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Fool's Mountain

Well, you two look pleased with yourselves. Your teachers have decided you've learned what you need? You've satisfied them that you can hunt and fight, and take care of yourselves? And I suppose you two are just waiting to enjoy being ashore without constant supervision? Yes, I see you are. Well, yes, we will have a celebration to rejoice in your feats. But, before you are given the freedom to make your own decisions ... and your own mistakes, there is one more story you must listen to. You may have wondered, perhaps, why one of the mountains to the east is called "Fool's Mountain?" Yes, you have. Well, there's a very good reason for it. We call it that, because a foolish elf led his brother to his death on that mountain. As for the foolish one himself...

Oh, High Ones, they are telling his story again! Can't they come up with another way to caution the younglings? Why do they have to teach yet more elves to scorn his memory? He wasn't a fool! One mistake, that's all, one mistake! It's not fair!

Now, Tallrunner was a proud and arrogant elf, and the reasons aren't surprising. He was nearly as tall as Aerva, stronger and faster than Whlen. Young as he was, no one could out-track him, out-shoot him, outrun him. His hair was as blond as the sun, and his eyes as bright blue as a dry winter sky. The maidens followed him with longing eyes, for not only was he handsome, but his skill at lovemaking -- or so they said -- was unsurpassed. Now had he used his many skills in proper fashion, no one would have minded. But in his foolish pride, he would display his abilities in such manner so as to make another elf seem less. And if his ways made another angry, it mattered not to him. Nor did he care for the true talents of an elf. Not for him, the patient striving to understand the magic in his soul. If he could shape a flint to fit his spear, and glide to cross a crevice, and send to plan a hunt, why, he needed nothing more.

Now, far different was his older brother. Staredge may not have had his brother's keenness of vision or fighting skills, but in him were the skills of his father, and his greatest pleasure was to stretch his limits in shaping rock or stone. He took no pleasure in the shore, counting hunting and fighting as only a necessary chore. Joy for him was learning more of elfin past, or taking lessons from his father. He had many years to go, before he would match his father, but none doubted that he would one day surpass Wallmaker's skill. And it was Staredge himself who discovered several ways in which shapers still create beauty out of raw stone: the great red star-crystal Farseeker wears is his work, a stone badly flawed when gentled from its matrix, but Staredge made it whole.

Listen to them! Staredge was so much his father's son they might as well have been twins! Staredge cared only for stone -- Tallrunner may have been proud, but he knew how to live! And sure, he irritated a few elves, who had thought they were the best, until he came along, but why don't they also say that he was as generous as he was tall! And he never lost his temper, ever. Why don't they say anything about his courage, or his cleverness -- or don't they want to admit, that the elf they call 'fool' once saved five lives, when he managed to lure an entire human hunting party away from a group of injured elves!

Now, this was a summer when Farseeker sensed the humans below the Pass, and all the hunters were warned, and the PassWatch and hunting groups doubled in size. Cliffclimber led her group to the east and north, hunting in the forests not far from the timberline. Now everyone knew that the hunt groups were to stay together, and not separate farther than sending range.

And everyone except the Elders knows that sometimes hunters have to scatter to find prey, and then try to keep everyone within range!

But one night, instead of hunting, Tallrunner and Staredge slipped away, heading towards the mountain. A close friend knew their plans, but he chose not to speak to Cliffclimber, though he knew what they were doing was wrong.

No, what I should have done was gone with them!

And this was a very foolish, and dangerous thing. And why did they leave the others? Was it to find something that would help protect the other elves? Was it to find something that would make life easier? No, they were going after jewels. Pretty things. Star-crystals.

And why shouldn't they have gone after star-crystals!? I've never seen an Elder refuse a pretty robe or star-crystal-- does everything have to be measured in usefulness?

Now, you are wondering why it was so dangerous, when Tallrunner was a superb hunter and fighter, and Staredge an acceptable one. Because Tallrunner wasn't thinking, and Tallrunner was foolish. The moons were both high and full that night. The place they were going was above the timberline, on the eastern side of the mountain. Tallrunner and Staredge were visible to anyone who might be watching. Who were watching. Humans. From the camp below the Pass. Which they knew about. Which they should have been wary of, and were not.

Yes, one of the things they never mention is that Farseeker doesn't always find humans in groups of less than five or six, and what Farseeker doesn't find, Tinar never can. I didn't know that interesting little fact then, and neither did Tallrunner! And how was he to know humans were around -- Farseeker had sensed the camp only four days before, and it had always taken at least a moon for the five-fingers to find the courage to attack us!

What happened when Tallrunner led his brother to the vein of star-crystals we don't know, except by guessing from the signs left behind. The vein of star-crystals were at that time unknown except to a very few elves.

To be exact four. Wolf found them, shaped the cave, and told Tallrunner, and Tallrunner told me.

What is known is that they did not return. And no one missed them until almost midmorning.

Thanks to that lack-brained youngster who got herself in the way of a charging boar! I was so cursed busy taking care of her and that pig, I didn't realize what time it was until I got her back to the others!

Realizing that they were late, Tallrunner's friend admitted to Cliffclimber where they had gone.

They never name who the friend is-- what do they think they're doing, trying to save my feelings?

She promptly took most of the hunting group and started after them-- a bit foolish to move in daylight, but a necessary one. And Cliffclimber was wary, Cliffclimber was cautious-- she does not lead the largest hunts for no reason. The sun was just past its highest point when they came to the eastern side of the mountain. And found death. Three humans, and one elf. Staredge was dead, his body stripped and mutilated. He appeared to have died quickly ... but he died. Of Tallrunner, there was only his broken blade, bloody to the hilt. And two sets of human footprints leading away.

Cliffclimber called to Farseeker, and he, having already been alerted to trouble by the presence of Staredge's spirit, sent his presence to her. With apparently only two humans holding Tallrunner captive, Cliffclimber and her companions were most eager to follow, and attempt to rescue him. We were unwilling to let them go, but Cliffclimber and the others insisted that the odds were good, and that they would take due caution. So, reluctantly, we agreed. And nearly regretted that decision. For in following the two humans, Cliffclimber and the others caught up just too late, just as the humans' friends arrived. In the brief fight, Cliffclimber was injured and nearly killed, surviving more by her own will, than by any heal-crafting. Running low on arrows, with Cliffclimber wounded, the elves had no choice, and abandoned the chase, returning to the Isle.

And leave half of it out. We actually got to the two humans before their friends, but one of them, dying, managed to fall on top of Tallrunner. Tallrunner was tied hand and foot to a spear, his arms both broken, and probably half faint from thirst! If only we'd had even a few moments more!! But we didn't, and Cliffclimber was going to give Tallrunner mercy, but we forgot to watch for humans on the cliffs, and one of them got her just as she was going to shoot. She nearly fell off the cliff--I caught her, and that was our last chance to rescue Tallrunner or give him a merciful death. Twice five hands of men against five elves with few arrows left-- no chance at all! And it was the hardest thing I've ever done, leaving him behind, knowing what would happen to him !

And what was the fate of the foolish elf, who threw away caution and wariness for a handful of baubles, drawing his brother with him? The humans took him down to the eastern end of the Pass, as they do with all they capture. Five days passed after that capture, and no doubt the humans rejoiced in their success, tormenting their foolish captive. If you want to know what things a human will do to an elf, ask those who have, on rare occasions, posted a watch at the end of the Pass. Your imaginations will not be the match for human ingenuity in inflicting pain, believe me. On the sixth night, the humans' celebrations must have come to their climax. For those who were close to the foolish one, and also Farseeker, felt his spirit screaming, as they broke his body, and slowly killed him. Tallrunner died, in agony, and in shame. We chose to rename the mountain for him, and choose to tell this story as a warning. This world does not forgive foolishness. It does not forgive mistakes. If you are tempted to carelessness or rashness, you could suffer and die in a hunting accident, or while fishing, or gathering plants. You might be fortunate enough to die quickly. Or you might die ... very slowly.

And there they go, looking impressed, and a little afraid, and if I were to ask them what they thought of Tallrunner,they would probably say he was a stupid elf who deserved what he got. And what do they know, when this is the only story told of him? What do they know?!

I know! I was his soul-brother, born on the same day, in the same turn of seasons! I would have given my life for him, and he for me! I, Firefox, whom the Elders think is a bit touched in the head. And maybe I am.

Tallrunner-- my soul-brother Rilharyn-- is dead. Everyone knows that. Even his parents know that. They sorrowed once, for the loss of their sons, but their daughter and her offspring have long since given them joy. I wonder sometimes if they ever even think of Tallrunner? I know Wallmaker remembers Staredge, for he will lament the loss of his son's potential. But Tallrunner? To most elves, I think he might as well have never existed, except as a foolish figure in a cautionary tale! If I try to talk about him, everyone turns away, as if embarrassed that I should still recall! Even those he saved that time !

And, what is far worse, is the doubt I carry in my soul. Oh, my brother-- would I were certain you were dead! Would that I had felt your spirit among us, would even that Farseeker had felt you here, and told me! If you are dead, then why did you not tarry here at the Isle? Why did you leave us for the Palace-- was the call truly so strong? I ask the High Ones that it was! For the alternative--

Am I mad? That night when you died, I felt your scream--felt it? I screamed as well, and could not keep my feet for the pain! What were you suffering, my brother?! What were they doing to you?!

But, for me, the scream was not the end! Rilharyn, if you are dead, then why did I hear you in my dreams every night for a full turning of the seasons?! Why do I still sometimes wake up, shivering, with the echo of your scream in my mind? Tinar would not listen to me that summer, when I cried to him that you were not dead! He called me foolish, a dreamer, one who would risk lives on an impossibility! Farseeker was more kind, but even he laid the nightmares to nothing more than my guilt and sorrow, that we had failed to rescue you.

Maybe they are right. I have tried to convince myself that they are right. Most of the time, I believe that you are dead. I must believe you are dead. But when the nightmare returns ....

Please, my brother, be dead.

I cannot bear the thought that you might be alive.

I cannot bear it.