Location: On the road to Monthaven
Timeline: Sixth Age, Year 52, Early Spring
It’s probably a good time for me to take a break from talking about the follies of my minions. And this is as good a time as any to talk gain about my nemesis Emcorae. So here goes…
On a certain day in a certain place, golden-haired Alyssa, the immortal Goddess of Love, secretly watched as a very mortal young man galloped past the tree she was hiding behind as he raced along a dirt trail through the forest. Even were Alyssa not concealed, it mattered not — for the mind of the youth was elsewhere.
The traveler was none other than Emcorae Azop and he was racing towards the village of Monthaven – a place he hadn’t seen in six years.
Interestingly enough, Monthaven was the very location that the goddess had just come from. As the man passed her position, Alyssa noted with pleasure how closely the boy-turned-man physically resembled his grandsire Alfranco Azop – the very person that the goddess had just secretly visited.
For this was no chance encounter in these woods.
Instead, it was an event that the goddess had been planning for nearly fifty years (1).
Only later did I come to know about any of this – it seems that half a century past Alyssa made a solemn promise to Alfranco Azop concerning the life of that man’s first-born grandchild. Although Alfranco was but a young man himself (at that time he was just shy of his 18th birthday), he’d just finished a two-year military tour of duty that bore witness to the end of the Last Great War. Despite his youth, Alfranco’s timely accomplishments had established him as a hero among the Amorosi elves and after the war ended Alfranco returned with his new friends to their haven within Arbola Forest. Within the forest haven, Alfranco partook of some much-needed tranquility in an attempt to wipe his mind from the horrors of war.
While at Arbola, Alfranco was been given the honorary title “Al-Corragio” (“the Courageous One”). More importantly, while at Arbola, Alfranco become a favorite of the Goddess of Love.
Their initial encounter occurred one night shortly after Alfranco’s arrival to the great forest. Earlier that evening Al-Corragio had been officially honored in The Great Green Hall with a celebration that touted his deeds – the most significant of which included his saving the life of Aslan – the Regent of Regalis Forest and the largest of the Amorosi kingdoms. After he’d enjoyed a food and wine festival such as elves are legendary for, a more than tipsy Alfranco had gone for a walk to clear his head.
Alone in the enchanted forest that was Arbola, the man aimlessly wandered the wending pathways among the eld trees. His mind spinning from the fermented drink, he stopped when there was a break in the canopy to look at the stars and wonder how his life had come to such an unexpected venue.
Now whether it had happened by chance alone, or instead whether the goddess wanted to see for herself this young man who had suddenly earned such respect from her people, who can say? Whatever the case, Al-Corragio’s footsteps soon led him to a mysterious glade surrounded by warm wet mists rising up from the dew-filled forest floor – magical mists that rose around him to block out even the night sky above. Finding himself within a steamy haze, the young man quickly lost his sense of direction, yet he had continued walking just the same as the still lingering effects of the heady wine and the ego-inflating party in his honor had combined to fill his soul with courage.
As Alfranco walked through the bewildering mists, the sticky moisture clung to his clothes, saturating through to his skin. In truth, his pressing footfalls had taken him to the borders of a fairy realm, and with the humidity ever rising, Alfranco shed first his shirt, then his shoes, then finally even his breeches, and still on he ventured, now naked, through the glade.
At first he had not given any thought as to where he was headed, but soon, a growing sense of direction began to develop within him — as if he heard someone calling to him…
Faintly at first, the voice seemed to be, yet thinking back, Alfranco could not remember when it began exactly, for it was almost as if the aria had always been there, within him, and that perhaps it had taken the enchantment of Arbola Forest to bring the unseen soulmate out? He knew not the answer to that riddle, yet, as he continued on, the siren song grew clearer still, and the alluring notes rang true within his heart, welling up within his being!
And still the warm sticky dew clung to his body like honey, penetrating his pores, slathering his skin, and invigorating him with the very vibrance of life itself, until…
Suddenly, Alfranco himself was singing too — his bold tenor stepping in tune with the melody of the sensual soprano that filled the air! (2)
Onward the man pressed, rapidly sensing a rising need that strained forth from the center of his being. For now, the hot mists bespoke of a mutual lust that needed urgent satisfaction — as Al-Corragio at last had reached a break in the mists.
Although he didn’t know it, the place he’d emerged into was the very center of that mysterious glade and there among the clearing of the haze waited Alyssa – the Goddess of Love – whose own naked form was also glistening with the droplets of that magical forest dew. With her arms beckoning him forward, Alyssa’s voice filled the air, perfecting the harmony of love in time with Alfranco’s song.
And the goddess smiled, as for the first time ever, in all her many encounters, finally she had reached complete perfection! For finally she had witnessed a flawless answering of her lust-filled calls! Finally the perfect virile young male champion had come to her! The One the Fates had promised her so long ago!
Finally, Al-Corragio had arrived!
After their initial encounter, Alfranco Azop became much more than just a one-time fling for Alyssa. Indeed, he and the goddess had such a passionate love affair that the fires of Alyssa’s heart burned so hot that she thought of nothing other being with Alfranco at all times. As for him, what energetic male boy just shy of his 18th year on earth would turn down limitless access to uninhibited sex with the most beautiful woman in the world whenever his burning young loins so desired?
Yes, these were good times for Alfranco indeed. And Alyssa too.
And yet, for whatever reason, theirs was a union which was ill-fated and untimely – for despite the time-stopping enchantment and soul-refreshing sustenance of the elvish forest, and despite the even more powerful erotic allure and sexual power of the goddess herself, Alfranco Azop, a simple human man from a small unknown northern human village, all too soon remembered the life and family he had left behind in Monthaven. Thus, inexplicable though it might seem, after only a year of passions that quenched the thirsts of his soul, his mind, and his body, Alfranco somehow found the necessary willpower to leave behind a magical Arbola Forest and a very heart-broken Alyssa – a spurning event that had never happened to the goddess in all her millennia of existence!
Yet, although the goddess had been crushed by Al-Corragio’s decision to leave her love, still they parted as friends, and in fact the goddess had ever maintained contact with Alfranco. And while they were lovers again since Alfranco had left Arbola – for in time he eventually would have a family of his own — still Alyssa had always watched over him and this was one reason why the goddess had just secretly visited him.
In addition – as is so often the case of star-crossed lovers the world-over – Alyssa had made a promise to her beloved just as he was about to part from her those many years ago. A promise that she had never forgotten, and one that she felt that she was now on the verge of fulfilling. For upon their initial farewell in Arbola Forest almost fifty years past, the goddess had advised Alfranco that one day he would have a male grandchild whose life would be special.
For his part, Alfranco had been both amazed to hear of this future good fortune but also a little shocked; for at the time he was still but a young man himself and the responsibility of caring for a wife and family were not first on his list back then (which was one of his reasons for breaking his relationship with Alyssa). Furthermore, Al-Corragio had also been afraid to hear such news for another reason — after having seen the horrors of the real world during his time in the war, the courageous one was not all that sure that he wanted to have a son or grandson who would be subject to witnessing such death and destruction himself.
However, the goddess had suspected these fears in the psyche of her lover and it was because of that fear that she’d made her fateful vow.
“Al-Corragio, fear not, my love, for I promise that I personally will watch over the life of your first-born grandson and I will make his life an extraordinary one.”
And so she had.
For his part Alfranco had been filled with happiness ever since the birth of Emcorae seventeen summers past. Yet Alfranco had never fully realized the magnitude of Alyssa’s promise. In fact, only the goddess herself knew what her ultimate plans were, and that indeed was the reason why she was present at this particular time in these specific woods – for as the unsuspecting young man Emcorae Azop now made his way home to visit a family that he had not seen in years, only Alyssa knew what was about to happen.
Or so the goddess thought!
For although Alyssa had lost her lover Al-Corragio half a century ago, and although she had had many sexual interludes in those interim years (she was after all the Goddess of LOVE!), still she could not forget about the passion of the sensual soulmate who had left her behind. And while she knew that Alfranco now had a family of his own and would not break his faith – still, Alyssa also knew of the “potential” of Emcorae. For, ever since his birth, she had watched over Emcorae Azop (3). The goddess watched because, above all else, Alyssa did not want to risk another woman getting a hold of Emcorae first!
And now, all the hard work of the goddess’s vigilance had paid off, for Emcorae Azop, although a finely sculpted mature young male, was indeed still a virgin. And that fact suited the goddess’s plans very well, yes very well indeed, for everything was now falling into place and soon she would claim her long-awaited prize. Soon would the young man look upon her for the first time, and then he would fall in love with her, so deeply in love that he would never want to leave her – ever! Of that she would make certain!
I may have lost Alfranco, but I shall ne’er lose Emcorae, thought the goddess. Thus will an Azop ever be a part of my life and happiness – for such have the Fates promised me, and such shall I have!
And once again, the goddess smiled as she silently followed Emcorae’s progress from a distance.
That night, after another day during which Emcorae Azop had continued to push himself and his horse hard on this leg of the journey, the pair had continued to ride until well after the moon had climbed through the skies. For the boy was determined to make it home on the morrow, and so he had continued the fast-paced, mile-churning canter that he hoped the Arbola-born philly could sustain. Of course he knew enough about his mount to periodically hop down and walk beside her, as well as to allow her to trot at her own pace once in awhile so that she would not be wasted or come up lame. But nonetheless the young man was in a hurry, as his excitement could not be held back. As always, Joanne did not let him down, and even after all those days of non-stop running, she still seemed to be getting stronger with each passing mile.
In truth Emcorae knew that he would wear out long before his friend ever would, for even though she was doing all the hard work, he was tired from having to remain in the saddle for long stretches: quite frankly his backside ached! Sure he had ridden many miles upon Joanne’s back in the past, but never from dusk till dawn for nearly two weeks. (4)
Eventually, even though the well-worn trail was growing darker by the hour, Emcorae began to recognize familiar surroundings. Miles behind the woods had turned from birch, ash and the occasional willow to the hearty green pines, sturdy oaks, and friendly maples of his not-too-distant youth, and now the lay of the land opened onto the remembered landmarks he’d been waiting to see. Although he had only seventeen summers under this belt and was alone but for his horse, still these woods evoked no fear in his heart, for Emcorae Azop knew them well. Not even the eerie hoot of a passing owl could dampen his spirits, for although the woods were dark, they were familiar even after an absence of six years.
When he last left this area, he’d been haunted by gargoyles and strange black mists, yet the strapping young man no longer let those “childhood fears” hamper him – for he’d spent the last six years in Arbola Forest, and his time among the elves had long since cured him of those nighttime terrors.
When he and his horse neared Rock Run – now only a short distance ahead to his right — Emcorae judged that they were near enough to home to make camp for the night. After dismounting, he began to unload his saddlebags with the things he would need for the layover. As he did so he smiled, for nature had been on his side during this journey and while he had been expecting to run into some poor weather, instead he and his mare had enjoyed a week and half of beautifully temps and gentle springtime breezes without even a hint of the typical seasonal storms. But the nice weather alone was not what brought a grin to his face. Instead, because they had made such fast time in the past fortnight, he calculated that come morning, when Joanne wandered off in search of fresh thistles to eat, he could actually enjoy the luxury of sleeping late.
Since thistles were so plentiful on this southeast side of Monthaven, and since the satiny black-coated philly had acquired quite a taste for that newly discovered treat since they had entered this stage of the trek, Emcorae figured that his mount would be kept occupied for hours rooting them out if he left her to own devices. That meant that he in turn could remain nestled in the blankets of his soon-to-be makeshift camp for as long as he desired (5). After nearly six years of waking at the crack of dawn to train under the watchful tutelage of his elvish master El-Janus, still Emcorae’s body rebelled at those too-soon awakenings. But now, here was his chance to finally sleep in again!
Ahhh, I can’t wait to get wrapped up in covers and be warm and sleepy all night long!!
Yes, the fact did remain that tomorrow he was going back to see family and friends that he had been away from since he was twelve years old. And no, he couldn’t quite remember why he hadn’t decided to sleep in on one of the previous ten days of this trek, so that he could now make all possible haste to that surprise reunion. But besides all that, the simple fact was that he was back roaming in the woods of his youth – he was HOME. And that meant that he could sleep late if he wanted to — which he very much did!
Emcorae figured he would wake about six hours after dawn, as the sun was reaching its zenith. Of course by that point if he wasn’t up already he knew that the over-zealous birds of these parts would be singing their songs of rejoice to the high heavens so that by then he wouldn’t be able to sleep any longer even if he wanted to. But it mattered not; still he felt it would be nice to relax being so close to home.
That will be just perfect because ,if my reckoning is still correct, Jo and I will come riding up to the cottage at just about the time that gram is gonna prepare dinner for everyone. Mmmmm…
Since Emcorae knew that he had always been his grandma’s favorite and since he had been gone for so long, there was just no doubt in his still innocently manipulative mind that he would have his choice of whatever it was he wanted to eat. Without a moment’s hesitation then, he would relate to his grandma how much he had suffered by missing out on her wonderful cooking for so long, and that if it was not too much trouble for her, how nice it would be to be able to have his favorite dish – gnokkies. Naturally, being the kind hearted old woman that she was, Emcorae knew this story would suffice and he could feast on those warm doughy delights until his hearts content. Sure his family would be crowding around him begging for details of his time away, while little Chich would be yapping up a “don’t forget to pet me too” storm, but Emcorae would just have to get them to understand that they would have to wait until he was finished eating.
Certainly they wouldn’t deny me that much peace, would they?
His stomach was already grumbling at the thought of those gnokkies smothered in his grandma’s meaty red tomato sauce.
Oh that sauce! Not even the Amorosi chefs for all their worth can compare to my gram’s cookin’!
With a sigh he regretted that vision as perhaps a little premature, due to the unfortunate fact that he was not in fact home just yet, and thus he would have to eat yet another breakfast of elvish wayfares.
Although that flat honey-coated travel nutbread was more than enough nourishment for any would-be journeyman, still after almost a fortnight of any food – unless it was indeed his grandma’s cherished meals – he felt like he was about to go insane.
Of course, with a half-hearted snicker, Emcorae told himself — only half-jokingly — that he could always join Joanne in her thistle search for an interesting change in taste. He then looked over at his mount standing quietly under a nearby pine tree; she saw the sly smile on his face, and almost as if she knew what he was thinking, she hmmfph’d to herself and turned her back on the boy.
“Ha, Joanne you old coot!” Emcorae laughed. “I’ll bet you wouldn’t share any of your cherished weeds with me anyway.”
And so with visions of thistles in his head and a nice relaxing sleep well into the morning to follow his hearty but tasteless meal, Emcorae couldn’t have felt more content as he prepared for the night. Here he was back in the quiet woods of Monthaven and on the morrow would be a joyous family reunion. The campsite he selected was in a small glade that he remembered from his youth, about ten miles south from his parents’ house.
First though, he unsaddled Joanne and gave his beloved companion a rub down while silently thanking her for her hard work throughout these past days. Lovingly he gently rubbed her white muzzle – the only part on her that was not jet-black – and the horse practically purred with satisfaction. It was the longest either of the two had ever traveled alone, and both were grateful for the other’s company as the horse and her boy had developed quite a bond since first becoming companions after Joanne’s birth in Arbola Forest a few seasons ago.
After tending to her tired muscles and rubbing out the inevitable knots and whinnies in her soft coat, Emcorae retrieved the last of sugar cubes he had in his saddlebags and gave Joanne her goodnight treat. Although she appeared to be a quite ordinary medium sized riding horse, unlike most human campers, Emcorae did not have to go to the trouble of using rope to hobble his horse’s legs to keep her from straying during the night. An elvish horse, Joanne had a certain calmness and loyalty about her, thus the boy gave her the freedom to roam during the night if she so pleased. (6)
After tending to Joanne, Emcorae made ready for bed himself. He removed his grandsire’s dagger and also a bag of throwing stars from his belt, then he took off his plate-lined leather jerkin, his gauntlets and his greaves – for although he rode with these weapons and armor on by day — as per his warrior’s code — here at night, so close to his hometown, he didn’t feel like he needed that extra protection – for having his sword by his side felt comfortable enough to him.
After this, the spry young man made a quick tent-like shelter at the corner of the glade between two adjacent trees. Employing a trick he’d learned from his elvish training, he tied some rope and canvas together in such a way that using the tree trunks he soon had a roof over his head and a place to spread out his blankets under. After a quick fire, made all the easier because of the plentiful supply of dry wood in these parts, he fought back the approaching night’s cold, scarfed down a couple wayfares, and then rested a while with his back to a log and his sword at his hand. Soon he laid his head back to gaze up at the stars.
And he wondered….
- So Alyssa had a project that took her 50 years to develop? Big deal. My plans have spanned eons not mere decades. This so-called goddess isn’t even in the same league as a master schemer like me. As for Alyssa’s plans involving Emcorae I knew nothing about it at the time, however even had I got wind that the goddess was in love with another immortal I wouldn’t likely have paid attention – after all, what do I care about The Game of Loves?
- A quite amazing feat considering the fact that Alfranco had never ventured to sing before in his entire life!
- At first she had used her woodland helpers to keep track of his progress whilst he was just a boy, but when he began to grow and near puberty, the goddess could not allow him to remain so far away from a protective haven – and since she couldn’t yet bring him to her home in Meridia, she did the next best thing by getting him to Arbola Forest under the guise of his training to become an Azora warrior – thus ensuring his virgin purity.
- For her part, as intelligent elvish horse, Joanne found the whole thing quite amusing, and whenever Emcorae would complain aloud about the “soreness” of his backside, she sometimes couldn’t help herself from bouncing just a bit more than was probably necessary. In a sense it was her attempt at playing a horsy practical joke on Emcorae, and since she had seen her friend play more than his share of pranks on others in the past, she felt he couldn’t help but approve of her own attempt at humor now.
- Emcorae loved to sleep in, and because of that he always carried an extra blanket or two in his packs for just such a rare occasion. It was hardly ever possible, but that didn’t stop him from planning ahead on the off chance that sooner or later the gods would favor him with the opportunity.
- Joanne was usually content to sleep on her feet close to his camp. For although Emcorae seemed to believe that there was nothing in the world that would want to harm them – this despite his extensive combat training in preparing to battle the evil plagues — she had enough sense in her elvish-horse bloodlines to know it was wise to keep a proper watch just to be safe. And Joanne was grateful that Emcorae was usually at least smart enough to keep his Azora’s sword by his side during the night, instead of leaving it sheathed and tied to the saddlebags. This night too he did not forget that small measure of self-defense, and so she did not have to remind him of it.