The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont The Vanguard‟s Gift C rispus awoke, disappointed he drew breath another day in this wretched place. He knew his assignment was important, and he would never shirk his duty, but each night he went to sleep hoping the morning would not find him. But he stood and once more splashed water on his pale skin, dragging his wet hands up into the spiky, auburn locks that stood out from his scalp before he studied his face in the mirror. His lids felt heavy over his large, almond-shaped eyes with their deep, emerald irises beneath long, full lashes. Crispus pinched the bridge that began the slope of his thin, aquiline nose, attempting to dismiss the headache trying desperately to set up residence behind it. His tongue darted out, licked his slightly pink, bow-shaped lips and Crispus realized his mouth was very dry. That would be due to the drink of the previous night‟s indulgence. Sometimes the drink was the only thing that would summon sleep in this place. His long fingers rubbed his strong, yet delicate chin, testing it for stubble and found none as usual. That was fine; Crispus hated to shave. He prodded the dark circles under his eyes before he grabbed the priceless, fine-toothed comb with its detailed engravings and inlaid gems. Crispus recalled the King of Ashdale smiling with pride as he‟d presented the kingdom‟s top Vanguard with the bauble. Crispus couldn‟t remember which assignment he‟d completed to earn the gift. He dragged the comb through his 2 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont wet hair, sweeping it back from his temples, past his large, pointed ears. Despite his efforts to tame them, the locks remained spiked and only slightly less unruly than before. Ashdale, Crispus thought as he stepped back from the sink and looked down at his slender, muscular torso and its network of delicate scars earned through years of impeccable service to his king. He picked up the necklace Lady Melindra spelled to allow him to blend easier with the humans he was forced to live among since the attack of the Bloodshadows. Melindra was the most skilled caster in Ashdale, and even after all these years, the elfwitch‟s enchantment remained as strong as ever. He slipped the cord over his head and let the acorn-shaped pendant rest against his skin. The tiny mystium charm was always warm, just like every perfect afternoon in the golden forest back home in Ashdale. Unlike this gods-forsaken world. Especially at this time of year. Crispus regarded the tiny window coated in frost, and he shook his head with remorse. He was assigned to this human village to protect the gate between the two lands and insure no further incursions from Torvack and his kin. The elf was aware of the enormous honor of this post, but it didn‟t ease the longing for his homeland. Crispus left the tiny bathroom, switching off the light as he entered the equally tiny bedroom. He‟d almost gotten used to the human mattress with its metal springs, but it was no match for a soft patch of grass. There was no closet in the room and no space for anything as elaborate as a chest of drawers. A small steamer trunk sat at the foot of the twin bed, and from this Crispus removed a shirt made from coarse human materials, slipping it on. His skin had chafed 3 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont horribly when he‟d first started wearing the garments, but it grew steadily accustomed to the sensation. The few clothes he owned were well worn now, and he pulled a pair of faded blue jeans from the trunk, easing into them. He‟d kept a fine robe of dreamsilk for a while to wear around the apartment, but it only served to make the human clothes seem more uncomfortable by comparison. The robe remained folded at the very bottom of the trunk beneath his human clothes, untouched for the better part of a decade. The solitary elf sat on the edge of his bed, pulled on socks and shoes before he picked up the parchment envelope with the broken wax seal of King Ashgren. He read the looping, fancy script written by the king‟s own hand. Crispus remembered un-teaching himself Elven and the elaborate way in which elves are accustomed to writing so that his penmanship could pass for human. He‟d never been able to break himself completely of the extra loop or flourish from time to time. Crispus Birchmount. He traced his name written by the king at the top of the sheaf, followed by the king‟s orders, a new assignment. The king wanted him to protect the nephew of a revered elfwen, a friend of the elves. Crispus knew this elfwen, a powerful witch who had assisted his people during the Battle of Raven Night. Althena Darius was one of the only humans allowed to hold lands in Ashdale and while Crispus was honored that Lady Althena had requested him specifically, he was also disheartened because this meant he would have to venture outside. Into the bitter, December cold. Crispus rarely left his apartment over the winter months unless there was some problem with the gate, and for the last several 4 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont years there‟d been none. He looked at the shard of crystal which rested on his tiny nightstand between his lamp and the book he‟d been reading: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Crispus didn‟t care much for human society in general, but he loved science fiction. The crystal wasn‟t glowing, indicating that the gate was undisturbed. The elf sighed once more and stood. He reached under the bed and retrieved a plain but polished nightwood case. Crispus slid back a hidden panel, dipped his pinky in and the lid of the case unlatched. The elf lifted the lid to reveal the weapons of his station: a supple, beautifully carved bow of white soulwood and a pair of deadly, sharp dragontooth knives on delicate silverine chains. Crispus‟s fingers hovered over the bow, barely touching the almost luminescent soulwood that responded with a faint hum. The elf smiled. Soulwood was extremely rare even in the elven lands, and it possessed a consciousness that bonded with its bearer, making a weapon made from it an extension of the warrior in a way no other weapon could be. Unfortunately she was much too large and difficult to conceal for this particular assignment. Crispus, instead, picked up one of the dragontooth daggers, removing it from its sheath, which had to be made from tanned, cured, and hardened dragonhide—anything else would be sliced to ribbons by the blade within. The elf held the black blade before him as he inspected the surface. As it caught the light, numerous colors appeared in the dark blade which was long and curved with one finely serrated edge. The dagger had no hilt but tapered into a handle that ended in a small ring where the chain was attached. The 5 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont handle was wrapped in leather made from dragon‟s tongue, its rough texture offering a perfect grip. Crispus returned the blade to its sheath before strapping it to his forearm with the tip pointing toward his elbow. The tiny chain trailing from the dagger disappeared into a small, metal canister, which not only held an implausible length of the chain but also a spring that allowed the chain to be reeled in with a flick of the wrist. He strapped the canister to his upper arm before he repeated the ritual with the other dagger. The Twin Teeth were the most difficult of the elven weapons to master. One mistake and the wielder could lose a limb to the blades. Crispus was the only warrior to master the weapon in seven generations. Properly equipped, the elf closed the case and slid it back beneath his bed, then stood, grabbed the Gate Crystal, and strode from the room. The third room in Crispus‟s apartment served as sitting room, dining room, and kitchen. The elf‟s stomach growled, and he reached into the small cupboard and retrieved a pack of toaster pastries. Everything in the cupboard as well as the small refrigerator contained an inordinately high amount of sugar, another aspect of humanity that Crispus adopted. He didn‟t spare time to actually toast the sweet squares in light of his pressing assignment. He tore open the silver envelope and gobbled the contents quickly. He then retrieved his coat from the hook by the door. It was a large, scratchy woolen garment that he‟d purchased from a store that specialized in selling human warrior castoffs. The coat was extremely warm against the winter wind, and that was good enough for Crispus. The elf wrapped a scarf around his neck and pulled a knit hat onto his head, the last as much to hide his 6 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont pointed ears as to keep warm. He glanced about one last time and headed for the temple of commerce the humans referred to as The Mall. C rispin stepped out into the frigid December air, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his secondhand military coat. For some reason he couldn‟t understand, he raised his shoulders against the wind in a very human manner. It made no sense, higher shoulders did not offer any more protection from the cold nor did it warm him, but he adopted the bizarre human behavior nonetheless. His boots crunched through the snow on the sidewalk of the small town. The elf glanced about at the interesting bits of architecture in the little village. Were it more hospitable, Crispus would pay more attention to the designs, but at the moment, he cursed himself for his disdain of the humans‟ mechanized transport systems, cars, buses, and the like. He had plenty of gold. He could purchase any manner of transportation he wanted, but he couldn‟t bring himself to sit in the stinking, clanking carriages. In Ashdale, Forest Cats were the preferred mode of transport, but his need to remain inconspicuous prevented anything like that here. He considered buying a motorcycle once, but then he‟d had the unenviable experience of wandering into a cinema house and viewing an account of motorcycle riders that ended in death and violence, a film called Easy Rider, and Crispus decided against the two- wheeled transport. 7 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont So the elf trudged along the streets on foot among the decorations of the season, images of stockings, candy canes, and snowflakes. The humans celebrated something they called Christmas in honor of one bearded man but presided over by a separate bearded man that was based on a bastardized version of an ancient elwen. Crispus sneered at the lights and the symbols. He remembered the pagan holiday that had been hijacked by the new religion, and it was purer, more honest—still human and silly, but honest. He recalled the story of the elwen as he walked among the humans. Sander Niclis was dem-elf: half-human and half-elf. He served as a liaison between the two races at a time when they shared the earth. His primary function was to relay the high elves‟ wishes to the human elders, but in the winter months Zer Niclis served another purpose, taking much- needed supplies to remote or struggling human villages. Niclis and his lover, Minth, a skilled elven smith, traveled about the world in a carriage drawn by a team of Randars, snow-white, prong-horned creatures that were related to unicorns. The two men braved the extreme weather to extend the hand of friendship from the elves to the humans. Crispus stopped in front of a store window and regarded the display within. Tiny, plastic elves sat at a workbench making toys for an equally plastic, fat man that looked on with a list of human children that would benefit from the elves‟ handiwork. Damn humans, he thought, his lip curling in disgust. Some of the monkey-born bastards resented the elves‟ generosity, so they perverted Niclis‟s story, turning him into a saint from their new religion and interpreting his life‟s 8 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont love into an army of tiny slaves whose only purpose in life was to make toys for human children. They‟d managed to sully an ancient race with children‟s stories. It disgusted Crispus just as much now as it had when he‟d originally discovered the injustice. The elves weren‟t the only ancient race that had fallen prey to the stories of the ape-sons, after all. As a younger elf, Crispus had railed against the very concept of Santa Claus and his elves at the North Pole. He‟d argued heatedly with anyone willing to listen and begged the high elves to correct this human misinformation. The powers that be sighed and shrugged and tried to explain that human perception in no way diminished the majesty of the elven race. They maintained that no amount of silly storytelling could injure their pride as a people. Crispus remained unconvinced but deferred to his elders‟ judgment. Until his firsthand experience of the humans‟ Christmas season that started absurdly earlier than the actual celebration. It seemed to Crispus that no sooner had they ended the Witching Holiday than they were already decorating for the Season of Deceit, which was the only way Crispus could think of it. He heaved a great sigh, his breath clouding before him as he turned away from the sickening window display. He scowled as he marched into the gathering evening, headed for the mall, the single most abusive establishment to the memory of Zer Niclis. 9 .
The Vanguard’s Gift • Eon de Beaumont he Arch-Vanguard of Ashdale welcomed the blast of T heated air that met him as he entered the human marketplace. Though it was artificial and much drier than he liked, at least it was warm. He unbuttoned his coat as he picked his way through the human throng among the brightly colored, disgusting decorations that festooned the shops, so many useless and restrictively specific. The storefront devoted entirely to soaps and bathing always seemed particularly absurd to Crispus, though he found the chocolatier completely reasonable. This wasn‟t like the Elven Streete Faires that were held each Feast Day in Ashdale with farmers, artisans, and merchants calmly and politely peddling their wares, discussing the latest news with the elven lords and ladies. The patrons were equally pleasant and appreciated finely crafted items while musicians played delightfully beautiful music as accompaniment. No, Crispus thought. The Mall is the exact opposite. All around him screamed selfish human children amidst the barely controlled chaos of the rushing shoppers. No one seemed to care about craftsmanship or integrity, only what items were on sale. Humans seemed to love BOGO and food, Crispus added looking at the overweight sea of humanity. The food and all the other smells of the mall were wrong as well. Everything stank of artificiality, but the people crawled all over it like ants on honey. Crispus remembered a time when humans were truer and cared for honest things like his own people. The thought made his disdain for what he saw around him even sharper. 10 .