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The Bargain Struck

 
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Arandir
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


Joined: 12 Sep 2014
Posts: 35
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Can Be Found: The Village of Anarven
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PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 5:37 pm    Post subject: The Bargain Struck Reply with quote

The heart of the forest was a good day's journey on foot from Anarven, along tracks that were little more than game trails, deep into the overhanging greenery. The deeper the three petitioners went, the darker it became, more overgrown, more wild. More eyes watching the three elfkin as they passed into territory that did not feel welcoming to those who were not animals of the forest. Luin kept her bow nocked as they passed into a clearing that seemed choked with vines, frowning at the barrier.

"What now?" she asked her companions softly. "We dare not cut at the greenery here."

"You met him once," Hal pointed out. "Perhaps he would recognize your voice if you called out to him," he suggested.

"I think perhaps you should put your bow away, Luin," Aran said, feeling eyes on them and not all of them friendly, but it seemed to him they were only being watched for now, as if someone was deciding whether they were friend or foe.

"I do not like to unprepared in case of trouble," Luin objected softly, but she did put up her bow, albeit with no little reluctance. She glanced over at Hal in concern. "What should I say?"

"You do not walk into someone's home with your weapon drawn," Aran pointed out. "Tell him ..." Aran frowned, wondering suddenly why he didn't just speak for himself. He stepped forward into the middle of the clearing, leaving Hal and Luin at his back and cleared his throat. He was a Prince of Ilyethlin; that had to count for something.

"Vedui!" he called in a voice that he hoped sounded friendly. "We are elves from the village of Anarven, seeking council with the druid Nesgrim. We mean no harm. We only wish to speak with him, if we may. It is a matter of utmost importance."

For a long moment there was nothing. Nothing - no sound of birds or animals, no whisper of wind through the trees. Then a ripple seemed to pass through the vines that barred their way, a mass of coiling, shifting greenery that parted with invitation to show the way toward the very heart of the forest. Luin couldn't help being suspicious.

"Be wary, highness."

"We must all be wary," Aran warned his companions. "Do not draw your weapons. It might be seen as an act of aggression, and we are here on a peaceful mission."

Hal exchanged a glance with Luin, looking as wary as she was. He wasn't sure he liked this; it could easily be a trap, but he had no choice but to do as his prince commanded.

"I'll go first," Luin volunteered, moving with silent care over the moss-covered ground to pass between the rippling vines. She did not like it one little bit, but if this was the only way, then this was what had to be done.

Aran went next, with Hal taking up the rear, in case they were attacked from behind. Though he did not have a weapon drawn, he was wary and alert for any sign of attack. Though Aran was nervous, he had to hope they were not walking into a trap. Certainly not a trap set by gnolls, in any case.

That hope was misplaced. As soon as all three of them were between the vines, the greenery moved, uncoiling, wrapping tendrils about arms and legs, lifting each of them off the ground to pass them as though from hand to hand through the trees, deeper into the darkest part of the forest. No amount of struggling could free Luin's hands or feet - indeed, the more she struggled, the less dignified the position in which she was being carried. By the time they reached an eerily lit clearing around a massive oak in which was set a small door, she was upside down.

All three of them were caught off-guard, but none of them called out in terror.

"Luin! Stop struggling! It will only make it worse," Hal urged, though he was just as alarmed as she was. He had quickly learned that it was useless to struggle.

Of the three of them, Aran seemed the most calm, almost as if he understood this was of the druid's doing. He could not very well blame him, knowing he had good cause not to trust them. Hopefully, he would listen to reason; he could just as easily have denied them entry, but he had not. He only hoped this wasn't a trap.

Frustrated and annoyed, Luin let out a huff of breath, forcing herself to relax as she dangled, long hair brushing the ground beneath them. This was not the best position in which to be assessing the druid. The grand oak they had been brought to was far larger than any other in the forest and, as they watched, the door set into the trunk swung inward. A small figure stumped out, all white beard and hair, branch-like horns worn like a crown, scraps of hide covering the nut-brown body. He peered up at them suspiciously.

"Well?" he asked, his voice reedy and impatient.

Hal held his tongue, though his patience was waning. He was no more pleased than Luin at their predicament, and it was difficult to keep either of his companions safe when he was so tangled up in vines as he was.

"We have come to speak with you and to ask for your help," Aran replied, unable to do much more than that, as he was as tangled up as his companions.

"What's in it for me?" the gnome demanded. He was very old, and obviously very isolated from sentient company. There was little regret in his poor manners, however. "You, boy ... you're Raniel's new whelp?"

Aran clenched his jaw in annoyance, though he held his temper in check. "I am called Arandir. Raniel is my wife's father," he explained, trying not to get too annoyed with the gnome's lack of manners. "I take it you are the druid Nesgrim. We have come to ask for your help. We mean you and your forest no harm."

The gnome nodded thoughtfully, leaning on a staff that looked as though it was nothing more or less than a sapling that had volunteered itself for this task. "You're little Carina's mate." He waved the staff, and the vines released Aran gently onto his feet. The gnome turned to Hal. "You, what are you?"

Hal blinked at the druid, wondering why the little gnome didn't know what he was. It seemed obvious enough. Or did he mean who? "I am Haldreithen, Royal Guard to the Prince of Ilyethlin," he replied, perhaps a little too seriously and a little too honestly. "And that is Luin, my mate. You have met her once before."
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Arandir
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


Joined: 12 Sep 2014
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Can Be Found: The Village of Anarven
1023.64 Silver Crowns

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Oh, that red one's too flighty with her arrows." The gnome waved his staff, and the vines hoisted Luin just a little higher off the ground. He cackled, turning back to Aran. "Prince, he say?"

"I was a prince once. It no longer matters. That place is no more. Here I am just another of Rhy'Din's refugees, though I do my best to keep my people safe." Aran glanced over at his friends and frowned, assuming the druid did not trust them because of their weapons. "If they put their weapons aside, will you let them down?" he asked, as politely as he could.

Nesgrim considered this, then nodded, the movement dislodging a few leaves from his wild hair.

"Girl!" he yelled, his cracked voice uncomfortably loud in the stillness.

There was a suggestion of movement in the shadows of the oak's branches, and a small hummingbird swept down toward them, transforming at a snap of the gnome's fingers into a diminutive dark elven woman. Her clothing was ragged, but had once been finely made, her hair silver-white against stone dark skin, and around her neck was twisted a circle of those same vines. The gnome banged his staff on the ground, and that circle tightened for just a moment before loosening.

"Weapons. Take 'em."

The dark elf nodded, keeping her eyes downcast, and moved to take the weapons from the hanging elves - first from Luin, and then Hal.

Aran's face betrayed first astonishment at the transformation, then confusion at the elf's presence here, and then his brows furrowed in annoyance at the realization that she was most likely - for whatever reason - a prisoner of the druid. Though he tried not to show it, that rankled him a little. He had seen a few of her kind in Rhy'Din and though she was darker skinned than his own people, she was obviously of elven blood.

"Who is she?" he asked, as he looked back at the druid. "And why is she here?"

The gnome scowled, spitting at the dark elf's bare feet. "Drow," he muttered. "Murderers, thieves, all of them. Womenfolk the worst. Earning her life is what she is doing."

The elven woman slipped past, stacking the weapons carefully out of reach. As she straightened, Nesgrim thumped his staff against the ground again, and where the dark elf had stood now hovered the hummingbird once more.

Aran had been of a mind to give up the knife he'd hidden inside his boot, but the elf had collected the weapons too quickly for him to do so, and he had decided he did not trust the gnome enough to give up the only weapon the three of them might have between them. "You have proof that she has done these things?" he asked, even though the matter of the elf wasn't what had brought him here.

"Don't need proof," Nesgrim muttered, waving the hummingbird back into the branches above them. "Drow. All drow are evil."

Luin snorted. "Not all of them are," she objected. "And you're keeping her as a slave!" The vines lifted her higher, as though in warning.

"As all gnomes are stubborn and hot-headed, I suppose," Aran countered, though he knew very little of gnomes. "It is wrong to keep her imprisoned, and even worse to keep her as a slave," he said, his voice low, but not threatening. He was frowning at the thought of it, reminded too much of home, where elves and humans hated each other so much they had nearly destroyed themselves.

Nesgrim snorted, the motion blowing his beard and moustache out for a moment in a cloud of midges. "You want her free? You pay me."

Aran frowned, unsure if he should continue with the bargaining when the elf was not the reason they had come. His first order of business was the gnolls. "You have our weapons. Set my friends free," he said, his voice even and undemanding, but not leaving much room for argument either.

The gnome grumbled, but tapped his staff on the ground once again. The vines holding Hal and Luin abruptly released them, letting the pair drop to the forest floor sharply.

"What do you want?" Nesgrim demanded, turning to stump back toward his tree home.

Hal was quick to roll to his feet, and he moved to help Luin to hers, though he didn't want to lose sight of his prince. Aran glanced over at his friends as they were so unceremoniously dropped on the ground, but seeing that Hal seemed to have things well in hand, he turned back to the gnome, stepping forward to follow, but not getting too close.

"We seek knowledge," Aran replied. "Our village was attacked by a pack of gnolls and we would seek a peaceful way to prevent another attack."

"Gnolls, eh?" Nesgrim paused, half-turning back toward them. "Food or fighting. Both is best."

Luin rolled her eyes, grateful to Hal for helping her up. "This is getting us nowhere," she murmured.

"We don't want to make pets of them," Aran pointed out. "But we need to ensure the safety of the village." He did not think he needed to point out that innocent lives were at stake should the gnolls continue their attacks. "I would prefer a peaceful solution, rather than one of violence."

"Why should I help you, hmm?" The last syllable was a sharp huff of breath pointed directly at Aran. "What do I get for sending them on? I have duties, responsibilities. Drow to feed." He shot an angry glance into the branches over head.

Aran bristled a little, but hoped the gnome didn't notice. He might have pointed out that the druid got the satisfaction of saving innocent lives, but somehow he didn't think he'd care. Lives lost might just mean fewer people to chop down trees and hunt animals in the forest. And he wouldn't have to feed the drow if he let her go free, but somehow Aran thought this argument wouldn't go over well with the gnome.

"What is it that you want?" he asked, wondering if perhaps they could strike a bargain.

"To be left alone," Nesgrim grumbled. "Gnolls and drow and elves, all asking, asking, asking, needing, wanting, taking. Quiet and calm is what I want, no more voices interrupting the Mother."

Luin tilted her head, frowning curiously. She wished she had a means to communicate with the prince without Nesgrim hearing - she thought she could see a means to give the old gnome what he wanted.
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Arandir
Young Wyrm
Young Wyrm


Joined: 12 Sep 2014
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Can Be Found: The Village of Anarven
1023.64 Silver Crowns

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2019 5:37 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

"That is all you wish?" Aran asked, brows arching upwards as he came to a halt not from the little gnome's home. He had expected him to demand payment in the way of gold or gems or perhaps some rare artifact, not simply peace and solitude.

The little druid turned back to face him, one bony finger pointing down at the ground at his feet. "Four hundred years I've tended this soil, cared for this land," he declared. "Not long now. Heh, new druid needed soon! See what you do then!" He cackled for a moment, coughing into his wide palm.

"Are you ill?" Aran asked, coming a single step closer, his expression turning compassionate. He knew a little healing; not so much as some of those among his kind, but he was not afraid to help those who needed it.

"Hehehe, can't heal this, elf boy," the gnome told him with confident amusement. "The Mother calls. Part of the natural way, so 'tis." He sobered, letting out a long sigh. "Peace should be mine before I go. So many voices, so many intruders. No peace."

"What if we could bring you such peace?" Aran asked. He wasn't sure yet how it might be accomplished, but he was willing to try to find out, whether the solution mean magic or some other means. He felt a twinge of sympathy for the old gnome, who only desired a little peace before he died. And yet, there was still the matter of the gnolls and the captive drow.

For a moment, the old gnome looked his age, small and wizened and tired of life. "Give much, I would, for peace at the end," he said wearily, shaking his head.

Luin glanced at Hal, uncertain if she should interrupt with the idea in her mind. Perhaps she should wait until Aran had responded himself.

"All we ask is for advice ..." Aran said, trailing off a moment as he glanced to the trees in search of the hummingbird. "What will happen to the drow when you are gone?" he asked curiously, wondering if it was even necessary to bargain for her release or if it an inevitability.

Nesgrim let out a dismissive huff of breath. "Spells die when I die," he said. "Tree dies. She wears tree, she dies. No more drow." His laugh was definitely unpleasant.

Aran frowned again. He wasn't sure why he cared so much about either the gnome or the drow, but it wasn't in his nature not to care. "If we can give you the peace you so desire, then will you tell us how to keep the gnolls from the village and free the drow into our care?"

Nesgrim scowled. "How?" he asked warily.

Luin saw her chance - she was the only magic user here. "We can create a barrier, with magic," she offered in a quiet tone. "One that will allow the animals and the plants to cross freely, but nothing and no one else."

Aran glanced at Luin, brows arching upwards. He had considered a similar solution to their gnoll problem, but how long would such a thing hold up and how hard would it be to keep in place?

"There you have it," Aran said, turning back to the gnome. "What do you say to that?"

Nesgrim scratched at his bald patch thoughtfully. "You magic, red?"

Luin shook her head. "I'm learning," she told him. "But we have mages and wizards who could do this."

The gnome frowned. "Gnolls easy," he admitted, waving a hand. "Three days, you come back."

"And the drow?" Aran asked, hoping he wasn't pressing his luck, but whatever her bloodline, she was clearly an elf, and he could not in good conscience leave her to die.

The gnome's frown deepened to a scowl. "Drow dies," he said irritably. "Less evil in the world when she does."

Luin sighed, her eyes seeking Hal once again. They could possibly steal the little hummingbird, but how could they change her back and get that circlet from her neck?

"That is not what you said," Aran pointed out, turning the druid's words back around on him. "You said we could pay for her freedom, and the price is your peace. Those are the terms of our bargain."

The sharp eyes narrowed above the scowl. But the prospect of a peaceful end was too enticing, and though he didn't know Aran, he knew Raniel would not send a liar. "Fine, she too," he grumped, waving his hand. "Three days, gnolls gone. You keep promise, drow go with you then."

"You have my word as Prince of Ilyethlin," Aran replied, though Ilyethlin was no more. "We will return in three days. Now, please return our weapons so that we can leave you in peace," he told the druid. They might need them in case they ran into the gnolls on the way back.

"Take 'em." The gnome jerked his head toward the collection of weapons stacked by one of the large roots. He muttered to himself as he stumped back into his tree house, slamming the door behind him.

Luin rolled her eyes, sighing. "It could have gone worse."

"It could have gone better," Hal muttered, now that the druid had left them alone. He went to the cache of weapons to retrieve his bow and his sword, while Aran's eyes drifted once again to the trees in search of that elusive hummingbird.

"What do you know of dark elves, Luin? Are they really evil, as the druid claims?"

Strapping her weapons back into place, Luin considered the question. "I know that the drow are evil, but they are also matriarchal, and no drow female would ever meekly consent to being collared like that," she said thoughtfully. "Most dark elves in Rhy'Din don't conform to that mould - that's why they're here."

"They are refugees, like us," Aran said, more statement than question. He wasn't sure if he included Luin in that statement, as he wasn't entirely sure of her history, but he assumed she was alluding to something like that.

"Or outcasts," she agreed quietly. "I don't feel a sense of evil from this one. She didn't even look us in the eye." Above them, the hummingbird flitted in and out of the branches, unable to come down, it seemed, without the gnome's instruction.

There was that pang of sympathy again, and Aran frowned, as he watched the pretty thing flit about in an attempt to free herself. "We will come back for you in a few days, little one. I swear," he promised her quietly. "And then, you will be free."

Whether the little hummingbird heard or not did not truly matter. What mattered was that the promise had been made, the bargain struck. With luck, in just a few days, they would have both peace with the gnolls and a new member of their sanctuary home. Yet all they could do now was wait, and hope that Nesgrim was true to his word.
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