Oladrilon found himself swept up in the crowd. Hands pounded against his back, voices spoke from all sides, and while there were points where he had to struggle to keep his feet, there were others where the crowd felt so dense that he couldn’t have fallen even if he’d wanted.
One voice rose up from the clamor – a familiar voice, one that commanded attention, and Oladrilon found himself suddenly seated. Across the table were the three performers from earlier, and the singer offered him a bright smile and a nod of the head. “Hope that wasn’t too overwhelming,” he apologized, tipping his cup towards the elf slightly. “You two have been the hot topic of conversation since you walked in. People didn’t know what to think of you.”
“I sort of got that impression,” Oladrilon admitted, looking around to see if he could spot Erredel. The other elf managed to push through the crowd, their bags slung over his shoulder, and he let out a low sigh of relief as he sat down heavily.
“Remind me never to let you drag me into your insane schemes again,” Erredel muttered under his breath as he got settled.
The singer continued as if he hadn’t heard. “Still, people around here can also appreciate a good song, and your little performance there was a good one indeed. Sorta gave everyone permission to sate their curiosity, so to speak.”
“You’re being rude, Douglas,” one of the three, the one with bright green eyes that played the hand drum, accused with a laugh, settling back and glancing the two elves over. “You haven’t even introduced us.”
“Sweet Larren’s lips, no, I haven’t,” the singer, now named Douglas, laughed, shaking his head. “Do forgive my manners, my name is Douglas, this is Kai,” the fiddler, who offered a polite bow of the head as she took a sip from her tankard, “and Campbell, whose mouth is far bigger than his common sense.”
“There are other things that are bigger,” Campbell pointed out with a bit of a smirk, earning the sort of eye roll from his companions that suggested that comments like this weren’t uncommon.
“My name is Erredel, this is my brother Oladrilon,” the younger of the two introduced, ever the one to put good manners and a better impression above everything else. “The stars must have shone brightly to bring about this meeting.”
Oladrilon inwardly winced. Good manners, yes, and a suitably formal greeting between strangers back home. However, here? It felt…off, felt like it was too much, and from the glance that the three shared, at the very least, it came across as awkwardly foreign. If Erredel noticed, he didn’t let it show, watching the three with a calm gaze for their response.
“A pleasure to meet you too,” Kai mentioned after a handful of seconds, meeting Erredel’s eyes and offering a polite smile. “Come, let us buy you a drink; it’s the least we can do after a performance like that.”
“A very kind offer,” Oladrilon started before Erredel could respond, “but the ale here doesn’t…sit with us well.”
That brought laughter from the three, and Campbell shook his head. “You don’t come here for the ale. No one comes here for the ale! Old Sedrick is a good man, true, but his attempts at brewing would make his mother cry. No, when you come to the First Apple, you come for the cider.”
A server was called over, and an order was placed. When the drinks were brought, Oladrilon had to admit that already from sight, they appealed far better – crisp, clean-looking, and even as he brought it close, he could catch the bright scent of it. It reminded him of sunlight on Silverstrand leaves, the way they caught the light and shimmered it back into the world.
“To new friends,” Douglas offered, raising his own cup to start a toast.
“To meeting new friends and singing new songs,” Erredel added, lifting his own glass. The words were echoed back in low murmurs as the chime of glass and crockery rang among the general sounds of the tavern.
To say that the cider was an improvement over the ale was such an understatement, it would have been an insult to the cider to say so. It was like nothing Oladrilon had ever tasted, and he found himself drinking far more than he intended to before setting his cup down. At his side, Erredel had taken a far more reserved sip, but Oladrilon could see him eyeing his cup with appreciation. He looked across the table to see the singer watching him with a knowing grin, and Oladrilon had to laugh, shaking his head. “I’m delighted to have met you indeed; otherwise, I may have been forever deprived of such an experience.”
Douglas chuckled at that. “A poetic lot the two of you are. I’d heard tales and rumors that elves had a thing for pretty words, but it certainly is something to see in action. Well, hear it if I wish to be entirely accurate.”
“Song is very prevalent in our culture, yes,” Erredel nodded, taking another carefully casual sip of his drink, “though of a very different style than seems to be common here.”
“Not that that’s a bad thing,” Oladrilon hurried to add, managing to lightly kick Erredel’s ankle under the table. “You all are really, really good. Watching you perform actually gave me the idea to try it for myself, and the way you joined in? Well, I don’t think it would have gone quite as well without your blessing.”
“Our blessing? You hear that, Douglas?” Kai asked with a bright laugh of her own, shaking her head. “We need to start charging more to perform places. We’re a blessing.”
“You’re just now realizing that?” Campbell grinned, nudging Kai’s shoulder lightly. “I’ve known I was a blessing for years.”
“You also have an ego bigger than the Citadel itself,” Kai shot back, reaching over and ignoring a squawk of protest from the drummer as she stole his drink.
Oladrilon sat back and just watched the three, the way they spoke and interacted. Perhaps it was the fact that he’d drunk the cider a bit too fast, but this felt…well, it felt nice. Peaceful, the chatter around them far better than the silence that they’d first been met with. That one change made this feel like a place with life, a place that he wanted to get to know far better.
“So,” Douglas leaned in as he spoke, leaving Kai and Campbell to figure things out for themselves, “what brings you to our fine city? Ain’t ever seen many elves around these parts, you may be the first in living memory.”
Immediately, the warmth that had suffused Oladrilon turned chill, and he looked aside at Erredel. His brother met his eyes, giving a faint nod. “We’re seeking answers,” Erredel explained, his voice low as he looked back to Douglas. “Our homeland…something is wrong. The land hasn’t seen true sunlight for many years at this point, and no one can find the reason why – something like this isn’t spoken of in any of our stories or songs.”
“Except in what remains of otherwise destroyed tomes,” Oladrilon added softly, shaking his head and rolling his half-empty glass between his hands. “Torn pages and notes in margins. They spoke of the “heart of the land” and when you look at the maps, your country is at the center of most of them. Everything else that has been tried has failed, so we figured it was worth a shot.”
“Heart of the land, eh?” Douglas mused softly, his voice losing some of its joviality in favor of something a bit more somber. “Interesting that, those who follow the Order of the Leaf talk about that frequently. How everything returns to the heart of the land, and from there light is created anew. Isn’t that how it goes?” He looked to his companions, who had settled down some.
Campbell nodded. “When one’s time in this land has finished, whether it be plant, animal, or sentient being, they shall return to the Heart of the Land and their energy shall fuel the Light of the World.” He spoke as if quoting something or someone directly. “That’s why the Delven came here to build their big temple, rather than on their islands. Closer to the Heart.”
“The Order of the Leaf?” Oladrilon asked, leaning in a bit closer, curious.
“Main religious faction around here,” Kai explained. “You probably saw their temple on the way here, the big building with all of the trees.”
“Do you think they might know something?” Erredel asked, eagerness clearly audible in his voice. Oladrilon had to admit, he wanted to know the answer too. They’d barely been gone a month, but already he desperately wanted to be home again.
“They might,” Campbell nodded. “Or if not, the library up at the Citadel might have something. Harder to get into though, they don’t just let anyone walk through the gates. Audiences are held every week, you’ll have to make a formal request to be heard, and then make another request to them directly. Next one should be in…five days?”
Oladrilon’s shoulders slumped at that. Five days? They barely had the funds to secure shelter for the night, much less five days. He glanced up, and noticed Douglas watching him keenly. “Got a place to stay?” He checked.
Oladrilon started to speak, but Erredel beat him to it. “We were going to get a room here for tonight,” he stated simply, with the sort confidence that Oladrilon had always been envious of.
“And tomorrow night?” Douglas asked, leaning in a bit closer. “No one up and performs at a bar like you two did tonight unless they are in need of money…or if they are desperate for attention, but that doesn’t seem like either of you. Perhaps, however, we can help each other out.” He dropped his voice down a bit lower. “We could make a deal. Perform with us, and we’ll share in our profits. The inns around the city are usually willing to make deals with performers for lowered rates in exchange for the additional customers a good show can bring in. And I won’t lie – the two of you are likely to draw quite a crowd. You’re different, and different certainly sells here.”
Again, Oladrilon glanced to Erredel. Though he was the younger of the two of them, Erredel had always had a far more practical mind. Oladrilon watched as his brother leaned back a bit, considering. “A fair offer, though if we are performing with you and yours, we will hardly have time to try and find our answers,” Erredel pointed out.
“Doesn’t have to be both of you all the time,” Douglas mentioned, grinning. “From what I can tell, you each have a decent voice and play a decent song, and even one is better than none.”
“And when it comes time for us to leave?”
“Then I shall beg you to stay and regretfully say farewell and tell the tales of our time together.” Douglas laughed, shaking his head some. “Though it might benefit you to stay with us for a while. If your request for an audience goes unnoticed or unanswered, there is always a chance at the Carnival at Midsummer. There is usually a competition between the various performing groups around here, and one or two typically end up with an opportunity to perform at the Citadel’s feast.”
Oladrilon could feel his lips spreading into a bright grin at that. Now that sounded exciting – a chance to match their skills against those of others? He looked over to Erredel and was just in time to catch the tail-end of an eye roll. “Ideally, we’ll be on our way home with answers come Midsummer,” Erredel pointed out, and Oladrilon knew he had to say something.
“Sounds like fun!” He grinned brightly, ignoring the pointed stare from Erredel. “We’re in!”