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Righteous fury, p.38
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       Righteous Fury, p.38

           Markus Heitz
 

  Timanris slowly shrugged her shoulders. “I cannot say, Nostàroi. I have no words of consolation or cheer. But do not do it; think of one thing that gives you the courage to live and cling to that thought until you find a better one. Or until you find a new love.” She took the parchment.

  “A new love?” He shot out of the chair and raised the dagger as if about to stab her. “How dare you speak to me of some new love? You never knew Enoïla. Nobody can replace her, nobody!” He pointed to the door. “Get out! Take Raleeha and get out!”

  Timanris retreated, her eyes on the knife in his hand. She left the chamber without a further word.

  If only I were already dead! Caphalor waited until she had left and then hurled the dagger at the closed door in exasperated fury: the blade buried itself deep into the wood.

  He threw himself back into the chair and drummed his clenched fists against his temples. Think of something that gives me the courage to live and then cling to that thought.

  My undoing, my misfortune—it all began with the whole campaign against Tark Draan. A war I never wanted. Then, all of a sudden, the saving thought occurred to him: I will drown my fury and my grief in the blood of the land that took my consort and my daughter from me. Tark Draan must be exterminated. Every last old person. Every last child. They must all pay for the loss of Enoïla and Tarlesa. He would cling to this idea: Tark Draan bore the guilt, Tark Draan and the cowardly elves that had hidden away there. Only after Tark Draan and the elves had fallen would he take his own life, should he not by then have fallen in battle. Then Enoïla can rest and my soul can be at peace.

  Caphalor slowly let his arms fall and his hands relax. Getting to his feet, he went over to the window and opened the shutters to let in the starlight and fill his lungs with the cool night air.

  With every fresh breath his resolve strengthened. He called for one of his servants, demanding food and drink. “And tell Sinthoras that I ride at his side on the morrow.”

  The älf put on his armor, feeling its familiar weight on his body once more. Life was returning, returning to let him bring death. I shall be the cruelest, most relentless enemy of the elves and of any who shelter or support them. This is my solemn oath.

  CHAPTER XVIII

  Our enemies served us in manifold ways.

  We ground their bones into gravel for our pavements.

  Their skin provided us with canvases and their blood was the binding agent for our paints.

  We made ropes and cords and string from their tendons for our wind chimes.

  Every part of our enemies was used. For art.

  Exquisite and unsurpassable art.

  Epocrypha of the Creating Spirit,

  2nd Book,

  Chapter 2, 12–20

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

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

  spring.

  The high-ceilinged room where Raleeha sat was flooded with sunlight. She could discern the windows as bright rectangles with circular shapes at bottom and top.

  My sight is getting better. Shadows had become vague shapes with more details. She could not yet distinguish faces, but could see faint ovals with indications of eyes, noses and mouths; colors were slowly returning. For the time being she was keeping the information about these improvements to herself.

  As she waited for Timanris to return with her artist father, she let her thoughts stray at will.

  A new house to get accustomed to. New corridors and rooms and halls. But Raleeha had consented at once when she heard of Caphalor’s decision. Timanris had made eager promises about taking her under her wing and promoting her art. Freedom could wait.

  Raleeha had another reason for wanting to take up the offer. She would be with Timanris and that meant that she would also be near Sinthoras, at least in spirit. The thought that she might come across him here—might hear his voice and catch his scent—delighted her. Together with the chance to draw and paint and the privilege of observing him at his art—perfection.

  But whenever she thought amorously of Sinthoras, evil ideas concerning Timanris would creep into her mind. Thoughts about death and accidents, fatal accidents. Yet one more good reason to accept service with the älf-woman . . .

  No! Raleeha struggled to suppress these inner voices, but part of her waited for the opportunity to remove her rival. Her common sense told her that it was madness to dream of Sinthoras ever choosing her as a mate rather than taking an älf-woman as his partner. Yantarai is still in the picture. You cannot kill all the female älfar in Dsôn.

  But, countered the malicious voices, he might take you back in his service and then he might see you as something he inherits from her.

  “I must not think like this,” Raleeha told herself sadly as she smoothed down her gray slave attire, tidied her hair and adjusted the black lace to enable her to see through the blindfold. She heard voices in the corridor. The door opened and the two artists, father and daughter, entered the room.

  Raleeha stood up and bowed to them.

  “Pretty enough,” said Timansor. For a male älf, his vocal range was strangely high and he spoke in an unusual way, emphasizing words differently. These were liberties an artist could afford to take. “So, what people say is true.”

  Raleeha kept her head bowed, but her eye flicked upward. She saw a white robe and the end of a yellow stole, which clearly rested over his shoulder. The ends of his hair were white and reflected the sunlight, or perhaps it was just part of the robe; her sight was not yet good enough to pick out the detail. What should I say in reply? She went for silent caution.

  The two älfar walked past her over to a broad table, chatting quietly to each other; there was an occasional rustle as parchment sheets were shifted. They are looking at my work! Her heart started to race. She would never have dreamed of her drawings attracting the attention of an älfar artist.

  “Come over here,” commanded Timanris. “My father wants to speak to you.”

  “Yes, mistress.” Raleeha moved to the table and stood in front of the älfar.

  “You have a gift,” said Timansor. “With your blindness and your talent you have created unique works. No artist in Dsôn could have done these. Of course, there are blind artists who are sculptors, but no one else can do what you have done, Raleeha.”

  “Thank you, sir,” she answered, bowing once more. She was ecstatic. “Such appreciation is new for me and makes me all the happier.” If only Farron could hear what this artist thinks of my work.

  “Your oeuvre is extraordinary. I would like to exhibit your works and present them to my circle of friends, who are always eager to be shown something new,” he went on. It was difficult for Raleeha to understand what he was saying; he had a flowery and extravagant manner of speech. “They will pay a fortune for one of these parchments.” He tidied the drawings into a pile. “However, I cannot tell them that they have been executed by a slave.”

  Raleeha swallowed. “Sir, what—”

  “We will say they were done by a blind älf who wishes to remain anonymous.” Timansor wove a legend for her. “That will impress them even more. You will receive part of the money from the sales, but we won’t let you have too much. After all, you are only a slave, Raleeha.”

  “Sir, your daughter said she would promote my talent and shelter me. I did not hear the word slave being used.”

  Timansor spoke with conviction. “It is your lot as a nonälf to live here in Dsôn without rights. That is the same as being a slave. But do not be downhearted, be glad instead that we will make your work immortal: your drawings will adorn the walls of our most significant citizens.”

  Raleeha realized what he was telling her. I shall get no recognition at all! She bit her lip to stop herself protesting. It’s the price I’ll have to pay if I want to be near Sinthoras. And at least I shall be earning a few coins of my own. The resentment, however, was a sharp thorn in her side, digging deeper in with each breath.
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  Timansor stepped back from the table and called for a slave to carry the parchments. He told the man to take them for framing, so that the precious drawings could be protected. Raleeha was forced to listen to the artist praising them as someone else’s work. Then he left the room.

  Raleeha continued to stand at the now empty table. She felt as though she had been robbed.

  “That was not my idea,” Timanris said quietly. She sounded unhappy. “Father is convinced we can’t say that humans are capable of artistic creation of this standard.” She came round the table and placed her hand on the girl’s shoulder; for an älf to attempt to console anyone was a rare gesture indeed. “I tried to get him to change his mind because you deserve the recognition, but he is my father and I shall not dispute what he says. I trust his judgment. You shall have all the money, we do not need it.”

  “I am pleased to be able to help you and your house achieve increased esteem,” Raleeha managed to say, her lips quivering. “I shall make even more of an effort with my next pictures.” You must get away from here, her reason told her. You can see how they treat you.

  “You are a good human, Raleeha.” Timanris removed her hand from the girl’s shoulder. “There’s one more thing I wanted to say: my father called you a slave and everybody will think that you are my property, but you are free. If you want to leave me and leave the Star Realm, I shall not stop you. I shall write you a pass that guarantees unhindered passage to your brother. This was Caphalor’s intention and I share it wholeheartedly.”

  “I shall stay, mistress,” she said, bowing. For Sinthoras, not for you. “You are too good to me.”

  “I am glad!” Timanris sounded both relieved and delighted. “Have you been shown to your room yet? Are you happy with it?”

  “Yes, mistress. Thank you. I appreciate having a chamber away from the slave quarters. Soon I shall know my way around the house and I shall be able to carry out your instructions.”

  “So you do not believe me? I tell you, you are not a slave and you will not be asked to carry out menial tasks, Raleeha. I want you to be able to spend all your time on your art.” Timanris passed her, “I shall be telling Sinthoras that I have taken on his former slave. I wonder what he will say?” She laughed. “Maybe he’ll want you back!”

  How wonderful that would be! “I do not think so, mistress,” she said, inclining her head. “He is glad to be rid of me.”

  Timanris left the room and Raleeha made her way to her new chamber. She knew what she would be sketching next: a miniature portrait of Timanris. Her mistress would be able to give it to Sinthoras in the form of a medallion. I could put almost invisible lines in the etching to represent my own face. Sinthoras will wear the medallion over his heart and he’ll never know it bears my likeness. The idea pleased her.

  Arriving at a steep stairway between first and second floors, she noticed the spears and banners on the wall.

  She ran her finger experimentally along the four-sided blade. She gave a sharp intake of breath and a drop of blood appeared on the tip of her finger. A mere touch had been enough to make a cut.

  What might that steel blade effect, whispered her inner voice, if it were thrust into the tender body of a female älf? And what if that body were then pushed down these very stairs?

  Raleeha hurried past the weapons on the wall and made her way to her quarters.

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

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

  spring.

  As Caphalor strode into the assembly tent in full armor with his short swords on his back, Sinthoras observed a number of surprised looks. They have noticed a change in him. His aura is darker and his features are somber. His presence is more terrifying than ever. It is hatred and a fervent death wish that have made him like this—he is not even employing our talent for inspiring fear.

  Sinthoras had been so convinced the other nostàroi would never leave his chamber that he was doubly glad to see him join them for the briefing. He indicated a seat next to his own at the head of the table.

  Caphalor advanced, but remained standing, letting his solemn gaze roam slowly over every one of the leaders gathered there: beasts and barbarians alike. “I should like to apologize for the prolonged period of inactivity on my part,” he addressed them. “I have been neglecting my task and have given you the impression that I have become indifferent to the outcome of our campaign. I give you all my solemn oath that from now on I shall show myself worthy of the high office of nostàroi. Tark Draan must fall to our forces and shall be subjected to your rule. It is for you to break up the human kingdoms.” Dark lines of fury started to cross his face. “But the elves are to be left to us!” He sat down and took up a cup of wine.

  Sinthoras could hardly believe his eyes, as one by one all the leaders, starting with Lotor and Toboribar strode over to Caphalor and bowed deeply before him, conveying sympathy and respect. Is this possible? He found himself unable to resist the strength of feeling in the gathering; he, too, stretched out a hand and pressed Caphalor’s arm. The enmity that had driven him previously had vanished.

  Caphalor looked at him and gave him a sad smile in response. The two nostàroi had buried their differences.

  Someone pushed their way into the tent and a voice thundered, “I can’t wait forever. What is the answer?” Heads swiveled in his direction as the gålran zhadar stomped in. “What have the Inextinguishables decided?”

  Sinthoras took in the sight of the dwarf-like figure, his feet planted determinedly apart, horny hands aggressively on the hammer heads and nose boldly pointed upward. He knows no fear. He’s not afraid of the giants and he’s not afraid of us. He thought back to their clash with misgivings.

  “It is a good thing you are here, gålran zhadar,” he said calmly. “My rulers have notified me that they accept your offer. They are willing to take the risk of trusting what you say.”

  “And so they should, because it is the truth,” he replied with a smile that would have made any lesser creature quake. “I will let my spy on the other side know what we want him to do. As soon as I have gained entry to Phondrasôn, I shall tell you the secret sign you have to give to my spy and then he will open the gate for you.”

  Hardly were the words out of his mouth before the delegates began to express their surprise. They had not been told that the gålran zhadar had access to such knowledge.

  “Good,” said Sinthoras, relishing the respectful and admiring glances coming his way. “I shall have the rulers’ letter brought to you. I have ten warriors ready and waiting to accompany you to the entrance. Write down what we need to know.”

  “That is how it will be.” The gålran zhadar grinned. “How did you manage to escape the effects of the lethal fflecx poison? You must have known that the parchment you stole contained the formulae for many vital antidotes?” He read from the expression on Sinthoras’ face that this had not been the case and he gave a gleefully malicious belly laugh. “Oh, so you didn’t know you were carrying the recipe for your own antidote?”

  “Of course we knew,” responded Caphalor coldly. “We deciphered it and were thus able to save our own lives. Would we be standing before you otherwise, gålran zhadar?”

  Sinthoras was still battling with his astonishment. So the obboona was tricking us then, too! She had held the key to their recovery in her hands, but had pretended not to know what the writing meant.

  “But of course.” The gålran zhadar gazed round at the assembled delegates. “An illustrious gathering of mighty warriors. It will be easy for you to conquer Tark Draan, especially now you can call on the help of the demon.” Again there was more than a touch of malice in his tone.

  “Leave now!” ordered Sinthoras, expecting trickery from the dwarf-like creature on his departure, but the gålran zhadar did not do him that favor.

  “You will find out,” the gålran zhadar prophesied. “You will find out the true power of you
r new ally soon enough.” He fixed his eyes on Sinthoras as if he knew that it had been him who had given the vial to the demon. “May your gods be with you.” He turned and left the tent.

  Farron Lotor got to his feet. “Nostàroi, may I learn what the gålran zhadar meant by that?”

  Toboribar stood up as well. “You have had us plan a prolonged and complicated siege and all the time you knew how to simply open the gate? Is this an älfar idea of a joke?”

  Sinthoras held up his arms in a commanding gesture as beasts and barbarians talked excitedly among themselves. “Quiet! I shall not make the mistake of relying on what he says. If the conventional strategies fail we still have the other possibility to fall back on.” He did not go into details. Really annoying that so many ears had to hear what the gålran zhadar said, but I could never have got him to keep it secret. “My orders are as follows: we will cease all visible preparations for getting through the Stone Gateway. I insist that none of you, beast or barbarian, goes anywhere in sight of the gate.” There was not a single whisper. All the delegates were hanging on his instructions. “We want to keep the groundlings in the dark—they must suspect nothing. In the meantime, the gålran zhadar’s spy will carry out our plans to weaken the dwarves. Our attack will take them by surprise and the demon’s participation will ensure we gain the upper hand.”

  Sinthoras carried on, speaking clearly and with an air of condescension, so that even the stupidest of the assembled leaders would know exactly what to do. Far too many stupid ones for my liking. He saw that Gattalind was struggling to keep up with what was being said.

  Caphalor held back and followed the briefing details attentively. When the delegates were dismissed, he asked Sinthoras, Lotor and Toboribar to remain behind.

  “I wanted to thank you,” he said to the óarco and the barbarian. “Your people made the victory over the obboona possible.”

 
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