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Esperan's Tears - Sun's Song (Chapter Two)

Author: 
Oraeon (Bryan Moffett)
Old Vault Category: 
fanfiction
Old Vault ID: 
143

"Could you please ask Lord Berbadasa how much longer it will be until we make camp?" asked the Singer. It was the fifth time today & Astagar was beginning to feel very put out.

Astagar looked at the sky. Despite its rainy disposition the weather was still clear enough to shed some stray beams of light upon the small party-clearly it was daytime. He raised one eyebrow at the Singer and said with exasperation, "I think the sun is still up, and according to Lord Berbadasa we keep riding until sunset."

Singer Neh'lathas' eyebrows came together sharply and his voice became much less pleasant than it had been but a moment before, "Don't be impertinent, acolyte. I am a Singer and you will do as I bade you. Are we clear?"

"As clear as Esperan's conscience. I would never be impertinent to you Singer," said Astagar. "I merely wished to present the fact that you being both infinitely older and wiser, decided to ask the great Lord Barbados to decide once again whether or not we continue on this most arduous path, despite the sun in the sky."

The Singer smiled contentedly, "I'm glad to see you agree, young Astagar."

The Singer turned back to studying the mud puddles along the side of the road. Astagar's eyes beseeched the heavens and sighing heavily he spurred his horse forward, its hooves throwing water high as he pounded along the road. Lord Berbadasa turned toward the commotion, and discerning the identity of the approaching rider, shook his head in disgust.

Astagar started to speak but the nobleman held up one bejeweled hand, his rings lustrous serpents twined about nimble fingers. After a few moments Lord Berbadasa spoke in a disgusted voice, "He wants to know when we will break for camp? Don't answer, that's not a question. If you come up here one more time riding your horse like that, I will send it back riding you."

Astagar had started to turn his steed, when Lord Berbadasa seized the reigns. Astagar looked at him with confusion and the elven Lord gave him a sheepish grin. "Sorry. I know it's not your fault, Astagar," he said. "I'm sure his constant whining wears on your nerves as well as mine. I just tend to get cranky when priest are around. No offense intended."

Astagar shrugged and said, "I agree."

Berbadasa raised one eyebrow questioningly but seeing no explanation forthcoming, smiled and continued, "Then ride with me awhile. It is a long journey and I could use some company"

Astagar led his horse to a position next to Berbadasa's and the two Solinari rode in silence for some minutes, the whistling of the wind and the tentative chirping of a thrush were all that broke their peaceful reverie. At last Lord Berbadasa spoke, "Why are you here Astagar?"

Astagar tore his gaze from a flock of doves that passed overhead, white splashes amidst the darker gray of the sky, and gave him a quizzical look. "I am here as a pupil of Singer Neh'lathas, and will act as student envoy to the Lunari," Astagar said returning his gaze to the doves, now mere specks against the dull grey backdrop of the turbulent sky.

Lord Berbadasa shook his head, "No, Astagar. I didn't ask why you should be here. I asked why you are here?"

Seeing the boys silence the elven lord continued, "I can see your displeasure clear upon your face each day. You are perhaps the only one of our little troop who doesn't seem excited to be making this pilgrimage. I am simply curious why you are here, if it annoys you so."

Astagar didn't look back, and there was little humor in his voice, "A quick boot from the Master of Acolytes."

Lord Berbadasa's brows furrowed and he frowned, "I don't understand."

"I was kicked out of the Spire by the Master of Acolytes. I am one of the chosen, I can heal the wounded, create globes of ethereal light for the cathedral, and other signs of Esperan's favor; that means they can't banish me from the order. But the Master of Acolytes can foist me off on the unsuspecting Lunari."

"You must be a real pain in the arse," said Lord Berbadasa. His tone was stern but the look in his eyes told Astagar he was amused. "I am very perplexed. That's bad politics for a peace mission. I am surprise Singer Neh'lathas went along with such a ruse."

Astagar laughed, "He wasn't told, and as far as I can tell he is too . . . inspired by the wonders of Esperan to notice a wayward priest."-Astagar looked at his superior expectantly-"Aren't you at least a little angry?"

"Do you want me to be?" asked the nobleman.

"Not particularly, but I am curious."

"I find you. . .interesting. Besides if you weren't here now who would I talk to? The Singer is off in his own little realm, the soldiers are too in awe of me too converse, and, let us be frank, the Lunari want us all dead-I can see it in Morlanditha's eyes." He laughed, "Make that eye. No, you are the only person I can talk to."

"What's between you two? The hatred is almost palpable."

Berbadasa's face grew dark and foreboding, "It was a long time ago and we were at war." His face contorted for a moment before going slack and he shivered, "It is best left forgotten. Any ways, it was a long time ago."

Astagar shook his head, "You start a story and then not finish it-Esperan would be disappointed."

"Esperan was disappointed in everything and everyone involved in the War of Tears," said Berbadasa in a sad voice. He looked at Astagar before continuing, "If you promise to warn me before the Singer comes to my tent for prayers tonight I will tell you."

Astagar could not help but ask, "Why?"

"I need plenty of time to go looking for firewood," said Berbadasa and grinned.

"Agreed!"

"I had Morlanditha's men on the run, after the battle of Greshlan's glade. I had imprisoned many of his troops in a small farming village, with but a few men to guard the town. My main force marched South, relentlessly pursuing our enemies. Morlanditha and a few of his men crept behind my lines and freed their comrades." "Morlanditha, and his men slew my guards. But they also killed many of the villager's: men, women, and children; they set the town afire in the middle of the night & fled in the chaos that ensued. My men were kept busy helping the injured townspeople and thus we were unable to pursue. I have done horrible things-I will not lie-but I do not kill women and children to save my own skin."

Astagar pursed his lips and looked uncomfortably at the mud. Berbadasa patted his horse's neck and continued, "I set my hounds to chasing him like a fox through the forest, driving he and his men before us. I almost had him at the Ductafalthas, but he escaped over a bridge held by a handful of blade-singers. You look puzzled Astagar, you still do not understand my hatred. Perhaps you wonder why I should feel such animosity over the deaths of a few peasants. It is quite simple really, my brother . . . used to be the lord of that town-he and his family." Lord Berbadasa leaned back in his saddle and sighed. "I find it a cruel irony that both sides chose to send bitter old men on this, a mission of remonstrance."

Astagar shifted uncomfortably in his saddle, "I had no idea. But why does he does he hate you so?"

Berbadasa stared at the mud blankly, "I killed. . .I don't know. I just don't know. It was war Astagar and no one, not even I, can wash ourselves clean."

They both stared at the mud with the fascination of those who have divulged more information than necessary and now simply wish to feign ignorance of the other's uncomfortable truth. Astagar was the first to break the uncomfortable silence, "You asked me what motivated me to make this journey. I told you truly that I had no choice in it, but what of you? What do you get out of it?"

The elven noble smirked, "Get out of it? Like I said, everyone did things they were ashamed of during the war. If I can make reparations to the dead by carrying the Tear back to the Lunari, then I shall do so-no matter the cost." He looked down at the hard packed mud. "I do it for redemption." He laughed at Astagar's incredulous stare and turning his horse about rode towards the wagon, and the Singer.

Astagar shrugged and pulled out his battered tin flute. The ever dour General Morlanditha had protested the lilting melody Astagar drew forth from the battered old pipe, but the rest of the pilgrims had felt their mood lightened by his light-hearted tunes, and the General had been silenced.

His reason for playing the flute had not, of course, been to create levity, but rather to attract the attention of a certain Lunari girl; she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, and therefore worthy of himself. Better still, today the boy who was always near her was away, talking with Morlanditha.

Astagar smiled and pulled out the bottle of wine he had hidden in his saddlebag since the start of their journey. It was one of the Master of Acolytes prized bottles of Aredian gold, gathered during the final days of the Shadow war and kept preserved in his office for all to gaze at in reverent wanting. Astagar shook it and listened contentedly to the sloshing of the golden fluid within. He felt a wash of pleasure thinking of the Master finding the Cheap Lorenthian wine in its stead.

Spurring his steed into a canter, Astagar approached the Lunari girl smiling and waving his flute, he felt a moment of doubt when she looked at him in confusion, but that was quickly washed away by the dazzling smile with which she greeted him. Astagar glanced about to make sure none of the others were looking and hoisted the wine, shaking the bottle for emphasis. The girl smiled wider and waved him forward.

Astagar pulled back on the reigns some three feet from her mare and extended his hand expectantly. The girl extended her hand daintily and he bowed over his saddle touching the back of the dainty white extremity to his forehead; as he pulled away he brushed his lips to her knuckles causing her to gasp in surprise.

"I hardly think that appropriate for a priest of Esperan," she said looking at him askance; despite her chiding he was pleased to note that her skin held the faint reddish hue of a blush.

Astagar swept a few stray wisps of copper hair from his eyes and smirked, "Allow me to determine what is appropriate for a priest my Lady-I am the expert. Besides, is this not a peace mission? I think I am furthering race relations between our two peoples."

The elven lady coyly returned his smile, "The Lord of Morning knows we need somebody too."

Astagar frowned and a few moribund creases marred his perfect complexion. He quickly smoothed his features and began to speak, "So you have noticed it as well." The corner of his mouth curved up into a lopsided smile. "I find it ironic that we are embarking on this journey-which I might add, is keeping me from my downy bed-for the auspicious artifices of peace, yet hardly a single word has been spoken between the two camps. "

"I agree, I personally blame it on that dreadful Morlanditha, he and that older Solinari-the one who seems in charge of the blade- singers, they turn the very air to ice with their frigid stares."

Astagar shrugged, "Berbadasa is a good man, and he has good reason to hate Morlanditha. Though I will admit he can seem a bit aloof at first." He shook the wine-bottle and smiled mischievously. "I have a little something for you. I was planning on offering this to the Moon-keeper as a gift. . .but I thought that perhaps we might make better use of it."

The girl grinned in a most unladylike fashion, "Are you proposing I steal a tribute to my own people? That is positively immoral. I can't even fathom you asking such a thing-open it immediately, before I report you."

Astagar grinned back, "Invite Morlanditha if you wish. He looks like he could use some wine to take the edge off his hardness; though I suspect it would take more than this one bottle, maybe more than an entire cellar." He popped the top and sighed as a thin vapor of effervescence wafted to his nose, sweet like honey. He held it out for her to get a waft. "I think it was a good year. Or a bad year depending on how you consider it. It was bottled during the Shadow War, in the renowned Aredian winery, which if you recall was burnt during an attack by beastmen."

She wrinkled her nose in disgust, a particularly cute gesture by Astagar's estimations. "Beastmen. May the sun cease to rise before I have to see one of their ilk. Disgusting creatures, half man and half animal, slinking from their birthplace in Tal'Morin."

Astagar paused and asked, "Didn't they exist before that enclave of sorcerers was ever formed? After all, they were the bulk of the forces that retreated to form Tal'Morin at the end of the Shadow War."

"I don't really care so long as I don't have to see one."

Astagar raised the bottle and took a swig, "Here's to avoiding Shadowlords, Beastmen, and other creatures of fantasy and ill formed dreams." He looked contentedly at the bottle and tossed it to the girl who frantically grasped at it with both hands.

She raised the bottle in a salute. "Here's to the Ductafalthas, may the River of Tears never cease flowing, ever reminding our people of their failings. To remember the past is to preserve the future," said the girl kicking back the bottle.

Astagar's eyebrows rose quickly in shock, "My Lady. I've never seen a noblewoman drink like that before."

The girl winked, "Whenever I sneak out of my father's mansion I'm not a noblewoman. By the way, call me Kayla, Kayla Shalanthas."

Astagar look down sheepishly, "I guess that was rude of me to forget introductions. My name is Astagar Sunchild."

Kayla took another drought of wine and coughed. Frowning she said, "They are real, aren't they? The history books wouldn't have made them up."

Astagar looking quite perplexed asked, "Who do you mean?"

Kayla laughed, the tinkling of bells, and took another sip of wine before handing the bottle back to her erstwhile companion. "I mean the Shadowlords, silly. Try to pay attention."

"I have never seen one, nor known anyone who saw one. All I know about them are stories that were used to frighten me as a child. Don't get me wrong, they might have existed once, but I am sure they are long since dead. I am not even sure Tal'Morin actually exist," Astagar handed the bottle to Kayla.

Kayla peered intently into the mouth of the bottle and sighed. "Wouldn't it be great if they did exists." Catching sight of his shocked expression she quickly continued, "I mean, to see one. Not that I want them murdering my people, or anything of the sort. I just like to imagine more exciting times, the Shadowlords in their midnight cloaks, their blackened swords cutting the air like a scythe at harvest, the winds of Hell pulling at them even on the calmest day-they must have been quite frightening."

Astagar leaned back in his saddle and stretched, "I don't much care for adventure or excitement, beyond the occasional brawl at Telarand's Tavern I lead a fairly nondescript existence. No, I think I would rather things stay as nice and complacent, as they are now."

As Astagar reached for the bottle something shoved him hard from behind, he yelled and grasped frantically for his gelding's reigns but he was unable to catch hold. He struck the ground heavily, the force of his fall driving the breath from his body. As he lay gasping frantically for air in the filthy roadside muck a shadowy figure appeared over him, occluding what little sunlight made it through the rolling clouds above. He tried to stand up and a foot came down heavily on his chest. The figure leaned closer and he could see it was the young Lunari who always accompanied Kayla-he groaned. The elf whispered in his ear, "Touch my sister again and I'll see to it that you wished you had never come on this trip." The elf's hand snaked out and snatched the bottle of wine from its resting-place in the muck.

With a twirl of his emerald cape the elf strode away from Astagar and seizing the reigns of Kayla's horse led her away. "Sister!" Astagar groaned and laid back in the muck as the rain began to pour down, "I already wish I hadn't you dumb bastard."

*    *    *    *

Astagar sat on the bench next to Singer Neh'lathas, wrapped in a warm blanket and contentedly sipped at a cup of wine, enjoying his sojourn from the uncomfortable back of his steed; he had earned this respite after his cloths had been rendered unbearably muddy by that wretched Lunari. The singer was whistling an elven work song and toying with a silver bell that had come loose of the wagon's reigns earlier in the day. Astagar patted the old elf on the shoulder to get his attention and asked, "Do you think it will work, carrying the tear to the Lunari. They seem so violent and impetuous, and after this afternoon I can't imagine a pact being made."

"Have faith Astagar," said the Singer chuckling. "We do Esperan's will."

Astagar shook his head, "Faith doesn't make angry men lay down their arms, nor the fields grow more verdant."

The singer sighed, "You just don't understand do you Astagar. The prayers bring the rain to the fallow fields and inner peace to the angry heart. You might as well ask, what is the importance of the Tear."

Astagar sat for a moment carefully choosing his next words and then asked, in as polite a tone as he could muster, "What is the importance of the Tear?"

The Singer stared at him his mouth agape, opening and closing soundlessly several times before he could speak, "I . . . can't believe you said that. The Tear is the cornerstone of our faith. Why before the Tear there was distrust and violence amongst the elven nations."

"Sort of like now."

The Singer stared blankly at Astagar, obviously peeved and restarted, "Obviously you have forgotten our history. Once the elves were of one race, the Sharalith, creatures of beauty and harmony paramount amongst all the children of creation. Their virtue was untainted their form an artistic masterpiece, and Esperan walked amongst them in common mantle, lending fatherly advice, and aid where needed. The humans and dwarves were content with their station, and served the chosen faithfully. The other gods worked hand in hand with Esperan to make our world a pinnacle of creation a gemstone in the crown of beauty. But there were dark creatures in the reality beyond ours (cast-off remnants of the gods' early quest to create the perfect being), chaotic, envious monstrous, devoid of esthetics or respect for nature were the Anteciliente. Their own world was dark and barren, devoid of all life; consumed by their insatiable hunger for more. They longed for the verdant greenery of our world, and they hated us for our place amongst the light-chosen children of the gods. During this age wise Provelund, Lord of the Sun, Eye of the Light, and Keeper of Creation became increasingly enthralled with an elven woman, a daughter of Esperan, named Tylana. He sought to win her love by creating the more illustrious inhabitants of this fair forest: the griffin, the pegasi, and the unicorn (Now his emblem). His wife envious Prevashyla, Lady of Night, Eye of the Moon, and Binder of Chaos, felt the black bile of jealousy rise within her, choking the kindness from her heart, until at last she devised a plan to rid herself of the elves she now so hated. She whispered in the ears of men, that they, not the elves, were to be the chosen ones, that the elves through succor and obsequious words had usurped their place in the eyes of Provelund and Esperan. She taught them magic-strange magic-for they were flawed creatures and not tied to the world, as were the elves. Their magic could warp creation beyond bounds, corrupting and polluting the Flows of our world. Those amongst them we would now call adepts, foul creatures reviled by their own kind, opened a portal into the realm of Nox'lishun-where the gods' dark shame lay hidden. Through this portal the Anteciliente and all their dark children (goblins, orcs, trolls, and other foul beasts) poured like a fetid tide.

The Ancients subdued the elves and their servants, including the traitorous men. The Gods did what they could to fight the impinging Anteciliente, but Prevashyla and her divine children turned on great Esperan and Provelund, and with the aid of the Anteciliente, locked the Lords of Light in Luxen'desti. The Ancients set up their reign of terror capturing the Sun and Moon-spire for their own demesne, they bound the elves to them as slaves and the Nameless Sunderer became . . . master of this great forest.

With his cruel intellect the Sunderer sought to weaken the unity of the elves by diluting their blood and their magic. His experiments failed to create a single weak race, but instead formed five separate races; each weakened, except in one aspect of nature: the Calanesti savage children of air, the Marenesti forgotten children of water, the Drow forbidden children of earth, the Lunari gentle children of spirit, and we the Solinari blessed children of fire. On the day the Sunderer's magic broke our people Esperan cried, and a single tear fell to the forlorn earth below. As this tear fell through the winter wind it crystallized into a diamond of great worth and beauty. Years passed and Esperan's broken children forgot their true master, until many centuries later the Tear came to them: found by a young Solinari scribe named Julius Quenthos, its brilliance inspired him to begin writing a collection of songs. These songs became the first prayer-songs of our faith, through his writings our people regained the favor of Esperan-for though the Lord of Morning could no longer aid us directly, he could lend us his strength in the form of his music. With Esperan's prayers to strengthen their resolve our people sought to overthrow their Anteciliente masters, led by Allustriel Truth-seeker. The viscous Sunderer brutally crushed the fledgling rebellion-Allustriel was imprisoned. This was devastating to the elven cause but their sacrifice inspired a young human named Galen to lead his people to do the same; the human rebellion gained momentum and several Anteciliente, seeking to further their own ends joined the cause.

The other Lords of Light began to form enclaves of their own and soon the Anteciliente were struggling to maintain their death-grip on our world. Allustriel escaped her prison and formed the Elven Council. She began to train elven rangers and blade-singers, which began to turn the tides of war.

This good fortune was not to last-the first Shadowlords, anathema to Esperan, were created by dark priest of Prevashyla. These horrors arrived at a council meeting and slaughtered nearly all the elven theocracy, with one exception-the Drow. The Drow, deranged by their long forbiddance of the sun's healing rays, had betrayed their brethren. The remaining elves turned on the traitors slaughtering them until at last they fled unto the bowels of the earth. Unsure of where to lay the blame the council fell to bickering and petty recrimination. We Solinari attempted to placate our brethren but they would not listen to reason. In anger the Calanesti departed for the icy reaches of the north where the wind blows eternal, and the Marenesti fled for the warm oceans of the south. Only the Solinari and Lunari remained steadfast forging the Espera'shesti Empire. Alas the Tear of Esperan, greatest artifact of our people, was stolen that day. Taken by the most hated drow or the Shadowlords we knew not. In time the war ended but still we lacked our precious bastion of hope.

Centuries passed and our people grew in wealth and power, but seemingly not in wisdom. So the Solinari and Lunari people came to bear many grudges, forgetting Esperan's most important message, that of hope: hope for a better tomorrow, hope for the betterment of others. In short we forgot how to forgive. This culminated in a bloody riot in the capital.

Our two people split in twain and prepared for war. Two armies marched from two elven nations, one of red and one of white, the standard of the sun (Solanesti), and that of the moon (Lunesti), and they met at the river Espera'falthas (the river of hope). That sacred river ran red that day with the blood of elves good and bad, caring not whose blood it did consume. For a whole day the forces fought, until both were bloodied but not yet beaten. As they made ready for war the next morn, their great brass trumpets raised to the heaven in valiant fanfare, a lone elf walked between the two forces, his feet graced the surface of the water but did not get wet nor sink as might yours or mine. He was dressed in a homespun brown robe, wove of the coarsest linen, and had a face both kind and knowing, though ravaged by time-it was later determined that none had ever seen an elf quite so old. His name was Valandanthas and he was a druid, a follower of Sylvanus, Esperan's son. The generals of both armies entreated him to leave the middle of the field. He seemed deaf; first to their pleas, and then to their threats. In disgust they gave the signal for the two armies to converge. As the armies marched inexorably onward the old elf reached within his robes and drew forth the Tear of Esperan. The stone caught the rays of the morning sun and sent light cascading into the river basin. This light weighed all hearts heavy with the wrongs of slaying their kin, and so the two armies departed in shame. The old elf gave the stone to the Lunari, with the concession that they would possess it during the harsh winter months and give it to the Solinari during those joyous days of summer. Centuries passed and soon the Lunari grew greedy and broke their promise to Esperan. They selfishly kept the Tear for themselves, depriving our people of the grace of Esperan. Deprived of that grace our people grew angry, and so we took our rightful due from them. The result was the War of Tears in which Solinari and Lunari alike fed the plants of this earth with their flesh, and made wine of their blood. At last an uneasy truce was reached, and both sides have remained withdrawn and wary for nearly 200 years-until now."

The Singer's voice trailed off and he sighed, "Until now. Now Astagar, we stand on a precipice, we might grasp franticly to our handhold and continue this long history of hatred." He looked at Astagar askance. "Or we might, if we have the courage, trust in Esperan and let go that edge. Finding in the end that Esperan has given us gossamer wings to fly to yet greater heights. We might create an elven people not divided by hatred and recriminations, but bound through their sameness; sameness of faith, of hope, of pain, and tears."

Astagar shrugged and pulled the blanket tighter about his shoulders, "It seems ridiculous to me that so many people died over a stone, no matter what its religious significance."

"You just can't understand can you," said the Singer shaking his head sadly. "The Tear isn't a stone. The Tear is hope. Our hope . . . the embodiment of Esperan's love for us. If you cannot understand that, then your place on this journey and the nature of your connection to Esperan will ever remain a mystery to me."

 

Esperan's Tears Chapter 2: Sun's Song © Oraeon (Bryan Moffett)

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