Pale Winter, Elfin Shadows
[Tuesday, 18 November 1997]
Griflet’s Report: “Here is the Situation, and here the Complications.”
Day of the Crab (30th), Black Witches’ Moon, Year of the Ogre
It is the last day of Autumn, a new moon. Two weeks ago, the reign of the dragon Bloodbane was ended when your arrow shocked Lord Imric out of his living nightmare, the nightmare which afflicted his lands and people. For those experiencing it, the nightmare distorted Time itself. Although the dragon’s rule lasted only a moon and a half, to some elves the nightmare seemed to last for years. Now Imric is dead, Eder is dead and the stunned survivors look upon the ruin of their world. With their leaders and many family members gone, their land blighted and a cold winter coming, the future looks bleak for the three-thousand elven souls who lived through their king’s dream.
Complications of the Land
WINTER is coming on fast and this one looks likely to be one of the worst to ever strike the heart of the forest. In the past, the climate has been gentle to the elven homeland (though weather has been increasingly erratic over the past 80 years or so). Many of the elves are now homeless or poorly protected against extreme cold temperatures. Food resources are low, but so many elves died (for real) during the Nightmare that there should be enough to go around.
Even though the danger from the dragon has passed and the danger from wild beasts is minimal, many elves feel unease and psychic distress (sometimes even nausea in especially sensitive individuals), especially when close to the ruins of Imric’s tower. You have felt this unease too although your psychic abilities are not strong by elven standards. Your keen observation and scouting techniques tell you the area is free from physical danger, but psychic or supernatural danger is very real for elves, especially considering the nature of the ordeal they have just been through. This unease renders the capital effectively uninhabitable.
Some of the surviving members of the House of Geomancers put the feeling of unease – and the bad weather – down to a misaligned ley line. They do not know what causes the phenomenon, but state that the Tovilyis-Imric’s Hold ley is dangerously out of alignment with the earth’s natural energies. This has been the case for some years now, with major disturbances occurring with increasing frequency over the last seventy years or so. The other ley line which passes through Imric’s Hold is intact and functioning normally.
Complications of the World of Elves
FACTIONS have formed following Imric’s death and the power-vacuum it created. This is slightly surprising given Imric’s virtual abdication of responsibility over the past few decades. However, Gilthiriel and many members of House Steward and House Royal who were responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of the kingdom perished in Imric’s tower during the Nightmare. Without them, things became precarious.
- One of the largest factions is the FREE PROTECTORS, composed of about a hundred warriors from House Protector (your own adopted House since you became Royal Scout) and their families. They are led by a charismatic young warrior called Ash, who advocates leaving Elvenhome and entering the human world, taking a new land by force if necessary. Ash doesn’t particularly like you because of your promotion, and he seems to relish the exercise of power. Nevertheless as a House Protector member and a warrior he would welcome you into his faction “if you don’t make trouble”. You suspect that his ideas about the strength of human opposition he may encounter are outmoded.
- Another faction is HOUSE MERCANTILE, formerly one of the despised Lower Houses. The Mercantiles suggest improving the relationship with the Human Antim Town – basically, camping on their lawn. A problem with this is that Antim Town was allowed to exist in the first place (with strict regulation) because it is located in the Thicket, the area immediately north of the Quarmallian Canal. This area suffers from psychic emanations rather like those found now in the area around Imric’s Hold and so would be unsuitable for long-term habitation by the People.
- THE SERVANTS OF SIBILAN is a very small faction whose members include members of House Protector and House Servitor. This group wants to stay and rebuild the elven homeland, even though the task looks futile.
- THE ROYALISTS. This group, led by the staid Gorianthas wants to find the nearest blood-relation to the king and then follow his or her orders. The trouble is, with the complicated family trees of many elven families and the disaster there is either no-one or many candidates suitable. Some time would be required to work out the succession and make sure there was no mistake. Other factions (especially the Free Protectors) decry this as a waste of valuable time. The Royalists want the House structures of the elven social system to remain intact. You think that Gorianthas and his followers are in denial of what has happened to the elven people.
Not every elf has a political interest in what happens to their nation; many just want to survive.
YOUR OWN POSITION is complicated. You are a warrior, not an orator (which in spite of their troubles, is still a valued skill in an elven leader) and your favoured position with Lord Imric sits uncomfortably with some elves now – especially with your arrow in Imric’s breast and the fact that you were the only (friendly) survivor of the Battle of Imric’s Hold. All the old stories about you have resurfaced; the elves don’t really see you as their saviour, don’t fully trust you (trust is thin on the ground among elves these days). Nevertheless, as a former faithful servant of the King and Prince, you are not without influence.
THE SWAN SHIPS. As Royal Scout, you are aware of the semi-secret Port of Swan Ships on the southern coast, west and north of Moorsh. Unfortunately, there are only enough vessels there to carry a few hundred across the Sea of the East or beyond. You are not sure who else knows of the port, but you suspect that most of the faction leaders do.
Complications Beyond the Borders
AS (former-) Royal Scout you possess probably the most complete information of any living elf of the lands beyond the borders of the forest.
In the Stormlands, war rages anew (although winter should bring a temporary halt to proceedings.) Lord Carkspur’s former mercenaries have turned against him and Lord Weemsley still holds out in the south. There is no refuge or aid for the elves in this land.
The black sorcerers of Moorsh and the Druids of The Throat are likely to be far from disappointed by the demise of the Elves. The Druids are marginally more trustworthy than the Easterners of Moorsh; they (the Druids) have kept to every agreement made with the People, in letter if not in spirit. The Druids, led by sly Rokon, with whom you’ve had dealings before, could be bargained with to provide aid or passage to the elves if necessary. But they are not to be trusted entirely.
The Wild Wold and the Eastern Wold are now overrun with Beast-Men. They were once prime Elfland but all that has changed now. During Imric’s reign there was neither the will nor the steel to mount a significant offensive against the Beastmen; even less so after the Nightmare.
The lost city of Zeçy on the Isle of Zeçy is forbidden ground to elves and others, on pain of death. The first elven city was the site of the Battle of Sorrows which began the Elf-Quarmall war centuries ago and in which King Celedril, father of Coryon and Imric, suffered a mortal wound. The elves do not speak of it; it is only through research and old maps that you have found anything at all.
Southwards, The Lake-lands of Pleea are pleasant enough, but filled with ignorant humans who might not take kindly to elves. A possible exception is Vardin of the Ranger’s Protectorate west of the Wild Wold, one of the rare trustworthy humans. Vardin’s opposition to Chaos (and in particular, Beast-Men of the Wold) could be useful. A significant problem which faced the Lakes a month ago when you hurried back to Imric’s tower was an impending Chaos invasion from Tovilyis. Apparently, according to the Quarmallian agent Polydices a race of demons inimical to both Elves and Quarmallians had opened a gate to the ruined city and recruited an army of beggars; Polydices had buried a wagon-sized explosive machine in the sands to the north which he said would close the gate. You are not aware of the current situation in the south.
North of Northmarch is the inhospitable Great Grassy Ocean with its centaurs. Beyond that green plain are the human city-states of the Inner Sea: Lankhmar, Ilthmar, Sarheenmar, Kvarch Nar and the rest. These human empires are powerful and greedy; contact between them and the People should be with caution, especially with the two former (also the closest, unfortunately). Across the Inner Sea to the north is the Great Forest and the Land of the Eight Cities, a human federation of small city states, ruled nominally by Movarl of Kvarch Nar. The Great Forest is larger than the Forest of Sibilan (it stretches from the Bones of the Old Ones to the Barrier Mountains west of the Mingol Steppes) and is largely wilderness, although savage bands of mercenaries, barbarians and wild beasts supposedly roam its heart. The Great Forest is unprotected by magic and much colder than Sibilan.
To the west are the dark and forbidding Mountains of Hunger; crossing them (unlikely in winter at any rate) is possible via the Stormlands or one of two passes: Adlerweg Pass which travels from the Lower Lake of Pleea to the human empire of Berghof (of which you know very little), and Cloudscape Pass from the Upper Lake of Pleea to the dour wilderness east of cursed Quarmall. While sleeping Quarmall has seemingly played no direct part in this elven tragedy, the old Enemy can not but rejoice at our misfortune. Quarmall is best kept as far away as possible from the Elves, at least until we are strong enough to defend ourselves from their evil ways.
The mysterious Eastern Lands across the Sea of the East are home to a tribe of humans much closer in nature to the elves than other humans, though their customs are of course crude by comparison. Tisinilit, City of Spires is supposedly marvellous to behold; no doubt (say the geomancers) this is because it is located on the Elven ley line, and could not but express some of its beauty. Perhaps the Easterners were not as affected by the Chaotic magic of the Quarmallians as their northern and western brethren. However the Easterners are the most able sorcerers of any humans; again caution is to be exercised.
The dragon Bloodbane. Bloodbane has destroyed two elven cities in three hundred years. You don’t know where he is now, or if he plans to return but you do know that there is a special connection between him, Mysteriones (and therefore yourself) and the Icon of the Dragon, the statuette of red rock which Imric clutched as he died. The Icon is with his body, Mysteriones is with you, but where is the dragon and will he try again? And if he does, and you (or Mysteriones) are his target again, are you endangering the elves by remaining with them? These are the questions you have been grappling with. Given the destruction Bloodbane has wrought he could be considered a greater threat to the Elven People than the entire Empire of Quarmall.
A FRAGMENT of burned parchment from Imric’s diary:
Day of the Spider, Harvest Moon, Year of the Ogre*[the day of the Dragon’s attack]
The rain and wind, the rain and wind raved endlessly.
On me the Summer storm, and fever, and melancholy
Wrought magic, so that if I feared the solitude
Far more I feared all company: too sharp, too rude,
Had been the wisest or the dearest human voice.
What I desired I knew not, but whate’er my choice
Vain it must be, I knew. Yet nought did my despair
But sweeten the strange sweetness, while through the wild air
All day long I heard a distant cuckoo calling
And, soft as dulcimers, sounds of near water falling,
And, softer, and remote as if in history,
Rumours of what had touched my friends, my foes, or me.
- E.T. [the rest of the fragment is burned by dragon-venom]
A DREAM which you had a week ago – the night of the Swan (the 22nd):
In a glade by Imric’s tower, you feel calm. The moonlight is shining through the trees which of course are whole and entire and grey in the moonlight, _swish_in the moonlight night breeze not bleeding and nightmare skeletal. There is a brook, running water. You are watching the water – a white stag jumps in the moonlight. It’s not a stag it’s Polydices. He is so out of place here it makes you want to laugh, but you don’t. He is standing on a rock in the middle of the stream. The rock has a triangle rune of Law on it just below the waterline, and Polydices serves Chaos. No wonder he looks so uncomfortable. “I hope he doesn’t do anything silly; this place is so not right for a Quarmallian.” says Mysteriones, with his legs dangling in the water. He kicks and small drops glint in the moonlight, then slowly fall into the rushing stream. Polydices is drowning. He keeps bobbing up and down in the water. He holds his hand out and looks at you. The dragon’s lair, in the wood, the Grave of Ships, he seems to be saying, though his lips don’t move. Help me, but something has pulled him under.