The Eclipse of Hope
Grauple, Elven Druid
Elven predator and protector - and fugitive in some parts...
It seemed like he had been running forever. It had been little more than a week, but he was still running. Well, he wasn’t actually running now, but he kept heading away from the village. He’d doubled back every few days, checking his own trail, but there hadn’t been any sign of those following him since the first few days. He was more at comfort here than he’d ever been in the human village anyway. Not that he’d actually entered the village that often, just once in a while to get the few supplies he couldn’t find on his own in the surrounding forest. Still, being away from habitation was where he felt most at home.
He still couldn’t grasp all that had occurred. The way that man had been treating his dogs. Grauple didn’t regret for a minute tossing the looped rope collar around the man’s neck, swatting him with the butt end of his staff and hollering out ‘sit’ in elven. The man had flailed about, trying to retaliate, but the elf had danced away easily. A few observers had even chuckled at the scene of this small, plain-clothesed elf dancing just out of reach of the huge man who only grew angrier with each smack.
When the man had finally relented and screamed out in shame “I don’t understand you!” Grauple had also relented, easing into a ready stance, and calmly stated in clear common “that’s why the dogs don’t obey your commands, they don’t understand.” Then the man, embarrassed and angered, had lunged…. But Grauple was much quicker. He’d sensed the man’s action and instinctively the staff was waiting when the man vaulted towards him. The butt of the staff wasn’t sharp, but it had landed in that spot just below the man’s left eye and the man’s momentum had ensured that it pushed inward…destroying the eye with a sickening sound. Several others had witnessed the incident, and all were frozen in place when Grauple glanced around at them. Most had been approving of the strange elf’s treatment of the man for they had witnessed the beating his poor dogs had endured, but now their looks were less sympathetic. Not exactly anger, but that look that says they know you’ve just made a huge mistake and they feel sorry for what is going to happen. The elf nearly fell to his knees right there. However, some inner strength pushed him..taking one step and then another, head spinning until finally, he broke into a run.
They’d throw him in jail, or worse. He wasn’t good with words or dealing with people and their laws, so there was no way he’d talk his way out of this. He WAS good at running, so he kept running, pausing only briefly to pick up his few belongings stashed in the small cave he often called home near the falls along the creek a few miles from the village. He left an inconspicuous mark on the cave wall, so Adleton, the man that he sometimes shared meals with, would know…he wasn’t coming back. Though by now, the woodsman knew what had happened and was making his way here. Grauple didn’t want to drag his friend into this mess, so he slipped out through the crack in the cliff face and vanished into the undergrowth.
It was a few moments before he could hear the sounds from the village over the retreating sounds of the waterfall, the sound of the people wakened from the dazed looks and the man…Grauple didn’t even know his name, rallying them in anger and pain. The guilt-ridden young elf could “feel” their eyes staring at him from behind every bush as he ran. But, that had been many days ago, and it was time to pause and think more rationally now….Settling down on a log at the crest of a hill as the sun broke over the horizon, the tired elf looked out over a small valley. His fingers absently ran over the knurled end of fracas, his staff…and his mind wandered back to the day when he had received it.
The story actually began before that day…. as a child, he’d been somewhat of an outcast, preferring spending time in the woods instead of among his kin. He would wander for days through the forest surrounding the elven village, further out than even the scouting parties, returning to a distraught mother and irritated father. They didn’t seem to understand that he had no use for the confines of the village. They tried to keep him busy, keep him from wandering too much, but he’d just sneak out anyway. Then, one afternoon, sitting in a spot sort of like this, overlooking the small valley in which his band lived, he nearly jumped out of his skin when an old man seemed to materialize from out of a tree not 10 feet in front of Grauple, a crooked smile on his face, hands raised in a gesture to indicate that he wasn’t a threat.
“greetings my young elven friend, I am Selvaggio, what brings you to my home?” Seeing the young elf’s confused expression, Selvaggio, still smiling, moved closer, arms raised and seated himself on the log a few feet from Grauple, gazing out over the valley below. “this is all my home, the glade, the valley and the forest beyond. I’ve been watching you for some time now, and it seems that this is your home too? You understand the plants and animals, and care for them more than you seem to care for your own kind….am I wrong?” Grauple caught the sidelong glance the old man was giving him as he spoke the last few words and felt himself nodding under that gaze…partly because it was expected but also because it was true.
“Would you like to learn more than you ever dreamed of about the ways of the wilderness my young friend?…” honestly, the old man could talk for hours on end and half the time Grauple would tone him out, so he didn’t exactly remember what all he’d said, but in the end, they’d agreed to meet again the following morning and Selvaggio had taken him on a tour of ‘his home.’
Having considered himself quite nimble even for his own kind, Grauple was astounded at the speed with which the old man could move, and often found himself lagging behind. But always the old man would sense this and pause to point out something of interest along the way until the young elf could catch his breath. Then, they would be off again. In that one day, they covered nearly half the valley! The things he saw that he’d never SEEN before…how you could tell what type of bird left which type of droppings, and how those droppings could tell you where the bird had been feeding, and how THAT could tell you that the bird had been disturbed from its preferred food source, but then Selvaggio would ask the question “what disturbed the bird?” That was the true mystery to discover! It was as if an entire new world had been opened up and Grauple couldn’t get enough of it.
One morning as Grauple was readying to leave for another adventure with Selvaggio, his parents confronted him, demanding he explain what he was doing in the woods all the time. His attire had become ragged and his lack of desire to interact with those around him was painfully evident. Grauple had tried to avoid the truth, though eventually he told them of the human he had met, and of their adventures together. His parents were completely silent when he finished his story, staring intently at the young elf, their faces unreadable. His mother began to say something then thought better of it. Finally, after what seemed like hours of silence, his father spoke quietly “you may go, but make sure you return home this evening and we will speak more of this, understood?”
In every elf’s life, there are certain moments that stand out. The TONE in his father’s voice when he spoke those words was one of those moments. It wasn’t the words, for he’d heard those countless times, but the TONE was one that he’d never forget. Mostly because he’d no idea what it foretold. It wasn’t the typically angry voice that his parents used, or the frustrated voice, but something else, and something that he decided shouldn’t be ignored. Nodding, the young elf slipped through the door and was quickly lost among the trees again.
Before they’d even sat down to share their morning berries, Selvaggio arched a brow and asked “something wrong my young friend?” The look on the elf’s face must have been comical as he tried to figure out how the man knew…shrugging slightly he muttered something about parents. “but this time, it’s different” Selvaggio continued. Looking up at the old man, Grauple nodded and told him the story of the morning’s fight. With a smile, the old man nodded and slipped the berries back into the pouch on his belt. “it’s time you and I get moving then, we don’t have all day!”
Grauple had never been this kind of tired before, the old man marched on for hours, not stopping and not looking back like normal, simply marching forward. He didn’t stop to point out any details, his focus was completely forward. Grauple was focused instead on his aching muscles and tired feet, and that point about 5 feet in front of him that he was always sure he couldn’t make it to. Yet, he kept on, following in the man’s wake, not wanting to appear weak or less capable. He nearly ran the old man over when they suddenly stopped, stumbling and dancing to the side when the point he’d been focused on was suddenly occupied by Selvaggio’s stationary form.
Again, the old man didn’t seem to notice the antics of his young apprentice, he was instead intently focused on the woods surrounding them, eyes and ears flicking this way and that as a deer’s would, listening for the telltale sign that something was amiss. When Grauple prepared to ask a question, he was silenced by a single raised finger, even before he could start the first word. Finally, after many moments, Selvaggio began moving again, though this time off the trail, slipping through the undergrowth silently, leaving no markings of his passage. Grauple knew this way of moving and silently mimicked his mentor’s movements. Unsure of where they were going, or why they were suddenly being so stealthy, the boy focused on the task at hand, trusting in the old man’s lead. Finally, a small bluff loomed before them. It wasn’t more than 15 feet high, but enough to halt their progress. This didn’t stop Selvaggio, he kept moving forward, though now he was even more attentive to the surroundings, pausing every few steps to listen and wait before moving forward again. The last 20 yards seemed to take forever until Servaggio seemed to vanish right in front of Grauple’s eyes…
It was something the elf was used to, as the old man was incredibly gifted at hiding, but not usually when he was looking right at him. Inching forward, Grauple saw the small opening at the base of the cliff, and noticed the slight glow of light coming from within. Sliding down on the smooth rock, the elf rolled through the opening and came up in a low crouch, glancing around, ready for whatever he found.
A torch lighted the small cave, Selvaggio was seated on a flat rock to the left of the entrance, and another similar rock was on thee right. There wasn’t much else to see from this point, and if he didn’t know the man had been here before, he would say the cave was empty.
Selvaggio gestured the boy to the other rock and spoke quietly “my friend, it is time that I explain something to you, for you have earned the right to know it.”
Selvaggio paused for a moment, considering the young elf, before speaking quietly “You and I are very much alike Grauple, in more ways than you might even know.” The man extended his arms and his brow furrowed, the young elf gasped as what had seconds ago been a pair of arms were now the wings of an eagle! Selvaggio took a deep breath and the wings transitioned back into arms, and he paused, watching the young man sort through the mental questions without asking them. After a few moments, he resumed speaking.
“Your grandfather was a dear friend of mine, and like us, he was a man of the wilderness. We shared many adventures together over the years, but as you likely know, he was killed by a band of orcs that were attempting to sneak into your village shortly before you were born.” He paused, and watched Grauple. The elf was silent, eyes drawn to the flickering light of the torch, mind attempting to wrestle with what the man was telling him…they were alike? His grandfather? Realizing that the cave was silent, he returned his gaze to the human and frowned slightly. Seeing his attention returned, Selvaggio continued. “I was there beside him that day, battling the orcs. Together, with the elven guard from the village, we destroyed them. In the battle, he was gravely wounded. I tended to him the best I could, but was unable to save his life.” Selvaggio lowerd his head and remained silent for several moments, Grauple watched him, seeing the man’s eyes grow damp before finally he raised his gaze to meet Grauple’s. I made him a promise that day, and I have fulfilled it." Reaching behind the rock he was seated on, Selvaggio tugged on something and a long, cloth-wrapped item appeared from a crevice between the rock and the wall.
Turning the item over gently in his hands, the old man murmured absently. “While you and I are much alike, you and your grandfather are even more alike Grauple.” Pulling the string that was bound around the item, Selvaggio revealed a smooth oaken staff. The wood was dark in color, but gleamed in the flickering torch light. It was plain, with some minor knurls near one end, provding a grip while walking or swinging. Grauple could sense an energy emanating from it that caused his skin to tingle slightly. “This was his staff, and I promised him that I would make sure that it was properly cared for. He never met you, but I know that he would approve of your having it.” The man extended the staff to Grauple who carefully grasped it, holding it tightly and then pulling it closer.
Much like he did now, the elf had run is fingers over the smooth, cool wood. The feeling of it soothed him as his mind raced ahead…the next few months had vanished in the blink of an eye, the evening where his parents told him how his grandfather had been a druid, protecting the woods but never really a part of the village itself, and how he too was blessed with the power to change shape…a power which Selvaggio showed him to control and even use to his advantage in a short time. Then, one day, he’d been told it was time for him to go out and explore, to follow his own path. His mother had cried, but nodded in agreement when his father told him this. Selvaggio had even come to their house that evening, under the suspicious eye of the guard. They had provided him with a few items to help him on the journey, but what could they really provide that he couldn’t obtain on his own except for advice? There had been plenty of that as well, though as was typical, most of it he had already forgotten. Now here he was, a fugitive with no place to call home and virtually nothing to his name. A smile crossed his face as he thought how wonderful it was to be alive and free to roam wherever he desired. Planting his staff in the dirt beside the log, he hoisted himself to his feet and began to make his way towards the town he saw in the distance. He didn’t have to enjoy civilization, but at times they had to be tolerated. Besides, if he was to call this place home, he needed to find out if word had spread of the incident.