Chapter 273: Goodbye, Scotia’tael
"Sorry for being late, Findabair." The elf in the lead leapt off the window and looked at Eveline with concern. "It's good to see you well."
"You're still going to accept me even though I've left Dol Blathanna for years?" Eveline started sobbing, tears welling in her eyes.
"Everyone's been through the phase, Eveline. It's not too late if you will just come back," the elf assured her. "Everyone still trusts you. The mountains are more than willing to take in a child that's returned to the path." The elf approached her. "The Blue Mountains and Dol Blathanna will always be your home. We'll always be your brethren."
"Roy, Kantilla, meet my friends." Eveline brushed her hand across the air, falling into memory lane. She said, "They're my brethren back on the world's edge. We grew up together."
The world's edge was synonymous with the Blue Mountains, a mountain range that occupied the eastern part of the northern land.
"This is Ser." Eveline pointed at the elf who was talking to her just now. The elf was in an oversized green shirt with a sleeveless shirt of the same color inside. She was also wearing tight leggings and a pair of boots.
Roy wondered where he saw that outfit before. It looked familiar.
"This is Varselie." Eveline pointed at a middle-aged, female elf. She had long eyelashes, but her skin was almost abnormally white. Her neck was wrapped in a lot of leather necklaces filled with golden birch sticks. She was holding a birch staff carved with complex patterns. Some mana was swimming between her fingertips and the staff. This elf was a sorceress.
"This is Toluvair." Toluvair was a petite, arrogant elf holding a worn-down lute. Long, black hair tumbled down her shoulders, the locks of hair beside her cheeks braided. She looked like a bard, and there was a colorful piece of cloth hanging from her waist to her knees.
"And this is Kenzafa." Kenzafa was a male elf wolfing down carrots and turnips. He looked grumpy, as if everyone owed him a million orens.
Roy nodded at the elves, though he was observing his surroundings at the same time, coming up with a strategy. The Blue Mountains elves didn't take kindly to humans due to the long war. He would be at a disadvantage if they were to fight in a cramped alley like this. Roy also realized that the elves were gaunt and pasty, as if they were malnourished. They were not much stronger than most regular humans, but they were veteran fighters. Roy noticed the little formation they were making, and they also had skills like One-handed Mastery and Bow Mastery. Nobody would have that kind of skill, unless they fought a lot.
The elves were observing Roy and Kantilla as well.
The elf with the lute piped up first. "Eveline, I know this Serrikania girl. Kantilla, right? She was imprisoned like you were, but who's this guy?"
"Roy. One of my best friends," Eveline said.
"You never told us you'd bring an ape man along." The elf stared at the witcher, confusion glinting in her eyes. "Wait. He looks familiar."
"How so?" Kenzafa chomped on his carrot.
"His ears… And his face. Look closer!" The elven girl with the lute plucked a string quickly and tried to speak in elven tongue. "Queglosse? Quel'enpaviennell'ea?"
"Nell'ea," Roy answered in fluent Elder Speech. "T'enpavienn Aen Seidhe."
"I knew it! Did you hear that?" Toluvair looked at Kenzafa. "This ape man knows the tongue! Ahem, sorry. He's an Aen Seidhe too! No wonder he doesn't smell like the other humans."
"Ape man? Is that how purebloods like you see humans?" Roy thought the description was amusing. He could see that Toluvair was warming up to him thanks to his Elder Blood.
"Roy, right? You look young, but you're strong. A lot better than the men we have back at home. We need people like you back home. Come with us."
"Stop it, Toluvair." Ser looked at Roy's eyes and the pendant hanging around his neck. "He can't come with us. Don't you see? He abandoned the path and became a witcher instead. You can't expect a witcher to stand with us and fight the humans."
"He's a witcher? You mean the lapdogs who would help humans for money?" Toluvair pouted. She was reminded of a not-so-happy past, and she lost interest in Roy.
"Now, now, calm down, guys," Eveline quickly explained. "I owe Roy my life. If it weren't for him, I couldn't have come here safely."
"A witcher saving an Aen Seidhe?" The elves exchanged a look of surprise.
Ser froze for a moment and bowed. "I apologize for my unbecoming behavior, friend. If you did save Findabair, then that makes you a friend of ours. You're always welcome at the world's edge. Just tell my brethren I invited you. Not now, though. We're quite short on time." He turned to Eveline. "Lord Filavandrel is waiting for you at the mountain. We should be going now if you've settled everything."
Eveline nodded and turned to Roy and Kantilla. She was struggling with herself, as if trying to come up with a proper farewell.
"A minute, everyone," Roy interrupted. "I have a question. How'd you guys manage to get in touch with Eveline if you were in Dol Blathanna? That's hundreds of miles away." The troupe's been under the baron's constant supervision. They shouldn't have been able to get in touch with the elves.
"I'll explain." Ser stepped forward. "She carved her name on the plaza's stake in Elder Speech. Some of us saw that, and they brought the news back to the Blue Mountains."
"Some of you?"
"Not all of us are hiding in the mountains, you know." Ser smiled confidently. "Our people are spread far and wide, and there'll be more of us on the way."
"So you're taking Eveline back to Dol Blathanna?" Roy asked. He sounded upset, wanting to object.
"That's right. Is there a problem with that, witcher?" Toluvair was starting to get annoyed with Roy's questions. She said impatiently, "And to think I defended you. Are you trying to stop a child from returning home?"
"Patience, Toluvair. Roy, are you objecting to Findabair's return?"
"Yes." Roy looked at the elves and took a step forward. "Returning to Dol Blathanna isn't the right choice."
"Why? Give me a reason, Roy," Eveline said. She looked at him tensely.
Roy took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He needed to come up with an appropriate explanation. He finally remembered where he saw Ser's outfit before. It belonged to the infamous Scoia'tael. They were exploited and oppressed by Aedirn humans. These elves were forced into hiding in the mountains. All Ser needed was an accessory made out of squirrel hide, and he would look like a bona fide Scoia'tael member. He remembered that Dol Blathanna was one of Scoia'tael's bases.
If Eveline were to return, she might join that infamous group. Once the horns of war were blown, she and her brethren would join the battlefield. Most of them would die. Thanks to Francesca and Emyhr's deal, Scoia'tael's purpose changed. They started out as anti-non-human exploitation activists, but after that deal, countless elves and dwarves formed ambush teams, killing off the troops of the northern kingdoms. They even murdered human civilians. In the end, they were all sold out by the queen they were loyal to, then Emhyr gave all the top brass to the northern kingdoms in exchange for a ceasefire.
Scoia'tael was a pitiable, despicable organization. Only less than a third of the members survived until the day Francesca took Dol Blathanna back and built a home for the elves. Roy would hate to see his friend end up in this mess, but he couldn't tell them what would happen in the future. "Look at them. They're so gaunt, they're practically ghosts," Roy said. "If I'm right, your friends aren't doing too well in Dol Blathanna. They don't even have enough food to feed themselves."
The elves fell silent. Even Kenzafa opened his mouth and stopped chewing. The witcher was right. The Blue Mountains was a harsh place for elves. Food was scarce, and most of them never had enough to eat. They didn't possess a talent for agriculture like humans did either.
Roy continued. "Humans have Dol Blathanna under control. Elves can never come out in droves unless they want to get killed. But crops don't grow on mountains, and Filavandrel is too proud to trade with humans. Eveline's gonna starve if she goes back to the mountains. And she'll be facing the elements as well. If she falls ill…" The witcher kept talking and painting a bleak picture for Eveline if she should return to the mountain. "Elves have incredibly long lives. You'll be going on all by yourself for a long time. Your numbers will dwindle, your health will decline, and you will suffer. In the end, all you'll have left are young but soulless elves and frail women like Toluvair."
"Ahem." Toluvair coughed, breaking the flow. She then held her breath, her face turning red.
"Since you're slightly related to me, I have some advice for you, lady," Roy said. "Your breath reeks of consumption. You won't have long to live at this rate. And you're gonna spread it to your brethren. And consumption isn't the only sickness you have to worry about. With how harsh the mountains are, you might die from anemia or scurvy too." Roy continued, "Think about it, Eveline. You're not gonna live in luxury like the merchants and aristocrats in the city, but you won't starve or die from any disease that easily."
"Enough, witcher! Silence!" the sorceress shouted. She pointed her staff at Roy, and his heart sank. He was about to cast Fear on them and lop their heads off in one fell swoop, but then he remembered they were Eveline's friends. He did kill a few Scoia'tael members back in Mahakam, but now he was already part-elf, and they were not his sworn enemies. Fine. I'll let you go for Eveline's sake.
He stopped retaliating and let an invisible hand cover his mouth, stopping him from talking.
"How'd you know all this, witcher?" Ser gave Varselie a look, and she reluctantly lifted the spell.
"The White Wolf and Jaskier. They went to the world's edge once, and they told me about their unpleasant trip there." Roy looked at the dumbfounded Toluvair. She was still thinking about her condition. "You snatched that lute from Jaskier, didn't you?"
"I did not snatch!" She coughed. Toluvair said, "I gave him a new lute!"
"Jaskier, huh? That bard has one big mouth. I should have let him for dead in the fields." Ser sighed. "Roy, that was… mortifying. For us. Yes, the mountains are harsh, but we won't be staying in the mountains for long now. Once Her Majesty takes Dol Blathanna back, our suffering will be over. And do you think Findabair knows nothing about this? What you said can't influence her, Roy."
"Roy," Eveline said. She looked at the young witcher, conflicting emotions welling up in her eyes. "I appreciate the concern, and thanks for the advice, but what Ser said was right. Dol Blathanna's my home. I grew up in the mountains. I've lived there for decades. I know their situation. I didn't leave because I hated the life there. I just didn't like how my people hated humans." Resolve filled her eyes. "But I changed my mind. I've thought about a lot of things when I was imprisoned. And I understand a lot of things I previously couldn't now."
Eveline tensed up, her eyes turning bloodshot. "I thought about how the troupe ended up destroyed. We just wanted to make a living, but the baron arrested us, put us on a parade, allowed his people to insult and humiliate us, locked us in the dungeon at night, made us starve, and he allowed that tormentor to put us through hell! We're innocents! And yet even after the baron knew he was at fault, all he did was get his lackey to give us a bag of orens and kicked us out of his city like we're disgusting creatures. He wouldn't even apologize to us!" Eveline shook her head, a look of mockery filling her eyes.
"I refuse to live in this twisted land, Roy. As long as human aristocrats exist, there's no way the non-humans can have any freedom or dignity. No. Those aristocratic pigs won't even spare their own people freedom and dignity. And besides, noamekend (we cannot trust those who are not our kin). Ever since I thought I was going to die in that dungeon, my last thoughts were about returning to the mountains and standing with my brethren. I would fight with them and regain Aen Seidhe's freedom and dignity. Can you understand why I insist on going back now?"
Roy sighed. If she's already gone that far, then I have nothing to say. What am I supposed to do? Tell a pureblooded Aen Seidhe to betray her home and people? "I see. Stay safe, Eveline. I'll deal with that bastard, Dylan."
"Leave him for me. Kantilla will come to you tomorrow once we're done here. And…" She took a deep breath and hurried over to Roy. Eveline stood on her tiptoe and looked up, then she kissed him.
Roy could feel her hair brushing against his cheek, and he felt her warmth on the corner of his lips, even though it was only for a moment.
She gazed at him one last time. There was affection and a hint of reluctance in her eyes. She was trying to sear the memory of his face into her mind. "Please, don't forget about me."
Eveline, Kantilla, and the Aen Seidhe left the alleyway, with three sacks in tow.
Was that a goodbye kiss? Roy touched the corner of her lips. He had a forlorn look in his eyes for a second. The elven dancer went on a totally different path because of my intervention. Once she makes it back to the mountains, will she join Scoia'tael and join the battlefield? I just hope our reunion won't happen in a battle.
They came back to the main street. Ser looked around and stammered, "The baron gave you some… recompense?"
"I know what you're getting at." Eveline held her hair. She said, "Our people are starving. I'll give all the coins to the cause. We're going to return with some supplies, but first, we'll have to bury some old friends, and then…" Eveline looked at Kantilla. The Zerrikanian lady's eyes shone.
A hint of fury painted her face. "That bastard did a number on us for a month. Time for some payback."
"Wanna kill that baron while you're at it?" Kenzafa put his carrot down and brushed a finger across his throat.
"Killing an aristocrat that controls the border of two conflicting kingdoms right now will throw His Majesty's plans into disarray and expose us unnecessarily. We can always kill that bastard next time, Eveline." Ser looked at the imposing castle and gnashed his teeth. "Soon. Soon he and every single human will pay for their sins. They will burn in a sea of blood and flames!"
End of Arc
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