From nowhere, the wind picked up spooking the horses, causing them to pull up. As if on cue, a line of masked figures rose from the tall grass. Overlord Valakân noticed the ambushers were armed with spears and longbows.
Recognising the bark eye-masks, Prince Daarés announced. “Woodelven Father! They encircle us.”
The overlord saw they hadn’t raised their weapons; at least not yet. “Daarés, I believe they wish to talk first, and we need to buy time to allow Khalid’s men to reach us. Agreed?” he said, keeping his eye on the advancing foe.
“As you say, father,” replied Daarés, clearly troubled.
“Hail Valakân, Warlord of the Vaulkinär, Overlord of Verderan and smiter of the Yenneti,” announced the booming voice from the lead Woodelven. The last reference to the Yenneti was a pointed one and sounded ominous to Valakân. He mentally prepared for battle.
“I don’t like the way this is starting, father,” Daarés added.
“I am Ju Dou, the One of the One Forrest. I speak for the Jan Vaálon,” he said, putting up his hand to command the advancing Woodelven to stop. Alone, Ju Dou continued walking towards the two ambushed riders.
Watching the giant elf approach in long, languid strides, Valakân estimated Ju Dou was seven feet tall. In keeping with his kind, the Woodelven’s elongated frame and limbs, angular facial features and pointed ears were more pronounced than the dark elves. In stark contrast to their olive-skinned cousins, Ju Dou had a pasty-green complexion and pale green eyes. As the giant approached closer, Valakân noticed Ju Dou staring vacantly ahead as if his attention was in a faraway place or a semi-dream state.
“Greetings, Ju Dou the One,” said Valakân. “Your appearance is unexpected in these open plains, far from your woodlands home.”
“That is because I seek an audience with you,” Ju Dou replied in his booming voice. “One in private and, therefore, unannounced.”
Valakân considered the request. If they wanted him dead, it would have been over by now. By reputation, the Jan Vaálon weren’t impulsive or ill-measured. If this Ju Dou was the One as he claimed, this meeting was unprecedented.
“I will honour this request, Ju Dou,” Valakân agreed. “But first, I must send my son ahead to stay off hostilities.”
When Ju Dou consented, the overlord turned to address Daarés. “Intercept Captain Khalid and take up guard out of earshot.”
“As you wish, father,” Daarés acknowledged and rode off.
Listening to the sound of departing hooves, Valakân walked up to Ju Dou. Standing before the Woodevlen, he was dwarfed by the elf’s towering presence.
Outside of direct battle, the overlord had few dealings with this kind. He was struck by Ju Dou’s serene, enigmatic countenance. The Woodelven leader wore no armour. In the light breeze, Ju Dou’s short-sleeved tunic gently fluttered. Unlike his fellow ambushers, Ju Dou didn’t have a striated bark mask but instead wore an ornate wooden headpiece which further accentuated his height. He likened the design to two broad leaves folded together. At the apex of the headpiece extended red, yellow and orange coloured fronds. Firmly placed in the ground, Ju Dou held a gnarly wooden staff fashioned into a twisted spiral. The only adornment Valakân noticed was a fine gold chain necklace from which hung a green emerald in a gold teardrop setting.
The pair stood together for a while, saying nothing. Ju Dou continued to stare into the distance wearing an inscrutable, serene expression.
Valakân was about to say I’m all ears before catching himself. This allowed Ju Dou to speak first. “I understand you have become a friend to elven kind,” he said in a strangely melodic voice. Again, still staring into the distance.
Although such a statement would normally be appeasing, given the hostilities between the two elven races, Valakân wondered if it might result in a self-damning admission.
The overlord responded tactfully, but as truthfully as he could. “If you mean; have I tried to protect my Dark Elf friends from Woodelven peril, you are correct.”
“Hmm,” Ju Dou grunted in response. “I perceive that your son is of elven blood,” he commented next.
That touchy point didn’t take long, Valakân ominously thought.
Given that racial intermixing was the root cause of this bloodshed, Valakân expected the conversation to deteriorate. “Yes,” he answered and steeled himself for a retaliatory response. None was forthcoming.
Ju Dou pressed further. “Outside of your human-elven family, you have enlisted other families of mankind to defend the Ell Avon; have you not?”
“You have the truth of it, Ju Dou,” Valakân confirmed, trying to guess where the giant man was going with all this.
Ju Dou then turned his face to peer downwards directly into Valakân eyes. Struck by the intensity of the elf’s gaze, he felt as if time stood still. “You have, perhaps without knowing, turned a great wheel in the elven experience of experiences,” the giant man pronounced.
Good lord! Turned how; favourably or unfavourably? Valakân anxiously wondered.
As Ju Dou spoke, the words flowed in natural rhythms. Valakân couldn’t help feeling that the giant peered into his soul, making him wonder if Ju Dou was a truth diviner. “By revealing new wisdom, you enable the Jan Vaálon to move beyond a previously immovable position. This is not something we perceived could come from humankind. As the One of this new cycle, I tell you first that all differences between the Jan Vaálon and Ell Avon are dissolved. The Yenneti spiders have been recalled into the One Forrest for mutual protection.”
Valakân was delighted by news of this end to hostilities between the Dark Elves and the Woodelven. It was though a new dawn had cast its light over a changing world.
Waving his staff into the air to make a symbol, Ju Dou proclaimed, “The Jan Vaálon recognise the North Essenee clans of Vaulkinär, Hamiryeh and Galdor. We understand these are the Ones who aided the Ell Avon in their time of greatest need. The leaders of these clans are granted rite of passage into the One Forrest and are welcome to visit anytime.”
Valakân knew this to be a rare honour and nodded accordingly.
Ju Dou next lowered his staff and firmly planted it into the earth before uttering, “As to the affairs of man.” In saying these words, the giant made an obscure facial expression which Valakân guessed signified perplexity. “We see you being swept into a whirlwind of turbulences, as will other great spirits. It fascinates us how such a youthful, short-lived race, finds itself at the centre of this vast storm. I come to advise you that we will offer humankind assistance where we can.”
Valakân was astonished by the turnaround of events. “This is welcome news. I accept the gift of Woodelven hospitality and extend my thanks on behalf of the North Essenee,” he responded. Privately, Valakân wondered what had caused this huge change of heart.
“As you say,” acknowledged the towering figure with a nod. “Choose wisely how you communicate this to your fellow kind. We will watch with interest.”
Without warning, Ju Dou left to re-join the other Woodelven. Upon reaching his masked troop, he turned around and spoke in the booming voice he used before. “Farewell Valakân, Warlord of the Vaulkinär, Overlord of all Verderan, smiter of the Yenneti and Al Gadish.” At this last reference, the Woodelven bowed in perfect unison before marching on their way.
For a short meeting, it was a headful. Valakân felt as though a great weight was lifted. There was much to think on. As the Woodelven receded into the distance, the query came to him. “Al Gadish? What is an Al Gadish?” He muttered.
A moment later, the melodic voice of Ju Dou magically carried over the plains, “Al Gadish is your elfish title, which means, new cycle starter.”
Mystery upon mystery. It is the elven way, Valakân reminded himself.