What Vows We Speak

This story is about an elven female paladin, and how she must weigh her feelings of revenge against her vows of justice. The original version was found at the Red Dragon Inn

He awakened to the sounds of her moving quietly around the luxurious room in the little seaside inn.

She had risen with the sea-birds whose cries even now echoed outside the window over the backdrop of the crashing surf.

His eyes fluttered open to observe her already clad in dragonscale armor and travelling-cloak, kneeling near the door and carefully tucking supplies into saddle-bags and leather packs.

At the sound of his stirring she sat carefully back on her heels and regarded him with a somewhat forced smile. Last night she had forestalled anxious desire to run in pursuit of a long-held goal, and she had allowed herself to languish in Kaan's arms for what felt like the last time, even if he was going with her… for today was the day she would give in to the centuries-old longing for retribution, and to her, a paladin, it felt like the beginning of a turning to Darkness. And yet, as always before, she was unable to resist it. It had become part of who she was.

"Good morning," she offered. He smiled that eternal smile, sky-blue eyes twinkling if sleepy, and beckoned. She stood slowly and leaned over him, kissing him softly, but she didn't join him on the bed. The time for that had passed.

"The horses are ready outside," she said gently.

Kaan gazed at her for a long moment, studying her fair elven features, the almost-black eyes gazing into his own, asking without words for understanding.

"That is exactly why I have to finish this," she'd told him. "So I can love, and serve, undivided. Undistracted. I am taking my heart back so I can give it to you."

He reached up to brush away a strand of shortish black hair that had fallen into her eyes, and nodded. After pulling one of her hands to his lips for a gentle kiss, he rolled out of bed to begin his own preparations.

She gazed after him, unmoving for a moment, marveling.

Never did he echo the self-condemnation she gave herself.

Never did he tell her that her errand was senseless, or that it went against all of her paladinic ideals.

Never did he say the words, "Don't go," only, "I'm going with you."

She wondered too at the fact that it had only been a few months before that she had felt compelled to tell him the tale that had brought her to Darkhaven and now took her away from it. The tale of Verthandi, the blade the Ancient had laid her hand upon on the day of her birth, and enchanted the blade and christened the babe in the same breath: Verthandi and Graelynia.

She'd told him how it had been lost to the rogue elf Nimmloth to whom she had been promised in marriage as a very small child, and of the day she came of age when he had come to claim her. That day she had been out tending to a lame mare and had returned to find her intended raping her mother, and though in rage she had done her best to take his life she had managed to take no more from him than his hand, and he in turn had escaped with the sword that was her birthright.

That day had altered the path of her life forever afterward, dividing her heart against everything she held dear: many she had loved, and duty to the nation she loved and now led. At one time or another she had walked away from everyone and everything else that had held her heart to pursue this compulsion. But somehow she could not walk away from this gentle half-orc who never offered a word of judgment, only that constant smile and his endless support. Because she knew he would simply follow and continue to offer both, despite a traumatic history of his own. Or maybe because of it. "We all have things we must do," he had said.Exactly so, she thought, as she pushed off the bed and joined him in the final packing.

Three days' travel by horseback saw them at the inn, an odd thatched building set away from the town's main thoroughfare, at that time of day when the first bold stars gained a foothold over the last dying embers of sunset against a velvet-blue sky. The weather turned a bit cold this time of day, this time of year, and the pair of travelers were grateful for the cheery fires that lit the inn.

Kaan pushed his way inside first and greeted the proprietor, a stodgy red-faced dwarf, with a nod and a smile. Graelynia, behind him, eagerly scanned the few inebriated near-corpses that decorated the barroom here and there. There were no one-handed bearers of glorious swords. In fact, no elves at all. She too turned and offered her usual formal bow to the dwarf, who in response pulled a pair of mugs from a dusty shelf.

"Ale?" he asked. She glanced at Kaan and nodded, though anxious for news of Nimmloth, who had been in this very inn only days before.

"Greetings, friend," she said through a forced smile as she made her way from Kaan's side toward a stool. "How is business this night?" She forced herself to patiently go through the formalities of greeting, knowing that a good barkeep with open ears is a valuable ally.

The dwarf grunted in response. "Slow. It's been slow since the treasure-hunters headed for the citadel."

Graelynia arched an eyebrow as she accepted what looked like a fine mug of ale and laid a fistful of coins on the bar. "Treasure-hunters?"

He turned away muttering as if it was absurd that anyone had not heard of this venture, taking up one mug at a time and polishing them with a ragged towel. For many long, patience-fraying moments he made no answer as Graelynia and Kaan exchanged glances behind his back.

Kaan prompted, "We're new to this area, friend. What treasure would this be?"

The dwarf glanced once over his shoulder and with a flick of his towel gestured east. "The citadel," he muttered. "Surely you've heard of Ithiloki?"

Kaan's face showed no sign of recognition, but Graelynia leaned on the bar, interested. "The Moon Dragon," she said in a slightly awed voice, momentarily allowing herself to be distracted from her quest to hear this tale… for there are few things an elf loves as much as a good tale. "Only in fable. But what citadel?"

The barkeep set a dry mug down with exaggerated patience and said, "The Citadel of Sleep. It lies a day's journey to the east. It was abandoned by humans centuries ago and its vast treasure left to the guardianship of Ithiloki."

The dwarf had difficulty pronouncing the Elven word by which the dragon was known. He shrugged. "He has made its dungeons his lair. It always been thought impenetrable, but to contain the most glorious of dragon-treasures."

"Aye… the legend I heard at home long ago said that he bothers no one as long as his treasure lies undisturbed, but woe to the one who dares to raid his lair," Graelynia offered.

He acknowledged this only by way of a short nod, his beard waving a little with the gesture. "Fools," he muttered. "Idiot treasure seekers." He waved a short hand with an uncaring shrug, for he had seen many senseless adventurers pass through his inn. "They'll all perish."

Kaan finally interjected, curiosity getting the better of him. "Who are these treasure seekers?" The dwarf squinted up at Kaan as if noticing him for the first time. In reality he had paid neither of them much heed since their arrival.

"Bah," he muttered, "some greedy elf came through here looking for an army of dwarves to go with him. Must've known the heart of a dwarf… he found quite a few who could not resist the tales of treasure to be had."

Graelynia lifted a questioning eyebrow towards Kaan, then said to the dwarf, "Tell me, friend… who was this elf?"

He grunted again, glancing at Kaan's handless arm. "One-handed fellow. Seems a rash of them these days…"

Graelynia did not allow him to finish. "My friend, we'll need travelling supplies – food and water for a day's journey." She slipped lightly off the stool to gather her belongings.

Kaan could not persuade her to rest the night at the inn, and so through the night they rode toward the Citadel of Sleep. Long before they reached it they could see it, backlit by the dawn reaching up from behind it and casting eerie pink shadows on the crumbling stonework. She sought no treasure… only the life of one treasure-seeker. To ward off sleep as they rode she recited the vows of the paladin to herself, her lips moving noiselessly, seemingly in time to the rhythmic bobbing of the stallion Mor'loki's head.

//"I will not attack before issuing a challenge, attack an unarmed foe or attack from behind."

"I must fight, and if necessary die, with honour and valour."

"I shall live for freedom, the virtues and all that is good."

"I will administer justice, not seek revenge…"//

It proved more than a day's journey and only once had he convinced her to dismount and rest in his arms, for she had slept little in many days. She dozed fitfully while he guarded her, no more than a few hours, before she was up again and anxious to complete the journey and the task. It was near nightfall when the citadel loomed over them with long cast shadows, and touching the crenellated spires, absurdly large and full against them, was the Moon its dragon-guardian was named for.

They could not resist pausing to gaze in awe, when Kaan reached from his mount to touch her on her shoulder, gesturing around the southern side of the awesome keep. For there were several fires blazing there in the midst of a camp. Dwarven, by its layout, and undoubtedly the one they were seeking. Without a word she wheeled her horse in the opposite direction and faded into the nearby forest, ground-tying him there. Kaan followed, and on foot they set out to meet the party of treasure seekers.

The pair neared the camp, and though they were likely not silent, the dwarves were celebrating victory before its accomplishment, it seemed, for to a man the camp was inebriated, and so they had little difficulty getting quite close. Graelynia drew her sword and it glowed softly in the full moonlight. Almost forgetting the half-orc flanking her, she crept nearer until she realized to her shock that she knelt directly behind the elf she was seeking.

"Nimmloth," she mouthed without sound, hardly daring to breathe, the tip of the sword quivering before her. All it would take… she swallowed. Run him through quickly. Remove the obsession, take back what is rightfully mine. Though the dwarves might protest she couldn't imagine they had any great love for him, louse that he was. Just… there, she thought. Run him through, right there. For an eternity the swordtip trembled and her mind trembled on the edge of indecision.

Then: "I will not attack before issuing a challenge, attack an unarmed foe or attack from behind," echoed in her head. Gods, she cursed herself and her honor, after all this time!

At the end of eternity the trembling swordtip lowered, her shoulders fell, and she glanced at her companion. She shook her head, and though his eyes showed his confusion, he nodded his support, and they walked back to the horses to make camp and sleep. Issue a challenge she would.

Tomorrow. The image of prying the gem-encrusted hilt of Verthandi from the cold, dead hand of its captor had crept into her thoughts over and over again through the centuries. Tonight as she drifted off to sleep she had a backdrop to put to the scene.

Long sleepless days had left them both exhausted, and they did not stir until the sun had had long since lifted its face above the horizon. Rousing themselves they crept again toward the camp. But camp had been broken. It seemed the adventurers had departed early for the citadel's walls, and though neither of them were any tracker, the signs of their passing were clear. She sank to the earth, cursing softly.

"I had him within my reach, Kaan, last night… and I did not take it. Why must I always choose between honor and peace in my heart?" Little did he know what to say to this, and so he simply held her, her shoulders slumped in seeming defeat, but it was not many minutes before she squared them again and gazed toward the fortress.

"I'm going," she said, and she was not asking permission. A soft groan escaped him.

"Graelynia…" He lifted his eyes to the formidable place. She filled the hesitation with words. "That coward will not survive the attempt, Kaan. Shall it be my blade that does him in, or the dragon? I'd much rather recover Verthandi from his hand than take it from Ithiloki. Come, hesitation will have us facing both of them."

Turning in the direction of the forest, she placed her fingers to her lips and uttered a distinctive, piercing whistle. Within minutes Mor'loki was at her side, and Kaan's gelding had meekly followed. She checked her armor and the sword at her hip, swung gracefully into the saddle, and struck out in the direction of the dragon's lair.

Once again he had no choice but to follow.

Ithiloki stirred from her sleep. She preferred her rest during the day so that she might enjoy the glorious view of the stars the citadel offered from its vantage point on this peak at night. Last night had been a perfect moon.

Now, though… her acute senses told her that the southern gate had been breached. She turned, sending a shower of gems cascading down the side of her carefully constructed mountainous bed within the bowels of the fortress.

She sniffed. Dwarf, she thought. Twenty or more… and one elf.

She was not an evil dragon and the legends that said she let all creatures alone save those who threatened her cache did not lie.

In truth she felt some affection for the elven people who had given her her name, and once upon a time she had spent long hours with an elf or two trading riddles and tales; but her experience with dwarves told her there was little in their hearts but greed. An interesting company, this. Stretching her great translucent wings she climbed to a higher vantage point within the keep, where she could clearly hear their voices echoing through the ancient stone walls. She did not like what she heard.

The Citadel of Sleep was even more imposing once one stood beside its mighty walls of pinkish granite. There seemed something magical about the place and to Grae's paladinic eye it seemed to actually have a grey aura, as if the keep itself were somehow sentient. Gazing up at the enormous spires was a bit dizzying, as the clouds moved against them. Last night against the moon, today the clouds… it seemed this place always kept a finger on the sky. They left the horses to doze not far from the breached southern gate, and with hands on swordhilts they moved toward the awe-inspiring fortress. She strode swiftly across the threshold, but at its edge Kaan placed a restraining hand on her shoulder.

Graelynia paused to glance up at him, afraid something was wrong, but he only leaned to kiss her once lightly on the forehead. "A'maelamin," he whispered, using the elven word she'd told him for 'my beloved', "I love you."

She hesitated, laid a hand on his cheek, but after that he nodded in the direction of the heart of the keep, knowing that whatever lay there needed to be faced before she could find her peace. She smiled her answer, and he followed her into the keep, their footsteps echoing far too loudly against the flagstones for her taste.

Nimmloth sighed as he listened to the dwarves argue amongst themselves over the dividing of spoil for the hundredth time on this journey.

"Be silent, you fools," he hissed. "Do you not know he senses those within his lair?" They fell quiet at this, and slowly advanced down the long hall toward the center of the citadel, no weapons drawn for the sake of the deception. What awaited their eyes there was nothing short of breathtakingly dazzling.

Ithiloki had placed herself there at the center of the keep, an enormous wide courtyard open to the sky, bordered by the spires at the four corners of the keep that allowed the dragon to track her beloved stars. It seemed, looking up, that the world revolved around this point. She herself was breathtaking.

Her translucent crystal scales caught and refracted the sunlight, making her almost unbearable to look at. The gems that lined her underside from lying on them for centuries picked up shards of sunlight and scattered it across the smooth marble floor of the courtyard. In fact she refracted light everywhere, setting the entire area ablaze with flashes of light and color. The dwarves were well informed of the plan, knowing that a gem dragon prefers conversation to combat. Ten dwarves remained at her head with Nimmloth, who bowed before her, graciously, sweepingly, flanked by five dwarves on a side, his handless arm behind him.

"Vedui, Ancient One," he greeted her in elvish. She lowered her head to peer at him. It had been centuries since she had heard elvish words spoken to her, but she understood quite well. In his tongue she spoke, that the dwarves might not understand: "Why are you here, Elf of Light? With these foul creatures who are good for nothing but thievery?"

He chuckled and bowed again, a shock of longish hair falling in his face as he did so. "I told them the tales of your wisdom, O Sharp-witted Wyrm. All of us had to come and hear your wisdom for ourselves. For my father Heren spoke often of it."

The quickest way to a dragon's heart is certainly its ego, if it is not its greed.

"Heren??" Another she had not heard of in years. She twisted her neck to look sky-ward. "He knew the star-charts," she muttered, remembering him. Nimmloth saw his advantage and pressed it, and indeed he was a silver-tongued elf whose guile was unmatched when he was sober.

"Ah, aye… he asked me to bring them to you, but alas! our camp is miles away and I seem to have left them there…" She was not likely to fall for this ruse and leave her hoard unguarded. Her nostrils flared slightly, dazzling shards of her breath appearing faintly as she exhaled. She lashed her tail, scattering prismatic reflections about the courtyard, and stepped closer to peer at him.

"That sword…" she whispered, though the sound was by no means soft. There was lust in her voice. He smiled and gave an almost imperceptible nod as a signal to his companions as he drew it singing from its sheath and laid it on the flat of his palm and across his handless forearem before her to capture her lustful gaze.

The hilt, thick with gems, threw its own glitter about him in the sunlight, and the mithril blade flashed as well. She was entranced.

"Are you offering to a dragon what is not yours, Nimmloth?" came a voice from behind him. He wheeled and found himself face to face with another clad in dragonscale, and the face nearly made him drop the blade.

His eyes widened as the enchanted blade hummed in his grip. So taken aback was the entire party that none made any move toward her. Ithiloki narrowed her eyes at the pair of newcomers. An armored lady elf. And… the other?

She sensed many things from him, and she could not place his race. She had no time to think further on it, for screaming battle cries from the wings of her own glorious citadel came five dwarves simultaneously on either side of her, swinging maces, clubs, and some few of them swords, and she was advanced on from three sides. With a blazing lash of her tail she turned on those on her right and with a blast of crystal shards she knocked them back even as she unfolded her great translucent wings and leaped into the sky, leaving the rest of the dwarves facing each other, then looking after her into the sky, toward the sun, and blinded. Graelynia's gaze did not follow her, but was fixed on the elf standing in the sun with her flashing blade still across his forearm and hand.

It was the first she had seen it in four and a half centuries. She drew the plain-hilted Doomgiver that had served her for centuries from its sheath and held it before her, advancing on him, as Ithiloki swept from the sky and decimated the ranks of the dwarves with magic and crystal shards of her breath.

Kaan stood still in the shadows just behind her, muscles tensed, waiting until something threatened Graelynia directly before he acted. Nimmloth saw no opportunity to flee, for toward the center of the keep was a raging battle between dragon and a company of dwarves, and between himself and the exit stood a well trained lady knight with sword drawn on him, and behind her a half-orc, his sword drawn as well, though not in an offensive stance. He shifted the blade's hilt to his one hand.

At that moment the few dwarves who remained began streaming past them, nearly knocking Nimmloth over in their haste to escape, for the battle had not gone well for them. Ithiloki, satisfied that she had driven them from her citadel and her treasure, swept downward again in a blinding flash and in a moment held an elf in each of her great claws as she climbed again skyward. She was not as willing to kill an elf as a dwarf, but neither would they threaten her home or treasure.

Nimmloth and Graelynia each let out a strangled cry, arms pinned to their sides and unable to use the swords they held. Kaan too let out a strangled cry and fled for the gate, sheathing his blade as he ran, and put his fingers to his lips the way he had heard Grae whistle for her stallion so often. It was no more than a moment before he heard Mor'loki's clattering hoofbeats on the flagstones and launched himself awkwardly into the saddle in his haste. The horse needed no urging. He spun and raced in the direction the dragon had vanished.

"Son of Heren, do you betray me to the thieves?" Ithiloki asked, her voice clear over the whistling of the wind in her wings. Nimmloth backpedaled.

"Nay, Glorious One, I had no idea they had such foul intentions in their hearts." Ithiloki made no reply to this. She was still unsure of either of their intentions, but she meant to see to it that they threatened her no more. Graelynia had stopped struggling against her claw, watching the terrain whip past with terrifying speed. She only gripped the sword she held in her hand more tightly and waited. The dragon covered what would have been a journey of days on horseback in a matter of hours, then she slowed over a lake shimmering in the midday sun. She held her wings outstretched, glided and wheeled over.

"Quendi," she said almost gently, patiently, "threaten me not again and live in peace… provided you can swim." With that she folded her wings and dove toward the lake, releasing Graelynia first, then with the claw that had held her she snatched the enchanted blade from the one hand of Nimmloth, then released him, circled, and climbed skyward again, the treasure she'd lusted after clutched firmly in both claws.

Kaan had lost sight of the dragon swiftly, for a dragon flies much faster than a horse can run, and he could only guess in which direction Ithiloki had gone. He was no tracker, and indeed there was no track in the sky anyway. Then, when he caught sight of Ithiloki streaking toward the citadel with the blade clutched in her claw, his heart sank. Still he covered the countryside methodically in his patient way, but his heart grew ever heavier until he became certain that he had lost her. After many days of searching he could do little but assume the worst, and he turned the black stallion toward home, spurring him northwest toward Darkhaven though he too seemed unwilling.

It was a cruel and unfortunate twist that, indeed, swimming was not among Graelynia's talents, and panic struck her the moment she began to fall. As a result she hit the surface of the water broadside and painfully, and immediately began to sink further weighed down by the dragonscale armor. She gulped a mouthful of water, spluttered and thrashed, and released her sword, which sank slowly to the lake's bottom. There was nothing in her mind but self-preservation, and she was losing the battle.

At that moment she felt an arm encircle her waist and tug at her. Instinctively she stopped thrashing as her lungs found air and she gasped and coughed as she was dragged to the lake's edge. Only half consciously did she take note of the fact that the arm that encircled her had no hand. He laid her on the reedy bank and waited for her to recover. When she had, she sat up rapidly, water running from her black hair in rivulets down her face as she stared at him.

"Gods… you…" She glanced across the water and back at him. He only shrugged. She leaped to her feet, still a bit unsteady, and bowed. "I owe you my life," she stammered, thinking, and I was going to take yours. Justice seeks to determine whether an individual has repented, she heard from some distant part of her training. Revenge does not care. And, "I will administer justice, not seek revenge…" she heard her own voice vow from the mists of the past. At her words he smiled disarmingly.

"Ah, owe," he said with a wave of his hand. "What is owed between old…. friends?" He chuckled.

"You're not that elf, it seems…" she said cautiously.

He looked her up and down with a measuring eye. "Aye, and it seems you've grown a bit yourself."

She smoothed her hair and did her best to look diplomatic. "Aye. And should you have need, Nimmloth, the Elves of Irrybis are at your service for what you have done today."

"Elves of Irrybis… and you represent them?" he cocked his head, suddenly interested. "I…" she began. She was not one to throw title or position around so as to gain power, but this was not her purpose.

"I am their Tari," she said finally. Something in his eyes caught and blazed at the elvish word for 'queen'.

"Ahh, then it is I who should bow," he said, and he did. "The honor is mine." Rogue or not, he was High Elf, and bred well though he rarely acted it for the ale that coursed through his veins. The interest in her position was not lost on her, and though he had saved her life and she felt something was owing him, she did not and would not trust him.

Bowing slightly again she took her leave. "I will return to my people then, Nimmloth. Vanya sulie." He gazed after her with a slight smile on his thin lips.

There was much to think about on the journey home, and it was long, for much of it was on foot until she could reach a village where she might purchase a horse. This was somehow the end of an age in her life, time to let thoughts of retribution die. Time to reflect on the triumph of her noble self over the baser self who cared not what Nimmloth had become. Again the vows rolled through her head, for she recited them often, and yet somehow each had come alive in a way it had not before.

Even Darkhaven, as she at long last neared its gates, seemed more a city of hope than it ever had. She arrived at its south gate just at dawn many weeks after she had left it. The sky was clouded over and the rising sun streaked beacons through them and across the sky, arching over the walled City of Hope.

And there was hope, though in practical terms her journey had been an utter failure, for she had exacted no retribution and returned home without her treasure. She smiled a bit to herself as she paused at the gate, shoving a hand through her hair, and then pressed on the last bit of journey.

Kaan would certainly have come home by now were he unharmed… and somehow the beacons of the dawn, and the city lit by it's pinkish glory refused to allow her to believe he had come to harm. She would find him, and she would tell him. And she would love him… with nothing dark left in her heart to divide it.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License