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Righteous fury, p.36
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       Righteous Fury, p.36

           Markus Heitz
 

  “You must not harm me, my demigod.” Karjuna said uncertainly. “You swore an oath and you broke it. Are you also going to break the solemn agreement your rulers made?” She placed her whistle between her lips. She was afraid; even the guards drew back from the nostàroi.

  The roar became a groan that increased again in volume to a renewed scream. Swollen veins of anger burst and dark blood flowed down in vertical lines over his pale face. His eyes were transformed into deepest black although it was nighttime.

  Caphalor sprang at Karjuna, his short swords held high to stab down at her. The blades sliced into her left shoulder and her right, cutting down through the flesh, splitting the obboona all the way to her hips.

  Her body collapsed to the floor.

  Caphalor lifted his heel and stamped her skull into the ground with one powerful movement, driving the whistle right through her brain; he kicked her in his rage again and again.

  From outside he heard the howling voices of many, many creatures.

  “The srinks!” yelled out one of the sentries. “They’re attacking!”

  “Let them!” cried Caphalor, storming out of the tent. Let them! They will take losses such as a single warrior has never inflicted. He leaped up into Sardaî’s saddle and looked over to the forest edge. Hundreds of the wild creatures were on their way, rushing to the aid of their queen.

  Caphalor did not care how many they were. The greater their number, the more of them would die. He urged the stallion onwards with his heels and raced to the front line, swords raised.

  His memories transported him to the past, to Shiimal, where, on his balcony at home he saw Enoïla standing with his daughter Tarlesa, who had saved his life. The idyllic picture vanished as the first row of srinks broke through the illusion with their claws, their muzzles and their nauseating howls.

  I have lost everything I cared about, my dearest and my holiest possessions. What good is immortality now to me? “Forgive me for ever doubting what we had, Enoïla,” he cried as he thundered through the enemy lines. “I shall be joining you!” Every thrust of his sword found a target. His blades wreaked death.

  CHAPTER XVII

  The Inextinguishables knew no fear.

  They assembled their troops one mile off from the defense moat and placed themselves at the head of the army.

  When the aberrant hordes of Ishím Voróo charged, Nagsor and Nagsar Inàste lifted the veils from their countenances.

  Their beauty confounded their adversaries, robbing them of their minds. Driven insane, the enemy started to assault each other, grabbing former allies by the throat and killing them.

  Not one of the älfar found it necessary to draw a sword or to release an arrow.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit,

  2nd Book,

  Chapter 1, 6–11

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

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

  winter.

  Sinthoras was already on his feet a second after the alarm went off. It must be a mistake!

  A glance toward the forest showed him that that the mistake was his. The srinks were pouring out of the woods at the far side of the encampment and a lone älf was riding out to confront them, lightning flashes shooting out from his night-mare’s fetlocks. Sinthoras thought he could hear the thundering hooves from his vantage point up on the tower. Who would be crazy enough to take on the whole srink army single-handed?

  Sinthoras quickly realized, from the warrior’s posture and the way he fought, who it was: “Caphalor!” Why would he attempt such a suicidal move? The älf was normally so level-headed and calm; he would never act like this without an exceptional reason.

  The bodyguards and two sentries stormed up to the platform. “Nostàroi,” one of them gasped, “what shall we do? Nostàroi Caphalor is attacking the srinks!”

  “Why?”

  “We don’t know. He said he was going to meet their queen for a discussion.”

  Sinthoras gathered that the discussion had not turned out as expected. It would have been better to accompany him. I should have gone with him instead of hiding away like this. “Sound the alarm. The other garrisons must be alerted.”

  He had to make a decision. If he ordered the catapults fired, he would countermand the orders of the Inextinguishables. If he did not, the älfar would lose one of their greatest heroes. More importantly, Caphalor was bound to enter the lore and legends of the älfar with this solitary ride against the foe. There would be no combatting his reputation then.

  The alarm sounded almost at once from the other islands, indicating battle readiness.

  Sinthoras watched Caphalor sweeping through the srink lines, his night-mare trampling the enemy monsters under foot. Without that stallion, Caphalor would have fallen long ago. The srinks had nothing to pitch against the raging älfar warrior and there were so many of them that they were hindering each other in the melee.

  “Nostàroi, your orders?” asked the soldier.

  One of Caphalor’s guards returned over the drawbridge and was brought up to the platform, where he gave Sinthoras his hurried report on events.

  It was love, then. Up to a few moments of unendingness ago, Sinthoras would not have able to understand why anyone would ride to their death for love. He would have laughed at Caphalor’s actions and thought him a fool for risking so much in pursuit of revenge. But since meeting Timanris, he had come to know this emotion in himself. It was a strong and wonderful feeling, and now he could understand. The mere thought that the obboona might have done the same thing to Timanris as had happened to Enoïla had him frozen to the core with fear.

  Sinthoras took a deep breath and came to a decision.

  Caphalor’s mind and senses had shut down.

  It was as if he were watching himself from above; seeing his night-mare Sardaî press ahead through the foe and his blades move of their own accord. Enemy blood spurted up and their claws lodged in his armor. Like the night-mare, he sported several wounds, but he felt nothing. Perhaps my inner self is already leaving my body. He imagined that his soul was flying along behind him like a child’s kite pulled along in the wind—only the thinnest of strings connected him to the endingness, and soon that string would snap.

  There was a swishing sound and Caphalor saw a bright yellow light fall on the faces of the srinks, intensifying in brilliance. Immediately afterward the fire bombs landed, burst open and released their lethal liquid flame to bathe the nearest srinks in a conflagration, reducing them to ashes.

  A new sound was added: the rush of arrows and spears through the air, ripping great holes in the enemy ranks. It made Caphalor think of a gust of wind leveling a path through a cornfield.

  The archers on the islands knew their stuff and were able to create wide corridors for him and Sardaî to plunge along in safety, leaping over burned and slaughtered srinks. The night-mare did not falter once, not even when galloping through a wall of fire.

  The remaining srinks ran screaming for the woods. Caphalor reckoned there were not more than 300 of them left. Their formations had disintegrated into small groups that would make difficult targets at this distance, even for archers as skilled as the älfar. 300 left out of 2,000. He had no idea how many of them he had killed himself. He was furious that there were any still alive at all.

  Another army appeared out of the trees before the srink survivors reached the shelter of the thicket: Caphalor could see the banners and badges of the barbarians and óarcos.

  Their intentions were clear. Following the bellowed commands of Toboribar and Lotor, the shield bearers charged the remaining srinks, their long spears holding off the enemy claws. The flight of the retreating srinks ended in an impenetrable hedge of forged metal spikes.

  Shall today not be my last? Caphalor was back within his own body now, experiencing the world with all his senses and feeling the acute pain from his many wounds. His muscles screamed for release and his injur
ies needed urgent attention.

  The largest wound was the one in his heart and it remained untouched by the blood of slaughtered enemies. Caphalor raised his head to the stars, whispering Enoïla’s name. The gods did not wish me to join you. How he missed her. She was lost and could never return to him, cut out of his heart. Enoïla and their beloved daughter . . .

  He lifted and lowered his sword in salute to the barbarians and the óarcos, who bowed their heads in respect.

  Caphalor guided his night-mare toward the drawbridge and the island where he saw Sinthoras waiting for him. I don’t care what he says about this. He reined Sardaî in. “I had no choice—” he began.

  “Get your wounds seen to,” said Sinthoras, sounding surprisingly gentle.

  “I must go to the Inextinguishables,” Caphalor responded, his throat dry. Blood was drying on his face and on his hands. “They have to be told what I have done. I shall offer them my life for having disobeyed orders.”

  “Don’t be a fool, Caphalor,” Sinthoras replied. “Get down. The Inextinguishables will—”

  “I thank you for the support you sent, but I did not want it. My body should be lying between the carcasses of the monsters and my soul should be flying with Enoïla’s.” He rode past Sinthoras on his night-mare, dropping both his swords in turn. “It makes no sense,” he muttered. “None of it makes any sense. They are dead, Sinthoras, so what do I want with eternal life?” Then Caphalor slipped out of the saddle and onto the planks of the wooden bridge.

  “Take him to the tower and bring me a healer,” commanded Sinthoras, picking up the bloodied swords.

  I know how you are feeling. The thought that he might ever suffer a similar loss engendered a terrible fear in his heart.

  Sinthoras acknowledged love’s great drawback: concern and fear for the beloved. He would ensure Timanris could never go through what happened to Enoïla: he would kill any obboona he encountered.

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

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

  spring.

  In the gloom of the island guardroom, Caphalor sat staring at the wall.

  A parchment bearing the seal of the Inextinguishables lay unopened before him; he was not interested in their decrees.

  He should have been busying himself, like Sinthoras, with arrangements for the coming campaign against Tark Draan; he should have been meeting the commanding officers, poring over maps and making all the preparations needed for any operation of this kind.

  For me it is over.

  He sat alone in the darkened room.

  He had been in the tower for ten moments of unendingness now, not eating, not sleeping. His eyes were dry from staring at the wall in the dark. He did not see the wall. He saw her face, Enoïla’s face. And the face of his daughter. Both lost.

  He would never take his own life, however welcome death might be. He had not been permitted to find his demise on the battlefield in combat with the srinks, and so must find another way to entice death. By waiting and by doing nothing.

  There was a knock at the door.

  Caphalor did not react.

  Another knock came and the door opened. Sinthoras entered the room, halted, and stood watching him; then he picked up a chair and came to sit down opposite.

  “You have not opened the letter,” he said, his tone gentle but reproachful.

  “Open it yourself if you want to know what they say. I sent them word that I resign as nostàroi,” he said gruffly. It was a long time since he had used his voice at all.

  “And why are you still here?”

  “Why should I go back to the place where no one is waiting for me? I might just as well sit here.”

  Sinthoras sighed, reached for the sealed roll of parchment and opened it. “They refuse to accept your resignation,” he read. “They insist on your carrying out the tasks of your office and they send their commiserations to you in your loss. You should use the hatred you feel and turn it against the elves.” Sinthoras spread the letter out for Caphalor to peruse for himself. “You know everyone in Dsôn Faïmon is talking about you? Everybody is saying you did the right thing.”

  Caphalor looked up in surprise. “The right thing? We won’t have the srinks participating in our invasion force—”

  “Forget the srinks! The barbarians and the óarcos came to your aid of their own free will. They had always hated the srinks. Your people are mourning with you and are worried about you,” Sinthoras cut in with feeling. “What you have done is already a legend, Caphalor.”

  “What would I give not to be a legend and have Enoïla by my side,” he whispered, black tears coursing down his cheeks.

  Sinthoras thought of Timanris and felt his heart grow heavy. Something stabbed him in the center of his body. “I would have done exactly the same in your place,” he said after a while, swallowing hard. “Any älf would have done exactly the same, Caphalor. You must remain as nostàroi. Our troops admire you and so do all our allies.”

  Caphalor looked up. “Your tone of voice says you understand. I would not have expected that. What do you know about love, Sinthoras? Or the unquestioning love of a father for his child?”

  “The emotion is new to me, I confess. And yet, know it I do,” he admitted to his own amazement. He was not offended by Caphalor’s words. “In the past I would not have been able to imagine your pain. Today . . .” He left his sentence hanging in the air.

  Caphalor picked up the letter and recognized Nagsor Inàste’s writing. “My downfall began with the whole operation against Tark Draan,” he said. “It was a campaign I never supported. I did not want it and I did not understand it. I have lost everything because of it.” He let the parchment fall to the ground at his feet. “It is more than ironic. Even Samusin would find no justice in this.” He turned his face once more to the wall and fell silent.

  Sinthoras did not know what to say. He looked down at the parchment roll. Anything that had touched the hand of the Inextinguishables would normally be treated with the greatest of respect, but here lay their missive in the dirt on the floorboards.

  Sinthoras got up. “Pull yourself together, Caphalor. Get over your pain and ride into battle in Enoïla’s name.” He took his leave and went to the door.

  “It won’t bring her back,” Caphalor answered somberly, without looking up. “To Tion with all thoughts of honor and fame and unendingness.” He closed his eyes.

  Sinthoras left the chamber with a sigh. He would try again when the next day dawned, and keep trying until he had forced his fellow nostàroi out of his black cloud.

  While he strode—accompanied by his bodyguard—through the narrow alleys of the tower island, he thought about his letter to the Inextinguishables asking for mercy for Caphalor. That was another action that would previously have been unthinkable for him.

  Timanris was changing him. Is that a good thing? He hoped that this new soft side would not mean that he would not be able to stand up to his political opponents. I must appear harder. If they notice I have weakened they will give no quarter.

  Speaking to Caphalor had given him cause to think about his own immortality. He had never considered it before. Älfar lived forever; Inàste had made them superior to other races. A natural death was very rare if it did not occur violently. Extremely old älfar were said to long for death, but the question of suicide never arose. An älf lived forever, like the Inextinguishable Ones.

  Sinthoras tried to work out how many divisions of unendingness the oldest älf he knew might have lived through. Perhaps more than 2,000, but to look at him you would say 900 or less. He was an art dealer in Dsôn. He was so old that nobody knew anything about his earlier life.

  What would be the point of a life like that without Timanris? I shall do everything to keep her safe. His reason tried frantically to force him into marriage with Yantarai, but that voice of reason was growing quieter all the time.

  He rode back into
camp and headed straight for the green negotiation tent. This was where the charts of the area around the Stone Gateway and the plans of Tark Draan were to be found.

  I had no idea we had so little solid knowledge. Rumors, half-truths, travelers’ tales—no more than that. Constructing an invasion strategy out of these shreds of information was proving extremely difficult. You might just as well send an arrow into the middle of the forest and hope it finds a deer. It could happen, but would be very unlikely. The groundlings keep a close watch. No foreigners get through into the mountains—whether their intentions are peaceful or warlike.

  Sinthoras dismounted by the massive tent. It needed to be that size to accommodate the giants, trolls and ogres. Inside he saw Lotor and Toboribar and he greeted the whole gathering with a nod. Servants unrolled the maps and charts. “The situation is as follows,” he began. “We shall be collating your information today. We need to know what you know about the Stone Gateway. In particular the height and thickness of the containing walls, the nature of the surrounding rock, the layout of the Gray Range and any details of the gate itself, of course. Our scribes can record it all and we’ll have it entered on the charts. I want them to think we know most of the secrets already. He pointed to the giantess. “You begin.”

  Gattalind raised her eyebrows. “Well, there’s this Gate. And it’s big. Bigger than us. Taller. Higher, I mean.” She scratched her head. “And it’s made of stone. That’s about all.”

  Sinthoras smiled, but he was not pleased. May the gods help us if we don’t learn more than that today. He tried not to let his disappointment show, “Toboribar, can you enlighten us with the knowledge the óarcos have gathered?”

  A soldier scurried into the tent and came up to him.

  “Nostàroi, there’s someone waiting to see you,” was the whispered message.

  “Is there a further delegation?”

  “It is a gålran zhadar.”

 
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