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Righteous fury, p.19
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       Righteous Fury, p.19

           Markus Heitz
 

  “Well,” he said suddenly. “We’ve managed to get away from the gålran zhadar’s soldiers. With Samusin’s help they may come across the srinks and finish off the obnoxious obboona so that we never have to deal with her again. Even if I’d rather kill her myself.”

  “Yes, master,” she said, breathing a sigh of relief. His words obviously reassured her. “I’m sure Munumon can be talked round.”

  “May the gods listen to your words,” he replied. “If that fat toad thinks I would be afraid to kill him, despite the hundred guards he surrounds himself with, he’s got another think coming.”

  “You’d attack him, master?”

  “If he won’t give me the antidote. If I die, let it be a warrior’s death.” He smiled, noticing how afraid she was of death. “You will be all right. You can return through the path I am cutting. Go back to Dsôn and wait for Sinthoras. On my death ownership falls back to him.” He knew that his choice of words allowed her the opportunity of escaping to her own people if he should be killed.

  “Master, that is generous,” she said. “May I ask something?”

  “What greater favor can I grant you than giving you your life?” he asked, condescendingly.

  “You could issue me a free pass. I fear your border guards would kill me otherwise,” she requested. “To them I would be nothing more than a runaway slave.” Raleeha bowed her head. “They won’t know my real reasons for leaving.”

  Caphalor admitted that he had not thought about that particular circumstance. “Of course.” He guided Sardaî from the path and dismounted. “It won’t be long now before we reach the fat toad’s court.” He took out a paper, ink, and pen and sat down in the grass to write out a few lines addressed to the bridge watch of the defense island.

  When he had finished writing, he looked up. Raleeha was tying her long black hair back, accentuating her very unbarbarian features. She was really pretty.

  Taken by surprise at this realization, he forced himself to concentrate on ways of utilizing her skull for aesthetic purposes: it could be covered in silver leaf and sprinkled with a pattern of diamond dust, set with jewels. A graceful barbarian such as this one deserved a life after death.

  Caphalor stood up and handed her the folded paper. “Look after this. Your life may depend on it.”

  As he gave it to her, their hands touched briefly. He would not have been able to say whether this happened on purpose or by accident. Her skin was warm and soft. No different from that of his own wife. He halted, looked at her and then got back into the saddle.

  Raleeha pretended she had not noticed, and as he had said nothing, it was as if it had not occurred.

  They soon reached the ruler’s court, built in the rough shape of an ugly fflecx head, embedded in the hilly landscape.

  Tinny fanfares announced their arrival. Gnomes skipped out of the colorful gate and hurried up, waving their halberds like toys.

  “Our black-eyes has come back,” one of them cried.

  “Ha ha! The black-eyes and the no-eyes,” giggled another. “Quick, get off your nags and hop along. Munumon, the great ruler, is waiting for you!”

  Caphalor was pleased to see they were nervous of Sardaî and were keeping their distance. He dismounted slowly, firstly to show the fflecx that he was supremely indifferent to the fact their king was waiting, and secondly because his knee felt weak. Between the thigh and the lower leg the whole area was cold and numb, a disturbing element, instead of the smoothly operating, flexible joint he could normally rely on.

  Raleeha was being yanked out of the saddle by small hands. High voices shrieked and laughed as the fflecx pulled at her clothes. They had seen what she was wearing. Raleeha sighed.

  “Look at her!” One of the fflecx grasped her breast. “That’s a nice handful! She’s hoping the king will bed her.” Raleeha tried to strike out, but her assailant moved aside and grabbed her bottom. “Oh, yes, that’s the way he likes them. Plump as pumpkins.”

  Caphalor gave Sardaî an order and the night-mare kicked the gnome in the head. There was a flash when the hoof met the skull and the small fflecx head burst open. The gnome fell dead to the floor, his blood spraying out over his companions.

  The fflecx jumped away from the slave girl, screaming. They yelled at Caphalor, threatening him and his night-mare with their halberds.

  “Thank you, master,” said Raleeha in relief.

  “She is my property, you scum,” he yelled, instead of responding to her; he attempted to loose his black waves of terror at the gnomes. He was aware of the warmth in his spine, but his power only produced a few black threads this time. Caphalor jerked her slave collar, then noted with relief that his knee had begun functioning normally again.

  The fflecx led them through several lofty chambers until they had reached the doors to the throne room.

  Fflecx were sitting and standing all around the room wearing armor or their typical clashing garments, some were bareheaded and some sported headgear even a barbarian’s jester would have been ashamed of. There was a sickly sweet smell, like sugar icing, honey, and the heavy perfume of lilies. Caphalor could hardly breathe.

  The repulsive, squat little king was seated on the throne at his ease, his eyes glittering with malice, his shockingly hideous female playmates at his side. Caphalor wanted to close his eyes to avoid having to see him. The assembled fflecx were surprisingly quiet, keen to find out what was coming.

  “You are to say nothing,” he told Raleeha.

  He had decided to try a nonchalant arrogance, perhaps the king would swallow that. “We are back, Munumon.” He tossed the rucksack down and it slid, with a clink and a clatter, over to the foot of the throne. “Here are the items you wanted.”

  Two gnomes took the bag and held it up to the king before pulling out the contents. “The crown!” Munumon giggled. “And the parchment!” He unrolled it, studied it briefly and sniffed at it. Then he put out his tongue to lick the crown, scratching at the metal with his long nails. He was obviously checking to see if the booty was genuine. He raised his podgy face and announced smugly that he was satisfied.

  The courtiers broke out in enthusiastic applause.

  Caphalor looked at the king. “So where is my antidote?” he asked, raising his voice over the excited hum of the crowd.

  Munumon held up his arms to show his subjects the two precious items that had been returned, demanding their attention. “And where is the head of the gålran zhadar, black-eyes? It was part of the bargain,” he croaked. “Were you so keen on losing your life? Or has your horrid warrior friend got the skull?”

  “No. We killed the gålran zhadar, but we didn’t have time to hack off his head,” Caphalor answered truthfully. “It’s the same result, whether you’ve got the head or not: the gålran zhadar is dead and you wouldn’t enjoy looking at his ugly mug anyway.”

  “Oh? I always enjoy seeing dead enemies. And I like trophies.” Demanding wine, he waved over a fflecx woman whose breasts dangled down to her middle.

  “It would only have been an eighth of a trophy.”

  “But I love little things!” cried the king, clapping his hands. “You should have brought it.” All the gnomes laughed.

  “Let me explain, king. His skull was badly damaged in the fighting. It got crushed between two huge chain links traveling in opposite directions and it was grated, like cheese.” Caphalor forced a smile.

  “Grated? What fun! I could have strewn it on the flower beds as fertilizer.” Munumon was shrieking with laughter. His courtiers joined in.

  “It would not have made good manure and it would not have been a pretty sight.” Caphalor tried to turn the conversation. “Even his creator would not have recognized him,” he went on, lying in the same calm voice that he had used when he was telling the truth. “There wasn’t enough of it left to bother you with.” The king’s laughter showed he did not care two hoots about what Caphalor was telling him. For this reason Caphalor did not warn the king about Karjuna and her srinks or the zh
adar’s soldiers. Let them come wipe out the gnome court.

  He glanced at Raleeha. Her expression showed that she was worried he would leap forward, kill the gnome king and be overwhelmed by the crowd.

  “That’s enough,” grunted Munumon, shaking with laughter. “To hear a black-eyes try to save his own skin is quite enough entertainment for me. I shan’t take your life, nor that of the little no-eyes, either.”

  “My thanks, King Munumon,” said Caphalor. “So I can have the antidote—”

  “No,” guffawed the king, holding his sides. “No, black-eyes. You shan’t have the antidote,” he chortled. He poured wine down his gullet and swallowed loudly. “That’s the punishment for failure. I’ll let you go, but I shouldn’t think you’ve got more than seven sun courses before the poison makes your blood so thick that you will die.” He sniggered and pointed at Caphalor. “Look at him! Look! His face is coming to pieces!”

  Fury lines were breaking out all over his visage and he was tensing his body, ready to lash out.

  The little bells on the king’s crown tinkled when Munumon got to his feet, while the rest of the court continued to laugh. “There are forty crossbows aimed at you, black-eyes. If you so much as move a muscle you will forfeit your grace period before you die.” The king pranced down from his throne and went over to the cascades. “Get out of here! You and your slave, out! I’m going to have my bath.” He handed the parchment and the crown to a servant and called his women over.

  The fflecx guards advanced on Caphalor, their halberds lowered toward him. He racked his brain as to what to do. Attack? And die immediately and not even have those extra days? He decided otherwise. “Let’s go,” he said to Raleeha, who could not believe that he was simply giving in to Munumon and beating a retreat. They left, to the loud amusement of the court. They were out in the rain once more.

  “Master, what happens now?” Raleeha could bear it no longer and had to break her silence.

  Caphalor did not answer. He watched her. She did not even know if he were standing near her. She could hear nothing and there was no tug on her collar. He was trying to work out which of his hundred ideas was the most sensible.

  “Master, speak to me.”

  “We are going to Dsôn Faïmon.”

  “What?”

  “You heard what I said,” he snapped, jerking angrily at her collar. She could hardly breathe. “The mission has failed. It is impossible to get where I am supposed to go within these seven sun courses.”

  “So you wish to die where your family is, master?”

  “No. I shan’t cross the border. I gave the Inextinguishables my word of honor that I should only return to present myself to them and the älfar folk if I were successful,” he said bitterly. “But you must live, Raleeha.”

  “Me? I am only a slave—”

  “From the Lotor family. Your continued existence must be ensured at all costs. Who knows what benefit this may prove to have for the rulers? I am not doing this out of pity. You are too valuable a hostage to die a miserable death in Ishím Voróo.”

  “You mean you would not cross the defense moat?”

  “Exactly. I will deliver you to the guards and give them orders to take you to my wife. She will receive a letter from me explaining your special status. You will be well cared for in her household.” Caphalor spoke clearly and firmly. His decision had been made and it had nothing to do with the fact that he found Raleeha thoroughly fascinating. It was purely her unusual bones that interested him, he told himself.

  “You will confront the flesh-stealer, master?”

  “The obboona shall die at my hands, as I vowed. Munumon, too, will have seen his last dawn. So it will be.” He went over toward their mounts. “Mount up. I don’t have any time to waste.”

  Raleeha nodded. “Yes, master.” She felt her way to the horse and climbed up clumsily, holding onto the mane as Caphalor instructed her. He tied the reins to the saddle of the night-mare and they rode off wildly through the rain. The slave girl needed all her skill not to fall off.

  Caphalor had watched her carefully when he announced his decision. He had seen the regret in her face. Regret and admiration—for him! But at the same time he had seen relief—she was probably grateful to know she would be regaining the safety of Dsôn Faïmon, where she could await the return of Sinthoras.

  CHAPTER IX

  For the defense of their state the Inextinguishable Ones had a deep moat dug, surrounding the whole of Dsôn Faïmon.

  An army of slaves excavated a circular defense ditch to encompass the radial arms. Thousands died in the construction and were buried at the deepest part of the moat.

  Platforms were erected in the middle of the moat, and strongholds built. Catapults were installed, able to fire faster and further than any weapon then in existence. These defense islands were connected to the Star State on the one hand and Ishím Voróo on the other by means of drawbridges.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit,

  1st book,

  Chapter 2, 1–5

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands),

  4370th division of unendingness (5198th solar cycle),

  summer.

  The weather changed as soon as Sinthoras passed the border of the alchemancers’ land. From now on he would be riding not through rain, but snow.

  The badly made road taking him northwest twisted continually upward: it rose through hills, small mountains and then high ranges. The rocks at the roadside were dark brown, shot through with black veins.

  However much he concentrated on maintaining his pace, sparing neither himself nor his mount, he always took the trouble to observe the landscape. The watchful eye of a warrior combined neatly with the appreciative eye of the artist. There was so much he wanted to paint.

  It was totally different here from Dsôn Faïmon. Through countless ages, wind, ice, and water had carved bizarre shapes in the stone, giving soft contours to what had once been sharp edges.

  New vistas met his gaze at every turn of the road: rock formations might rear up from the valley floor like a cluster of needles, or bright green torrents of water might gush from clefts in the cliff to crash into the chasm below. One thing was certain: the place had been abandoned by all living creatures, as Sinthoras had been pleased to discover. He did not have time to waste in combat, but it was strange that there was no one at all on this broad road. Perhaps the gods created the whole place just for themselves—and for artists, of course.

  Sinthoras saw neither towns nor villages, nor even a ruined farmstead or a nomad’s tent where he might have sought shelter. He soon left the needle-like rock formations behind him and by evening he was riding along a narrow, dried-up riverbed. It felt as if he were traveling along the veins of some giant creature. The rock walls enclosed him at times; at others the path lay open to the sky. Underfoot the ground had been washed smooth.

  He could not resist removing his glove to touch the marble floor that was making the going extremely difficult for his horse. Every time it slipped or took a false step he smacked it over the nostrils with the reins. After a dozen or so sharp reprimands the animal had learned its lesson, but Sinthoras was still not satisfied. “Stupid creature! What wouldn’t I give for a night-mare instead!”

  He wished he could take more time to rest—or time to sit and paint. He had never seen such picturesque settings anywhere in his own country, but he must reach the mist-demon before the poison engulfed him. He was convinced there would be time later on to come back and admire the scenery. I don’t give up as quickly as Caphalor. After he left the riverbed, the path wound up more steeply. Snowfields stretched to the right and to the left; a clump of trees in a narrow ravine plaintively held out leafless arms.

  Still no sign of other life. He rode in perfect solitude.

  There must have been a reason living creatures had shunned the mountain range, but he was not eager to investigate—time was so precious. He always found opportunities to fight scum or barbarians; he relished the co
mbat before letting an enemy die, swiftly or slowly. The speed with which their death arrived, carrying his name, depended on his mood at the time. But defeating whatever had emptied this whole stretch of countryside would certainly not be done quickly.

  His experience with the gålran zhadar had made Sinthoras more cautious. Sorcerers and any beings with a talent for magic had to be killed swiftly. He was almost prepared to wager that it had been a magic source that had driven life away here, even if he were not able to detect it himself.

  The rhythm of his horse’s hooves was disrupted, its energy flagging.

  “If you fall, you will die,” he threatened. He led his mount over to an outcrop of rock where he gave it some moss from the stones and some lichen scratched from a tree trunk. He lay down under his blanket. The horse snorted and sniffed at the offerings, but refused to touch anything, trembling with fear, the sweat turning to ice on its coat.

  Sinthoras could not sleep. He was terribly cold and the wind whistled round the tops of the mountains, driving the snow into every crevice. However much he tried to curl up to keep warm, flakes of snow found him. His inner energy was no help. If I don’t get out of this ice-hole soon and find somewhere warmer I’m going to freeze to death.

  The horse gave a cry of pain and collapsed. The merciless ride had demanded too much of it.

  That saves me having to kill you. Sinthoras stood up and called to Samusin and Tion, his arms outstretched to the sky, “Send me a sign. Something to give me hope that I may fulfill my mission!”

  The gods were silent.

  Looking at the blind, dead eyes of the horse, he noticed the crystal coating on the horse’s back. It really did look more attractive like that.

  He supposed the same fate would soon be his. The thought of being preserved forever in ice was a reassuring one: if he was going to have to sacrifice his immortality, this was a good way to go.

  “Ye gods!” he cried from the depths of his soul. “Do you want the realm of the älfar to sink without trace? Then let me die. But we are the children of Inàste, we are their descendants and share their divinity, my mission must succeed!”

 
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