For Maeywn the feast was a homecoming, for the others a rare treat. The subtle foods and fine wines of the Elves tempted all their palates and Marri found herself taking notes for future recipes. They were introduced to the Lord and Lady, but all talk of business was forestalled. "We shall speak of that on the morrow," said the Lord. "Tonight is for rest and rejoicing."
After the meal, they were shown to their lodgings, hollows beneath the roots of giant trees, cozy, warm and clean.
The next day, they had an audience with the Lord, Lady, Greywolf and a few other Elves. After expressing the admiration and thanks for the trials the party had undergone thus far, they spoke of the future. "You have heard some of the legend surrounding the fountain, but it is time for more."
"Two hundred years ago, Chaos was waxing in the world. The battle in the South, here and near here, was desperate. The servants of Chaos wished to open a rift in space to allow their master, Barsnarg, the Black Death God, to come into the world physically. Greywolf has told us of your encounter crossing the pass with one of Barsnarg's followers. The Black Death God already has the power to raise his followers to un-life, and this is while the way is still mostly barred to him. Can you imagine the darkness that would fall should he be present physically and not merely able to send psychic tendrils to our world?
"A hero rose, Ryo-Aldenar, who led the elves and others, including your ancestor, Herger, Hermann Blichen. The elves of Lin-Adelle then, and now for the most part, worshipped Arianka, a Goddess of Law. Although imprisoned in her crystal coffin, still her power was strong. Her sphere is stasis, and with her aid, the tree of Lor-Anoran was planted. The tree bars the way to the Black Death God, and the power of the Goddess was such that the opening of the door was halted and could progress no further. It was not closed completely, but rather was frozen in stasis at the moment when Ryo-Aldenar forced the gate nearly shut.
"And thus it has remained for two hundred years. But now, the stasis is weakening. Barsnarg can force the gate wider for moments at a time now, but more and more often can he do this. His riders are now abroad, it seems, and his followers multiply. To strengthen the stasis, water from the Fountain of Lemnar far to the east must be gained and fed to the tree. This is your task."
The Lord paused in his recitation. "But that is not all. Of this next, even Greywolf is ignorant. Our seers have read other signs. The story of Ryo-Aldenar did not end with the planting of the tree, nor begin there. Ryo-Aldenar was a warrior but also a philosopher. When a meteorite fell to earth, he rode to seek it fearing it to be fragment of the Chaos moon. It was not, and so he gathered it up and caused it to be forged into a mighty weapon, the Sword of Ryo-Aldenar. Thus armed he fought the evil of the Black Death God.
"After the way had been barred, Ryo-Aldenar did not rest. There was still much Chaos to be expunged and he was tireless in this fight. Alas! Evil may befall the greatest hero. On his way to raid the Chaos Hordes, his Troop was ambushed at the small pass of Arrak-Arras. Here is where Ryo-Aldenar passes from our knowledge. His troop was slain to a man, their bodies were found, surrounded by the bodies of Chaos Warriors. But of Ryo-Aldenar and his Sword, not trace was found. The fallen heroes were buried in Arrak-Arras, but we consider the battlefield cursed and do not go there.
"The signs our seers have read show that the time is near for the Sword of Ryo-Aldenar to return to the world, and that you," he indicated the party, "may be the ones to find it. Such a weapon would be invaluable in your quest to seek the Fountain, but it could delay you. You must decide which path to take."
"But first, rest here a while. You have travelled long and need to refresh your body and spirit. We will take council for some few weeks and then you may decide where you will fare." So saying, the Lord gestured to his attendants and the company was conducted back to their lodgings.
Herger spent his time to good effect whilewith the Elves. The serenity and peace found there helped heal any of the mental scars he had received on his virgin journey into adventure. He found that his time was best spent in preparation for the next leg of the quest. He would be found with Rurik or his uncle, or any willing Elf, learning to improve his combat skills. Practical things that would help him and his friends when in dire straights. He seemed to have a fair amount of raw talent and he was beginning to fashion himself into a fine warrior in the weeks spent in the forest.
At meal times and in the quiet evenings he would muse and often mention that he thought going after the sword the better of the two options.
Marri had been spending her time studying healing with the elven healers, particularly an old elf named Liallan. The study was hard but fascinating.
She leaned back against the tree, legs stretched out in front of her, large feet bare. Josef was tossing a brighly colored ball for Traveller, and the little dog was barking excitedly as she bounced around after it. Marri hadn't felt so secure or safe in... well... she really couldn't remember how long! She picked up one of the luscious elven fruits whose name she could not quite remember, but whose flavor she would never forget, and bit into it, savoring the sweet juices. "I wish we didn't have to ever leave! Still it probably won't stay so safe and so beautiful if we do not go on!" Very reluctantly, her thoughts turned to the way ahead. "Herger has made it clear that he wishes to pursue the 'legendary' sword! Men! Well, warriors I suppose!" she thought with a small audible snort. "Does he not realize that the more we adventure" another small snort puntuated this thought "the more likely it is that one of us, or by Sweet Esmeralda's Luxuriant and Lovely Hair, all of us will be hurt or killed? Liallan is a fantastic healer. I am learning so much! And if I must go on this journey, there is no doubt I'll be more use as a healer than I ever would be as a fighter. Though I do swing a mean skillet! Still... what if we get the dratted sword and lose the race to save the tree? What if... what if....Blessed Es.... No perhaps this is a time for the blessing of the Revered Varina, goddess of learning and no doubt of logic over emotion! I could, I suppose, think of 'what ifs' from one end of the day to the other and have accomplished little but to waste the day!" She frowned, thinking furiously. "I think we should go on, wasting no time! But swords mean little to me, perhaps if it were a lovely lemon tart.... Foolish halfling! Concentrate! This is Herger's quest after all, and I can only hope that the good gods are directing his thoughts! I shall follow where he leads!"
That decided, Marri became aware that it was nearly time for the midday meal! She called out to Josef and Traveller and hurried them along. "I shouldn't want to miss luncheon today! I've a great deal of studying to do and its quite hungry work! Though," she admitted to herself with a laugh, " I don't much like to miss a meal at any time! I do wish," her thoughts turned to her studies, " that that herb with the lovely blue flowers, and the delicious aroma did not taste so very foul! If would have made such a nice tea..."
Her plans were interrupted when she was summoned to attend a patient with her mentor. What a surprise it was to find the patient was a thin, gaunt halfling dressed in tattered finery.
He appeared to fade in and out of consciousness as his eyelids fluttered. Their cadence matched his quivering lips, occassionally what sounded like a tune escaped from between the parched guardians. Valiantly his head would rise, and then fall as if it attempted to lift the burden of the mightiest oaks.
"This is Tibbiddo Stoutwaddle, of the Greenhill Stoutwaddles he keeps telling us, whatever that means. We rescued him yesterday near Arrak-Arras. He had been prisoner of a band of Chaos Beastmen for several weeks, which explains his condition." The elf was all business, "There is nothing seriously wrong with him. He's half starved, of course, and thirsty. A little bruised and battered. The rest of his story he can tell you himself. He probably will whether or not you want to hear it."
An eye peered out from beneath its leaden lid, and what sounded like a perturbed sigh emanated from the halfling. He moaned for effect, hoping to drown out the talkative elf.
Over the next few days, Marri tended to the sick halfing, Tibbiddo Stoutwaddle, and learned his story. Reading between the lines, it seemed that he had sold a treasure map to some likely looking adventuring types, who decided to take him along as insurance against the map's accuracy.
Near Arrak-Arras, they had been abmushed by Chaos Beastmen, held prisoner for weeks and the rest of the party eaten one by one. Tibbiddo was spared this fate only because a part of elves destroyed the vile creatures infesting their woods and rescued him. The incident had left the carefree rogue with a strong dislike of Chaos and its spawn. The elves suggested that, since he had already been nearly to Arrak-Arras, he should serve as guide to the party on their expedition to the battlefield to seek the sword of Ryo-Aldenar.
The companions began to plan their next step, and Tibbiddo joined them.
Another new presence at the companions council was that of Michael Griffenberg, the uncle of little Josef. He had planned to meet his brother's family in Erikspall to start a small business, but now found himself bereft of family and business. A seasoned fighting man, who had lately served shipboard as a marine, he agreed with the plan to foster Josef with Marri's family in the Moot since he was ill-equipped to raise the child alone. In gratitude for the party's care of his last surviving relative, he would accompany them on their expedition to Arrak-Arras and provide such service as he could.
The final smaller addition was a fine hunting bird, a hawk named Swiftwind, which the falconer had gifted to Maewyn. The bird perched alertly on her arm or on an "L" shaped stick she thrust in the ground.
As the companions prepared to head for Arrak-Arras, they were all surprised by the changes they had undergone in the past few months.
Herger looked harder, and carried himself with more alertness and assurance. The elves had provided him with a long mail hauberk, and the servant he had been had faded and the warrior his ancestor had been had come to the fore.
Marri looked almost comical in her short mail coat and she had traded in her pens and paper for a bag which contained her medical gear.
Maewyn, too, looked more confident. She held her staff with an ease which showed that if someone attacked her now, as Pietr had done, she would now be able to wield her staff with much more efficacy.
Rurik looked much the same, although he twirled his pick-hammer idly in a way that indicated it had been much in his hands the last few weeks.
Tibbiddo had put on some wait over the last few days and this had restored some of his good humour. He puffed on a pipe and leaned on the fancy cane of his the elves had recovered when they rescued him.
Michael, too, was clad in mail, though not of elf work. The hardness around his eyes and weather beaten skin gave testimony to the harshness of his life to date.
All wore the cloaks given to them by the elves, which seemed of no color but almost to take on the color the the woodland around them.
The Lord of Lin-Adelle spoke, "We do not know there the sword may lie, we can only put you on the track to where it last lay, the battlefield or Arrak-Arras. Master Tibbiddo was rescued there and shall guide you the final way. We shall send an escort with you for the first leg of the journey. There is a path you must follow for two days, the escort will leave you after the first. After the second day, you will find a little used path to the east. Take that turning, two more days and you shall be in Arrak-Arras. Master Tibbiddo knows the turning, and once on that trail you cannot fail to find the battlefield."
That evening there was again a great festival to set the party on their way, and at dawn the next day they set off.