Who Walk in Darkness (A short story)

By @Lou-Trent
Who Walk in Darkness (A short story)

The Elves didn't even have the term civil war in their language but now their civilisation is on the verge of self destruction. It seems that nothing can stop the inevitable. Can two friends on opposite sides stay friends?

Chapter 1

A short history from the world of Tergoth

The fight in the market stemmed from a simple difference of opinion, as was so often the case. Two people couldn’t agree to disagree and managed to draw others into the heated debate. There had been many disagreements recently and some had even developed into physical confrontations. Historically, the Elven people were a calm and peaceful species, but no longer. Few knew exactly how it had started.

Taman could remember the first time he had witnessed one of these disagreements. Almost ten years ago he had been preparing for his ascension ceremony, which would mark his last night as a child and his first day as an adult. This ceremony was a little unusual as he was not the only one partaking. Elves only had a few children and there were many years in between births. It was not uncommon for the existing children of an Elven couple to have grown into adulthood before the next child was born. Even in the large towns and cities there was seldom more than one child who came of age at the same time. Felice had been born an hour before Taman and they had become close friends as they grew up.

That first disagreement had been between Felice’s elder brothers and their parents. The two young men believed that the traditional ceremony was old fashioned and not in keeping with the radical changes that had swept the Elven nation. Their parents were of the opinion that traditions were important. They felt that many important things were in danger of being lost due to the modernisation of their culture.

That was the heart of the issue even though it may not have been the origin. The queen was passionate about change because she believed that their culture was stagnating. Her husband however, viewed this as a dangerous departure from their heritage. Had the king and queen been able to find common ground then the conflict would not have flared so much. It had reached every corner of their civilisation. Parents turned against children, brother against sister and friend against friend. Desperate attempts to reconcile had failed and the gap between the two groups was widening.

Taman, like many of the younger Elves, found the changes within their society to be exciting and radical. Felice was one of the few of their age who sided with the traditionalists. She was a great student of history and strongly believed that the past had many things to teach them. Somehow the pair had managed to avoid arguing their point between one another, but they were not among the majority. It seemed like each day that passed more and more people were drawn into the conflict. Both Taman and Felice feared where this would lead their people.

The fight in the market would have become very serious if the guards hadn’t intervened. One of the men who started the argument and two others who had been drawn into it, were on their way to see the temple healers, sporting a variety of bruises and relatively minor cuts. A market stall had been overturned and the stall keeper was currently sorting through her smashed goods to see what could be salvaged.

“This is getting bad,” Taman said to Felice. “Injuries and property damage are not things that can be ignored.”

“I know Tam, and if even half of the rumours about rioting in the capital are true then there is big trouble coming.”

He looked at his friend, “Surely people wouldn’t disgrace themselves like that? It can’t have been an actual riot.”

Felice gave a non-committal shrug in response. Whilst there had never been any significant strife in their history, she was sure that if people in their tight knit community could get into physical fights from the split, then those in the big city could easily take things further. It was well known that the city folks did not share the same sense of community as the country dwellers did.

The guards were shutting the market early, in the hope that fewer people gathering together would prevent any further issues that day. Taman and Felice picked their way through the departing crowd and returned home well before the curfew. The curfew had been put in place almost a month before and had come down from the highest authority in the capitol city. It was said that there was a country wide trend of increased levels of dissent in the evenings. During the day, most people were busy with their work and schooling. The vast majority of free time was in the late afternoon and evenings and many people were using that time to express their own views about the conflict. It was only natural that that was when the fighting began.

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Both Taman and Felice worked on the area of farmland that provided the community with most of their fresh food. They were just two of a dozen and a half workers. Taman helped care for a large area solely devoted to vegetables and his friend worked with the animals. Three days after the fight in the market, the workforce from the farm was sent home early. There had been a serious fight between two workers in Taman’s area and one person was under the care of the temple healers. He was not expected to live.

Felice and Taman were currently sitting in the back garden of Taman’s home. His parents and sister were still at work. Felice was cleaning a small cut on Taman’s face. He and another worker had attempted to break up the fight when it started, whilst another ran to get a guard. Taman was very concerned about the fight, as the two it was between had always got on well.

It was just another sign of just how serious things had become. Something needed to be done sooner rather than later. If not, there was every chance that the fighting could overwhelm their civilisation. The dwarfs from the Iron mountains had a term for that type of internalised conflict. Civil war. The Elves didn’t even have that phrase in their language.

Taman winced and shifted slightly in his seat.

“Don’t be a baby!” chided Felice. “If you hadn’t got in the way of Welden’s fist this would not have happened.”

“What was I supposed to do? Let them kill each other?” he asked.

To Taman’s surprise her eyes filled with tears.

“What’s going to happen? All of this is getting so much worse. Arguments every day and now people are fighting more and more. The elder council and the guards need to do something to stop it. It’s tearing our people apart. I’m scared Tam.”

The young man leaned toward his friend and placed his arms around her, holding her tightly. He understood and shared her fear. In the beginning, all they knew of the conflict was from rumours told by people who had travelled to the capitol city. Eventually the rumours came from areas closer to their village. No one really thought that the discord would eventually reach them, but it did. It had been a long time since they had heard of an area of their country which was not marred by arguments and fighting. Taman wondered what it would take to make their people reconcile. In his darker moments he wondered if it were even possible.

He held his crying friend in silence. Any words of comfort would have been hollow and meaningless. Empty platitudes could not ease her discomfort any more than outright lies. He cared about her too much to do that.

She soon calmed herself. Elves tended to be introspective and they started learning in childhood how to control their emotions. Taman’s first experience with an expressive kind was when a group of dwarfs came to the village when he was still a child. The Dwarfs often traded with the Elven communities that bordered the Iron mountains. Dwarfs tended to be passionate and they would laugh and cry in equal abundance.

Sitting back in her chair she looked away from him. At this time of year the area was beautiful. Their village was situated in a small valley at the foot of the Iron mountains and was surrounded with rolling green hills. Small areas of woodland was dotted here and there. Even in the hottest summer the peaks of the nearby mountain range were white with snow. It was hard to believe that such conflict had invaded their tranquil looking home.

“Do you think they’ll bring this up at the temple service tonight?” Taman asked her.

“Probably, the seem to bring it up every time an argument escalates to a fight. I doubt it’ll do any good though.”

He nodded absently. Again he wondered if they would ever find a solution to the fighting, if it were even possible. He’d even wondered if it would be better to pack up, leave and try to find somewhere to live outside their borders. The first time that thought had crossed his mind it horrified him. The Elven people had a magical bond to their land that connected everything and everyone. The idea of leaving was almost unthinkable. Before the conflict had started it was unthinkable.

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As Felice had said, they did bring up the fight in the temple service. The priest had also announced the death of the injured man. The arguments and fights stopped for two days but then returned with a vengeance. In the month following the fight in the fields, a further eleven people had been injured in other physical altercations and the curfew had been extended. The village council had sent a request for extra guards to the province headquarters but there was no more to be had.

The troubles were everywhere and there were not enough guards to control them. The rumours they had heard about rioting in the capitol had been confirmed and they now knew that there had been similar issues in every major population centre throughout their country. People were fleeing the cities and large towns with their families in the hope of protecting them from the violence.

Taman’s older sister had left the family home after a blazing row with their mother and she was now staying with their aunt. She refused to even look at her parents and would only speak to Taman if he didn’t talk about them. Two of the villagers had packed up and left in the night and no one knew where the went to and there were five people who were under house arrest because there was not enough room to keep them in the guardhouse.

The entire village had been told that there was a village meeting this afternoon to discuss the troubles and that attendance was mandatory. Taman had quietly expressed his hope that the elder council had found a solution to the problems to a very sceptical Felice. She didn’t think that any government mandate could stop the fighting.

The meeting hall was hot and noisy. People had began arriving early as there wouldn’t be enough seats for everyone once they were all there. Mandatory meetings were rare, the oldest person in the village could only remember seven such meetings in the 1443 years that she had lived. The last one had been called after a flood had decimated two nearby villages. They had met to decide what help they could give.

Taman and Felice sat together. Since entering the hall Taman had been visited by an unshakable feeling that something awful was going to happen. That feeling was heightened when he saw the grim faces of the members of the village council. Soon everyone had arrived and moderator for the council brought the meeting to order.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention please,” he began. “We have all been concerned about rash of violence that has swept our nation. I know that many of you have been wondering why our king and queen and the elder council have not come up with a strategy to stop the fighting. The issue is a difficult one because the troubles came from people disagreeing about the future of our people. Our leaders have spent a great deal of time trying to find a solution that will suit all and they have found only one. One of the groups must leave our land.”

The man stopped speaking as there was an explosion of shouting from the assembled villagers. A number of people, including Taman and Felice, sat in stupefied silence wondering if they had heard the moderator correctly. Some, like Taman, had privately thought about leaving, but to hear that from a government official was unbelievable. It took a full ten minutes for order to brought to the hall.

“Please, I know that this is a difficult thing to hear but I ask you to let me finish,” he said. “Our leaders do not say this lightly. What started as a mere difference of opinion has now turned to violence and people have died. This is tearing out people apart. Our leaders believe that this is the only way to save our people.”

“Our king sides with the traditionalists, who are the smallest in numbers. He is currently gathering all traditionalists who will leave with him outside the capitol. In three days they will start their journey to the coast where ships will gather to take them across the Berren Sea. Any who wish to join them are invited to meet at various points along the way. The closest meet point is four miles to the west outside the town of Steth. The group will be there in two weeks. I have been advised to strongly urge any traditionalists to go with them as any people who continue to fight after the ships have left will be executed.”

The village council then stood as one and left the hall.

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Felice and her parents had decided to leave with the traditionalists, along with another eleven villagers, including Taman’s sister. He had begged her to watch out for his friend. Taman was a progressive so would not be going. He was devastated that his best friend and only sister would be leaving forever. A number of progressives travelled to the meeting spot to say goodbye to their traditionalist family and friends.

There were over a thousand people at the meeting spot and a full three hundred were there to join the group leaving. Many of those who had already joined the king had been sent ahead by alternate routes. It was expected that there would eventually be more than ten thousand people who would leave. The king travelled with the group who would stop at each meeting point. The bulk of his group were waiting a mile away. The king and a hundred others were riding in so that he could speak to the assembled group.

Few people spoke as they watched the kings party arrive. All words had been spoken and all tears cried over the last fortnight. Whilst the announcement had caused widespread shock at first, the villagers soon recognised that it was the only way to stop the troubles. Over the years people had tried to stop the conflicts with words and reason, but it had never worked.

For most of the assembled people it was the first time that they had ever seen a royal. None could find joy in that, as this meeting heralded a great loss that would be felt for many years to come. As the king came closer Taman saw that he was smaller than the young man had expected. The king was slightly shorter than the average Elf and was very slender. He wore the traditional braids that many of the progressives had abandoned. His clothes, whilst fine, were well suited to travel. The man wore the strain of the current situation clearly on his face. It occurred to Taman for the first time that whilst he was loosing a sister and best friend, the monarch was loosing a wife and three of his four children.

The king stood before the assembled people. His gesture for silence was hardly needed.

“My people,” he began. “It is with great sadness that I come before you. My heart breaks to split our people but after much consideration it had been decided that this is the only way to stop the destruction of our civilisation. Over the years, disagreements about the future of our people have become arguments and arguments have turned to violence. Those who follow me, willingly leave because we leave to save our people. But our hearts are heavy and we find no joy in this.”

“Before leaving the capitol we all decided that we would not leave in the light of day because to do so would show our tears and grief to all who we have left behind. Since then we have only travelled at night and we have vowed never to travel whilst the sun shines until we have found our new home. We are no longer the Elven people of Idral. We are the Essa Idrath, Who Walk in Darkness.”

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