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Righteous fury, p.32
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       Righteous Fury, p.32

           Markus Heitz
 

  He took a deep breath. “Raleeha, you have changed. When I entered the room I thought I was seeing an älf-woman. Soon your own family won’t recognize you if you don’t watch out.” He was whispering now. “Come with me! I can smuggle you out of here and get you away before the black-eyes notice you’ve gone.”

  Raleeha shook her head violently. That was the last thing she wanted. “No! I want to stay here.”

  “I am your brother and your prince!” he hissed. “I can order you to come with me.”

  “You are not my owner,” she replied softly. “I belong to Caphalor. If he orders me to take my freedom or if he leaves it up to me when I leave Dsôn Faïmon, then I shall go.”

  There was a loud crash that frightened her. Farron must have slammed both fists down on to the table.

  “I don’t expect you to understand,” she said with a sigh. “Please let me make my own decisions about my life. Look forward to the day when I return to you and Mother and the rest of the family.” For a visit, she added silently, she did not want to leave Dsôn Faïmon. As soon as her sight was restored she wanted to start learning, painting, and drawing. “I want to become a master artist.”

  “You’re a fool,” he murmured, at a loss to understand her, but he took her hands in his own once more. “We are all so worried about you, that’s all.”

  “I know, I know.” Raleeha smiled at him.

  Silence filled the room.

  “You know what?” Farron sounded as if he were about to make a request. “I don’t trust the älfar. I’m afraid they are going to trick us, even if we are allies.”

  “I’m sure you don’t have to be afraid of that.”

  “You might be able to reassure me, but not my soldiers,” he replied, laughing. “Tell me, sister, do the älfar have a weakness?”

  She went cold. There he goes again. “What do you mean?”

  “Is there something that makes them vulnerable?” he went on. “Is there a metal that can kill them? Where are the gaps in their defenses?” She heard him move closer. “You used to draw all the time. You drew pictures of everything you saw. Did you do the same thing here with the älfar?” Her face must have given her away. “I knew it!”

  “My master has all my sketches and drawings,” she declared and was glad to get round this awkward question without another lie. “He took them away because he realized they could jeopardize the security of his homeland.”

  Farron swore. “I can see my sister has become a half-älf, and not just in looks,” he said sadly. “Please, Raleeha, let me help you escape! They can’t hurt me because they need my warriors.” His grip on her was painful. “You cannot ever be an älf. And you shall not be one.”

  “I don’t want to be one,” she responded. “It is enough if I can live with them and learn from them. Now let go of me, you’re hurting me.”

  His hands released her. A chair was pushed back, heavy steps went off into the distance. “I hope you see sense, Raleeha,” he said bitterly, taking his leave. “When I ask you next time to come with me and you tell me you prefer the black-eyes, I shall disown you. Until then, farewell.” The door slammed shut behind him.

  Raleeha sat stunned. Disowned. Forever! Can I bear it? Memories of her past life, her brother’s questions and threats, the taste and the smell of her mother’s baking—it was all confused in her mind. Weeping, she buried her face in her hands. She did not know what else to do.

  CHAPTER XV

  But when they boned the corpses and sent the material to Dsôn, the soldiers discovered that ten of these warriors, invincible in battle, had escaped the effects of the poison. The traces left by the survivors led to Ishím Voróo’s westernmost region, where the tracks disappeared.

  To mark the memory of the exterminated race, the Inextinguishables referred to their race as the Sons of Tion. Their bones and skulls were given a prime position at the very top of the Tower of Bones.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit,

  1st Book,

  Chapter 2, 33–36

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

  4371st division of unendingness (5199th solar cycle),

  winter.

  “Tell us more about the demon that will be fighting on our side.”

  Sinthoras raised the glass of sparkling wine to his lips and looked at his host; he would willingly have seen Khlotòn drop dead on the spot. I wonder if my bodyguard would do me the favor of getting rid of him?

  Naturally, the other forty älfar at the evening reception were all eager to second their host’s suggestion. They applauded quietly or tapped their plates to indicate approval. The clinking sound echoed throughout the high-ceilinged room with its decorations of spun tionium clouds. Jagged silver wire symbolized lightning flashes. Behind a line of mirrors beside the long table was a dimly lit display of skulls from a variety of races. Mortality was on the other side, far removed from the älfar. Wind chimes fashioned from long, carved, hollow bones gave a constant harmonious backing to the lyrical pieces presented by a musician on a four-voiced flute.

  It could have been such a nice evening. Sinthoras lowered his glass. “Forgive me if I don’t. It is a secret that only the Inextinguishables and the nostàroi may be party to,” he said, seizing an escape that did not put him in a bad light—his dining companions were from the most influential circles in Dsôn and he needed their approval.

  There were sounds of disappointment, but nobody pressed him. Sinthoras smiled and lifted his glass once more. They are eating out of my hand.

  “Are you implying we cannot be trusted?” asked a female älf.

  His glass had to be replaced on the table yet again. Checking to see who had heckled him, he recognized the älf-woman from the recent reception at Demenion’s. Thoughts of that skeleton-armor and her naked skin on show had been bothering him ever since. After his speech she had completely vanished. Now here she was again, taking pleasure in challenging him. What game is it that you are playing, my beauty?

  Dsôn’s great and good watched him resentfully, as if they had all come to the same conclusion as the heckler.

  Let’s see where this is going. Sinthoras took a deep breath. “I did not catch your name,” he responded. She was wearing a figure-hugging purple dress with embroidery on the seams and there were ropes of pearls on her breast. A silver band set with black gems and mother-of-pearl circled her forehead. She was making quite an impression on him. “Who did you say you were?”

  She raised her head instead of bowing to him. Her black hair cascaded to her shoulders, showing off her slender neck. “Timanris.”

  “I don’t know the name.” Sinthoras looked questioningly to Khlotòn for an explanation. By applying to the host rather than asking her he was demoting her intentionally. If she wanted trouble she could have it, whether on battlefield or in banqueting hall, with weapons or with words. I am willing to take you on.

  Her attack came swiftly. “My father is Timansor. I am his youngest daughter.”

  Sinthoras knew who Timansor was: a talented sculptor who worked with iron and preserved coagulated blood to produce unique, intriguing structures. Presumably the skeleton armor Timanris had recently sported was an authentic creation.

  One of his sculptures would cost more than one hundred gold coins—enough to commission the building of a house. Sinthoras had once cast an eye on a piece called Energy Loss, which featured whisper-thin streams of frozen blood set with diamonds spraying out of a perforated breastplate. The price had only emphasized his own relative insignificance in älfar society: he did not belong to the upper echelons, not by a long shot. Not financially, at any rate.

  “Oh? Khlotòn, I thought it was only your warrior class friends you were inviting.” Sinthoras continued to snub her.

  “My partner, Robonor, sits opposite you. He brought me along even though I told him I would find your speech boring. Unlike myself, he worships you.”

  Sinthoras was starting to enjoy himself. A
t last, a female sparring partner who did not storm off the field as soon as he launched his first arrows. Most were too subservient for his liking.

  Her partner got to his feet and bowed before sitting down again, throwing an unmistakable warning look at Timanris.

  “Worship, my dear Robonor, is not appropriate. I am not one of the Inextinguishables,” he said, addressing the älf kindly. “But praise is due because you see before you an älf who will conquer Tark Draan, and you, Robonor, will surely be among the best of my warriors.”

  The guests laughed and applauded, perhaps in the hope of suppressing the unpleasant interruption that Timanris had caused.

  Sinthoras turned to her. “Oh, now I remember you. I thought you were not interested in war. Last time we met you looked as if you were off to a costume ball.”

  Timanris raised an eyebrow. “It’s obvious that warriors who affect to stand at an easel with palette in hand making pretty little pictures really have no understanding of art.”

  “You deride my paintings without having ever seen one.”

  “I don’t have to see them. Your daubs and scribbles are laughed at in Dsôn.” Timanris smiled. “And everyone’s heard of the little episode with the pirogand yellow. It’s clear which of the nostàroi is the better.”

  “Timanris!” shouted Robonor, whirling to face her.

  Sinthoras’ eyes narrowed. You have gone too far, my beauty.

  Nobody in the hall dared move a muscle or mutter to a neighbor. The line between a little teasing and outright insult had definitely been crossed. To insult a nostàroi meant severe punishment. It was the highest office in the land and Sinthoras and Caphalor could certainly be regarded as the direct representatives of Nagsor and Nagsar Inàste.

  “Have you always been so unpleasant, Timanris? Why would you take gossip for truth?” Sinthoras tore off a piece of bread and put it in his mouth. The best way to deal with this attack would be to make out that she was simpleminded. “Perhaps you’ve sustained a blow to your head? Or maybe as a small älf-child you used to lick the varnish your father puts on his sculptures.” He waved the crust in her direction as she attempted to reply. “But no, silly of me, you are still a child, what other explanation could there be for your insisting on chattering about subjects you have absolutely no grasp of?”

  Timanris went red. “I . . .”

  Got you! “Why not stick to your calling and produce art that no one has ever heard of,” he threw at her superciliously.

  “But—” she began, her bright green eyes flashing with anger.

  That will be the last word you speak in this room. He interrupted her using deep, resounding tones: “You have never confronted beasts in combat, Timanris. You have never in all your life lost a comrade in battle. You do not know what it is to be wounded. You have never had to shelter under a shield while poisoned arrows rain down.” Sinthoras leaped to his feet and pointed at her. His voice went lower and lower, causing the glassware on the table to vibrate. “You, little älf-girl, have absolutely no idea what I have done for this realm; for you and for your artist father. So hold your tongue while the grown-ups talk about war!” He sat down, his fury dissipating, and began acting as though nothing had happened. “As soon as the topic of art comes up, please feel free to contribute to the conversation. Until then, why not eat and drink and look pretty.” Timanris got to her feet, threw down her napkin, and made her way toward the door.

  “Where are you off to?” growled Robonor. “Come back here! Timanris, you are bringing me nothing but disgrace.”

  When she got to the door the servants were opening for her, she stopped and tossed her response over her shoulder: “I’m off to find someone who knows about art. There’s no one here worth talking to.” She left the room and the doors closed behind her.

  She got her last word in after all. Sinthoras smiled at Robonor. “I don’t envy you there.” He regretted she had left. On reflection maybe that duel would have been worth continuing. The fight was not over yet, that was certain. She is beautiful and she has got guts.

  The other warrior did not know how to respond, so he murmured his thanks.

  “Perhaps,” suggested one of the other guests, an älf in old but well-cared-for armor, “I can say something about the demon. You, Nostàroi, only have to nod if you agree. In that way you will not have been guilty of betraying a secret.”

  The other guests laughed at his joke, relieved now that Timanris had left the hall.

  “Try your luck,” a surprised Sinthoras encouraged him, “but tell me first where you derive your knowledge of the demon from.” It was good if he could learn more about the mist-demon; all the books that might have been useful in his research had disappeared from the library. This had worried him, but there had been nothing he could do about it. I can’t prevent all the other älfar from hearing it.

  The other älf smiled. “I shall reveal my secret sources to you alone, face to face.”

  Khlotòn leaned over to Sinthoras. “That is Jiphulor, who is, after the Inextinguishables, by far the eldest of all the älfar,” he whispered. “He commands a range of spies outside Dsôn Faïmon.”

  “The demon is spreading his reign of terror,” Jiphulor began. “I have heard that every tree, every bush, every blade of grass that comes under its influence is transformed, becoming undead—even the earth itself. Living beings, too, are afflicted in this way.”

  Sinthoras thought of the elf he had slain. Slain twice. “That may be so.”

  The guests muttered among themselves. He heard words like “fascinating,” “horrifying.” Some were planning excursions to the demon’s land; another whispered to his neighbor that wonderful works of art would result from utilizing the bones of the undead.

  “But it is not true that the mist-demon is expanding its sphere of influence,” Sinthoras announced. “It awaits our call as soon as we need its help. I saw the place it lives; the land is in flames, the earth burning. How fitting if that happens to Tark Draan and the elf realms.”

  Restrained delight broke out amongst the diners, but Jiphulor’s voice cut in sharply: “No. Not anymore. The creature has lost that particular capability, but its power is spreading out in all directions.” The älf raised his wine glass and tipped the contents onto the white cloth. “Just like this.”

  The wine splashed down onto the linen, forming a wide stain on the fabric.

  “The demon is on its way to the territory of the fflecx,” Jiphulor went on. “Tell me, Nostàroi, are our preparations so far advanced that you have now summoned the mist-demon?”

  Be quiet, will you! Sinthoras was feeling nervous. If he thought he was safe from attack now that Timanris had left, he was wrong; her words had been harmless compared with this simple question from a very old älf. “The mist-demon hates the elves just as we do,” he answered in a vague circumlocution. “Caphalor only had to mention our arch enemies and the demon was eager to go to find them.” By saying this he had directed any criticism carefully on to his rival. Word will soon get round in Dsôn, for sure.

  “So the demon is already on its way although you have not called it yet?” Jiphulor kept digging. “I seem to remember you saying that the demon could only be summoned by you, Sinthoras, because you were the one who had led the negotiations.”

  A further attack. If he answered “yes” he was putting their new ally’s reliability in doubt—the ally, moreover, thought of as their most powerful support in the coming campaign. It also cast doubt on his own integrity. So all he could say was, “No. That’s not right. I have called it so that it can arrive in time. The negotiations progressed well. The half-trolls, giants, and ogres will be easy to convince now that the barbarians and the óarcos have declared for our side.”

  “In that case: here’s to a prompt start to our campaign.” Jiphulor got to his feet and lifted his goblet high. The whole gathering followed suit. “Here’s to Sinthoras! It is an honor to be allowed to ride into battle under your leadership.” He drained his cup.
>
  You could have drunk to my health a bit earlier. Sinthoras had his glass refilled. That was a bad move on my part. He had got himself into a hole. How could he ever get himself out again?

  He seized the first possible opportunity to absent himself from the company. The campaign, the troops, supply planning, current negotiations; one excuse followed the other. They let their nostàroi depart, now that it was clear that Tark Draan would fall.

  Sinthoras hurried through the entrance hall, accompanied as ever by his bodyguard. He had to speak to Caphalor immediately and the talks would have to be speeded up. What tormented him most was the thought that he himself was responsible for the mist-demon’s personality change. Should I just ask the gålran zhadar what it was I stole? he wondered, in a fit of despair.

  “Leaving so early, Nostàroi?”

  Timanris! He checked his pace and saw her emerge from behind one of the broad pillars. She had been looking at a picture on the wall. “So you are still here? Did none of the servants feel like playing with you?” She approached him and her beautiful features bore traces of regret. “I wanted to apologize for my words,” she said. “It was unfair of me to criticize your painting without ever having seen any of your work.” She smiled mischievously. “Nobody is making fun of your art—Robonor and I had been quarreling about the evening and I am afraid you—”

  Sinthoras took a step toward her, took her face in his hands, and kissed her passionately on the mouth before releasing her again. He noticed that she returned his caress. Her lips had opened under his, demanding more. “Tomorrow, at midday, I shall expect you, Timanris,” he said, experiencing a breathlessness that was entirely new. He felt dizzy and his surroundings whirled in a dance. “Then I can show you my paintings.” He turned, leaving her standing.

  He knew that she was watching him as he walked away. He ran his tongue over his lips, intoxicated. It was not the wine.

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

 
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