Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fiction: Beyond the Hedge (Part 2)

Hither you shall find another section of Beyond the Hedge. These aren't broken up in any particular way, they simply end at places I think are interesting. It could easily be read start to finish with no breaks. Enjoy! 

The elves had come from beyond the river. Old Narl Mudborn was watching for them at the gate through the hedge, his straw hat drooping down over his eyes. He told them everything. The elves had crossed at midday, their painted river-barques swiftly making the crossing. They came silently, like silver ghosts, disembarking at Cairaw's humble fishing piers to pass like shadows through the town. All day they had been assembling and marching. After a few hours had passed, the banner of the Twywynne came across, carried by a corps of elves in shining mail and blowing aurochs horns to announce their arrival.

The banner was borne by the Twywynne's champion himself, Holinarën Clenëron Foe-slayer. Narl spread his fingers wide. "'e was attended by squires'n grooms of all kinds! Three white horses, had he, and elven hounds. He said 'e was chief of the rangers headin' east into the moorlands. It's a good thing yer home, for he told the alder-folk that his elves report goblins an' worse about. A big army, a real one, is crossin' at the fords of Medonlo. Ah, but it was grand to see the Foe-slayer!" Narl was fair preening!

Alder grumped, "We didn't see any elves out by the new steadings."

"They was rangers!" Narl exclaimed, as though surprised that Alder could be so foolish. "They crossed by woodland trails so as not te' be seen. They're meetin' up with the main host in a few day's time, said Lord Holinarën. If they let ye see them, they wouldn't be very good scouts now would they?"

"I s'pose not," Alder agreed.

Barley tucked his fingers into his belt. "We'd best go and see if ma' knows about this," he said.

"Of course old Corydala knows!" Narl said with a guffaw. "Who d'ye think set me a-lookin' for you boys?"

Barley frowned. "Did she say anything else?"

Narl shook his head. "Naw, only to look out for ye' and make sure ye came in from the road and weren't 'et by some beastie or ambushed by goblins out there on the new farmlands."

They thanked him and passed into Cairaw, the shadow of the hedge giving Barley a feeling of safety that he knew was illusory. The hedge was no proper defense, not like the great walls of the elven fortresses or even the palisades of the towns in Rivervale. He and Alder walked up the winding paths in silence.

Cairaw was a patchwork of darkness and pools of light. The sun was somewhere behind the western hills, the distant glimmering of the river and the tall trees of the Wood of Broken Pillars already vanished in a great veil of shadow. Hedgeman House was built like all of the big halls of the village: dug into the side of a hill, round port-hole windows kept closed by wooden shutters to keep out the rain. Newer homes and farmsteads had the gnomish construction of sodden turf roofs, low walls, artificial hillsides even, but Hedgeman House was one of the first halfling buildings on this side of the river, and it was as much part of the landscape as the Hedgemans themselves.

The front door was open to let the summer air in and to allow ma' to peer out into the night from her place in the foyer. They found her sitting there in her old gnomish rocking chair, watching the passage of the last of the elves. The companies moved about the town, ghosts with torches. Some of them had pennons, but most were unadorned. Some wore silvered mail of chain and some plates of scale; a rare few, Barley saw, had full breastplates of hammered green elven steel. Most, though, were clad in simple cloaks of green or brown and wore little or no armor: leather greaves, bracers, a boiled hide tunic here and there. They moved from the ships to the hedge without stopping, gathering only in small groups to step out into the wild together.

Corydala nodded as her boys came into the dark foyer. "Ma'," Alder said with reproach, "Why don't you have a lamp burning?"

"Oil and tallow costs coin," the old halfling said with a faint hint of reprove.

"Besides," Barley added, "Then she wouldn't be able to see the elves."

"There's that," Corydala admitted with a weathered smile. "There's certainly that. Have you ever seen the like?" she asked. "Not in many a year."

"Dad would've liked to see it," Barley said softly as he walked to stand by her side.

"Aye," she admitted. Barley saw her eyes moisten, and she wiped her lips with the old ragged piece of cloth she always kept tucked in her sleeve. "That he would."