The Shires of York
Chapter 2. Elven
Written by: By Joseph Murphy-James
Read the first four chapters of Joseph Murphy-James’ excellent six-part fantasy book series, The Shires of York.
2 – Elven
Tanyl was tall, even for an Elf and his poise and beauty were legend. Like most of the Elven his skin was fair, eyes blue and hair blond; in Tanyl’s case he wore it to his shoulders and he tied the front strands behind his head with a coarse leather twine. He was with his companion, Ioelena, an Elf of the same age as Tanyl, young but wise beyond her years. She was slight with long legs and arms and her hair was plaited and circled her scalp being neatly tied with green vine, interlaced with yellow flowers. Their home was in the Elven forest, called desolate by mankind but, for the Elven, nothing could be further from the truth, for it held abodes of intricate detail. They were so sheer that they could not be seen by the human eye, even if it dared to gaze upon the forbidding forest; folklore decreed that they would do this only once and it kept them at bay.
“They have been here, desecrating the cove,” said Ioelena.
She was seated in the forest glade, protected by a magic sheen whilst the sun trickled down through the leafy canopy. Tanyl’s slight form paced the neat space formed by the clearing as he replied to his consort.
“They have the third, I understand, is that correct?”
“Yes, Tanyl, they have the third. The female ruler has betrayed her kind.”
“Who is this?” said Tanyl.
“The human, Queen Cartimandua. They arranged to meet, apparently,” replied Ioelena.
“It has been a long time since the Dämonen have soiled the earth and something that they could not do without the help of the Queen. Did she realise the consequence of her actions?” asked Tanyl.
“She was cornered. The protection she received from Rome has been withdrawn with the retreat of the centurions. You know of her rift with Venutius and her mating with Vellocatus?” said Ioelena
“Yes, the desires of mankind, always their failing,” said Tanyl, and he continued, “but now their travails are impacting the Shires and the existence of the Thridings themselves.”
“They invited them, expecting a treaty,” said Ioelena.
“A treaty? From the Dämonen. These humans are bereft of sense. The Dämonen cannot be trusted, as we know to our cost,” said Tanyl.
A comfortable silence ensued as both Tanyl and Ioelena mulled over their thoughts. It was Ioelena who broke the peace.
“They have the first and the third and they must not retrieve the second crystal. They cannot proceed without it but, once they have it, they can open a Veil and then our task will be difficult.”
“Do we know the whereabouts of the second?” asked Tanyl.
“No,” said Ioelena, “but I am told that the human Queen holds this knowledge. I have not sensed the second in my lifetime, which is, of itself, strange.”
“A dilemma,” said Tanyl, “for which we will need the assistance of a Council, I fear.”
Tanyl was referring to the Elven Councils, the ruling groups of the Elven who sat together to provide guidance on difficult matters; this was one.
How could we lose the twelve? We had them in our hands and our responsibility was to protect those with sentience. We failed and that may cost us all our freedom.
“The remaining nine, Tanyl,” said Ioelena, “are they safe?”
“They are said to be,” said Tanyl, “but so, we thought, were the first three. Time is tight now. These Dämonen now have the first and third Crystals of the Veil. They can do nothing without the second but, if they retrieve it, their power will grow in the Shires and Diabolus will be able to enter the other domains. A new dark age will descend upon us.”
I fear that I know what must be done.
“The Council of Eight it is. Shall I ask for it to be assembled?” said Ioelena.
“That would be wise,” said Tanyl.
“I will do it now”.
Ioelena left the glade and faded into the surroundings. Tanyl was alone, listening to the sounds of the forest, a sound he loved.
The Elven Councils respected the magic numbers of 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, and 126. The Full Council included Elven Elders and numbered 126 representatives. Members were often consulted but met rarely. The Quorum Council, as it was called, was of eight members, rotated annually with participants taken from the 126 Elven Full Council.
The Quorum Council deliberated on an issue first; difficult issues were referred to each upper Council in turn until they were resolved. The number two was also important; Tanyl and Ioelena were the Council of Two and, for the duration, were the implied rulers of the Elven.
The Quorum Council met in the Elven Court, an exquisitely carved building in a forest clearing and protected by a magic sheen.
Ioelena had explained to the Council her reason for calling a session and there was a mumble of conversation circling the table at which they were all seated. Tanyl gave his opinion too, when requested by Ioelena. Elven Councils were civilised affairs and Llarm spoke first when Ioelena had completed her discourse.
“Do we know how the human got hold of the Crystals of the Veil?”
“We do not,” said Ioelena, “and we do not know of the location of the remaining nine either.”
Llarm was an Elf of some experience; towards the end of his life of several hundred years, he had knowledge of a time when the crystals were in Elven custody. His lined face and tired eyes betrayed his age and his speech was slurred as he spoke.
“I have no personal memory, you understand,” Llarm said, deliberating, “but I know of others, sadly no longer with us, who did. You know of the Crystal Venture?”
He looked around.
Of course they do, every Elf knows of this.
“The Score Council of the Elven went on a great adventure throughout the Shires, covering most of the wapentakes in all of the Thridings, North, West and East.”
The Score Council was the Council of twenty; a convenient number guaranteed to achieve an objective, or so it was thought.
“Their quest was to find the Crystals of the Veil, before the Dämonen did. They travelled far and consulted with all of God’s creatures, even mankind. Although their journey was arduous and long,” Llarm stopped and looked around before continuing, “and you know that we lost two dear Elven, they achieved their goal and collected all, yes all, of the Crystals of the Veils.”
“What happened to the crystals that they found?” said Alanys; she was younger than Ioelena and new to the Council, within the previous year. She had short hair and a full forehead that spoke of her intelligence.
“That, Alanys, is a very good question and the answer to this is that nobody seems to know. The crystals were brought back here and placed under a magic seal but they escaped.”
“Escaped?” said Harik, a warrior Elf, his hair tied in a pony tail with a metallic clasp, known for his great prowess but with a short temper.
Yes, told like this it does seem odd.
“Yes, escaped. The crystals removed themselves from the captivity of the spell and they have not been seen again by any of the Shire’s creatures, until now.”
“How long did we have custody of the crystals?” asked Elidir, a middle aged Elf of some standing, his accomplishments were well known. He was shorter than the others, stocky for an Elf with a lined aristocratic face, long nose and greying hair.
Custody? The crystals are nobody’s property and no one can own them.
“Custody does not reflect their status, Elidir; even the Dämonen cannot call the crystals theirs. We had them as our guests for half a generation I would estimate. This may seem pedantic but the crystals cannot be contained. We learnt this from our attempt to do just that. Only the crystal chamber and one other place can hold the crystals and that is because they want to be there. If the crystals are in the chamber, the Veils will be activated; then we have real issues.”
“Forgive me,” said Alanys, “this is quite new to me. Tell me of the Veils and why they are such a threat.”
“Start with the Dämonen,” said Elorø, a matronly Elf and ancient in years.
“Yes,” said Llarm, “they are devils, a dark force in the Shires, under the control of Diabolus, but only nominally. But, I digress, sorry, a habit of mine. They have great power but their ability to use it is limited, especially where sentient creatures are concerned.”
“Like us,” said Harik.
“Indeed,” said Llarm, “and all mortals in the Shires. They have been seeking the Crystals of the Veil for thousands of years under Lord Alaric’s jurisdiction. For our purposes, they are immortal, but not without their weaknesses.”
I must reach my point, stop prevaricating.
“The advantage they have over all others is that they have the crystal chamber; they can contain the crystals. They require three crystals to create a Veil and there are four veils. The more Veils they have, the more powerful they become.”
“They now have crystals one and three, is that correct?” said Alanys.
“Yes, that is right,” answered Llarm, “but only the first is secure. Let me explain.”
Llarm went on to explain that the crystal chamber requires the crystals to be in the correct order and that the third crystal cannot be placed into it until the second is found.
“So, Llarm, I understand that the crystals are free spirits, if I may use that term, but what I don’t understand is what happens to them when they escape from their containment,” said Elidir.
“If I may interject, for I have information not known to Llarm,” said Tanyl.
Harik exchanged glances with Tanyl; Harik was becoming impatient.
We need to reach a conclusion. Llarm will ramble on, if I let him and he knows not of the caves.
“What I am about to tell you is knowledge that is available to but a few for having this insight is hazardous. You must never repeat this to another,” said Tanyl and he looked around, “The crystals returned to the White Scar Cave, near Ingleton in the West Thridings; they originate from these caves and we, the Elven, created them. Only certain of the Elven know of this; such knowledge is too dangerous. If the crystals remain in their place within the caves for a millennium, they will be absorbed into the their fabric and will be no more. Then the threat of the Veils will be revoked; we will be safe. This is the only other place that the crystals choose to be.”
“Is that the case?” said Llarm, “Does that mean that the nine remaining crystals are in the cave, assuming that the Queen of the Brigantes is telling the truth and she has possession of the second.”
Alanys shook her head and said, “Forgive me, this is a lot to take in. How did the crystal come into the Queen’s possession, and, if she found the second, does she know of the cave?”
“We don’t know the answer to that, Alanys,” said Ioelena, “but our assumption has to be that she has no knowledge of the cave.”
“That seems a dangerous assumption,” said Elidir, “for the Queen of the Brigantes may have all of the crystals; she may have retrieved them from the cave already.”
“That is unlikely,” said Tanyl, “you know of White Scar Cave?”
Only Llarm nodded.
“Let me tell you about it,” said Tanyl, “for it is enchanted and guarded by the Dragon Tanwen and her brood. I don’t believe that any human would survive an exploration of the White Scar Cave. Tanwen is the Fire Manon, the word the dragons use for Queen, for only females have fire in their breath.”
I am starting to drift too; bring this to a conclusion.
“Let me sum this up. The name ’cave’ does not do White Scar justice for it is a long expanse of thousands of paces. It has many natural features of hanging stalactites and rising stalagmites, underground waterfalls and a great cavern. It is almost impossible to enter unseen by the dragons. The crystals will be there, I am sure and I do not believe that the Queen of the Brigantes has the second crystal, though I may be wrong.”
“She had the third, Tanyl. What makes you think that she does not have the second?” said Harik.
“I do not sense it like I sensed the third.”
“And nor I,” said Ioelena.
“I am not sure that I know where this is leading,” said Elorø, “the crystals seem to be at home in White Scar Cave or in the crystal chamber. If they remain within the cave they are lost to the Dämonen and, over a considerable period of time, will be absorbed by the cave. Why do we not just leave them there?”
Alanys interrupted, “How did they return to the cave? Llarm said that nobody knew this, but you seem to have additional knowledge.”
Tanyl replied, “The Dragon Tanwen. She retrieved the twelve crystals from our custody and returned them to the cave. This is not widely known. The dragons’ duty is to keep the crystals safe until they can reach the crystal chamber. Although the Dragon Tanwen is not aligned to any side in this, and certainly not to the Dämonen, they will not intervene unless the crystals wish it.”
“Wish it?” said Harik, “Does a crystal have a soul?”
“Some of us can sense the Crystals of the Veil, as can the dragons, and they are much more sensitive to their aura than are we.”
“What do you want of us, Tanyl?” said Elorø, for she was becoming tired of the endless deliberation.
Ioelena looked at Tanyl and they exchanged information by a fleeting glance. It was she who spoke.
“We must find the second and return it to the care of the Dragon Tanwen and her brood.”