It had been a long walk back to the village, blindfolded and with her hands bound in front of her, Shila had fallen more than once in the thickened mud of this forsaken place. Always she was picked up and pushed to continue ahead, as if they had some schedule to keep. No one spoke. Without the ability to see the sounds around her took on a new life. Suddenly, it seemed, she could hear things she hadn't noticed before, like the subtle differences in the slurp and plop of footsteps (or the absence thereof) depending on the viscosity of the mud. The sounds of the swamp, still mysterious and so alive, reminded her how far she was from home. Thoughts drifted to home, familiar faces, and one beautiful face in particular...Her sole companion, and close friend, had been murdered by a traitor, and there's no telling what they might do to a prisoner...especially one who belonged to a great noble house. She must not let them know her true identity. Or maybe, that was the test that now lay before her, to face her fate with dignity, to triumph (in some small way) in spite of her failure. Her mind turned to Gelden then, the traitor spy, and cold murderer who had, like these filthy tribals, not and ounce of honor running through his blood. The rage in her heart boiled at the thought of him and her mind danced at the thought of bringing justice to Agan's betrayer. Only she would not sneak up from behind, or deliver poison from the shadows. She would face him.
They had descended a small, twisting stairway and made a few turns; the surface beneath her feet was, to Shila's surprise, made of solid (smooth) wood and barely creaked under the weight of them. They must have entered a room for the sounds gave a different echo now and she could feel the illumination of torches or candlelight. They had come to a full stop; there was only the sound of footsteps and low murmurings and then, the blindfold fell loose, untied from behind. Her eyes strained to adjust to the light and the blurry figure now standing in front of her, untying the binds to her wrists. By the time her eyes had adjusted she could see that this room was not a prison cell or torture chamber, as she had half expected, but what appeared to be a Study of some kind, complete with an array of bookshelves, several comfortable looking chairs and an elegant desk of a most unusual design. Her brief survey of the room revealed that she was also now completely alone and for a moment Shila wondered how she had not heard the tribals leave the room. There were only two doors, the one behind her, from which they had entered and another in the opposite corner. Inspection revealed both were bolted shut from the other side and, as she immediately noticed, also fashioned of solid wood...good Cheramu wood such as they had back home, which she was sure did not grow out here in the swamplands. What is this place? Shila looked over the room again, more carefully this time. The top drawer of the desk revealed several sheets of paper, unused, and a small letter opener, also ornamentaly crafted...possibly Elvish, maybe Human. What fools would leave her in this room to find such a useful weapon? Unless it was a trap. Shila brushed off the thought as she gently slipped it under her left bracer.
Something chirped from across the room and the sound of it breaking the dead silence startled Shila so that she knocked over the chair behind her (and very nearly had leapt across the desk). What was that!? There it is again...a single low pitch chirp, with a distinctive trill. Though her nerves were on edge Shila quickly composed herself and strode cautiously to the source of the strange sound. There, on a small stand (which had been obscured by a large overstuffed chair) was a metal cage, half covered by a decorated piece of thin cloth. Again, the craftsmanship of this cage was an impressive sight, no doubt stolen or looted from a wealthy noble, or perhaps even from one of the Elvish clans. Shila lifted the cloth to reveal the mysterious creature and instantly found herself gazing into the tiny round eyes of a curious, delicate looking thing. The shape of it resembled that of a small bird, with a brilliant deep brown (almost orange) outer coat and a fuzzy belly of light blue. The tiny beak was unlike any she had seen on a bird this size, except that instead of feathers its coat seemed almost unreal, as though it had been fashioned from the lightest, fluffiest cotton and then tinted with color. It had no wings or appendages other than two little bird-like legs, and the thing was perched comfortably on a bar. At first it didn't move, just watching, with its eyes as Shila studied her new discovery. She tilted her head, trying to recall if she had ever encountered such a creature and in unison with her movement so too did the little wingless bird. This was followed by a low purring, almost rolling rumble, though its mouth didn't move, and the thing just gazed adoringly into Shila's weary face. “Another captive...” she spoke aloud, “...probably taken away from your mate. And now trapped.” Like me, she thought to herself. Shila's thoughts returned to Agan, and like a flood her heart began to ache and she felt the tears welling up, blurring her vision of this poor and lonely creature.
The door crept open and through stepped Gelden. His attire was different now. Shila stood slowly, turning to face the traitor, full of questions – but mostly rage – and casually her hand moved toward the bracer on her left forearm. Gelden's face was different somehow, his expression difficult to read for it almost resembled...concern. He was still several paces away from her and she would have to be swift and fierce, choosing her moment carefully. “We have very little time,” Gelden spoke without a hint of urgency. “Yes, we do” said Shila as she stared into him. To that Gelden reacted, slightly, and then, as if her meaning had suddenly clicked into place his expression changed again. “Ah, yes...Well, before you avenge your friend – at the expense of your own life – there is something you should know about him...” Shila froze. And a sense of dread enveloped her. “He's alive, and well...and as we speak on his way home.” Shila began breathing again (not realizing she had been holding her breath). “How...” Shila struggled for words. “How is that...possible?” “The poison you mean?” At that Gelden pulled the tiny device out and held it up. “That dart did carry a poison, yes. A special mixture that saved your friend...by giving the appearance of having killed him. In fact, it probably saved both your lives, because if the two of you had stood and fought you would both be dead now.” Shila scoffed at the thought, but Gelden paid her no mind. “You are confident and skilled young one; but you underestimate these people.” He was making his way to one of the bookshelves. “You can never rely too much on the stories of others...Some things can only be learned, and understood, firsthand. But there's no time for this. If I had not administered the antidote in time he may never have recovered. It was good that you did not fight back there, a brave and sound judgment.” Shila's eyes narrowed, “How can I know you're telling the truth?” “You can't. Not now.” Gelden had taken a small book from the shelf. “As I said, some things you will have to figure out for yourself.” Shila's emotions wavered between joy and suspicion, hope and confusion. “When you are ready, when the time is right, you can give me a message. I will see that he gets it. You may also write your parents.” Gelden emphasized his next point, “But keep the messages brief. They will already know your fate.” “So I'm not to be executed then,” Shila replied. “That is up to them.” Gelden's tone was serious and he looked deeply into her eyes. “I cannot rescue you. The risk is too great, and there is too much at stake...things I cannot reveal. You can search for a way to escape, but don't count on my presence or aid.” Gelden paused and then continued as if he had just thought of something. “You should know they have trackers, competent as the best Elvish scouts. You would never know you were being followed.” Gelden had placed something in the book and, glancing over at her, replaced the book back on the shelf. He then pulled something out of a pocket, glanced at it quickly before putting it away and then, without another word, left the same way he had come in.
Shila was alone again. Well, not completely alone. Her little bird was still there, quietly perched and watching her contentedly. Shila began moving toward the bookshelf when the other door opened for the first time. Two figures stepped into the room. The first was a horribly disfigured Malornian, older in years, and looked as though he had been trampled in some terrible way or attacked by Orcs and left for dead many years ago and only barely survived. And yet, he walked mostly upright with an unnerving degree of confidence. The second was a woman, similar in years and possibly the most beautiful Malornian Shila had ever seen. For the longest time they stood there and watched her, studying her, and she couldn't understand what they were looking for. A feeling of defiance welled up inside her and Shila said nothing for she would give them nothing they sought. Perhaps sensing her discomfort the man spoke at last, “I am Argyle.” Gesturing, “This is my life-mate Ilthune.” “May we have the pleasure of knowing your name?” Shila steeled herself, knowing that whatever courtesy or emotion she displayed must not betray the survival of her companion, or tip them off that she knew of his return journey home. Agan is safe now, she thought, and this path is mine to walk alone. Shila lifted her head and spoke, “My name is Shila, firstborn and daughter of house Methazar, to whom you owe your allegiance.” The two of them looked at each other as if they had heard the words they had hoped for. No doubt she would make for a prized captive, though Shila also knew that her people were not predisposed to paying out ransom. Perhaps in defiance at whatever plot they had in mind, or in a desperate attempt at seizing the momentum Shila spoke again, more defiant as before, “You would make a great mistake keeping me a prisoner. It would be better for you and your people if you let me go...or kill me.” Argyle responded visibly to the suggestion, “Kill you? Is that what you think we do?” Then he seemed to consider for a moment. “Although, you have been caught a spy. Do you deny it?” Shila mustered up her courage. “I do not deny it.” “But you admit you know very little about us,” interrupted Ilthune. Thinking back to Gelden Shila wasn't sure how to answer the question. She hesitated. “I know what I know.” Her confidence was quickly betraying her. The disfigured one moved forward and spoke again, with a much different tone. “Though you have committed a grave crime, you won't be executed. We could never kill our own daughter.”
The tale of Shila Methazar is a sad one; although, she doesn't realize it yet, there is also great hope (and a few more mysteries to unlock). We may return to her story some time in the future. But for now, other characters are waiting to be introduced. Here is the Character Sheet for our noble Malornian, a capable female warrior, whose identity has just been thrown to the wind.