The innkeeper was indeed able to provide aid and direction. The elf passed through his inn regularly, always coming from the same, little-used track.
He could add, every time the elf returned from the city, there was a companion. And every time, a few weeks later, that companion would return to the inn from that same track, cheerful and outfitted for travel. They would then all depart for places unknown. None took the road leading to their home city.
The next morning, Solvek and Jarena started their trek up the elf’s path. According to word from the new travellers, collected by the innkeeper, it was a comfortable trip, with a single overnight stay in a wayfarer’s hut, built by the elf.
Jarena warned that it may not be so easy without the elf, or his goodwill, dismantling any wards or traps he may have in place.
This proved to be the case when, after an uneventful day, they reached the hut. It was late afternoon and they could find no way of opening the door, or finding an alternate route inside. They had no wish to antagonise the hut’s builder, so refrained from more extreme attempts. Instead, they set up camp against one wall and settled in for the night.
Shortly after dark Jarena came alert to the faint sound of rustling in the trees facing them. Her caution proved itself when two wolves emerged from the undergrowth and stood watching them, seemingly unbothered by the light from the campfire.
Stilling Solvek’s scramble with a gesture, she returned the wolves’ regard and, after a few minutes, one of the wolves sneezed and shook itself, then they both silently returned to the woods.
Solvek tried the hut’s door again at Jarena’s suggestion. It was now open. They moved their gear indoors, dousing the campfire after applying a flaming twig to the carefully-laid logs in the hut’s fireplace.
The hut was well made and thoughtfully laid out. Solvek and Jarena did their best to minimise disruption, using their own provisions and being careful to re-lay the fire and replenish the wood supply before leaving the next morning.
Solvek couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched as they closed the door of the hut and continued their journey up into the high forest. Jarena agreed with him and they remained cautious and alert as they walked.
Rounding a sharp bend in the path shortly after midday, both travellers were surprised by their sudden emergence into a mountain meadow, backed by a cliff, with a stream tumbling down its face, then chasing off into the trees after further adventure.
Near the waterfall, but clear of its spray, a cottage was tucked back against the solid rock wall, a figure tending to the garden surrounding it.
The figure left off its work and moved to meet them as they approached, details becoming clearer as the distance narrowed.
This was a dark elf. Tall, slender and sharp as a carved obsidian blade. His clothing, sensible farming attire in forest shades of green and brown, looked strange draped on a form usually seen only in the finest swathes of midnight black and silver.
The anomaly fired Solvek’s curiosity and Janera’s caution, so it was the novice, rather than the experienced traveller, who stepped forward with a civil greeting.
The greeting was returned with equal civility and likely equal curiosity and the group were soon settled at an outside table with bread, fruit and ale.
Alarm appeased, Janera watched in quiet amusement as the two men searched for an acceptable opening for the questions both were clearly eager to ask.
The elf, who had introduced himself as Trion, won the round with a polite enquiry as to the destination and purpose of their journey. Solvek, equally politely, explained his concern for his wife and intent to ensure she was well and happy.
Trion was intrigued. This was the first time someone had taken the effort to enquire after one of his wanderers and yet there was clearly no desire for that person to return immediately to home and hearth.
He took a moment to order his thoughts, then shared his story.
He was a lord of the dark elf court and, being young and naive, had fallen foul of a member of a rival faction. He had been cursed to wander the earth for 1,000 years and had been doing so for about 300 years so far. It was a little hard to keep track, especially when crossing between countries who kept different calendars.
Since his family’s powers and associated well-being were tied to home, stability, roots and relationships, the constant urge to move on, and the pain inflicted on his resistance, had worn him to the point of madness when he found a way to ease his burden.
With the help of a powerful magic user, he was able to separate out ten-year portions of his curse, and assign them to others as a geas to travel. Moreso, he could assign several of these parcels at any time, each to one person. The pain of disobedience was inflicted by his own power, so would not transmit to others.
The combined effect being that, in the past decade, his wanderers had reduced the sentence of his curse by over 100 years, and allowed him to settle in one spot for up to three years at a time, before he was pushed to relocate.
He invited them indoors and proudly displayed a map of the greater kingdoms the Head of Solvek’s archive would have given his right arm for. Overlaid on its exquisitely intricate surface were twenty small dots, each representing and following the well-being of a wanderer.
The elf became positively garrulous. He was reluctant to add more to the group right now, as he liked to be able to know immediately where each of them were. If any of them were in trouble, the dot flashed red and he would set out immediately to help. A deep melancholy settled on his shoulders as he admitted he had lost one to an avalanche early on and he refused (the melancholy flowed into angry determination) to have any other deaths among his group. So now he took the time to train and equip them for the paths ahead before sending them on their way.
The first of the group was about to finish his ten years and Trion was making plans to meet up with him and hear about his future plans.
Solvek’s imagination fired. Some of these dots were in places unknown to the city archive. To meet these people, to record and preserve their experiences for others. Now this was work for a scribe. He found he had no wish to sit tamely by his fire for a wife who would likely never return. If she was to see the world, well then, he would see some of it too, and talk to people who’d seen more than either of them.
And so it came to be. Solvek accompanied Trion to his meeting with that first wanderer, who had decided to buy an inn at a busy crossroads and name it The Wanderer’s Rest. His stories and observations filled three of Solvek’s notebooks. Which he then copied twice in fair hand, sending one to his son at the city archive and the other to his daughter at the Lionmother’s temple. He was never one to show unfair favour to either child.
Trion gave him a box that allowed him to exchange messages with the dark elf, regardless of each’s location, and this was used to track and talk with other members of Trion’s strange little community. Never his wife though, he wasn’t quite ready for that.
This continued for a few years. The store of Sovek’s notebooks at each archive growing apace and feeding the scholars with sights and situations never before encountered within their respective walls.
Then, one day, Trion appeared at the door of The Wanderer’s Rest, now a bustling centre of human activity and a favoured pause point for all the Wanderers, and Solvek. A group of his wanderers were in trouble. They weren’t red, but there were three of them clustered together and none had moved in over a month. Impossible under the geas if they weren’t trapped in some way. And, yes, Solvek’s wife was one of them.
Solvek was packing before Trion had finished explaining the situation. He paused only to pen quick notes to his children, then followed the anxious elf onto the road.
They travelled a path unknown to all but the most intrepid, the most desperate. Across the Firelands, under the Giant’s Table, over the Whispering Plains to the stone circle.
Unknowing, uncaring, stupid in their concern for the trapped, they crossed the perimeter without hesitation and their world turned to another.