Eldaran


by Dolores Esteban



The drums grew louder and the screams more frantic. The shamans were dancing around the fire, swirling and screaming. Elisar and the other men of his clan watched the dancing shamans from the distance. The night was cold and the full moon shed an eerie light.

The northern tribes and clans had gathered after the warriors had hunted down the warlock Khumal. The man was fastened to a pole that had been erected in the centre of the fire. The flames, however, did not reach the man. He stood in the centre of the fire, his eyes closed, motionless, as if not paying attention.

Elisar watched the man who had stolen the magical book of the clans. Khumal had fled, but the warriors had hunted him down and tonight was the day of his trial. The warlock would not burn at the stake, Elisar had understood. His punishment was more severe. The fire was just a symbol of what was to come.

The drums grew louder. The shamans screamed frantically, and then suddenly, from one second to the other, the drums and the screams all stopped. There was an eerie silence. A menacing aura enveloped the place.

Amal, the mightiest shaman of the clans, stepped forward and stopped in front of the fire. He flung his arms in the air.

"Cha d’dhùin doras nach d’fhosgail doras," he shouted.

The shaman was about to open a magical gate. The warlock Khumal would be banned to another sphere. A lightning flashed and the air started vibrating, humming almost. A mystical aura filled the place. A man handed Amal the magical book of the clans. The mighty shaman seized it tightly and held it up in the air.

Another lightning flashed. Amal lowered the book. Holding it in his left hand, he pointed his right hand at Khumal. Khumal opened his eyes.

Elisar held his breath as the warlock flashed a dark look at Amal.

"Thalla a bhallhair!" Amal called out.

Khumal started laughing loudly when invisible hands seized him and dragged him away to the portal that Amal had opened.

Elisar looked at the fire. Khumal had disappeared. Only the pole and the chords had remained in the centre of the fire. An invisible power had unfastened the warlock and had taken him away. The vibrations of the air lessened. The gate was closing. And then the terrible happened.

A bolt of lightning shot from the closing gate. The light wrenched the magical book from Amal’s hands and flung it high up in the air. Khumal’s laughter was loud and hollow. And then there was silence.

Amal flung his hands in the air as if in an attempt to seize the book. He flung his spirit up while his physical body tumbled to the ground, but all his efforts were useless. The magical book had vanished through a gate that the warlock Khumal had opened before he had ultimately disappeared to the place that Amal had banned him to.

Amal rose to his feet and the shamans gathered around him. An old man raised his voice and said that someone needed to set out in quest for the book, a man who was chosen by the higher spirits. The shamans agreed with him. Amal made a gesture with his hand. The others stepped back. The mighty shaman pulled a white feather from his pouch and said the feather would pick the chosen one. He held the feather up in the air and sang a magical chant, and then he threw the feather up in the air.

A soft breeze carried it away and in Elisar's direction. Elisar seized the feather with a trembling hand. He stepped forward and looked at the shamans. Their eyes were resting on him. Elisar swallowed and his heart was pounding fast. Amal took the feather from his hand and looked at him solemnly.

"No man can avoid his destiny," he said in a grave voice, and then threw the feather once again in the air. The feather floated in the air and then descended to the ground. Amal pointed his hand at the place and spoke a magical spell. A gate of mist appeared out of nowhere.  

"Gum biodh ràth le do thurus. May your quest be successful," Amal said with a serious look.

Elisar approached the gate hesitatingly. He turned his head to the shamans and the other men. Their looks were expectant, hopeful and grave. Elisar realized that all hope rested on him. With a heavy heart, the young warrior stepped through the gate.

~~**~~

Elisar awoke in a dim and stifled room. He sat up in confusion. The chamber was small and furnished only with a bed, a wooden chair and a table. He looked around, wondering where he was. Then he remembered that he had stepped through the gate. He had arrived in an unknown town. A man had welcomed him and had taken him to a guest-house. Elisar's thoughts were interrupted by loud voices outside.

He got up, went to the window and opened the shutters. He looked down on a narrow and cobbled street. His room was located on the first floor. An agitated crowd had gathered in the street. A tall, bald man in a grey robe man was speaking to them.

Elisar was distracted by a knock at the door. A middle-aged man entered the room. He was dressed in colourful clothes. Elisar recognized the man. Lord Ryndor had taken him to the guest-house the previous day.

"Good morning, Master Elisar," the man said with a smile. "I hope you slept well. I have spoken to the king. He is willing to receive you."

The voices in the street grew louder.

"What is going on, Lord Ryndor?" Elisar asked.

Lord Ryndor stepped closer and looked out of the window. "The end of days has come," he said in a mocking voice.

"What?" Elisar asked in disbelief.

Lord Ryndor turned to him and shrugged. "Well, people fell ill. The shamans can’t help them. There is no cure for their illness. A few people have died already. Mothrys says that this is only the beginning. The end of days has come. The river Amael has almost run dry. The end of the world is near when the river runs dry," Lord Ryndor said. "Mothrys’ words," he added, shaking his head.

"People fell ill?" Elisar asked.

"Two weeks ago, a group arrived at the capital. Men, women, and children," Lord Ryndor said. "They left their village and came here in hope of finding a healer. They were taken to a house outside of the town walls. It is an isolation ward. The shamans visited them, but they immediately fled when they saw the symptoms of the disease."

"What kind of a disease?" Elisar asked.

"Leprosy," Lord Ryndor said. "The king sent out soldiers to the village the people had left. All inhabitants had fallen ill and had either died or gone to the capital. The soldiers burned down the deserted village and the fields around it in order to make sure the disease will not spread. They purified the evil place with fire."

"Purified?" Elisar asked, bewildered at Lord Ryndor’s choice of words.

"Mothrys’ words," the man explained.

"And who is Mothrys?" Elisar asked.

"The leader of the Brotherhood of the Enlightened Souls," Lord Ryndor replied. "The brotherhood is a sect and their cult is nonsense. The king banned them from court a few years ago. It is said they retreated to some cloister or temple or whatever in the east of the country."

Mothrys raised his voice. Lord Ryndor and Elisar turned back to the window.

"The evil is among us. Do not turn away. Look it straight in the eyes. This is the only way you can fight it," Mothrys said in a gloomy voice.

Elisar shook his head. Lord Ryndor studied him.

"It seems you feel startled as well," he said. "You’re in the minority, Master Elisar." He crossed his arms in front of his chest and looked at him grimly.

"What is it about this Brotherhood of the Enlightened Souls?" Elisar asked him curiously.

"The name itself is a farce," Lord Ryndor hissed. "A group of racists founded the organization a couple of years ago. Their declared aim was the annihilation of minority groups who in their eyes were imperfect and a threat to other people’s enlightenment. Utter nonsense. In the beginning they ranted against mentally handicapped people, but soon they ranted against disabled persons in general. They stated that these people did not contribute to the public welfare. The brotherhood attracted quite a few new members and they protested and demonstrated in the streets. When they started to stir riots, the king banned the group of about thirty men from the city. The group retreated to some secret place, a cloister or whatever, in the eastern woods. The king sent out visitors and observers regularly. The men reported that the members of the brotherhood lived a reclusive life. The group of maniacs had been silenced, luckily. At least this is what we thought. We have been mistaken."

Lord Ryndor turned back to the window and raised his fist.

"Just listen to this devil. They have not been silenced, apparently. They have developed a pseudo-religious cult over the years. No wonder they have come here to stage themselves when they learned of the lepers in the isolated house outside of the town. This is the perfect scenery to yield influence on people and attract new members to join their cult."

Elisar looked out. The bald man pushed through the crowd and passed by under the window.
 
"The end of days has come," Mothrys preached. "The evil has come upon us. Look at the invalids. The ugly face of evil shows clearly. Look at their rotten faces. Look at their rotten flesh. The evil hid for many centuries in hope of finding us asleep when it returns. Wake up, beloved brothers and sisters. Look the evil straight in the eyes. We must act at once. The river Amael has almost run dry."

Lord Ryndor cursed and then threw the window shut. He turned to Elisar. "Come now, Master Elisar. The king is waiting for you," he said.

He turned away and headed for the door. Elisar followed him. Lord Ryndor led him down the street and across a big yard. He stopped in front of a big door and talked to a watchman. The man stepped aside and let them enter. The royal hall was filled with people. The king was sitting at the far side of the table. Lord Ryndor walked down the hall, frowning at everybody. Elisar followed him. The king looked up as Lord Ryndor approached him and gave him a nod. Ryndor bowed to the king and then came straight to the point.

"May I ask why the man has permission to speak outside? Don’t you see he is manipulating the masses?" Lord Ryndor asked.

The king exchanged a look with a counsellor. The man straightened and cleared his throat.

"A new law was enacted a month ago, Lord Ryndor," the man explained. "It guarantees freedom of speech. Religious groups also have the right to speak freely."

"What?" Lord Ryndor hissed. "The brotherhood is not a religious group. It is a group of racists and lunatics."

The king and his counsellor exchanged a look. The king looked back at Lord Ryndor and coughed.

"We made a fatal mistake," he said meekly. "We have watched the brotherhood for several years. It seemed they had given up their original plans. It seemed the group had turned into a religious group. Their codex does not differ much from the rules of other religious groups. At least the codex they gave us to read when they applied for registration as a legitimate religious group."

"They did what?" Lord Ryndor asked, stressing every single word of his question.

The king’s counsellor cleared his throat. "We considered the application thoroughly before we approved it," he said. "We had a close look at the order’s rules and at its members. The original members have all left the brotherhood. All but one man. None of the new members had ever gotten into conflict with the law. The members are all plain and common men." The man paused. "All but one," he added.

"I suspect this man is the founder of the brotherhood and is currently preaching to the masses," Lord Ryndor said in an annoyed voice.

"In fact," the king’s counsellor answered simply.

"All right. We must find a solution to the problem and we must find it soon. Else they burn down the house with the lepers," Lord Ryndor said, turning to the king.

"We’re working at it, Lord Ryndor," the king said with a nod. "We’re watching the man. We’ll arrest him as soon as he violates a law, regardless how minor the violation. Three men came with him. We suppose we can get rid of them very soon. They visit the taverns every night. Our men will stir a quarrel and then we’ll arrest Mothrys’ men."

"Mothrys himself is far more on guard," the king’s counsellor said. "We’re working on altering the law that enables legitimate registration of religious groups. We’re working at it, Lord Ryndor. You cannot help in the process."

Lord Ryndor straightened. "So be it," he said slowly. "However, there is another problem."

The king and his counsellor exchanged a look.

"The lepers," Lord Ryndor said. "What will you do about the lepers?"

The king shrugged. "We cannot do anything, Lord Ryndor. The shamans don’t have a cure. The people remain isolated until...," he said.

"Until they have died. Hopefully sooner than later," Lord Ryndor said drily.

"Life is not always fair and barely ever simple," the king’s counsellor remarked.

"Your words don’t explain away the problem," Lord Ryndor said shortly.

The king raised his hand and gave Lord Ryndor an annoyed look. "Have you come to scold me, Lord Ryndor? Didn’t you ask me earlier this morning to receive a visitor? I granted your wish, although I’m occupied with more important things. Have you brought the man?"

Lord Ryndor bowed to the king. "I apologize, my lord," he said. "Yes, I have brought the man. I happened to meet Master Elisar yesterday. He had just arrived and was at a loss. I took him to a guest-house and inquired him. He came here from afar and is in search of a magical book. I told him there was a legend about a book that is kept in the forgotten land of the Elfaron. My lord, the legend says that the elves knew how to heal whatever disease. It is said they wrote down their knowledge in a book."

The king and his counsellors looked at Lord Ryndor in confusion. The king leaned back in his chair.

"Do you really dare to waste my time with a talk about ancient lore?" he asked with a threatening undertone.

Lord Ryndor raised his hand. "Wait, my lord," he pleaded. "The royal library contains several volumes on the ancient folk of the elves. They lived on this continent ages ago. The tales are by no means all made up."

The king measured Lord Ryndor. One counsellor snickered, another shook his head and the others sat with motionless faces.

"You mean, Lord Ryndor, I should send the man south in search of the land of the elves?" the king asked. "Why should I trust this man? He’s not from here. He could deceive me and betray my cause."

Lord Ryndor hesitated, but then straightened and looked in the king’s eyes. "My lord, Master Elisar arrived here yesterday. He stepped through the marble gate on the royal ground when I happened to pass by the gate."

The king took a deep breath and closed his eyes for an instant. The counsellors sat petrified. The king turned his eyes to Elisar.

"You stepped through the marble gate?" he asked in disbelief.

Elisar bowed to the king. "I was chosen to look for the book and I stepped through the gate to find it. The portal brought me here," Elisar said simply.

"Goodness," the king said in a low voice. "I have never believed in this myth."

"The marble gate was erected in the times of the elves, my lord," Lord Ryndor said gravely. "Ages have gone by and nobody crossed the gate, nobody was able to leave our world and neither did anyone come to our world. This changed, however, with Master Elisar’s arrival, my lord."

The king nodded thoughtfully. "I’m beginning to understand, Lord Ryndor," he said.

The king studied Elisar and the counsellors eyed him curiously.

"Master Elisar," the king said finally, "The forgotten land is said to be located in the south of the country, south of the salt desert and the White Mountains. Nobody has ever found the land of the Elfaron. Many have set out, but no one has ever returned. Do you think you’re qualified for this task?"

A shiver ran through Elisar's body. He had no idea if he was able to accomplish the task, but he nodded his head seriously. "Yes, my lord, I’m confident. The higher spirits have chosen me," he said.

~~**~~

"Where is the land of the Elfaron located?" he asked Lord Ryndor after they had left the royal hall.

"It is said to be far in the south-west of the country. You need to either travel through the White Mountains or cross the salt desert," the man explained.

Lord Ryndor told Elisar what he knew about the elves and their land, which was not very much unfortunately. His recounts sounded more like legends and tales and less like documented facts. A legend told of a magical book and that was why Elisar agreed to set out on the quest.

He departed the following day. Three soldiers accompanied him on his way south. They travelled on horseback and arrived at a small village three days later. The soldiers asked the people for a man named Tilmor and a boy led the travellers to his house. The soldiers informed Tilmor that the king had sent Elisar and that Lord Ryndor asked his cousin to offer Elisar lodging.

Master Tilmor asked Elisar in. His son saw to his horse and the soldiers departed. Tilmor read a letter that one of the soldiers had handed to him. He looked at Elisar with surprise.

"You have set out to find the land of the Elfaron?" he asked. "My cousin writes that you are looking for a book."

Elisar told him the story.

"Well, I’m a teacher and there’s a reason why my cousin sent you here," Master Tilmor said thoughtfully.

He made a gesture with his hand and pointed at the bookshelves in the room.

"I was taught by a holy man. He died a decade ago. I absorbed his knowledge and have not forgotten his words. I filled many books with his wisdom and I have continued his studies," he said. "Part of the Elvish language was preserved. We have written down all that we know, and the holy man even left me a few books that were written in ancient times."

"Lord Ryndor said that the elves are forgotten. He said that all that remained were legends and myths," Elisar said.

"We’re much secluded from the rest of the country," Tilmor replied. "We have been living on our own for many centuries. The miners pass our region, but they do not stay here for long. The miners are convicted criminals and the soldiers take them to the salt mines that are located in a fertile place in the desert. The soldiers and the miners take the caravan route that leads to the oasis. They only stop in my village to buy food and provisions. They come here once a month. They come here in the morning, stay for the day, and go back at night. They travel at night because of the climate."

"The stars guide their way," Elisar said thoughtfully.

Master Tilmor nodded. "Yes, the stars have always guided those who travel through the desert," he said. "Do you know that Elfaron means ‘star hunters’ in our language?" he asked.

Elisar shook his head. "It seems the stars guided the ways of the Elfaron, too," he replied. "Did they only travel at night?"

"Yes," Tilmor replied. "It’s a dangerous journey that you cannot undertake in daylight and under the scorching sun. The air is hot in the desert."

Elisar was thinking. "It seems to me that the humans and the elves were communicating with each other before the Elfaron closed themselves up. Else the humans would not have learned their language," he said with a look at Tilmor’s bookshelves.

"The majority of elves and humans were not entertaining relations with each other. The humans had not yet founded communities at that time. They were organized in tribes that lived separated from the elves," Tilmor said. "Only individuals, traders for instance, were communicating with them. That was before the Elfaron retreated to their land beyond the desert."

 "Why did they do so?" Elisar asked.

Tilmor shrugged. "It is said that they fled the humans. But I think this explanation is wrong. The elves’ civilization was highly developed. Back then, the humans had just formed organized clans. In case of a war, the elves would have certainly overcome them. No, I’m certain that they retreated for some other reason. A reason I do not know of, unfortunately," he said.

"Do you think they still live in their hidden place?" Elisar asked.

Tilmor shrugged. "I can hardly imagine. Nobody has seen an elf in centuries. They went there a long time ago. They did not disappear all from one day to the other, but ultimately they had all gone to their hidden land," he said. He paused, looking into the distance. "It’s almost impossible to cross the desert and the Elfaron may have retreated even farther south. But it is said that there was another route to their realm," he said, looking back at Elisar.

"Where is this secret route?" Elisar asked urgently.

"This route is said to be underground. It is said to start somewhere in the woods of this region and it is said to end in the land of the Elfaron," Master Tilmor replied.

"And nobody has ever found this underground route?" Elisar asked with a sceptical look. "Wouldn’t the salt miners have found out about it meanwhile?"

Tilmor shook his head. "No, the salt mines are in the middle of the desert. The underground route is said to start somewhere here and lead west to where the White Mountains adjoin the desert," he said.

"The white mountains," Elisar said.

"They are made of lime stone," Tilmor explained.

Elisar nodded thoughtfully. "There might be caves in the mountains that the Elfaron connected to build an underground passage," he said. "Although I can hardly believe that nobody ever found out about it."

"No one has ever really explored the White Mountains. The climate is inhospitable and the mountains adjoin the sea. The cliffs are bold and overhanging. The region is of no use to the King of Skalanis," Tilmor said.

"The entrance is said to be in this area? Isn’t your area far away from the mountains?" Elisar asked.

"The mountains appear to be quite far from my place, but there are limestone soils in this region. The mountains actually begin in this area," Tilmor replied.

"Why did the Elfaron travel underground?" Elisar asked. "Why did they not just travel through the mountains?"

"The mountains are steep and hard to cross, especially when you want to transport goods and equipment. They are hard to go for the weaker ones, those of old age, and women and children, and the sick and disabled," Tilmor said. He shrugged. "I cannot say for certain this underground route exists. Perhaps it's just a myth after all."

"We must investigate," Elisar replied. "We need to find the entrance to the passage. I need to find a route to their land."

"It is said that the entrance is somewhere in the wood, but nobody has ever found it," Tilmor said with a helpless gesture of his hand. "I’ll take you to the wood that is called the Elvish Wood because of the myth. I have been there often, but I have never seen a place that indicates a hidden entrance. But perhaps you are luckier than I was. The higher spirits sent you after all, Master Elisar," he said with a small smile.

~~**~~

Tilmor showed Elisar to the wood the following day, but their search was in vain. Disappointed, they returned to the village. Master Tilmor invited Elisar for dinner.

"I’m fairly sure that the Elfaron left a sign that indicates the entrance to the cave," Elisar said.

"Many centuries have gone by, Master Elisar. Even if they left a sign, it most likely has disappeared meanwhile," Tilmor said.

"What about your books, Master Tilmor?" Elisar asked. "Isn’t anything recorded regarding to the entrance to the cave?"

Master Tilmor pondered. "I’m certain I remember all that I have ever read. My library is small, but it contains a few very old books, most of them are written in the ancient language of Skalanis, but I have two very old books that are written in both languages, the language of the elves and the old Skalanis language. They are kind of dictionaries. That’s how I learned the Elvish words," he said.

He showed Elisar to his study and pointed at the wooden shelves. Tilmor pulled out two books.

"These are the Elvish books. You won’t find what you are looking for in the Skalanis books," he said. "Most of them cover the early time of the Kingdom of Skalanis. There are a few passages that refer to the time when the Elves inhabited the land, but the passages are short and don’t reveal anything about the secret land of the Elfaron. I’m fairly sure about this."

Tilmor handed the books to Elisar. Elisar took them cautiously.

"I don’t think the books were written by the elves themselves. I suspect they were written by a human man ages ago. He was probably in contact with the elves. The man filled two volumes with Elvish words and their ancient Skalanis translation," Tilmor said.

The books were bound in black leather. A symbol was carved in it.

"An acorn," Elisar said.

Tilmor nodded. "It is said that the acorn was the ancient blazonry of the Elfaron," he replied. "The elves were divided in different classes. Each of them had their own blazonry. The Elfaron’s symbol was the acorn."

Elisar gave Tilmor a surprised look. "This means that only one class of elves went to the secret land," he said. "Where did the others go?"

"I don’t know," Tilmor said. "They have all disappeared. Little is known and all that we know refers to the Elfaron."

 "The acorn," Elisar said thoughtfully. "It's a royal symbol, but it was also a holy symbol in former times, wasn’t it?"

Tilmor nodded. "The oak tree was a mighty symbol, much like the ash tree. Both trees marked portals to the otherworld," he replied. He took one of the books from Elisar's hand and looked at the cover with the acorn. "Acorn. Doron in their language. The door," he said. "Do you think an oak tree marks the portal to the underground passage, Master Elisar?"

"We need to find an oak wood, Master Tilmor," Elisar said urgently. "I didn’t see oak trees in the wood. There were only maple trees."

"Well, this wood is named after the Elves, so I thought...," Tilmor started. He was thinking and then looked at Elisar with excitement. "There’s an oak wood farther west, closer to the White Mountains, a one-day ride from here."

"Finally," Elisar said with relief.

~~**~~

Elisar set out the following morning. Tilmor’s son Jarad accompanied him. The young man was quiet and reclusive. He rode ahead and Elisar followed him. They travelled all day long with only brief stops. They arrived at the edge of the wood in the evening. Elisar dismounted and looked at the oak trees. They looked ancient and a cold aura was emanating from them.

"I know what you are looking for," Jarad said suddenly. "You’re looking for the secret underground passage, aren’t you?"

Elisar gave a nod. "Yes, I’m on a quest," he said. "The King of Skalanis sent me to find a book."

"I have found the entrance to the cave," Jarad said. "I found it last summer when I ran away for a week. I hid in the forest. I have not told anyone of my discovery."

"Why not?" Elisar asked in bewilderment.

"I was frightened," Jarad said. "There’s a carving in the stone that seals the entrance. No words of greeting. A warning is carved in the stone instead."

Elisar cast him a look.

"I stumbled across the entrance when I roamed the wood," Jarad continued. "I heard a noise that sounded like the cry of a bird. I followed it as it intrigued me. I came across a place with high rocks. They are old and entirely covered with moss. Water was trickling from them. I wanted to find out where the water came from. I climbed the rocks, but I slipped and my shoes scratched the moss from the stone. I saw a letter carved in the stone. I scratched the moss from the rock until I saw all the words. The words are Elvish words. I was able to read them. My father taught me Elvish. Vanwa na Elfaron. Felya halya valya. Dor Daedeloth," Jarad said in a dismal voice. And then he fell silent.

Elisar looked at him.

"Vanwa na Elfaron. Gone is Elfaron. Felya halya. A hidden cave. Valya. Ordained by god. Dor Daedeloth. Land of the dreadful shadows. No words of greeting. I don’t think these words sound very inviting," Jarad said.

Elisar felt cold despite the warm evening sun. The wood deemed him dark and menacing.

"Did you enter the cave?" he asked.

Jarad shook his head. "No, I didn't try to push aside the stone that seals the entrance to the cave," he said. He gave Elisar a dismal look. "And I don’t think we should."

"Where are these rocks?" Elisar asked.

Jarad gave him an uneasy look, but then turned around and moved into the wood. Elisar followed him. The thicket was almost impassable and the high trees cast deep shadows. Jarad stopped in a place with high rocks.

"Vanwa na Elfaron. Felya halya valya. Dor Daedeloth," he said, pointing at the words that were carved in the stone. "There’s another legend that my folks tell," Jarad said. "It has nothing to do with the elves. It’s about the warlock Khumal."

A shiver rushed through Elisar's body and he straightened at once. "What?" he asked urgently. "Tell me of this legend, Jarad."

"The warlock Khumal was evil and powerful. He stole a magical book from his tribe. The clans gathered and hunted him down. The mightiest shaman banned Khumal to some secret place. At least so it is said," Jarad continued.

Elisar took a deep breath.

"Are you looking for this magical book?" Jarad asked.

"Yes," Elisar said. "I was chosen to find it."

"It is said that the tribes chose a man and sent him out to find the book. He got lost on his way and did not return. The book is lost. Ages have gone by. You are too late," Jarad said.

"I set out on the quest only a couple of days ago," Elisar replied. "My clan has chosen me to find the book. I stepped through a magical gate. I have probably travelled through time."

Jarad studied Elisar for a while. "I believe you, although it's hard to grasp," he said.

"I'm actually looking for two books," Elisar said. "The magical book of my clan and the healing book of the elves. The King of Skalanis asked me to find the latter. They need a remedy to cure the lepers."

"The lepers?" Jarad asked.

Elisar told him the story.

"This healing book is stored in my father’s bookshelf," Jarad said. "It’s not an Elvish book. It’s written in the ancient language of Skalanis. I’m certain my father will gladly take it to the royal court."

"Goodness, Jarad," Elisar said. "I should have talked with you earlier."

Jarad gave a laugh, but then he turned serious. "Will you open the entrance to the cave?" he asked. "Dor Daedeloth. The land of the dreadful shadows. The cave might be the place the warlock Khumal is banned to."

Elisar shrugged, insecure. They stood in silence until Jarad yawned. They prepared their camp for the night.

Elisar awoke at sunrise. Jarad was sitting on the ground, watching him.

"I was thinking," Jarad said. "I remembered an Elvish poem that is written down in one of my father’s book. It goes like this:

Vanwa dor Daedeloth
Eden anrand, eden gwaith
Ambar Elidh: Eldaran!
Edro hi ammen, elen annon
Minno Eledhrim!
Govannen Eldaran!

Gone is the land of the dreadful shadows
A new age, a new nation
The home of the elves: Eldaran!
Now open to us the star gate
Come in all Elves!
Welcome Eldaran!"

"The poem says that a star gate leads to the land of the elves," Jarad said. "I don’t think Dor Daedeloth is the realm where you find the elves, but maybe you need to cross the land of the dreadful shadows."

Elisar nodded thoughtfully. He repeated the ancient poem. Jarad watched him quietly.

"You need to take the healing book to the king," Elisar said finally. "I must continue my search for the magical book."

Jarad nodded slowly. "I would like to accompany you, but I understand that I can't," he said.

They parted a short while later. Elisar watched the boy leave and then turned around.

~~**~~

The rocks were old and covered with moss. Water was trickling from them. The oak trees looked ancient and a cold aura was emanating from them. The place was overgrown with weeds and plants. The thicket was almost impassable. Elisar looked at the rocks.

"Dor Daedeloth." he said. "I must cross the land of the dreadful shadows."

He sensed a presence, ancient, cold, not exactly menacing, but observant, watching him, awaiting his next steps. Elisar moved closer to the rocks. Silence hung over the clearing. The rays of the sun barely reached the ground. A bird cried suddenly. Elisar looked up and then turned his eyes back to the sealed entrance to the cave.

He sat down on the ground and gave in to the aura of the place. The day passed by. Dusk had come.

The sun was low and the trees cast long and deep shadows. The air grew chilly and the sounds of the wood were fading away. The sun was sinking and the sky turned grey. Birds rose to the sky and flew through the air, chasing insects in the dim light, like they always did at twilight. The birds cried loudly. A couple of minutes went by and then, from one moment to the other, the birds came down and settled in the trees. The birds fell silent. No noise was to be heard. Dusk had come and with it the magical aura of twilight.

The magic was peaceful. Elisar didn't fear the warlock Khumal any longer. No, the cave was not the warlock's prison. It was the entrance to the mysterious land of the elves.

Elisar rose to his feet and focused his mind on the entrance to the cave. The magical energy in the place thickened. Elisar felt as if he could almost touch the energy with his hands. The energy was strong and powerful. The air was vibrating, almost humming, like it had done when the mighty shaman Amal had opened the gate to ban the warlock. Elisar fixed his eyes on the rocks. He repeated the Elvish poem, again and again, until he was chanting the words.

Vanwa dor Daedeloth
Eden anrand, eden gwaith
Ambar Elidh: Eldaran!
Edro hi ammen, elen annon
Minno Eledhrim!
Govannen Eldaran!

Gone is the land of the dreadful shadows
A new age, a new nation
The home of the elves: Eldaran!
Now open to us the star gate
Come in all elves!
Welcome Eldaran!

The melody was sad, the chant filled the air, and the ancient magic seized Elisar fully. Losing himself entirely to the chant, he started moving towards the rocks. The melody of the chant and the ancient energy in the place entwined and wove a new magic. The chant was the key to the door. Elisar's vision blurred and the rock disappeared from his sight. He saw a passage, a tunnel with a faint light at its end. Elisar fixed his eyes on the light and moved on. He approached the rocks. He reached them, and then, without effort, he walked right through the rocks that sealed the entrance to the cave.

Elisar stopped. He was standing in total darkness. Silence filled the place. When his eyes had adjusted, he saw walls left and right of him. A faint light shone somewhere afar. Elisar had entered a tunnel, the secret underground passage of the elves.

Elisar moved on slowly to the place with the light. The walls of the tunnel were smooth and the ground was plain and easy to walk on. An hour or so had gone by when the tunnel narrowed abruptly. Elisar touched the walls. The stone was no longer plain and even. He had entered a natural tunnel. The ground declined.

The air in the tunnel was stale and grew colder as he moved on. Elisar focused on the faint light in the distance. It seemed far away. Time passed by and Elisar lost sense of it. And then, suddenly, the passage widened. Elisar reached out his hand and touched the wall. It was smooth and plain. He had entered another passage that the elves had built. The tunnel opened to a hall. The unearthly light came from it. Elisar approached the entrance and stopped on the threshold. Stairs led down to the hall. It was a natural cave, the walls high and unhewn. The hall was empty, apart from a crystal light in the centre of it. Elisar slowly descended the stairs.

He looked around. There was no other exit, there were no signs on the wall and there was nothing that the elves had left in there but the crystal light. Elisar looked at it. Did it mark the way to Eldaran? Elisar approached the light. He reached out his hand and placed it on the crystal. It felt cold against his hand. The light did not change, nothing happened. Elisar drew back his hand. The place had remained unaltered. Elisar touched the crystal again and closed his eyes. He focused on the ancient song of the elves.

Vanwa dor Daedeloth
Eden anrand, eden gwaith
Ambar Elidh: Eldaran!
Edro hi ammen, elen annon
Minno Eledhrim!
Govannen Eldaran!

The energy in the place changed drastically. The light grew brighter and the energy thickened. Elisar sensed the presence that he had already sensed earlier in the clearing. The energy was ancient, watching him, awaiting his steps. Elisar chanted the ancient song again. There was an eerie silence, but then, out of a sudden, a wind started to blow. The noise sounded as if a storm was coming up. The noise grew louder and the light emerging from the crystal got brighter and almost blinded him. And then the light went out abruptly and the noise faded away. Elisar found himself standing in the darkness. He did not dare to move and stood silently, holding his breath. His eyes adjusted and he looked up at the nightly sky. He saw hundreds of stars, but the constellations were not familiar. Elisar had arrived at an unknown land.

"Eldaran," he said under his breath.

He sat down on the ground, intent to wait for the sun of Eldaran to rise and illuminate the darkness. But against his will, he drifted to sleep.

~~**~~

"Vanwa loré," a voice said.

Elisar turned his head.

"Vanwa loré. Wake up," the voice said again.

Elisar opened his eyes. He blinked several times at the sight of a figure looking at him closely. He tried to sit up, but the elf raised his hand.

"Calm," he said.

Elisar gazed at the elf. The elves had apparently found him and taken him to their place. Elisar sank back into the cushions and looked at the blond elf with the pale face. He looked exactly like he had imagined an elf, airy and unearthly.

"Calm," the elf said again. "I’m Prince Eldar. I’m the son of the Elvish king. You entered Eldaran last night. We have found you and we have taken you to the palace. "What is your name?" he asked.

"My name is Elisar," Elisar said.

The elf gave a nod. "How did you find the way to Eldaran?" he asked.

"I have crossed the land of the dreadful shadows," Elisar said.

Eldar measured Elisar. He turned his head and spoke in Elvish to the guards. They opened the door and an elf stepped into the room. He carried a tray in his hands.

"You must be hungry," Eldar said. "Eat, and then tell me your story, Elisar."

The elf placed the tray on a wooden table beside the bed and then left the room. Eldar pointed at the food.

"I don’t know what kind of meals you prefer. So I ordered a selection of food. The jug is filled with water," he said.

Elisar studied the food. It looked familiar. White bread, pancakes, honey, jam, peaches and pears. He started to eat. Eldar watched him quietly. When Elisar had finished, he spoke to the guards again. The door opened, the elf came in, picked up the tray and left once more.

"Now tell me what happened, Elisar," Eldar said. He leaned back in his chair and looked at him.

Elisar told him the story.

"I'm still looking for the magical book. My quest led me to the magical place in the wood, the clearing with the rocks that sealed the entrance to the cave of the elves. My companion Jarad had accidentally discovered it. He had found the ancient words carved in the stone. Vanwa na Elfaron. Felya halya valya. Dor Daedeloth. Gone is Elfaron. A hidden cave, ordained by god. Land of the dreadful shadows," Elisar said.

"Your companion was able to read the words?" Eldar asked.

Elisar nodded. "The ancient language of the elves has not entirely disappeared in Skalanis," he said. "Anyway, Jarad feared that the warlock Khumal was banned to the cave. He feared that opening the cave would unleash his evil powers."

Eldar gave Elisar a puzzled look.

"A Skalanis legend," Elisar explained. "The warlock Khumal stole the magical book and therefore was banned from my tribe. He was banned to another sphere. The old legends blended together. The forgotten realm of the Elfaron, their unknown land, the underground passage, Khumal's prison."

"I see," Eldar said slowly.

"I felt I needed to enter the cave, but I did not know how to do it. I chanted the ancient Elvish words, not really anticipating, but hoping they would open the cave," Elisar said. "It was sheer coincidence that it worked out."

"I don't think so," Eldar replied.

He rose to his feet. Elisar looked at him and spotted the embroidery on the collar of his tunic.

"An acorn. You’re Elfaron," he said.

"Yes. I once lived in Skalanis. Ages ago, before we left the land," Eldar replied.  He looked at Elisar. "I must report to the king now, Elisar. I will see you later and then I will tell you more. You have found the way to our land. You have opened the portal." He gave Elisar a mysterious look, but then smiled. "You may think it's sheer coincidence, but it is not," he said. And then he left the room.

~~**~~

Elisar stood by the window and looked out on the garden. It was afternoon. The sun of Eldaran shed a soft and golden light. Lilies and roses were growing wherever he looked. He turned around when the door opened. Prince Eldar entered the room and smiled at him.

"How are you doing, Elisar?" he asked.

Elisar gave a nod. "Fine," he said. "I have never seen such a golden light. I wished I could smell the scent of the flowers."

Eldar gave him a surprised look. "Why? You can," he said.

Elisar glanced at the two guards by the door. Eldar followed his look and gave a soft laugh.

"Yes, you are not allowed to leave the room by yourself, but you can come with me. I’ll take you to the garden, if you want to, Elisar," he said. "I have come here to talk with you anyway. We could as well go outside and talk there. However, the guards must accompany us. I must follow my father’s instructions."

They left the room. The two guards followed them. Eldar pointed down a corridor. He led Elisar down the hallway and they entered the garden. Elisar instantly smelled the intense scent of the flowers.

"The flowers are from Skalanis. You actually smell the scent of Skalanis roses and lilies. The flowers, however, develop differently on Eldaran. The sun of Eldaran sheds a light that is brighter and more intense. The seasons also differ a lot. The winters are mild and the summers last long," Eldar said.

He walked down a gravelled path. Elisar followed him slowly. He took in the scent and the sight of the flowers. He looked up. The Eldaran sky was of a very light blue.

"A beautiful place," he said.

"You have not yet seen much of Eldaran, just this flower garden," Eldar replied, an amused smile playing on his lips.

Elisar smiled back. "Yes, but after my stay in the dark cavern, the golden light fills my heart with joy," he replied

Eldar gave him another smile and pointed down the path. They walked on. The two guards followed them at some distance.

"Why did the elves leave Skalanis?" Elisar asked.

Eldar looked at him. "The High Guardians had called the clans to gather and migrate to the world they had found, Eldaran, our new home, the land of the stars," he said.

Elisar gave a nod. "From what the legend says, I know that the elves left their homeland ages ago. They separated and migrated to different worlds. Why did you separate and later gather again, Eldar?" he asked.

"Ages ago, all elves lived in one place. However, the sun of this world was no longer a peaceful sun that shed a warm and golden light. The sun had changed. It had grown aggressive. It was bloating, expanding in order to swallow our world," Eldar said.

Elisar looked at the sun of Eldaran. He could not imagine this golden sun bloating and attacking the world that it nurtured. He looked back at Eldar. The elf nodded.

"The sun had become our enemy. But luckily we learned of the danger long before the sun would ultimately destroy our world. The High Guardians looked out for a new home. However, they did not find one that was vast enough for us all and none that was empty, I mean not inhabited by other beings. The oracle, a wise man and seer, was questioned. He advised the clans to migrate to different worlds, worlds that were already inhabited. Each clan would find a secluded place to live in and wait until the High Guardians had found a more adequate place. A place where the clans would ultimately gather again," Eldar said.

They walked on for a while silently. Elisar was pondering on Eldar’s words.

"You left your world through magical gates, didn't you?" he asked.

Eldar gave a nod. "The gates are magical to humans, but to us they are a natural part of cosmic life. "We crossed the gates and entered new worlds. My clan, the Elfaron, entered Skalanis that was thinly populated by humans. We established our realm and we closed ourselves up. The ages went by and the human population increased. The humans formed clans and the clans started to wage war. We retreated. We did not want to battle with them."

"You could have easily defeated them, I assume," Elisar said.

Eldar gave him a serious look. "This was never our intention, Elisar. We had no intention to ultimately settle in Skalanis. We had no intention to increase out realm and seize power. No, Skalanis just marked a transit. We waited for the High Guardians to find a proper home," he explained.

"Eldaran," Elisar said.

Eldar nodded. "When they had ultimately found our new home, we left the worlds where we had temporarily settled. We migrated to Eldaran. All clans went there but one," he said.

"All but one?" Elisar asked.

Eldar nodded. "The clan of Tawarwaith has not yet returned."

They walked on silently, the golden light of Eldaran shining down on them. Elisar turned his head to Eldar.

"Why has the clan not come to Eldaran? Have they not heard the call or did they ultimately separate from the rest of the elves?" he asked.

Eldar shrugged. "We do not know this. The High Guardians have tried to find a trace of them. The High Guardians are able to trace the faintest energies. They scanned the worlds, but they did not find a trace of the clan," he said.

They looked at each other. Eldar carried on.

"We knew the place where the clan had migrated to. You must know that several High Guardians went with each clan. They were connected. They are able to communicate with each other, regardless how far away from each other they are. They communicate with their inner senses," he said. "You would think the High Guardians who accompanied the clan of Tawarwaith would have informed the other guardians if they were facing danger. But none of the guardians had ever received such a call. It seemed that the clan of Tawarwaith disappeared from one second to the other."

"Another bloating sun?" Elisar asked.

Eldar shook his head. "The High Guardians would have detected this. No, nothing was different in the area where the Tawarwaith once had settled, except that the clan was missing," he said.

Eldar turned his eyes away and looked into the distance.

"Could it be they hide from you? I can’t imagine how they do it. Magic perhaps," Elisar said thoughtfully.

Eldar turned his eyes to Elisar. "This is another explanation. However, we think it is not the correct one," he said.

"Why?" Elisar asked. "Why are you so certain about it?"

Eldar took a breath. "Because the oracle announced ages ago that one tribe would be lost," he said.

Elisar gave him a questioning look.

"We still hope that the clan is not lost forever. At least, the oracle announced that the lost clan would ultimately be found. Every word the seer said has come true. Why should his last words not come true also?" Eldar said. He looked at Elisar. "I’m certain, Elisar, that we will reconnect with the clan now that you have arrived in Eldaran."

Elisar gazed at him. "What?" he asked. "What do you mean, Prince Eldar?"

Eldar looked at him gravely. "The oracle announced that one day a human man would find the way to Eldaran. The oracle said that this human man would find the lost clan," he said.

Elisar's eyes widened at Eldar's words. "No, Eldar," he said. "No, Eldar, you must be mistaken."

"No, I’m not," Eldar replied. "Ages have gone by and no human man has found the way to Eldaran, although…." He fell silent.

"Although you left a trace as to how to find Eldaran," Elisar said. "I was already wondering why you did. Closing yourselves up, yet leaving a trace for the humans to find you. I found this did not really fit together, but now I do understand your intentions."

"We have not yet come to a final conclusion, Elisar," Eldar said. "The High Council will gather. But it seems to me that your arrival is not a sheer coincidence."

They looked at each other.

"What if I belie your expectations?" Elisar asked.

Eldar turned his eyes away for an instant before he looked back at Elisar.

"Hopefully, this will not happen, Elisar," he said.

He pointed down the path and they moved on silently for a while until the elf led Elisar back to his room.

~~**~~

Dusk had come. Elisar was looking out on the garden, pondering on Eldar's words. The door opened and a severe looking elf entered the room.

"I have come to take you to the hall where the High Council has gathered and where all visitors to the palace are received and welcomed. The king wants you to introduce yourself to him and the council members," he said in a formal voice.

Elisar left his place by the window and followed the elf. Prince Eldar awaited them at the entrance to the hall.

"The High Council has gathered," Eldar said. "I will introduce you to my father, the king, and the assembled council members."

Eldar made a gesture with his hand. A guard opened the wooden door and the prince stepped inside. Elisar followed him reluctantly and gazed at the assembled elves. They looked noble and were dressed elegantly. He found they looked very much alike. One of them, apparently the king, was sitting on a marble throne with red silken cushions. Six elves were sitting on his left side, five elves were sitting on the right. One seat was empty. The Tawarwaith clan's seat, Elisar thought. The king made a gesture with his hand. Elisar understood he invited him to speak up.

"I feel honoured that you invited me to speak to you and the noble representatives of the Elvish realm, my lord," Elisar said with a bow.

"You have figured out the words that open the gate to Eldaran, haven’t you?" the king asked.

"I've just chanted the ancient Elvish words. It sort of happened by chance," Elisar said.

He told the story. The eyes of the elves were resting on him.

"Fate apparently brought you here," the king said thoughtfully.

A tall elf leaned forward. "You have found the way to Eldaran like the oracle announced ages ago. You must find the way to the land where the Tawarwaith now reside. You must find the lost tribe. This is all we are expecting from you," he said in a heated voice.

The king cast him a warning look. The elf leaned back and crossed his arms. Elisar looked from one elf to the other. They all looked at him expectantly. Several minutes went by without anybody saying a word. The king finally gave Elisar a nod and a meaningful look and then dissolved the council. An elf led Elisar back to his room.

Elisar was left to himself and his disquieting thoughts. His sleep was restless and fitful. He awoke in the morning, feeling concerned. He had dreamed of the warlock Khumal, a grim man dressed in a black robe, his face half-hidden by a hood. He had laughed at Elisar scornfully. The dream had been vivid and was still lingering on Elisar's mind. He was distracted by the opening of the door. An elf brought breakfast and then retreated. Elisar was picking on the meal. Something was nagging on his mind. The door opened and Prince Eldar entered the room.

"You're looking distressed," he said.

"Yes," Elisar replied. He told Eldar of his dream. "The warlock was banned to some unknown place," he said absently.

"The clan of Tawarwaith has disappeared to some unknown place," Eldar said slowly.

They looked at each other.

"Could it be Khumal entered the Tawarwaith world?" Elisar asked.

"If Khumal entered their world, he either seized control of the elves or he won them over. They either do not contact us by free will or they cannot do so," Eldar said. "The High Guardians' power is big. I cannot imagine Khumal was able to break their power. The Tawarwaith have apparently broken with their origin and race. It hurts, Elisar," the prince said, turning his eyes to Elisar. His look was sad and clouded.

"I can't imagine the whole clan stands behind the warlock," Elisar said.

"We must find out about it," Eldar replied.

Elisar looked at Eldar's worried face. He saw the acorn on Eldar's collar.

"Elfaron," he said slowly. "The forgotten land of the Elfaron."

Eldar gave him a questioning look.

"The forgotten land of the Elfaron is said to be far in the south of Skalanis. The legend says the Elfaron retreated there. They went there through the underground passage," Elisar said.

"No," Eldar said slowly. "The Elfaron gathered and left Skalanis once the land of Eldaran was found. The crystal light in the cave transported us here. There is no underground passage and no land in the south."

"The legend insists there is," he said. "The forgotten land of the Elfaron. Their last refuge."

Eldar's pale cheeks turned rosy. "You mean...," he started.

"Their last refuge. The forgotten land of the elves, the Tawarwaith elves. Could it be they settled in Skalanis when the Elfaron had already departed? Khumal was from Skalanis. Amal banned him to another place, but he might have returned with the Tawarwaith elves," Elisar speculated.

"They would have followed the Elfaron. They would have found their way easily. Khumal controls the High Guardians or they collaborate with him. I must report this to the king," Eldar said.

He hurried for the door, yet turned back to Elisar in the doorway. "Elisar, you are the one who the oracle announced ages ago. There is no doubt on it."

Eldar left the room. Elisar looked out of the window.

~~**~~

The High Council assembled and Elisar was taken to the hall. Prince Eldar invited him to sit down in the chair next to him. He leaned in to Elisar.

"The High Guardians of Eldaran have reflected on my report and now they will speak to the king," he said.

Four severe and noble looking elves entered the hall. They stopped in front of the king and bowed to him. One of them made a step forward and spoke up. Elisar didn't understand the Elvish words. Eldar leaned in to Elisar.

"They are the heads of the High Guardians of Eldaran," he explained. "They were asked to find out if the High Guardians of Tawarwaith block any connection with them. They speak of betrayal of confidence. They express their sadness and disappointment. They cannot think of any reason why their fellow guardians betrayed the guild. However, they say that only the High Guardians are capable of blocking communication entirely. So, either the High Guardians of Tawarwaith shield the clan from being found or the entire clan has chosen to break off with the rest of the elves."

The king and the council members started a discussion. Eldar translated their words. The meeting lasted for almost three hours and then the king announced his decision.

"A group of Eldaran elves will enter Skalanis through the gate that the Elfaron left," he said "The elves will be carefully chosen. They will be leaving as soon as possible." He turned to Elisar. "Elisar, fate has led you here like the oracle announced ages ago. The elves of Eldaran are indebted to you. However, there is not much we can do to repay the favour but express our deepest gratitude. We will take you back to the cave with the crystal light. From there you must find your way back on your own. The High Guardians will help you as much they can. They will build up an energy that will transport you back and they will shield and protect your ways."

Elisar smiled and bowed his head to the king, but inwardly he felt cold and concerned.

Eldar placed his hand on his arm. "Their power is big," he whispered to him. "I have no doubt you will find your way back home."

Elisar gave him a doubtful look. Eldar patted his arm. And then the council was dissolved and Elisar was taken back to his room.

~~**~~

A group of elves left Eldaran a couple of days later. The group consisted of Elvish warriors, three High Guardians of Eldaran, and Prince Eldar as the representative of the Elvish kingdom. Elisar accompanied them.

The High Guardians of Eldaran had cautiously scanned Skalanis. They had found that the world was protected by barely detectable wards that only skilled magicians were able to weave.

The gate to the cave opened for a split second and they entered Skalanis in almost no time. They found themselves standing in the centre of the cave. The crystal shed an unearthly light. For a couple of minutes they stood motionless, their eyes fixed on the crystal. Then one of the High Guardians raised his hand and all eyes turned to him. The elf closed his eyes and focused on the words that would open the portal, but an instant later he opened his eyes again. His look was alarmed. The other two guardians straightened. One of them raised his hand.

"Quiet," the guardian said urgently. "I’m sensing vibrations. Someone is entering the cave."

The High Guardians focused and the Eldaran warriors stood highly alert. Eldar made a sign to Elisar. Elisar retreated to the rear of the cave. One of the guardians pointed in a direction. The air was flickering and a figure materialized. A tall elf with long white hair stood in front of them.

"Narbeth," the guardians uttered in bewilderment.

The elf made a step towards them. He looked at the elves and glanced at Elisar. Then he bowed to the three High Guardians of Eldaran.

"Mae govannen. I have almost given up hope that you would ever find us," he said.

"Narbeth," a High Guardian said. "What has happened to the clan of Tawarwaith?"

"We heard the call to enter Eldaran and I got prepared to open the gate. It was my task, after all. I'm the eldest of the High Guardians of Tawarwaith," Narbeth said. "My two fellow guardians, however, betrayed me. I spoke the words that would open the gate to Eldaran, but they sent my words astray. They opened the gate to Skalanis instead, knowing the Elfaron had already left the place. They deceived the Tawarwaith clan. They have a powerful ally. Khumal is his name. The Tawarwaith clan is forced to live in a secret place, a land far in the south of Skalanis. Khumal and my former fellow guardians rule this land."

The High Guardians of Eldaran looked at Narbeth, their faces showing utter dismay. Narbeth carried on.

"I have found a way to leave the land in the south and I have found the Elfaron cave, but I did not dare to open the gate to Eldaran. Khumal and the others would have noticed my endeavours.  I established a faint energy bond, however, and I sensed an energy change a couple of days ago and also today. So I came here," he said.

The High Guardians of Eldaran exchanged a glance.

"We must not wait any longer," one of them said.

Narbeth nodded. "They’re uncompromising and adamant. It seems that all they wanted was power, and so far they have met their goal. However, I have subtly worked on undermining their power. I'm able to influence their mighty wards. We must open a gate to the land in the south. l will shield your way. I will lead them astray."

Eldar turned to Elisar.

"We’re in your debt, Elisar, and we owe you our thanks," he said. "But you cannot come with us to the hidden realm of the traitors. We elves can perfectly hide from being detected with the help of our magic, but you cannot, unfortunately. We would have to protect you all the way, which would be an additional burden. So, like my father, the king, has said, we must part now."

Elisar felt a lump in his throat, but then he bowed to the prince. "I thank you for all, Prince Eldar," he said. "Good luck to you. May you accomplish your mission."

Eldar smiled at him. "I wish you farewell, Elisar. I would have liked to know you better, but it is very unlikely that we will ever meet again. I wish you luck on every path you take. My honest blessings to you," he said. He stepped to Elisar. "May I give you this book on behalf of the king as a farewell present and our expression of gratitude."

Elisar looked at the book. It was the magical book he was looking for. He looked at Eldar. The elf smiled at him.

"The book appeared in our land when we still resided in Skalanis," Eldar said. "This happened ages ago. If you set out on your quest back then, you must have travelled through time and into the future. The High Guardians will now help you to travel back into the past and back to you clan."

Eldar turned his eyes to the High Guardians. They gave a nod. Eldar turned back to Elisar.

"The High Guardians will now build up an energy that will shield you on your way. Focus on your home. Concentrate. Block everything else out of your mind. The High Guardians' energy will help you with that. Farewell, Elisar. I will never forget."

Elisar seized the book in his hands tightly and bowed to Eldar. Eldar stepped back and joined the other elves. They all bowed to him and Elisar nodded at them.

The High Guardians of Eldaran raised their hands. The air started to flicker and the walls of the cave turned transparent. The cave was dissolving and the last thing Elisar saw was Prince Eldar raising his hand for a final farewell.

Elisar closed his eyes and concentrated on his home, his village, the meadows and fields. He imagined the sun shining down on him. He saw flowers and blossoming trees. Elisar followed a dirt road through a field and finally reached the edge of a wood. He took a deep breath and smelled the scent of the flowers. He opened his eyes and found himself standing on a meadow not far from the wood.

Amal, the mightiest shaman of the clans, stood at some distance and looked at him solemnly.

"I have sensed your return. Welcome back, Elisar," he said.

Elisar approached Amal and handed him the book.

"I found it in the land of the elves," he said.

Amal took the book and bowed his thanks to Elisar.

"I heard the elves are preparing for leave," he said.

"You know?" Elisar asked with surprise. "I did not even know that the elves were real until I entered their realm."

Amal smiled. "They have never travelled far north and seldom a northern man travelled south, but I certainly have my connections," he said. "But, come now, Elisar, and tell us of your journey and how things have worked out."

~~**~~

The northern clans gathered and there was a big feast that lasted for seven days. Then things went back to normal. The weeks passed by, but Elisar could not forget. He felt he didn't fit in any longer.

One morning he stood, looking at the sun. The sun was just rising. Elisar thought of the Eldar's words. A bloating sun had destroyed the elves' world and they had migrated to different places. They were preparing for leave, Amal had said. The elves had found their new home and soon would travel to Eldaran. And Eldar would travel with them. Elisar thought of the tall blond elf. I would have liked to know you better, Eldar had said before they had parted. The sun rose higher and Eldar watched it. He took a decision.

"I must travel south," he said to Amal whom he visited in the evening.

The mighty shaman looked at Elisar. He nodded his head gravely. "Once the higher spirits touch a man, he can never go back to normal. He must follow the path that opens before him. The higher spirits will guard him on his way. I expected this to happen, Elisar, but be careful to step on the right path. Listen to your heart. Don't take a false decision."

"I have pondered on it for many days and nights," Elisar replied. "This is the path I must take."

"You will change the course of events," Amal said. "You travelled into the future and back into the past. You meddled with time. This will change many things."

"I just followed the path the higher spirits showed me," Elisar said. "And now I feel I must leave. The feeling is strong and I must not ignore it. Ignoring it, would be a fatal mistake."

Amal nodded. "No man can avoid his destiny," he said in a serious voice. "May the stars guide your way. May you find what you seek. Never betray your heart and the higher spirits."

The mighty shaman spoke a blessing. Elisar bowed his head in gratitude.

He left his clan at dawn and wandered south, following the voice of his heart.

~~**~~

Elisar reached the southern lands. They were only thinly populated by humans. No one came his way, no one travelled north or south. Human civilization would develop only many centuries in the future. Elisar walked through meadows and forests until he discovered a road. It led him to the White Mountains. Elisar's heart jumped at the sight of a town in a valley. He had found the Elfaron realm.

Elisar reached the town in the evening. The huge wooden gate was closed. Elisar looked at the elaborate carvings. He saw the acorn, the Elfaron blazonry.

 Elisar recited the Elvish poem:

"Vanwa dor Daedeloth
Eden anrand, eden gwaith
Ambar Elidh: Eldaran!
Edro hi ammen, elen annon
Minno Eledhrim!
Govannen Eldaran!

Gone is the land of the dreadful shadows
A new age, a new nation
The home of the elves: Eldaran!
Now open to us the star gate
Come in all Elves!
Welcome Eldaran!"

"How can it be?" he heard a surprised voice behind him.

Elisar turned around and caught sight of Prince Eldar and three other elves. They had approached him silently. One of the elves led Prince Eldar's white stallion. The elves had apparently returned from a ride. Elisar had not heard the men and the horses.

"How can it be you know this poem?" Eldar asked. "I've written it this morning and have not yet recited it to anyone but the seer. The seer has approved of it."

Eldar spoke to Elisar in the Skalanis language. The prince looked much like Elisar remembered him, just a bit younger.

"The words somehow came to me," Elisar replied, studying the prince's features.

Eldar gave him a puzzled look, but then his face brightened up. "The words somehow came to me also. This is very stunning, I find," he said.

One of the elves whispered to Eldar. Eldar nodded at him. He turned back to Elisar.

"My companion says this incident might bear a meaning as the poem is not a simple poem at all," Eldar said. "Please, tell us your name."

"My name is Elisar," Elisar said.

Eldar gave him a puzzled look. "Why does this name sound familiar to me?" he wondered, but then made a gesture with his hand. "Come, Elisar, follow us into town."

The elves walked towards the gate and Elisar followed them. The guardians opened the gate and the group entered the Elvish city. There was a commotion in the place.

"What is this about?" Eldar asked.

His companions asked around.

"The seer announced a short while ago that he sensed a rupture, a change in time. He says the course of events has changed. No clan will be lost because the prophecy has fulfilled as a human man has found the way to the realm of the stars," an elf informed the prince.

Eldar looked at Elisar. His face showed surprise and disbelief.

"This is not a coincidence," he said.

Elisar smiled. "No, it is not, I think, but I've just followed the voice of my heart," he replied.

Eldar studied him and then a smile appeared on his lips. "I think we need to talk," he said.

And so they did. Elisar told the prince his story. They were sitting in a garden. The smell of roses and lilies filled the air and the sun was shining down on them.

Eldar looked at the sun. "Vanwa dor Daedeloth," he said, turning back to Elisar.

Elisar nodded. "Yes, gone are dreadful shadows," he said with a smile.

~~**~~




© 2014 Dolores Esteban

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First published at GA Gay Authors - Gay Quality Fiction