Chapter I - IIMature

Falcon's hold had always been an odd township, located in one of the furthest corner of Albeon sitting on the rim of the Sea of leaves, it had always retained a certain independence, under both the old kingdom's rule and the rule of the Soldal empire that had began a decade ago.

There were few things to look at in the village, the last few years had seen the construction of the most impressive structures in the village; the lumber yards, the docks, the temple of Ainur. Although he had never travelled outside the vale, Alaric had often heard that the invading empire had a fondness for creating massive structures of stone, their capital was said to reach the heavens.

The structure that interest Alaric however was much older and humble, once the largest in the village the Falcon's nest was now just another building. Once he opened the strong oak door, his nose was assaulted by the delicious aroma of the food cooking on the stoves, a mix of grilling meats and of freshly baked bread.

Cowed, he walked down to the northern most corner of the building, it had long been a tradition to keep it reserved for the ranger as in the hot summer months, the windows kept it wept by a gentle breeze. A half-dozen of them now sat at the table, although they had once been more numerous, the imperial legion had rendered them redundant in the past years.

"Empty handed again?" Lief asked, the only other ranger of his age, at seventeen summers, he was only a year older than Alaric.

"Sadly, yes." Alaric answered, drawing himself a mug of the beer from the pitcher on the table. "I almost had one today, but I was interrupted, a big buck."

"What happened?" Terryn asked, oldest member of their company.

"I had an arrow nocked when this loud, terrible groan came, scarring the deer away, soon all I could hear was it tearing away at flesh and bones snapping." He said after a first sip of alcohol. "What do you think it could have been?"

"Maybe a troll." Cedany the only woman in their group answered.

"Get lost, Cedany." Lief responded. "There haven't been any wildlings in the woods for ages."

"You should show more respect for your elders, Lief. There have been strange things occurring in the woods lately, I went deeper than usual today and found this." She replied, taking out a torn strip of cloth and showing it to the men, the white cloth was stained with a pink liquid.

"Silk." Terryn commented when he took the cloth. "What was it doing there, them fancy Soldal ladies don't come out here, much less in the woods. "What the stain?"

"It was everywhere, like blood after a knife fight." She answered. "What do you think could shed something like this?"

"Faes." Alaric answered, making all heads at the table turn toward him. "Althalos told me about stories of the children of the Vale..." He admitted shyly.

"And you belief him? He's not right in the head. Nobody who is lives alone in those woods." Lief answered. "Probalby just a tall tale he told you."

"Well, what do you think it could be?" He rebutted.

"Ah rangers, always telling tales." A new voice interrupted their squabble. It was Malkyn, the innkeeper's daughter, she placed a bowl of stew in front of Alaric along with a thick slice of dark bread.

"Good evening, Malky." Alaric answered, a smile forming on his lips. She put her hands on his shoulder and gently leaning down on him, her long earth colored locks meeting his golden tail. "How was your day?"

"Oh, you know, the usual. Spent worrying that something would attack you in the woods and you wouldn't come back." She said, whispering softly into his ear.

"Nothing will happen to me, Malky." He said, confident, but she pouted, leaving the table abruptly. "What was that for?"

"You should treat her like that, Alaric." Terryn told him.

"Treat her like what?"

The elder of the ranger looks at him obliquely, with reproach in his eyes. "She has plenty of suitors you know, she won't wait forever."

Alaric was baffled by the revelation, never had he thought of Malkyn like that. "She's like my sister!" He protested loudly, getting up and attracting the attention of everyone in the room. "I can't think of her like that." He then added in a more controlled manner.

"If that's how you feel, you won't mind if I--" Lief didn't finish his sentence as Alaric glowered at him. They didn't notice Malky flinch at their conversation and running out of the building...

The End

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