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The Red King

By @Eredhion-the-Ranger


   It was afternoon in Lairbrook Woods, but the brooding clouds that hung over the autumn-hued trees made it seem like evening. A pair of leaves, one red and one orange, were lifted off the ground by the wind and spun in dizzying circles like a couple of young lovers whirling round and round in dance. As if to challenge such a merry thought, thunder rumbled distantly, a disapproving parent eyeing the dancing duo.

   In the midst of the Woods, three young fauns, Erilla and Bartus and Tom, sat by the fireplace in their comfortably rustic living room, away from the chilly elements outside. Their father sat in the large armchair that every father enjoys. He was finishing a story.

   “…and finally Prince Harold broke down the door and found Emma, alive and well. After that, they were married and became the new king and queen of Menselde. They lived happily ever after. The end.”

   Tom nodded sagely, with a satisfied smile. “They always live happily ever after.” He and his siblings had heard this particular story several times before. It was one of their favorites.

   His father chuckled slightly at that. “I hope so, Tommy. Otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a story.”

   Bartus, who was older than his brother and sister, frowned. “But we always know how the story will end. All those fae-tales are the same; the hero marries the maiden, and they live happily ever after.”

   Rubbing his chin and re-crossing his long, goat-like legs, the father considered his son’s comment. “That’s true enough, the fae-tales are rather similar. But I haven’t told you the story about the Red King, have I?” His eyes gleamed with mock secretiveness as he eyed each of his children in turn.

   From the open doorway, Mother called from the kitchen where she was preparing supper. “D’you think they’re old enough, dear? That story isn’t exactly a tame bedtime rhyme.”

   Father raised an eyebrow at his three little faunlings. He called back, “They’re old enough.”

   With a small shiver of excitement that comes from expecting something new and wonderful, the three eager young fauns stared at their father. He laughed again at their bright-eyed little faces.o

   “Alright, let’s start. But this is a long story, and it might take more than a couple days.”

   Erilla beamed cheerfully, her eyes almost disappearing into her round cheeks. “We don’t mind! We’ll stay up every night to listen.”

   Her father smiled. “No, we’ll just have a little bit every afternoon. You wouldn’t be able to go outside anyway with this storm coming, and a story is as good a way as any to spend cold days indoors.”

   After placing another log on the fire, he returned to his big armchair. Joining his fingers together, the father leaned back into the soft fabric, firelight making flickering shadows on his face. “Listen now as I begin. This story begins far away in a cold and dangerous land…”

Long ago in the north of Garntau lived the dark elves. During this time, they were the complete rulers of the cold northlands, proud, cruel and powerful. They had black hair and blue skin, and claimed that meant that they were masters of the high blue sky, the dark black pits, and everything between. Their empire began to spread. Eventually the dark elves had started reaching down into the southlands, like a virus slowly infecting everything it touched. Few could withstand them, and the massive empire grew ever larger.

   But their progress was suddenly checked by those they hated most: fair elves.

   Fair elves and dark elves had been bitter enemies for untold centuries, and the hostility had only grown fiercer. Hundreds of battles were fought, north against south, dark against fair. No other race dared join the terrible war, for the elves found this to be a personal war, a war of elves and a war for elves only.

   After many long years of bitter fighting, a final battle was fought. Zaerk Darkeye of the north gathered the remains of his kind together on the Wintersbane Hills, the border between the southlands and the empire. Zaerk prepared for a last stand against the armies of Perigord Hyndolas of the south.

   The forces met, and the battle began. Zaerk’s troops were outnumbered, but he had a secret weapon. A magical artifact that he had found in ancient dark places under the earth. This artifact was a ruby talisman capable of summoning and controlling monsters and fell creatures. The dark elf had mustered an army of assorted monsters before the battle, and they waited out of sight in a valley near Wintersbane. About midway through the battle, Zaerk used the talisman. The monsters emerged from the valley and took the fair elves by surprise. Many died before Perigord rallied his troops around his banner. He had known that Zaerk found the ancient talisman, and Perigord had prepared a secret weapon of his own. He and his spellcasters had created an emerald talisman that undid the magic of the ruby talisman.

   Perigord challenged Zaerk to single combat, and the two elves fought viciously for hours. But Zaerk had met his match in Perigord. As Zaerk’s sword was beaten from his grip, the dark elf lifted the ruby talisman one last time, commanding his monsters to kill Perigord and his soldiers. But Perigord lifted the emerald talisman and undid Zaerk’s power. The magic of the two talismans strove against each other, and a wind like a storm began rushing across the battlefield. At last Zaerk picked up his sword and dealt Perigord a terrible wound. The power of the emerald talisman began to fade, but Perigord took up his own sword and thrust it into Zaerk’s heart. They both died, and with them died the power of the two talismans. Then the dark elves, monsters, and fair elves fought a bloody battle over and around the bodies of Perigord and Zaerk.

   After the survivors of the three armies had fled far from the battlefield, one body stirred. Zaerk’s shield-bearer, Velard Darkridge, had been knocked senseless during the fight, but was otherwise uninjured. He dug through the corpses until he found Zaerk and Perigord, and he took both their talismans for his own.

   As soon as he was ready to travel, Velard and his family escaped southwest, past the Skarnumia Mountains and into Felgarr Forest. The last families of dark elves in Garntau had fled there to make a secret sanctuary for themselves. There, the dark elves built a fortress and named it Aransûr, which meant ‘bitter tear’. Velard hid the talismans in Aransûr and told no one about them.

   The Great Elven War, as it came to be called, was ended. There was peace across Garntau. But there had been such a slaughter of fair and dark elves that few of either kind could be found. The fair elves had retreated to mountain valleys in the east, and the dark elves hid in Felgarr Forest in the southwest.

   With the elves so greatly diminished, the other races began to spread. Humans became the most powerful, and some built the kingdom of Crescencia just to the south of Felgarr. The dark elves retreated deeper into their forest, and showed no sign of themselves.

   As time went on, few remembered the Great Elven War, and fewer thought it was true. It had become a myth. But one day, a young dark elf named Valtor Darkridge was born. He was a descendant of Velard Darkridge, but over the years his line had become servants to other families of dark elves. Both he and his family felt great shame in this, but were powerless to alter their position.

   One day, whilst working in Aransûr, Valtor found the two talismans in a hidden chamber. He took them into Felgarr Forest and concealed them in a secret place of his own. Returning to his village, Valtor began learning all he could about the talismans. After five months of careful study had passed, Valtor was ready.

   Without telling anyone, Valtor took the talismans and traveled north through Felgarr Forest until he reached the Skarnumia Mountains. It was an ancient place, filled with vile monsters. Using the magic of the ruby talisman, Valtor began to summon ogers. At first, only a few came, but the dark elf was patient. More came, and still more, until after three days a great army of the monsters stood before him. With guile and cunning on his lips and the ruby talisman in his hand, Valtor convinced the ogers to accept his leadership and promised them many rewards. They believed him. The army marched back to Aransûr and surrounded it. Backed by his army, Valtor exiled all of his kind from the fortress and surrounding villages. He trusted no one.

   For ten years, Valtor planned the return of the dark elf empire. Except that this time, he would be the ruler of it all. The clouds of war were gathering, and soon the storm would come.

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