Once Upon a Time in the Sylvn Grove
By: Timothy Law

The sylvan grove had been the chosen homeland for Alavar's people for as far back as the histories were recorded. In fact, it was claimed that such a place was home before the existence of written words, the elders of the clan spoke of the stories that their elders told of how the clan came to be there. The Sparrowheart household had held the prime position of Weald Keeper for the majority of those centuries. Alavar Sparrowheart knew only what stories he had been taught by the Weald Keeper before him, the knowledge of where his people had come from, before the grove, was lost. Alavar had borne the role of Weald Keeper since his seventeenth summer. That was five score years ago. Now he knew every tree and creature that called this forest home.

Staring up into the night's blanket of stars and focused upon the great blue moon, Alavar the ranger listened and then frowned. This night the forest was unusually quiet. To his knowledgeable ears the lack in noise caused caution and concern. Alavar stood stock-still, straining his elven ears, and was rewarded. Not far away, wood snapped loudly, and a curse was whispered angrily in a dialect unknown to the Wearld Keeper. Alavar slinked silently away, hoping to avoid an encounter until he could discover if the disruption were caused by friend or foe. Slipping skillfully amid the darkness of the trees that Alavar had protected since his maturity he was surprised to discover that the unknown intruder was giving chase. The forest erupted in a chorus of fear, startled creatures nearby had been disrupted by this new arrival. Alavar used this chaotic cacophony as cover for his own noise as he turned from his place of shelter and ran swiftly and with purpose until he reached the stream. As the forest settled again and Alavar heard the bubble of the flowing waters he again slipped into shadow. Drawing his blade and crouching into a position of comfort the ranger began to purposefully wait.

"Damn!" Hexus cried out again, louder this time as his quarry vanished. Bringing his grotesque face skywards, the hunter tested the winds to determine where the elf was headed. Fae-stench veered left. Hexus lumbered quickly but quietly in pursuit.

As the forest settled once again Alavar scanned for a sign of the enemy. Nothing but the gentle bubbling of the quiet stream could be heard. The ranger found little comfort in this. His neck hairs bristling as he strained for any evidence of unusual noises. Unconvinced that his stalker had been avoided the elf silently sheathed his longsword and stepped into the stream. Water rose above his waist and chilled him to the bone. But by travelling this way Alavar knew he could hide his tracks from that which hunted him. A leather coat of armor that had been protection upon the land, now made it difficult to fight against the current, as the ranger vainly attempted to wade quickly against the natural flow. Light but strong leather boots made walking safe from sharp stones but could not warn the ranger of tree roots and submerged fallen branches that tripped Alavar and hindered his progress. Floating through the water Alavar only vaguely noticed the sprain that one root had caused him. It was only as he joined the land again that the ankle's pain truly let itself be known.

Hexus had followed against the flow of the water for quite some time and was beginning to wonder if his instincts had done him an injustice. With yet another curse caught somewhere between thought and utterance Hexus caught sight of his prey as it bent to the forest floor. Cautiously and quietly Hexus entered the running water. With a deliberate slowness the ogre waded with the water's flow across the width of the stream and clawed his way up the embankment on the other side. The elf had gone by then, but the trail patiently waited for Hexus to follow it once more. The fae-stench had changed, evidence of the elf's injury screaming out to the ogre. A smile briefly formed across Hexus' lips. The elf was slowing but there was still a bit of distance between the hunter and the hunted. Refreshing his grip on the battle-axe he wielded, Hexus strode forward, knowing he drew closer to his prey with each step he took.

"Ho!" came an unexpected cry as the elf materialized from the shadows and stood before the ogre. Alavar's weapon whistled through the air towards the monstrous beast. Hexus caught the strike easily upon the broad blade of his axe and turned the blow aside. Swinging his weapon about in an arc to reply with a blow of his own Hexus found he was just as suddenly alone again. Grumbling quietly in the silence that followed Hexus reminded himself that one of his pet hates was the cowardly guerilla tactics elves used in battle. Hate fueled anger though and anger gave strength. Hexus wished just then for the elf to strike again from the foliage, almost begged it to occur. Disappointment bred an anger of another kind. Disappointment did not grant the energy Hexus so desired. Instead, it only resulted in another, harsher spat curse as the ogre wasted valuable moments poised, awaiting a secondary swift elf attack.

It was a prayer to the idol of Jjakamul, the god of the hunt that granted Hexus fresh evidence of the elf's trail. No longer did silent stealth matter. The ogre lumbered with abandonment through the dark forest, seeking with speed to close the gap on his prey. The racket produced by the monster's bulk crashing through the undergrowth caused those that called the forest home to scatter in all directions. The hunter's training helped him ignore all of those distractions, instead Hexus focused upon the inner voice of Jjakamul. No elf was safe from the hunt god's keen senses. To strike fear in the one he desired to kill Hexus roared the brutish battle cry of his people. Like a scaled wyrm the ogre sped through the slender timbers of the fir forest. Eventually the trees thinned, creating a grove, it was here that Jjakmul promised the elf awaited its fate. Spurred on anew Hexus increased his speed, wanting to finally find the last of Weald Keepers. Once this elf was beheaded the last of the sylva could be rounded up and cast into slavery. The Sparrowheart clan would thus be just a memory and Hexus could rest at last.

Alavar felt more than saw the ogre charge towards him across the emptiness of the Grove of the Sprites. The monster barreled like a creature possessed. Two white knuckled hands wrapped about the hilt of his blade, Alavar had enough time only to turn before Hexus struck. This clearing was not the ranger's preferred battle ground, but the injured ankle had become so painful the elf knew it would be a fool's errand to run upon it any further. The elf thought that the ogre's arrival would be easily judged, the stage set for this skirmish and the dice of fate rolled. In the end though the hunter's speed and determination were misjudged by the elf and the axe head almost broke his blade with its ferocity. The sound of weapon upon weapon rang though the night. Under the light of the moon Alavar danced back and shuffled away from Hexus as the ogre hefted his weapon, driven by a deadly concoction of fury, strength, and a whiff of victory. Once, twice, and then again Hexus landed blows. With each successful strike holes were torn in the leather armor.

"You are mine, Weald Keeper Sparrowheart," roared the ogre. "You are my final victory!"

Thought Alavar, this cannot be. With renewed vigor he ducked and wove under those vicious axe swings. When the time was right his long sword flicked in and out with skilled finesse. Ogre blood spilled upon the holy grove and lights began to appear. Finally, though that injured ankle gave out and could support Alavar's weight no longer. With a cry the elf fell to one knee. With eyes closed the Weald Keeper awaited the final blow.

Then there suddenly came a brilliant flash, a redness that encroached upon the blackness behind Alavar's eyes. Hexus' cry of utter triumph morphed into a crippling sound of pain. The axe fell, but its falling was to the ground, dropped by the one who wielded such a deadly weapon. Alavar cautiously opened his eyes as his almond shaped ears caught the thump of the weapon's drop. The elf, uncertain of what he would witness was pleasantly surprised to see the charred remains of his enemy. Beyond the ogre stood a beautiful elf maiden wrapped in the light of the Grove of the Sprites.

Looking past the ogre, Alavar noticed a smug smile had appeared upon the elf maiden's features.

"Come home Alavar my husband, the forests are safe again tonight," the maiden suggested, indicating the monster she had destroyed with a spell.

"Yes, my love," replied the Weald Keeper. "I shall do so gladly."

Arm in arm went Alavar and his wife. Behind them, in the wake of their triumph the forest settled, returning once more back to how it always was. Returning to how it always would be while Alavar and the Sparrowheart clan stood as guardians over its expanse.



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