I looked at Larind in shock. Well, wouldn’t you? He had told me everything, without telling me anything.
Perhaps guessing my thoughts, he lifted himself to his feet, his old oak cane groaning under his light weight. His back is hunched over his cane, as if a great weight was shoving his shoulders down every time he moved, an odd bump in his back showing under his cloak. His legs work furiously, hobbling across to the staircase up and out to the open air, his right one bent askew so that it drags on the floor and refuses to lift. Looking behind him, he gestures with his free hand, indicating that we should follow. Our hearts in our throats, Liandros and I follow the injured archer up the steps, our arms ready to catch him if he should fall.
When he reaches the top without incident, he whirls on us, his cane groaning as he pirouettes on his left foot, the cane grinding against the wood of the deck. “Did you think I was weak?” he challenged, straightening his back. “Did you think I was unable to do the easiest thing, like climb the stairs? My back is bent from no injury but the ones you inflicted on me. My so-called crewmembers! My so-called friends? Did all of you think me weak because I can no longer walk without a cane? Did all of you think me useless and stupid because I no longer talk as willingly as I used to?”
Liandros and I backpedal in shock, almost plummeting down the stairs from whence we came. Birds cry in the sky, breaking into the shocked silence. “We were only worried about you.” Liandros says cautiously, his hand gently propelling me forwards off the top step so we could face Larind directly.
He throws back his head, and laughs. “’Worried about me’? Why would you worry? I am as strong as I once was. Look!” Whirling on his good foot again, he throws back his cloak to reveal a quiver full of swan-fletched arrows and a long silver string. Leaning ‘gainst the railing of the ship, he lifts his cane and reveals it for what it is and for what it has always been: His bow.
His right arm rises to the quiver and plucks a single arrow reverently and sets it to the string. His arms pull back as he sighted down the length of the arrow, and declares in a stern voice, “See that bird? The one flying at the head of the formation? He will fall to a single shot of my arrow.”
The elf inhales once and slowly breathes out, before his arms tighten one last time before he releases the arrow.
With a final cry of protest, the bird falls into the calm waters of the ocean, a mere dot on the horizon as it plummets from the sky.
In a single fluid motion, the elven archer unslings his bow and returns the string to a hook on the outside of his quiver. Turning towards us, he bows his head once, before pulling his cloak back over his quiver and hunching over his cane again.
A soft smile on his lips, he gestures to us as he makes his way to the side of the mast, and takes a seat on some of the sacks tossed around, his left leg tucked in, and his right leg forming a seven in front of him. Liandros and I take a seat on either side of him, watching him closely.
“Can you tell us what you know?” I ask quietly, looking at the sheath that I had spied on his hip earlier. I was not looking forward to seeing the blade he wore belted there; if he was still so talented at the bow and arrow, how good might he still be with a sword…?
The elf nods, his face grim. “I’m afraid I know nothing that I can tell you now,” I groan, and he shoots a stern look at me before continuing, “However, I do know some things. I know how things must proceed, and if I was to tell you now and not make you work for it, things would not work out right for anyone.”
“So, when can you tell us?” Liandros asks, tapping his leg impatiently.
“Patience, my human friend! Patience must be used. It will be a while yet, and I might never tell you if things don’t go the way they should.” Larind replies, shooting him a stern look as well.
“And why would you not be able to tell us if things don’t go right?” I ask, even though a part of me already knows the answer.
“Because we’ll be dead, and I’m afraid I can’t tell you anything useful in the afterlife.”
“Can you stop being so bloody cryptic and tell us already?” Liandros yells, his temper free from his tentative control.
Larind reveals how able he is again when his sword slips free of its sheath and comes to rest at the neck of my greatest friend. “I told you I could not tell you until later. Can you believe me when I tell you I want to tell you, because doing so would stop a great tragedy that includes my own death? But, oh, if I do tell you, I could set off a chain of events that might destroy everything the members of this crew hold dear? But I would still be alive, and I would live in a small farm that is filled with my beloved wife, who I haven’t seen in a decade, and my many children and their children. So I want to tell you, okay? Every fiber of my being wants to tell you, but I can not tell you. So shall you listen to me and let me tell you when it’s time?”
Swallowing, his reddened face turned a pale white, Liandros nods. Smiling, Larind lifts himself to his feet and hobbles back to the mess and sheathing his sword as he goes, leaving us there in stunned silence.
“What a great big load of damnable nothing.” Liandros comments, watching the elf walk away, anger still shining in his gray eyes.
“Nothing? We’ve seen what my sister has done. Is anything unbelievable anymore?” I reply, pulling myself to my feet and offering him my hand.
Liandros shrugs, his expression surprised (like it always is) when I pull him easily to his feet. Sighing, he slings an arm across my shoulders and leads me back to our room, sternly ordering me that I rest.
I sigh as well, leaning against my friend’s side, glad of the company.
Where would I be without my one true friend?
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I waken a few hours later to the frightening sight of Larind leaning over me, his hand on his sword, his bow strung and resting against his hip.
“We’re being attacked,” he tells me, before turning to leave. Throwing over his shoulder as an afterthought, “And not even direct orders from the Captain that I stay out of things where I won’t be a burden on anyone will stop me from fighting now.”
Shaking my head at the absurdity of the elven warrior, I change quickly and belt on my rapier, joining Liandros at the portside rail. “It’s the Ice Shard. That damnable ship is returning for revenge on behalf of the Ice Mast!”
“That’s what we get for underestimating the leader of a fleet of pirate ships,” I tell him grimly, wishing I’d thought to get my crossbow from my room before I left. I watch the ship slowly grow in size, her sails at full, approaching with the wind. She would be beside us in a matter of minutes, and her fore cannons would hit us if we didn’t get out of the way first.
Turning to regard me, Liandros noticed the set of my jaw, and asked softly, “What’s going on with you, my friend?”
I gesture towards Larind, who now stands at the forecastle, tall and proud, ignoring the barked orders from the Captain to head below decks where he would not be a burden on the fighters. “I had an unexpected visitor this morning.”
“So elf boy paid you a visit, did he? He’s the talk of the ship right now, which is a decidedly novel experience. Rarely do we ever even mention him, but now the crew can talk about nothing but Larind this and Larind that. So,” Liandros asks, testing the balance of his rapier, “what did he want from you?”
“Nothing. He just told me we were being attacked, and that he was fighting with us.”
Liandros nods sagely. “Well, hopefully he’ll be struck down for good in the battle, and that he deems it time to tell us his all-important information regarding the end of the world.”
We watch the ship approach, and we also watch as Captain gives up on convincing the stubborn elf to flee the battle before it began, and turns to other tasks. Noticing our eyes on him, the elf cuts an elegant bow, awkward though it is because he can only bend the one knee. Luckily for us, he then turns his attention to the enemy and aims an arrow towards the helmsman of the ship. Captain Arrisandos gives a cry, and the helmsman of our ship wheels us in a tight turn so we hurtle along beside them, against the wind and slowing but blasting them with our own cannons. Larind unleashes the arrow and the unlucky man falls, his hand still clutching the wheel and sending the Ice Shard wheeling away from us.
We follow it, Orpodah sending wave after wave of magic towards it, grinning. Then the cry goes up when we get close enough to it for the elves of our crew to make the jump, and wrenching out our swords and dropping into ready crouches, we take a running leap on to the enemy deck, easily clearing the rail. I slam straight into a pirate, my feet hitting him high in his chest and knocking him to the deck. Using my momentum, I send us skidding ‘cross the deck so fast and so hard he breaks his head open on the rail and almost breaks through. “Thank you for breaking my fall!” I yell to his dead body as I whirl to join the fight.
My first opponent looms, two heads taller than I and four times thicker, his massive axe held high above my head, ready to cleave me in two. Not bloody well likely, I think apologetically as I easily dodge the chopping axe. Grinning at him, my rapier cuts a swift pattern on his leggings and I scamper away, watching smugly as his pants take a downward plunge and reveal that he really needs to consider wearing a pair of drawers. Attempting not to laugh, I scamper forwards again, dodging his enraged swipe, and send the tip of my rapier slipping through his throat, sending the giant crashing down to the deck of the ship.
And just in time, too, as a sword cuts through the air in front of me, aiming for my waist. Yelping, I leap over the blade, glaring at its owner. “I was gloating, you fool!” I yell at him, tucking into an aerial somersault and sending my rapier chopping down towards his head, following my momentum. He dodges easily, but he doesn’t manage to avoid the kick I land on his chin when I land and leap into the air again. He falls flat on his back, spitting out the tip of his tongue. Trying not to vomit in the midst of battle, I race towards him, just in time to take a foot to the stomach and go hurtling back to land on my butt on certain parts of my pants-less deceased foe that I would rather avoid. Making a mental note to burn my pants, I hurl myself forward, seventy pounds of enraged elven fury.
He kicks me in the face this time, and I realize just how my landing gear felt when my head rams into the railing. Hoping I won’t plummet into the sea, I return to my feet, give a grin, and race forward towards my enemy.
Only to have him fall off the boat, a swan-fletched arrow resting smugly dead center between his eyes. I hear laughter from behind me, and whirl to glare at the straight-backed figure of the most annoying elf I have ever met.
I should’ve turned back around sooner.
Because, as I narrow my eyes at the elf, something sharp cuts through my back, and I scream. Tucking and rolling forwards, I turn mid-roll to face my enemy, coming up in a crouch, ignoring the line of pain that runs down my back.
There stands the Commander of the Ice Fleet, recognizable from his many wanted posters. His twin rapiers are held in his hands, his right rapier stained red with my blood. He smiles, the look incongruous with his many scars and battle wounds. He was rumored to be the best fighter on the sea—how could I survive against him?
“Larind, HELP!” I scream, looking from my small sword to his much bigger ones. “Shoot him before he kills me!”
Icemaer Jecker sends his right sword swinging for my neck, his left cutting a swath through the air towards my rapier to knock it out of my hand, and his foot going on an awful trajectory for the most valuable parts of my anatomy.
I do what any self-respecting elven swordsman would do: I plant my feet on the railing, curl up, and kick off. Yelping a battle cry, I slam my head into his waist, my arms wrapping about him, bringing him down to a sitting position, with me lying across his lap.
I send both of us skidding across the deck, taking down a few enemies and allies alike as we go. My arms hit the railing hard, and I wince before heading him in the chest. Yelping at the pain when my sensitive skull connected with his leather and metal armor, I try a different tactic and spit in his eyes, hoping to keep his swords away from me for as long as possible while I work on freeing my own.
I successfully free my arms, sending waves of pain through my back and almost tearing my arm from its socket.
Which is about when cold metal touches the bare skin of my neck.
Which is about when an arrow soars through the air, almost tearing a chunk out of my ear, and into the head of the Commander of the Fleet
Limping to my feet, I stagger to the next enemy and finish him off quickly and dazedly, remarking privately how bad these people are at fighting if a dazed and almost dead elf can kill them with ease.
When the fight ends and the enemy ship is sank, Liandros carries me to the infirmary, but not before we run into one of our very favorite people.
Larind touches Liandros’ arm, bidding him stop for just a second.
“Why didn’t you help me sooner?” I ask him angrily, amid coughs of blood.
“I didn’t think you needed it. The last time I tried to help, you glared at me. So I concluded that you didn’t need me, and would be mad at me if I attempted to aid you.”
Smiling down at me, the elf hobbles away awkwardly, Liandros picking up speed and building towards a sprint as we make our way to the infirmary.
Just before Orpodah forces one of his vile mixtures down my throat, I remark, “When I get out of here, I am going to carve a pattern on that elf’s back. See how he likes it.”
I don’t wake up for a very long time.