It takes a lot of liquor to get an elf drunk. Eldarainen never let that get in her way. She lurched down the Lantern Path, her familiar twining between her legs. Weasel the weasel was worried for her master, and she occasionally emitted a faint squeak. "Not now," mumbled the sorceress, trying her best not to trip over sodden robes or the weaving, bobbing head of Weasel. She glanced at her companion, the swordswoman Asinaryn, trying to gauge the shorter elf's state. "He kicked me out of the tower yesterday," she said.
Asinaryn came to a halt. Her fingers balled into fists, the cords of muscles in her back tensing. "He did what?"
"Kicked me out of the tower," Eldarainen replied. A bubbling froth of laughter escaped her lips. "After all, he was just another sorcerer."
Weasel pranced nervously around the path. The two elvish women were out on the farthest loop of the meandering reveler's trail. The shadow of the Shuttered Palace was near at hand, its ruined bulk sitting squat along the river. Weasel didn't like the feel of that place, its empty eyeless windows and statues worn to smooth facelessness by the wind and rain. She chirped her anxiety to Eldarainen, but her master was too far gone to do more than feel the sudden sharp wave of fear in her familiar. Eldarainen reached down, scooped Weasel up, and gave her a stroke along the back. Although weasels cannot pout, Weasel tried her best.
"Talifer's wounds, we'll see how he fares in a duel, then." Asinaryn was hotheaded, even for an elf. Perhaps it was because she was so small.
Eldarainen smirked. "Right. A duel. You. Him." She reached out to shove her friend, staggered, and instead slammed into her. They both went down, Weasel shrieking angrily as they toppled. The three of them lay together in the tall grass for a while. A party of revelers passed them, laughing and drinking, lanterns slung low on their poles. It wasn't until they faded into the distance that Eldarainen spoke again.
"The city is a hard place for a newly made wizard," she said.
Asinaryn shoved her off. "No," said the little swordself. As in all elvish conversation, she was replying to something unsaid—the city is a hard place for a newly made wizard, so I am leaving it.
Eldarainen rose unsteadily to her feet. She was a wind elf, like all the folk of Aita Valmindene, and stood nearly six feet tall. Asinaryn, perhaps due to some admixture with wood elvish blood in her ancestry, barely came up to her shoulder. Now, at the darkest hour of the night, Eldarainen's long pale blond hair fell unbound to her waist. Asinaryn was still clad in her training clothes: a quilted tunic, parted at the waist, and heavy chausses of thick wool. Together they made an odd pair—the wizard and her swordswoman.
"There are places other than Aita Valmindene," Eldarainen said.
Asinaryn sulked. "Bad places."
"Come on, Weasel doesn't like it here. She can smell the ghost of the Mad Hierophant." Asinaryn struggled to cross the road and peer in the direction of the Shuttered Palace. Eldarainen left her standing there, staring into the semi-darkness, and followed the bobbing lights of the other revelers.
The next day, they both awoke in the Historian's Quarter, achey from having spent the late hours laying in the Field of the Songwrights. They were not far from the little shrine devoted to Talifer, the God of Fools, and of Love. Eldarainen had pledged herself to him in her youth, and never had cause to regret the choice. Asinaryn thought it childish, and in the way of elves she derided her friend by speaking not of Talifer, but of the great strength, wisdom, and fury of her own god—Anunia, the Wind Lord, chief of the elvish gods, and patron of fury.
They made their way into the temple to stand before the cracked mosaics of the Wounded God, depicted with his left arm in a sling. When they were done muttering murmured words (Asinaryn more hesitantly, as her own lord was Anunia, not Talifer), they strolled north to the Old Market. Once amongst its sunken lanes and colored tents, Asinaryn returned to the topic that pricked and rankled her.
"I can't believe he cast you out. He promised he wouldn't."
Eldarainen sighed. She cast her eyes upward. "We both knew that was a lie." But the lie was her insistence that she had known all along. The wound was still too fresh to examine. She finally turned to look at Asinaryn. "He's a wizard, Aryn. That's how they are."
"So are you," the swordself said, resting her hand on the hilt of her curved blade. "It doesn't make him a wizard, it makes him a fool."
This was enough. They were now crossing Mero's Bridge, leaving the Old Market behind. The river rushed away beneath them, the current sweeping inexorably out of the kingdom, westward and ever westward, to empty in the distant Aelfwater. Eldarainen followed the rush of water with her eyes until it passed beneath the great girdling walls of Aita Valmindene and became a distant thread of mercury. With a great exhalation of breath, her mind followed the river west.
The statues of ancient elvish kings passed by on their left as they walked along the source of the Valmin. On the right, the peninsular-island of the Gwyderion's palace shone like a fallen star. For a time they spoke of nothing and merely walked in contemplative silence. But this was too much for Asinaryn, who, after several minutes, erupted. "Someone should show him his place!"
"Enough, Aryn!" Eldarainen snapped. "Enough! Yes, he lied. Yes, he promised he wouldn't treat me like all wizards have treated their apprentices since the time of the tower builders. But I'm not a child, and I refuse to stay hurt." But the hurt ran deep. It was a seeping wound in her breast, hidden, but barely. "I'll go out of the city and master the Art, and he can rot or go mad."
He. None other than Eviscoinisian of the Ruby Staff, the wizard who had taken her in and taught her the secrets of the Art. Eldarainen had been a mere child when Eviscoinisian extended his hand and brought her under his wing. With softly spoken promises, he swore he would never abandon her like other mages did with their apprentice-children. And yet, here she was, no less than eighty years later, and just three days before he had quietly, in his soft-spoken way, suggested that she might leave his tower. Eighty years! And why? Because she had finally mastered the mind-breaking discipline, the finger-smashing skill to summon up magic from nothing. She was a child in the Art, but even a child who could use magic was something for the mighty Eviscoinisian to fear.
"Besides, I'll return. When I'm rich and powerful, I'll come back. You'll be a sworn guard of the Gwyderion by then." Asinaryn wrinkled her nose in distaste. "Or some other high family," she was quick to add.
They walked for a little while longer, coming now to the Road of Rejoicing, which ran all the way to the Gate of Peace. Asinaryn balled her fist and punched Eldarainen in the shoulder. "Don't change among the mannish children out there," she said. "They're mayflies. And don't go getting killed."
Eldarainen sighed, but gave her bravest smile. "I won't," said she. Weasel chirruped. It would be good to get out of this hateful city.