On the eve of battle, Boroden remembers how the brownies lost their ancestral homeland
|The coming night would decide whether Boroden lived or died. Shuddering, he tried to block out his apprehension by focusing on the beautiful scene. The full moon was perfection, her attendants the stars merely drops in the ocean of her silver radiance. The midsummer sky was already softening with hues of rose and hazy blue. Dawn approached all too quickly. No, being reminded of how soon the battle might come was no help at all.
Boroden pulled the hood of his cloth-of-silver lined cloak close about his face and turned away. He hated his mind churning out nightmarish visions of how the hobyahs might attack.
With trembling fingers, he rubbed his sore shoulder which ached from a day of diligently practicing his sword skills with his uncle, Leon. Usually so deft, Boroden’s sword arm had felt leaden as he forced himself to stop trembling whilst training. If Leon had not ordered him to rest, he would have gone to him now as he stood alert by the watch fire.
A figure crossed before the red glow. Boroden recognised the imposing figure of his father, King Gruagach. Boroden’s lips tightened. He definitely couldn’t join Leon beside the fire to talk over his fears now - the last thing he wanted was for his father to think him weak. After all, he was heir to the clan of brownies that ruled over their fellow races of House Elves.
Boroden entered the nest constructed of moss and cobwebs that hung from the branch roof of the circular King’s Hall. The scent of damp thatch and the herbs strewn over the floor to freshen the air was mixed with the tang of the metal polish. His younger brother, Ulfmolt, had been busy preparing their armour and weapons in readiness for the coming battle. Boroden tried to move as gingerly as his weary limbs would allow, not wanting to disturb his brother’s slumber.
There was no point in putting it off. Boroden knew that he would not sleep. He pulled on his mail shirt as softly as possible, though it gave a few clinks. The greaves and vambraces were harder to put on by himself. He missed the help of Ulfmolt who usually helped him to put on his armour.
Boroden settled before the opalescent pool of the mirror to comb out his mane of black hair to neaten it before he fastened on his helmet. Catching the reflection of his eyes, he paused. His eyes were midnight blue, like his mother’s. He squinted, trying to imagine that it was the yearned-for face of his dead mother that he gazed upon. She had always soothed him with her kind words. She had told him that his eyes were striking and intense and that the sparkle in his smile was her sunshine. To Queen Gentian, her beloved middle son had been the most handsome brownie… but that was years ago. Now the face reflected back at Boroden was solemn and intense, the visage of one whose past had aged him beyond his 466 years. Right now he longed for nothing more than to step back into his happy childhood and be greeted by his mother’s smile… but that could never be.
The comb slipped from his fingers. He rose to retrieve it.
Ulfmolt snatched up the comb and dropped it into his brother’s outstretched hand. ‘You look like a ghostly banshee.’
‘Sorry, did I wake you?’
‘No. I had a nightmare.’
‘About the hobyahs?’
Ulfmolt nodded. Boroden beckoned the boy to sit beside him with an understanding smile. He pushed away his fear, knowing that his brother needed him.
‘Father thinks the hobyahs will attack tonight. How will it be do you think?’ Ulfmolt asked. His fretful voice was still soft and piping like a bairn’s, reminding Boroden how inexperienced Ulfmolt was as a warrior.
‘Hobyahs are different to most foes we’re trained to fight. For a start, they don’t use swords. Their weapons are whatever they chance upon, be it twisted stinging nettles or briar thorns.’
Ulfmolt shuddered. ‘Will you keep by my side? I’d feel braver with you there.’
Boroden ruffled his brother’s hair. ‘Of course I will. Do you want to do some more weapon training now?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t want to be too tired for the fight.’ With well practised efficiency, Ulfmolt stood on tiptoes to fasten Boroden’s helmet in place. Ulfmolt still had a good two heads height of growing to catch up with Boroden, but then at just over three feet high Boroden was tall for a brownie.
Raised voices cut through the wattle walls of the hall. Boroden froze. Was this is?
Hand on his sword hilt, Boroden slipped to the door. His father was reprimanding one of the lookouts for falling asleep.
A touch at his arm made his skin prickle. It was only Ulfmolt.
‘You must have been terrified when the kraken attacked Velmoran. I often wonder what happened,’ Ulfmolt said.
Boroden turned away to fetch his sword. ‘You know. The others have spoken of it many times.’
‘But not you. You weren’t with us. We only found you a few years ago in that circus.’
Boroden cringed as he recalled the long, miserable years he had spent in the circus facing the desperate curiosity and lack of respect that humans had for House Elves. He glanced at Ulfmolt. He owed it to his brother to tell him the truth. After all, this might be the last chance they had to talk. He did not rate the chances of surviving the hobyah attack highly.
‘The day the kraken came, I was sailing my toy ship in one of the quays in the cavern beneath Velmoran. The happy bustle of the harbour vanished into screams. Terrified brownies ran by, almost toppling me. I ran too. Amongst the wreckage I saw her. The kraken. In Krysila’s eyes there was only hate. I hated her too, her senseless cruelty.’
Ulfmolt winced. ‘Did you fight back?’
‘I wanted to, but I was only a small bairn, so I ran. A hoard of hobyahs ransacked the palace, searching for the fruit of the Tree of Life that Krysila sought in order to become immortal.’
‘What about Alfarrin?’
Boroden’s breath shuddered. How he missed his elder brother, Alfarrin. If he had lived then he would have faced the hobyahs bravely now - Alfarrin had been a confident fighter. ‘Alfarrin was beaten back to the throne room. Father disappeared into a secret escape tunnel along with many others.’
‘But you never made it.’
‘No… I tried to save my best friend, Aira.’
Ulfmolt’s eyes glittered with surprise. ‘I’ve not heard you speak of her before. What was Aira like?’
Boroden gave a wistful sigh. ‘She was always smiling and chattering. Like a bright little fire sprite - she was tricksy and hardly ever still.’
‘She sounds like a wonderful lass. I wish I could have met her. Did you find her?’
‘Yes. She was caught on the stairs. Those grotesque hobyahs surrounded her, their eyes bulging and their beaks wide with menace. No doubt they thought she’d make an easy meal.’ Boroden clenched his jaw, praying that Aira had escaped.
Ulfmolt shivered. ‘That’s awful…’ He hesitated before asking his brother with a tremor in his voice, ‘Boroden, did they kill her?’
‘I… I don’t know.’ Boroden loathed his inability to save her. If only he could turn back time. ‘Father shut the escape route on me. I tried to reach Aira but there were too many hobyahs. They carried a great prize: the fireball from a dragon. I would’ve been burnt to a cinder if not for Alfarrin. There was nowhere to hide but in the well, so we dived in. But, the fall… It knocked Alfarrin senseless. I tried my best to revive him, but by night, I gave up hope.’
Ulfmolt’s face crumpled with anguish. ‘I’m so sorry.’
‘When it was safe, I searched for Aira. I couldn’t find any trace of her. If you hear word of her and I’m no longer here, promise that you’ll look out for her?’
‘Course I will. Don’t say that Boroden. You’re a way better fighter than me. You’ll beat the hobyahs attacking our camp easily.’
‘You’ll come through just fine,’ Boroden said. Despite Ulfmolt’s callowness at training, now was not the time to seed doubt in his brother’s mind. Boroden could not understand why his father pressed Ulfmolt to fight, but King Gruagach was impossible to argue against. ‘It’s my first battle too.’
Ulfmolt’s lips trembled. ‘I’m scared.’
Boroden squeezed his hand.
A light came into Ulfmolt’s eyes. ‘Boroden, we could leave now - slip away from the camp. No one would recognise us and we’d run fast if we used our ability.’
‘Ulfmolt, Mother told us to keep it secret at all costs. We don’t turn cowardly from a fight, no matter how scared we are. We fight for our clan, trusting that good will triumph.’
Ulfmolt’s mention of their shared ability made Boroden pause as he buckled his sword belt. Boroden’s anguish at their situation was nothing compared to his guilt. If he had used his secret power when Velmoran was seized then he might have done more to help his clan. Instead he had been too afraid of bringing his father’s wrath upon him. Would it be the same tonight?
Boroden debated with himself. Could he risk everything that he had to save the lives of his comrades? Wasn’t that the very thing that was required of them all in battle?
Hideous screeches and snarls tore jaggedly in the stillness, closing in on the camp. Ulfmolt’s eyes widened and he looked to Boroden.
The nest shook. It was Leon, the risen moon silvering his golden hair. ‘The hobyahs are advancing.’
Boroden drew his sword, surprised at the unexpected strength that surged within him. ‘I’m ready.’