Eleske sat, nervous and jumpy, around the bonfire, next to her sat her younger brother and sister. The shadows from the huge flames flickered about like little animals playing tricks on the flames. Eleske glanced over at her younger brother, Eluke. His chin length gray blonde hair framed his square face and his pale gray eyes glanced around the circles, testing their limits. He turned and spotted his elder sister watching him. A dark shadow fell over his face, her deep eyes, to dark for a full-blooded treeling were unsettling. She broke the stare and glanced down at her feet, unconsciously reaching for the hilt of he sword that was not there.
Eleske’s head pounded as she thought of what she was about to do, this was the day that she had been prepared for her entire life. This was the day that she would prove her good breeding, this was the day that would separate her from everything that she had ever known.
This was the day her mother, Eleska had waited for. For ten years she had waited. Eleska stood and walked over to her daughter. Eleske was staring into the dirt, her hands were hanging between her spindly legs busy drawing circles in the dust. Her mother turned and addressed the people around her.
"Council of Elders,” Eleska declared, her voice full of pride for her eldest daughter, “we are gathered here today to start the initiation of these three fine treelings, Eleske eldest child of Eleska the Great.” She stopped and patted Eleske on the shoulder, she looked up and then straightened, “Also, Eluke, son of Coriacan, and Eluk, daughter of Eleska the Great. Tonight we will say farewell to Eleske. She will be sent, as all younglings are, off into the wilderness. For three days she will track another creature, and then capture it and bring it here to the council circle. Here she will kill the creature be it elf or dwarf or man. Eleske, please stand."
Eleske stood sternly staring as the Elders gathered around. Fear began to well up inside her, but it did not show on her face as she was like a statue from sculptor that had worked on her for many years, she was perfect, every mothers dream. She was a warrior, the heir to the throne, and she was running away.
Eleska led her to the edge of the clearing and gave her a short sword, a quiver of arrows, and a long bow. Eleske bowed to the elders and then ran off into the woods. Roaring applause followed her. Applause on the hope that in three days she would continue in the footsteps of her mother and her grandmother before her. To slay another creature, and become a warrior of the treelings. To take on the crown of the treelings when her mother died. But that is not what Eleske heard, she heard nothing but the pounding of her own feet on the soft ground. She stopped and looked back, not a sign could be seen of the grand feast that would now begin. She continued to run. She must be far away by this time tomorrow. For tomorrow night her younger brother Eluke would be released into the night.
Three days later, she leaped down the last cliff and looked back at the mountain range that she had just crossed. Climbing the high peaks and descending into the deep valleys, of the Great Mountains. She was tired, and out of breath, her throat dusty with the dust of hurried travel.
Eleske sat in the long grass, as a twig snapped behind her. She leaped to her feet and drew her scimitar. There stood an elf with long brown hair and bright green eyes, an arrow on the string. She looked at Eleske in surprise and then anger. The elf loosed her arrow and Eleske barely jumped out of the way. Then the elf attacked Eleske and brought her to the ground. After binding her hands the elf stood her up and looked her over.
"You’re awfully small far a scimitar that big, treeling," she said. "What brings you to the elven lands of the west?"
Eleske said nothing. The elf glared at her and then turned and pulled Eleske, towards the forest. As she did, she whistled several high pitched notes and out from the trees dropped several other elves. All had long brown hair and bright eyes, and all had arrows on the string. "Take her to the council," said the elf. They blindfolded her and she was slung over a shoulder and carried into the dusk.
On the fourth day, she was thrown down on hard stone and the blindfold was removed from her eyes. She tried to stand up but her hands were bound to a ring in the floor. She quickly glanced around her. She was in a high ceilinged cavern with large beams of sapwood flowing from the top of the huge ceiling that draping to the floor. Eleske was surrounded by a large curved table, on the opposite side of the table sat many different creature, Elves, men and dwarfs, Male and female, young and old. They all looked at her in disgust. A tall elf, gray haired and graceful stood from the center of the table.
"Treeling, it has been told to me that you will not state your business in my lands. What were you doing at the foot of the mountains? Why were you there?"
Silence fell over the remaining people in the chamber. They appeared to examine the young lass of ten. Her sword and bow had been taken from her and her clothes were muddy, with dirt and grass caked onto her leather knee boots. Her tunic had been a brilliant green but was now it was faded and torn.
She struggled against her bonds trying to untie the knots with the simple magic that she had been taught, not succeeding as she spoke. "I am Eleske eldest daughter of Eleska, My father was an elf, Coriacan was his name. Seven days ago was my tenth birthday. As is the tradition of the treelings, I was sent out to catch and bring back to the council clearing an elf, dwarf or man, then kill it. I have been trained since the day I was born, in the ways of the treelings; in archery and swordsmanship, in lance and pike. In every way that the treelings know in which to fight, and I hated it and the ways of my people. The killing, the treachery, the earnest desire to have every creature on earth be their slave. So when I was sent from the council clearing, I ran. I ran to the west into the forests, into the wasteland. For I do not plan to return. I do not want to become a warrior of the treelings and be given an army to lead.” She stopped and looked around the council chamber; hard stares and questioning looks met hers around the circle.
“I ran for three days when my strength began to wane. I then rested in a clearing near the foot of the mountain that the Allecian’s call Zurok. I was captured there and for the past four days have been carried slung over the shoulder of an elf warrior to this cavern. I mean you and your people no harm, for I have renounced my pledge of loyalty to the treelings. I want nothing to do with them."
"You lie," said a tall dark bearded man, spitting out his words in disgust, "No treeling has ever left that accursed race of scum that tortures my people without rest. You lie, and should be killed without mercy or thought just like the rest of your race." Eleske looked around the table and saw the same hatred in the eyes of all there but one. It was the elf that had first spoken.
"Coriacan?" he whispered in astonishment, "was your father?" he looked at her with tears in his eyes.
"Yes, he was my father.” Eleske replied confused, “Coriacan, was a woodland elf and royalty of what I am told. He was killed by my grandmother, when I was not three years of age. She claimed that he had planned to kill myself and brother and sister. For I am one of three triplets."
"Triplets?" said the elf, "Three children; Oh, Lord of the Stars be praised. My son has fathered children and one has returned to us."
"Returned?" said the dark man. "She did not wish to come here, neither do we want her. She could be lying. Treelings are trickier then you would guess, Rotiderian."
"Malask, you shame yourself." Said a bright eyed, elf lady. "Why could she not be telling the truth? Why could she not have turned from her people's path? Is it not heard of in people of Mâria, for a man to turn traitor to his people and join that of the orcs or the treelings."
"I shame myself?" cried out Malask. "You do the same Rowen, for never has a good man denied his people. Only traitors do such things. Even if she has denied her own people, that still makes her a traitor. What would keep her from turning again?"
"Quiet all of you!" said Rotiderian, "Look at this girl. Does she look as though she has pure treeling blood running through her veins?" They all stopped and looked at Eleske.
"You are right Rotiderian," said Rowen, "she does not have the pale gray hair of the treelings, hers is darker and more blonde, and her eyes are not as pale."
"Could be a trick," said Malask. "She could have died her hair. And not all treelings have pale eyes."
"But even her ears, Malask, they have an elvish look to them." Rowen sighed and crossed her arms, "I believe her."
Eleske's heart jumped.
They believe me? She thought. I assumed that I’d be dead before the sun rose again. But perhaps they will release me. Rotiderian rose from his chair and walked around to the table.
"Child?" he asked, "can you look into my eyes and proclaim that your father was Coriacan?"
“Why should we believe her Rotiderian?” asked Oriacana. “Why should we believe any thing that she says, she is a treeling nothing more.” Rotiderian quickly silenced the short western elf with a glance, he nodded at Eleske. She hesitated and looked around the room, then spoke.
“Coriacan of the woodland elves was my father. Younglings are taught their ancestry from a very young age. I know on my father's side that he had two siblings, a sister and brother. Corina was the girl's name and Corin was the boy’s name. My father's father was named Rotiderian.”
She stopped and looked at the elder elf who stood before her,
“Wait, Rotiderian? You are my grandfather?" Rotiderian smiled.
"Yes, I believe so, Eleske. I had given up all hope of ever finding my son again. But finding you is like a gift from the Lord of the stars himself."
"But, how can you still be alive, my father was over three millennia old when he was killed. Surely you must be very aged now. Are not your elders killed off as is tradition when they reach four millennia in years?"
"See Rotiderian," said Malask. "She wants to kill you off, doesn't think that you’re good enough to be alive. See how corrupt her mind is?" Rotiderian glared at Malask and then knelt by Eleske
"That is a treeling custom, here the elders live as long as they wish, and they help teach the younger ones. This helps us to become stronger." He then stood and spoke to the whole council. "As head of the council I say that we let her live for the night and assume out council tomorrow, Rowen please take her to her room. Rowen rose and untied Eleske’s wrists from the floor and led through the large stone doors into the dim hall. Turning left and right as she went, she eventually led her to a small cavern furnished sparingly with a mat and basin.
"I hope this room is alright," said Rowen. "We have nothing better to offer you."
"No, It's fine,” said Eleske, "It is much better then I'm used to."
"Our meals are at dawn and dusk. I'll wake you in the morning." Rowen left and Eleske lay down on the mat.
What luck, she thought to find these others so trusting. If an elf or man were brought before the elder council it would not live to see the next morning. I wonder what this council is? For it is not just elves, there are men and dwarfs all with an equal voice. I wonder what they will do to me when they find out that I am of the royal bloodline of the treelings? Perhaps then they will not welcome me with such open arms.
Then she rolled over and went to sleep.
The next morning, Rowen woke Eleske and gave her fresh clothes. Eleske quickly changed into the green leggings and loose fitting brown tunic. Then Rowen hurried her along the long hall.
"Your clothes show the others that you are a visitor.” Rowen said, straightening her own long gray robe and red sash, “You will be sitting at the council table. Treat everyone with the highest respect. If you want to be accepted here you must show that you are not like your kinsfolk in manner."
Eleske nodded as they entered a vast cavern with sunlight streaming in from windows high on the walls. The walls were specked with jewels and they sparkled in the morning light. Several large wooden tables were set up, each running perpendicular to one larger table up on a dais.
Rowen showed her to a seat in the middle of the high table. There she was greeted by the council members and their families with worried glances and angry stares from the members of the council.
"My dear friends," said Rotiderian as he rose from his seat at the head of the table, "We thank the Lord of the stars for this food and a safe night as we pray..." Rotiderian led the gathered peoples in a short prayer and then they began to eat. Eleske looked over the masses of them.
"Rowen," she whispered, "Why is everyone down there female? Are there no males here but those on the council?”
"Wait until after the council leaves later, Eleske,” said Rowen, finishing off her porridge, "Rotiderian, will tell you about this grand company of women." They continued to eat. After everyone had finished, Rotiderian led them in another prayer and dismissed them. He then left and the council followed him down a broad, well-lit hall into the council chamber.
Rotiderian rose from his seat after everyone had found their places.
"We are gathered here to hear from this young treeling her story and determine what, if anything, is to be done with her. Eleske please tell us your story. "
Eleske stood from her seat in the middle of the circle, her weapons had been taken from her but she was not longer tied to the floor.
"I was born just over ten years ago to Eleska, daughter of Elerka, Queen of the treelings. I am the oldest of the three triplets born that day. I have a brother Eluke and a sister Eluk. We were all raised in the customary way of the treelings. After a youngling turns one year of age he or she begins training. I began in archery, then swordsmanship. Along with the ways of war, we are taught the battle customs of other people, mainly Marian and Elven. We are also drilled in our lineage and customs. “ She stopped and looked about, the members were stone faced, emotionless as they watched the young treeling.
“At age five we are taught a trade. I was picked to be a fletcher. I was taught to fletch the arrows, to grind the arrowheads; to kill the birds and fell the trees needed to make fine arrows for our warriors. At age eight, I began training in the art of ruling the treeling nation, since I was the eldest this would be my burden. My training included the punishments that are given out to the warriors for poor or incorrect conduct and for breaking of the laws. At age nine, I was betrothed to another youngling from the southern treeling nation. If I had passed the tests last week, I would have married him when I turned twelve.” She paused again, wary of what she was about to say,
“I come from a long line of royal treelings. My mothers and grandmothers have ruled the treeling nation for over two millennia. After another 100 years my mother would have stepped down and I would have become queen. Because I have siblings, an unusually occurrence in the treeling race, I would either have them killed or married to the other treeling nations to the east and south. This would keep them from trying to take over my throne. “ She paused again and began to pace the room, trying to get rid of the anxiety that coursed through her body.
“On my father's side, to my knowledge, has been a long line of elven and man royal blood. This is the reason that my mother married Coriacan, in the hope that it would help her to concur the elven lands."
"So," said Malask, quickly standing before anyone else could comment "you are not only a treeling, the worst creature on the face of the earth, but you are also the heir to the throne of the treelings?"
"Yes, I am a treeling,” she replied, “but I do not follow their ways. Yes I am royalty; I do not know what my family will do since I have not completed the trials. It has never happened in our recent memory."
"Rotiderian?" said Rowen, tired from the restless night and eager to finish this meeting "Should we tell her of our business here under the mountain?"
"No, we should not," shouted Malask, slamming his fist into the table, "Why do you think that we hide? We should kill this treeling, kill her where she stands and be over with it. How can you even consider doing such a thing Rowen? It goes against every code that we stand for." Eleske was surprised at the Mârian’s anger towards the council. His outburst reverberated through the room before Rotiderian stood.
"Well," said Rotiderian, gesturing to the other members, “I am the head of this council, I was elected to this position over 300 years ago and none of you have ever disagreed with my judgement. So I think that I speak for at least most of the council when I say that we should tell this treelings, my granddaughter, of our business here.”
He paused, looked round the room, meeting the council members hard stares with an equally hard one.
"Eleske, we are the Council of the Sisterhood of the freelands.” He stopped, considering how to go on “Perhaps you have heard of the Brotherhood?" Eleske nodded, "Yes, younglings are taught to fear them greatly."
"Well the brotherhood was started by the council of men, over two millennia ago, to defend the countries of men against the treelings and orcs. Later it grew to include the Elves, Dragons and Dwarfs. It is comprised of the willing men of these lands that are trained to defend it. About 200 years ago the brotherhood began to fall into disrepair. They became lazier in their guarding and they began to settle down and marry into the people. This made the brothers more lax. As they grew more lax, more and more corrupt people became members of this once honorable brotherhood. About 100 years ago, the first treeling became a member of the brotherhood. But this treeling did not have a story like you, Eleske, he was a fighter and joined the brotherhood only to gain power and bring others to his side. He blinded his brothers and the council against his true intentions and was given many, many, missions, all of which were horrible massacres. This was the beginning of the fall. More and more treelings and corrupt men and dwarves have since joined.” He paused again, looking over the council members. “Seeing the fall of the brotherhood long before it occurred, we started the sisterhood. Unlike the brotherhood this is a secret organization, that the kings of men have no knowledge of. We have a similar mission to that of the brotherhood. We fight against all evil, not just the treelings or the orcs. We have sisters all over this land. They keep their eyes out for treeling and orc movements, but also for girls that look like they could help our cause."
"Why are you telling me this?" asked Eleske "If it is such a great secret?"
"A good question, you little traitor, why should we tell you, a treeling?" asked Malask.
"I have told you, Eleske,” said Rotiderian, “Because I believe that you have the talents that warrant joining the sisterhood.”
"Join!" said Malask, "Join our sisterhood? You would let a treeling, the very creature that we work to destroy, join our sisterhood! You would let her become part of this and turn traitor on us all!"
"That would be a dream come true for me." said Eleske, imagining the innumerable beatings that she had endured as a child at the hands of her mother. "I have been planning my escape from the treelings ever since I was eight years old. I had always hoped that I might be able to bring down there evil power."
"Think of it Malask," said Rowen, catching Rotiderian’s thoughts as they flew through the air, "She could tell us everything that we could wish to know about the treelings. Where they camp, their habits and secret places. She is an invaluable resource."
"We could even send her back into her people, to gather information, or deliver messages.” said Torin.
"No," said Eleske, images of a traitorous treeling when she was five flashed through her mind, they had tortured him, for months they had tortured him and then they had burned him alive. "Please don't make me go back."
"I don't think we should allow her in our sisterhood. She has turned traitor once she could do it again." Said Twery a tall slender dark-haired western elf "What if this is an act? What if it is just a phase that she is going through as a young child? What if one day she decides that her people are right and decides to join them? She would know how to destroy us!"
His anger was obvious towards Eleske, his wife had died in childbirth and he believed that if Rotiderian had not been out fighting the treelings that he might have saved her.
"What if we send her on a mission with another sister?" said Rotiderian. "She could be closely watched and we could see if her abilities merit entrance."
"I have been assigned to travel to visit King Lunenth of the Warien,” offered Rowen, gesturing to the council members. “Could she not travel with me? I leave at this time next week. That should be sufficient time to outfit her for the journey."
"Let us put it to the vote them," said Rotiderian "all in favor of allowing Eleske daughter of Eleska to travel with Rowen?" Rotiderian and Rowen raised their hands.
Rotiderian sighed and sat down again.
"But Rotiderian, could we not put it to the sisters?" asked Rowen, "Can they not over ride a decision like this?”
Rotiderian straightened and a smile flashed across his face, “Yes, it could,” he said pausing, “Profel!” he called
Profel, a tall lanky western elf quickly entered through the massive doors.
“Yes, Rotiderian?” he asked, quickly bowing as he watched Eleske with an acute curiosity.
“Call together all the sisters, the council has called for a vote.”
Profel bowed quickly and left, the large doors silently sliding shut behind him.