Arjan

By Starspawn07

Yeah, nothing epic. I had this idea when listening to some North West Chinese and Central Asian folk songs, ( Go to Youtube, search for 'Uyghur Music','Xinjiang','Shahrizoda','Dao Lang' etc … ) and need to get this out of my head so that I can continue with The Grey Templar 2. Good thing is, it has potential for further development, but as always, No Promises !

Also, I have not played WoW, so this may not have the Fantasy RPG feel that you are used to. Enjoy anyway :)

The Warcraft series is a product of Blizzard Entertainment.

It is said that south of Ashenvale forest there was once a vast grassy plain that spread over most of central Kalimdor. Here lived a nomadic branch of the Night Elves. Some say that their ancestors left their original homeland in search of greater wealth, others, pointing to the Steppe Elves' liberal use of magic among other things, suggest that they were banished by the Druids for stubbornly clinging on to the Old Ways.

Whatever drove them to live separately from their forest dwelling cousins, life was not all prosperous. The after effects of the Sundering were felt everywhere. The world was no longer as the Elves once knew. The devastation caused by the Third War aggravated the desertification of Kalimdor, and the already expansive Barrens soon swallowed up much of the Steppes, forcing most of the latter's inhabitants to take refuge in the isolated valleys and plateaus, beyond the knowledge of the common races of the world, except for the few curious scholars and wizards.

Now those still alive are leaving their dwindling pastures, some looking to settle their tribes elsewhere, others for more personal reasons.

"Ten mugs down !" Sab'ng poured the last bit of beer down his throat, then slammed the mug down onto the table and laughed.

Across the round stone table, the figure of a large warrior with green skin, tusks protruding from its brutish lower jaw, clad in a heavy black jacket, swayed for a while, holding a cup before its face, then fell forward. Its expressionless face hit the stone surface with a painful thump, crushing and throwing off the empty mugs placed on the table, and its whole body went limp.

The group of Orcs, Trolls and Tauren who had gathered around the table gaped in shock, then burst out into laughter as well, shaking and swatting each other's backs in excitement.

"Sab'ng ! Sab'ng ! Sab'ng" They cheered and congratulated their latest champion in the drinking contest. The cheering grew louder and more boisterous as more and more people joined in, so that the many voices seemed to come from every table in the dining hall of the inn.

Sab'ng stretched and stared at the dull sandstone ceiling, lit by a dim white glow from the simple, trapezoidal doorway that led outside the inn. Another meaningless day. When he first left his hometown to travel the world, everything he saw was refreshing and exciting to him. A seemingless endless landscape of strange plants and beasts totally different from the bamboo forests where he grew up, spectacular natural phenomena that never occurs in Panderia, beings that few Panderen ever met.

Now, however, having been around the whole continent, it took some effort just to live each day differently.

Perhaps, he thought as he looked around him at the various faces grinning and nodding at him, I could start a fight ? Step on someone's hoof, or grab someone's tusk.

He shook his head and smiled bitterly at himself. No, this was just a crowd of savage troglodytes and overgrown bipedal buffalos. None of them would pose any serious challenge to him. None would dare challenge him anyway, having seen what he did to the gang of Orcish rowdies that morning. No fun.

Then all at once, the cheering died down, and everyone seemed to turn their heads towards the entrance of the inn.

Sab'ng stood up and pushed his way towards the doorway to get a glimpse of what they were staring at.

There, standing with his back against the glaring daylight, was the tall handsome figure of what appeared to be an elf, as Sab'ng could tell from his pointed ears and gracile features. Yet if one looked closer he would observe that his hair, tied back into a ponytail, was ebony black, as were his eyes, and his skin was a tanned grey, with hints of blue. He wore coarse dark blue pants which covered each leg entirely , and a simple, short sleeved beige silken shirt, the front of whose collar dipped down to a point where one half was sewn over the other. Slung over his shoulder he carried a sac through the mouth of which protruded the long thin neck of a lute and half of an unstrung recurved bow, elegantly crafted like commonly seen elven bows but shorter and more robust.

A shrill voice sounded from the other side of the dining hall. "Yo there, take a seat. Da menu's on da table. I'll come to yo in a moment …"

The elf replied in a low, tired voice, "Thank you. I just need some water, and rest."

He sat down behind the table closest to the doorway, placed his burden on the table, and stared out through the door at sandstone pavement and houses, further out at the grass plain and pale orange valleys outside, and at the horizon where the setting sun cast a bright yellow white glare on the hazy clouds.

At this, the other customers in the inn turned away and went about their own business, while Sa'bng quietly sat down at the table adjacent to the elf's, watching the latter with a growing interest.

For a while Arjan sat motionless, eyes gazing out dreamily into the distance, then he sighed and pulled his lute from the sac. It resembled the Night Elven sitar but was lighter and thinner, and its neck curved down away from the soundboard side.

He ran his fingers over the strings. Satisfied that that they were properly tuned, he struck them in a repeating pattern. A song which he had sung many times over came to his mind, and he let it out, losing himself in the sad melody.

Why is the flower so red …why so red …

Red as … as the burning fire

Symbol of pure love and desire

Aaaye

Why is the blossom so vibrant … why so vibrant

So vibrant that … that one cannot bear to leave …

Doused with the blood of youth …

"Yo water, mister !"

"Thank you !" Without turning his head, Arjan reached for the mug in front of him, took a sip, then put it back on the table and resumed his singing.

How the bird flies … how it flies …

It flies to … to the faraway horizon …

Where my heart now lies

"Aye !

How the idiot sings … how he sings …

Like a harp with twisted strings …

Of his flower and bird and other silly things …"

Arjan's eyes shot open with a start and he spun to his right towards the source of the voice.

There, sitting at the next table and grinning mischievously at him from under a slanted wide-brimmed flat dome wicker hat, was what looked like a stocky humanoid bear dressed in black pants and a black shirt with many buttons. Its fur was white, with patches of black, the most distinctive of which was the large black spot around each eye. Around its waist was a leather belt with small containers made of bamboo attached to it. In its folded arms it held a bamboo staff almost as tall as its body.

"Say that again, Pandaren." Arjan demanded angrily.

The Pandaren spread his arms and laughed. "What ? The elf is upset over a song ?"

"I am not in the mood for jokes. Go away." Arjan turned and looked out the door.

The man-bear stood and slowly turned round to face the small crowd who had now gathered around the two tables to watch this little exchange. "Why ? Do you hate to mingle with us ? Are we too uncivilized for someone like you ?"

That did it for him. Arjan jolted up from his seat, turned his Dutar over, and quickly shoved his fingers into the back of its shell. To everyone's amazement, the strips of wood parted and allowed Arjan to push his right hand in. When the latter was lifted from the instrument, it was closed around the hilt of a metre long, inch wide curved sword, which Arjan swung at the Pandaren's face.

"You will shut up or else this blade goes through your skull !"

Despite whoops and cries of terror from the crowd, the Pandaren did not move an inch, even with the tip of Arjan's scimitar hovering a mere centimetre from his forehead.

"Impressive," The man-bear smirked. Slowly, he raised his staff and gently parried Arjan's sword aside. "but not before I bring you to your knees with my staff."

From somewhere in the surrounding crowd there came a squeaky voice. "You tell him, Sab'ng."

In a split second, Arjan jerked back his sword and thrust it at Sab'ng's heart with such speed and precision that it might have bisected a fly in midair.

Equally swift, Sab'ng stepped back and spun to his left, wiping Arjan's sword aside with his staff. "Ironwood bamboo hybrid, very very strong !" Sab'ng chuckled.

The crowd caught its breath.

Arjan grunted and in one motion turned the edge of his sword downwards, and slashed down.

"Whoa !" Sab'ng jerked his staff back before Arjan could slice his fingers off. At the same time he brought the upper end of the staff forward to strike the elf's shoulder.

Arjan jumped back and both circled each other, each appearing to look calm but in fact sizing other up and looking for a weakness to exploit.

Now the crowd looked on with anticipation, their love of violence stirred up at the sight of a possible duel and they were not satisfied until they see the two go for each other's throats. Loud chanting of "Fight ! Fight ! Fight !" was accompanied by a lot of punching into the air and stamping of feet.

And then the elf and Pandaren leapt screaming at each other, and the crowd roared with excitement.

Sab'ng poked and wacked at Arjan's legs and feet repeatedly with his staff, trying to throw the latter off balance, but the agile elf skipped clear of every blow, then leapt onto a table and stamped his feet onto the staff, holding it down with his own weight.

"Gannina !" Sab'ng cursed and let go of his staff, but before he could get hold off something else, he heard a savage scream and looked up in time to see the elf leaping down onto him, sword held high overhead in preparation for a huge downward slash.

Instinctively, Sab'ng bent low and rolled forward safely under Arjan's feet as the latter flew over him and landed where the Pandaren stood a moment ago.

Quickly grabbing his staff, Sab'ng stood and spun, swinging his weapon in a wide arc at the elf behind him. Arjan ducked and thrust his sword forward at Sab'ng's chest. Once again, the Pandaren easily avoided getting stabbed by stepping aside and brushing the sword away with his staff held vertical.

Pulling back, Arjan brought the sword close to his face, and muttered something incomprehensible to Sab'ng or anyone else in the dining hall. It sounded like a soft but penetrating drone.

Then, all gaped in shock as Arjan's blade quivered and extended out, doubling its length.

"Sorcery !" Someone shouted from among the spectators. "Cheater !"Another one agreed.

Ignoring these protests, Arjan swung his sword at Sab'ng again. The latter quickly brought his staff up to meet the extended weapon, then jerked back in surprise as the blade bent down around the wooden pole to strike him in the shoulder, tearing a superficial gash through his shirt.

Sab'ng yelped and jumped back, his staff pointed straight forward in preparation against further attacks from the wielder of the flexible sword. He could effortlessly deflect a rigid blade, but this time the only way he could prevail was to extend his reach as far as possible, further than the opponent would.

Arjan whipped his snake-like weapon repeatedly at the Pandaren, pushing the latter back inch by inch and scoring shallow strikes here and there, until Sab'ng's shirt was ripped and tattered all over.

Desperately, Sab'ng glanced back at the long table which he had been backed up against, and saw a bottle filled with a transparent pale red liquor. Fire ale !

He grabbed the bottle of incredibly strong drink and gulped down its contents, then he looked ahead and blew out a stream of bright hot fire.

Arjan's eyes widened and he held his breath as the cloud of flames engulfed him in a flash, then dissipated as soon as it came, leaving him with a charred hand, slightly burnt garments and smouldering hair. His scimitar shortened and settled back into the way it looked when Arjan first drew it.

He coughed loudly , puffs of smoke and ash drifting off of him, while Sab'ng slumped, panting, and licked the small cuts on his body.

Then they both stared quietly at each other for a few seconds, and laughed.

"Ah. I knew you were not like any elf we have seen before. The High Steppes huh ? I must visit that place some time soon." Sab'ng turned back towards the elf sitting beside him. "So what brings you to this place ?"

"I came in search of my lover."Arjan ran his hand slowly along the side of his Dutar, as if doing so kept him in touch of those memories.

"You must miss her very much."Sab'ng said. He stared at Arjan curiously, silently urging him to continue his story.

The elf sighed, "I have only been with her for a year, but I will never forget her. She is the most beautiful woman I've ever met. More beautiful than any in my tribe."

At this one of Sab'ng's eyespots perked up.

"No she is not from the Steppes."Arjan laughed "She is from the Northern forests."

"Oh the night witches. They capture the heart of any mortal man who sees them."Sab'ng nodded and took a swig from the mug in his hand. "How did you get separated ?"

"It's complicated."Arjan fished out a strip of papyrus. "Sometimes she is a mystery even to me." He handed the strip to Sab'ng, then realizing that the Pandaren probably did not know how to read it, withdrew it and read it silently to himself.

"Arjan,

Know that I love you and that will never change.

But I have told you why I left Ashenvale,

So you know I cannot stay here for long either.

I am heading East. Come look for me if you will.

Rose."

Arjan shook his head. "I am not even sure what her real name is."

"You be lookin for de elf-lady ?"

Both Arjan and Sab'ng looked up. Seated across the table now was a tall lean figure with pale blue skin, long tusks sprouting from its lower jaw and red hair combed up into a Mohawk.

"Have you seen her ?"Arjan asked eagerly.

The troll nodded his head frantically. "Yes, yes, mon ! She was in dis inn a week ago." He gestured wildly with his three fingered hands. "She be one crazy woman ! De centaurs came, raided de town, and what she do ? she stand in front of dem ! and dey take her ! and she be laughin and laughin !"

"Right …" Sab'ng rolled his eyes.

"I not kiddin you, mon !" the excited troll leaned forward, eyes wide.

Arjan slammed a fist onto the table and swore. "If the damned beasts have taken her, then I shall raze their camps and rescue her !"

"And what makes you think they will not rob you and barry you naked first."Sab'ng asked.

"That's the point !"Arjan exclaimed, then corrected himself. "The robbing part that is."

Sab'ng figured what Arjan planned to do, then a glimmer of excitement sparkled in his eyes. "Ah finally, a great fight !" The Pandaren gripped his staff tightly, his voice brimming with enthusiasm."I am coming with you !"

"You elfs be crazy !" The troll stared incredulously at the two persons before him. Then he threw his arms up and left the table. "You all be crazy !"

Ahhh

Stranger winds where have you come from …

Have you ever heard of a beautiful rose blossom

She took my heart

Across the desert

Lost long ago in a faraway land

Lost long ago among the shifting sands …

Ahhh

Homeless winds have you come from that distant kingdom ?

Have you ever seen my rose blossom ?

Her lovely eyes

Do they still mesmerize ?

Do you hear my cries of despair ?

Do you feel the sense of longing in the air ?

Ahhh…

Great wind which in the desert roams

Can you tell my rose blossom ?

Whether dusk

Or dawn

The faithful lover awaits news of her return

For news of her return

From the far distance, the surrounding sandstone plateaus and valleys cast broad shadows over the great cactus dotted desert basin. The fiery red and gold of the bare earth contrasted with the cold dim blue morning sky.

In the middle of this basin, was a sprawling collection of megalithic sandstone ruins, traversed by broad shallow dried up channels from which horsetails shot up in thick clusters. In the dim morning sunlight, great cyclopean towers, pyramids and crumbled walls stood out and overshadowed the surrounding piles of rubble, all overgrown with desert palms.

Past this dead city there trotted a large grey desert ram, stronger and fiercer than most other hoofed mounts known to Man or Orc. A metre from horn tip to curved horn tip. To its right was strapped a quiver of short arrows. On its left was a sac from which long thin objects protruded.

On it there rode an elf in plain garments and behind him a stocky humanoid bear with black and white fur.

Arjan pulled out his bow and held it against the front of the ram's left horn with the two ends curved away from him. He bent the latter over towards himself and, with one hand gripping tightly onto the upper half of the bow, and the other tugging at a string looped around the lower tip of the weapon, he looped the free end of the string around the upper tip. The strung recurved bow took on a gentle wavy appearance.

"The ambush should appear about now." Arjan fished out an arrow from his quiver and prepared to load it.

He ducked as something short and thin flew over him from the ruins on his left and struck the ground far to his right.

Sab'ng caught another bolt as it shot towards his head. "There !" He shouted and pointed towards the shadow under a large sandstone dolmen.

Arjan spun to his left and shot an arrow in that direction. The next moment they heard a howl of agony followed by the sickening thud of a hoofed quadrupedal creature collapsing onto the ground.

Arjan kicked his mount gently in the sides, spurring it into a gallop, just as three bolts flew out from behind some palm trees and hit the ground just behind them.

There was the noise of wooden contraptions being thrown onto the ground, followed by frantic hoof steps close behind them.

Arjan lifted an arrow close to his face and whispered an incantation. It seemed to writhe and hum in his hands.

Behind him, Sab'ng shouted, "three bandits on our heels !", and bent down as Arjan turned round, holding a bow over the Pandaren's head, and loosed the enchanted arrow.

It spun and traced a spiral path before hitting the ground, and the three pursuers stumbled over, grabbing their bleeding legs in pain. As the cloud of dust and sand drifted away, their appearances became clear. From the waist up, centaurs were elf like in appearance, albeit with brown skin and a brutish, bearded countenance, but below that was the body of a horse, attached where the neck and shoulders of a horse would be. They wore nothing but simple loincloth and in one hand each held a heavy axe with a long double blade.

Arjan faced forward again, just in time to see five centaurs dash out and block off their path of advance. They waved their axes menacingly and laughed.

Quickly, Arjan grabbed five arrows, notched them all at once, held up his bow horizontally, and fired. With deadly accuracy, each arrow struck the weapon hand of a centaur and the robbers dropped their axes shouting incomprehensible curses at the ram charging at them. Then they saw the murderous stare in the horned beast's eyes as it approached them, and they turned to flee.

The one in the middle screamed as the enraged ram crashed headfirst into his side and stretched him flat on the ground, crushing his bones under its hooves.

Sab'ng heard hoof steps behind him and a savage yell. "Oh no you don't !" He pointed his staff forward and jerked it back. There was a satisfying thump and an "ahh … oomph" as the rear end of his staff struck the centaur square in the face.

Arjan turned round ready to shoot the last robber down, but Sab'ng stopped him. "Wait !"

The pandaren stood up on the ram's back and with one push from his muscular hind legs, he jumped his own height up into the air and somersaulted backwards, landing right onto the back of the centaur, who flailed his arms in shock, then roared in pain as Sab'ng claws dug into his shoulder.

"Take us to your leader." Sab'ng demanded.

Arjan and Sab'ng watched from afar as the centaur stepped through the entrance to the stockade. It was a simple complex, surrounding by a wall of piled up sandstone blocks, with a broad, rickety wooden gate. Looking over the walls from outside, the tops of large tents made of kodo leather and wild boar skin stretched between thick poles and dried skeletons could be seen.

All around them were tall palm trees which gave the stronghold a gloomy atmosphere, in addition to the fact that it was situated at the bottom of a deep wide valley with several towering outcrops of rocks that had withstood millennia of weathering. They had left the ram outside the valley. One could not force a wild beast to go where it did not want to go.

Now five centaur trotted out before them. In the middle was a tall, lean warrior with a relatively long beard. He wore loincloth dyed brilliant blue, and a simple helmet with two feathers attached to its top. He appeared to be the leader of this clan of centaurs. Instead of an axe, he held a sheathed broad sword.

"I am Zamu Khan. what do you want ?" He shouted, drawing and pointing his sword at the elf and pandaren standing several metres before him. There was a tone of authority in his voice, but it also held a hint of uncertainty and frustration. He must have heard how Arjan dispatched nine of his raiders without suffering even a scratch himself.

"Did you take a Night Elf woman from the nearby town a week ago ?" Arjan asked aloud.

At this, the centaur Khan raised an eyebrow in surprise. Then he settled back to a calmer expression as he stroked his beard and pondered. Finally, he thrust his chest forward, as if trying to appear more sure of himself than he really was. "So what if we have ?"

"Let her go !" Arjan demanded.

"Or else what ?"

"Or else your camp burns !" Arjan held up his bow.

The five centaurs burst out into laughter. Two of them laughed loudly to hide their nervousness.

"Some other day, little elf. Mungr ! See them off !" Zamu motioned to a large, muscular warrior beside him, who replied with a sadistic grin, "With pleasure, chief !" and stood in place as Zamu and three other attendants turned around and trotted back into the stockade, closing the gate behind them.

"So, they say you know magic. Show me, elf !" Mungr stepped towards Arjan, he finger his enormous axe with his free hand as he ran through a list of tortures that he could inflict on the elf. He was almost twice the size of the common centaur. Taut, bulging muscles rippled under a thick brown skin. His hair was braided into heavy locks which made his grimacing face appear even more sinister. Scars along his arms, chest and face bore testimony to the many savage battles that he had survived. This was no robber. This was a warrior, and one who seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on others. "Show me!"

"Step aside !" Arjan aimed an arrow at the approaching giant, and let loose without applying any spells. The latter raised his axe in response.

The arrow struck Mungr in his arm and buried itself deeply through his skin. Mungr jerked backwards a few inches yet beyond that the centaur champion did not flinch. Calmly, he tore it out, and threw it aside as if it were just a tiny splinter. "Disappointing !" He shook his head and sneered, then without warning, he raised his axe and charged at the elf, who cursed and drew his scimitar.

For all his ferocity, Mungr paid little attention to the stocky figure in a flat wicker hat and black shirt standing beside Arjan, and before he could reach the elf, he heard a fierce screech and felt a sharp pain shoot up his left front leg, which startled him and stopped him in his tracks.

Even as he struck the first blow, Sab'ng dashed over behind Mungr and spun around, swinging his staff at Mungr's hindlegs. They struck the centaur's calfs with the force of a hammer dropping on a twig, and Mungr bellowed angrily while bending his hind legs from the impact of the blow, lowering his body by a metre. Sab'ng dug his claws into Mungr's left thigh, and summoning his great ursine strength, heaved himself onto Mungr's back, while the latter kicked frantically to get him off.

Clinging on stubbornly with the claws on his feet, Sab'ng tried to reach for Mungr's neck, but the thick tangle of braids got in the way, and Sab'ng settled for tugging violently at Mungr's hair.

Mungr reached back and elbowed Sab'ng off his back. The latter rolled off onto the ground, plucked a bamboo tube from his belt, and drank its contents.

Taking advantage of the temporary distraction, Arjan leapt forward and drove his scimitar through Mungr's neck. The latter roared and swatted the elf off with his free arm, sending Arjan flying through the air and landing awkwardly under a palm tree.

As Arjan picked himself up, he saw Mungr pull the sword out of his neck, blood trickling down the wound. Missed his vitals, Arjan realized.

Before the elf could fully recover, Mungr was charging at him again with axe upraised. This time, the centaur's expression was more of a blind rage than a sadistic glee. His eyes seemed to glow a searing red and he appeared larger than he was before, perhaps due to the fact that he was coming straight at Arjan.

Now with a savage roar which caused the earth to tremble and the trees to shake, Mungr swung his axe down at Arjan as the latter tried to dash out of its way.

Suddenly, the figure of a bear with black and white fur dropped in between the elf and centaur and clamped its paws around the handle of Mungr's axe, causing the centaur's burning eyes to widen in astonishment at the pandaren's incredible strength.

Sab'ng's hat was gone, and his usually funny, laughing face contorted into a snarl that would have made the fiercest furbolg appear like a harmless soft toy. His eyespots were creased into barbaric spiky patterns. His pupils glowed a scorching orange.

They held this position for seconds, their might precariously balanced, neither refusing to back off.

Then flames erupted from between Sab'ng's jaws and darted forward, engulfing Mungr's face. The startled centaur lost his grip on his weapon momentarily, and Sab'ng wrested the axe from his hands.

With a deathly howl which stilled the swaying of the trees and froze the blood of every centaur who heard it, Sab'ng swung the axe in a wide arc through Mungr's front legs.

There was the sound of steel ripping and grinding through tendon and bone in an instant, and Mungr screamed and toppled forward before crashing down sideways to the ground.

Sab'ng threw the axe aside, caught his breath, and turned round to help Arjan to his feet. The elf was a bit shaken from the battle, and in disbelief he stared at Mungr writhing and moaning on the ground. "I did not know you were that strong."

"Hehe, they don't call me Teo Sab'ng the Ultimate Brawler for nothing." Sab'ng chuckled meekly. "And good thing I saved same concentrated fire ale !" He held up a half empty bamboo tube.

The both of them sauntered past Mungr and stopped before the imposing wooden gate of the centaur stockade. Sab'ng gave it a push. There was the clanking of metal, but the doors held. "It's locked." Sab'ng sighed. "They probably put metal bars behind this thing."

"Step back." Arjan said. He raised his bow and aimed it at the gate. Closing his eyes in deep concentration, he whispered a long invocation mantra to the weapon, ending with a low resounding, "aummmm…". Without notching any arrow, he drew the bowstring. Faint sparks leapt between the bow and string. These intensified as the string was pulled back.

Then he opened his eyes and released the string. As the latter snapped straight a flash of lightning burst out from the bow and struck the seams between the wooden doors of the gate.

And the gate exploded. Sab'ng held up his arms and leapt back as burning shards of wood, and pieces of steel, gnarled and twisted from the instant burst of energy, flew in all directions, accompanied by a swiftly expanding cloud of dust, cinder and smoke.

As the debris settled and the cloud dissipated, the two stepped through into the camp. The centaur who saw them fled behind their tents, all except a tall lean warrior in blue loincloth and feathered helmet.

Zamu dropped his sword and spread his arms. "We cannot defeat you, elf ! We are at your mercy."

"Do what I have asked you to do. And I shall bother you no more." Arjan demanded.

"Alas ! That I cannot help you. I have only been chief for a few days. The person you are looking for is no longer here." Zamu took a step back and stared apprehensively at Arjan, as if expecting the latter to shoot him to death in response.

"What ?" Arjan gasped.

"Please stay your wrath, and I will tell you what happened …"

"It has only been a few days since we buried old Chief Koru. I will never forget the events that led up to his death.

I was in the camp when news came to me that Koru had returned from the latest raid with a great prize. I rushed out to congratulate him. And I saw her.

She was exceedingly beautiful. Yes she was. Her kind was a rare sight in the desert, and any Khan would have killed to own her. And now she was our slave ! So we thought …

We kept her tied up and bound within a store tentage. She did not scream and protest like our usual captives would. No she did not resist in the way we expected she would. She just smiled. A cold mocking smile ! Those eyes ! Those icy silvery eyes. I could see no fear in them. She disturbed me greatly. I had heard that Night Elves were immortal. I agree with those who say that immortals view us with slight contempt, and I accept that we can never contemplate all their mysteries … but to look into the eyes of an immortal in the flesh ! I felt like … like a rat staring up at the moon. I could not sleep well after that. More trouble followed.

At night we heard singing from her tent. Sweet and melodious. I imagine that was what wanderers heard as they were lured into the Northern forests, never to return. For a moment we enjoyed it. Then, at midnight, we heard a weird howling from outside the camp. It rose and fell as if in response to her singing. We went out and searched among the palms and rocks, but we found nothing. Still the howling got louder, and was joined by a chirping. Chirping ! Soon, the sounds echoed throughout the valley, and more and more of our warriors lost their nerves.

We decided to stop her. So we stomped into the storage tent and Koru slapped her across the face. She stopped singing, but then she looked at us with that mocking expression again and began laughing. That by itself was not what put me on edge . No it was the incessesant chattering that rose all through the valley in tandem with her laughter. Again we could not find anything that appeared to be the source of the weird noise, although some hunters reported seeing strange lights dancing in the far off darkness, and the palm trees bending and swaying as if to trap them. What madness had we brought upon ourselves ?

I tried to talk Koru into letting her go, but he ignored my pleas.

Then the second night the singing continued, and on the third night as well. No amount of threat or torture had any effect on her. And on the fourth night we could not take it anymore, and complained to Koru that we had to do something about her. He relented and once again we approached the storage tent. As he stepped through the entrance we saw a glint of something shiny flash across his shoulder and chest, and then he made a gargling sound and … and he dropped dead !

And then we saw her standing at the mouth of the tent holding that glaive dripping with blood. How was that possible ? We had removed all her weapons !

'I'm bored. I need to go now.' She said. And that was when we saw her cradling what … a desert fox in her free arm. And in its mouth it held a piece of rope, the very rope we used to tie her up. How did a desert fox get in here ?

My mind swam with confusion and terror, and none of us moved as she stepped out of the tent and walked so casually towards the entrance of the stockade.

'What are you ?' I manage to ask her.

'I am the Rose tree who awaits her gardener.' She chuckled and then she walked out.

After a moment we recovered and went out after her, but she seemed to have disappeared. Vanished into the night !"

Zamu ended his story and looked up at the elf sitting before him.

Arjan closed his eyes and muttered, "Rose tree who awaits her gardener…" over and over.

"Something significant ?" Sab'ng asked.

"Yes."Arjan replied slowly. "I first met her in a rose garden."

"I see." Zamu nodded. Then his eyes widened and he stammered. "Those words were meant for you ! She knew you would come ! She knew I would tell you …"

Sab'ng placed a paw on Zamu's trembling shoulder. "Tell me, is there a rose garden nearby ?"

"I wouldn't say nearby." Zamu shook off the sense of unease and coughed. "Not nearby, but yes, there is such a place to the East, near the coast."

"Thank you." Arjan stood and walked out of the tent, followed by Sab'ng.

In this rose bed

I fell in love with you my good girl

( I fell in love with you my good lad )

The roses were so alluring

If you were not in this garden

( If I were not in this garden … )

You are the greenest branch on the richest fruit tree

The flames of passion you ignited in me

( The fires of emotion you lit in me )

I want to enter your garden with thee

My good lady … my good lady

I want to be your gardener

Stay in this city forever

In this city forever …

" Sui a !" Sab'ng exclaimed in wonder as he walked past another gigantic column.

The garden was as large as a city. The rows of columns were like towers. The stone paved walkways were like roads, the platforms and clearings were like halls and forums. All had been worn white through the ages, but they were still breathtaking.

And there were roses and vines everywhere. They lined the sides of the walkways, they crept up the columns and over the stone walls. They grew thickly wherever they could.

Now they came to a large square clearing in the middle of the garden was a gigantic fountain, shaped like a pine tree with a broad, dish like base. Water gushed out from among its branches. At the very top there stood a crescent which seemed to glitter as the water washed up over it.

At each of the four corners of the clearing was a white stone platform the size of a hut, its sides carved to resemble a tangle of roots. On the flat top of the platform stood a larger than life white stature of a beautiful Elven female, dressed in an elegant, revealing robe which continued below the waist as a flounced skirt. Her wavy hair was bound behind the head. She faced the fountain in the centre of the clearing, arms raised in a gesture of worship.

The statues reminded Arjan of Rose, and he remembered the moment when he first met her. It was almost like it was now, except that …

It was night, and he was exhausted from a day of travelling, so he laid down against a low stone wall and fell asleep.

He was awoken by a faint, husky laughter, and looked around. Thinking that it was a forest spirit, he recited a warding spell, and gasped as the laughter grew louder, then leapt off the wall as a glaive flew out of nowhere and struck the spot where he had sat a moment ago. It bounced up and flew towards the surrounding woods, vanishing into the darkness.

Instinctively, Arjan grabbed his bow and leapt over behind the wall. He swiftly strung it and notched an arrow, then stood and let it loose in the direction where the glaive disappeared. He heard a frantic shuffling of branches and leaves, and ran towards the source of the noise.

And he found nothing.

Then he heard a low, feral growl, and spun round to see, in the darkness, a pair of golden eyes with dilated slit like pupils staring back at him. He heard faint rustling as they moved closer to him, and around the eyes the head of a black panther appeared in the moonlight, followed by its sleek but strongly built body.

Without warning, the creature leapt and pounced at him. With an instinct acquired from grappling with wild rams and wolves on the steppes, he ducked low an reached up to grab the panther in the belly as it flew over him. Immediately, he threw it down onto the floor. It landed on its back and roared in confusion, swiping its paws angrily at Arjan.

Before the panther could recover and attack him again, he spun and ran.

He came to the central clearing in the garden, in the middle of which as a fountain with a glittering crescent at its top, from where water gushed out onto the huge stone basin below.

Arjan jumped into the basin and totally immersed himself in the refreshing water. When he was sure that he had gotten rid of most of his scent, he emerged hurriedly with a splash.

There was a shrill gasp, and hurried footsteps which grew softer and softer until he could not hear it. Shaking the water off his face and staring ahead at the darkness in shock at how close he had to being ambushed again, he picked up his bow and an arrow and brought them close to his face. He closed his eyes and recited a long incantation, ending with a low, reverberating "Agnnn…" The tip of the arrow glowed red and then a brighter orange.

Opening his eyes, he notched the arrow and fired it at the direction where he guessed the footsteps were heading. In midflight it burst in flames and lit up the surrounding trees and rubble, and Arjan caught a glimpse of a lean, shadowy figure darting out of its way.

Arjan jumped out of the fountain and ran after the mysterious figure, firing shaft after shaft in its general direction.

Just when he thought that he would overrun his target, he felt something wrap itself around both his ankles and hold it in place. He tripped and fell forward. Before he could look back to see what was going on, he was dragged along the floor and up along the trunk of a tree, where he hung upside down from his feet. Enchanted vines, he realized. He drew his scimitar and prepared to cut himself loose.

"Hmm, you are fun."

He looked around with a start and saw her as she emerged from among the trees, and he was dazzled. Eyes a bright silver like the moon. Flawless skin pale purple like the frost grapes that grew in his home. Hair smooth as silk, black with streaks of green. Arjan had come across Night Elf huntresses before, but this one was different. He could feel from the the silence and stillness that befell his surroundings as she approached. He held his own breath for a while as he stared at the alluring figure walking towards him with an amused grin on her face. She had come to claim her prey, and he submitted willingly …

Sab'ng lifted his head from the surface of the water pool and wiped his mouth clean. "Ahhh …" He sighed with satisfaction. Then as the ripples on the water dissipated, he stared hard through the surface. "Hey, Arjan, come see this !"

The elf hurried over to the fountain, and followed Sab'ng's paw as it pointed down at the water, then gasped.

There, in the stone beneath the water, were a few lines of elven adjads carved near the edge of the pool,

"How have you been, A ?

So you have found this garden. I knew you would !

Did you know ? Places like this date back to the Old Times,

When all elves were one people ...

Isn't this fun, my love ?

Now you are the hunter !

Come hunt me down !

I am sailing across the sea, to the Eastern Kingdoms…"

Lightly I strum my Dutar

As you approach my soul …

Softly I play my Dutar

As you come close …

My lover, please tell me what troubled you …

I shall listen attentively before you.

My lover, please share with me your worries …

I will lighten your burden

Lover, My lover !

I will give you all my attention

Willow tree on the road to town

Swaying from side to side, it groans.

You will not see me for your problem

Yet it is I whose heart aches

Lover, My Lover !

Tell me my mistakes …

Arjan dropped his lute with a thud and bent over the side of the ship's deck as another wave of nausea forced him to stop singing. He stared down at the waves crashing onto the hull of the ship and sighed. Having lived most of his life at the heart of the continent, he was not used to travelling on open water.

Sab'ng patted him on his back. "Have a rest, friend. It's my turn to be the musician."

As Arjan turned and sat down with his back against the wooden barrier, Sab'ng twisted some segments on his staff, then held it horizontally and brought his lips close to one end.

The enormous flute emitted a mellow sound which drifted far over the sea. Like wind blowing over the mountains, like water flowing down a clear stream, like a whale calling out to its herd …

It was soothing, and Arjan felt his pain and tension go away. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift off to a faraway place …