[Disclaimer: This is Renneleth's story and his thoughts. Expect a fair share of foul language that really doesn't belong either here or there, but it's Renneleth and who am I to curb his crudity and vehemence. You are warned!]
Half-faced men only warrant half a toast, or so I've been told. Maybe whomever said it didn't mean to encompass the whole of the world's population with half a physiognomy, not that there's that many of us. Maybe they just meant me. Renneleth Maergaladhon, exile, man-eater, only warrants half a toast. I don't blame the inventor of the proverb. Hell, I'd even up it and say that Renneleth Maergaladhon doesn't deserve even that. I'm an ugly elf. Ugly on the outside and twice ugly on the inside. To paraphrase an old acquaintance, I'm a bag of severed elven cocks left to bake and putrify in the sun. Which is all to say I've done my share of dubious deeds and committed enough sins to make every ancestor turn in the grave.
But all I did, all I do, I do for my people. And if I can't toast to that, even half a toast, then to hell with you and yours. Whomever survives me, if you're reading this, may you never become your father.
Wise men say it behooves no-one to dwell on their sins. If one feels they are weighed down by ill deeds from the past, when grief and pain whittle at one's being until nothing remains but bare bone, in such a case, these wise men say, one has to fill a mug with strong liquor, name the sin, toast on it, then drink it all down in one swallow. To do so, to name one's demons, one brings them forth into the light where they can't hide. I think these wise men were as wise as a freshly squeezed turd is appetising. Probably they were human. Let me tell you one thing about sin. You can't exonerate yourself; you can't wash away the sort of filth that stains the soul. And you shouldn't be able to! Your sins are demons evoked by yourself and unto yourself, and their existence is justified. They're an important reminder: you screwed up, you caused lasting injury to someone, and we're here to ensure you never forget. I can toast to that! At least I can agree that naming and recognizing one's sins is an important exercise, if not for moral exoneration than certainly to remind yourself that deep down we're all deeply flawed.
I'm old, even by Elven standards. To be exact, I'm two-hundred-ninety-three years old. I was in the womb when Greenwood fell and my parents fled north to found present day Feywood. I was not alone in that womb. I had a twin brother. Hannaleth. My father is used to say we were named after the hawk and owl, respectively, because we embodied the traits of those birds even as young. I, the hawk, was reckless, bold and impulsive. Hannaleth was wise and composed, each word measured, each movement of his graceful limbs perfectly coordinated. I was squeezed out the first and fancied myself the older breath even my claim to it was a matter of minutes. I liked to charge. I really shouldn't have. My father would often warn me that I had too much of an anarchic streak that would one day manifest in an ill outcome. How true that was.
Let me tell you a story.
Two boys were playing in the woods.
They had ventured a bit far from their Feywood home, further than was prudent. But that did not matter since the youths prided themselves on being skilled hunters. Together they had stalked deer, hunted wolves, even trapped the odd bear. They were inseparable and often acted in complete synchrony. Then again, twins usually do. Of course their father warned them "do not stray close to the Moors lest Yeenoghu's Brood prey upon you", but boys will always be boys, and boys will always go their own ways. So what if those ways take you to Gerdamlath, or the Gerdamish Moor. To these two boys that simply meant proving themselves against the gnolls, proving themselves as hunters without peers.
* * * *
It was late. The boys wore supposed to have been long home by then, warmed by the hearth and listening to their mother's gentle humming whilst she prepared a meal. "Hann," the dark-haired of the two boys called out. A cloud had passed over the moon, and the woods around him were a maze of shadows. He had become separated from his brother in the thick of dark. His brother must have been nearby, though. His voice was calling, but each time he called, it seemed to come from a different direction. "Hann, where are you? Man'na raice? What's wrong?"
"Renn, I need you."
The voice was weak, rough - it was clear he was in pain. "Teli'si. Help me." A pause that seemed to stretch for eternity. "Please, help me." The dark-haired brother pressed forward, thrashing his way through briers and vines. Then his foot caught on something and he stumbled, falling across a soft and wet mass — a small body with skin cold to the touch and blood matting his hair. It was his brother. Cold. Unmovinhg. Dead. There was no denying it; the same light hair, the same blue eyes that once held such vibrancy. Now forever extinguished. "I need you." It was his brother's voice, rough and pained, but it wasn't Hanneleth who spoke. The speaker towered over the dark-haired brothet, a wicked staff clutched in one hand. Sharp teeth gleamed as the gnoll burst into laughter, a mocking bellow that was echoed on all sides as other dog-headed creatures stepped out of the woods. The moon broke through the clouds just in time to catch the red riftstone gleaming atop the gnoll's staff.
The spell seared the whole of the dark-haired boy's left face. And then the gnolls left. When the boy was later found by his father, the whole of his left jaw was smashed in, his left-side chin and lip cut open, his left eye completely destroyed, and his left ear slashed off. Over the years, while fractured bones have been set straight, the flesh and skin never really mended, stretched tissue barely covering the wilted muscle of his left face. Often I was asked to let a druid mend my face, but I always refuse. I carry the sin of my brother's death the outside, on my melted half-face. Hanna let's bright flame was extinguished by a gnoll, but it was me who exposed the candle to the wind. It was me, the impetupus and reckless hawk, who drove the owl from its safe perch and into the clutch of peril. I often wonder what kind of man Hannaleth would have become had he yet been alive Ten times the man I am, no doubt. Wherever you are, my brother, whichever gilded halls of the Seldarine your spirit graces, if I could turn back time and trade my life for yours, I would. On all our ancestors, I would. But I can't. All I can do is toast on your memory and my own folly with this half-full cup of mine.
There is an old saying that suggests that to become the greatest hunter, you must assume the instincts of that which you hunt. You must feel and think as does your prey, and you must see the world through its eyes. But this is a dangerous game to play. Perhaps it holds true if you hunt wildlife or other prey where you are not emotionally invested, but the moment the hunt becomes personal all lines are blurred. If you hunt with hatred, you are consumed by it. Once thusly immolated, there is no dousing that fire.
When the Elfbane was yet striking fear in the hearts of elves on the island, the Tel'varataurie and the Tau'otharie were unable to rein in her reign of terror. Countless elves – women, children, the elderly – fell to her merciless blades. One elf vowed to bring justice by whatever means necessary. He tracked the Elfbane's every movement and even followed her to (and through) the shadows that had molded her. When the Elfbane spoke to those shadows to ask for their fell blessings, so did this elf. He wanted to know her, to understand the world through which she moved. Little by little, the elf became aligned with the same darkness that fueled the Elfbane. One day the Elfbane could no longer hide from the elf. The elf smiled as he aimed his arrows. But the Elfbane laughed the last. She understood that this elf was as much at odds with what he had become as he was with her.
I lost to Cathe Redsteel before the battle began in earnest. I let myself traverse such dark and ominous paths with so many twists and turns that at the end of it I was lost and at the bare fringes of sanity. It took years to purge myself from the whispering shadows, and by the time I was cleansed Cathe had wrought too much damage and I had accomplished nothing to prevent it. And so I raise this half-filled glass to that sin which we call pride, and to the foolishness that accompanies it. May I never raise another in its name.