Ok, this is it. Tristan stared in the mirror of the men’s room at Quinn’s Books and Brew, his face wet and cold from the sink water he’d splashed on his face in an effort to cool his nerves. Do not screw this up again. This is your shot. You’ve gotten this far on your own, and look what a pile of crap it’s been. You need her. I need her back. When she walks through that door, we’re going to be cool…confident. No mush-mouth. No s-s-stuttering. No gushing. You’re going to show her that you are what she is looking for. Not Brock. Who’s Brock? Some dude. Some loser. What a loser-greasy-slime-ball. Yea. He’s just a big jerk who doesn’t know anything. What does he know?
Tristan reflected on that day in the park when he first met Brock, a guy he already hated, just because he was with…no, actually engaged to Emily. He doesn’t know anything about me. I bet he’s never opened a book in his life. I’ll show Emily today what she’s missing in that meathead. So arrogant. Everybody’s gotta be like him or else they are inferior. Well, you’re the one with the inferior intellect, Brock.
“Um, Tristan? You almost done in there? People are going to be showing up any minute now,” Quinn’s voice permeated the bathroom door as Tristan’s concentration broke at her inquiry. “I don’t want to rush you, just checking.” Remembering his face was still wet and hanging over the sink, he grabbed some paper towels, wiped, and threw them in the trash. He looked back into the mirror realizing the last few minutes of thought had only exacerbated his nerves.
“Just a minute,” Tristan replied, not even sure if Quinn was still waiting for a reply. He drew a deep breath and reattempted to center himself before facing the onslaught of patrons who were not Emily.
Yea, so Brock’s inferior, because I mean, I wrote a book. A novel, son. And I have a deal to do two more. I’m a writer, an auteur.
On that sentiment, Tristan turned around and exited the bathroom. Quinn was no longer outside the door. Tristan walked from the back of the shop to the front where thirty-some metal folding chairs were set up facing a long table complete with microphone, glass of water, and a copy of his book with a bookmark holding the spot where he would read a sampling to the audience.
Quinn walked up to Tristan and asked, “You okay? You sure you’re feeling alright?”
“Yes. I’m good. Thanks Quinn.” Tristan replied without looking at her. His gaze was fixed on the front door as he wondered how much longer it would be until she arrived.
“Good. Well, while you were in there, Laurie arrived. She’s grabbing something from her car; she’ll be back in a minute.”
“Okay.” Tristan replied in an automated response, his gazed fixed on the door.
“Hey, Tristan.” Quinn said sharply while waving her hand over his face. No response. With no time for dilly-dally, Quinn left him alone.
-30 minutes later-
“Hello and good morning everyone,” Quinn began addressing the crowd of thirty-some people sitting in her bookstore for Tristan’s book reading and signing. Laurie sat to Quinn’s left. Tristan sat to Quinn’s right.
“Thank you very much for joining us today. We are all here, today, with one common interest: books, a conduit taking us anywhere in the world across time and space. But before we can be transported, there comes the craftsmanship of the channels which send us to places once unimagined. And today, we have a treat for all of you… the craftsman of one of these books. Thanks to Z Publishing, I am pleased to introduce to all of you Tristan Lee, the author of the newly re-released Haurogen Flaurflugen: Rogue One.”
As the audience rose from their chairs, Tristan smiled, waved, and switched spots with Quinn.
“Much better than the few who showed up for the free food last time,” Quinn joked to Tristan in a whisper as the crowd clapped and found their seats.
Unwilling to find the humor, Tristan’s interest in the whole affair wained since watching people funnel into the bookstore. Most of the audience had introduced themselves to Tristan as they arrived, each sharing if they had read the book and the conditions surrounding their experiences with the book. Over half had at least already started it, and a good few finished it. But even thousands of people packed into the bookstore, all raving about his book, praising his prose, the exact dream which fueled Tristan’s drive to write, meant nothing. Tristan did not care about any of them because they were just people. Tristan, no longer caring about people, waited only for one person, Emily.
The half-hour of empty fellowship with strangers was completely Emily-less, to Tristan’s dismay. Not that he didn’t totally expect it. Emily had a way of being inconsistent in her arrival times. You couldn’t count on her to be late or on time. Sometimes she’d be 5-10 minutes early. Sometimes she’d be right on time. Sometimes she’d be 5-10 minutes late. Sometimes she’d be absent completely.
Tristan cleared his throat into the microphone as his eyes scanned the audience once again hoping to pick up Emily on his radar.
“Thank you for that introduction, Quinn. A deep thanks to all of you here supporting my book. In gratitude, I would like to read an excerpt from my book for you today. It was one of the many scenes I had the most fun writing. It helps set up the mythos and builds up the world outside of Hauro’s adventure.”
Tristan opened his book to the place of the bookmark he’d set the night before. Before starting to read, he looked up at the audience. He hoped to see the face of someone who entered late and felt awful about doing so. Looking back at his book, Tristan thought, she’ll be here. By the time you’re finished reading this excerpt, you’ll look up and see her.
Sitting alone in a nameless tavern with only a pint to join him, and the five other empty mugs that had accumulated, Hauro concluded that the more time he spent in the Western Elven Kingdom, the more his frustration grew. He believed to his core that his group was in grave danger. He also believed that he was the cause of it. His pursuit of Endrud led them down nothing but dead ends and empty alleyways.
The only glimmer of hope was when he overheard the mention of a mysterious Dwarf child at a tavern.
The young, lean, elf with long dirty hair was pleased to explain himself when Hauro expressed interest in hearing about this boy.
“Well, so it goes that the dwarf child was found and accepted by a family of Elves in secret. He was raised and taught by these Elves to hate the Dwarves. He was going to be a secret weapon of the Western Elven Kingdom, a sort of infiltrator, if, nothing else, to breed hate and unrest within the Dwarf population itself. To break it from within before the invasion.”
“Invasion?” Hauro asked.
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s not true, well, officially. Unofficially, I believe it to be the elder families who believe such a thing will happen sometime or another. These are the Elves who founded the Western kingdom. These are the Elves who survived the Gallatin Wars.”
“Ha, foolish, young elf. No Elves who went into battle against us dwarves survived that war,” Hauro boasted.
“Ah, ah, ah,” the pale Elf fellow said as he waved his finger in front of Hauro. “Do you know who built this kingdom?”
“If my school days memories serve me right, it was the Elves from the Usacka Peninsula.” Hauro replied.
“Indeed, that’s what our Kingdom wants the outsiders to believe. But, if you look back far enough, as I have, you’ll find some very interesting things about the founders of our fair and accepting Kingdom.”
“What are you saying? Who are you to make such claims? Why are you talking to me about this? Where did you find this out?” Hauro rambled.
Tristan stopped reading where he originally meant to. Leave them with a question, so they’ll want to buy to find the answer. He peered across the audience. No new faces. Suddenly, the doorbell chimed. Tristan juked his head towards the door, but all he found was an elderly woman entering the store. He decided to keep reading.
“Aha! I have peaked your interest. I cannot tell you who I am. In case you get caught, I don’t want my name revealed. Just call me the truthsayer. I am the truthsayer. The truthsayer is I. That which I say is true. You shall refer to me as Oh Mighty Truthsayer!”
Hauro felt red, a fool. He shouted. “You’ve got to be kidding me!” He stood up from his seat, now meeting Oh Mighty Truthsayer at eye level, glaring.
“Hey man, I’m kidding. I am. I am kidding.” The young elf leaned back in fright. “You don’t have to call me that. My name is Ron. Okay? I know this because it’s my job to make sure the truth doesn’t come out to the people. Or anyways, it was my job, until today. A whole bunch of us got fired. No reason. Just a kick in the pants. So I came here and crawled into a glass ever since.”
“What do you mean it was your job?”
“Well, about ten years ago, I applied for this job at the capital to collect and file old document. There were some there already for me to file through, but they had no idea how many artifacts were out in the public. So, my primary job became to go around to shops and places of business that might accidentally or purposefully be harboring these old artifacts. I didn’t know at the time, but once these artifacts were verified and accounted for, they were destroyed. But as I collected them, I found it fascinating because I had never heard it before. Thousands of years of Elf history I was destroying? I had to read it to find out why. Turns out everything refutes what we are told in school.”
Tristan looked up, again, another good pause spot. Once person clapped and a trickle of slow claps started to build. Tristan saw no Emily, so he put his head down again, looked back at his spot, and kept reading.
“You got some time? Why don’t I start at the beginning?”
“Ok,” Hauro agreed.
“So, let me refresh your memory on the Gallatin Wars, where all this begins. And I mean literally all this, the whole kingdom. The Gallatin Wars lasted 50 years between the Dwarves of the Gallatin Mountains and the Elven Kingdom to the East for control over the Gallatin River at the foot of the range. After the Dwarves decided to dam the river, stopping any fresh water to reach the Elves, the Elves decided to stage their most massive assault on the Dwarves in the mountain range, in the homes of the Dwarves. The battle lasted for weeks with each side attacking pockets of enemies within the tunnels. The Dwarves were victorious. But both sides suffered from catastrophic death tolls. As the Dwarves rounded up the remaining surviving Elves from the tunnels, they purposely led them out the wrong side of the mountain, leaving them to die as well.
But the remaining Elves were resilient. And as they walked and walked and walked over the hardened earth, so too their hearts became towards all non-Elves but especially and firstly towards Dwarves. Finally, they reached a river and built a settlement. Their numbers grew, but they did not have enough hands to protect their establishment. According to my research, the first thing they built was Old Red Tower to keep watch of invaders. They called it red tower because of the blood shed while building it. “
Tristan, again, looked up. No Emily, again. Again, he continued reading.
Hauro interjected with what he remembered, “The remaining Elves on Gallatin River signed a treaty with the Dwarves and have lived a peaceful coexistence since. Mostly due to the lack of men in the kingdom post-war. The Elven King forced so many of his men to fight, that the women greatly out-numbered the remaining elven men after the war. The Dwarves felt bad for the fledgling, leader-less Elven population that they decided to pitch in. Both groups shared resources and knowledge. And we now call that kingdom the Eastern Elven Kingdom.”
The Elf smiled and nodded at Hauro’s inclusion, “The settlement of banished Elves grew into our very own Western Elven Kingdom. At first, the Western kingdom established a deep-rooted hatred for Dwarves and passed it down to their young. For centuries, the truth prevailed, and the hatred grew. Art and writings flourished about the hating of Dwarves and the eventual dismantlement of the Dwarves. That’s what I was sent to find. The artifacts. But then it just stopped. Over the years, the public has shied away from showing such disdain against the Dwarves. Those in charge felt it necessary to change with the prevailing ideals of the people and abandoning the teachings of the true history of our kingdom. We are now only taught that elves expanded to this kingdom as a means of discovery and exploration, not necessity and survival.”
This time, just peering over the top of his book into the crowd, Tristan looked up. No Emily.
“Why?” Hauro interjected.
“Don’t know. But I have a theory. You see, all the old families who set up the kingdom after being exiled have large families and wealth; they basically all tie into the same family trees. Over a few millennia, they stopped talking about hating the Dwarves too. Just stopped. Everybody, including the leaders, loves everyone else.
These are guys who were starved and slaughtered for fifty years of war. That’s all they had ever known. The ancestors of this kingdom believed Elves were the elite race. And you know why? Their king. Their king from the Eastern kingdom. He started the war. It was never over the river. That was just a red herring. The king hated Dwarves because some of them had already begun falling in love with Elves in his kingdom. He was so appalled that he fabricated the Gallatin Wars.”
“But didn’t he die before the Great Battle?” Asked Hauro.
“Yes, but his son, his successor, took the mantle with even more hatred and cruelty. He’s the one who sent all the male Elves into that last battle. He’s the one the Elves named that battle from. We know it as the Battle of Endrud, for King Endrud II.
My theory is that the pure-blood Elves stopped their mission out in the open and continue it secretly today. I think they are planning on fabricating some sort of war. And they are destroying the artifacts so there can’t be any trace of this being thousands of years of retaliation. That’s where the mysterious dwarf boy comes to play. I think they plan to send him back to the Gallatin Mountains to cause some trouble and somehow get the sparks flying for war. That’s all I’ve got man. I don’t know how I can prove any of it. I had to destroy all the artifacts. If they find out I know all of this, they’ll come and destroy me too.”
“Well, we can’t let that happen.” Hauro agreed.
“Okay, thank you so much for that, um, extended excerpt!” Quinn spoke quickly before Tristan could start another paragraph.
Tristan, unfazed by the length of his reading, looked up at the crowd and saw their unrest.
“We will let you get up, stretch your legs, grab some refreshments, and Tristan and I will be back in a moment to answer some questions and sign some books.” Quinn continued.
At that, people began to get up. Some looked at their watches or phones, some bent over in various stretching positions. Some talked to their neighbors.
Quinn took Tristan into the back of the store, holding his arm tightly, too tightly for his comfort.
“Ow, Quinn. What’s the matter?” Tristan asked.
“What’s the matter? Really? You don’t think a 20-minute reading is a little excessive?”
“Yea, maybe a little excessive.”
“No, wrong. I was being sarcastic. It’s extremely excessive. What was that? You kept looking up at the door. Then you’d read. Tell me, what’s going on Tristan. Please.”
“I, uh, was just checking on the audience. We really shouldn’t stay back here. We might miss something,” Tristan said eagerly.
“Miss what Tristan? What might we miss? Or, I think, if I’ve figured it out, you weren’t checking on the audience, you were checking on one person in the audience. Or should I say, one person not in the audience. Am I pretty close?”
“No, I just…” Tristan whispered unconvincingly.
“I am right. I am dead right. You were looking up to see if Emily was here. You, who have forty people listening to you, ready to buy copies of your book, were waiting for Emily. You’re impossible Tristan. Laurie is here. You need to talk to her yet. And you can’t even think straight because Emily’s not coming.”
“Now, you don’t know that. I left her a message.” Tristan realized his mistake in admitting that to Quinn instantly. “And sometimes she’s late, but I could tell, she’s coming. And if we are here, in the back room, we might miss her.”
“Oh, Tristan. Please don’t do this to yourself again. Don’t to this to me again. I’m not going to get dragged into this again. We were past this. I thought we were working on…us now. I mean our friendship. We were just over that stupid fight. Let’s not get into it again.” Quinn sighed and pleaded, “I have to grab another box of your books. You’ve already sold what we brought out. So be happy. Wait for me. And we will walk out together with your books for all to buy and for you to sign. Let’s finish this day off together.”
As Quinn turned and walked to grab the box, Tristan left and went to the front of the store on his own. Still no Emily. She never showed up, and Quinn didn’t speak to him for the rest of the day.
At night, after everyone had left, Tristan sat alone in the storage room. Tears gathered in his eyes; his vision blurred. Before he became completely blinded by his loneliness, Tristan noticed Quinn standing on the other side of a bookshelf. He didn’t acknowledge that he saw her, but he waited for her to do something until he just couldn’t. Letting everything wash over him, Tristan embraced the wave of raw, guttural sobbing right in front of Quinn.