Kaerishiel Neirenar briefly nodded at the Viridian guards at the palace entrance. He passed through the towering silver and crystal double doors and went up a short, broad flight of marble stairs that led into a vast hall. Light filtered in from above through wide crystal windows to focus on a dais perhaps a hundred yards distant. Several richly garbed elves, speaking quietly among themselves, stood in a gathering near the dais – Kaerishiel recognized four leading members of the powerful Winter Council: Arlindil, Malindil, Perelir, and, of course, Hialin. On the dais was placed a single throne of living vines and delicate wooden branches. And seated upon that throne was a regal, beautiful elf woman with an intense gaze and almost challenging expression. Upon her brow was a crown of delicrate vines and violets.
Telandia Edasseril, Sovereign of the Elven Race, Queen of Kyonin, and bearer of the Viridian Crown, smiled fleetingly at Kaerishiel’s entrance. The elven warrior bowed deeply at the Queen and the members of the Winter Court, who acknowledged his arrival by the briefest of nods.
“Your Majesty” – Hialin seemed to continue a debate – “the messages we have received from our brothers and sisters at Crying Leaf cannot be any clearer. The dark ones are growing in power, and they have taken over the western remnants of the old Margreve. There appears to be some unholy alliance between the cursed ones and the twisted feykin of the forest. We should act now, send an army, eradicate the dark menace, and deal for once and for all with our Shame before it infests the surface world.” As he spoke the ancient elven language he wove a theme of defiance and authority in his words. “This, Your Majesty, is the opinion of the Winter Council.”
Telandia smiled coldly at Hialin. “Your opinion is noted, Hialin. As always, the Winter Council stands ready to aid the Crown with its vast knowledge and wisdom. We appreciate your organization’s historical dedication to the survival of the elven people and its role to upheld civilization in the absence of legitimate rule.” The Queen’s elegant voice emphasized these two last words, which seemed to contain a hint of challenge and anger. "But the Winter Council’s concern about the rise of the accursed ones should not cloud its political judgement. Were we to raise an army and send it through the River Kingdoms, what do you think would happen? The little bandit kingdoms between Kyonin and Mivon would think we were an invasion force, and bleed our forces before we even got to the outskirts of Western Margreve. Then there is the nation of Pitax, do you think that deluded madman Irovetti would grant us passage? And finally, let us not forget that Brevoy claims the area as well. The humans would not look kindly upon an elven invasion of their “stolen” lands." The elven Sovereign shook her head. “Your plan is madness. If we didn’t know better, we would almost think the Winter Court was looking for a reason to put Kyonin’s armies under its direct command.” Her last words articulated both doubt and certainty.
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Perelir, priestess of Calistria and member of the Winter Court, spoke. “As always, our role is to serve, not to rule the elven people, Your Majesty. We understand your objections to our… suggestion, but, speaking from our long experience in these matters, we would not want to make the mistake of underestimating the consequences of a resurgence of the dark disease. We cannot tolerate its existence on the surface. So we have sworn a long time ago.” The priestess’s voice expressed necessity and urgency.
The elven Queen slightly raised her eyebrow. “Under the guidance of the Winter Court the elves have lived in isolation long enough. There are other ways to deal with our… problem. Since the last decades our nation has not only acquired its share of enemies, we have also gathered a group of allies. Apart from our cousins in Hymbria, we have built strong ties with the nation of Mivon, which borders the stolen lands to the north, and Pitax to the west. We could support their war effort against Pitax, and in exchange ask them to deal with the dark ones.”
Armistril of the Winter Council shook his head. "For all your insights in regional politics, Your Majesty, you do not appear to know the most recent facts. Mivon has barely escaped defeat in a battle against creatures from Eastern Margreve. The southern Swordlords are weakened and unable to withstand Pitax…”
Hialin interrupted Armistril. "There may be another way, which satisfies both the Winter Council’s desire for a swift and final solution, and the Queen’s political concerns. The fall of the elven empire thousands of years ago has left many ruins buried beneath the remains of Margreve. One of these sites, the old city of Celwynvian had an elven gate. If we are to locate the ruins and reactivate the gate, we would be able to send troops directly from our capital Iadara to the Stolen Lands, bypassing the Riverlands’ rogue nations.”
With her soft voice, Perelir added to Hialin’s words: “According to my research, Celwynvian is located in East Margreve, contemporarily known as the Narlmarches. Since a few months, this area falls under the dominion of a Dwarven Brevic warlord, Hegelinde Stonemark.”
Hialin completed Perelir’s thought. “We would send a small contingent of Shin’Rakorath to the Narlmarches, to find Celwynvian and negotiate the army’s passing with the warlord.”
Telandia glanced at Kaerishiel, who still stood silently before the council. “We presume that it is captain Neirenar who will lead the company?”
The elven ranger bowed deeply before his Queen, remaining silent. Telandia’s gaze returned to the members of the Winter Council. “Well, it seems you have had ample time to scheme and now there are few alternatives left to deal with the dark menace. We agree with your plan, but for a small modification: when the Lantern Bearers negotiate a safe passing for our army, neither a member of the Shin’Rakorath, nor of the Winter Council will lead the elven troops.”
Hialin frowned. “Who will command our army then, Your Majesty?”
Queen Telandia raised her head high and spoke authoritatively: “We will.”