Warning: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes an incursion from another dimension, attempted kidnapping, threatening a child, obnoxious high-handed behavior, vulgar talk in Faellyn, family drama, offensive offers to buy off Shannalyn with money, and other challenges. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
"A Perfection That Eludes Us"
[Sunday, June 21, 2015]
Shannalyn hiked through the woods in
the Norfork Shoals State Park, heading for
the archery field to do a lesson for new members
of the Ozarcane Live-Action Role-Playing Association.
Her recurve longbow rode easily on her back, along
with the quiver full of handmade target arrows.
The unbreakable potion flask at her hip held
a cherry-red sport drink, because if she
didn't need it, someone else sure would.
Her son Eric ranged ahead of her,
his steps almost silent in the forest,
and she grinned in maternal pride.
It had absolutely been worth moving here
after college, for the sake of getting to live
in a ranger cabin and send Eric to attend
the Kirchhoff Waldenkinder School.
Her son thrived in the school, which
held most lessons outside and taught
children through a mutual love of nature.
Eric had earned his everyday carry knife
just after his seventh birthday, and was
already working hard on hatchet skills.
Up ahead, the sounds changed.
Shannalyn frowned, wondering
what was going on and what she
would have to do to fix it.
Then her son ran back up
the trail, yelling, "Mom! Mom!"
"Eric, what's wrong?"
Shannalyn asked him.
"I swear, if the White Orcs
jump the gun one more time --"
"Mom, someone tried to kidnap me!"
Eric said. "For real, not for the game."
He wasn't a prankster, and her instincts
were screaming that something was wrong.
"Get behind me," Shannalyn said as she
reached for her belt pouch. "How many
people were there? How did they look?
What did they say or do that scared you?"
"I saw two, but there's at least one more
in the trees. They have great elf ears but
their garb is wrong," Eric said. "They wanted
me to kill someone for them. Something about
my dad, even though I never met him. They
told some guy to get me and take me away."
Shannalyn froze, remembering her summer
with Iarec and his weird stories. He had had
big elf ears, and unlike hers, they didn't come off.
She just thought he was a soup with pointy ears,
especially since Eric had big ones with rounder points.
Maybe Iarec hadn't been pulling her leg after all.
He hadn't liked his family, Shannalyn recalled, and
if they'd come looking for Eric, that could be bad.
She pulled her vidwatch from the beltpouch
and punched the emergency button. "This
is Ranger Summers calling for backup on
Fletcher Trail. Three or more suspects are
trying to kidnap my son, possibly related to
his father. We'll retreat but they may catch up."
Eric fell in behind her automatically. They
did this sort of thing for fun every weekend,
and now it was coming in very handy.
Shannalyn keyed her vidwatch again.
"SPOON, this is Ranger Summers at
Norfork Shoals State Park, reporting
a possible incursion. Have someone
check for magical activity in the area."
"Sending for a magical consultant now,"
said the dispatcher. "Any idea why
this could be happening, other than
the midsummer magical spike?"
"I may have effed an elf about
eight years ago, and now somebody
wants our son," Shannalyn said. "I
already notified the police, but they
aren't equipped to handle magic.
All I have is my bow and arrows."
"We'll get you some backup as
soon as we can," the dispatcher said.
Then the elves came over the hill.
She knew as soon as she saw them --
nobody else ever moved quite like Iarec,
except that Eric was starting to, a little.
Eric got his survival whistle
between his teeth and shrilled
a loud emergency signal.
It would be interesting to see
which backup arrived first.
The elves stopped short.
One of them looked like
a courtier -- like an older Iarec,
in fact, and Shannalyn's heart
twinged for her old friend.
Iarec had never known about
Eric, so how did they know?
She didn't like the wizard at all.
The huge crystal on top of his staff
reminded her of Iarec's gentle mockery
that the dainty stones on Renaissance wands
were too small to hold any real power.
Shannalyn dropped her vidwatch,
still on, to free up her hands.
"What do you want?" she said,
hoping to stall them for time.
"I am Raewyth Highwood,"
the courtier said. "The King
is dead; long live the King.
We have come for the son
of Iarec, our Chosen One
and prophesied savior."
"Well you can't have him,"
Shannalyn said. "Leave now."
The wizard flicked his hand as if
brushing off something, and
the air around them shimmered.
Then he turned to Raewyth
and spoke in the language that
Shannalyn had only ever heard
from Iarec that one summer.
"Va tae llyren thua," she drawled.
Shocked, they sprang apart, and
the wizard moved his hand again,
spreading a silvery ripple from it.
"How can you understand us
without magic?" he exclaimed.
"I learned German in three months,
so why not Faellyn?" she said.
They sneered at her. Shannalyn was
beginning to understand why Iarec had
wanted to get away from his family.
"Takaor pellel thu," she said. "Oh wait,
I got that backwards. "Ei taka pellel thuor.
Never mind, Iarec told me both versions
are insulting. I'm having a hard time
telling you from the trolls anyway."
"You have no right to speak to me
that way!" Raewyth said. "I am on
an urgent mission to save my people."
"How old are you?" Shannalyn said.
"I am 2,162 years old," Raewyth said.
"You should respect your elders, girl."
"Then you should be old enough
to solve your own problems, and not
fob them off on a seven-year-old boy,"
Shannalyn snapped. "You're pathetic."
"No, merely desperate," Raewyth said.
Shannalyn's hand drifted up to touch
the silver heart-shaped locket that
Iarec had commissioned for her.
"Yes, Iarec told me his home life
wasn't very good," she said. "That's
why he took a break. I didn't understand
then why he went back, but well, we had
a summer romance and it was his life."
"The locket," whispered the wizard.
"Yeah, Iarec said it would mark me
as an ally of the Holt of Highwood."
Shannalyn shrugged. "I guess
he was fibbing about that too."
Iarec had told her a lot of things,
and with some of them, he had later
explained why he needed a cover story.
She got that. Families could be sticky,
and not everyone liked soups, no matter
what power you might or might not have.
It made more sense now than ever.
"My lord, in light of her status,
perhaps we should negotiate with
more ... regard," the wizard said.
"Indeed," said Raewyth, turning
back to Shannalyn. "We will
reward you for your service in
providing the heir and savior."
"Mom, are those guys trying
to buy me?" Eric squeaked.
"No, they're trying to buy me off,"
Shannalyn said. "It won't work."
"The young king is our only hope,"
Raewyth said, spreading his hands.
"If you ever loved Iarec, then you must --"
"Every fall into love involves the triumph of
hope over self-knowledge," Shannalyn said.
"We fall in love hoping that we won't find
in another what we despise in ourselves:
all the cowardice, weakness, laziness,
dishonesty, compromise, and stupidity."
Raewyth's mouth fell open. "What, what --"
"We throw a cordon of love around
the chosen one and decide that everything
within it will somehow be free of our faults,"
Shannalyn went on. "We locate inside another
a perfection that eludes us within ourselves,
and through our union with the beloved
hope to maintain a precarious faith in
our species." Then she flicked a hand.
"Even though we should know better."
"But we are not the same species,"
the wizard whispered to her.
"Do you really think that
matters?" Shannalyn said.
Just then, a third elf skittered down
the slope, trying to get behind her.
He carried a cute little shortbow.
Shannalyn danced backwards,
Eric moving in perfect synch
with her, and their attacker
landed right in front of them.
"I am Lorane Goldenleaf, ranger
of Forestglen," he said. "We
come on an urgent mission."
"That's not my problem, and not
my son's, either," Shannalyn denied.
She only had her target arrows today,
not her broadheads for hunting, but at
point-blank range they were still potent.
She drew her bow and aimed at
Raewyth's left eye. "Leave."
"The prophecy calls King Eric
to service," Raewyth insisted. "We
need for him to kill the Benighted One."
"Screw your prophecy," Shannalyn said.
"If you threaten my son again, I will shoot you."
"Idiot woman, we are elves!" the oldest said.
"Your mortal weapons cannot kill us."
"All right," Shannalyn said, and
dropped her aim below his belt.
All of the elves took a step back.
Eric snickered. "Go, Mommy!"
he said. "Show them who's boss."
"My liege, please," Lorane begged.
"We need your help to save the land."
"No," Eric said. "I don't want to kill
anyone. You're bad people and,
and the trees don't like you!"
A breeze rained twigs on them.
Lorane flinched, one hand
lifting to a bloody scratch on
his face. "So that's what went
wrong. I thought it was the world."
"The king's magic?" Raewyth said.
The wizard shook his head. "No,
it's dormant," he said. "But Lorane
is right, something about the world
mislikes our presence here."
"Well it has good taste!"
Eric yelled. "You stink!"
"Yes, you just want to solve
your problem with minimum effort,"
Shannalyn said. "You don't care
who else gets hurt in the process."
The elves grumbled among
themselves, trying to come up
with some other plan of action.
Shannalyn didn't care. She
could hold her bow at draw
for as long as it took them.
She had to hold it for demos,
so that was part of her workout
everyday, and now it showed.
A horn pealed through the forest,
along with cantering hooves.
"Clan Destrier to the rescue!"
Eric cheered as the cavalry arrived,
Friesians and Lippizaners shoving
their way through the trees because
they wouldn't all fit on the trail.
"Where did they get an army?!"
Raewyth exclaimed in shock.
"I made one," Shannalyn said. "I
had a lot of fun playing elves with Iarec
at the Russellville Renaissance Faire, and
so after college I came out here and started up
the Ozarcane Live-Action Role-Playing Association.
As you can see, they are quite attached to us."
"See, I don't need your rotten prophecy,"
Eric said. "I already have my own army!"
Clan Destrier surrounded them. Most of
the members only had mock-combat swords,
but the horses were weapons in their own right.
Oh goody, there was Lord Eisenhardt, who
was booked for the live steel demo after
her archery. He had his greatsword.
"Lord Eisenhardt, these invaders
have attempted to kidnap my son,"
said Shannalyn. "Take him to safety."
Lord Eisenhardt gave a command
in German, and Kohle dropped
her haunches to let Eric mount.
A moment later they cantered off.
A loud CRACK made everyone jump.
Two people had just appeared beside
Shannalyn's vidwatch, a teleporter
and a woman in a long ivory dress.
One long, pale arm raised
to point at the offending wizard.
"I'm Aubrey the Alabaster," she said.
"Cast off, or I will throw you off."
"Thaelon, banish the imposter
at once," Raewyth ordered as
he turned toward the wizard.
"We do not have time for this."
"My lord, she's stronger than I am,"
the wizard said, tucking his chin
against his chest. "I can make
our escape, but I cannot hope
to win against her in combat."
Raewyth stared at them for
a long minute, then slumped.
"I know when I am defeated,"
he said. "Call in the others,
and then take us home."
The wizard cast tendrils of
glowing green into the forest,
and several more elves arrived.
When he opened a portal,
the elves all slunk through it,
and then it collapsed behind them.
"Good riddance," Shannalyn muttered.
She eased up on her bow, then put
the arrow back in her quiver, rolling
her shoulders to release the strain.
"I'll make sure they can't come back
this way," said Aubrey the Alabaster.
Her hands traced paths in the air,
weaving a web of glowing light over
the area. "It will take longer to ensure
that they can't do it some other way,
or find you and your son again."
"Thank you," Shannalyn said.
She picked up her vidwatch,
dusted off the leaves, and made
a report both to SPOON and to
the police about what happened.
They'd have to coordinate efforts
to gather evidence, since the cops
knew nothing about magic and SPOON
didn't have a lot of expert detectives.
That meant closing Fletcher Trail
for today, which was a pain in her ass,
because nobody would want to take
the two-miles-longer alternate route from
the Visitor Center to the archery field.
Shannalyn would manage it somehow,
though. Maybe she could recruit volunteers
from Clan Destrier to keep stray players away
from the fascinating SPOON and police workers
who would be combing the woods for clues.
She sighed, her fingers lifting to the locket
once again, its filigree cool to the touch.
Her heart ached at the thought of
Iarec's death -- if that Raewyth had
told the truth. She couldn't think of
any benefit to lying about that, though.
Shannalyn lifted her chin and looked
around to see who might give her a ride.
Aside from the locket, Iarec had left her
one wonderful thing with which to recall
their summer together, and she
was determined to protect it.
She needed to go find Eric.
* * *
This poem is long, so the notes appear separately.