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Righteous fury, p.30
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       Righteous Fury, p.30

           Markus Heitz
 

  Sinthoras reveled in the attention. He noticed several älf-women smiling at him, hoping to appeal. Yantarai was there, too. He had received her at his house on frequent occasions. This prompted the thought that he must find somewhere suitable to move to. I shall start looking for a residence in Star-Eye in the morning. Living out in one of the radial arms would be beneath his dignity. That was more Caphalor’s thing.

  Demenion held up an arm to quieten the guests. “Thank you, dear friends. You have shown Sinthoras an appropriate welcome,” he said with a broad smile; having such an important guest of honor in his house reflected well on his own status. “He will crush the elves under his heels, exterminating our enemy and their allies, once and for all.”

  There was more applause, which Sinthoras acknowledged with a gentle incline of the head. He was without doubt the most popular älf in the whole of Dsôn.

  “The nostàroi honors us with his presence. He has come to get to know some new friends who want to support his work,” said Demenion. “There will come a time after the victory over Tark Draan we should all prepare for: it will be a time when the powerful in Dsôn Faïmon will be those who share our views.” He bowed to Sinthoras. “I share your views, Nostàroi.”

  More than two-thirds of the guests followed suit, while the others stood and raised their glasses to the warrior.

  Good. Not too many new faces. Sinthoras set himself to remember them. There was sure to be a register of newcomers’ names for him somewhere. Yantarai would be on the list. So far, when the two of them had met, politics had been far from their minds.

  But there was another älf-woman who caught his eye.

  She was in the fourth row and had raised her glass in a half-hearted manner as she studied him with something approaching hostility. On her slender body she wore black tionium armor that was obviously designed to attract attention, in particular because of what remained uncovered.

  The metal followed the form of the älfar skeleton and exposed much of the wearer’s skin. Bloodred inlays copied the lines of arteries and veins and even appeared to pulsate. She had dusted herself with powdered silver and her dress was a flowing transparent robe. Her long, dark brown hair was braided in a wreath around her head. Extraordinary.

  At that moment the guests all got to their feet again and she disappeared in a sea of faces, towering hairstyles, and extravagant hats.

  Sinthoras recalled how he and Caphalor had spoken of family. It suddenly struck him that he might meet his death in the war against Tark Draan. Who will benefit from what I have amassed?

  He swept his gaze over the assembled älfar. For now he was still part of the unendingness and he would have to take advantage of this fact, but he must leave an heir. Soon.

  The evening would mark the start of his search for a suitable partner to bear his children. Sinthoras had extremely high standards.

  CHAPTER XIV

  The Inextinguishable Ones realized that this strong and mighty folk, whose remains they coveted for their Tower of Bones, could only be overcome by trickery.

  So they offered them a peace treaty and served delicious wine for the celebrations.

  But the wine had been laced with an undetectable toxin supplied by the fflecx. The älfar themselves were immune to the poison.

  And so those warriors, invulnerable in battle, died writhing on the floor in agony.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit,

  1st Book,

  Chapter 2, 27–32

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), älfar realm Dsôn Faïmon, Radial Arm Wèlèron,

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

  autumn.

  Caphalor, riding on Sardaî, looked over the cleared strip of land between the defense moat and the dense woods of Ishím Voróo with mixed feelings.

  He and Sinthoras had had a tent city erected to accommodate the delegates of the various races, creatures, and tribes. He wrinkled his nose in distaste as the wind brought smells and noises reminiscent of a cattle market. Älfar soldiers on fire-bulls patrolled the camp, putting down quarrels—it was not only friends who were assembling there: the half-trolls and óarcos hated each other, while the barbarians would seize any trivial reason to attack anything nonhuman.

  It will be difficult to form a united and efficient army out of these hodgepodge combatants. But he might be worrying unnecessarily—perhaps none of them would agree to join them at all and they would have to see how far they got with their own vassal armies. That would be the worst outcome. We won’t get far with only 40,000.

  “Let the bridge down,” he commanded the watch. The drawbridge rattled down to form a link across the deep river, while the other section connecting the island to Dsôn Faïmon was hoisted up into the air.

  A unit of fire-bull cavalry trotted over to Caphalor to serve as his escort as he rode over the drawbridge. “To the óarcos,” he instructed them.

  The leader nodded. They brought him to a tent shrouded in black smoke.

  The óarcos’ evening meal was bubbling away in large copper cauldrons suspended over campfires. It stank of old meat, rancid fat, and burned ingredients that nobody in Dsôn Faïmon would think of touching. Óarcos were stirring the pots, shouting and shoving each other.

  They’re really going to eat that stuff. Caphalor kept telling himself he wanted to persuade the monsters to join their campaign, but the word scum kept going round in his head.

  The óarco guards saw the älfar group approaching and yelled for their comrades. Seven of them with their shields and pikes formed a ludicrous óarco barricade the fire-bulls could have easily swept aside.

  They still have not got the message that we are not going to harm them. Caphalor ordered the unit to halt and contemplated the monsters with raised eyebrows, saying nothing, waiting patiently until their small brains had come to terms with their own foolish reaction: a useful humiliation tool.

  The óarcos looked at each other sheepishly. With a loud roar the filthy canvas door-flap of the main tent was flung aside.

  Out stormed a wildly gesticulating óarco in crude metal armor, a splendid specimen found only in the deepest, darkest ravines of Ishím Voróo. Its energy and fury were obvious, even if its intelligence was decidedly underdeveloped.

  Why should an óarco bother to think if he is as muscular and broad as a half-troll? Caphalor was pleased with what he saw. Our vassal armies could model themselves on this one. This was exactly what an óarco should look like. With an iron morningstar and a broadsword hanging at his belt he would win any argument.

  The right-hand side of his face had been painted blue and the left eye section was white, which made a strange contrast to the rest of his greenish black skin. The tusks were dyed bright blue and garish yellow and his long, dark hair had been gathered in a braid.

  He ran to the wall of óarcos before the tent and, pulling two logs out of the woodpile, bashed the over-enthusiastic defenders on the head with them. He cursed and chased them off, hurling bits of wood after them. After that he turned to Caphalor. “Forgive the idiot heads,” he said. “They were just doing what they’ve been taught to. They’ve forgotten where they are.” He nodded. “I am Toboribar.”

  Well, well. Brighter than I thought. Caphalor was amazed to hear the óarco speak the Dark Language fluently. “I am Nostàroi Caphalor. I’ve come to see if we should permit your units to join our campaign against Tark Draan.”

  Toboribar tilted his head to one side with a knowing grin. “Let’s talk.” He turned tail and headed for the main tent.

  Caphalor dismounted and followed, going through what he knew about Toboribar in his mind. The älfar spy reports said that this leader of the Kraggash óarcos had challenged and killed both his elder brothers, and had executed 400 óarcos to secure his claim. His 20,000 warriors had a reputation for utter brutality; it was said they had been hard to control—until Toboribar took over. The Kraggash liked to live in warm, airless caves. This made them ideally suited to fighting the groundli
ngs.

  Toboribar sat down on a solidly constructed chair. “Let’s cut to the chase, Caphalor,” he said, still with a grin that did nothing to make him look either pretty or kind. Any timid creature would have interpreted the smile as an aggressive baring of teeth. “You want to conquer Tark Draan, but your home-grown óarcos are a tame lot who couldn’t lift a sword, let alone use one. Am I right?”

  Caphalor stopped short—and had to laugh. Toboribar’s grin widened. He could take a gnome’s head off with one bite. His disarmingly entertaining and open manner made up for his lack of respect.

  “Well, maybe not a sword like yours, but they can handle their own.”

  “Then they’ll be lighter than the corn stalks they pluck for you, I’ll wager.” Toboribar placed his muscular forearms, twice the size of the älf’s, on the table. “You have a way to break open the maggots’ gateway?”

  “We have.”

  “Good. But those dwarves are stubborn fighters, you won’t find it easy in their tunnels. We, on the other hand, are used to cave warfare.” Toboribar smacked his lips as if savoring a delicate morsel. “What do the Inextinguishables have to offer me if we join you?”

  Caphalor’s plan to present participation in the coming war as a privilege swiftly went out of the window. “Nagsor and Nagsar Inàste will grant you the right to conquer and keep any land in the south of Tark Draan. For that you will render a tithe, each division of unendingness, in coin or in kind, as we find acceptable. The area you control in the south must not exceed fifty by fifty miles and must not comprise former elf territory. Apart from that proviso you will be free to do as you wish.”

  “Hmm.” Toboribar folded his arms theatrically to show displeasure. “And what’s the south of Tark Draan like?”

  Caphalor rolled his eyes. “How am I supposed to know?”

  “What if the south fails to conform to our aspirational standards?” he said, mocking the älf’s speech. “What if we . . . prefer the north?”

  “You have been allocated the south,” Caphalor said firmly. “I realize you are taking a certain risk here, but I think you will agree it is a good swathe of land.”

  “No,” said the óarco, with a decisive smack of the lips.

  “No?” Caphalor suddenly sympathized with Sinthoras for losing his temper in negotiations—you had to take a lot of insubordination from inferior beings an älf would normally have cut in half.

  Toboribar leaned forward and tapped on the table with his forefinger. “No tithes, no telling me how much new territory I can hold, and we get unrestricted access to the northern pass as soon as we’ve conquered it.” He stared grimly at the älf before breaking into another sudden grin. “Those are my terms. Take them . . . or leave them and march off without me and my Kraggash.”

  That’s not the way it goes, beast. Caphalor signaled the talks were ended and stood up to leave the tent. He expected the óarco to explode.

  But there was silence. Toboribar let him go because he knew full well Caphalor would have to come back. The talks had been interrupted, but they were not over.

  Caphalor was upset with himself for underestimating the óarco. He would have to suppress his own arrogance toward the other races if he did not want all of the talks to end like this. I pray to Samusin that you all die in battle in an otherwise splendid älfar victory.

  He hurried off through the swathes of cooking fumes, back to his night-mare and his escort, where he found a messenger waiting.

  “Nostàroi. A delegation of barbarians has arrived and wishes to speak to you.”

  “Tell them I will see them tomorrow, they will be first on my list.”

  “Nostàroi, they say they need to see you at once or they will leave.”

  Caphalor realized that negotiating was not really his thing. This was politics. Diplomacy: lies, games, everything all at once. He was still convinced this war was a huge mistake, or at the very least, premature. Sending all the scum off permanently to Tark Draan was a comforting thought, but there were still so many imponderable factors about this campaign. Why isn’t Sinthoras here? He’s much better at politics than I am, in spite of his fiery temperament. They had agreed they would always appear together, but Sinthoras was unreliable in this respect.

  Angrily he turned Sardaî and thundered off, leaving the fire-bulls struggling to keep up.

  First the óarco, now the barbarians! They were getting him to dance to their tune instead of the other way around. They were dictating to him, the nostàroi, the Inextinguishables’ representative! His fury grew and black lines flared across his face. I’ll show them their place!

  Caphalor raced into the barbarian camp and swept into the tent where their leaders were assembled. The night-mare crashed into the heavy table, overturning it so that the humans had to spring back out of the way, hands on weapon hilts.

  “You dare to summon me?” he shouted down at them from the saddle. “It’s you who are summoned here. You are privileged to take part in this campaign. Who do you think you are?” He leaped down and dismissed Sardaî. The stallion went outside. “Speak!”

  The barbarians righted the table and gathered on the other side of it. They all wore different types of metal-plated leather armor. Their boots were simply made. Their crude gold trinkets were supposed to make them look dignified, but any älfar child could have produced better. Two of the men were even wearing crowns that looked as if they had been made by someone with a squint: the coronets were lopsided and the inlay work shoddy. How can they bear to put them on?

  “I am Armon of the Herumites,” said one of them, who had a black beard. There was so much hair on his head and face that he could hardly see out of his eyes. “You should know, älf, that we shall not be joining you if the Kraggash are part of your force. They have caused too much harm to our tribe.”

  Caphalor’s breath was coming hard and fast and his heart rate was speeding up. “You and the Herumites and who else?”

  All of them put up their hands.

  Stay calm, he told himself. Tempt them. “That means that the barbarian tribes of Ishím Voróo are not willing to put past quarrels behind them in exchange for a huge increase in territory, resources, and slaves?”

  “Quarrels?” Armon was outraged. “Infamy take you, älf, if you call it a quarrel when women and children are slaughtered and settlements burned to the ground!”

  A second barbarian with hair as red as the setting daystar pushed his way to the front, his face was dark with anger. “I waded through the blood of my wife, my children, my nearest relatives!”

  Not surprising there was so much blood. Caphalor recalled how barbarians were constantly at it like rabbits. Given enough women, the barbarians could quickly have made up the loss, but the älf chose not to say so.

  “I swore vengeance,” said the redhead, his voice breaking. “And you, älf, are negotiating with the perpetrators of these atrocities. They come forth at night on the rampage and run back to the caves after their murderous forays.” He gestured to the entrance. “My oath demands that I draw my sword and kill Toboribar on the spot, to get justice for those he has slain.”

  “He is under the protection of the Inextinguishables for as long as he is on this strip of land. Just as you are. Do not attempt to harm him or you will forfeit your life. This was explained when we called you here,” Caphalor warned him. He would never have thought that barbarians would be so sensitive.

  “We have 30,000 armed troops under us,” Armon stressed. “The Inextinguishables can offer us whatever they like, we will not accept if those cannibals are part of the alliance. We are united in this.” He glared at Caphalor in challenge.

  I must weigh the pros and cons. 30,000 barbarians instead of 20,000 óarcos. The óarcos were stronger in the field, but the barbarians would be easier to control, and he could pay them less. Fewer of them would survive, so it would be easier to get rid of them after the battle.

  “So, you are united, are you?” he whispered menacingly. He had had enough! W
hat he would really like to do with them . . .

  There was a rustle behind him at the entrance and a barbarian half a head taller than himself stepped through. He knew this one!

  The assembled men nodded to him respectfully, but their expressions altered.

  Caphalor felt the mood change. They were afraid of the new arrival!

  This tall black-haired barbarian wore heavy, plated cavalry armor; at his belt hung a curved sword with fabric bands wound round the grip. Hair and beard were trimmed and the gaze of his green eyes swept the room haughtily.

  “Forgive my late arrival. My horse went lame.” He sketched a bow in Caphalor’s direction.

  “And you are?”

  “Farron Lotor of the Ishmantis.” As the newcomer introduced himself, he laid his right hand on the hilt of his sword and Caphalor wondered if he were seriously going to attempt to attack him. “How far have you got with the talks?”

  Raleeha’s brother! Now he understood the other princes’ reactions. This is the one who had been defeating one tribe after another. “I am Caphalor, nostàroi to the Inextinguishables. Your friends here object to the Kraggash and they refuse to join our army, the like of which will never have been seen before.” He gestured in Lotor’s direction. “I know you. You are the one my arrows saved from death.”

  “Yes, I remember it very well,” Farron answered. “You had a slave at your side.”

  “Your sister,” Caphalor admitted unwillingly. Now Lotor would state that he would only join if she were released. It is better like that. She must not stay.

  “Our two peoples have never been enemies,” said Farron. “And you, Caphalor, saved me from a cowardly assassination attempt.”

  It did not escape the älf’s attention that Armon’s right eye twitched nervously at this point and that sweat was beading on his forehead. A traitor?

  “I will commit my support to the Inextinguishables without hesitation,” Farron announced, facing the tribal leaders. “It is only right that I should put my 40,000 warriors at their disposal. Without the actions of an älf I would be dead and my kingdom lost.”

 
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