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Righteous fury, p.26
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       Righteous Fury, p.26

           Markus Heitz

  Unease coursed through Sinthoras.

  He would keep quiet about his own role in transforming the demon’s nature. I won’t mention the broken vial and I won’t say what happened to me here. He did, however, want to warn his rulers about the new ally. Perhaps it is possible to march on Tark Draan without using the mist-demon. But now the creature knew about the impending campaign and wanted to be involved. It was going to be difficult.

  All the same, he was now physically fit and bursting with energy—he could make it back to Dsôn. He strode off, homeward bound.

  He briefly thought about finding Rambarz, whose possession of the amulet the elf had mentioned was particularly interesting, but it was more important to get back with his report on the new alliance. He wanted the renown and the celebrations that were his due. I have earned this. He put an exploratory hand to his jaw, but it had completely healed, and there was no pain from his ribs when he took a breath.

  His apprehension ebbed away. I shan’t need the amulet. He was returning home after he had won the powerful demon to the älfar cause, he would be a hero.

  He blanked out any second thoughts about the situation.

  For himself and thus for all others.

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), älfar realm Dsôn Faïmon, tip of the Radial Arm Shiimal,

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

  late summer.

  Raleeha listened to every conversation between the father and the daughter who never left his side.

  She was able to understand practically everything they said. She hoped her master would not die, that he would recover, return to Ishím Voróo, and hasten to the aid of Sinthoras.

  The gods were being benevolent: Caphalor grew better as each new day dawned. The älf called Aïsolon, who had saved them both, encouraged him, telling him not to give up on himself or on the mission. Aïsolon’s words and Tarlesa’s wonderful healing skills were restoring Caphalor’s health rapidly and giving him the confidence that things would take a turn for the better.

  Raleeha was delighted at the improvement: she was frantic with worry about Sinthoras and kept telling herself that he would still be alive. He was tougher than her new master, he would be able to withstand Munumon’s malice and would survive until Caphalor found him. The thought that he might be lying sick somewhere in Ishím Voróo was intolerable. She would give the last drop of her own blood to save his life.

  At the same time her inner voice was calling her a fool. The two älfar were deadly enemies. The last thing Caphalor would want to do would be to save Sinthoras.

  “Come here,” Tarlesa commanded. “Take these towels to the kitchen and have them boiled.”

  She bowed and heard the älf-girl open the door. Raleeha had not wanted to admit that she did not yet know her way about and she often got lost—it would take her some time to locate the kitchens.

  Tarlesa laughed. “How stupid of me—telling a blind woman where to go in a house she doesn’t know.”

  “I’m sure I would have found it, mistress,” Raleeha said. The basin was taken out of her hands and a name was called. “Take this away,” Tarlesa told the other slave who now approached.

  Raleeha was guided gently by the arm. At first she thought it was the other slave who had taken her elbow, but the fragrance she picked up told her that it was Caphalor’s daughter.

  “You saved my father’s life and enabled him to stay amongst those who never die,” Tarlesa said, her voice losing all its sharpness. “You are a slave, my father’s property and so this was your duty. But far away from the eyes and ears of my people, in Ishím Voróo, on your own . . .” She cleared her throat. “I mean to say—you might have left him to die, or killed him. You could easily have run away.”

  “No, mistress. Such thoughts were far from my mind. I choose to serve your people. I have learned so much during my time here.”

  “You were happy to serve Sinthoras, I know . . . My father says he gave you away, and he put out your eyes, but still you did everything he asked?”

  “Yes, mistress.”

  “There is no hatred in you?”

  “No, mistress.” And she knew that she spoke the truth. She did not feel hatred—a deep disappointment had displaced the initial anger.

  “No pride that whispers revenge? It was only a trivial matter, I hear, for which he punished you so severely.”

  Raleeha did not know where this was leading. Was she being tested? Why? Uncertain, she gave no answer.

  Tarlesa laughed softly. “You are the perfect slave, Raleeha: not rebellious, always ready to serve and always polite. Between ourselves, that makes you rather suspect.”

  “Mistress!” she objected, horrified.

  “Never fear, slave. You are safe from me, but as long as you live under this roof I shall have you closely watched.” Tarlesa had gone up a set of stairs with her and had crossed through two rooms. Now she stopped. There was a smell of alcohol. “Over there, lie down.” Raleeha was led to a couch and she lay on it obediently. “Let me see what your previous owner has done.”

  Tarlesa pushed the lace band up onto her forehead and Raleeha felt the air where her eyes had been. Then expert fingers felt her face, touching the cheekbones and circling the empty sockets.

  Raleeha’s breathing quickened. What is she up to?

  She heard a metallic sound at her side and then something sharp traced along the edges of the eye sockets and her eyelids were gripped and fastened back.

  “Oh, yes,” Tarlesa murmured, and it sounded as if she were smiling. “He stabbed through the eyeball. Very exact incisions, only going as deep as necessary. Afterward you should have been treated with a substance that was intended to dry out the tissue.”

  “Did that not happen, mistress?” Raleeha was terrified. Her imagination had Tarlesa standing over her wielding thin needles. If her hand slipped, the needle might go through to the brain . . . She forced herself to think of something else—something nicer.

  “In the left eye, yes, but the right eye still retains some moisture.” There was a sound of rattling metal—the älf-girl picking up her instruments. “Perhaps there’s something I can do with the right. The other one is useless.”

  “What do you mean, mistress?”

  “You told me you had learned much from us, so I should like to give you the opportunity of learning more—I shan’t promise anything I can’t guarantee, but there is a powerful distillation of herbs and essences I could use.” Tarlesa said. “It can be lethal if wrongly applied,” she added absently. There was another metallic sound. “This tincture can bring dead tissue back to life and stimulate regrowth.”

  Raleeha vaguely grasped what the älf was saying. “You mean . . .”

  “Indeed. The tincture may restore your right eye and its sight.”

  Raleeha tried hard not to clap her hands with delight; she would be able to paint and draw again, rather than scratching remembered images onto paper. And I can see Sinthoras again and learn from his art! “What would I have to do?”

  Tarlesa laughed. “Oh, you’d only have to agree to the procedure. I wouldn’t normally ask a slave for permission for an experiment—I do whatever I want—but as you saved my father’s life you must have the right to decide your own fate.”

  Raleeha did not hesitate. “Yes, please try it, mistress. Please.”

  “I’m glad to hear that.” Tarlesa shook a little bottle. “But I have to warn you what could go wrong—if the tincture gets into your blood you will die. In a couple of cases it affected the brains of my barbarian subjects and they went insane; the eye might overreact and burst, or it might regrow but still not function; it might become inflamed and you—”

  “Mistress,” Raleeha interrupted her impatiently. “Do it! I don’t mind what happens. I must at least try.”

  “Did I mention terrible pain?”

  “I’ll put up with the pain.”

  Tarlesa finished shaking the bottle and the cork was removed. There was the so
und of liquid going into a pipette. “You are a strong barbarian, Raleeha. We shall soon see what you can tolerate.”

  Raleeha thought she could hear the drops coming out of the narrow end of the glass tube, she felt them landing in her right eye socket. She waited nervously.

  “Well?” Tarlesa asked eagerly. “Is it working?”

  “No, mistress,” Raleeha said, disappointedly.

  “Then I must inject it into the eye capsule.” Again Raleeha heard the sound of metal instruments and then a dragging noise.

  Sharp pangs of intense pain shot through her head. Acid filled her eyeball socket and she jerked her head to one side. The tincture spilled onto the bridge of her nose and seeped down.

  “Curses!” Tarlesa pulled the slave collar tighter. “Keep still, can’t you?”

  Raleeha could not breathe. She gasped for air. But the älf-woman had fixed the buckles on the collar as tight as they would go. Her mind drifted as she fell into a faint, her limbs limp and the pain in her eye lessening.

  Then the leather strap was loosened. She drew a shuddering lungful of air. With her returning consciousness the waves of pain swelled back.

  “I have injected the substance into the remains of your eye,” Tarlesa said impatiently. “Too much of it was wasted when you moved your head, slave. Have you any idea how much it costs? You are to be whipped for that.” She called another slave. Raleeha missed her name. “Ten strokes on the naked breasts for this one,” she commanded sharply, as cruel as she had sounded at their first meeting. “Get her out of here.”

  Raleeha was dragged to her feet and pulled roughly through the rooms and down the stairs. Suddenly she found herself outside, standing in the cold drizzle.

  A jerk at her clothes bared her breasts.

  Raleeha did not struggle and did not cry out until the third lash. The pain of this punishment diverted her attention from the burning of the acid in her eye. After the tenth stroke she collapsed in the mud with blood running down over her belly. Her breasts felt like torn strips of sacking.

  “Come, Raleeha,” said the slave kindly. “You have survived it. The mistress has given me some good ointment. It will help, there won’t be any scars.” Raleeha sobbed and moaned as she clasped her damaged breasts. A woman bathed her with warm water and dried her gently; after that Raleeha felt a cooling layer of ointment being applied to her hot skin. Someone led her to the shared chamber and helped her to clamber up to the topmost mattress.

  Raleeha could hear people talking quietly, telling stories. She heard her own name mentioned several times.

  The salve was indeed excellent: the pain had almost gone and having felt her left breast, she could tell the swelling was already going down. She wondered how many barbarians had lost their lives in experiments to perfect this formula.

  Once more the voice at the back of her head condemned the älfar for their arbitrary cruelty. The voice suggested she should flee, complaining that she had once again been severely punished for a trivial offense.

  Raleeha stifled the voice by imagining regaining her sight. Then she prayed for Sinthoras. He must be in Ishím Voróo, where he must surely have survived the poison and be carrying out one heroic deed after another. Raleeha calmed her breathing, removed the lace band from her forehead and placed it under her pillow, as was her custom at night.

  She was impatient. She could not wait for the moment when her sight might return. Tarlesa had given her hope. The dream must come true.

  Whatever else happened.

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands),

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

  late summer.

  Caphalor thundered along the plain on his heavily armored night-mare. It was high time I was back on my mission: Tarlesa’s healing skills have given me a second life and I am going to use it.

  It was nonsense, of course—however breakneck the speed—to assume he would catch up with Sinthoras, or even come across his corpse.

  Knowing how badly he had been affected himself, Caphalor presumed the other älf had succumbed to the poison. His death is certain.

  So now it was up to him to make the alliance with the mist-demon, though, the more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that waging war had not been the Inextinguishables’ idea. The Comets put this plan on the table, the rulers may have given in to political pressure and powerful lobbying, though I would never have thought that possible. Perhaps my return as a triumphant Constellation can help to influence matters for the good.

  He had left Raleeha at home: her blindness would make things difficult and any horse she rode would be much slower than Sardaî. She was living secretly at his home, carrying out menial tasks and hoping Sinthoras would return.

  You know perfectly well why you left her behind. She is not good for you—perhaps you should just give her back to Sinthoras. He hated having to admit that she troubled him. He had not examined the emotions, but knew she aroused feelings he would normally only have for his life-partner.

  Under different circumstances—and if she had been an älf—he might have eventually left Enoïla for her. But for a slave girl? A barbarian, who cannot compete with my own people in grace or beauty or longevity? Never.

  And yet he had lost his heart to her. Thanks to their journey, her figure was now similar to that of an älf, and she is beautiful . . .

  Caphalor forced his attention back to the matter in hand. I have to give her away. He must dismiss her from his mind if he wanted to return to Dsôn without dishonor. She is a human and thus mediocre at best. Do not waste your time with the mediocre, he told himself, sealing off that train of thought.

  The brightly colored fflecx palisade border came into view and this time he had a surprise for the repulsive gnomoids.

  Caphalor brought the night-mare to a halt and opened the container with the fire-arrows. He ignited the wick on the bow just under the grip. The glowing wick would touch the fabric wrapped round the arrow tip when he drew the string to its full extent. He had brought thirty prepared arrows, of which half had fist-size bladders attached filled with petroleum; they would burst open on impact.

  “Here come my greetings.” Caphalor loosed the first of the arrows against the wooden palisade. With any luck the fflecx would not notice until the flames were licking high, then it would be too late.

  Coolly, he sent arrow after arrow into the air; the liquid splashed out onto the wooden staves.

  After his tenth arrow a small hatch was thrust open and one of the fflecx looked out.

  He must have heard something.

  You don’t have to run about being that ugly any longer. Caphalor felled the guard with a war arrow and sent a fire missile in its wake.

  The palisade burst into crackling flame along a length of twenty paces: the paint burned like dry tinder, boosting the effect of the petroleum, and the fire spread quickly along the walkways in both directions.

  A single arrow would have been sufficient. Caphalor removed the wick and threw it to the ground. He waited for the fire to do its destructive work.

  The fflecx were scurrying about on the palisade wall, trying to douse the flames with sand. They opened the gate and thirty alchemancers carrying buckets rushed out to tackle the blaze from outside.

  Samusin is on my side!

  Sensing what was expected of him, Sardaî galloped off toward the unguarded entrance with a menacing whinny.

  The fflecx only noticed the älf when he raced through the line of firefighters, trampling seven of them. The stallion dispensed lethal bites to two more as they crossed into enemy territory.

  “Do you recognize me?” Caphalor laughed and rode through without injury. Things were going so much better this time.

  He threw a swift glimpse over his shoulder. The fire was spreading still and the palisade fence was burning fiercely. The fflecx obsession with bright colors was sealing their fate. Whatever the alchemancers used to make their paints had the decided disadvantage of being highly flammable
. He smiled. He might be able to use this knowledge on his return trip.

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands),

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

  late summer.

  Sinthoras did not believe that barbarians could ever be victorious in battle using horses like the one he was riding. But if mediocre troops meet other mediocre troops in combat, no one is going to notice the quality of horse and rider. He, on the other hand, showed his mount constantly how very inferior it was. He shouted, cursed, and whipped it mercilessly and sent out waves of fear to spur the animal on. It felt as if he were hardly making any progress.

  While traveling at this frustratingly slow speed, he allowed himself to imagine his triumphant return to Dsôn: how he would revel in the celebrations honoring him! And when he received the award from the Inextinguishables . . . and when he was given overall command of operations against Tark Draan . . .

  Sinthoras started assembling his fantasy armies.

  In the vanguard: the inferior troops, óarcos and gnomes, as arrow fodder, the flanks protected by the taller races: trolls, half-trolls and giants, these will ensure the smaller ones do not break out when the enemy attacks. He would position the barbarian archers further back and, behind them, the älfar warriors and then the älfar archers, their range being much longer than that of the humans.

  Of course, he would also deploy smaller independent units for specific tasks such as lightning strikes on enemy catapult stations, or tracing and capturing, or eliminating enemy leaders on the spot. They could even lead an expedition to set fire to an enemy camp, a strategy that had proved useful in the past. The art of warfare consisted of confronting the enemy with familiar techniques, while weakening him with methods that would take him completely unawares.

  But before any campaign against the hated elves and their allies can be launched, the Stone Gateway must fall. He had secured the key to this barrier for himself.

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