Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Laurel of Andar" Excerpt--A Special Commission

About a week after the death of Golon, Nareandor received a summons to appear before King Polograth in his palace.
The king received Nareandor in his expansive throne room. Nareandor saw the way Polograth lazily sprawled across the many cushions upon his golden throne, and merely sniffed as he bowed in respect.
King Polograth never even offered him greeting. "You are the new commander for the army of the late Andarian king?" the king mused unconcernedly.
Nareandor felt the aversion rise within him, but he checked the emotion and patiently replied, "Yes, sire."
Polograth smiled, "Then let me be the first to welcome you to his old quarters here in the palace."
Nareandor hesitated. "I will live here at the palace?" he echoed.

The king's heavy jowls wobbled as he nodded vigorously, "Oh yes, you are still under my command, remember, even if you do preside over those of your race who are here. I have arranged for you to occupy a room here at the palace, complete with an entourage chosen from my staff, and you needn't worry about furnishings or a wardrobe (if indeed these were among your concerns, for you seem concerned), because I can provide those for you as well, out of gratitude for your faithful service. You will report to me tomorrow morning to begin your term as commander of the Andarian army."
Nareandor shook his head at the presumptuous king; there was no benevolence in giving clothes, houses, and station to a man already in possession of them! "It is not furniture and raiment which are the causes of my concern, O king," he said, "but I have a daughter—“

"Oh yes," King Polograth interrupted him, pausing to wave a servant forward who bore a bowl of grapes for His Majesty, "you do. Laurel is her name, I believe? I have often seen her playing with the little children of Glastor; what a beautiful young girl she is!"

The Elvish commander did not like the gleam in the king's eye. "I could only be willing to stay here in your hospitality if she was allowed to stay with me."

Polograth grinned still as he shook his head, "Ah, now, I'm afraid we have no accommodations for a child here; I don't want anyone working for me to be... distracted," Polograth glared at Nareandor pointedly.

As the king's expression relaxed, Nareandor caught the man's meaning. "You have already made other arrangements for my daughter?" he guessed.

Polograth did not reply immediately; he carefully selected a round, juicy grape and pushed it into his mouth. With a heavy sigh he chewed it slowly, rolling his eyes as if paying more attention to the flavor of the fruit than the elf standing before him. "As a matter of fact," he replied to Nareandor, "I do."
Polograth rubbed his stubby hands together. "There is a girls' boarding academy in Apherethah, the finest on the continent. To date I have never heard of any Elves being accepted (because none have ever applied) but I recommended your daughter and they were only too ready to accept!" King Polograth chuckled.

Nareandor frowned imperceptibly; what did this pompous man mean, thinking that an Andarian would need his recommendation for anything, much less entrance to an academy? "Apherethah? That is still in Glastor, is it not?"

Polograth waved his hand, "Yes, of course it is."

"What will they teach my daughter at this Glastorian academy?"

Polograth spread his arms wide, "Oh!" he cried, "They teach all sorts of useful things at the academy at Apherethah! Arithmetic, art, music, etiquette, history, ethics, politics, anthropology--"

"All centered around Glastor, of course," Nareandor noted grimly.

"Of course, my good elf!" Polograth roared, "What else would the academy do but teach the aspects of the nation it is founded in?"

"Will she be expected to live at the academy until she is of age?"

"Yes!" the king of Glastor declared emphatically.

Nareandor shrugged mildly, "I don't suppose anyone at this academy of yours could teach my Laurel anything at all about Andar, could they? After all, it is her country."

"She has no country!" Polograth snapped, his face flushing a deep crimson as his temper got the best of him. "Think about it, Nareandor! Your kind has lived among us for over two centuries now. Do you forget the reason you came to Glastor in the first place? I would not be shocked to receive word that the country formerly known (he placed deliberate emphasis on those words) as Andar has been reduced to a barren wasteland by the blight. Glastor is the only country your daughter knows; it is only proper that she be taught to accept it as her own." The human king threw his arms up in the air, “I cannot fathom you elves! Why can you not be more tolerant?”

Well! At this blatant declaration of his intentions, Nareandor at once thought of at least a dozen things he could and wanted to say in response, but he held his peace. Instead, he bowed and replied graciously, "I thank you for your consideration, your majesty, but since my daughter cannot live with me, I have seen to it that she should have a proper guardian to watch over her until such a time as either you no longer need my constant presence or she comes of age and can look after herself. I will report to you tomorrow as you have asked."

Polograth stared at the regal elf upon the dais very hard for several moments. After making it abundantly clear in his silence that he did not appreciate being circumvented, he made an impatient movement with his arms. "Have it your way, then! You are dismissed."

Nareandor bowed and left the great hall. As soon as his back was toward the king, he frowned deep in thought. True, he had told King Polograth that he had already found a guardian for his daughter, but thus was only a ruse to avoid getting Laurel sent away to a man-centered boarding academy. Who would watch over his little girl?

Not another woman; it was not proper for a man alone, even a widower, to house another woman to whom he was not married. Not to mention he had heard many times of the Andarian superstition that a child, before it comes of age, will form a bond with the one taking care of it. Hence none of them wanted to be bonded to his daughter. He shook his head; who would care for his little girl and protect her from the clutches of King Polograth?

The stamp of boots as he entered the hall jolted Nareandor away from his musings. Moraenor stood rigidly at attention the minute his commander appeared. Nareandor smiled and acknowledged his lieutenant with a nod. As the two elves left the castle, Nareandor recalled when Moraenor had first joined the army as a cadet in his battalion. At the beginning, Nareandor was not sure how to handle the bright, ambitious young soldier, but Moraenor never failed an opportunity to prove himself, and Nareandor made him his lieutenant and now depended on him for nearly everything. Considering him now, Nareandor felt sure he could trust him with even something as precious as--
Nareandor stopped.

"What is it, sir?" Moraenor inquired quickly.
Nareandor grinned at his eager assistant. "Follow me, Moraenor," he said, "I have a very special task for you."

Nareandor entered his house and stopped in surprise.
Laurel sat at the window, her skin covered in a fine layer of dirt, but the maid herself seemed ignorant of that fact!
"Laurel!" he cried, alerting her to his presence and his displeasure, "What are you doing, all covered in dirt like that?"
The young elf-maid huffed loudly. "But, Father!" she protested, "The human children won't play with me, else!"
Nareandor was just about to sit down with his daughter and ascertain her reasoning, but just then Moraenor cleared his throat.
Nareandor waved to his lieutenant. "Await my call outside, please," he ordered.
Moraenor complied without so much as a murmur.

Nareandor only gazed at his daughter, and she rolled her eyes and retrieved a damp cloth. She meekly wiped the diet from her face and hands as her father took a seat next to her and put his arm around her. "So, my fine daughter, why must you play with the human children, when that requires you to get so dirty? Won't the elf-children play with you?"

Laurel shook her head, "No! I've tried ever so long, but most of them won't even talk to me. They just take one look at me and walk away." Laurel's voice caught, and tears glistened at the corners of her eyes. Her chin trembled at the thought.
"How could they do that to you, my dear?" Nareandor asked in surprise.

She gazed at her father earnestly, "Look at me, father! I'm different from the other elves! My eyes are different, my hair is different," she held her hand out over her father's on his knee, "Look! Even your skin is lighter than mine! That's why they won't play with me! The humans and the dwarves don't mind whom they play with, that's why I can play with them, I only must make my skin a wee bit darker so I don't look quite so pale compared to them." Laurel turned away and gazed wistfully out the window.
Nareandor saw the pain in his daughter's face, and discerned that there was more than only the lack of friends troubling her. He asked gently,
"Who told you this was the reason none of the elves would play with you?"

Laurel turned back to her father, "Mistress Noellewynn; and she said it was my mother's fault for being impure, that I am treated this way. Why would she say such a thing, father?" Laurel continued, looking up at her father as the tears filled her eyes. "I've never known my mother, what could she have done to make her so impure that it would pass on to me?"

Nareandor pointed to the painting of an Elvish couple hanging above the fireplace. Laurel had seen it so often that she had almost ceased to notice it. As her father pointed now, though, she saw that the Elf in the painting was Nareandor himself.
"Do you know the maiden in the picture, Laurel?"

Laurel answered him, gazing at the lovely creature in the painting, "It must be your wife, and my mother, or she would not be standing with you."

Nareandor gazed sadly at the painting, "Yes, Laurel, it is your mother."
"She looks very pure to me," the young maid observed.

"I agree, my child: ‘binoyarda’ means ‘impure one.’ For your mother, the impurity lay not in her appearance, but in her birth. Your mother is a half-Elf."

Laurel gasped, "That is why she is not pure, and I am not as well? Merely because she was not a pure Elf?"
Nareandor shook his head, "Her mother, a pure Elf, fell in love with a man from the city and married him. Such is the arrogance of our race, that frowns upon those who marry outside of it."
Laurel hardly knew what to think of this cruel prejudice. "That is why I look so different from the others, and why they frown at me and ignore me, because a part of me is… human?" She frowned in frustration.

"Laurel," Nareandor took his daughter by the shoulders and gently stood her before him. She hung her head, as if she was ashamed to look at him. He tipped her chin up with his fingertips. "Answer me this, little maid: what is my name for you?"
Laurel sighed, but could not restrain a smile of pleasure at this single Andarian word that belonged to her, from the Elf who loved her most. "Raennalaerynn," she murmured.
"What does it mean?"
"It means 'dear heart.'" Laurel took her chin off her father's hand, holding it up on her own.

Her father nodded in approval. "There is a gift Andarians were once known for, but it has become very rare in this present generation. Few have it, but at least we do."
"What is it, father?"

"It is the gift of inner sight, the Shynnesh-Etoylaithe: the ability to see things for what they are, not what they appear to be." He shook his head. "The Andarians today are too fixed on appearances, on what things and beings look like on the outside. They have forgotten how to see past this. Never lose it, Laurel; when I married your mother, it appeared that I married her in ignorance of her history, but I married her in love. She may have been only half Elvish, but within her I saw that she was fully loyal, gentle, kind, courageous, meek, and industrious. Those qualities were beautiful to me."
He returned his earnest gaze to his daughter, "I see those same qualities in you, my Raennalaerynn. The name Dear Heart is the name your mother gave you, and I adopted it as well, to remind you not to let anyone--not even an Elf--look down on you for your birth or your appearance; it's what you become on the inside that will come out and make you beautiful on the outside. I care not if you are a pure Elf. Always remember that you are purely mine, and you always will be. I would take whatever measures necessary to protect you and keep you safe."
It made Laurel feel warm all over to hear her father speak so highly of her after the recent degradation.
Then Nareandor continued, "This brings us to my original matter of business. Moraenor! Dashat ness!"

Moraenor immediately entered as Nareandor stood. "Laurel, King Polograth wants me to come live at the palace, as Grandfather did."
Laurel instantly seized her father's hand, "I want to come with you!" she cried.
"I know you do, dearest, and I wanted you to come, too. But the king does not want any young children in the castle."

"So I am to live here by myself?"

"No, you are young still for that; I have appointed Moraenor as your guardian until I am no longer required to live at the palace."

Laurel and Moraenor started in surprise at the same time.
"But, sir!"

Nareandor forestalled any protest with a raised hand, "It was the only way--"
"What do you mean, father?" Laurel raged, the tears starting in her eyes, "Must you leave me like this?"
"Laurel, if you must know, King Polograth wanted to send you far away to a Glastorian academy. I made this arrangement to protect you from him, or he would have taken you away from me!"
Laurel stamped her foot. "How did a man like him ever get to be king? He's just a fat, stupid, selfish--"
"Father, for all your trying to keep him from taking me away, you are still allowing him to take you away from me!" she sank down onto the couch and began to sob. "Why must we obey him, anyway?" she wailed.
"We obey because he is the king, Laurel."
"He is king of Glastor, not Andar!"
"But the king of Andar promised our allegiance, and obedience comes with it."
Laurel folded her arms rebelliously, "Well then, the Elvenking is foolish, too."
At this remark, Moraenor looked at Nareandor, who shook his head.

"Laurel," he chided in his gentle, yet stern, way, "I will brook no disrespect for anyone in my army, and most of all I will not stand for it in my daughter. You must never think that you can speak thus against those you are bound to obey. Not even when there are others under you, for if you do not respect the ones you serve, why should you expect such from others who serve you?"
Laurel sighed and hung her head, "Yes, father," she replied meekly.

Nareandor pulled his daughter into an embrace, "I love you, Laurelindolonorina; you have no idea how much it hurts me to leave you, even for the palace. I will try to visit as often as I can."
"Every day?" Laurel asked, looking up eagerly.

Nareandor chuckled, "I promise to ask every day I am at the castle, though whether or not is up to the king." Nareandor released his daughter and turned to Moraenor, who appeared very nervous for an Elf.
"Treat her as I would, Moraenor. Be patient, wise, gentle, and valiant."

Moraenor bowed, "I shall obey you to the best of my ability, Milord." But it was clear by the way he glanced in her direction that it would not be easy to overcome the old prejudice.

Nareandor turned to Laurel, "What say we have one more swordsmanship lesson, eh, daughter? Moraenor will be your teacher from now on, and I want to make sure he will do well."

Laurel eyed the lieutenant skeptically. "Can't you come and teach me, father?"
Nareandor shook his head with a laugh, "As I told you before, my freedom to return to you depends entirely on the king. I promised your grandfather I would be responsible for your training, and it would be an ill trainer of me indeed to give such irregular lessons, if it depended all on myself. Come daughter, let's see you spar a bit."
Reluctantly, the two elves followed Nareandor to the armory behind the house.