Keokuk’s first memories are of his mother’s sketches. There was a high granite rock face outside his tiny village of Iyo`wah, and, humming somber melodies as she drew, she would take charcoal and sketch large scenes of a magnificent elvish city on her stone canvas. Sometimes she would enliven the picture with splashes of color from dyes she would make from local flowers. Keokuk would watch her draw for hours, and try to imagine life in the gleaming city. It felt as though it was made of ivory and silver, even though he knew that it had been carved from the towering trees that it clung to. He would dream of standing on the walkways hundreds of feet above the forest floor, and he could almost feel the bustling-yet-stately rhythm of like in an elvish metropolis.
Keokuk wanted to know more about the city, but his mother never spoke about it. In fact, she never spoke about anything. She would only hum, the melody conveying her mood. When he would ask other elders about the magnificent city, they would dismiss his questions. Sometimes he would hear them speak in the old language, but they rebuffed his efforts to get them to teach it to him. Instead, they taught him how to survive in the woods, and how to feel the primal connections with the forest.
Iyo`wah was certainly not a magnificent city. It was more of an encampment, containing scarcely a score of elves, most of them older. Some of the shelters carved from the trees might have impressed non-elves, but even Keokuk, who had known no other home, could feel that it was a rough and improvised sort of place. He knew it was but little older than he. He also felt that the elders were trying to shelter him; they directed him away from questions about the village’s past or about his mother’s silence or about his absent father. He grew restless. And reckless.
By his adolescent twenties, he was a bit of a disruption. An “elf of action,” he would plunge too deep in the wood in pursuit of game. He would disappear for days and even get lost looking for herbs. The elders would lecture him, but they still kept their secrets.
When he wasn’t exploring or rushing into danger (though there were few dangers in the quiet, secluded wood that contained Iyo`wah), Keokuk watched and listened. He noticed that most people in the village had scars. He also noticed that his mother not only never spoke, she almost never opened her mouth.
In his thirtieth year, he became an adult, though the elders performed only the simplest of coming-of-age ceremonies. But, he knew he was free to move on. He told his mother that he planned to see more of the world, and she nodded with acceptance. He turned to leave, then turned back, deciding to ask her finally all of the questions that the elders had refused to answer.
“the city you draw…was that our home?” She nodded.
“Is it gone?” She nodded again. “It was destroyed?” yes.
“is that what happened to my father? He was killed there?” She hesitated this time, then she nodded.
“Where was it?” She shook her head. She wouldn’t say.
“Why don’t you ever speak?” He asked, but he knew the answer deep down inside. She hesitated again, then opened her mouth, and he could see that her tongue had been cut out, leaving only a stub.
He embraced her, reassured her that he would be back after seeing the world a bit, then he left.
A few minutes later, he had a nocked arrow pointed at the head elder. The bowstrings were taut. “Tell me about our home. Tell me about my mother. And my father. Tell me what we’re running and hiding from.”
The elder only frowned and shook his head. “So impetuous, Keokuk. You will never fit in here…”
“Tell me!” Keokuk said. he was slow to anger, but this rage had been building up for all of his life.
“I cannot.” The elder said again. “I swore to your father…and your mother, that I would protect you. I won’t send you down a path that will likely get you killed. Our home is gone. Our ways our gone. If you miss them so, there are others of our kind. Find them and be with them if you must. But we of Iyo-wah, our past is buried and forgotten.” Keokuk could tell the elder was resolute. He knew the others would be too. He let the bowstrings slacken, then he turned out of the room and walked into the forest…towards the unknown.
For decades, he searched for some word of a lost elvish city – one that had been destroyed. He heard hints and rumors. He spent a decade following a false lead that led him to the ruins of a village that had been abandoned for centuries – too old and too small to be his parents’ home. He did not find the answers he sought. Along the way, he became more comfortable in the Mannish world. By his second century of life, he settled into a more retiring life on the borders between Mannish towns and the forests he called home. So it was that he found himself in the Heimellands; he’d given up on the quest of his youth. As the elder had said, the world of his parents was gone and forgotten. But, he still yearned to see more of the world.