Location: Arbola Forest
Timeline: Sixth Age, 46th year, Spring
The following spring Rian listened patiently as the Azora Cavalier Adarius spoke.
“It has now been almost six centuries millennia since The League first commissioned us. In this Sixth Age, we Azoras are now the elite above all warriors on the planet – so have we progressed in our combat aptitude that even the Myz can only hope to match our skill – and that is on a good day!”
At Adarius’s jab, the Great Green Hall was filled with the laughter. All but one elf at least chuckled, yet Dallegheri could not find it within himself to laugh with the rest – a fact that was not lost on Rian.
While Adarius continued his lecture, the Regent remained in thought. Still in the prime of his life, having just past the 305th remembrance of his birth, the tall elf was dressed as usual in his simple brown robes, tied close with a green tassel. And while the brown-haired, brown-eyed Rian wore no trappings to signify his position, any who entered his presence were instantly aware that he was worthy of respect.
He had but a decade left as the Regent of Arbola – for he had become the fiduciary ruler of Arbola nearly 90 years ago, when the council at the time had recommended his appointment to the High King in Meridia. After Engelos’s father Reeve had approved, Rian began his century of watching over the creatures of Arbola — taking an oath to the gods Pan and Alyssa to protect these woods from harm.
Unlike most Amorosi males, Rian had never in the Protectorate, nor had he ever picked up a weapon. And yet, even the Azoras respected Rian’s authority — for skill on the battlefield does not always a great leader make – and what Rian lacked in military knowledge, he gathered from his advisors. Two of his current board were Azora warriors: the mysstro El-Janus and the cavalier Adarius.
The Arbola Council consisted of an equal number of Amorosi males and Amorae, three of each. The original councils were begun in during the Second Age – at the recommendation of Alyssa — when the Amorosi population had reached a point where some form of government was needed to ensure that their communal society could remain stable. Initially the council members served a ‘life’ term, but later the Regent’s time was reduced to a century, and the other members to half that period so that more elves could have the opportunity to participate in the government.
Like the regents in Meridia and Regalis, Rian trusted much in the skills of his council – as a result he typically let them make most of the decisions that affected everyday life in the forest. His people respected him all the more for that trust.
And while Rian had confidence in all six of his board members, still it was his three top aides which he relied on the most: Ardala, Helena, and El-Janus. And whereas Rian felt the obligation to be at every meeting of the Arbola Council whenever possible, he did not require the same of the rest of his team, or even of his three most trusted advisors. For much of what was discussed in the Great Green Hall was the everyday minutia of life, and therefore did not always require the vast knowledge of everybody on the team. As a result, the other member of Arbola Council were able to enjoy relatively “normal” lives as they rotated their duties regarding the board meetings.
In fact, the one member most often absent from the proceedings was one of Rian’s top advisor, the Azora El-Janus. For although he was an important council member, more importantly he was a mysstro. Thus, more often then not he was away in training – of both himself and his students – at the secret Glade of Gazza — ever instructing in the Way of the Azora.
Despite El-Janus’ busy schedule, Rian could always contact his friend via the Azora’s falcon Balboa – the bird typically perched inside the Great Hall, effectively sitting in El-Janus’s stead. Given the Amorosi ability to communicate with birds, Balboa was able to alert the warrior to items of import or relay a request from Rian for a meeting. Many was the occasion when El-Janus would mysteriously step into Rian’s path during the Regent’s morning jog – much to the latter’s surprise. And too, El-Janus himself could always be counted on to sit with the Council during the discussion of pressing matters.
As for frail Dallegheri, Rian’s elderly father might have appeared past his prime , yet he showed no signs of passing any time soon. More importantly Dallegheri’s mind remained sharp. During the eleven centuries of his life, he had served on three boards as an elected council member – making him the only Amorosi to ever serve more than once, yet Dallegheri had never been Regent, nor did he ever want to. Rian knew his father’s passion was books not business. He’d watched Dallegheri collect more tomes, scrolls, and other literary paraphernalia than any other Amorosi had ever amassed – all of those volumes crammed into his little bungalow yet available for any who took an interest in them. While Dallegheri wasn’t an elected member of Rian’s board, he’d been a Special Advisor from the start of his son’s term and given his vast knowledge, the other board members welcomed his presence for The Chronicler’s opinion held important sway.
Thus it was that, on this day, all six of members of the Arbola Council were in attendance at the Hall, along with Special Advisor Dallegheri, Regent Rian, and a host of other Amorosi who were interested in the topic – debates over Nathily’s candidacy to become an Azora, debates that had been going on for nearly a year now.
It was El-Janus and Adarius – the two Azoras – who were the board members most opposed to accepting Nathily at the Glade.
Rian tuned back in to the cavalier’s speech.
Well past the two century mark, Adarius was still fair and beautiful despite his middle-agedness. Over six feet tall, he was long yet sturdy, and his muscle tone was clearly evident beneath his short-sleeved robe. He had flowing brown locks, hazel eyes, and a light complexion. To behold him, one would never guess that he was capable of brutality such as the Azoras were sometimes forced to mete out.
Standing before the board, Adarius’ baritone continued, “Friends, as you know, while most of our people choose to serve in the Protectorates, you know that few are ever chosen to attempt the trials of the Glade of Gazza, and only a small portion of those enter a quest to find life as a Azora. Not only is the training itself difficult for body and mind, but we Azora are oft times sent to combat in the most extreme circumstances — for the battle against Baal-Zebub’s evil hordes is never ending and not for the feint of heart.
“I remind you of this fact,” he continued, “because it is the reason why The Glade is secretly secluded from the rest of our society. I feel no hesitation in telling what most of you already know — it is located somewhere in this great Forest. Yet, I do not fear that any of you will ever find it. For, no trails mark a path to it, no maps show its location, and we Azoras never speak of it. One of the first tests in becoming an Azora is to be able to find it, yet even that is not enough to enter — for Gazza is forever guarded by its warriors — to us it is sacred ground and none WE do not want to enter have ever set foot inside!”
“Good sir, we do thank you for your words,” interrupted Rian. “But, what has all this to do with Nathily’s commission?”
At this, Dallegheri spoke up, “Why, Rian, it has everything to do with it.” Then, with effort, he gathered up his robes and stood as well, “People, let me remind you that yet another reason for Gazza’s detached location from our main communities is that, by our very nature, we Amorosi are a peace loving people. Even after ages have passed wherein our Protectorates and Azoras have fought in wars most foul – for such was our duty at the time – still our basic nature as a people has not wavered. We still proudly uphold the moniker that our Goddess has given us, for we are The Amorosi – the Lovers of the World.” Then standing taller still, he questioned, “So, I ask you, how can we, the leaders of this community, how can we ever let it come to pass that our dear Nathily, a precious Amora, should be allowed to attempt the life-long journey of walking the Way of the Azora?”
Rian watched the old elf collapse back into his chair, his body racked his quiet sobs. Reaching over to comfort him, Rian couldn’t help but speak his thoughts aloud, “And the fact that Nathily is still so young and innocent and yes, also so very beautiful…”
“She is truly a gift from Alyssa herself!” Helena interrupted from her place at Rian’s right. “Why it just serves to make matters worse.”
Once more Adarius spoke. “People, we have been meeting about this subject for the past four seasons. It seems to me that we are ALL in agreement that Nathily should NOT be commissioned. So I ask you, why then are we still debating this impossible option?”
“Good sir, you know why.” Dallegheri wheezed painfully.
“Great Elder, I do.” Adarius bowed. “But even Alyssa may not be infallible. And, it has been long since we last heard from her in person. Could it be that her mind has changed? Was it possible that her messenger was… misinformed?”
Rian did not appreciate the hidden question about the validity of his wife Fara’s message from the Goddess last Spring – a missive that had started this entire ordeal, yet, since Fara herself was not present, he did not speak up – for he too secretly wished that this was all in error.
Adarius continued, “There are only two members of this council who are also Azoras – myself and the good mysstro El-Janus.” Here he referred to the silent figure who sat at the end of the table. When El-Janus nodded his approval for Adarius to continue, the cavalier spoke on. “Among us, it is only we two who have actually had the bad fortune to have experienced a real world battle. Yet, it seems to me that we are the ones most staunchly opposed to Nathily’s sanctioning. Yes, even opposed to Alyssa’s wishes herself! For perhaps even our goddess knows not what she is asking. El-Janus and I know first hand not only the atrocities of war, but also the very real mental fear of the extreme situations we Azoras face – dealing with conditions and combatants far worse than the Protectorate ever sees. I know I speak for the mysstro when I say that we would never want to see an Amora subject to such extreme psychological ordeals for the rest of her long life – a life that is only just beginning.”
“Speak on, please.” Rian was hoping beyond hope that somehow revisiting this argument would provide his advisors and he a way to avoid Nathily’s death sentence.
“Thankfully this is largely a time of peace on Terra.” The cavalier averred. “Peace – at least in the sense that the hordes have remained west of the Rhokii’s since the end of the Last Great War. Oh, it’s true that we’ve had reports from our brothers in Regalis noting a few pockets of Pyrhalli, a pack of Boogiti roaming around where they shouldn’t have been, and dare I say, yes, even a wraith. And, although most of you don’t know this, some of our Azoras have even been sent on missions to help with the tracking of a Myz whose been reported to have been seen on this side of the continental divide – yet I’ve seen no verification of this rumor yet. For now, at least, Arbola Forest remains a safe haven.”
“And we are grateful!” piped up the elfess Helena, raising her glass in toast.
“Nonetheless,” Adarius plunged ahead, “It’s only been a mere half century since the Last Great War – blink of an eye. The world continues to change – and not in our favor. Mankind and it’s variants continue to devour the planet. The evil godlings drive their minions like cattle. Peace will not last forever. Our great Forest is not safe for all eternity – one day the hordes will reach Arbola too.”
Holding up his hands, the fair warrior quelled the crowd. “Fear not, friends. I speak not with the intention to scare you. Instead take heart! The Azoras remain steadfast in our pledge and we continue to train at The Glade, without rest. We are still here to protect!” Then standing tall and proud, he added, “But, I need you all to understand what sets an Azora apart — those who walk the Way of the Azora have no other life – their only goal is to try to earn the right to advance from Pupil, to Novitiate, to Cavalier, and sometimes even to Mysstro like our great El-Janus. We have made the ultimate sacrifice – to give up own own lives to protect you – and we are grateful for the opportunity to serve.”
With the crowd captivated, still Adarius’ monologue continued, “I would venture to say that, because of the peace the Azoras have provided to Arbola, this council has been able to take its time trying to solve the mystery that is supposedly Nathily’s ‘destiny.’ And we could go on debating the topic for years to come, yet, once again, I ask you – why are we still discussing a matter that ALL of us agree can NEVER happen? Let us call a final vote and put this matter to rest! Let us dismiss Nathily’s Commission and thereby allow her to return to a normal life as the typical Amora! Do we not owe Nathily as much?! Who’s with me?”
“Alas, not again.” Lamented Hipolitus. “Adarius, you know we can’t do that! Good gravy, how many times must we—“
“Good friends, argue not.” Rian interrupted, “We are all weary of this subject. Yet still it remains unresolved. Let us instead call a break in these proceedings.” And standing up himself, the Regent advised, “Please, go ye where you will and seek mid-day sustenance. Let us return refreshed and ready to continue.”
For his part, Rian chose not to eat, but instead to walk the short distance to Center Vale and sit quietly beneath one of the Grand Oaks, watching the children play during these early days of Spring.
The Regent’s mind wandered – eventually meandering back to the memory of a fateful day, nearly a year ago, when he’d been in the Great Green Hall tending to a normal business agenda with his advisors. Eight of them had been sitting around their meeting table, when Rian’s life-partner Fara had brought their adopted daughter Nathily before the council board, and promptly announced that the goddess Alyssa had decreed to Fara in a dream that Nathily would become the first female Azora!
Once they realized that Fara was not joking – for she was known throughout the forest as a prankster – and that instead both she and Nathily were serious about the unthinkable statement she had just made, the council looked to Rian to respond. Yet the regent was at a loss for words.
Why couldn’t this simply have been another one of Fara’s jests? Rian lamented to himself as he continued to remember.
The day had started out ordinary enough. He had arisen with the first light. As usual he had awoken before his mate, and as was his custom he took a moment to offer a silent prayer to Alyssa for the gift of Fara has his life partner. Rian cherished those quiet morning moments when he could just lay beside his lover and watch her peacefully sleeping.
Fara was beautiful — with lustrous blonde hair, ocean blue eyes, and a young and healthy body despite having passed the two hundred plus year age mark. Yet it was more than just physical beauty that had drawn Rian to her side. Fara had a personality such as no other Amora he had ever met: she was fun, spunky, and always ready for the spontaneous. In the century plus that they had spent together, he’d grown ever closer to his mate. And even though Fara discovered early in their union that she was barren, that did not diminish his love for her — if anything, it only made Rian care more deeply for her.
After his prayer of thanks, Rian went for his morning run through the woods – he’d always found a healthy jog to be an exhilarating way to clear his mind and prepare for the coming day. The venture also gave him the opportunity to enjoy his forest home — like many who give of themselves to help the “Greater Good,” the time Rian devoted to managing the community had increasingly caused him to miss out on being able to relax. His morning job helped him enjoy some of the beauty that his woodlands had to offer.
Rian remembered that, after his jog, when he’d returned to his bungalow, he found his mate in their kitchen with Nathily sharing a small breakfast of berries and cream. After a quick wash, when Rian prepared to leave for the day, he was surprised to hear Fara say she’d visit him at The Hall later. The regent laughed off the comment, for he well knew that Fara despised politics and considered the Council’s only purpose to be a place for windbags to blow.
Yet true to her word, Fara had arrived at Rian’s meetings that day, and she was not alone — for she’d brought Nathily as well. Fara had always had a penchant for surprises, and that day too she did not disappoint, for Rian and other members of his council were left flabbergasted by her proposal. For her part, Nathily had remained silent, and in truth even Fara had not said much — simply imparting a few words about how their goddess had advised her that Nathily was to become an Azora. After her ‘speech,’ Fara hadn’t even waite for an answer – instead she but winked at Rian, smiled at her one-up on her friend Helena, and then she and her lovely daughter turned around and left The Hall. (1)
Ever since then, things had never been the same for Rian and his council.
This is madness. Rian lamented as he watched the children leave The Vale for their midday meal. I need peace.
With the children gone, the regent continued sitting under the Grand Oak – clearing his mind and forgetting the cares of his office. He spent the rest of his break in passive meditation – allowing Life to flow and accepting it as it came.
- Fara understood enough about politics to realize that even though Alyssa had commanded, still the council would want to feel like they had made the decision on such a momentous proposition, and so she left them to talk about the issue.