26 The Last Hero Among the Elves
With the sunset looming over the forest, the uncertainty grew among the elves that still remained in their village. Libel did not return, and Jaal had been exhausted by his journey to the human camp and was now lying on the great table in the hall of virtues.
Jaal's condition was bad, the overexertion had caused him a strong fever that not even the magic of Erabel was able to counteract.
"Jaal-sama..." -Erabel was full of frustration, if only she had been firmer in trying to stop Libel...
"There is no point in trying so hard, my breaths are already numbered" -in spite of his words, Jaal showed a faint smile on his old lips.
Despite how things had turned out, Jaal trusted that Erabel and the rest of the elves still had a chance with the Rayl-Ar.
"Jaal-sama..." -Rarpol was even more frustrated than Erabel, as a Sage, he had never been able to do anything for his people. Nearly forty years ago he made the mistake of supporting the Vieri and ignored Nitel's warnings, and in the present situation, was unable to hold his people together.
"There is no need to feel sorry, even the most vigorous of trees must wither one day" -Jaal himself carried even more remorse than Erabel and Rarpol. During his nearly nine centuries of life, Jaal had seen the lives of countless elves extinguished, including his own children and grandchildren.
"Jaal-sama, you must try a little harder, we still need you..." -Erabel clung to Jaal's hand as she continued to use her best healing spells.
"I have seen small seeds grow to become imposing trees, and also seen those same trees withering. Erabel, our race has a long lifespan, but in contrast, we are reluctant to change. It is for this reason that, after almost a millennium of being hidden among the trees of this forest, when the forest has begun to change, we have panicked. If we want to survive, we must force ourselves to change. Even if it doesn't seem like it, the plants change too."
"Jaal-sama, why are you talking that way...?"
"Erabel, I fully trust that you can help our people to change."
"Jaal-sama, that's too much..." -changing a species that has remained attached to customs for several hundred years, Erabel felt the enormous weight of those words.
"No, it's not an impossible task for you. Your family is full of peculiar elves" -Jaal let out a slight laugh.
Jaal's words took Erabel by surprise.
"Your mother chose a hunter over a Vieri" -that was true, Adel, Erabel's mother had chosen Nitel as a spouse over Odel, Libel's older brother. Have being Odel a Vieri, and also the leader of them, the choice of Adel caused a great stir at the time. "Your brother chose to ignore the customs and left the village to venture into the outside world" -have having been born almost forty years after that older brother left, Erabel had only heard about him from his father's mouth. "And your father, who for the sake of our people came to collaborate with humans" -this last was something that even puzzled Rarpol.
"Jaal-sama, what are you talking about?" -while Erabel tried to process Jaal's words, Rarpol was the first to react.
"When his warnings were not heeded, Nitel sought the help of others to confront the leader of the Goblins."
"The King of the Beasts..." -Rarpol recalled how at that time, Nitel had said that; among the goblins, the 'King of the Beasts' had it appeared.
According to stories passed down by elves for generations, long before humans existed, in an age when all continents were only one, golden elves reigned over all creatures.
Orcs, goblins, kobolds, giants, lizard men and even dragons, all beasts were slaves of the golden elves.
Sometime in this so-called 'Golden Age', among the beasts appeared a singular creature; the orcs say it was an Elai-Akal, the kobolds say it was the child of Avor and Vanur, while the goblins say that he was one of them.
Without exception, every race of beasts says that that being belonged to its species.
The only thing on which all the beasts agree was that the fur, skin or scales of that being was red.
That peculiar being rebelled against his masters, and leading all races of beasts, completely exterminated the golden elves.
With great fear, gray elves and dark elves called that being, 'The King of the Beasts.
As for what happened to that 'King of the Beasts', each race has its own story to tell. Some say that after liberating them, he returned to the side of the gods. Others say that he sleeps somewhere in the world and that at some point he will wake up to reign one more time over all the beasts.
Given its great longevity, the elves consider this legend to be an absolute truth. However, believing in that and accepting that such a fearsome creature had now appeared among the goblins were two absurdly different subjects.
At that moment, when Nitel mentioned the king of beasts, the Vieri mocked and dismissed his words altogether.
"Wh-what really happened forty years ago, Jaal-sama?" -Erabel was truly anxious and utterly surprised. To hear about her father mentioning the king of beasts was something that impacted her just as much as hearing that he had collaborated with humans.
"Finding no support in the council, Nitel came to me. Although I had my doubts about the existence of the king of beasts among the goblins, I knew your father was an honorable man. Regardless of the subject of the king of the beasts, the threat posed by the growing number of goblins was something to be taken into account. So, for the sake of our people, with my authority as Sage, I accepted the plan he presented."
Nitel's plan was simple, with humans and kobolds the most affected by the increase of goblins, he would establish an alliance with them.
Twenty humans, forty kobolds and an elf. A group that was totally inferior in comparison with the high number of goblins, that already reached the alarming number of one thousand them only at the interior of dark forest. However, in his mind, Nitel only needed to kill one goblin to solve the problem, precisely the supposed king of the beasts.
Goblins are cowardly in nature, never facing a battle in which they do not have an overwhelming advantage. If the one who held them together was defeated, their cowardly nature would drive them to flee.
Once the Vieri realized the threat, they launched a disastrous offensive that was doomed to total failure. It was at that moment that Nitel's peculiar group made their move, taking advantage of the chaos of the battle between the Vieri and the goblins, they crossed the battlefield and confronted the king of the beasts.
"Your father was a true hero. Had it not been for his courage and determination, at this moment we would not have the privilege of being here worrying about the future."
While Rarpol was speechless, Erabel burst into tears.
That night almost forty years ago, Erabel had gone to the edge of the village to wait for her father's return, but he never returned.
"Your father and his group sacrificed their lives to kill the leader of the goblins, which caused the goblins to disperse."
"Jaal-sama..." -Erabel was barely able to speak, yet it was not difficult to guess what he was trying to ask.
"There was only one survivor of your father's group, a kobold of black fur, he was the one who told me about the battle" - Jaal's voice was beginning to lose strength.
Erabel remembered that after being forced by other elves to return home when the sun had set, she had found her father's bow next to a small stone axe at her door. At the time Erabel did not think much about it and attributed the phenomenon to the spirit of her father saying goodbye to her. Erabel was now clear that it was that kobold who had brought her father's bow. For that kobold, her father had been not just a companion, but a friend and a brother in arms, this was what that little stone axe represented.
Rarpol was completely stunned, what he had just heard was something so shocking as to change the history of the grey elves.
The Vieri were not the great heroes who had sacrificed themselves to protect their people. They were just a group of arrogant elves who realizing their mistake, they tried to make amends. Although in the end Vieri's sacrifice served to give Nitel's group a chance, it was hard not to think that the proud Vieris had died uselessly as a result of their own arrogance.
Erabel clenched her fists with some frustration, she gave a quick glance at the smiling Jaal and then left the hall of virtues. Despite Erabel's effort, Jaal's health had not improved, as he himself said, his body had reached the limit.
Despite being aware of Jaal's bad health, Erabel understood that the old elf was more concerned about the state of mind of his people that about his own health.
Under normal circumstances this great truth would have shaken the foundations of grey elves society of dark forest. One of them had broken the laws and set aside his pride for collaborating with humans and kobolds. If the truth were known under normal circumstances, it was difficult to know whether Nitel would be considered a hero, or a traitor.
However, at this time this truth could be used to bring about a profound change among the elves who still remained in the village. Aware of this and feeling that he had finally removed an enormous weight from his shoulders, a slight, but perceptible smile was drawn on Jaal's lips.
"Go, Erabel, and let my old body rest for a moment of so much healing magic" -seeing Erabel's renewed spirit through the sparkle in her eyes, Jaal took away Erabel´s hand to urge her to come out and tell the truth about her father to the rest of the elves.
Regardless of species or era, heroes have always been an inspiration.
For the gray elves, a hero like Nitel, who had set aside his pride and used his life to protect his people without ever receiving the credit he deserved, would undoubtedly serve to renew their decayed spirit.
Erabel clenched her fists with some frustration, gave a quick glance at the smiling Jaal and then left the hall of virtues. Despite Erabel's effort, Jaal's health had not improved, as he himself said, his body had reached the limit. Erabel understood that the old elf was more concerned about his people´s mental state than about his own health.
Unable to make his own decision on how to proceed with what he had heard and Erabel's clear intentions, Rarpol stood motionless watching Erabel leave the hall of virtues.
What Nitel had done had clearly gone against the laws of the elves, yet he had managed to save his people.
Were laws and traditions much more important than survival?
Rarpol was incapable of assuming a position, even if he was a Sage, in reality he was an indecisive elf who had reached his position only because his age allowed him to.
"Jaal-sama... I am a complete failure as Sage... you are more necessary for our people..." -in the present situation, and during the events of forty years ago and in face of all sorts of problems throughout his time as Sage, Rarpol had always supported the opinion of the majority. Agreeing with the majority opinion was easier than forming his own opinion and exposing it.
"You still have time to change."
Erabel came out of the hall of virtues and gave a deep breath to order her mind. For Erabel, her father had always been a hero, so what she heard from Jaal only confirmed what she already knew in her heart.
"We are in a difficult moment, perhaps the most difficult moment in our history since our ancestors decided to leave the Great Forest" -Erabel's presence quickly attracted the glances of all the elves. "Perhaps this is what many of you are thinking, yet it is not that way..." -Erabel took a new deep breath to contain her personal feelings and prevent tears from flowing from her eyes again. "Almost forty years ago..."
With her heart pounding, Erabel began to narrate what she had heard from Jaal about what had truly happened almost forty years ago.
Disbelief, shock, surprise and admiration, the emotions of the elves had continually changed to the rhythm of Erabel's words. In the end, no one doubted Erabel's narration, lying was going against the virtues and both Erabel and Jaal were respectful elves of the virtues. There was no way that both them would lie or exaggerate in such an important matter.
Nitel Sproud of Sun quickly became something that the gray elves of the dark forest had never possessed and they needed most at this time, a hero.
The dejected faces and uncertainty disappeared from among the elves. How could they afford to dishonor one who had given up his pride and sacrificed his life without asking for anything in return? They could not continue to feel dejected when Nitel even gave up his own pride for protect them.
Elves eyes shone with admiration, they looked at Erabel and their eyes were filled it with determination, she was evidently the main reason why Nitel had sacrificed himself. Nitel had not only saved them, he had also left the reliable Erabel to help them.
"We must..." -Erabel interrupted her words when she heard a chilling sound coming from inside the forest.
The sound of heavy and uniform footsteps caused a deep silence among the elves, yet despair and fear no longer filled their hearts. In the worst-case scenario, all the elves were clear about what to do, they would use their lives to allow Erabel to escape.
The eyes of the elves fell on the forest, from where very soon emerged two hundred soldiers and fifty horsemen, all of them marching uniformly and maintaining a solid formation.
Erabel quickly recognized the woman who led the formation of the infantry soldiers. That beautiful woman with black hair and violet eyes who carried in her hands a violet bow, it was the woman who had previously escorted Jaal.
"Father... give us some of your protection..." -Erabel muttered to herself as she took a large breath of air to calm her emotions.