“My Lord!” A scout burst forward, kneeling before a tall rider on a pale horse. “It appears that the bandits surrounded the village before lighting the buildings. The… The villagers….”
The man raised his hand to silence him. It was plain to all what had happened next. The bandits had then proceeded to slaughter all who sought to escape the flames and the smoke. The mound of smoldering remains was clear enough.
“They also took prisoners, my Lord. I have already dispatched a party to track them.”
The Lord nodded, looking about him. “Bury the bodies. We can at least afford them some final dignity.” The scout nodded and set to work organizing the men.
The tall rider dismounted then, kneeling to pick up an object. It was a child’s toy, burned about the edges. Dropped in the chaos of the ensuing melee. “Not even the children…” he murmured.
Then there came a cry from the woods just beyond the village perimeter. His scouts and personal guards immediately formed up around him, blades drawn and bows at the ready. “Stay your weapons!” another scout answered, coming from the tree-line. She turned back into the trees, gesturing for another to step forward.
The robed figure was hunched over, taking slow steps as it braced itself against the trees. A muffled shriek then came as the woman collapsed to her knees. The scout rushed to her side as two more hurried forward.
“Is she injured?”
“No, my Lord. But her child comes soon.”
Blankets were fetched and laid out as the woman was the same as carried over. The field medic then began to tend to her the best that he could.
“What could possess the Elves to come all this way?” the woman growled after her latest contraction passed. “The bandits have since come and gone.”
“We beg of your forgiveness dear lady. We hoped to have come to your aid sooner.”
She spat at him then. “The apologies of an Elf Lord do little for my dead husband.”
“I am the Elven Lord-King Andraes.” he answered softly, overlooking her malice.
“May flights of demons take you all!” Then she screamed in pain as another wave of contractions overtook her.
Andraes could only feel pity for the woman. Relations between Humans and the Elves were strained, to say the least. The Elves were seen as haughty and self-absorbed. Keeping to themselves as their numbers began to dwindle and their magic to fade. The Humans seem to be possessed by greed and destruction. The little magic they had being perverted for evil deeds.
“Please. Tell me what happened.” he asked softly.
“Are you blind as well? They murdered everyone.” Her face was contorted with pain and hatred.
“Save for you and the prisoners they took.”
“We will all be dead before the night is over.”
She could speak no more than besides howls of pain and breathless curses. The child came quickly soon after, but not before a mortal toll had been taken on the woman. The child had been hurriedly passed to Andraes as the medic focused on the woman.
“I’m bleeding to death.” she said, a half-smile on her face. “At last, I can rejoin my husband.”
Not long after, she fell unconscious before becoming still. Her body was then wrapped in blankets and she was then reverently placed in the mass grave with the others.
All of this Andraes watched solemnly while still holding the child. She whimpered softly, but appeared to be perfectly healthy. “We shall take her with us.” he decided then, and no one questioned him.
After all of the bodies had been buried they set out. Andraes noting that the female scout elected to stay behind and to sanctify the ground. He had no Dead Hunters in his company, and when he looked back he could not make her from the rubble. Only when a peculiar wind bearing a scent of powerful magic issued from the ruins did he know that her deed had been done. The dead of Loreth village would be at eternal peace.
He glanced down at the newborn clutched to his chest before continuing on. She slept easy, comforted by his strong heartbeat.
* * *
Word of what had transpired in Loreth village traveled quickly, the scouts sent to find the captives meeting little resistance from the locals. As well as hearing similar stories.
The bandits had attacked swiftly in the night, lighting buildings and slaughtering those who would escape. All save for the expectant mothers. Those they stole away with into the night.
It wasn’t until they had tracked the bandits going North that they discovered the fate of the women. They had been brutally butchered, their infants hacked from their bellies. The bandits and their tiny captives had then disappeared into the cursed woods and the scouts could no longer track them.
When word reached Andraes, his heart filled with sorrow and dread at this development. It hardened his resolve then.
“Let it be known to Elf and Elf-friend alike,” he proclaimed before his court. “That I, Lord-King Andraes take this human child to raise as if she were my own.” Bewildered gasps and protests met his ears and went unheeded.
“And her name shall be Erinael.”