Looking for A Few Good Elves (Book Excerpt)

Kanothi was more relaxed than Theraspar.  You almost couldn’t see it from above, because it was almost entirely formed of enormous trees, and the green and silver elven inhabitants lived in their branches.  But even they had a dock for landing flitters; ground-landing craft only, unlike the open bay of Theraspar, which also accommodated water-landers.  Shaundar could see that the recruiting drive was working here too.  Posters offered “A Chance to See the Worlds: Join the Navy!” and urged elves to “Fight for the Forests in the Skies!”  It didn’t take long to find the recruiting station, which wasn’t far from the docking bay.  On the door was a picture of King Zaor of Evermeet, dressed in military uniform and with his moonblade crossed in front of him at the ready, and the poster proclaimed “We Are Looking for a Few Good Elves.”  There was a line-up winding out the door and down the street.

Yathar glanced at Shaundar and sighed.  “So much for doing this undetected,” he groaned.  “We’re going to be here until well past dinner.”

“Ahoy there!” somebody called out.  They glanced up the line, and half a dozen would-be spacers from the front stood Tyelatae Dahast.  Shaundar grinned.  Much to her chagrin, Tyelatae had not changed much over the years.  She was still a tiny little gold elf, champing at her pipe.  She waved them over.

“Had the same idea we did, I see,” Yathar smiled.

She returned it.  “I guess that answers the question of whether or not you intended to give me away.  You lads want to stand with me?”  They budged into the queue, not without some grumbling protests, but Yathar turned around slowly and gave the grumblers such a withering look that they backed right down.

The recruiting office was converted from a dockmaster’s office, so there was barely room for the three of them in front of the desk when they came in.  The recruiting officer sat behind the desk, busily going through papers and smoking like Tyelatae; and to Shaundar and Yathar’s dismay, behind her stood Captain Madrimlian.

They locked eyes for just a moment.  Shaundar realized that they were caught red-handed and despaired.  But then, a faint smile touched the corners of the Captain’s mouth.  “I’m going to go and get some tea,” he said deliberately to the recruiting clerk.

“Hmmf,” she grunted non-committally, still involved in her paperwork, and Uncle Madrimlian exited via a door behind the desk with an approving nod.

The three youths smiled triumphantly.  This was actually going to work!

“Next!” the clerk bellowed before looking up and realizing that the next recruits had arrived.  “Good, you’re here.  Names please?”  She held a quill which she dipped into the inkwell as she was speaking.

“Shaundar Sunfall, Yathar, and Tyelatae Dahast,” Yathar announced, indicating with his thumb.

The clerk noted this without comment and then asked, “What positions would you like to train for?”

“Marine,” said Yathar.

“Weapons,” said Tyelatae.

“Spelljammer,” said Shaundar.

She looked up and fixed Shaundar with a slightly stern look.  “That’s a highly coveted position.  Do you have any experience?”

“Actually,” Yathar snickered, “he does.”

The clerk shrugged.  “Okay then, spelljammer it is.”  She scribbled down their responses.  “Now then, you’re given a choice in the Navy.  You can choose your initial assignment location, or you can choose who you’re assigned with.  What’s your poison?”

Yathar pointed at Shaundar.  “I want to be assigned where he is.”

Shaundar nodded.  “Ditto.”

“I want to be assigned where we’re likely to see the most action,” Tyelatae said with gleaming eyes.

The recruiter scrutinized Tyelatae with a slight frown.  “Are you actually 100 years old, dear?”

Tyelatae puffed up indignantly.  Yathar intervened with, “Yeah, we know her.  She was our shipmate once.”  Shaundar nodded his agreement.

She shrugged again and made some more notes.  “We’re still gathering crew at the moment; where do we reach you when we’ve decided where to place you?”

Tyelatae told them to contact her at the Dahast estate; Yathar and Shaundar said to get a hold of them at the Sunfall manor.  The name did not pass unnoticed then; she raised an eyebrow and asked if they were any relation to the Admiral.  “Yes,” Shaundar replied, but did not elaborate.

“All right,” the clerk nodded, “just sign on the bottom line and we’ll swear you in.”  She dipped her quill and handed it to Shaundar.  Hardly believing that this was actually going to go through, Shaundar signed.  So did Yathar, and so did Tyelatae.

She glanced around at that point.  “Hmm, the Captain still isn’t back yet; guess I’ll have to hear your oaths.  Place your hands on your hearts please.”

The three of them did as instructed.

“All right,” said the recruiter, “repeat after me.  I, (state your name please) .  .  .”

Yathar smirked as he recited, “I, Yathar.”  Shaundar knew full well that he was resisting the urge to repeat, “State your name please.”  He couldn’t help but smile a little too.

“.  .  .  do swear by the Sword of Corellon Larethian .  .  .”

They reiterated the words.

“.  .  .  to serve the Tel’Quessir with arm, sword, bow and spell .  .  .”

Again they echoed the words.

“.  .  .  to the best of my ability.”

“.  .  .  to the best of my ability,” they chorused.

“I will, if necessary, lay down my life in defence of the People .  .  .”

They repeated this.

“.  .  .  and follow the commands of my superior officers and the royalty of elven nations .  .  .”

This one was a little bit more staggered.  The phrasing seemed awkward somehow, and the fragment itself was longer.

“.  .  .  as best as I am able, until I hang my sword upon the Tree of Swords and Jewels in Arvandor.”

Though of similar length, this bit was easier to recite.  The gravity of this oath weighed upon Shaundar and moved him deeply.  His voice trembled slightly.

The recruiter smiled and bowed to them all.  “Welcome aboard!  The Navy is grateful for your service.”

“Thank you, etriel,” Shaundar returned, and they all acknowledged the bow with one of their own.

“In the Navy, we salute like this,” she demonstrated the hand-to-heart, then open with palm up salute that was almost reflexive to Shaundar now, “but they’ll teach you that in Basic Training.”

Av, etriel,” Yathar smiled.

The clerk sat back down behind the desk.  “Thank you all.  You will be notified of your posting within a couple of weeks.”  She nodded to dismiss them, and they left the office, just about running into a tall high elven woman with long brown hair in a severe ponytail and very bright blue eyes.  Seeing a Teu’Ruan’s single silver crescent at her collar, they all saluted.  “Sorry, etriel,” Shaundar muttered.

She returned the salute.  “That’s all right.  New recruits?”

Av, etriel,” Yathar replied.

The corner of her mouth twitched into a reluctant smile.  “Well, the Navy’s glad to have you.  It takes an elf of honour and courage to stand up in defence of the People.”

Tyelatae grinned.  “We’re ready to kill orcs, etriel!”

The Lieutenant’s mouth formed a thin-lipped expression that might have been a smile or a grimace.  “That’s great.  We’ll see you in the skies.”

Recognizing the dismissal, the three youths left the recruiting station.  Shaundar thought that King Zaor’s image looked pleased with them.

“Thanks for vouching for me, lads!” Tyelatae beamed, thumping Yathar on the shoulder.  “I owe you one.”

“No problem,” Yathar nodded.  “You could make it up to me by letting me take you out this evening – providing that we haven’t been deployed yet, of course.”  He flashed his trademark wry grin.

Shaundar burst out laughing.  “Never miss a chance, do you?” he jeered.

Tyelatae, however, appeared to be responding to it.  “I could do that,” she smiled flirtatiously.

Shaundar just shook his head with a much more rueful smile.  “Do you have a way back to Theraspar?” he asked her, resigned.

“We can probably squish you in with us and Blackjack,” Yathar offered slyly.  “The quarters might be a little tight .  .  .”

“Sure!” Tyelatae agreed readily.

*****

So Yathar was out with Tyelatae that night when Admiral Alastrarra arrived.

“Admiral!” Shaundar’s mother greeted him warmly.  “What a surprise!  Please, come in.  Would you care to join us for dinner?”

Lord Alastrarra cast a long, piercing look in Shaundar’s direction as he, and his father and sister, stood up and saluted.  “Thank you for the invitation, Selene,” he declined, “but I need to speak with Ruavel for a moment.”  He had a couple of papers clutched in his hand.

Shaundar’s father nodded.  His expression was concerned.   “Absolutely,” he agreed, standing up, and he stepped outside with the Admiral.  Shaundar quietly ate his soup, waiting for the storm to break.

“What did you do?” whispered Selena.

“What makes you think it was something I did?” Shaundar retorted.

As if on cue, at that precise moment Ruavel stuck his head in the door with the Admiral on his heels.  “Shaundar, come here, please,” he requested in a very serious tone.

Yep, the game was up.  Selena glared at him pointedly.  Ice flowed through Shaundar’s veins and his heart began a drum roll.  He said, “Av, quessir,” wiped his mouth, and did so.

Ruavel had one of the papers in his hands now, and he showed it to Shaundar.  Sure enough, it was his enlistment form.  “Is this your signature on this form?” his father demanded with fierce amber eyes.

Shaundar stood up straight, looked him right in the eye, and responded steadily, “Av, quessir.”

His mother came over, took the edge of the form so that she could see it, and sighed.  Her shoulders slumped.  But she didn’t say a word.

Grandmother narrowed her eyes.  “What’s he done?” she asked.

His father fixed him with a steady gaze.  His expression was unreadable.  “Why don’t you tell them?” he suggested quietly.

Shaundar nodded.  His heart had stopped pounding and only the ice in his veins remained.  He was solemn and steady as he faced his family and announced softly, “I’ve enlisted in the Navy.”

Dathlue Mistwinter grinned.  “Good for you, Shaundar!” she cheered.  “Have the courage of your convictions!”

“I must admit,” Shaundar’s mother said, “I am less pleased.  I don’t suppose the fact that he’s too young matters in this?” she inquired hopefully of the Admiral.

He shook his head.  “I’m sorry, etriel.  Naval law is clear on this.  Once you have taken the Oath, you are bound by it, unless you are genuinely a child.  We Tel’Quessir have always respected the rights of the individual, and if a youth in beryn fin decides that he’s old enough to fight, then he’s effectively an adult, whether we agree with this self-assessment or not.”  His hawk-like glare turned in Shaundar’s direction, and Shaundar read the message quite clearly that the Admiral was in the latter camp.

Lady Sunfall nodded her reluctant acceptance.  “I always knew this day was coming,” she smiled faintly.  “I just hoped it would not be so soon.”

Lord Sunfall looked thoughtful.  Then he said to the Admiral, “Sir, I hope that all of his training at Aces High and his thirty-five years of service will be taken into account in his posting?”

Admiral Alastrarra nodded just once.  “Of course, Ruavel.  Actually, I may already have something in mind for him.”

“Excellent,” Rear Admiral Sunfall nodded.  “I’m sure my son eagerly awaits his posting at your command.”  He smiled encouragingly at Shaundar.

Av, quessir,” Shaundar agreed.

Lord Alastrarra glanced from the elder Sunfall to the younger and back again.  “You might be interested to know that Midshipmen Sunfall and Durothil quit school today, after knocking down Captain Durothil.  He’s seeking a court martial against both of them.”

“Captain Durothil was going to punch me, sir,” Shaundar pointed out.  His jaw was set in a very characteristic stubborn manner.

Ruavel Sunfall also set his jaw in an almost identical manner and his eyes blazed fire.  “Then I don’t think there’s anything that Captain Durothil can do about it,” he replied coldly.  “Neither Shaundar nor Yathar were Navy personnel until later this afternoon, since we had officially dismissed them from service prior to that, and civilians are allowed to defend themselves physically against violence.”  He folded his arms.

The Admiral had no reply to that.  “Well, good evening then; and sorry to disturb you all.”

Shaundar saluted, as did Ruavel.  And with that, Lord Alastrarra took his leave.

A palpable silence fell, thick and uncomfortable.  Selena’s eyes were still wide with amazement; Grandmother was smiling, and Mom was trying not to look at him.  His father just stood quietly for a moment, looking contemplative; and then he clapped Shaundar on the shoulder and said, “Care to join me on the balcony, son?”

Shaundar followed him on to the balcony.  The stars were emerging from the purple veil of twilight and he could see a couple of Nedethil’s closest neighbours in Garden’s cluster faintly illuminated in the night sky.  From here, they watched the ships landing in the bay, and the starlight reflecting off of the water.

Shaundar’s father produced his tobacco pouch and filled his pipe.  He then did something he had never done before; he offered it to his son.  Shaundar hesitated.  “Brandy,” his father explained.  “It’s a little less cloyingly sweet than that stuff that you smoke.”

He dug his pipe out of his pocket and filled it with his father’s tobacco.  It occurred to him then how ridiculous hiding his smoking from his parents actually was.  He imagined that his father was probably a young Midshipman once himself, and found himself wondering vaguely how long he’d known.

They lit their pipes and smoked quietly together, looking out over the bay.

“Well,” Lord Sunfall spoke at last, “I was hoping to stave this off for a few decades yet.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Shaundar apologized.  His father was acting very strange.  He wondered contritely if he had hurt his feelings somehow.  He was certain he had deeply upset his mother.  Suddenly he felt terrible.

His father’s answering smile was bracing, if perhaps a little sad.  “Don’t misunderstand me, son.  I am very proud of you today.”

“Really?” Shaundar blurted out, surprised.

“You have chosen your own path, and you’ve proven that you have the courage of your convictions,” he explained.  “You’re an adult today, Shaundar.”  He put a hand on Shaundar’s shoulder and smiled at him.  “I do wish you had not chosen to quit school.  But I know it didn’t suit you well.  And I know there were mitigating circumstances.  I can’t say that I didn’t see it coming.”  He chuckled.  “I suppose that I’m glad you made another plan for your future!”

Shaundar didn’t really know what to say.  “Thank you, sir.”  He was proud but also strangely melancholy.  They were silent for quite a few minutes; quiet enough to hear a ship’s bell echoing from the harbour and the low murmur of starhands on the docks.  Some of the crew of the Aerdrie’s Pride were still loading flitters.

Lord Sunfall cleared his throat.  “So, when will you receive notice of your posting?”

“I’m not sure,” Shaundar replied.  “Within the week.”

His father nodded thoughtfully.  “Well, hopefully it will be a while yet before you see a lot of action, but if my wish comes true, it will mean sentry duty, which is the most boring job in the Known Spheres.  Bring your kholiast cards and try not to gamble away all of your pay,” he advised.   “And don’t neglect your sword work.  Especially if you’re going to be manning the helm all the time, even with your training your spellcasting capabilities will generally be less than otherwise, so you can’t rely on them.”

“Thanks for the good advice, sir,” Shaundar said attentively.

They fell silent once again.  Eventually Ruavel Sunfall tapped out his pipe, and Shaundar did the same.

“Sir,” Shaundar asked suddenly, “why do you think that the goblinoids attacked us?”

He smiled entirely without humour.  “Revenge,” he said without hesitation.  “The truth is, we humiliated them in the War.  We took away their access to the stars and forced them into the nastiest place we could think of.  If I can give you this advice, son; never humiliate a defeated enemy.  Treat him with respect and dignity.  People can stand to be defeated, but destroy their pride and they will hunt you to the end of time for the power of their hatred.”

“Yes, sir,” Shaundar nodded.  There was something profound in that.

Then his father changed the subject entirely by asking, “So, have you told Narissa yet?”

Shaundar’s heart leaped into his throat and started dancing again.  No, he had neglected that little detail.  “Not yet,” he admitted.

“The sooner you get it over with, the better off you will be,” Lord Sunfall suggested.  “Better that she hear it from you rather than her father.”

“You’re right, sir,” Shaundar agreed.  “I will go and do that now.”

His father nodded approvingly.  They came back into the manor.  One of their servants was cleaning up the dinner dishes.

Shaundar met his grandmother’s eyes.  “Grandmother, may I speak with you for a moment?”

“Sure, Shaundar,” she consented with a smile, and she eased herself up from the rocking chair and fell in step with him.  Shaundar, knowing the stairs were becoming a challenge for her, led her into his father’s office instead of his room.  “What is it?” she asked once Shaundar had closed the door.

He hesitated a moment, wondering if it was too early.  But he knew that it might be years before he had another chance.  Well, it couldn’t hurt to ask, could it?  He didn’t have to go through with it yet if the time didn’t feel right.  “Grandmother,” he began slowly, “do you have a goldheart charm anywhere?  If not, I’m sure I can have one made, but I don’t know how much time I have before I’m sent off .  .  .”

Dathlue Mistwinter grinned widely.  “Decided to grow up all in one day, did you?  Don’t do anything halfway, do you, Shaundar?  I think that’s great!  Yes, I do have one from my youth; I can’t think of a more worthy girl to wear it.  I’ll get it.  Come with me!”  She led him to her chambers, which had been moved to the ground floor in recent years, and opened up a tidy dresser drawer in her otherwise relatively Spartan room, where she found a golden box with a filigreed heart design on its lid.  She smiled nostalgically.  “Still in the original box; good!”  She put it in her grandson’s hands.  “Give that to her with my blessing, Shaundar.”

He smiled warmly.  “Thank you, Grandmother.  I’m glad you approve.”

She laughed out loud.  “Her father won’t!  But that’s his problem.”  She reached up and put a hand on the side of Shaundar’s face.  It struck him as odd that she was so tiny, when her presence was so large.  “You know, it’s about time I passed that along anyway.  The truth is I’m not likely to be around much longer .  .  .”

“Don’t talk like that, Grandmother,” Shaundar cut her off.

Lady Mistwinter waved a hand dismissively.  “I’m not a young girl anymore, in case you hadn’t noticed.  Soon I’ll pass West.  Not for a couple of years yet, I think, but soon.  And I’m not likely to see much of you in these next few years.  So while I’m still here, I just want to tell you that I love you and I’m proud of you.  And I also want to leave you this advice, if you’ll hear it; always be true to yourself, and never make any apologies for being exactly who you are.  Can you promise me that?”

Shaundar was not comfortable with this conversation, but he said, “I promise to try.”

His grandmother nodded.  “That’s all I can ask, then.”  She put her little arms around his chest and hugged him firmly.  “Now, you get out there and talk to your girl.”

Av, etriel,” he smiled.

As he left the house, Dathlue Mistwinter thought to herself how very much like his father her grandson was, and her heart swelled with pride and joy.

– from A Few Good Elves (Toy Soldier Saga book 1).

Diane MorrisonDiane 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.

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