In a large city beyond the Greylinn mountains, a number of years ago, there lived a young man, and yes, that young man was Solvek. He had caught the eye of the city archivist a few years before and had been successfully apprenticed in the library and scriptorium. He had progressed steadily through the ranks of the staff there and, while he wasn’t a prodigy, he was a solid, reliable copyist and researcher.
With this comfortable job, came a comfortable income and, when he met a certain young lady with a skip in her step, a smile in her eye and an eye to the heavens, he was able to present himself as a desirable suitor to her parents. The young lady would have preferred someone a little more dashing, a touch more adventurous, but understood how the world worked in that far-off city and settled down with a determination to make their marriage work.
And so it did, for a while, and produced two delightful children, who, contrary to many situations, created the bridge that connected their parents in true partnership. But the children grew older and, showing a similar aptitude for study as their father, they were apprenticed away from their home. The boy to the city archive, the same as his father, the girl, who had also inherited some of her mother’s adventurous spirit, was sent to the Temple of the Lionmother, to open her life to opportunities she would never find at home.
After the children had gone, and despite regular visits from their son, Solvek’s wife began to seek out new people and new stories of adventure and heroic deeds. She seemed to spend much of her days deep in lives not her own and slowly became more and more restless and unhappy.
One day, Solvek returned to their home to find his wife spinning around the house, the same skip and smile that had so captivated him all those years ago had finally returned.
She had met an elf, a real-life, honest-to-goodness elf, and she had been invited to visit the elf’s home in the high forests of Greylinn. Surely Solvek wouldn’t begrudge her one little adventure of her own. She would be back before he even had a chance to miss her.
What could he do but peck her on the cheek and wish her a safe and happy journey. Not too safe, she hoped. And so she set off, reminding him to watch for her at the turn of the next moon.
And so he did. She did not come. Nor did she appear at the next, nor the one after, and no person or publication he queried could disclose the identity, or even existence, of this elf she had followed to the mountains.
Finally, he visited a tiny tea shop she had occasionally come to for stories and the manager was able to give direction to his search. His wife had indeed been meeting with another person there. One usually cloaked and tucked in the shadowy corner where they could see all, but none could see them. The figure was tall and willowy and moved with a dancer’s grace and when they left the shop, they turned up the hill, toward the castle.
Finally, he had a target and a direction, he also headed in the direction of the castle, looking for anyone who may be able to add further focus to his search. Arriving at the main gate of the keep, he asked the guard about castle guests, explaining his wife’s meetings with a cloaked stranger who he believed may be an elf, and may have had lodgings somewhere in the area.
He was lucky, the guard was a local man around his own age, a familiar face and a familiar story of a marriage entered in haste and grown tired over time. The figure was most likely the elven trader who came to the castle once a season or so to buy and sell and (so rumour had it), collect the discontented among the city population. Quite why or how he collected them, what purpose unhappy men and women could serve, was a mystery. The guard didn’t expect to see the trader again for another three moons at least, but was able to point Solvek to the gate and highway used.
He further recommended an inn a day’s ride from the city that he’d heard the elf used as a good place for more information.
Solvek now had a path on which to set his feet. He was not an adventurer, however and keenly felt his lack of knowledge in travel, woodcraft, in fact anything beyond the pen, ink and paper he’d spent his life devoted to. Nonetheless, what needed to be done, needed to be done.
He went to visit his son, and wrote to his daughter. They needed to know where their parents were and who they could turn to while he was away. The latter was an easy matter, his wife’s parents had always been a vital part of his family’s life and he knew he was leaving their welfare in hands more capable than his.
After an uncomfortable meeting with his parents-in-law, during which time he signed over all his assets to their management for the benefit of the children, he headed to an inn near the city gate used by the elf.
This inn was a gathering point for adventurers; rangers, guides, warriors, mages and more. He was going to need help and he didn’t know where to start. He was in grave danger of being cheated, or worse, but he knew he’d skip cheating and go straight to worse if he attempted the mountain paths on his own.
There was one factor he had in his favour, again a legacy of a lifetime in a small, interconnected city. The inn’s owner, Natel, was an old school-mate. Not close, but with shared history, and Solvek had helped him out a time or two with business letters and contracts in return for trinkets that made his wife smile and make up fantastical stories about their origins.
The man was holding court behind the bar as usual when Solvek entered, he nodded in greeting and sent a serving lad to the corner table Solvek settled at to take his order. Solvek ordered ale and dinner, and asked the lad to let his master know he was in need of expert counsel and hoped Natel could spare a few moments of his time.
As he’d hoped, the message was enticing enough to have the innkeeper at his table as Solvek’s food was served. Over roast beef, potatoes and carrots, Solvek explained his situation and his problem. Natel blew out his cheeks and settled into contemplation. It was a deep tangle, no doubt of that, and one that would doubtless make great conversation around the fireplace in months to come.
The question was, how to make sure Solvek came back to tell the next part of it.
He was able to persuade Solvek to stay for another week, and use the time to properly outfit and provision himself. He was expecting an experienced and trustworthy traveller in the next few days, and he hoped to persuade her to take Solvek’s commission as a challenge. And so it turned out. Just over a week from that first conference, Natel waved Solvek and his guide, Jarena, off from the front door of his inn, watching until they disappeared into the shadows of the forest beyond the city walls.
Solvek had also used the intervening time to collect more information on his mysterious quarry. It seemed he had persuaded at least one city-dweller to return with him to the high forest on every one of his past visits. None had returned, although about half the relatives he spoke to showed him letters and gifts apparently from their loved ones, as they continued to roam the farther reaches of the Greater Kingdoms.
He hadn’t forgotten the advice from the castle guard, and agreed with Jarena to spend their first night on the road at the recommended inn. It was a prosperous place, well-built and comfortably busy.
He was able to engage the innkeeper in conversation during the evening, explaining his quest and asking for information.