(note: Skygge is pronounced sky-guh. Excerpt from The Thunderbird: Embers of War) The tension in the camp was so thick, it could have been cut with a broadsword. Ever since the two groups had joined forces on their journey to the castle, there had been little moments which hinted that all was not well. But as night fell on the third evening, all the tension was about to come to a head. It was probably due to the fact that the two groups were so… starkly different. The men of Skygge were typical of their race: huge and muscled, bristle-bearded and dark-eyed. There were warriors and sailors, peasants and horse farmers, and a handful of merchants. Several were missing teeth; some had wooden appendages; and a few were heavily tattooed with intricate knotwork of fish, horses, and crashing waves. All of them talked in the rich tongue of Skygge, in words that rolled like the waves of the sea. They were led by Ronan‒ a knight who was easily the youngest one there. Unlike the others, he was clean-shaven and curly-haired, even roguishly handsome. He didn’t seem to know when to keep his mouth shut, though. When there was a fight, he was always the first one to charge, but also the first to apologize. On the opposite side of the camp were the Redwood Elves. They were, for the most part, typical elves: smooth of hair, fair of face, light of foot, and deadly with weapons. Although… most highbrow elves would have cringed when they heard the brogues that the Redwood elves spoke with. And they certainly wouldn’t have gone on so many hunting trips, spent so much time perfecting their wine, or ridden war goats into battle. Eronir half-elven, Redwood’s king, was a rule-breaker. His people were the most unpredictable of the elves. Their leader was Aderyn, Swordsmaiden of the King (who treated her more like a daughter than a swordsmaiden). Like Ronan, she was one of the younger ones present, and like him she differed strongly from the rest of her party. She was a redhead with freckles, dazzling green eyes, and a fiery temper. Perhaps it was such similarly passionate personalities that led to the tension between the two groups. Or perhaps it was due to the fact that Ronan of Skygge and Eronir of Redwood were half-brothers, and there was no love lost between them. But they wouldn’t let sibling rivalry drive whole nations apart, would they? Yes. Yes they would. That night, as the crickets started chirping and the wolves crept from their dens, the two groups came together around the campfire and ate dinner. It helped that there were also a handful of peasants from a neutral kingdom present, who did most of the cooking and the talking. The Skyggeans would laugh and barter with them, and the elves would talk to them about their farms and harvest, but both sides were too hesitant to start up a conversation with the other. As dinner was finishing, someone wondered aloud if there were any minstrels in the party, who would want to sing for them. While there were no minstrels, there was a lute. And Ronan was good at improvising. The elves watched from the other side of the campfires as the young knight led his people in songs, which they clapped and sang along with. He wasn’t very skilled with the lute, but he made up for it with a good voice and the fact that he knew a few basic chords. Some of the peasants even joined them. “Looks like they’re having a good time,” said Holin, the Captain of the Redwood Guard. Aderyn glanced up from the fire, and shook her head. “They need better harmonies. We could do better. Does anyone here have an instrument?” Someone had a lyre. They passed it over to her, and she played and sang with Holin. Slowly, the camp started to divide again. On the one side were the Skyggeans, singing about their home, their horses, and the seas they fought to tame. Their rhythm was quick and uplifting, sparking joy and bravery in the hearts of their listeners. On the other side were the elves, singing about their woodlands (and other things, too, but mostly the woodlands). Their voices were gentle, and the lyre sounded like a harp from heaven, bringing unearthly tones to its listeners. The poor peasants were divided between the sides. Some stayed with the elves; some with the Skyggeans. Some wandered between sides. Ronan was a lot louder than the others, and drew the attention of most of the camp as he sang “The Dragons of a Century.” It was a song about a warrior who, for failing to guard his post, was sentenced to a hundred years as a sailor fighting the sea dragons. His lifetime was extended, as was the lifetime of his young bride, who waited faithfully for him until his century of trials was over. The song finished as the warrior sailed home for the last time, where the lovers would move on to start a new life and a new family. The audience gave a rousing round of applause. Ronan grinned, waiting as the cheering died down. “Poor man. A hundred years of trials? I certainly couldn’t do it! But I’m sure we can all empathize with him. We’ve had our trials.” The audience groaned in agreement. The elves quietly applauded the end of another song, and Aderyn paused to think up the next. Holin was listening to the Skyggeans. “We’ve been hit by famine… war… ” Ronan looked around. “And sibling rivalry, the worst of these. Have any of you ever heard of my brother, Lord Eronir, the one who thinks he’s the handsomest elf in all of Redwood?” There was another murmur of agreement, and a few chuckles mingled with it. Aderyn stopped what she was doing. “Well,” Ronan grinned, putting a hand to the lute strings. “I composed a song in his honor. Here it is.” he played a chord on the lute. “Some say my brother has a heart of ice, (strum) Because he spends so much time alone. But… take my advice, It’s really made of stone.” He strummed a harmony on the lute, and the song began. “They say his eye-brows are like storm-clouds, On a sunny day. He glares at the sky, and the birds all die, And the sun runs away! He sits alone on a throne of stone, Sulking bi-i-tterly. A maiden fair would love his hair; It’d suit her more than he!” The Skyggians were all beating their boots in time to the song, and several of the humans were trying hard not smile. The elves were mortified; Aderyn looked like she was about to explode. Ronan began the chorus: “Well his ears may drop off, and his hair may fall out, And his teeth may grow old and rot! I’m proud to be a Skyggian, And an elf, I’m glad I’m not!” At this, Aderyn started to her feet. Ronan started the second verse, “And his receding hairline‒” “Oy!” Both sides of the camp fell silent. All eyes turned to the she-elf, who was livid. “That’s my king you’re insultin’, and all elves have high hairlines! What makes you think Skyggians are so great anyway?” “Fight back, milady!” one of the peasants suggested, hoping this would lead to a confrontation. “Seems only fittin’,” she replied, climbing onto one of the logs that were serving as benches around the fire. When she turned to Ronan (who was heartily enjoying this), he struck up the harmony he had used for the first verse. She raised her lyre and played with him. The next verse she was about to sing, though, was nothing like the first one. “In legends, all the Skyggians Are hulkin’, dark, and surly, With beady eyes, and greedy lives, All gruff and scarred and burly! They all were brutes who couldn’t shoot, Or make anythin’ fine. Not table legs, or old oak kegs, Or good ol’ Redwood wine!” Then she sang the chorus: “Well I’d rather not use your grammar, ’Cause it’s a sorry lot! But an elf I am, and proud I am! And a Skyggian, I’m glad I’m not!” By this point, if anyone hadn’t been paying attention to the two singers before, they were now. The peasants and the Skyggians were eager to see what Ronan’s defense was. All eyes turned back to him. “Wine, you say?” the knight grinned. “You’ve made my day. Wine’s all you know how to make. I’m sure you’d dread trying to bake bread, Butter, meat, or honey-cake. Not trying to gloat, but your king rides a goat! I’ve never seen such a sorry lot! Even in Skygge, we all know how to ride‒ Horses. An elf, I’m glad I’m not!” “You call that a rhyme?” Aderyn frowned. “I’d like to see you beat me!” Ronan laughed. Aderyn strummed her lyre and tried to start a fourth verse: “My people write songs, Skyggians are headstrong, And reckless, I’ve heard word‒” “You bet we are!” She ignored him. “I’d rather be dead than try your bread, Or wield even one of your swords!” I’d love to see you trying to do All the things my king does when he rides that goat! Your castles, I’ve heard, couldn’t keep out a bird, And no one was smart enough to dig a moat!” “I think it’s settled,” Ronan said, grinning. “We both disagree. You’d rather be you, and I’d rather be me.” “I believe I just used all the rhymes that I got,” Aderyn said. “So it’s settled. A Skyggian‒” “An elf‒,” Ronan retorted. “‒I’m glad I’m not!” they both cried. Then the whole camp broke out in applause. The two singers bowed to their audience. Once the cheers had died down, they walked across the camp to each other. “Seriously?” Ronan said. “Our castles are that bad?” Aderyn was laughing so hard she could barely stand. “And you, with the rhyme about the horses…!” When she could breathe again, she straightened up, and he clapped her on the shoulder. “Those rhymes were terrible. Good job.” She beamed. “You beat me. Yours were worse.” He held up his lute. “Would you do the honor of joining me for the rest of the songs?” “Hmm…” she paused, thinking hard. “Seems only fittin’,” he said, mimicking her brogue. “Unless ye’d like to get back to yer wee elves‒” “Okay… that’s it! I’m not takin’ any of that from you!” That started another song fight. They sang together for the rest of the evening. Did the peasants mind? No. If anything, they loved it. The Skyggean energy gave fire to the elven songs, and the elven harmonies made the Skyggean ballads all the richer. The lute and lyre played until everyone was too tired, and then they all went back to their sides of the camp and slept until morning. Did it affect any future interactions between Redwood and Skygge? Sadly no. Eronir and Ronan were still brothers, and still fighting. But for the rest of the trip, the two groups were better friends, and it wasn’t uncommon to see them going out of their way to help each other. This was also how song-fighting became accepted as a ritual form of combat. Future generations would be blessed with more songs, more fights, and terrible rhymes.