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Righteous fury, p.31
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       Righteous Fury, p.31

           Markus Heitz
 

  Luck is on my side. My thanks to destiny and to you, Samusin. Caphalor laughed with relief. “This is loyalty indeed, Prince Lotor.”

  “May I speak to my sister, Nostàroi? Our last exchange was too short for me to learn how she really fares.”

  His reason told him to agree immediately, but he still heard himself say, “I will consider it. Do not forget, Prince Lotor, that she is my slave as well as your sister. Her life is in my hands.” This he stressed, so that his words could be taken as a threat. The barbarian set great store by her. He argued with his reason, insisting that to let Raleeha go now would be foolish. A further advantage. Caphalor allowed himself a victorious smile of relief. For once a good deed has paid dividends.

  “The Jomonicans are also willing to join the Inextinguishables,” said one of the barbarians out of the blue.

  And now they want to change sides and promise me their backing, all because Farron Lotor had pledged his support. What had been defeat now meant a boost in his forces of thousands of men. And all without any help from Sinthoras. Armon was glaring at Farron, sweating hard.

  “What about you?” Lotor turned to him. “Where does your future lie?”

  “Are you so audacious as to want to spread your power in the land of Tark Draan before you have achieved dominion here?” Armon hissed. “The Lotors are filth! It would not bother you to march next to the óarcos—seeing as how your ancestors mated with them in the gutter, giving birth to ugly bastards like yourself!”

  Farron’s features were icy. He pulled himself up to his full height.

  Armon, however, had not reached the end of his tirade. “Take a look at him! Are you all blind? It’s óarco blood that makes the Lotors so tall. They’re all huge and thirsty for power, just like the óarcos.” He turned back to Farron. “They say your tribe sucks the brains out of your enemies and uses the skulls as drinking vessels, and I have believed it ever since seeing the state of a battlefield your soldiers left behind them. There was not a single corpse that still had its head!”

  Caphalor was now the intrigued witness to a full-blown row that must have been simmering for some time. One outrageous allegation followed another and he was certainly not going to get involved. The thought that Raleeha might have even the tiniest fraction of óarco blood in her turned his stomach. It can’t be true! Not her! She looks so very like an älf!

  “Is that why you sent your assassins after me?” Farron spoke coldly. “Because you are afraid of me?”

  Armon spat in disgust. “Ride with the óarcos and the älfar and the rest of the rabble they’re dragging up. The Herumites will—”

  Quick as the wind Farron drew his sword and hurled it, striking Armon full in the chest.

  The heavy blade pierced the armor and transfixed the barbarian leader’s body; blood gushed from Armon’s mouth. For a few blinks of an eye he remained upright, holding out his arms for help, but the others stepped back in horror. He finally collapsed at Farron’s feet.

  “The Herumites,” said Farron, continuing the dying man’s words, “will be choosing me as their new prince because they are afraid of Toboribar.”

  That’s a turn up for the books. Caphalor could not suppress a smile: things were going his way, but he must still go through the motions of diplomacy. “You have killed a barbarian who was under the protection of the Inextinguishable Ones. The promise of peace here in this cleared zone covers everyone.” He called for his escort. Then he continued. “Armon’s body will be taken secretly to the forest. A patrol will find him crushed under a fallen tree.” He let his gaze pass from one leader to the next. “Anyone mentioning what has happened here will die.”

  Farron inclined his head, the other leaders followed suit.

  Caphalor turned round and gave the guards instructions to dispose of the dead body. “Then I bid you welcome to the alliance against Tark Draan,” he announced to the assembly in formal tones. “When the campaign starts you will be under the command of Nostàroi Sinthoras and myself. In return for your support you may take as much land and booty as you wish in northwest Tark Draan.” He ran through the terms and conditions the barbarians had to agree to. “I’ll have the treaties drawn up and brought to you for signature.” He took his leave.

  Samusin, my thanks! Caphalor was overjoyed. What triumph! I have won the barbarians over for the cause of Nagsor and Nagsar Inàste! And I’ve done it on my own! Sinthoras would not be able to cap that.

  He mounted Sardaî and rode to the bridge with his reduced escort heading back to Dsôn. No other delegates had turned up, which meant he did not have to hold any more talks for the time being. I will leave Toboribar to stew in his own juice until he finds out that the barbarians have joined in their thousands. The Kraggash were unlikely to sit quietly in their tents after hearing that.

  It occurred to him he could spread rumors of untold riches to be had in Tark Draan. Then they’ll all be greedy enough to volunteer. Sinthoras could get some of his spies on to that.

  His thoughts wandered to Raleeha while he waited for the drawbridge to be lowered. Óarco blood. Unthinkable. Not with a face like hers. Admittedly, her brother had an ugly face, but so did all the barbarians. Apart from her.

  As he guided his night-mare onto the bridge, he heard the sound of hooves on the left. A beaming Sinthoras and bodyguard were riding toward him, coming from the direction of Toboribar’s camp.

  Caphalor did not want to ask. It was too obvious that Sinthoras had persuaded the leader of the Kraggash to join them. Without him.

  Ishím Voróo (The Outer Lands), älfar realm Dsôn Faïmon, Dsôn (Star-Eye),

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

  winter.

  “They are mustering forces.” Nagsar Inàste joined her brother on the broad upholstered couch in the simply furnished reading room. She stroked his black hair as he perused a thick book. Nagsar had selected a slim-fitting dark green dress with an embroidered silver pattern against a black border on hem, collar, and sleeves. “We did choose the very best for the task; Sinthoras and Caphalor are doing wonders.”

  “They are indeed,” replied Nagsor, without looking up. The almanacs and reference books he had asked for were piled on the floor at his side. He was wearing a dark red robe and he had left his hair to lie loose on his shoulders.

  She pressed close to him and he inhaled the scent of the fragrance she wore: a hint of peach, mint, and heavy notes of blossom. “They have persuaded Toboribar and the barbarian tribes to join us.” Her lips brushed his forehead. “A good move.”

  Nagsor Inàste smiled into the pages of the book. “Yes.”

  She felt belittled. “You would rather devote time to written words than to me?” She reached out quickly, snatching the cover, about to fling his reading matter into the corner.

  But Nagsor was quicker. Holding her fast, he embraced her with his other arm and jerked her toward his body only to release the pressure the next moment and plant kisses on her mouth. Slowly he drew away. “Surely you cannot be jealous of a book?” he said reproachfully.

  “I don’t like it if you pay attention to other things when I am in the room,” she said coolly, evading his grip. “I’m talking about our future successes and you won’t even listen properly.”

  “I am also working on what is to come.” He snapped the book shut. “You won’t like it.”

  “Old writings. Older than we are?”

  “They are from another time, but they tell of something that still exists today, as we do,” Nagsor replied.

  Detecting concern in his voice, she abandoned her play-acted struggle for supremacy. “What is in the book?”

  “Sagas.” He put the volume down on his knees and leaned back, glancing up at the myriad colored lanterns that hung above their heads. “One of the stories mentions the mist-demon Sinthoras and Caphalor have won to our cause. Some call it Demon, some Spirit, others call it Affliction, Plague, The Breath of Destruction, Wind of Eternal Pestilence.” He sought her eyes. “
Our friend answers to many names.”

  The flawless forehead of the älf-woman contracted into a frown. “But we knew that before we sent for him. That was the reason we needed him in the first place, because our magic is not sufficient against the groundlings’ defenses.”

  He nodded, but still had a worried air. “We need him for his magic, but have we considered the possible negative consequences?”

  “He’ll disappear into Tark Draan,” she countered. “Why should we bother worrying about him?”

  Nagsor lifted his arm, stretching it out toward the lamps as he admired his fingers. “I have received news from the region where the demon lives. There’s been a change.”

  “What do you mean a change?”

  “Do you remember how you first heard of the mysterious being, fifty divisions of unendingness ago? We’ve been watching him ever since.”

  “The closer he got to Dsôn Faïmon, the more watchful we became,” she replied thoughtfully. “He never showed any real aggression but, on the contrary, was quite reserved, as if he were ashamed of himself and of what he had done to the land around it.”

  “Exactly, and it was I who decided to woo the creature, because I couldn’t find any way to destroy this difficult neighbor.” Nagsor stroked his sister’s shoulder. “He has . . . an ability.”

  “Yes—an ability to give immortality to mortals,” she said. Her voice grew angrier. “The only ones who should be entitled to the privilege are ourselves, the älfar.”

  Nagsor used his magic to douse the lamps a little. “Apart from that, this demon has been increasing his sphere of influence. Up till now he had been drifting around randomly, settling wherever he was permitted to rest for a while, but now he has a taste for subjugating mile after mile of others’ territory.”

  Nagsar waited tensely. She noted the deep concern that had etched its lines on his beautiful visage: something she had not seen for many moments of unendingness. “You are really worried.”

  “I need to be.” Nagsor’s tired voice was hard to hear. “If this being were to raise an army of its undead, it is not just Dsôn Faïmon but the whole of Ishím Voróo that will be plunged into distress.”

  “Then let’s tell Sinthoras and Caphalor to speed up their preparations. The mist-demon must not start thinking about extending its territory over here.”

  He sat up straight. “You are right. We must not lose sight of the real reason for the campaign. We have already achieved a great deal. The nostàroi must work harder and exert pressure on other races if necessary.” He kissed his sister-partner, cupping her face in his hands. They remained in that posture for some time.

  The perfect couple. “I will arrange it all,” she said, getting up from the couch. “Keep on reading. Maybe the books will reveal the creature’s weak point.” Nagsar caressed his chest and then hurried out.

  Nagsor also got to his feet now, stepping carelessly on priceless ancient volumes as he paced up and down. He turned the lights lower still. He thought better in the dark.

  He had still not found any clue as to what had occasioned the change in the mist-demon’s conduct. Could it have been the talks that it had held with Caphalor and Sinthoras? Could they have awoken an appetite that might now fix itself on the wrong object? Whatever the reason, it was clear the mist-demon should leave Ishím Voróo as soon as possible.

  “By the infamous ones and their sons!” cursed Nagsor, kicking one of the books, which flew into the darkness to crash against the far wall of bone-tile paneling.

  He got himself under control again, returned to the couch and turned the lamps up. He picked up the nearest almanac of magic arts and continued researching the mist-demon.

  There must be something, he thought, thumbing the pages. Until he found a magic remedy, his resources must be Sinthoras, Caphalor, and Tark Draan.

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

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

  winter.

  Raleeha was sitting at a table in an unfamiliar room. The fresh breeze from the open window brought the scent of water. Caphalor had ordered her to be brought here, to one of the island towers, without indicating what she might expect. She was wearing her dark gray dress. The choke collar with the buckles was fastened as loose as possible.

  Is it time? She was secretly hoping she was about to be handed over to Sinthoras, but she only believed this with a tiny part of her mind. Why should it be done so mysteriously? The eye that had been treated had been slowly growing, the tissue repairing, and it had improved to the extent that she could distinguish between light and dark; she could see the window as a luminous square. Tarlesa had told her it would take a long time before her vision was restored, but Raleeha was already pleased with the progress.

  She noticed the smell of smoke: something was being roasted over an open fire and had been left too near the flames to taste good. This was not how älfar liked their meat prepared. They preferred it cooked slowly, stewed or braised, served with subtle sauces. Grilling over an open fire was held to be a barbaric custom. The älfar would only prepare food that way in an emergency or while on a long journey. From what her nose was telling her, she concluded that foreigners must have set up camp by the border.

  She heard the drawbridge creak down toward the cleared strip of land, then horses coming over the wooden planks and approaching the tower. After a while she caught the sound of a few words in älfish and then there was a knock at the door.

  She said nothing and waited. As a slave it was not her place to give anyone permission to enter the room.

  Another knock.

  She heard an älfar voice and then in response a man’s low tones that she immediately recognized. The door swung open. “Raleeha! Why don’t you answer?”

  “Farron?” She got to her feet, her legs shaking with excitement. “Brother!” She took two paces to the side past the table and then felt his strong arms round her. Drops of water pearled onto her face. Her big, strong brother was weeping with joy.

  She started to sob as she returned his embrace. His touch awakened powerful emotions in her. Even if she had not regretted leaving her previous life, there were certain people she missed and she had been missing him in particular.

  They held each other for some time and then he released her and led her to a chair. He sat down opposite and took her hands in his. “I so wanted to see you again. When we met in Ishím Voróo it was so short,” he said, happy and concerned at the same time. “How are you?” he asked, placing one hand on her cheek and then trailing his fingers over the blindfold.

  “I am well,” she answered with a smile. “I am being given treatment and my sight should soon be restored.”

  “Didn’t I tell you your beauty would one day seal your fate?”

  “But I went to the älfar of my own accord, Farron. You know why.”

  “Yes—my sister, the artist nobody understands,” he said, half mocking and half admiring. “But they would never have taken you if you had not been so extraordinarily pretty,” he insisted stubbornly. “How much longer do you intend to put up with this?”

  “As long as they ask it of me and as long as it pleases me.” The joy at having her brother close to her again was fading. I should have known he would start in with implicit reproaches, and he would undoubtedly expect her to go with him. “I like it here.”

  “I don’t believe you!”

  “You should believe it, brother.” She tried to stay calm.

  “I heard they put out your eyes and humiliated you! But still you sit here,” he fumed. “What potions have they made you drink to dull your mind like this?”

  The rebellious little voice in her head told her he was quite right. She pressed his hand and her face was serious when she replied. “Do I seem drugged or in a trance?”

  “The älfar have many arts,” he retorted.

  Nothing has changed. He still doesn’t get it.

  “If that was
all you came for, Farron . . .”

  Raleeha was losing her temper.

  Farron sensed her anger. “No, no,” he said swiftly. There was a rustle of paper. “I’ve brought you something mother could not resist baking for you.” He handed her a small package.

  She unwrapped it and recognized the scent of the delicious spices their mother always used. The taste of the confection brought back happy memories of her childhood. As she ate, Farron told her what had been happening on the other side of the water.

  She listened to what he was telling her, but she was following her own train of thought. How much can I tell him of what I have been through with Caphalor and Sinthoras? Would she be betraying her masters or was it legitimate to inform her brother? Was it perhaps her duty to explain to Farron what sort of people they were allying themselves to? What shall I do if he asks me what I know?

  Then she heard him say: “What can you tell me, sister?”

  “I don’t know what you mean.” She was well aware that her acted innocence was not convincing.

  Farron lowered his voice. “I may have joined the älfar cause in order to secure estates in Tark Draan for our family, but I am not so simple as to believe the älfar don’t already have their sights set on the end of the campaign. If you are immortal, you have to do a lot of forward planning.”

  “But I’m only a slave,” she said.

  “You’re slave to a nostàroi,” he corrected her. “If anyone knows secrets it’s going to be you.” Farron seemed annoyed. “Who do you owe loyalty to: your family or the black-eyes?”

  Raleeha swallowed the last of the biscuit crumbs. “If they were planning an attack on you and the barbarians, I would tell you.” She knew straightaway she had made a mistake.

  “Barbarians?” he repeated in hurt surprise. “Has it come to that? You describe your own people as barbarians?” He pulled his hand away.

  “No, Farron,” she said hastily, clutching at his hand. “The word just slipped out. I didn’t mean it like that.”

 
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