Gabriel

CHAPTER I

The High Lord General Gabriel Eagle Claw could hardly believe he had spent the better part of the morning inspecting every aspect of a clearing deep within the heart of his homeland. It made no sense that he should do so, but old habits died hard. He knew the wars were over, he knew he was in Elven territories where no others had ever trod without invitation, but he was still who he was.

In true Elven fashion the scenery that surrounded him was spectacular. The fragrances of flowers, trees, and fauna mingled and wafted over him on a slight breeze. It was in this breathtaking clearing that he had been ordered to meet with his King, a common enough occurrence in his life, though the setting was a slight bit unusual. It was more in line with the King’s custom to have him attend to him deep within the confines of his chambers. Of course, that had been in times of war.

For half of his life Gabriel had been surrounded by the horrors of battle. He had had no time for anything else, and after five hundred years of doing little other than directing the Elven forces he was having trouble fitting back into life as he knew it was meant to be lived. It was a state of being that some of his friends and family often teased him about. He understood both their reasoning, as well as his own, unfortunately none of it seemed to make it easier.

Gabriel found it hard to trust anything. Even the atmosphere within his home was suspect. The grace and beauty of his house felt alien to him, he tried to hold on to the reality of it but after five hundred years of living through the horrors that had surrounded him, serenity was unfathomable. Sure, he had celebrated the end of the battles as much as any other red-blooded male of his species. Women had flocked to his side, drawn by the handsome, virile, hero of their people, and he had enjoyed the novelty for a very brief period of time, but it soon paled and he found himself searching for more. Something was missing in his life and it was not the war. He knew; however, that he needed something or someone to ground him, to help make him secure in the new life he found himself thrust into.

“Lord Gabriel,” King Daroth greeted him jovially as he entered the clearing. “My most trusted and respected friend.”

“Your majesty,” Gabriel replied as he bowed. He was always pleased to meet with his King and friend.

“That will never do,” King Daroth replied as he greeted his friend with an embrace. “You look so uncomfortable, so out of your element, almost as if you expect someone to jump out of the shrubbery at any moment. You know that you need not worry about the safety of the Elven territories. You have seen to this personally. All that dwell in our lands are safe within the heart of our Empire.”

Gabriel returned his King’s greeting, then pushed back with another grin, and another nervous gesture. “All in the service of our King and the people he loves.”

“You do us all great honor.”

Daroth watched Gabriel as his eyes once more scanned the area. He knew the trouble his great General and friend was having adjusting to a life of peace. Although he knew that custom dictated that he not interfere with his future in any way that was exactly what he intended to do, though it would be done while also servicing the welfare of his people.

Daroth considered how much alike yet how different they were. Both had lived for a millennium, and both were considered in the prime of their lives, in that way they were alike. He had the classic build and coloring of most Elves, being slight of form, with green eyes and light brown hair, and that was where their differences began. Gabriel was just as tall as Daroth, but working with the weapons of war had made him heavier, his body had been honed by years of training. His hair was light blond, streaked almost platinum in some areas from exposure to the sun and elements. His eyes were silver blue, rare amongst his people, but not unheard of, and there were times when they looked almost completely silver in color. He could have easily been a favorite with the ladies, but he preferred his own company.

Gabriel turned his attention back to his king and tossed back his long hair with a flip of his hand. “My apologies. I thought I heard something. No insult or disrespect intended your majesty; however, I have learned only too well to trust solely in my own instincts. It is proving to be a hard habit to lose.”

“I realize that my friend and you need not apologize. You have earned the right to exercise your insecurities. We do hope; however, that with the right set of circumstances, and over time, things will put themselves back to right.”

Not being one to beat around the bush, especially when he knew Daroth was apt to do under the right circumstances, Gabriel got right down to business. They could visit later if the issue his King was about to bring to his attention was not too grave.

“You had me meet you here with a specific purpose, what could that be?”

“I have given this matter a lot of thought and have decided that it is time to gather our people and bring them home. By this I mean those who now live in the hidden valleys. It is time for our people to heal, time for us to gather to give thanks to the power that make us who we are. It is time to embrace our heritage. We need the healing that comes from rejoicing in the safety of the peace we have so painstakingly earned. We need to celebrate the joy of living again.” Daroth noted Gabriel’s expression and how he cocked an eyebrow in thought, then added. “Do you believe I am right?”

“Yes, in so far as to what you have said, but I sense there is more to it than that.”

“When is there ever not more, my friend? We had a good look at our people. Our people need to mix to make us stronger.”

“And?” Gabriel sensed even more to what he was being told.

Daroth shocked him by adding. “And now that we are a nation at peace it is time for me to send for my Queen.”

“Your Queen?” Now this was news to Gabriel, he had never heard that Daroth had a wife.

“Aye. I have only ever seen her in visions. It is time she came home, time for our bond to be completed.”

“Probably overdue, though I understand the reasons for that better than most. Many wondered why you never chose a mate when you could have had your pick from any of the Elven maidens.”

“The same could be said for and about you my celibate friend. Such a choice would have been wrong for us though and we both know why. Our true hearts await us and it is up to us to lead the changing times.”

“What do you mean by us?” Gabriel caught the word.

“Just an expression,” Daroth dismissed both question and answer, “but I do need to form my bond as soon as possible. As you said, it is past time.”

With concern Gabriel turned his attention to his King’s immediate problem. “You would trust me with the name and the person who is to be your Queen?” It was an honor beyond reckoning in Gabriel’s mind. There was power in a name, especially when the person involved was in attendance, even more so when she was to be the Elven Queen.

“I would trust you with anything. She is beautiful Gabriel, beyond beautiful. In that the gods have been kind. She is like the sun shining upon calm waters. Beautiful. Gentle. Kind. Loving. She has lived protected by all those who love her. You will find her hidden within a pocket of power, alone, and vulnerable only to our peoples. She will be expecting you to come for her and she will follow, though she will be worried about the rest of her family. Her name is C’Liandra. You will meet with different members of her family during your journey and you will find them special, though why eludes me at this time.”

“Probably irrelevant,” Gabriel replied with a careless shrug. After all Daroth’s visions often left gaps that could be open to interpretation. That was just the way it was. Also, in this case, as there was no danger involved, what did it matter? “So when do you want me to leave and just how extensive is this exercise supposed to be?”

“I want you to collect and bring all those you find who have Elven blood and their families, though I might exercise a little common sense when detecting those of little or no Elven blood at all. You will know what I mean when faced with the problem.”

Another Elf joined them and waited by the edge of the clearing until Daroth waved him over. “You remember your nephew, now known as Lord Marious Eagle Claw, Gabriel?”

“Vaguely, yes.” Gabriel replied, though he had to admit he did not know him well.

“He fought on a different front than you did, and not near as long.” Daroth added. He knew that the war had kept them from getting close, it was unfortunate, but that had been just the way it was. War often kept brothers from getting to know the other, never mind their offspring.

“Knowing my brother, it was probably for the best. Lorenth always did think I was too hard on my men, he would have hated to have had his son serve under me.” Gabriel replied with a smug grin in a small show of what would have been taken for light sibling rivalry. That conclusion wouldn’t have been far from the truth either. As a much younger brother Gabriel had taken pride in the fact that he had outranked his brother.

“Not quite right uncle,” Marious replied with a cocky grin. “Father thought you were meticulous, cold, brutal and brilliant. He was proud of the fact that your losses were smaller than anyone else, while causing the enemy the greatest defeats in the worst possible conditions. He just said that he wanted his sons beside him.”

“I should make time to see him someday,” was Gabriel’s only comment. He had always thought his older brother disapproved of him and had kept his distance from him because of it. It took a slight load off his shoulders and made him feel better somehow to hear that that was not really the way it was.

Daroth cut into his thoughts. “I have told Marious all he will need to know about the mission. He will serve as your second in command.”

Marious just grinned wider and teased: “Little as that was uncle, I understand that you may have to be careful with a little something that you catch, and your treatment of that delectable package. Your actions could have more repercussions than you or any of us could ever envision.”

“Really?” Gabriel raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Daroth. “You make that sound so cryptic, just what has our King told you that he has neglected to tell me? Of course I am presuming he has seen something he has shared with you that he has forgot to mention to me.”

“As you well know uncle, our King never gives us precise details.” Marious’ reply was quick and evasive.

“Unfortunately, I am more than well aware of that fact.” Gabriel’s dry response came back at him. He had a feeling deep inside of him that there was some sort of nefarious plot being perpetrated on him, and his gaze on Daroth intensified.

Daroth suddenly felt the need to defend his actions, almost more from the need to defuse the situation than anything else, as he could almost sense the waves of suspicion flow out of Gabriel. It was obvious he suspected foul play, he had after all not lost all his instincts with the coming of peace.

“Not all actions are read in a way that makes the ultimate result a foregone conclusion. If it did my great Lord General, you would not have been so indispensable during the war. Often I feared for your life as I watched you battle, even despite having read a different future for you. Peacetime is infinitely easier on the heart and nerves. ”

“It is not supposed to be as challenging either, but you would know more about that uncle, or perhaps not?” Marious continued to tease, giving everyone the impression that he knew a lot more than he was telling.

Gabriel decided to ignore him and turned his attention back to the matter at hand. “So Daroth, do you have any idea just how many Elves are supposed to dwell in this valley?”

“I am estimating there could be about two or three thousand.” Daroth gave a loose but calculated guess based on what he had seen in his visions.

“How many others, beside Marious, do you think to send along with us to collect all these Elves and what kind of provisions?” Gabriel asked as his mind began to assimilate facts and tabulate resources.

“I thought about twenty, and before you start to spout off about safety issues and such, I should remind you that we are talking about others of our kind here. We are also at peace. I think that on the average they should be much the same as us. I am sure they will know how to conduct themselves.” Daroth almost felt a need to defend his choices.

“At least most of them will.” Marious continued to tease.

The continuing impression that Marious knew something more than he was telling was really getting to Gabriel and he decided it was past time to meet the problem head on. “All right Marious, just get it over with. What do you know that gives you such delight? What does everyone seem to be intent on keeping from me?”

“Uncle,” Marious continued with mock sweetness, a tone almost guaranteed to irritate at the very least. “My Lord General, you, of all Elves, must know that there are always exceptions to a rule, just as you are known to be very proficient at getting everyone to conform to your wishes. Is that not true?”

Gabriel frowned as he exchanged a look with Daroth and commented. “Why do I get the sinking feeling that there is something important that you are hiding from me?”

“Gabriel, you are just as aware as I that there are things about our lives that are not for us to know about until we have experienced them personally. This has never been a problem for you in the past.”

“I am aware of that; however, the plain fact that my nephew is hinting so strong at something makes me wonder what it is that he knows. I also question whether or not I am being played for a fool or a for puppet on a string.”

“The last thing anyone could ever accuse you of is allowing another to control you. Nor are you anywhere near someone’s idea of a fool, our Lord General. That said it is time we moved on. You both know what is expected of you. I expect that you both will want to compare notes before you leave in the morning.”

King Daroth left, melting into the thick foliage of the forest as only an Elf could do and when he was out of sight Marious turned to his uncle.

“I have to admit that I hate having to leave my home after being away so long. Even for a moment. I am going to miss it all, the beauty, the peacefulness.”

“The girls,” Gabriel replied knowingly. “I know what you mean, though I cannot say I feel exactly the same way.”

“I do not understand uncle, why?” Marious pretended an ignorance that fooled no one. His uncle’s disinterest in the Elven females was legendary.

Gabriel decided not to fuel it, and gave him a diversionary reply, making it seem as if he was deep in thought. Something, that for him, seemed quite normal.

“Everything seems so serene and beautiful as you say, but something in my memory and my instincts tells me that there is something missing in our world. There is something very important that has not been around for a very long time, something verging close to being lost, even to the memories of our kind. If you can believe that! Perhaps, if we are lucky, we will find whatever it is that we are missing as we travel, and, if we do, we can bring it back home with us. This could be very important, even more than we think.”

“And if we manage such a feat?” Marious wondered just what his uncle was talking about. For that matter he wondered if his uncle even understood it.

“We will feel more complete Marious. We will be filled with the magic that has epitomized the spirit of the Elven people since the beginning of time. I am unable to explain it any better. I just know that whatever this thing is, I miss it. To the deepest darkest part of my soul, I miss it. I also know that you have no idea what it is that I am talking about, though you miss it in the same way I do. It is something that defines what we are or perhaps connects us to that which makes us more than what we believe we are. And that, my boy, is saying a lot because we Elves think a lot of ourselves.” Gabriel rambled on as he passed on his thoughts.

“True enough, but what you just said, rather staggers the imagination.” Marious was not happy about hearing the words his uncle had just spouted off as they fell too close to what was probably the real truth.

“Yes it does. Now, as we are to leave soon after the morning devotions I suggest you get your men ready to move, and make sure everyone is well rested. I will meet up with you just after the sun rises with such provisions as I can gather at short notice.” Gabriel ordered reverting back to being who he really was, the High Lord General of the combined Elven Forces. It was time to get back to business.

” Where will we meet?” Marious asked.

“By the forest gate.” Gabriel replied.

“That is a long way from any provisions that I know of.” Marious replied thoughtfully. He was not all that interested in carrying heavy loads for great distances at the best of times.

“We will carry only the essentials. The land will provide the rest.” Gabriel informed him making it almost sound like they were about to embark on a forced march something, which he knew, would only make the younger Elf groan. It did not work.

“Think you can keep us with us old man?” Marious teased.

Gabriel just tossed him an annoyed grin back, along with a challenge. “Think you young pups are tough enough to follow the lead of the Lord General?”

Marious just threw his head back and laughed aloud. “If not I suspect we soon will be.”

“Then gather your best men and meet me first thing in the morning. We will see if they have what it takes to serve under the High Lord Gabriel Eagle Claw.”

The two Elves separated with a chuckle and a burst of high spirits. They were headed for another adventure. For a while the peace in their lives was about to have meaning for them again, especially for one General who had begun to wonder if life was to be one meaningless day after another.

-2

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