Twelve-year-old Donovan and his best friend, Akenji, are standing on the riverbank in their small fishing village south of the Wood Elven Forest, dreaming about their future when, suddenly, Boric's Barbarians invade and undertake a massive slaughter. The orphaned boys are kidnapped and face a life of slavery until an Elven commander, Alayna, and her Elven Rangers intervene. The boy's fate changes when the brave and good-hearted Alayna defies Lord Aden's orders to kill the human children. She instead obtains a begrudging permission to raise and train them in archery and sword tactics so they can serve as scouts for the Wood Elves. Under the nurturance of Alayna, the human boys learn that the Wood Elves are not the fierce creatures they had been taught to fear.
Also by H.L. Watson on obooko: World of Ryyah: Kerala, and Akenji's Adventure
The small village nestled on the banks of the Salmon River just south of the Wood Elven Forest was buzzing with excitement on that bright and sunny morning. It was the time of the salmon run! Hun- dreds of thousands of red-bellied salmon had begun their arduous journey upstream to spawn in the calmer waters at the Twin Rivers Bend, and every able-bodied fisherman was on the river that day, hoping to fill their boats. Clusters of cheering children sent the men off, and every woman was preparing for the festivities and feasts that would go on deep into this first night of the salmon run. Of all the people in that village, few were more excited than twelve-year- old Donovan.
Donovan's father, a metalsmith who built and repaired tools for the villagers when not fishing, had been preparing for this morning for weeks, stocking his small boat, mending nets, and building the drying racks and smoker. Donovan had helped eagerly, sharpening his father's knives and hooks and dreaming of the day when he, too, would join the triannual event.
"This is the year that will make all of our efforts worthwhile," his father had told Donovan and his mother that morning.
"You'll have fine cloth to make new clothes," he promised his wife.
"And perhaps we'll have enough to send you to an apprentice school in one of the free towns so you can learn a better-paying trade," he had said to Donovan. "The salmon will make all this pos- sible, and more. You'll see. It'll be our best year ever!"
Donovan's family had moved from the free town of Benten, which lay about 100 leagues southeast of the village, when he was four years old and they had settled in the small village in order to be closer to the spawning grounds. The red-bellied salmon spawned in only one place on the whole planet of Ryyah, and only once every three years, making them one of the most valuable trade items to take to the free towns. A good catch would make living in this remote place--so far from other human activity--and all their other sacrifices worthwhile.
When the boats moved out of sight, the children began to drift back toward the village. Donovan lingered at the riverbank until most were gone, then turned toward the forest. Immediately, his best friend, Akenji, was beside him.
Akenji gazed in the direction of the departed boats and said, "In three years, when the salmon come again, we'll be on the boats, and children will be cheering for us!"
Donovan grinned at him. "Not me," he replied. "I'll be a guard in the Grand Duke's army, defending Benten from the Barbarians and the Wood Elves." He brandished an invisible sword and slashed the air around his friend as they walked away from the river and headed toward the edge of the forest.
Akenji laughed. "Sure you will! You'll be mending harnesses for the rich shopkeepers in some free town and charming all the ladies," he teased.
"Ah, I'm looking forward to going to one of the free towns," said Donovan. He smiled as he thought of all the things they could buy there--new tools, colorful cloth for his mother, blankets, weap- ons... "And we can go to the carnival," he added, his cheeks flushed with excitement.
"Do they really have such a thing?" Akenji asked, a frown of doubt wrinkling his smooth, dark brow for a moment.
"Yes, I remember it," answered Donovan, although, in fact, he remembered very little about his life in the free town and mainly had pictures in his mind of the carnivals from the stories his father told him.
"There is music, food, and games," he told Akenji, ges- turing wide with his arms as though to show his friend all of these amazing things. "You can play the games and win things! I will be the best in the archery game and win a real bow and arrow!" This time, it was an invisible bow that he drew back and let fly an invisi- ble arrow high into the air. Both boys "watched" as the arrow arched and descended into the trees ahead of them.
"I think you just killed a Wood Elf," exclaimed Akenji, punch- ing Donovan's arm.
"Of course I did," bragged Donovan, resisting the urge to rub the spot where Akenji had just punched him. Akenji was surpris- ingly strong for his age. "The Wood Elves fear the name Donovan and run before my bow and arrow!"
Akenji snorted and looked over at his friend with admiration. Donovan, a year older than Akenji, was already beginning to show signs of manhood. His slender arms were beginning to thicken with muscle and his body moved with a natural coordination that made the younger boy, who was taller and more awkward, somewhat envious. Akenji tended to imitate Donovan and strove to keep up with his friend in all their many adventures.
Now, he turned to face the forest and said, "I dare you to go into the forest to find the Elf and retrieve your arrow."
The confident smile faded slightly on Donovan's face and he glanced sideways at Akenji. "I would," he said, "but mother is wait- ing for me."
Both boys looked into the gloom of the forest, silently, and shivered slightly.