The crews of the Aerdrie’s Pride and Admiral Alastrarra’s ship the Wings of Glory, plus Blackjack, crowded into the meeting room at the town hall. There seemed just enough space for the two hundred plus starhands that comprised the list. There was a table laden with mugs and teapots of strong black tea. Shaundar helped himself to a generous portion and dripped honey into it while he waited.
Yathar was with Blackjack, so Shaundar joined them in a seat at the edge of the door. The boys, seeing Selena, stood up and gave her the outside seat because it had a slightly better view than the others, and they were able to compensate better due to height. Everybody was murmuring amongst themselves.
“All right, all right, settle down,” Admiral Alastrarra ordered as he came into the room, followed by Shaundar’s father, Captain Madrimlian, Captain Durothil, and the First Mates of both Armadas. All of them looked very serious, even grim.
“Please be seated,” Rear Admiral Sunfall said.
The assembled crews sat down if they had not already found a seat. From behind Shaundar, Garan asked him, “What’s going on?”
“I’m about to find out,” Shaundar whispered.
When everyone had fallen silent, the Admiral spoke. He was direct and to the point. “Quessira, etriela . . . we are at war.”
A chorus of muttering and exclamations of surprise greeted these words.
“At least three remote crystal spheres – there may be more – which contained small elven colony worlds and small Navy outposts have been conquered, initially by forces unknown. The most recent was a sphere called Crystalspace. Two survivors of that assault managed to escape in a flitter, outrun their pursuers, and make it back to Lionheart Command.”
“Who did it, sir?” Garan called out from behind Shaundar’s head.
“The orcs,” said the Admiral with a bitter smile. “Who else?”
Rear Admiral Sunfall continued. “The two survivors inform us that many of the goblin races responsible for the Unhuman War have reunited to carry on these assaults. We can confirm orcs, kobolds, ogres and goblins. We may also have a new foe to face. For more information on that, I’d like to turn this over to Captain Madrimlian from Intelligence.”
Uncle Madrimlian stepped up to the front. “Our enemy appears to have new leadership. According to our sources, they are larger, more intelligent orcs. They appear to be highly organized and efficient. They wear uniforms – black studded leather, if you should happen to see it – and seem to follow a well-developed chain of command. Some of them have apparently learned to speak Espruar; and they have done this in order to say sadistic things to their prisoners before execution,” he added grimly. Shaundar wondered how that information had come to their attention, and a chill ran down his spine. “They call themselves the ‘scro,’ to differentiate them from the ‘common orcs.’”
“’Scro?’” someone laughed aloud. “That’s creative. ‘More intelligent?’ Well, at least they can spell!” The laughter spread up and down the room, defiantly derisive.
Shaundar was not as sure that it was a good idea to disregard their enemy’s acumen. The orcs were the ancient enemies of the Tel’Quessir; so ancient that the elven word for them was hakavarn, a combination of the words hakar, meaning “enemy,” and vaarn, meaning “evil.” In myth, a great battle between the creator deity of the elves, whose name was Corellon Larethian, and the creator god of the orcs, Gruumsh, had led to the creation of Tel’Quessir “the People.” According to the legend, Corellon was being soundly defeated, and His consort, Sehanine Moonbow, had wept tears of sorrow and fear, which mixed with His blood, and where this potent mixture landed on the earth, the elves were born. Then, Corellon had found the strength in His Lover’s sorrow to rise from defeat and cleave out Gruumsh’s eye, which in some spheres was said to have formed the sun (Shaundar wondered vaguely which one it was supposed to be, since there were so many) and this ended the epic battle. Gruumsh was called “One-Eye” forever after. He, of course, had subsequently fashioned the orcs, which were naturally infused with an inborn hatred of the elves. In other words, the orcs and the elves had hated each other since before recorded history, and the orcs had not been destroyed yet.
“I’m afraid that we don’t know anything more than that at this point,” Madrimlian added. He did not seem to find the scro’s chosen name quite as amusing. He nodded to the Admiral.
Lord Admiral Alastrarra continued. “The Realmspace Fleet has been called to active duty. We will be establishing a base on the edge of the sphere and rendezvousing there over the next couple of months.”
Rear Admiral Sunfall said, “As per Imperial Navy procedure, since we are being called to active duty, all underage crew are hereby dismissed from our ship’s crews and grounded.”
Shaundar leaped to his feet. A small chorus of exclamations of protest erupted. “Are you serious?!” howled Yathar, who was standing also. “With all due respect, sir, that’s horseshit!”
“Insubordination!” pronounced Yathar’s father furiously.
Shaundar’s father put a hand on the elder Durothil’s shoulder. “It is not, Captain. It’s understandable, even commendable, that our Midshipmen should find this objectionable. But our decision stands, Mr. Durothil. You will stand down; is that clear?”
“Cryshal, quessir,” Yathar acknowledged acidly. He gave a salute that was almost exaggerated in its crispness.
Lord Sunfall scowled. “Do not push your luck, Mr. Durothil.”
“Av, quessir,” Yathar sighed. He sat back down with more than great reluctance.
“So,” the Admiral nodded, “the rest of the Aerdrie’s Pride and the Wings of Glory, grab your gear and meet at the dock for resupply. Dismissed!”
The crews saluted and stood up to leave, their expressions determined.
Garan looked at Shaundar, Yathar and Selena sympathetically. “This sucks,” he said simply.
“Speak for yourselves,” Selena shook her head. “I have no urge to go to war. You guys are crazy.”
Yathar was actually angry. “This is a bad move,” he growled. “Shaundar’s the best pilot in the Fleet for manoeuvres – he may not be the fastest, but who cares when you can fly circles around all of them . . .”
Blackjack cleared his throat.
“Okay, so, he can fly circles around almost all of them,” he corrected. “And I’ve been training to be a bladesinger since I was a small child. If the orcs are attacking, the Navy needs us, damn it!”
“Well, I’ll do my best to get you guys reinstated,” Garan vowed. “I know that you’re right.” He clapped Shaundar on the arm, and Yathar as well, and followed the crew out the door.
“Hey Garan,” Shaundar called out. Garan glanced back over his shoulder.
Shaundar was struck by a dread he could not name; a terrible feeling for the well being of his friend. “Good luck,” he said simply.
Garan smiled reassuringly. “I’ll bring you some orc tusks!” he offered. “They should have learned after the Unhuman War. We’ll hand them their asses and send them crying back to their homeworld.”
Admiral Alastrarra was suddenly almost on top of them. Shaundar saluted sharply and everyone else followed suit. “Mr. Sunfall,” he began, “don’t you ever have my daughter out with you all night again.”
“Sorry sir,” Shaundar apologized with resignation. “We were stargazing on the roof and lost track of time.”
Surprisingly, the Admiral left without taking it any further. The three youths watched him go, agape. “He must really be worried,” Selena remarked. Shaundar just nodded.
The three youths headed out the door of the town hall, the last to leave, and Lord Durothil stepped in front of them, blocking the way. He pointed at Yathar and snarled, “If you ever speak that way to one of the Fleet Admirals again, I will personally have you flogged.”
Yathar set his jaw. His expression might have been angry or determined. “Av, quessir,” he said in a carefully neutral tone.
The Captain cast a disdainful look in Shaundar and Selena’s direction and left.
“Yep, still a jerk,” Shaundar quipped when he had gone.
“One of these days,” Yathar muttered, “I’m not going to be able to take it anymore and I’m just going to snap.”
Shaundar didn’t know what to say. He just put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
– from A Few Good Elves (Toy Soldier Saga book 1).
Diane Morrison (Sable Aradia) is a non-fiction and speculative fiction author. Her first National Novel Writing Month project was the Spelljammer novel A Few Good Elves (self-published to e-book format 2012). Her related short story, “Survivor,” was published in the August 2013 issue of Separate Worlds magazine, and her first non-fiction book, The Witch’s Eight Paths of Power will be published by Red Wheel / Weiser in September of this year. Catch up on her ongoing Spelljammer novel series, the Toy Soldier Saga, at her website.