The moons were approaching their greatest height of the night. “Sir, I need to find mother now. I am sure she is getting worried about me. I got lost on the way from the lower falls back to where-ever the Vice Pontiff was taking us.”

“The guest houses are north and west of here. You were almost there when you took the stairs to the library rather than walk down a half-step. I will guide you. The night has come, and I need to retire as well. Maybe His Grace has provided an evening meal.”

 

Esefel heard their voices before she saw them.

Edberene said, “I will provide flowers, wine or clothes. They will be elegant and beautiful, appealing to good will.”

The Vice-Pontiff replied, “We need weapons. I know you have superior enchantments – make them strong, make them precise, make them deadly!”

Edberene was turning icy. “We can enchant for hiding and secrecy. It is all I will allow.”

He sighed dramatically. “What about your horses then? Can you provide a stud? We got speed and surefootedness bred into our flocks many generations ago, but it is watering out. There is magic in the Vengvet stallions.”

“Only to see their offspring slaughtered?”

 

Esefel entered the room. In it mother and the priest were sitting on low couches beside a decked table. The scent of venison tickled her nostrils – she saw mother picking at a spring salad.

“Hello!”

Mother sprang up, “Esefel, dearest, where have you been?”

Esefel thought the worry seemed sudden. Perhaps mother was using her as an excuse to get out of the argument. She decided to stick to her original plan, and said, “I think I found my Source in the library here! Can I stay and learn?”

The Vice Pontiff snorted. “Learning? What is it in those scraps of parchment? All you need is a good sword and a fast horse – and you can’t learn to use those from a book.”

The librarian helped himself to a handful of roasted nuts. While chewing, he said, “there are many good things to be learned from a book – the tactics, the successes and the failures of the past.”

“These are passed down from commander to soldier. A map – I will grant you – can be of use, but when the demons swarm down from the Kirtar mountains, I’d rather have ten men with spears, than a thousand books. No,” he laughed, “you will find better use for yourself in my courtyard among the armsmasters. And you will live longer when you realize the pretty flowers won’t protect you.” The Vice Pontiff nodded amiably to mother, “feel free to let her stay. I can train her to be a good fighter. She is slight and dainty like you all, but there is speed in an elf.” He looked Esefel up and down. “Start her up with a knife, move on to a quarterstaff when she’s a bit taller.”

Esefel just stared at him. Her? A fighter? Never. Rather the books, the quiet of words and letters. Far from the blood.

Mother pushed aside her plate. “This is ridiculous. My daughter will not be trained in bloodshed. Esefel, how can you think to be in this place? You see what they value!”

Esefel bowed her head. “No, I want peace. Soft murmur of wind in the trees. Reading by the light of the morning sun.” But my Source, she thought.

Mother added, more gently, “I know a library, a place of learning, would be ideal for you, my child. But there are others in this world, I am sure.”

The librarian nodded. “In the city of Kent Lazpar, in the Temple of the Scribe, I have heard there are more scrolls than leaves in the forest. Oh to go there before I die!”

“Yes,” said mother, jumping on the idea. “You could go there! It is far from war. Although,” she added with a slight frown, “it is still a place of the humans, and they are hasty, impetuous and have a fiery temper.” She glowered at the Vice Pontiff.

“Maybe,” Esefel sighed. But I won’t find irises in the city.

 

To be continued…

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