Part Three: Pointy Ears
Okay, thought Berthond. Cross a bit of forest. Get to the Donfoal training camp. Meet the hero. Cross more forest. Get to Histlin. Meet hero. Cross forest. Get to Arcondrake. Meet hero. Get stones. Defeat Darkness. Be home in time for tea. Berthond didn’t have much sense of geography.
There was a lot of forest. Berthond started to realize that the chances of him having to camp out were quite high. The sun was starting to set, so he wandered off the trail a bit and came to a small clearing. He was going to need wood for the fire. He drew his sword and marched up to the nearest tree. Someone more observant might have hesitated first, on account of the sudden susurrus in the branches. But Berthond was the sort to hold on to an idea once it had come to him, and didn’t have any idea what susurrus meant anyway.
He raised his sword, and was just about to swing, when he felt the gentle but firm pressure of a knife point on his back. ‘I would lower that sword, if I were you.’ The voice was soft and melodious, but had a menacing edge to it. Berthond hesitated, then lowered the blade. ‘Well done. Now then; I would usually kill one who tries to fell one of my trees, but judging by your garb you are a chosen hero for the quest of the Lestines. I will then spare you. Turn around.’ The pressure on Berthond’s back was removed, and he slowly turned to face the mysterious speaker.
He was tall, and slim, with a fair face and long dark hair. It looked almost like green hair in the twilight. He wore a grey-green cloak, a dark green tunic and dark leather boots. Berthond completely failed to notice his crystal blue eyes and pointy ears.
‘Um. Hi.’ Berthond looked the stranger up and down. ‘What are you?’ The newcomer stared at him for a moment, then sighed and covered his eyes with a long, slim hand. ‘Why does nobody ever take the pointy ears as a hint?’ he muttered. Then, removing his hand, glared at Berthond and said: ‘I am Selebriar Darkleaf. An Elf ’, he added irritably. Berthond’s jaw fell. He had only heard of Elves in legend. This one fit the description perfectly.
He tried to express his amazement, but the only sound that he managed to get out of his mouth was ‘Woah…’
Selebriar stood impassively. Then he sheathed his knife. ‘Well. Another hero. I assume you’re from Torresta, and are heading to Donfoal.’ It wasn’t a question. It was a statement, followed by a look that said: I dare you to contradict me. ‘I’ve been observing the groups of heroes, over the years, and have noticed a recurring pattern. It’s like stories and legends:
‘Out of Torresta comes the brave, swordfighting hero, with a noble heart, ever so slightly thick, the main character if you will.
‘Then out of Donfoal comes the great, big, oafy thicko; the muscle of the group, probably wielding a hammer, an axe or a club. If the club has a nail in it he’ll boast about it.
‘From Histlin, it’ll be a little Halfling. Histlin means Halfling, you know. The Halfling will be quick and nimble, good with daggers and thievery. Quite clever, with both mind and fingers. Most likely female.
‘Arcondrake will provide a magic-user, silent and independent. He’ll probably have a really cool name, like Volcom Mortescar, and think the rest of the team are idiots.
‘It always turns out that way. I don’t have any idea why, but it does. You’d be the heroic one, then. You’ll have to make speeches to motivate the team. I’ve heard many of them over the decades, and may I suggest you not use “LET’S DESTROY THOSE BUGGERS”, since the over-enthusiastic young man who used that one charged recklessly into battle, and as for what happened to him, well; let’s just say that if I had to draw you a picture, I’d need a lot of red pencils. Do not, on the other hand, use anything too long, because you’ll probably be discovered and ambushed before the end. No good speech ends in “my brotheaaaaargh”.
‘The entire team will be depending on you for plans and strategies, and will be ready to die for you. In fact, since no team of heroes has ever succeeded in their quest, I must advise that your strategies be good ones, or else you’ll all die for each-other.’
Berthond hadn’t moved during the entire monologue. Only now did he think to shut his jaw. He managed to stutter out a question: ‘How…How do you know all this? How can you have watched every quest?’ Selebriar sighed. ‘I am an Elf, you know. We’re kind of immortal.’
‘Riiight.’ Berthond swallowed. ‘Well, Selebri – can I call you Selen? – Well, Selen, could you…Sort of… Come with us? And help? With the fighting? And stuff?’ Selebriar stood still, expressionless, for a moment, then nodded. ‘I will come. But I warn you; no oath or vow binds me to this quest, and if things are looking bad for me, I will not hesitate to leave.’
And so, Selebriar Darkleaf led Berthond back onto the path and through the rest of the forest. Berthond made several attempts to strike up a conversation, but gave up since Selebriar seemed to prefer silence. They strode on in such a silence for the rest of the journey. At daybreak, just when Berthond thought his legs were about to drop off his body, they broke through the forest wall and onto a path leading into a training camp quite similar to his own. ‘Behold, Donfoal’, said Selebriar, arm outstretched in a demonstrative gesture. ‘Means “Great Horse” ’, mumbled Berthond, blinking in the sunlight.