- Markshire PCs:
[dialogue in the elven tongue]
“What? You’ve never seen half-orcs before?” Marco was incredulous.
“Maybe. But not until I left home. My land is almost all humans, a few of elven blood. The humans are…not tolerant of differences. Half-orcs would live with orcs, if there even are any. We fight all orc-bloods together, elf-bloods and humans, kill on sight.”
“Well, don’t try to kill the Captain, alright? He’s a good ‘un—came in the hawsehole.”
Sun was perplexed. “Hawsehole?”
“Sorry, girl, that’s sailor-talk. Hawsehole’s where the rope that holds the anchor comes into the ship.”
“He must have been smaller when he crawled through there.”
Marco laughed. “No, that’s just a turn of phrase—means he was an ordinary sailor before he became captain and that don’t happen too much. You saw the tar on his hands, right? Captains like that are the best sailors, know how the ship works inside and out, know how the men think, know weather. Just don’t happen much because so few of us learn how to read and write, or save any money.”
“So, he owns the ship?”
Marco laughed again. “No, none of us make that kind of money! But he did buy a small share. The owner’s smart—knows Cap’n Thrakh will work the ship hard but safely if he has a stake.” Marco, paused, a little bit shy. “Sun-Ok, you’re funny.”
Sun smiled, openly, enough to welcome Marco’s friendship but nothing more. She was practiced in such deflections from decades living among human boys. “Not on purpose,” she winked. “There is just so much I do not know…”
They sat together by the rail in companionable silence for several minutes.
“You said the humans in your land aren’t tolerant—how do the elves live with them, then?”
“Hmmm. We elf-bloods live with them, work with them. But we keep apart and they keep us apart. No way to live apart—humans are everywhere. It’s a little hard to explain. The stories are that ages ago, a small band of elves entered the Kingdom, fleeing a dragon that terrorized their own land. Back then the Kingdom was all monsters and humans.” Sun paused, thinking how to tell the story so it would make sense to Marco.
“Humans rode to fight the elves, thinking them just another type of monster invading their realm. The band took refuge in some rocks at the top of a hill, certain that this would be their last stand. The humans charged many times, and each time the elves showered arrows on them. The human armor was good, but the horses died in the hundreds, and the human horse-soldiers trudged back down the hill. The elves had no way to make more shafts, and let them go, saving their ammunition for the nearing end.
“The humans had short bows, and were adept at ferocious swordwork, but had never seen such skill at such a range—seeing that and the apparent mercy, they parleyed at last, managed to communicate enough to make peace as the ravens feasted on horsemeat. Ever since, the elves have been a small group in the Kingdom, providing the core of its missile forces and a small adjunct to their magical arts.”
Marco nodded. “So, they kept you around because you were useful? They tolerate you only that much?”
“Yes, in the simplest sense. But friendships formed, as well, to a degree. More importantly, humans saw that the prowess of the elves provided military might, allowing the Kingdom to dominate its enemies, and their longevity provided wisdom and stability that helped diminish internal squabbling between Lords.”
Sun-Ok paused, wondering whether to continue. What could it hurt? “There was also a small tradition among my people, resulting from that battle, that we kept hidden from the humans.” Marco looked up.
“We were very short on ammunition, yes? A few of my people, the cleverest and the nimblest, were sent down the hill, between cavalry charges and during them, in broad daylight, to recover spent arrows from the ground and from the corpses. They would only survive if they could hide in those conditions, slither, keep quiet, feign death. My people keep this tradition alive—and hide it from the humans—in part to honor those brave elves who sneaked out of the battle lines, and in part because we know, at some point, the human tolerance may end, and we may have to hide again.
“Those among us keeping this tradition we call Serpents, to remember the way they slithered through the grass and dead to recover arrows.”
Sun-Ok paused, and Marco turned to look at her, interrupting before she could continue. “No need to say it—you were one of these secret Serpents, right?”
Sun smiled. “You’re smarter than you look, Marco.” He blushed. “Yes, that’s where my aptitudes lie, and what I was raised to be, and hiding did keep me alive during my travels, but my real training had not yet begun, and now…who knows?”
“Well, what I know,” said Marco, standing and stretching before he continued, “is that if we don’t prove ourselves useful, Cap’n Thrakh will show us how tolerant the cat-o-nine-tails is. Let’s teach you how to mend a sail.”