We arrive at the elven capital, a city called Heronmal, within 3 weeks. By this time I’m almost used to Briareth’s gregariousness, and I’ve opened up to him a bit, but I’m still astounded by how friendly everyone is here. It’s almost annoying. They all want to say hello, how are you doing, what’s your name, where are you from, why are you here. They are so nice, and curious, and so suspiciously friendly, like they don’t even live in a warzone. I can’t relax with people walking up to us whenever they want, but Briareth is in his element, chatting with practically everyone. Even without his coffee, he has an astounding amount of energy. Meanwhile I keep hurrying him along, breaking up conversations so that we can keep moving. I just want to deliver this message and get this war to end, so I can settle down somewhere peaceful and just forget everything that doesn’t relate to farming.
To keep him from chatting with passerbys, I try to strike up a conversation with him. “How many elves live here?” I ask, watching another happy family walk by.
“Very few, most of these live upstairs where the main thoroughfare is.” Briareth answers amicably.
“Upstairs?” I ask, confused.
“The treetops you silly dwarf. The city is in the trees. This is just the market.” I stare around us, only now realizing that most of the buildings we’ve passed are simple shops and stalls, very few of them have living quarters attached. “It was designed this way so that if any dwarves actually manage to find Heronmal, the hope is that they will destroy the market place, and then leave thinking that they have destroyed our capital city. It’s really useful.” Briareth continues.
“But that’s cowardly!” I exclaim, shocked.
“So is killing kids who can’t defend themselves.” Briareth shrugs. “Yet both elves and dwarves have no problem ordering troops to do just that,”
“Killing everyone is just tactics.” I say, halfheartedly trying to explain what’s had to be told to me dozens of times. “No survivors means no one to spread word of the assault.” It might not be right, but it’s smart.
“Tactics. Cowardliness. Same thing, different people talking.” Briareth responds flippantly. “The reason you kill is because you’re afraid. Tactics is just a made up word to excuse that fear.”
“But tactics and cowardliness aren’t the same thing!” I frown, frustrated with his stubbornness. “Tactics is where there is a strategic advantage to your moves. Cowardliness is running away from a fight or hiding from it.”
“But if it is a fight you can’t win, running or hiding is tactics, fighting would be stupid and suicide.” Briareth fires back.
“But-But-” I stutter, completely befuddled by his illogical logic, it’s against everything I had ever been taught. How does that elf’s mind work?
Briareth grins cheekily, happy that I don’t have a retort. “Never lost a fight against a dwarf, and I never plan to. Now hurry up, you’re falling behind.” We advance up toward the treetops and Briareth asks “Since this is an official thing, I think we can take the elevators. What do you think?”
“Uhh… Depends.” I reply, hesitantly “What are elevators? And will that require more long treks?”
“Using the elevators means we don’t have to climb hundreds of stairs, so it’s a lot shorter. Not to mention it gives the kids something to do.” He notices my confused look, and elaborates. “Ten kids jump using one rope, and their combined weight causes us to go up to the top. They keep holding the rope until we get off, and then they go up the stairs to do it again. Are you okay? You suddenly got very pale there.”
“We’re trusting our lives to a bunch of little kids playing?” I stare at Briareth, askanance. Now I know elves are insane.
“Of course! They won’t let us down! They’re kids after all, not grownups or dwarves.” Briareth grins, I just shake my head.
“Elven kids sound a lot different than Dwarven kids.” I mutter “Ours would think it a lovely prank to let the grownups fall.”
“Don’t worry,” Briareth says reasuringingly. “These kids won’t let you fall. If they do, they would be harshly scolded by their parents, and their pay would be docked. Also,” He adds, almost as an afterthought. “There is an emergency brake, just in case something does happen.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about that earlier!?” I exclaim. “That would have saved me a lot of worrying!”
“Forgot” Briareth replies simply. Although I’m not fully comfortable with these elevators, I still get in one with Briareth. I don’t want to have to climb hundreds of stairs after walking all this way. I just want to get to the capital already.
A few terrifying seconds later, where we move faster than I’ve ever thought possible, we reach the top. “I never want to ride in one of those again!” I declare to Briareth as I wobble off the elevator, checking to make sure that all my body parts are still there. Which they are, thank goodness.
“Oh but the journey down is so much better!” Exclaims Briareth. “I hear that you are in near free fall the entire time. Except for this sudden stop at the bottom that causes you to jump!”
“You hear? You mean this is the first time that you have ever been on this thing?” I growl at Briareth. “You had no idea if this thing would even work and you still took me up on it. What would have happened if we fell and the brake lever didn’t work? I could have died! And then my message would never have been delivered!”
“Well it would have been delivered, eventually.” I stare at him skeptically as he continues “Once the other elves in the forest heard about our deaths on the elevator, and they would have. This is new technology, so everyone would have heard about it if someone died from it. They would have to identify our bodies though, which might be a bit difficult if we’re squished to a paste. Then they would have sent it out Through the Begonias. Then everyone will hear about it and the elves that you met at camp would have sent another to deliver your dire message of doom.”
“Wait, what?” I shake my head giving up trying to follow his train of logic. “Clam it, elf. You lost me at the Begonia bit. Aren’t those a type of flower?” I ask as we stroll down the street toward the Castle, which is quite prominent now that it isn’t covered by the lower canopy.
Briareth tries to explain elven culture and technology to me.“Yes, but also no. Begonias with a lowercase b mean the flower. With a Capital-B though, it becomes special. Capital-B Begonias can transmit and receive soundwaves sent by other Begonias from the same plant. They can also receive wider signals from any in their species if you own a descendant of the original Capital-B Begonia bush. This way we can communicate news with very little time lost and little upkeep to the system.” Noticing my confused face, he simplifies “Think of it as the flowers gossiping to their owners, all anyone has to do is take good care of them, and you get daily little updates on the war and the news, or more important stuff, for example election dates if the king died recently.”
“And what exactly is an election?” I ask, still not quite sure why the two types of begonias are different, but reluctant to press further on the subject. Each of his answers just gives me more questions.
“It’s where the people vote for who they want to be king. When the monarch dies, you can vote yes or no for the children and spouse, and if all of them get noped, anyone can put themselves forward. Now hurry up, you’re falling behind. Again.”
“Elves walk too fast” I grumble at Briareth “that’s why I keep falling behind.”
“It’s not that we walk too fast, or you walk too slow. The problem is with your height! Dwarf legs are too small to walk fast, also causing you to be extremely short. I don’t understand how you can waddle around on those things.” I snort, he’s maybe what, half a head taller than me? If I’m waddling, he is too! Which is strange, most elves are taller than that.
“You’re short for an elf aren’t you?” I ask, Briareth flinches, and I grin, realizing I’ve struck gold. “Is this why you’re picking on me? You’re salty over your own height, and you’ve finally found someone smaller than you to make fun of.”
“Me being a short elf has nothing to do with all dwarven legs being short, Balderk!” Briareth’s response is a little too fast, a little too vehement. I grin, knowing I’ve hit the mark, but I let it go and change the topic.
“Wait, you actually said my name there. I think that is the first time you have actually said my name instead of calling me…” I trail off, and then shake my head and continue. “I can’t remember. That name was too long.”
“Oh, you mean strange deserter dwarf? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to call you by your actual name. I’ve been trying to remember it so I don’t look like a fool when I introduce you to the royal Family. Faladel would never let me forget it if I had to ask you your name when I introduce you to them.
“Who is this Faladel? You’ve never mentioned him before.”
“Oh, oops.” Briareth says absently, “I meant to mention him before we got to the capital city. Must have slipped my mind. A lot of things tend to do that. Normally though if they’re that important they come back sooner.”
“I’ll bet they do slip your mind.” I mutter.
“What did you say?” Asks Briareth, looking curious.
“Oh, nothing important.” I claim innocently. “Tell me about this Faladel of yours.”
“Hmm.” Briareth looks at me, suspicious. “Well Faladel Mithrandir is very important, I could have sworn I mentioned him to you earlier.”
“Nope. You’ve told me nothing about this guy. Continue please.”
“Faladel is a good friend of mine and the prince of elves. He was thought dead until about two years ago when a King’s Archer went deep into dwarf territory on a mission of utmost importance. On the way he found a captured elf and learned his backstory. He was shocked by what he discovered, this captured elf was the prince who had long been thought dead. Over twenty years had past since his supposed ‘death’. When the King’s Archer’s mission was finished, he brought him back to Heronmal in great haste and recieved a medal.”
“That was you.” I state flatly
“I’m just really good at telling stories.” Briareth claims innocently.
“Yeah right! That was so you.” I press.
“Mayhap it was. Not any of your business anyway.” Briareth deflects. “Now hurry up, you’re falling behind. Again.”
“You just like telling me that, don’t you?”
“Yes, why wouldn’t I?” Briareth grinned cheekily.
“Because I’m going as fast as I can! You’re going faster just to annoy me.” Briareth laughs, taking the steps to the castle door two at a time. I’m sure I was right. He waits for me at the top though, and as I arrive next to him, I ask a question that’s been bugging me “Okay, Briareth, be honest now, how much should I be prepared to be stunned by what I see in this castle?”
“Well, now, I don’t know. I’ve never been to the dwarven capital, things might be very different here than they are there, so I would be prepared for the worst shock of your life. You know, just in case.”
“Elves are so weird.” I mutter.
“Only in a dwarf’s eyes.” Briareth shoots back to me before addressing a guard in a very official looking uniform who was standing to the side this entire time. “Briareth Herbalar, King’s Archer, reporting from the outskirts. I’m here with this dwarf, Balderk, to see the King and Queen. Balderk has a very important message for them.”
“Oh really? Well you came in here at just the right time. They just got out of a meeting with the Merchants from the south, and are currently available.”
“Yessss! We caught them between meetings!” Briareth hisses happily under his breath.
“Shall I alert Prince Faladel?” The guard asks coolly, pretending not to notice.
“Hmm…” Briareth hesitates, “Faladel would be interested to hear this, it does concern the war after all, so you might as well tell him to come. Oh, is Raegel here too? It would be really cool if he could also attend. I think he would be intrigued.”
“Sorry Briareth, Raegel is out on an assignment.” The guard smiles at us, and then departs.
“Who is Raegel?” I ask Briareth once the elf guard is out of sight.
“Oh Raegel Iarmenor is my teacher. Was my teacher. Well he still teaches me things occasionally, but I graduated, so is he technically still my teacher? Okay back on topic. I was apprenticed as a King’s Archer to him and he taught me everything I know. Sorry, can’t tell you what a King’s Archer does, top secret stuff, that’s pretty much it.”
We chat on, mainly me asking questions and Briareth answering them (or not), until the guard returns and says “The King, the Queen, and the Prince are ready to see you now.” And then we are ushered into the throne room.