Naevys the Ranger
Ambassador to Azure Town
Naevys disliked being inside. She especially disliked being inside and at the top of the Azure Tower. This place felt detached -- disconnected from the real world. Additionally, it was were Archmage Pendar lived.
She’d only been waiting in his austere solarium for a few minutes when the Archmage himself arrived. He wore his habitual impatient expression.
“What’s this about, ranger?” said Pendar. “I’m busy.”
“Yes, Archmage,” said Naevys. “I won’t keep you, sir. I just wanted permission for a few stranded hunters to stay at the base of the Tower.”
“Yes, sir.” Naevys tried not to look nervous. “They were lost. They’re hunters from the Ithin tribes. They don’t mean the Azure Tower any harm.”
“Hmmm...” said the Archmage. “Why can we not send them home at once?”
“It’s a long journey,” said Naevys. “Several of them are injured, and all are weak from hunger. They were lost on the ice for some time before I found them.”
The Archmage frowned. “They cannot stay in the Tower, Ranger Naevys. We are not here to render services to wandering locals.”
“Of course,” said Naevys. “They can fend for themselves now that they are near the ocean. They’re fine hunters and fishers and are happy to trade fresh meat for medical assistance and simple supplies. They’d just like permission to remain near the Tower while they recover.”
Naevys caught a spark of interest in the old elf’s eye. Most of the elves were mages, not rangers or hunters, and they bought their food from further south. They ate a lot of stale bread and seaweed at the Azure Tower, and would until there were more people to hunt. Naevys held her breath while Pendar narrowed his eyes, calculating.
As he was about to speak, something fluttered at the window -- distracting them both.
“Crika,” swore Naevys.
“What is that?” asked the Archmage, displeased.
“It’s nothing,” said Naevys. “One of the hunter’s birds.”
She went to the window and opened it up. In, out of the snowy evening, came a young osprey. Her feathers were bright white and a dark, lustrous brown. Satisfied golden eyes took in the room as she settled onto Naevys’s outstretched arm. The ranger was glad of her thick winter coat as the raptor’s wicked talons dug into its outer layer.
The Archmage raised a cutting eyebrow.
“They may stay and recover,” said the Archmage, coldly. “However, they do not belong here.”
“Yes, Archmage,” said the ranger with a deep bow. She ignored the bird and made her way to the door.
Once outside the Archmage’s solarium, Naevys glared at the osprey.
“You almost ruined that,” said Naevys to the bird. The juvenile osprey preened her feathers, unconcerned.
Shaking her head, Naevys made her way down the Azure Tower, passing mages, apprentices, and servants made from ice and snow on her way. Both the living elves and the magical servants ignored her. She was only a ranger, afterall.
Once Naevys was back on solid ground, she breathed a sigh of relief -- and when the wind hit her face outside the Tower she smiled again. The mages were a stuffy lot, but it was worth it to live amidst so much cold and wild beauty.
Waiting for her was Palaq, the leader of the hunters. He was young, even for a human leader, and wore layers of furs. His long black hair was braided with bone beads.
“What did the wizard say?” asked Palaq, anxious for his people.
“Archmage,” Naevys corrected him. “You can stay for now, while you recover.” She shook her arm. Indignantly, the osprey spread her wings and let out a short reproachful cry. “Your bird found me again.”
Palaq smiled at the osprey. “Zelaq isn’t mine,” he said. “She likes you.” Despite that, he took the bird back, carefully. He wore thick leather gloves, marked by talon scratches. “Thank you, Ranger Naevys, for speaking for us.”
Naevys nodded, looking at the bird. “Who does she belong to?”
Palaq’s smile faded, his visage going steely. “She was Merl’s partner. A friend who died before you found us. We buried her in the ice.”
“I’m sorry,” said Naevys.
“Usually,” said Palaq, “A bird won’t survive long, without their human. They don’t usually imprint on someone else.”
“I’m an elf,” said Naevys, as gently as she could. “I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”
A week turned into two, turned into a month, turned into a year. For the most part, the mages in their Azure Tower forgot about the humans. The main consequence of the arrangement was that the elves ate meat and fish more often than seaweed. What started as a few temporary shelters, sprouted into small houses -- with hearths glowing inside and beaten paths between them. Azure Town, as it was affectionately called, grew from a few stray hunters into a refuge for shipwrecked sailors, for artisans out of Caveton, wanderers, and the occasional adventurer.
Naevys liked having the humans around. They were lively and friendly and their short lives gave them different concerns than the lofty elves. They treated Naevys as an equal and a companion -- none more so than her friend Palaq.
They were often together -- Naevys and Palaq -- hunting or helping the people in Azure Town. And anytime Naevys was out of the Tower at all, the osprey Zelaq would find the elf and follow her for as long as she could.
As on many other days, one early morning found Naevys and Palaq breaking camp. The two moved around each other easily as they folded tents, tightened the straps on their packs, and prepared to drag the elk they’d brought down home. The elf and the human didn’t need to speak, but rather enjoyed the silent efficiency that came from long practice and familiarity.
Zelaq perched on their supplies and then moved to Naevys’ shoulder as the elf and the human began the long walk home. In a few hours, they would reach the Azure Tower.
A fierce wind rose, buffeting Naevys and Palaq. At first, they ignored it -- they’d looked for signs of bad weather the day before and consulted with one of the mages of the Tower before leaving. No one had foreseen this storm.
The wind continued to rise, whistling past their faces and howling -- as though it was out for blood.
“What is this?” called Naevys, slowing. It didn’t seem natural.
“I don’t know,” said Palaq.
“We should leave the kill,” said Naevys.
Neither of them liked the idea of the waste. “A little longer,” Palaq said. “There should not be a storm.”
“But there is,” muttered Naevys, together they continued to pull the elk.
On her shoulder, Zelaq let out a screech of agreement.
Minutes later, the storm around them reached an angry crescendo.
“We have to--,” said Palaq, but his words were lost in the storm. Abruptly, Naevys could barely see him -- only a few feet away.
“What?” she yelled back to him. He removed the scarf over his face and his hood fell back as he tried to shout over the storm. As he did, a solid chunk of ice -- thrown by the fierce winds -- slammed into the back of Palaq’s head. Red blood sprayed the white snow and then was immediately covered over, vanishing like an illusion.
Naevys caught Palaq as he sagged down.
“Palaq?” she asked. Surely, she hadn’t seen that. It had been a trick of--
Her gloved hand touched the back of his head and came away sticky with blood. His eyes rolled back into his head, dazed.
Naevys looked out into the merciless storm, holding Palaq. She thought this was the way to the Tower. Her osprey cried defiance at the swirling snow. Naevys wasn’t sure what was going on -- and she feared something was wrong at the Tower. This storm was unnatural. In weather like this, even a shelter might not keep them safe.
“Right,” said Naevys. “Come on, now. We’re going home.”
Naevys slung Palaq’s arm over one shoulder and lifted him onto her shoulders. Zelaq perched on the hunter’s back. The elven ranger put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, she veered away from the Tower, pushed by the winds and walking blind. When she went too far, Zelaq screeched until the elf corrected her direction.
By the time they reached the outskirts of the little town below the Tower, there was so much snow that Naevys almost didn’t notice the buildings.
“Almost,” said Naevys, relieved. “Almost home.”
Then she saw the humans.
They were huddled at the base of the Azure Tower and pounding at the door.
“Oh no,” muttered Naevys. She pressed through the snow, forging her way forward.
“What’s going on?” she yelled to the group.
“The storm came out of nowhere!” yelled one of the humans. “Ranger Naevys, they won’t let us in! And this is magic! The storm is still getting worse and a few houses have collapsed! Are they trying to kill us?”
“The Mages wouldn’t do that!” said Naevys. “Here! Let me through.”
She pushed her way to the front and rapped on the door -- using a secret sign of the rangers. The harsh wind and the pounding of her own heart filled Naevys’ ears.
“Come on,” she whispered. “Answer the--”
The door swung open a foot and filling the space was a construct of ice and darkness, a towering figure wearing a cloak that Naevys had given him a long, long time ago. Swordmaster Coryn barred the way.
“Swordmaster!” said Naevys. “We have to let them in!”
The eerie ice elf looked back over his shoulder and then returned his implacable gaze to Naevys.
“Coryn,” said Naevys. “Please - I can’t make the mages help, but most of them won’t argue with you. We can help them.”
There was very little pity or affection left in Swordmaster Coryn, but what there was he found for Naevys.
With a harsh gesture, Coryn directed the humans inside. Naevys came in first, still carrying Palaq. Behind her came the humans.
When had there become so many?
On her back, Palaq groaned. As Naevys moved to set him down, eager and friendly hands helped her. Free of her burden and comforted to see a human healer checking his wound, Naevys looked around.
She found all the familiar faces from Azure Town, down to Reqil with her new baby and the old sailor everyone called Whistle, for the way his voice hissed between his teeth when he spoke.
Naevys was ready to breathe a sigh of relief, when she caught sight of Archmage Pendar. He stood above them all on the stairs, eyebrows drawn together in fury, with a group of mages and servants behind him.
Pendar took in the chaos -- the different colors of clothing, the shouting as they made sure everyone was safe -- all the humanity that Naevys loved in them was lost on the Archmage. He caught sight of Naevys and beckoned her pointedly forward.
“Ranger,” he said. “What is the meaning of this?”
“They needed somewhere safe, to wait out the storm,” said Naevys.
“They do not belong here,” the Archmage said. “They must leave the Azure Tower.”
Naevys did not reply at once. She was exhausted and her glove was stiff with Palaq’s blood.
“Archmage,” said Naevys, after she had gathered her thoughts. “This is their home.” She wasn’t sure they were the right words -- they were just the ones that came to her.
“A bunch of scrap wood houses?” asked the Archmage, incredulous. “No. They do not belong here. You will send them away.”
Naevys stood with her head down, teeth grinding as she tried to find the argument that would move the Archmage.
“Ranger?” the Archmage said, emphasizing her place within the Azure Tower.
On her shoulder, the osprey spread her wings, screeching and flapping. Naevys didn’t flinch. Some of the humans turned at the noise, focusing on the bird and Naevys, and on the Archmage and the other elves.
An elven adept attending the Archmage said in a contemptuously audible whisper: “Really likes her strays, doesn’t she?” The mages smiled in cold amusement.
“They are mine,” said Naevys, head snapping up to face the Archmage and her magical brethren. “Zelaq is mine, and they are mine.” She gestured to the humans. “They’re yours too. The Azure Tower will thrive, will grow steadily, if it is not completely cut off from the rest of the world. Isolated, we will attract fear and animosity. We will invite war and antagonism. If we never speak to the peoples that live on the ice, in our new home, then you’ll be distracted by constant attack and hostile neighbors. We must share this land with them. This is their home. And it is ours too.”
The Archmage stared at her, grim and foreboding.
“Besides,” said Naevys, resuming a more respectful posture. “We need them to supply the Azure Tower. The mages have become accustomed to their hunters and fishers and traders supplying us. Reworking the system will take time away from your magical endeavors.”
Still the Archmage refrained from speaking. The ranger waited, hoping. The mages watched impassively, and the nearest humans had quieted - catching the import of the conversation.
Finally, the Archmage said, “None of the mages will manage them. We will not steal time from our great work to care for these humans or deal with whatever petty grievances they have.”
He looked to the ranger -- asking her the question without voicing the words. Will you be responsible for them?
Naevys looked around the room. Even though the winds yet howled outside, and the foundation of the Tower shook with magical weather, the humans were in good spirits now that they were safe. Some were watching her, but others cared for the their wounded, talked about the storm and murmured comfort to one another.
They are mine.
“Of course,” said Naevys. “I’ll do that.”