This grew out of Wordgazer's posting about what would have happened if the Wolfriders had not gone to the Sun Village. It's not fully planned out because I'd need another lifetime to adapt the whole series but I promised Kathleen a chunk in exchange for a scene of Rayek raising Venka.
The basic premise is that the Wolfriders didn't flee to the troll caves but fled west, where they found Blue Mountain. Strongbow shot a bird, they ate it and the Gliders enslaved them all in retaliation. Life in the Sun Village went on as usual until one day a family of humans wandered in! Shock and fear paralyzed the Villagers at first but when one of the humans fell off his mount and began writing in pain, Leetah could not contain herself. The healing was long and drained much out of her but Savah prevented anyone from interfering. She desired to take the opportunity to make friends of the humans, if they could. The language barrier was difficult to breach but they managed it. When he heard the humans speak of other elves, Rayek-- who'd been going a bit stir-crazy-- determined to go in search of them. To everyone's surprise, several of the Villagers determined to go with him. (Zhantee, Shu-shen and others nameless for now.) Leetah stayed behind. Though Rayek originally didn't want the company he learned to appreciate it and the many trials they faced helped his heart to grow. In the meantime, Winnowill took Savah's spirit. In attempting to heal her, Leetah learned of the "evil" and gathering her courage and what other elves would go with her, set out to keep her lovemate and tribemates from finding it themselves.
Rayek and Leetah's groups met up at Blue Mountain where to their horror they found one set of new elves enslaved by the other! Rayek and Leetah quickly argued them free by producing missing members of the Wolfriders-- Woodlock, Rainsong and their family. The young children and Rainsong's obvious pregnancy rekindled Voll's lost hope and yadda yadda yadda... (For obvious reasons Tyldak and Dewshine only Recognized recently. Cutter and Leetah have met but Recognition hasn't struck... yet.)
“You fear us!” Leetah challenged, pointing an angry finger at Winnowill. “I have sensed it all along! Since we came here you’ve done nothing but hint, behind a sly smile that you do not want us to stay! Why?”
Rayek, who at Voll’s urging had come to spend some time with the Great Egg, flattened himself behind a pillar before the healers could notice him. “What is Leetah doing?” he wondered, not sure whether he applauded her bravado or feared for her safety.
“I cannot believe that a true High One would be so cold and unloving,” the dark-skinned healer continued. “And why do you want to harm Petalwing?”
Winnowill only glared.
Leetah folded her arms in cold indignation. “Yes, I know all about it! It does not matter who told me. If that tiny creature is a threat to you, then your place among the Gliders cannot be as secure as you pretend! I have felt your powers, Winnowill and I do not fear them. I will not let you use them against those I love!” Her face set in grim determination. “We are STAYING. Lord Voll will see Petalwing! And YOU will go back to the shadows where you belong!”
Winnowill’s response was to burst into laughter. “How alike we are,” she said smoothly. “I wish to protect MY people just as YOU wish to protect yours. But you cannot win this game, Leetah, for you have already placed your greatest weakness in my hands.” She leaned over the smaller elf, a mocking smile on her lips. “Why did you deliberately spill Cutter’s drink? Why did you prevent Lord Voll from hearing the Wolfrider’s origin?” Winnowill put a finger to Leetah’s lips, forestalling her feeble attempt at an answer. “Do not speak! I know the truth and I will keep it to myself””if you Sun Villagers and the Wolfriders leave””NOW.”
“You know nothing!!” Leetah burst out. Rayek marveled at the fear and pain on her face but Winnowill didn’t stop.
“Come now”¦ I, too, am a healer. I touched Strongbow.. and I learned just as YOU surely learned, the first time you touched a Wolfrider.”
There certainly was something”¦ different”¦ about the Wolfriders. Rayek frowned. Would this secret be the real reason the Gliders had been keeping the strange, pale elves as slaves? Could there be a reason compelling enough to excuse such behavior? He couldn’t imagine enslaving an entire tribe over something as trivial as the death of a beast.
Winnowill was still speaking. “The Wolfriders are, indeed, brothers to their short-lived wolves. I wonder how they became so, and when? Long ago, I should think”¦ or do they continue to renew their blood kinship even now?”
“Be silent!” Leetah shouted.
“Cutter spoke of living as long as Lord Voll. How pathetic! Obviously the Wolfriders are ignorant of the price they must eventually pay for their ancestor’s folly!”
Rayek reeled. The short, brutish ones were tainted? Were more beast than elf? He felt his gorge rise in revulsion at the thought.
Leetah was shaken. “Let them continue in their innocence!” she cried. “I will not tell them, and YOU will not!”
“How could I,” the sly healer smiled, “if they were gone from Blue Mountain?”
“Y-you’ve won,” Leetah stammered, deflated. “I will try to convince Rayek and the others to leave.”
Enough was enough. “No, Leetah!” Rayek declared, striding angrily up to the pair. “Winnowill is used to spying”¦ not being spied on! She has no hold over you now!”
Leetah sobbed and threw herself into his arms. He glared defiantly up at Winnowill.
“So”¦ now you know the truth of your new friends. Can the word ”˜friend’ even be applied to those so beastly?”
“I know you lie whenever it suits you,” Rayek gritted, “But I must believe Leetah. And I also know that if this is true then we owe it to them to remind them of their better natures, not to push them down even further! Voll would agree, that’s why he built this mountain!”
“Well played, little hunter!” Winnowill seemed almost impressed but mostly angry. “My carelessness has cost me a weapon””though by no means my most potent one! Think well what it may cost you to remain here! Think about”¦ the children!”
“YOU!” Rayek snarled. It was in fact the Wolfriders’ children that had changed his mind about the taint in the Wolfriders. The young, innocent things, so full of promise, deserved a chance at a better life. He could not condemn them. If there were some way to save them, then he vowed that it would be found. “You ARE the evil in Blue Mountain! Touch those children and””“ He groped for words, it was hard to find anything that expressed the red wall of rage he felt. Almost of its own volition his hand griped his knife. “I’LL KILL YOU!” Leetah gasped.
Winnowill smiled mockingly. “Strongbow’s mate already tried. Remember, youth, a blade is only as effective as its wielder. But I needn’t touch you to hurt you””or those precious children!”
Rayek turned away, seemingly subdued by Winnowill’s threat. She gloated. “Take the mortal tribe with you and go, little hunter. You are more like them than you will admit. You are not fit to dwell with the High Ones!”
He made no sound. There was only a sudden, cat-like crouch and then his blade was at her throat.
The cold dagger biting into her pale flesh, Winnowill blasted Rayek with the kind of pain that only she could give. Her black sending dealt the hurt””her claws directed and intensified it. Sudden agony burst like flames behind his eyes! Yet his strength did not give way.
Moment by moment the dagger pressed closer to its mark. To her horror and disbelief, Winnowill realized that her death was nearer than his! “Fool!” she cried. “How much can you bear?!” She glared desperately into his eyes””those fierce, mesmerizing eyes””she fell in”¦ and found her answer.
That which she had mocked””the rough, beast-like element in his soul””was now the source of her terror. Old the Gliders were and older were the High Ones. What she now grappled with was older still. It was a secret long forgotten””perhaps willfully””by the High Ones. Eons and eons ago, before their magic had blossomed, even before they had discovered science, their ancestors had fought tooth and claw to survive. They had clawed their way up the evolutionary ladder by force of will, by force of arms and only later by force of mind. The High Ones, so sure of their superiority, had scorned such traces of their past but on this rough, young world Recognition had brought it out again. To what purpose, Winnowill could not guess. All she knew was that this””this eiran was implacable, that it held her in its grip and that it would not let her go!
This truth she know knew in her soul””she had met her match in strength born of the High Blood and the world outside!
“No, dearest! The pain is blinding you!” Leetah dashed to Rayek’s side. “Remember the humans at the Village? Remember how Savah spared their lives? Why did she do it? Remember!”
His agony relieved by Leetah’s healing embrace, Rayek recalled. “To deal death is only to continue a cycle that will destroy us all.” It was the hardest choice he’d ever had to make””a choice between the instinct to protect at all costs and the ethics taught him by one he held as mother and mentor. He chose”¦ the knife slid slowly away from Winnowill’s throat”¦but he doubted there’d be any fellowshipping this time.
“You are wise, Leetah,” Winnowill rasped out. “You just saved his life.”
“Do not deceive yourself!” the desert healer snapped. “I saved YOU! You may be able to twist and bend your own people like flimsy playthings””but you can never defeat our spirit! It is the spirit of life!”
“You’re finished now, Preserver!” Tyldak burst into the room, shouting. Before he could catch it, Petalwing had spooted wrapstuff all over Winnowill and disappeared down a hole too small for Tyldak to enter. Frustrated he flew away raging, while Winnowill slunk down to her quarters.
Alone in the Chamber of the Egg, Rayek and Leetah embraced briefly. “Dearest?” she asked when he turned away. “What is wrong? You are shaking.”
“You don’t know,” he murmured, “what I saw in her eyes”¦”
“Her eyes?” Leetah gasped, incredulous. Her hands flew out to touch him again, terrified that the unthinkable could have happened. But”¦ “It’s not Recognition,” she said, confused.
He slumped down onto the egg platform. “No”¦” he whispered.
“Then what is it?” she asked, leaning down and searching her friend’s face anxiously. He could not meet her eyes. “Rayek, tell me!” she implored.
“That could be me”¦ that could so easily be me”¦”