The next couple of days were more of the same - tall trees, filtered sunlight and mossy ground cover. There were a few exciting moments when the woodland creatures tried to take the travelers by surprise, but nothing a quick arrow or a fast flung stone couldn’t end. Windstepper found the terrain difficult, the underbrush pressing against her belly and rubbing roughly against her legs. Valna’s gentle urgings and soothing salves kept the mare moving forward toward the heart of the woods – to Elmwood.
Elmwood was one of the trade centers within the Elven woods, found at the epicenter of the eastern/western and the northern/southern routes, such as they were, between the other major vales and higher populated Elven towns. The town didn’t rely heavily on commerce, not in the normal sense that regular towns would.
In a town that was not in the center of a densely forested area, raw materials and food from the surrounding villages would be imported to the town for further crafting and processing. Elmwood was essentially self-supporting with minimal outside resources being brought in.
Only the market shops were found on the forest floor, residences were built in the trees with branches coaxed and intertwined to become a form of walkway between the homes high above. To almost any other race, it would be a difficult challenge to maneuver around a town such as this.
That was of little concern to the High Council of Elmwood though; the 10,000 souls living here were of one of four main races – elves, half-elves, halflings, and a small settlement of eladrin, whose agile bodies were more accustomed to moving along and between the trees.
The town was bustling more than usual. Preparations were being made for the annual Autumn Harvest, the celebration of the season’s bounty and the equal distribution of goods to each family house to provide for them during the cooler winter months. The smells of roasting meats and stewing vegetables permeated the air, and teased at the feasting that was to come.
A friendly face smiled down at Valna as she rounded the base of an ancient elm tree.
“Ah, daughter, you have made it back – safe and sound,” Aelar Thistlepatch called down, “you didn’t lose your little friend in the process?” he chided, winking at Kithri.
“Oh, Mr. Thistlepatch, you should have seen everything that happened. I wrote it all down right here,” Kithri paused, looking first in one of her pouches, and then another, trying to find the scroll of parchment she had been doodling on most recently. “And what I have in my pouches, Mr. Thistlepatch, do you wish to see my pouches?” the halfling, called up eagerly, already scaling the tree’s ladder.
Laughing heartily, Aelar, the patriarch of the Thistlepatch family house, could tell that there would be no stopping the exuberant, childlike Kithri. “Of course, I want to see and hear everything that happened,” he replied, with a wave down to his daughter.
Kithri Sandstone may have not been a blood relative and a true member of the Thistlepatch house, but she had been adopted into the fold when the band of halflings had come to Elmwood, homeless and searching for roots.
Valna made a gesture of thanks to her father, gathered her packs, and led Windstepper to one of the farriers, he would make sure that the mare was treated well, looked after, rubbed down and left to graze.
Valna headed towards one of the rope bridges that would take her to the High Hall. She had decided on her journey that the Elven Council should know of the news she carried. It would be irresponsible of her not to let them know immediately so that they could handle any potential threat that might arise.
The half-elf, by nature, suffered from wanderlust. Her family might have called Elmwood home, but to her, Valna’s home was anywhere where Melora watched over her. Her dual heritage, it seemed, was the blame for this, and so her many travels to the other towns and markets gave her the opportunity to bring news of the outside world back to the sheltered town.
As first-daughter of the Patriarch of Thistlepatch House, Valna gained access to the High Hall with relative ease. She was a known messenger and the council would be awaiting any news and replies she had brought with her from her travels.
The pair of bowmen at the front doors nodded their acknowledgement as she passed through to the council chamber. The Elven Council was waiting for her; scouts had reported her arrival to Elmwood. As she entered, the hushed talk ceased and all eyes were on her.
“You’re back,” the head councilmember, Lucan Briarglen, greeted in Elven.
“There has been a situation,” Dayereth Starmist stated simply, the only eladrin on the council.
Valna shook her head slightly, taking a moment to switch languages in her mind, having spoken common all during her travels.
“What is wrong?” she asked, hoping that it had nothing to do with the news that she was to impart.
“What’s wrong?” Dayereth spat, completely out of character. The eladrin was usually stoic, like one of the statues that he crafted when not performing council duties. He usually had no input into these meetings as he cared little for the dealings of the other races.
“What’s wrong is that they are missing and they are sick,” the eladrin continued, “and I would have to believe it is because of something that your precious humans have done to cause this.”
Valna blushed, it was not the first time she had been referenced as such, her half-elven heritage sometimes raised a concern where none was warranted.
Lucan placed a calming hand on his fellow council-member’s shoulder. “Let us not infer that which we do not know for certain,” he advised calmly.
Dayereth shrugged off the hand, turned on his heel and strode to look out at the ongoing preparations far below in the heart of the town center.
Sighing, Lucan continued, “What he speaks of is true. Somehow, an evil has penetrated Feywild causing some eladrin to become sick, and others to be taken without a trace.”
“No human would know the way to the Feywild lands without the aid of…” Valna trialed off as Dayereth turned to stare menacingly at her. “But, I was gathering information for the council,” Valna countered, defending herself the best she could. “I, too, brought news such as this – not a sickness – but of disappearances of elves and half-elves from the outside cities as well.”
At this news, the council began to speak all at once, the buzz crescendoing, the fears confirmed, until Lucan banged his staff once on the floor.
With a worried frown, Lucan spoke, “Then, it seems, we are all in danger, and it is only a matter of time.”