Vendril was throwing knives in the practice yard of the Temple of Amun when a voice behind him said, "Master Fox?"
He turned easily, then nodded down to the halfling priest Birno, with whom he'd passed a couple of pleasant evenings at cards and stones. "Master Birno?"
The halfling quirked a grin. "Could I borrow you for a small matter? I have a group of elves at the gates, but they won't come inside. They're looking for someone, and it might be you -- if your true name is Vendril."
Birno knew damned well that the Silver Fox's true name was Vendril, but the Abbess had decided that it was better to keep that a secret from the townsfolk, and so half the temple didn't know or had grown confused. The other half, including Birno, was cheerfully pretending to have no idea as to the true identity of the Silver Fox, even if he'd deigned to take shelter among them.
So Vendril frowned and nodded. "I'll see what I can do," he said, and they left the practice yard and made their way back to the gate.
There was indeed a group of elves there, and they were indeed familiar.
"Uncle Aviril," Vendril said quietly, and offered a bow.
The elf regarded him without expression. There were others gathered behind him, a dozen or so cousins of varying degrees, and they bowed politely while the older man remained still. "I see you, Vendril. I call you forth."
Vendril stepped forward automatically. "I answer. What is the matter, Uncle?"
"The matter is the Choosing," said Aviril. "The Tellers of the Clan have read the signs, and they say the time has come again. The Clan must have its Sacred Shadow."
Vendril nodded. Beside him, the halfling priest Birno said, "Should I call for...?"
Vendril shook his head. "No. Only step back, and witness. This is not secret, but it is sacred."
"Ah," said Birno. A moment later, with unexpected and devastating insight, he asked: "Then do you wish me to send for Aesa?"
Vendril hesitated, then nodded.
Aviril held himself still as Birno withdrew, and pulled in one of the acolytes to carry the message. As the young man hurried away, the elder elf asked: "And who is Aesa?"
"My beloved," answered Vendril. "A priestess of Amun. You will see momentarily."
"Let it be so," Aviril said, and nodded sententiously. "All involved should witness."
"And who all," asked Vendril, "is involved?"
One of his cousins straightened, grinning like a wolf. "Vendril," she said. "I hadn't expected you to be hiding here."
He shrugged. "The clever hunter places himself where the prey doesn't expect him. Talyra, it is good to see you. You were selected?"
"Well earned. It will be a pleasure."
"Tchah!" said a male voice, and both Vendril and Talyra turned to look at their cousin Valaar. "Vendril, you should withdraw your claim. You do not serve the clan; you are much too far away."
The elder Aviril drew breath, but Vendril spoke first: "I did not make my claim," he said. "It is not my place to withdraw it. I serve as best I may. If you fear to face me, perhaps you should withdraw your own."
Valaar scowled. "I do not fear to face you, Cousin."
Vendril offered him a bow. "Then it will be a pleasure to face you as well."
Aesa came into the gatehouse then, but stopped beside Birno to regard the scene. Vendril could see his kin evaluating her, feel their reactions, but he held himself completely still and waited. She came forward after a moment, stopped just behind his right shoulder. "May I fight beside you?"
Vendril shook his head. "This is a matter of individual prowess, but you are my beloved and you should witness it."
There was a momentary pause while Aesa digested that. Then she nodded. "You know I trust you." She stepped back, paused, and added in very precise Elvish: "Kick their asses into next week." Then she went to stand beside Birno.
"Is there any further reason to delay?" asked Aviril. It was a ritual inquiry.
Vendril held no doubt that his own father had submitted his name as a candidate, and refused to either withdraw it or summon him back. That was why the challengers had come here. "I find myself suitably armed," he said. "I am prepared to begin."
"Likewise," said Talyra.
"At last," said Valaar. "I stand ready."
"Very well," said Aviril. He stepped back, drawing the remaining cousins with him. "Let the will of the gods be written in blood. Begin."
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