Milamber: Promise (Ch. 1)

7 mars 2006

On a path, leading from the village Dow to the little cabin at the beginning of the Gendron forest, a woman and her son were walking.
The woman was tall and slim but was walking in a crouched kind of way. Her hair was ash blond, her eyes sky blue but her clothes were worn and plain. She was quite beautiful but compared to the young boy, who walked at her side, even she became only pretty.
The boy was only seven years old with long, black hair shifting in different colours in different lights. His eyes were black with two odd dots in each; the dots’ colours were silver and gold. Also the boy’s clothes were worn and plain but he wore them, as if they were real silken clothes, with a pride and a grace suited a king, though he was not an arrogant boy.
If you took a very close look at the two, you could maybe see the little things that revealed them for elves, but it was of course no one who really believed in elves anymore. On the other hand, it wasn’t sure even an elf would recognize them; the woman and the boy had hidden their elven looks well.
The mother and the child were on their way home, after having bought new supplies in the village. The boy walked beside his mother, as if he was protecting her from dangers. However, the couple talked and laughed. There were no tense feelings; it was just an ordinary day for the two.
When they got to the cabin, the couple took care of the supplies. The woman began to make dinner and the boy went out. Outside, he went to a big tree in front of the house and leapt up onto the lowest branch. From there he climbed higher up, until he was a little higher up than the roof of the cabin. He wanted to get a good view of the surrounding area.
Behind him was the forest of Gendron, and in front of him was an open terrain, with the path to Dow clearly visible.
The boy sat with his back against the trunk of the tree, quiet, listening to the forest’s every sound, and watching. Smoke began to rise from the chimney as the women inside made the fire. Peace reigned. The boy’s eyelids soon got heavy and after a moment he was asleep.

He woke up just some minutes later. He frowned, something had awaken him.
“Milamber! Are you coming, the food is ready.” His mother stood under the tree.
Was it she who had awakened him? Something told him that that wasn’t it. It was a feeling he had, something was wrong. He let his eyes follow the terrain from the cabin, to the hills behind the village. This was almost a ritual. Only this time, something caught his eyes, a cloud of dust heading towards the cabin from the trunk road. Milamber sharpened his eyes to see better. Riders. Riders dressed in black.
“Mother! Riders, heading towards us!” He turned to his mother on the ground again.
“Which direction?”
“Northeast. From the trunk road.” He began to climb down as he spoke.
“No, Milamber, stay there.”
“But…”
“No, stay. And whatever you do don’t come down before I tell you so, don’t even speak before I address. Understand?”
He sighs. “Yes, mother.” He sat down on a branch, again with his back against the trunk.
Teesha, which was his mother’s name, turned away from the tree, and went to the vegetable patch on the right short side of the cabin. She began to pick some vegetables, as she waited for the riders.

This was nothing unusual for Milamber. Also this was some kind of a ritual they went through every time riders went to their cabin. It had always been so, as long as Milamber could remember. But he could also remember that they had not always lived in this very cabin. There had been other cabins, and every time when there had been gossip about some black dressed riders raiding the neighboring villages, Milamber and his mother had moved. The cabin they lived in now, they had stayed the longest in, almost three years. The moving had stopped, but not the tension as riders passed by. Also the secrecy about their names was still there. As long as no one was near, he and his mother used their real names, but in public, they were always called Milam and Tess, as close it could be to their real names and the humans, by others and by themselves.
Once Milamber asked his mother why they did everything as they did. Teesha had looked at him for the longest time.
“You have to know some time, why not now? Sit down, Milamber.” He and Teesha sat down at the dinner table. “Milamber, try to listen well now and remember as much as possible.”
She took his hand in hers and thus she began her story. “A couple of years ago I met your father, he was a stoneelf, we fell for each other as our eyes met for the first time. I thought that our love could conquer everything, but in the end I was wrong. Our love couldn’t conquer death…”
She clasped his hand tighter and looked down at the table as she continued. “Your father’s name was Milakesh. He…he was killed by a couple of passing riders. He tried to stop them from hurting me, and killed one of them in the process. The murder of your father weren’t enough for them after that…they went after me but I got away. When I returned the riders were gone. Shortly after the incident, I found out that I was pregnant with you, Mila. Later on, two stoneelves came to my cabin. It was Milakesh’s father and brother, somehow they had found out about me and Kesh. At the moment, I was confused and I didn’t know what to do. I asked for their guidance, because I was sure that the riders would return to revenge their lost companion. The two advised me to move from village to village until I knew for certain it was safe. I agreed. As father and son were about to go, Kesh’s father turned to me and asked me a favor. The favor was to give you your name, and birthright, Milamber. I did, as you can notice. Then they left, and I moved. Somehow the riders got the hang of my whereabouts, and began to appear in the villages I currently lived in. Since then I have fled. And as for our names, we have to change them both because of the humans. They neither understand magic nor elves. Because of their ignorance, both things usually frightens them to do cruel and evil things. Can you understand this, Milamber?”
She looked at him with pleading eyes. “Yes, mother.”
Her eyes went blanc with tears and she squeezed his hand tight. “Good, I knew you would.” She finally let go of his hand. “Now, go out and play, do something you find fun.”
As he headed for the door, she called on him, and he turned around.
“Know this, Milamber, the riders I spoke of are dangerous, but do not think that all riders are dangerous or evil because of this.” Her serious expression disappeared and was replaced by a warm smile. “And know this, Mila, I love you.”

The riders arrived. There were nine riders, four of them were elves and five of them humans. One of them, seeming to be the leader, was a muscular man with a fierce scar, which stretched from his left temple over his nose to the right corner of his mouth. All the humans wore black robes, and all of them wore swords at their sides. Their faces didn’t reveal anything, but you could feel that something was wrong with them. The elves wore mostly black clothes as well, except that they wore more traveling or hunter clothes, which consisted of breeches, tunics and, in some cases, waistcoats or jackets. It was something frightening about them, because even though their faces were beautiful and noble the faces were lifeless. As Milam took a closer look, he could see that one of them stood out from the rest. While the others were muscular and dark-haired, this one, on the other hand, was a bit taller than the rest and slimmer with almost green shifting hair.
As the riders entered the yard, Teesha walked forward to greet them with a basket filled with vegetables. The riders placed themselves in a crescent around her, with the scarfaced man a little closer than the others.
“What can I do for you, Sires?” Teesha asked without exposing any feelings.
The Scarfaced unsaddled and threw the reins to one of his men, and then he approached Teesha.
“Maybe, woman, you can be of some help. We’re searching for a boy of seven summers with black hair, have you seen him?”
“Sire, there are many boys matching your description.” Teesha lowered her gaze.
“This boy is newly settled here, he may have lived here for approximately two years.” The scarface sounded annoyed, and the rest of his group had begun to restlessly move around the yard. One, the tall elf, was just under the tree where Milamber was hiding. Milam tried to sit as still as he could, he had almost stopped breathing with the tension. He was so focused on the elf, he didn’t hear the description which matched himself. The elf, on the other hand, was facing the scene with Teesha and his leader, this calmed Milamber.
“I have seen no such boy, Sire,” Teesha answered, but as she spoke she made the fatal mistake of casting a worried glance towards the tall elf and the tree. Suddenly, all happened at once, the Scarfaced grabbed Teesha by the hair and the tall elf turned towards the tree.
“That’s not what the villagers told us,” the leader hissed, but in the same time, the tall elf spotted Milamber in the shadows inside the cave the leaves created. Milamber froze, then he swiftly began to climb higher up in the tall tree. The elf, however, had already begun his climbing, as swiftly as the boy, as if he was born to climb trees. The climbing went slower the higher they got, but Milamber realized that he soon would have nowhere to run, he felt panic. The others on the ground had finally noticed the two climbers and stood watching with interest. As Milamber cast a glance down at his follower, he hesitated and with that, the chase was over. The elf got hold of Milam’s right foot and tugged it, which made the boy tumble down into the elf’s open arms. The tall elf held the struggling boy tight while beginning his carefully climbing down. When there were only ten feet down to the ground, Milamber succeeded in making the elf get out of balance, which meant that they fell the rest of the way. The elf landed on his back with Milam over him, but as he hit the ground, he released his grip of the boy. Milam got up in an instant, but other hands had already taken safe grips on him. The boy looked around and saw his mother, now with her hands tied to her back, but in the next moment, his view was concealed by a black robe; the Scarfaced. The man took a tight grip on the boy’s chin and turned his face up; the boy met the other man’s eyes without hesitation.
“It’s you.” A cold smile appeared on the leaders face and he let go of Milam’s chin. Milamber got confused, what did the man mean?
“What is his name?” The question was turned to Teesha but she didn’t answer. The leader was going to approach her, but one of the riders, who probably had been on a lookout, suddenly appeared and the scarface was distracted.
“Lordsmen, six, heading this way.” More needn’t be said, all of them except three headed for the cabin. The three went into the forest, their intentions obvious, all of them held stringed bows in their hands.
Inside the cabin, the mother and her child were driven into a corner. The cabin consisted of only one room with a kitchen in one corner and bed in another. The only furniture were a table with four chairs, the beds and some closets.
“Milam, you have to run as soon as…” Teesha’s whisper was interrupted by the leader walking towards her. When he was close enough, he grabbed her gown and pulled her towards him.
“Now, woman, tell me the boy’s name.”
“I will ne’er tell you his name, bastard, nor will he, and we will not go with you without a fight.”
“Then you are useless.” Then suddenly Milam saw a flash.
“No, mother!” It was too late; the Scarfaced man had already stabbed her twice. Milam ran to her side. Her blood had stained the gown with its red color. At the same time, a commotion took place outside the cabin. The lordsmen had turned up, and the leader went outside to distract them with the other men. They left the grieving boy and his dying mother through the only exit known to them.
“Mother, no.” Milam’s tears fell on his mother, a growing pain in his chest.
“Hush, Milam, don’t cry, be strong.” He felt her hand on his cheek, but he couldn’t see her clearly through the now held back tears. “You have to escape now, while time is.”
“No, I won’t, I can’t! I can’t leave you.”
“Milamber listen to me, go now, but remember me, and everything you’ve been taught. Don’t tell your name to anyone…and keep your elvenblood a secret. Be true to yourself, Milam, and everyone around you.” She stopped, a wave of pain sent her shivering. ”I know that your lips never uttered a lie, and I don’t want you to do so in the future.” She stroke his cheek again. “My sweet Milamber, promise me this, promise me.”
“I…I promise, mother, that I will do your bidding.”
His mother smiled a weak smile at him.
“I love you so, Milam.” Then her eyes lost their light and her hand fell to the floor.
“I love you too, mother.” The answer was only a whisper.
He sat in silence until the sound of fighting woke him up from his grief. He went to the biggest closet in the cabin, which faced the doorway, and opened it up. Cold air met his face; the closet was the second door out from the cabin. Before he went, Milamber picked up some bread, a hunting knife and a blanket, then he went outside. As he got there, he went around the cabin and sneaked past the combatants into the forest, when under the leaves, he began to run. He ran for hours, but he didn’t stop for rest, if he stopped they would catch him, he was sure of it. As he ran, he could soon only hear the drumming of his feet on the ground, and of his heart. In this rhythm he heard only two words repeating themselves over and over again:
I promise.
He sobbed but no tears stained his cheeks.
I promise.

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