The Hammer of Hu'Mod Part 32
by Joe Solmo
When Birell woke up her head ached. She placed a slender hand on her forehead and groaned. She sat up carefully, delicately, and looked around her chambers. She didn’t remember coming back here last night. She placed her bare feet on the luxurious carpets that ran from wall to wall in her bed chamber. She took a drink from the pitcher one of the servants had laid out for her, knowing she would wake in such a state. She got dressed and headed to breakfast, eager to get started on her journey.
“Hello, Daughter,” her father said in the hall outside her rooms. He looked over her with a disapproving eye.
“Good morning father. I trust you slept well,” she said trying to straighten the wrinkles out of her shirt.
“I do not believe anyone in the palace slept well, with the way you and your…friend carried on last night,” her father said with a sneer.
“So you don’t believe him?” Birell asked.
“I have to, daughter. He returned the magic that was taken from us. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it, or him. Or the fact that he wants to take my daughter away from me just after I get her back from her crazy dream about being a bounty hunter. You have to admit this all sounds crazy,” Elistrain said looking down on her like he did when she was a child.
“I am my own person, I make my own decisions,” Birell challenged.
“Oh I am aware you believe that. Yet this human comes here and suddenly your decisions are made. Have you mated with him?” Elistrain asked with a disgusted tone.
“Father! How dare you?” she called out angrily.
“Answer the question. You are a princess and must act accordingly. I cannot have a elven princess laying with a human!”
“The answer,” Sreg said from behind them, “Is not yet,” he finished with a wink at Birell and a nod at her father. Has he no shame, Birell thought.
“The correct answer is not ever,” Elistrain said.
“Kilyn might disagree,” Sreg said with a sing-song voice, once again winking at his elf friend.
“I won’t allow it!” Elistrain said and stamped his foot like a spoiled child told he couldn’t have sweets for breakfast.
“Father, please know this. Sreg, or Kilyn, or whatever he is called is my friend, and that is all. I have never taken a lover, nor do I wish to at this time, but who I do chose to in the future, will be my choice, and no one else’s,” Birell explained.
“You just stepped on my heart,” Sreg said, mocking being hurt.
“Now is not the time!” Birell said getting annoyed with his shenanigans. She let out an exasperated sigh. If Sreg noticed he didn’t show it and gave her another smile.
“You expect me to believe this after he stands here grinning like an idiot?” her father said shaking his head.
“I can’t help the way I look,” Sreg said loudly. Birell turned and started to walk away.
“Where are you going?” her father called out after her.
“To get some fresh air!” she called back over her shoulder and pushed her way past a palace servant through the archway leading to the main hall and outside. Sreg turned and looked at Elistrain for a second then shrugged.
“Woman, eh?” he said and stood there awkwardly for a second before chasing after Birell, glad to be away from the elven leader.
Birell made her way out of the front door, only stopping long enough to grab her bow. Hunting will help her calm down. It was so infuriating, having to deal with her father’s unbreakable will. He just couldn’t see things any other way than his own. It really wasn’t a good quality in a leader, she thought.
Most of the palace staff gave her wide berth, having spent her lifetime dealing with her they could tell when she wanted to be alone, and soon she was surrounded by the familiar trees that she played with as a child. The canopy above made her feel better. Comforted by the surrounding nature. She made her way to the south, where she first learned to hunt on rabbits and other small game. She stopped near a tree and ran her fingers over a carving in the bark. It was her name, carved on her first hunting trip with her father.
It seemed so long ago that her father brought her out here and gave her her first bow. It was made of ash and was almost too hard for her to draw back. They spent the entire day together, hunting rabbits and squirrels, but she couldn’t hit one. She secretly didn’t want to hit one of the innocent animals and cause it harm. While her father strung the bow, she took out her knife and carved her name into the tree. Her father had berated her for marking up nature like that, but the damage was done and there was nothing they could do about it after the fact.
She thought back on that memory and it brought a tear to her eyes. How much her father had changed over the years, or at least her perception of the leader of the elves, she thought. She heard a twig snap behind her and she spun with practiced speed bringing her bow up and pointing an arrow towards the noise.
“Easy,” Sreg said stepping out from behind a large oak tree. He leaned against the trunk that had to be almost a dozen feet around. “I was just concerned for you.”
“You need not be concerned. I know these woods like the back of my hand,” Birell responded and lowered her weapon.
“I see that,” Sreg said as he approached and pointed at the name carved in the tree. “I am surprised your father didn’t flay you for that.”
“I think he wanted to,” she said wiping that tear from her face. “You know he isn’t a bad man. He is just stubborn. Painfully, infuriatingly stubborn at times,” she finished.
“I got that. I do. But we don’t have time to convince him. Every day we sit here, Lod’rum and the other gods of darkness plot and maneuver. Time is not our friend,” Sreg said pulling a flask out of his belt. He took a long pull from it an offered it to Birell.
“It’s not even midday,” she said as she shook her head no.
“I know, but I am trying to get a running start,” Sreg said and drank again from the flask before tucking it back into his belt.
Birell tried to speak, but a smile crossed her lips and she shook her head. “I am not sure who is more infuriating. My father or you,” she said.
“Perhaps we should have a competition?” he asked and put his hand on her bow. “May I?” he asked. She nodded and let the human take the bow. He examined it. “Elven design?” he asked.
“A gift, for returning safe,” she said and pointed out the carvings that adorned the wood of the bow.
“Are the arrows as pretty?” he joked as he tested the strength of the draw. “It seems like a nice weapon. I hope you never have to draw it in combat, but I am afraid that won’t be an option in the weeks to come. Something big is brewing,” Sreg explained and handed back her weapon.
“Have you more information you haven’t shared?” she asked.
“It is no secret that Lod’rum rules over death. Facing the undead is to be expected, but my brain buddy, Kilyn says that Lod’rum has been recruiting the other gods. The unknown is the scariest part. I entrust Grian to prepare for the undead, but how can we prepare for battle with an enemy we have never seen?” he asked.
“You are hoping by having the elves march to Grian’s side it adds more knowledge on the evil in the world?” Birell asked.
“I feel. We feel it is the only way to succeed,” Sreg said.
“Convince my father of that,” Birell said looking deeper into the forest. “You know I left here as a bounty hunter because my father wouldn’t accept that I was an adult. That I could take care of myself. I spent a lot of time traveling the world, seeing it as much more than what my father had described to me. Then once I met Grian and learned of his mission the world opened up even more. For a long-lived race, the elves are very narrow minded,” she said.
“Most of the races I have met can be the same way,” Sreg said. “In truth we are all the same on the inside. The differences are only superficial. Even Kilyn thinks that way,” the ranger said.
“We returned nature magic to the elves. Their legacy, and still your father hesitates. I have met more decisive dwarves. Speaking of which Zeeg should be arriving soon with Grian to help him the best he can with the coming war,” Sreg said.
“Any word on Skrat?” Birell asked. Sreg winced as if in pain.
“No, I hope he is happy with the choice he made. I don’t understand how he can turn his back on his family like that.”
“Could he be under a spell of some kind?” Birell asked.
“Unlikely. He is too smart to let something like that happen. He is upset about something in the past. Something that started us on this path,” Sreg replied. He looked off into the woods, his stare distant.
“Are you ok?” Birell asked.
“Ha, yeah. Here I am trying to be the concerned friend and I’m going off about me. Some friend I am.”
“I know you are my friend,” Birell said placing her slender fingers on his unshaven cheek. “I can see the way you look at me in battle. Concern over my welfare,” Birell said.
“Aye, like the way Grian looks at you as well?” Sreg asked breaking eye contact as he did so. He stared down at his hands, willing them not to shake.
“No, not the same way. Grian is like a brother to me. He concerns himself with my well-being on and off the battlefield. Maybe more like a protective mother” she smiled and moved closer to him. She could smell the leather of his armor. You look at me a different way.” She said, just barely above a whisper. Sreg swallowed the lump that was growing in his throat.
“And how do I look at you?” Sreg asked leaning closer to her, his heart racing. He had thought about this moment many times since meeting the elf. About how this conversation would go if it were to ever happen and if it should even happen. His feelings didn’t make sense to him, not at least until Kilyn made himself known. He wondered if that part of him made him feel this way for an elf. Was the god having an influence over him? He didn’t think so.
Birell leaned in closer. Their faces only mere inches apart. She raised his face with her hand until she could look into his green eyes, illuminated by a shaft of light that filtered through the canopy above. They stood there, looking at each other for agonizing long seconds as she mustered up the courage to say what she wanted to say to him. What she needed to say to him, what has in her heart for a while now.
Suddenly a large boom was heard back at the palace. Both of the rangers turned north. Through the branches above Birell saw flames burning the top of the palace’s spires. The naturally formed palace was ancient, and the dried wood burned quickly. What could have set it on fire like that?
“Father!” Birell called out and took off running back towards the palace with Sreg in tow.
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