The din of battle echoed all around her as she hastened to her father’s side.  The clash of steel on steel, the screams of the fighters, the moans of the wounded and the dying were faint but distinct.  The elves of Beriath’s Valley were more wont to take out their foes from the treetops, but Lord Berriam refused to allow the attackers to come so far onto his land.  As soon as word reached him of the assorted orc, bugbear, and goblin horde descending upon the valley he rallied his people to meet the creatures on the neighboring plains.

Even this far back from the front lines Aurina could smell the blood, thick on the air.  Lord Berriam had seen a decisive victory for his people, but the horde that descended upon them was almost twice the size of what was reported and after three days of fighting she was beginning to have doubts as to who would win this battle.  Lord Berriam had sent out all call for aid that morning, a call she feared would be answered too late for the elves.

Aurina finally caught sight of her father, standing on a hill overlooking the battle, directing the flow as best he could through commands issued to his officers.  She quickened her pace. 

“What are you doing here?” Berriam growled at his daughter as she approached him.  “I told you to stay back and help with the wounded.”  Aurina arched her brow at him, looking pointedly at his bandaged arm.

“I am helping.  I can help out just as well here with axe or bow atar, you need every able body fighting.” Berriam sighed. 

“You do realize preserving your life protects mine as well?  Elga would kill me –literally– if  anything happened to you.”  Aurina stepped closer to her father, finally noticing her half brother on the far side of him, and pitched her voice so only they could hear.

“We need to retreat now atar, into the trees where we can take them from above.”  Berriam looked away from her, but she reached out and grabbed his uninjured arm.  “Do not let your pride and arrogance be the downfall of everything you have worked so hard for,” she hissed. “We thought this would be done and over with quickly but we were wrong.  We must retreat if we are to survive.”

Berriam’s eyes grew round before they narrowed at his daughter’s words.  Something was not right here.  Berriam knew nothing of his daughter’s existence until a few scant years ago when she showed up on his doorstep, demanding to be trained.  But in the five years since he had taken her in she proved herself to be much her mother’s daughter.  Elga Serpentbane was a loud and boisterous woman, prone to smiles and laughter among comrades, fond of drinking and merriment.  Their daughter Aurina was not as loud as her dam and more reserved regarding festivities, but the smiles and laughter came just as quick.

Neither were within her face now, and while she may have spoken the truth, never had she been so harsh or virulent with him before.  In one glance he took in the lines on her face and the hardness in her eyes, neither had been there the morning before.  Something profound had changed within her, but now was not the time to probe.  Aurina was right, they needed to retreat. 

As he opened his mouth the give the order, the blaring of a horn echoed over the battlefield, drowning out all else.  The fighting slowed and then stopped altogether as friend and foe alike turned to look towards the sound as a second clarion call rang over the plains.  A line of warriors, some mounted, crested a ridge just over a league away.  The horn sounded for a third time as the mounted leader drew their weapon and brandished it over their head, bellowing loud enough for all to hear.

“FOR GLORY!”

AND BEARSKULL!” came the resounding refrain from hundreds of barbarian throats echoed by the roar of dire tigers as the tribes swept down the ridge towards the fight, a handful of mounted figures bounding ahead of the rest of the line, led by the largest and loudest pair.

Berriam turned towards his daughter. “Your mother certainly knows how to make an entrance,” he drawled as the young woman drew her bow.

“No more than you atar,” she said grimly.  With a nod he motioned her away and she sped off towards the waiting line of archers.

*

Berriam stood on the hilltop, looking over the field of dead.  The arrival of his old comrade and her people had turned the tide of battle.  Taken by surprise, faced with raging barbarians, dire tigers, and elves infused with renewed hope, the goblin kin horde had broken and fled.  The mounted barbarians known as Claw Riders and a handful of their shape shifting brethren had followed, tracking and taking down stragglers, those too slow or wounded to keep up with the rest.  In a few days, after licking their wounds and bickering among themselves, the last of the horde would break up and the creatures would return to wherever it was that they called home.

Now, the surviving elves and humans looked to their dead.  The wounded had already been carried off, so most of the movement he saw below was corpse sorting.  The allied bodies would be burned, it was the way of the barbarians to cremate their dead, and there were too many elf dead to properly bury.  Berriam had already sent some of his people to scavenge as much fuel as they could.  There were spells to start and prolong the life of flames, but those flames would still need to be fed.  The goblinoid corpses would be left to the ravages of the wind and time.

“Elf brother!” came an old familiar call.  Berriam turned to see Elga and Shadow walking towards him, her grin turning to a frown as she noticed his bandaged arm.  She had not changed much in years they had been apart.  Tall, broad, amazingly strong, the years had treated Elga well.  Even Shadow looked much as he did since he last saw him, full grown yes, but still little more than a cub. 

“I would ask how you fare but I can see that plainly for myself,” she said as she drew closer.  “What happened here my friend that a cleric of Correlleon walks wounded?” 

“What this? Oh nothing, an orc almost took off my arm with one blow,” he replied dryly.  “I’ve done what I can to keep it, and keep it functioning.” 

Elga looked across the battlefield. “What of the other clerics?” she asked

“I would rather they use their prayers to keep my people alive.  I can ensure the survival of my arm well enough on my own.”  Elga nodded and motioned towards the wounded arm.  “May I?”

Berriam arched a brow as he held the wounded appendage out for her, for last time he saw her healing was not Elga’s strong suit, especially such of his magnitude.  Elga laid gentle hands upon his arm, closed her eyes and murmured a prayer.  Immediately Berriam felt a warmth suffuse his arm, and the last of the aches and pain fade.  He looked at her incredulously.

“Better?” she asked as he flexed, testing out the strength and flexibility of the newly healed limb. He nodded.  “How did you do that?” he asked.  She just grinned and stared expectantly at him, seemingly waiting for him to think of it himself.

Now that she was closer, he noticed that the years had not just treated Elga well, they had not touched her at all.  A quick glance revealed the same for her Shadow.  Frowning, Berriam took half a step back, readying to defend himself for surely this was not his friend of old before him.  But a whisper on his consciousness stopped him as a seemingly familiar energy ebbed off her and Shadow both.  A whispered prayer to his god revealed a bright light surrounding them, and the image of a great hammer above each of their heads, the mark of a god.  Berriam could only think of one god who would mark Elga so, and what she had now become because of it.

“Oh gods be good,” Berriam groaned, clasping the hand of his newly healed arm to his forehead in mock dismay. “You’re a Chosen of Tempus now?”  Elga winked at him and held a finger to her lips.  Catching sight of her children, she called to them and waved them closer.

“Berriam, this is my son Elgin,” Elga introduced as the pair drew close.  The lad was little younger than his half elf sister Aurina but almost as tall and broad as his mother, Berriam noted.  The lad inclined his head with a murmured “My lord.”  Berriam nodded his acknowledgement as Elga greeted their daughter.

“Ah daughter mine!” she embraced the young woman in a fierce hug then held her at arm’s length, appraising her from head to toe.  After a moment she nodded decisively.  “Yes, now THIS is the Auriana that the world will know hmm?” Aurina smiled weakly as her mother glanced around them with a frown before setting her eyes on her son.  “Elgin where is your father?”

The young man shrugged.  “I lost track of him in the fight mata.”  

“Hmmm,” Elga stroked the head of her dire tiger companion. “Find Tanta, Shadow mine,” she bade the great cat who swiftly bounded off to carry out her wishes.  “Now that we are mostly assembled,” she said as she turned to the three of them again, face grave.  “In all seriousness my friend, what happened here?”

“You know as I do that these things happen,” he waved off her concern.  “Gruumsh and Magloybet get antsy for blood and call forth their minions to make war.” 

Elga shook her head in denial.  “They war once a decade or so, it is too soon for it to be just another uprising of the tribes.  And I recognize some of the Black Shields among the orc dead, something more is at stake here,” she insisted.  Aurina felt a chill run down her spine.  The Black Shields were an orc clan whom, if not exactly friendly, were neither openly hostile towards the Bearskulls.  Something about a war between bugbears and orcs, in a hobgoblin stronghold taken over by hill giants that her mother was able to stop practically single handedly.

“Well whatever the reason they have been soundly put down now, thanks to your ever so timely arrival.  Ahh…” Berriam looked questioningly between mother and son.  “How did you know to be here?”  Elga nodded to her son.

“You can thank the eyes on this one,” she said.  “He was out hunting and spotted the tracks of a large group of goblins and such heading in this direction.  His report was not the first one I had heard, but it was the third and ultimately the last.  Thankfully the tribes were already gathering for a moot so I sent out the call to ride and here we are.”

“And just in time too,” another voice chimed in.  Berriam turned to see his son and introduced him to the others. “Yes we were sorely pressed before your arrival my dear,” he admitted.  Elga smiled and clapped her old friend on the shoulder.

“Well, here we are!  And here we will stay, for a few days at least!” she laughed and hurried to reassure the look of mock horror on the elf lord’s face.  “Just until we can be sure that nothing else is forthcoming.”

It was at this point Aurina looked up.  Silent, brooding, and avoiding the gaze of all around her during the others conversations, she at last opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the wail of a dire tiger rolling across the plain.

Elga went still and all color drained from her face when she heard it, and before the cry had faded she had turned to run swift as the wind, down the hill and across the field slippery with the dead.  Aurina and Elgin looked at each other in shock.  Berriam sighed.

“Follow her younglings,” Berriam said softly.  “She will need you both now.”  The maternal half siblings spared a glance for their hosts before following their mother as another of the great cat’s cries came forth.

“Should we go as well atar?” his son asked from beside him, but he shook his head.

“No. I need you to search out wood for a pyre, one great pyre set aside from all the others.”  His son looked at him quizzically.  “Shadow has found Tanta, but not as Elga would hope” he explained.  “Only a creature in mourning can make that sound.”  Father and son both winced then, as a very human, soul shattering scream of rage and defiance rolled forth from across the battlefield

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