Eltuthar stood, facing the setting sun, his lined face struck by its bright rays. His eyes bored into its brilliance, alive and fierce, in contrast with the rest of his visage. His muscular arms were folded across his chest, and he stood with his feet planted slightly apart. It seemed as if a storm, had there been one, would surely abate beneath his powerful posture.
Dilmir watched him silently. He once again wore the black leather of the Eth Aniliim, though he carried only his one sword, strapped to his waist. As he watched Eltuthar, Dilmir wondered. The council had driven him away, and even attacked him, and still he sought only to give them the power he possessed. Eltuthar must be, surely, a special kind of elf, to go so far, against such odds.
Eltuthar turned, blocking out the sun with his back, so that a glowing light surrounded him as his eyes turned upon Dilmir. They scrutinized him for a moment, taking in his appearance, and then darted upwards, past him, to the columned balcony behind. “Come, Ilrin,” he said.
Ilrin did not move at first. She stood, closer to one column than the other, half in the shadows. Her gaze darted over the scene, her mouth forming a half frown. Her eyes drifted to Dilmir, then to Eltuthar, and then came back to rest on Dilmir. Slowly, not removing her gaze from Eltuthar, to which she glanced back, she descended the smooth steps and stood on the grass, her feet barely leaving indentations in the thin leaves.
As Dilmir watched her, he could tell by her posture alone that she was not comfortable. She was relaxed, but her arms and legs remained ever so slightly bent, as if she were ready to spring away at any moment. Though her face was veiled to Eltuthar, Dilmir could tell she distrusted him.
“I should be going back,” she said, her eyes darting between Eltuthar and Dilmir, though it was to the former that she spoke. “My parents will have already begun to worry.”
“I will give you my fastest horse in the morning,” said Eltuthar, stepping towards her. “But even he would be caught in the Great Forest when night fell if you departed now. I would not have you hunted down by wolves.”
Ilrin nodded, giving a smile that only Dilmir knew to be forced. He could see that she would much rather leave anyway. She did not fear Eltuthar, he knew that much; rather she feared what he could do. The power that Eltuthar had wielded before Sonlen defeated him was nearly beyond comprehension to the elves of Eld’rin. It existed only as a wordless force powerful enough to eradicate any opposition against it.
Eltuthar turned and faced Dilmir, though he still spoke to Ilrin. “The hour is late, Ilrin,” he said. “I would not send you to traverse the entirety of the wolves’ territory at such a time.” He glanced at her for a moment, a look which she returned, though her expression was impossible to fathom.
“Doubtless you have heard many tales of me,” said Eltuthar in a quieter voice.
Ilrin nodded, her eyes briefly darting to Dilmir and then back.
“I am sure many of them were exaggerations, but some were likely true. You have seen what I have shown Dilmir. My power is not fictitious.”
He watched Ilrin intently as he continued, choosing his words carefully. “Imagine trying to learn the history of the elves with no previous idea of Feylund, its culture, or its peoples. You would be lost, learning facts without a basis with which to build on. If you are to study a thing, you must understand its full nature.
“So it is with magic. I have discovered the true ways of the power of Feylund, and I will share them with you, if you let me. You have already seen what I have shown Dilmir, and I can show you the same. You can learn how to accomplish every task set before you with a blade of grass, how to alter the workings of any plant, and how to heal a grievous wound in Eld’rin from here. Let me show you the many secrets magic holds.”
Ilrin looked at Eltuthar for a long while, doubt evident in her eyes, and then she turned to Dilmir, silently asking a question.
Dilmir gave an almost imperceptible nod.
“Very well,” said Ilrin, turning back to Eltuthar. “Show me what it is you speak of – I will not deny that it interests me – but I ride in the morning.”
Eltuthar nodded solemnly. “I will see it carried out,” he promised.
As he spoke, the sun smote the horizon, sending horizontal rays across the trees of the forest far below, and casting the grassy plateau upon which they stood in a golden light. Ilrin had arrived near midday, but had woken from her respite too late to journey back to Eld’rin. Instead, Eltuthar had brought her out to watch as he taught Dilmir new ways of magic.
“Let me ask you,” said Eltuthar, turning to face her, “what is the rule of using magic?”
Ilrin looked at him for a moment before replying. “That you can only enchant that which lives,” she said.
Eltuthar nodded. “Yes, but there is more. How does magic adhere to living things?”
Ilrin frowned. “That is its nature,” she said.
Eltuthar smiled, but shook his head. “No,” he said, “magic adheres to only one thing: energy. The two are merely different facets of the same thing, expressed separately. All living things must have energy, for without it they would die, and therefore, magic can dwell within life. Magic can exist by itself, of course, as unbound magic proves, but it will attach itself to energy if the pull is strong enough. What we enchant: trees, animals, grass – all are merely containers for the true target of magic: energy.”
Ilrin remained frowning at him. “Why have the other elves not discovered this?” she asked.
Eltuthar pondered before replying. “I often find,” he said, “that the things we overlook the most are the ones most obvious to us; that which we are the most used to. If we assume something to simply be, we rarely stop to consider why it is, or if there is more to it than we need know. Such is the way with magic.”
Ilrin continued to look at him, but remained silent. Eltuthar, taking her silence as permission to continue, went on. “Since magic is naturally absorbed by energy, and thus life, the older a being is, the more magic he will have. I have found this to be true repeatedly within the forest. All animals and plants obey this one rule. The only exception is the elves.
“Before Sonlen… dealt with me, I had far more magic than any other single elf. I didn’t know it at the time, but I remember it now in my studies. The Curse that Sonlen gave me, in addition to its other effects, drained my magic from me, a painful process, for he was rending the energy within me in two.
“Long have I searched for that Curse that he bound to me, that which alters me to refuse magic. If I were ever to find it, I would isolate it, and form an enchantment to reverse its effects. I would then use that spell on all elves, not just myself.
“For a reason I know not, elves have been denied the ability to gather as much magic as they should. When they become filled to a certain amount, they can absorb no more. Somehow, somewhere, a restriction has been placed on them, keeping their power limited. This Curse resides even with you, Ilrin.”
Ilrin quickly blanked her face before she betrayed herself, but her surprise could not be fully hidden. Eltuthar’s words surprised Dilmir as well, for he had not heard them until now.
“Indeed,” continued Eltuthar, “This Curse is within all elves, all, that is, except for me and Dilmir. And as Sonlen saw fit to bestow upon me an amplified version of the Curse, Dilmir is the most powerful elf in all of Feylund.”
This, Dilmir had definitely not been expecting. He knew he possessed some strange power, but he had always assumed that Alfimir at least could easily beat him, as had indeed happened.
Ilrin glanced at him long enough to see his startled face, and then turned back to Eltuthar. “Why did you not possess this… this Curse, then?” she asked.
“I know not,” said Eltuthar simply. “If I did know, my search would surely be made easier, but the answer eludes me like the moon on a cloudy night. Long have I searched for a release from this Curse, as much for the other elves as for myself, but all in vain.”
“If you cannot lift the Curse, then,” said Ilrin slowly, “how can you still be able to practice such great power?”
Eltuthar smiled briefly. “In my studies,” he said, “I discovered many truths of magic, one of which is its affinity to energy, as I told you. That alone allows me to still influence the magic about me, though I can absorb none myself. That makes casting spells for me an arduous process, limited even more by Sonlen’s curse, which strives to stop my use of magic, and pains me if I do not comply.
“Since magic is so closely linked to energy, it is possible to control one with the other, without even casting a spell. All one need do is reach out and immerse themselves in the magic, exerting their will over it to bend it to their desire. Even you can do this, with practice. Dilmir will always be faster than you, and able to control more magic, but you can work the same changes that he would, if perhaps on a smaller scale.
“For example, this morning you saw Dilmir summon, control, and then dismiss a vast thunderstorm. He does this out of sheer force of magic, otherwise it may take as much as a year to perfect the talent, and even then, the result would be but a single cloud, though no less powerful. You, too, can do this.”
Ilrin looked at him doubtfully.
“Look at the floor of Arath Imil,” said Eltuthar, gesturing to the building before him. When I formed it, I wrought a great many flowing patterns into its floors. Such work is of the most precise kind, and likely only an archmage of old would have been able to replicate such a thing. However, all I needed to do was stretch forth my magic, and bend the wood to my will.
“With the knowledge that I have discovered, the need for spells and enchantments passes into the void. You no longer need to form magic within yourself to work a change; such methods can be imprecise and tedious. All you need do is simply influence the magic itself. That is the only power that I possess.”
Ilrin looked at Eltuthar thoughtfully as he finished, though Dilmir thought some of her distrust had deserted her face while he spoke. Finally, she said, in musing tones, “I always thought of your power as a great secret of magic, but it always came to me used in a destructive way. You are right though,” she added, “I see now that your magic can be used for far greater deeds. With it you could work wonders for the other elves.”
Eltuthar looked at her for a moment with a curious expression upon his face, until it cracked into a wide grin. “Of all the elves I showed my power to,” he said, “you are the first to speak of using it for others, and not on them. I believe you would at last prove the council wrong if I could teach you, for no war or misery would spring from your actions.”
Ilrin appeared momentarily taken aback by Eltuthar’s words, though pleased.
“I wish I could show you more of my discoveries,” said Eltuthar, “for each is as great as the next, but I know you must soon return to your life in Eld’rin. Indeed, I believe we must all leave Arath Imil before the council’s army arrives, as I have no desire to fight them again.”
Ilrin’s smile faded at Eltuthar’s mention of the dire circumstances that had brought her here. “Where will you go?” she asked. “The council will still continue to hunt you.”
Eltuthar smiled at her. “That I could not tell you,” he said. “Not for lack of trust, for I would tell you if I could, but I myself do not know. North, South, perhaps even West, any direction but East, where Eld’rin lies. Perhaps it would be good to rid myself from the lives of others for a time.”
“Will Dilmir go with you?” asked Ilrin, glancing quickly at Dilmir as she asked. Dilmir had the sudden impression that she had wanted to ask this for a long time.
Eltuthar cocked his head, watching Dilmir. “What say you?” he said to him. “You are young yet, and still have much to learn at Eld’rin. I could of course teach you myself, but my training is also incomplete, you must remember. Still, you have little place to go since you have been banished, save for perhaps the dwarves. Would you flee the council with me?”
Dilmir’s immediate reply would have been ‘yes,’ but his eyes flicked of their own accord to Ilrin, who was watching him, and his answer died on his tongue. “I do not see that I have much of a choice,” he said, “but I would hate to be parted from those that I’ve known all my life.”
Eltuthar smiled as the sun slipped below the horizon, bathing everything in a reddish orange glow which quickly began to fade to utter blackness. “You would see Eld’rin again,” he assured Dilmir. “My Eth Aniliim go there nearly every day now. Still, you would doubtless need to use caution. If the council captured Felnir, they wouldn’t hesitate to try to capture you. Not that they would succeed,” he added as an afterthought.
“But come,” he said, stirring himself and turning towards Arath Imil. “I would not have Ilrin freeze while my hospitality goes lacking. It gets exceedingly cold this high up.” With those words, he ushered Ilrin and Dilmir across the grass, even as the last vestiges of light left the mountain, leaving it a block a chiseled shadows.