Bivara sought solitude of the forest, what she found instead was much greater...
The forest always remained remote and serene, keeping away from world's troubles, having a world and mystery of its own and that was exactly why Bivara loved to spend time there. When lost in thought she would wander into the forest without her knowing it. But that night she wanted to stay away from company, especially from sympathetic voices and consolations that would come pouring once she reached her village. After all, her grandmother was famous among its little population.
Now that her grandmother had passed away and she had no one to return to, she willingly took off for the tranquility of the forest. It was dark all around but the moonlight sparkled on the rippling water of the lake amidst the thicket of figs. The crickets chirped happily in the bushes by its side. Somewhere an owl hooted.
Her mind was drifting away in her thoughts when her eyes caught something. It looked like a firefly, only bigger. As she looked on one more appeared, then another and then another. They concentrated at one point, some moved a little away, then came back.
Doubt crept in her mind. Had she ever seen fireflies so big and behave that way. She couldn’t remember.
Leaving her seat she tiptoed towards the gathering.
It was an evening in early winter. The forest floor was quickly gathering fog and the temperature was dropping fast. Drawing her hood over her head she wrapped her cloak around her. Apart from keeping her warm, it camouflaged her with the surroundings. She went a few yards and stood behind a tree. There were voices too.
Fireflies don’t speak, do they now? She thought. Then she saw it. Them actually. Eight of them. Tall, slim, fair with footfalls as light as feather. What she assumed as fireflies were actually the lanterns in their hands. All of them dressed in white long robes that brushed the foliage.
Bivara frowned and looked closer. They seem to be searching for something.
She craned her neck to see better when a hand dropped on her shoulder. She gasped and turned to find a pair of green eyes glazing in the light of the lantern that was held at her face level probably to get a clear picture of her.
The grip grew stronger and her heartbeat harder. She could see nothing around her except the looming figure in front. With an attempt to release herself Bivara pushed her opponent. Instead, the lantern swung in between them.
There was a cracking sound and her opponent stepped back. Bivara looked down and found the lantern encased in ice, the fire was gone, the glasses broken. Her right hand was cold and damp.
Oh no, she thought. Not now, not again.
The man who had grabbed her was staring at the lantern. Now when he looked up at her, he had bewilderment in his eyes.
Bivara swallowed and stepped back hitting the tree behind her. She was debating whether she should talk her way out or use force when she heard it.
Carried clearly by the cold air, came the howling of the wolves.
The man in front of her raised his voice and spoke.
"Ilquen," he said, "Nanwen norollë."
That language. She thought. She was certain she had never heard that tongue but understood him perfectly.
As he stepped back Bivara could now see his armor and sword dangling at his waist.
A soldier! What’s a soldier doing there?
“You may come with us,” the man said in her language.
“No,” Bivara protested but couldn’t free her arm. “Let go of me. What kind of a man are you?”
“I am no man,” he replied raising his brows, “but an elf.”
Bivara didn’t miss the pride in his voice. Elf! Right.
“I may be young but no fool,” she replied wringing to free her arm. “Elves dwell only in stories.”
The elf smirked and unsheathed his sword.
“The wolves are upon us,” he said. “Run if you want to live.”
He let go of her arm and left. Bivara couldn’t see where he went and didn’t wait to find out. Clutching her skirt in her both hands her broke into a run.
Hardly had she covered a few yards when something leaped across her path. She skidded to a stop and looked around. A pair of glowing eyes looked back at her. Another one growled behind her. Before she could decide the first one jumped for her. Bivara gasped and raised her hands above her head thrusting her hands forward. She felt her hands flush with warmth.
The wolf missed her by an inch and crashed behind her.
When she turned to see she found the animal lying on its side, ablaze. His friend had taken to flight.
Bivara turned back to her hand. She had never understood why she froze or burned things whenever she was angry or scared. She could never control the stimulation and had been the source of all her trouble in life and the reason behind her grandmother's over-protectiveness.
"Does it come on its own or do you make it happen?"
Bivara jumped on hearing the voice and found the elf standing behind her. An arrow was still nocked to his bow. He put the arrow in the quiver and the bow over his shoulder.
"It's a very rare gift and very hard to muster."
He isn't scared or baffled by it, Bivara thought. He was the only one who hadn't grabbed his head and ran off screaming after seeing her performance.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"There's more to it, I assume." The tone of his voice said he was aware of the answer he was expecting.
"Nárnén," she added slowly. Nobody but her grandmother and probably her parents knew of it.
But the elf smiled and nodded.
"Come with us," he offered.
"Why? I don't even know you."
"My name is Teodros. I am from across the mountain. Captain of the army."
"Never heard of it, and thank you but I think I'll be just fine here."
Teodros watched at her for a while and then smiled. "Think of it. There is no one for you back here."
Bivara opened her mouth to protest but found she was lacking an argument.
"You will be safe there," he said. Seeing her still indecisive, Teodros quietly withdrew.
Bivara stood there looking at his retreating back till it was lost to sight. All of a sudden the world around her appeared to turn cold and desolate. The feeling of being abandoned crawled up her arms like insects and as much as she tried to brush it off, it wouldn't go.
A wolf howled far away.
Clutching her dress she sprinted towards where Teodros had gone.
Four white horses pulled the wagon that carried five healers and six soldiers. The hoofs barely touched the ground and the wheels hardly rattled. Two lanterns hanging on both sides of the wagon swung with the motion. Bivara reached the wagon panting and gasping for breath. Teodros noticed her and ordered the wagon to stop.
"So you have decided to join us," he said after he had come down.
Bivara dropped her skirt and dusted the creases.
"I just wanted to know if all the stories about the elves are true."
Teodros smiled and ushered her on board. They were about to board when two arrows pierced through the wood just above the hinges.
Bivara gasped but Teodros pulled her away.
"Mahtar, manwa," he cried and took out an arrow. To Bivara he said, "Get into the wagon."
"I can fight," she protested.
Teodros turned on hearing a sound, straightened and let go of an arrow. It was about to strike the shadowy form when it reduced itself at the very last moment, missing the arrow and took shape of a wolf.
"Did you see that?" Bivara asked not noticing the tremor in her voice. "What is it? A werewolf?"
"A shapeshifter," Teodros said keeping his eye on the wolf that stood just ten yards away from them. "Stay alert. Burn it if it approaches you."
Bivara swallowed but nodded.
The wolf growled and pranced forward in a swift motion that took Bivara off-guard. She fell while attempting to step back but thrust her hand forward keeping her mind focused on fire. As if materializing from air flames took form burning brighter and brighter as they went rolling like a fireball, hitting the wolf still in flight and bringing it down at her feet, ablaze.
Bivara watched wide-eyed as the creature twisted and turned in pain just before a soldier pierced his heart.
"There are more coming," someone cried. "We can't fight them all."
Teodros nocked another arrow and turned to Bivara.
"Into the wagon you go young lady," he ordered and the raised his voice for the other soldiers to hear. "On your guard. Retreat."
Bivara went in followed by other elves. Each had their weapons ready but surprisingly, the shape-shifters didn't attack again. They remained where they were, watching like a tiger watches its prey.
"It's a rare gift," Teodros said when he found Bivara staring at her hands. "You control nár and helcë which means fire and ice in your tongue. That is something absolutely unheard of."
Bivara shook her head.
"It had always baffled me," she said. "I could never control it and whenever I was scared or angry it went out of control."
Teodros nodded and touched her hands lightly.
"This is a rare gift, Nárnén," he said. "And a special one too. You will eventually learn to control it."
"But why me?"
Teodros smiled genially and let himself relax.
"You'll need to see it to believe it."
The trip across the mountain remained uneventful. The wagon passed the world of Men and entered the realm of the Elves at the break of dawn. Bivara woke and found herself in a foreign land she had never seen before but had only dreamed of.
Mountain lush with green waved to meet the sky at the faraway horizon. The sun had just risen above the mountain threw its brilliance all over the land as though blessing it with its purity. A small humming bird suddenly appeared by the window and shot away flattering its wings.
"It's so beautiful," Bivara mumbled looking at the scenery outside.
"Don't be deceived by the outer beauty," Teodros said. His voice was heavy and laden with sorrow. "Evil roams freely underneath this unparalleled beauty that you see."
"The Shapeshifters," he said and turned towards the slowly passing world outside. "They plague our kingdom. "
"Why don't you fight back?"
He sighed and shook his head. "Why do you think we carry these?" He asked showing Bivara his bow. "Our kingdom is ruled by our queen, Nólemë. She is an enchantress. Her powerful spells protected our borders from the evils of the darker worlds."
"What happened now?" Bivara found herself bent forward, elbows on her knees.
"She is sick," he said and closed his eyes. "Slowly withering away and along with her the magic that protected our realm."
"I thought elves don't fall sick?"
"She is weary and troubled. We were there to gather some herbs. Our healers are doing everything possible but it's not enough. She needs strength. She needs something that would give her hope, happiness, and love. She had been lonely most of her life Nárnén."
"Didn't she marry?"
"Yes," he nodded. "Atan. A man. A mortal."
Bivara raised her brows. Elves could marry men!
"He was a soldier by the name Robin. He was quite a good man and a good friend too."
Bivara sat up straight. That name...
A distinctive scream cut her off from her thoughts. The elf on guard outside the wagon fell down and rolled over forced by the inertia before stopping and lying still.
"The Castle is under attack," one cried.
Teodros and Bivara's eyes met only for a second, before they rushed for the door at the end of the wagon.
Bivara jumped off the running wagon, caught her skirt just in time and landed on her feet, much to her surprise, took a few hurried steps to lose the motion and hid behind a bush.
Teodros turned to the healers in the wagon.
"Do your best," he said. "I'd be back with Nárnén soon." The healers nodded and he exited the wagon. The vehicle took off with greater speed accompanied by three elves to defend it.
Bivara looked skywards on hearing a screeching sound. Two giant birds soared towards the mountain. She raised her head to see and remained transfixed.
The Castle of the elf queen glittered like a diamond on the of green velvet that was the forest. The rising sun pained it in fiery orange and wind rustled the banner at the top of every tower. It was majestic to look at and Bivara had never seen anything like it.
"It's celestial," she whispered.
"So it is," Teodros said from behind her. "Teviel. The city of mountain elves on the face of Earth. And we need to protect it."
"What do we do?"
"We ride," Teodros said and blew a whistled.
From a distance, a horse neighed and came the sound of the hoofs. A white stallion rode down the path that wound through the forest.
"This is Celeb," Teodros said taking hold of the reign. "My trusted friend and companion. She will carry you to the castle faster than anything else."
He helped Bivara get on the mare.
"Aren't you coming?" She asked, a little tremor escaping her.
"I have to be here, but I need you at the Castle," he said making sure she was properly on the saddle. "Once you are in, go up the east tower. There is a chamber there. Defend it."
Teodros caught her arm and brought down her head. "Don't hesitate to use your powers Nárnén. We must save the Queen. Go."
Celeb took off at the speed of lightning. Bivara clasped the reign with all her might and buried her hear in her mane.
The Castle came closer and closer and she could see the shape-shifters grow in number. They came in all shapes and sizes. She could see three giants stampeding while several dragon-like creatures circling overhead. Numerous animals were swarming the foot about the Castle. The elves were resisting with all their might but Bivara could clearly see that it was not enough.
She raised her hand in the direction of the giants and fired. A column of flames shot through the air hitting the giant head-on. It toppled and fell backward taking down a good number of trees. The elves surrounding it made sure it couldn't get back up. The other giant was more resistant to her attack. It lurched towards her like an uncontrolled vehicle when she hit it. She assembled more power in her hand and shot another blast and let it run till the giant started to bellow in pain.
Bivara didn't wait to look back. Her head was in a spin. Her powers had affected her strength tremendously. She was already feeling weaker.
She rode harder for the Castle was now overpowered by the enemy. The shape-shifters were attacking from all sides. The Queen's magic had depleted almost to nothing.
As she approached the gate, it remained closed. She started to wonder how she would pursue the guards to let her in when she noticed the gate slowly parting. The guards from above had only seen a girl riding towards them who had stopped two giants single-handedly. Her face had been behind the hood but they had recognized Celeb and Celeb wouldn't carry someone if Teodros hadn't asked her to.
Bivara got off the mare after the gate closed behind her and took off her hood revealing her fair and oval face. Her raven colored hair cascaded till her waist. The guards stared at her face before one of them came forward to answer her questions. Bivara didn't wait to ponder over their bewilderment but rushed for the east tower as was pointed by the guard.
The tower had a chamber at the top that was reachable only by a staircase that followed the curve of its walls. At the base of the staircase there were two guards lying in the pool of their own blood. Clutching her dress away from her hurrying feet, Bivara took two steps at a time. She had more than a hundred steps to go.
She had just taken a turn when a bee flew through the window and started hovering right over her nose. She took a step back. The bee stayed there, grew in size till it took the form of a short but lean man with a nose resembling a bird's beak. Bivara's shaking feet were climbing down when she heard a growl. She shot her head around to find a wolf leap over the dead guards and come up the steps. Its bare teeth made her break into cold sweat. The wolf stood up turning into a man.
"Look who's here," he said baring his teeth.
"Let's finish her," the other one said.
Bivara gasped when two swords pointed at her.
Her heart was thumping in her chest, blood roaring in her ears. Seeing her enemies approaching from both side, she started to move back. Her heartbeat stopped when she hit the wall behind her. The two shape-shifters stepped towards her. From the corner of her eyes, she could see more approaching. The guards were quickly falling back. She turned back to the men in front of her.
Must save the Queen.
She raised her hands and closed her eyes.
The surge of energy that flowed through her veins almost knocked her unconscious.
She heard screaming and when she opened her eyes, one of the men had turned into a heap of ash while the other was frozen solid in his frenzy state of shock and fear.
Liking her power less and less, she rushed for her destination. Clatter of feet behind her told her she was being followed. With just a glance she gathered the hoard of men that were climbing up the stairs. She threw her right hand backwards and let it work. By the time she reached the chamber, she was panting hard. Her head was in a whirlpool. She turned back to see what she had done and shivered in horror. The staircase was a sculpture of ice with icicles of various sizes hanging from the edges. Men had frozen in different positions never to be awakened again.
Something dropped in front of her. All Bivara saw was a huge figure and a machete raised above her head. In the spur of the moment, she thrust both her hands forward and let loose all her power.
An explosion took place that threw her against the door which opened inwards letting her fall at the center of the chamber.
The bitter taste in her mouth told her she was bleeding and also that she was alive. She turned toward the door. Whatever had attacked her had broken the rail and taken a fifty foot drop. She sighed and looked ahead.
Through the tall windows, sun rays steamed in creating an aureole at the center around a bed. On the bed lay a woman. Bivara, with effort, got up on all fours and then stood up. With steps that tend to bend under her, she went near her. For moments she stared at the face of the woman. Its the same face that she had seen in a mirror, only it's older. It was like looking into a dream and suddenly realizing that it had never been a dream but truth that had remained hidden for so long.
Nólemë, The queen of the elves of the mountain. Bivara looked in wonderment.
"Nárnén," a voice cried in warning from behind.
Bivara turned to face the door to find her last assailant standing by the doorway, its machete in both its hands. Its eyes were not on her but on the woman lying behind. She stood poised in front of the bed and raised her hands, but swayed. She bit her lips to gain control, yet her vision went blur. The monster stepped forward swinging its weapon in a dangerous way. She tried to focus again but failed. Fear caught hold of her. Now she started to panic.
The monster stepped forward. Bivara stepped back. It raised its columnar arms. Bivara's feet hit the bed behind her knees. It readied the weapon for a fatal stroke and brought it down with full force. Bivara threw herself over the lady lying on the bed neglecting the fact that the machete was capable of cutting them both into two.
Unlike Bivara had expected, she heard an awkward sound but felt no pain. She turned to see and gasped.
The monster stood where he was, his arms lowered half way. Through his chest was sticking out blood smeared heads of two spears that slowly withdrew allowing the monster to fall at her feet, dead.
She raised her horror-filled eyes from the gruesome scene and found Teodros and one of his companions staring back at her.
"Nárnén," Teodros came running to her. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
Bivara shook her head.
"Nárnén," Teodros held her arms and looked into her eyes. "I know you are feeling very weak now but we must restore the Queen's magic and you can help us."
He picked up the Queen's hand and took Bivara's and placed them on top of another.
"Nárnén," he said. "Let your power flow."
Bivara closed her eyes and dropped all her guards. The sound of the battle outside started to subdue. They horrific scenes she had witnessed became vague. Instead, some distant images took form. Her home, her grandmother, the open fields, the forest and then her mother. She could see her face, feel her touch, hear her call.
She heard it again and opened her eyes. In front of her stood the Elf Queen, revived from her deathbed. Her golden hair flowed gently in the wind.
"We need to hurry sister," Teodros said and stepped aside. "The enemy is gaining."
"Stay here," the Queen said. "It wouldn't be long now."
Supported by Teodros and guarded by other elf soldiers the Queen left the east tower.
Bivara went to watch the battle outside. Weapons clashed against each other. Men wounded and killed one another. There were blood and severed body parts all over. The shape-shifters in different forms swarmed in from every direction. Feeling repulsive by the sight she made to turn back when she noticed something. Like a cloak being dropped over the Castle, a protective barrier flowed down the central tower and spread all over the Castle, its surrounding fields and all over the forest till the borders far and wide. As water washes away dirt and debris, it forced the enemy away. The shape-shifters fled in any direction they assumed safe. A few that resisted were driven off by the soldiers beyond the borders.
The battle was over but the price paid for it was great. Many lives were lost and resources wasted. Yet, at night the elves gathered for a feast and song and music and honor their fallen heroes. The reason was greater. Their Queen was well again, their kingdom safe.
At the celebration Bivara found Nólemë and Teodros in deep conversation but they both smiled when they noticed her and came to greet her.
Bivara bowed to Nólemë and was utterly surprised when she received a warm embrace in return.
"You have done well, my child," Nólemë said.
"It was an honor," Bivara replied.
"You have the courage of Robin," the Queen said passing her hand over the girl's hair.
Bivara suspicion grew even more. "You knew my father?"
The Queen's laughter sounded like rippling water.
"Of course dear," she said. "How do you think you got this power over fire and ice?"
Bivara pursed her lips in thought. She had always wondered but had never known.
Nólemë clasped her hands and smiled. "You have inherited your strength and courage from your father. But the powers are a gift of mine."
As Bivara's eyes widened in surprise and realizations, Nólemë kissed her long lost daughter.