehead; the master had called him many things in the sixty-one years he had lived at the Spire, but astute was not among them. The Master was looking very smug. Astagar suddenly felt very ill at ease. He noticed with some agitation that his tormentor was scribbling with obvious glee on a piece of old parchment. Feeling his unease growing with each dash and whistle he finally asked, "What is that you write Master?"

The ancient elf smiled, lifted his quill, and tossed the finished page across the desk at his errant pupil, where it ricocheted off his right thigh and fell to the floor. "Master now is it?" the wizened elf sneered. "These are new orders for Singer Neh'lathas-the head of the Tear pilgrimage. Make sure you deliver them in person."

Astagar stooped over the spinning letter and picked it up. After hastily reading the first few lines he looked expectantly at the Master of Acolytes, waiting for an admonishment. The Master merely grinned, and closing his eyes, sat back in his chair with a contented sigh, "Yes, you can read it. It's not as though you wouldn't read it as soon as you left my sight anyway. Besides"-the Master chortled-"half the fun is watching your face as you understand fully what I've done."

Astagar decided his stomach hadn't settled well at all, it was trying to knot itself up tighter than the Master of Coffers' purse strings. He bent down and, after a disquieting glance at his reclining mentor, began to read aloud:

Dear Singer Neh'lathas,

My dearest friend and oldest confidant, I remember well the days we spent in the Sun-spire as acolytes. The many nights spent around the kitchen table listening to the chef sing songs of the glory of Esperan. If there were finer moments in my life I am hard pressed to recall them. I thought of all this when I received your request for two acolytes on the Tear pilgrimage. I regret tearing anyone from the bosom of the Spire, but this sacred journey, ordained by Esperan himself, gives our people the chance for a reunion with their long lost Lunari brethren. I have given you Acolyte Haweshal Telantha and Acolyte Astagar Sunchild. Acolyte Telantha is the pride of our people. He has the most beautiful singing voice the choirmaster has ever heard, and he is one of our few young priests who can mend the flesh of the wounded. Just last week he rescued a dove, which a hawk had injured near the reflection pool. He laid his hands upon its trembling body and those wounds inflicted by the hawk's talons closed before my very eyes. Truly he is a gift from above.

As to Astagar, surely you remember the child who was left on our doorstep some fifty years ago, when the Chancellor said we should give him to Esperan, the child extended his hands and the Chancellor was struck blind by a light so bright all had to look away. His vision returned and we were quick to take in a child who expressed the blessing of Esperan at so young an age. He has ever been a work in progress, and now stands ready to accompany you into the Luna'shesti forest. As to your second request, we cannot spare two such promising young priests. If the Lunari priest want to complete the training of one of our acolytes as a show of unity, let them take Astagar. If his mysterious appearance and subsequent existence is not evidence of the mysteries of Esperan, then I know not what is. I look forward to your safe return.

May you ever hear Esperan's song,

Master of Acolytes, Drala Queralovas

The Master of Acolytes looked quite pleased with himself. Astagar on the other hand could feel that knot in his abdomen moving upwards, towards his throat. He was to leave his home, travel abroad into a realm of barbarous Lunari, and was to live there for Esperan knew how many years. The world was spinning very quickly.

The Master of Acolytes had just enough time to throw his hands protectively over an antique canticle, and cry, "No! Not on my desk!"


* * * *

By the time the caravan got underway the sun was no longer shining as brightly as it had that morning. In fact it was barely visible through dark flowing clouds, a ring of light winking mischievously at the gaily-clad caravan below. Dalanthanar looked at his Lunari brethren with pride. General Morlanditha was adorned in a golden suit of Ironwood mail, the wooden strips interwoven to form armour that was stronger than steel and yet more supple than fine suede. Over it he wore a green silk hauberk, stitched with the symbol of the world tree, a full moon cradled in its branches-the proud emblem of the Lunesti Empire. Dalanthanar was similarly outfitted, though his hauberk was the purest alabaster. He patted Relad who was outfitted in imperial purple raiment, and shifted his ironwood sword to a more comfortable position. He was also pleased to note the Lunari priests were garbed in ceremonial robes, usually reserved for the Festival of Song at the summer solstice. His sister was dressed in her finest blue silk gown, decorated with white lotus blossoms and gathered about the waist with a length of golden cord. She looked every bit the cultured noblewoman.

His people looked much better, he thought, than the gaudy Solinari. They were dressed in similar finery, though theirs leaned to shades of red. The exception to their party was a young elf of no more than seventy winters, who was hunched over the back of his gelding, his face a mask of pain; he appeared as though he were having trouble holding on. He pointed out the boy to his sister and grinned. She started to return his smile, but stopped suddenly as a shadow fell across the neck of Dalanthanar's horse.

He felt hot breath at his ear, and a harsh gravely whisper pierced the howls of the waiting crowd, "I knew your father during the war, he was a great elf. Most of the nobility was obsessed with currying favor from the council, or looking pretty in their parade uniforms, but not he. I ordered his men to retreat from the bridge, to abandon the foundering troops fighting on the other side. He and his men held the river-pass until all of our routed forces were safely across." As Dalanthanar turned his steed to face the general he saw that Morlanditha sat stiffly on the back of his black stallion, his face bore an indefatigable look of pride, one which was matched by his intonation, "Ten thousand elves owe him their lives. Including a badly wounded general who ordered your father to leave his commander's broken body on the shores of that cursed river. Therefore I owe your family a debt of honor. So no matter what happens on this journey--don't be a hero. If you survive this, and carry yourself with the composure I know runs strong in your family, I will see to it, personally, that you return to the academy-along with a commendation."

Dalanthanar straightened in his saddle, assuming the military posture he had painstakingly perfected. He could hear Morlanditha's grunt of approval as he rode away. Kayla looked at her brother in disgust and leaned forward, "I don't like the General; his demeanor gives me the chills. And I especially don't like your obsequious behavior toward him."

Dalanthanar leaned over his saddle so that he could speak to his sister without risk of being overheard and chided her, "He is a war hero Kayla. Show him some respect!"

"He's filled with great animosity. Even someone as pigheaded as you should perceive that. Besides your demeanor becomes pompous and self-important when he's about; you puff out your chest like a preening peacock."

"He fought bravely so that people like you and I could have a safe and happy life. I'm sorry if his mangled appearance disturbs someone with as delicate sensibilities as yourself." Her brother's words stung, nevertheless she pressed on, "I didn't realize you were such a patriot, Dalanthanar."

Dalanthanar shrugged, "I've changed a lot in the past six years. I would do anything for the good of the Lunari people, Kayla . . .anything."

Kayla frowned, "Would you betray me for your country?"

Dalanthanar stared at her in a moment of almost surreal silence that seemed to last an eternity and his unblinking eyes held the look of the distant and foreboding clouds above. When at last he spoke his voice was calm and toneless, "I don't know Kayla."

Kayla had the unsettling feeling that he did know, and suddenly felt afraid of her own brother. She coughed uncomfortably and both of them looked away, unwilling to meet the other's gaze. Kayla abruptly decided to change the subject to something less disturbing. "I guess we'll have to listen to another speech on the harmony brought by Esperan's Tear, and the lasting peace it might forge between our two peoples once we return to Luna'dest."

Dalanthanar chuckled, remembering the long speeches of the Solinari theocracy from which they had only recently escaped. His laugh dispersed the dark tide, which had threatened to drown their felicity, and said with a wry grin, "You should consider it an honor to be present at such historic speeches."

It suddenly struck her how momentous it must be for the two of them to be at this event. Her father must really want that sixth seat on the council if he was willing to send both his children, and risk alienating his only son. The nobility had been vying for months to get their children into the caravan, Esperan knew what strings her father had pulled to get both of them aboard. Regardless of the expense, their presence assured him a higher seat on the council.

Kayla looked at the storm clouds looming overhead, "I guess so, but I would have rather left with the sun full in the sky." She looked over her shoulder at the cargo they had traveled so many miles to return. She and her brother had not actually seen the Tear, even during the Sun-singer's speech the most sacred artifact of elven kind was kept hidden in a platinum inlaid chest. Now that chest rested in a gaily-decorated wagon. Ivy boughs of gold ran across the wagon's top, as if the rampant growth of the forest had overtaken it, and deer pranced with unicorns along ironwood forest glades, carved into its silvery sides by the meticulous machinations of some long dead artist. Real birds perched on branches that extended from that scene, their joyous voices creating a chorus of forest sounds that blended beautifully, almost like an cogent hymn. An elderly Solinari priest sat on a small bench built into the front of the wagon, whistling softly along with the birds. A pair of silken rains, decorated with tiny silver bells dangled loosely in his grasp, jangling along with the melody. Kayla smiled at the old man's happy reverie, and yet wider still when she recalled the anger that was evident on Morlanditha's face when he saw those silver bells; he was sure they would be ambushed with such unnatural sounds to announce their presence. Singer Kreshandas had calmed him down quite nicely, with but a single raised finger and a rather put out expression. Kayla wished she were a high ranking church official, how she longed to put him in his place.

Lord Berbadasa, a Solinari war hero as notorious as Morlanditha was famous, and sixteen Solinari blade-singers were to provide escort for the mission until they reached the Ductafalthas-The River of Tears. At which point, General Morlanditha and his rangers would take over guarding the pilgrimage. Kayla thought it was more for show than any real deterrent. After all, they were in elven lands, and from the sounds outsides the palace walls, this mission had the support of the common people. A single forlorn note from a page's brass horn signaled the forward movement of the processional. As the train moved forward and the gates opened, she could see throngs of people standing alongside the street, their hats and banners waving wildly in the air. A string of Solinari soldiers worked hard to restrain the mob, keeping the chaos from swallowing the narrow avenue that traveled out of the city. Kayla shrouded her sisterly demeanor in the trappings of nobility, and prepared, with all fortitude, to wave her arm until it fell off. As she raised her hand something caught her eye. Across the top of the thorny hedge that served as the Sun-spire's wall, ran a thin mithril rail, etched with the gay forest designs that covered much of the spire itself. At the gate this rail arched upwards to form an overpass; on the top of this overpass smiled the kindly features of Esperan, his hands held out in welcome. Today those features were made sinister & the smile turned mocking by a shadow . . .the shadow of a raven. It looked at her with its beady, piercing eyes and seemed to almost gloat. Kayla glanced at Dalanthanar quickly, and seeing he was staring dumbfounded at the heroes' departure awaiting him, she pulled off an expensive but gaudy ring and hurled it at the offending bird.


Esperan's Tears Chapter 1: The Sun & The Moon © Oraeon (Bryan Moffett)

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