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Righteous fury, p.4
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       Righteous Fury, p.4

           Markus Heitz

  The further Caphalor walked along the balcony, the more he could see of Dsôn Faïmon. His house was at the very tip of the radial arm, so the topmost two stories were higher than the plain surrounding the crater arms, and because the radial arms were set on a decline toward the Star-Eye, he and Enoïla could see out over all the other buildings and slave-farmed fields stretching outward. You could even see the Inextinguishables’ Tower of Bones in the distance.

  Caphalor pointed toward Dsôn. “That’s what I’ve been thinking about.” He gripped the railings with both hands.

  “You’ve been thinking about the future of our empire?” Enoïla leaned over, resting on her forearms on the railing and letting her gaze run over the horizon. “Did the meeting with Sinthoras have such an effect on you?”

  Caphalor took another deep breath. This time the wind brought him the fragrance of smoldering pajoori herbs; someone was making a sacrifice to the Inextinguishables.

  He gave a nod of his head and a slight quirk of his lower lip, a gesture she knew well.

  Enoïla laughed. “You’re just in one of those moods when you feel particularly sorry for yourself. Am I right?”

  He looked at her in surprise. “Me? Complain?”

  “Yes,” she giggled. “Have you got another bone to pick with Immortality, dearest companion?”

  Caphalor found himself breaking into a grin. “You know me too well.”

  “I understand you. There’s a difference.” Enoïla’s eyes shone in spite of their blackness. If there was no sunlight he could admire the bright blue of her eyes. “You also feel sorry for yourself because our eldest three have moved to Avaris and Riphâlgis.”

  He nodded, “That’s one artist daughter and two priest sons, all wanting to have as little as possible to do with their father.”

  “That’s not true. They like visiting us.”

  “There you have it: visiting us. It’s a duty, an obligation, a bit of a bind.”

  “But you know they love you and admire you. Even Tarlesa,” she added, teasing him.

  “Except for Olíron. He’s one of those that prefer to follow Sinthoras’ views. My own son, a Comet! Has he learned nothing?”

  “It’s time I met this Sinthoras,” she replied. “If my husband and my youngest son are so keen on him, perhaps I’d like him, too?”

  Caphalor pulled her to him and pretended to grab her arms tight. “Stop that at once! I couldn’t take it if my älf-woman left me.”

  Laughing, she gave him a kiss on the forehead and rested against him. “I’ll stay. Eternal life with you—what could be better than that?”

  He bent his head down and kissed her soft lips, enjoying the feeling of happiness that pervaded his being whenever Enoïla was with him, or when they touched, or looked into each other’s eyes.

  Many älfar asked soul-touchers for assistance when they wanted to open themselves up to their partners; this allowed them to attain a togetherness more intense than the purely physical. He and Enoïla had never needed such services. They found their souls in each other’s eyes and when they made love their souls bonded naturally, melting into one. No experience went deeper than that. It was something lesser beings—dwarves, humans, ogres, gnomes, even elves—would never understand.

  He and Enoïla had shared this harmony of souls for more than twenty divisions of unendingness now—a length of time that was unusually long for the customs of their people, but neither of them had wanted to leave.

  Something kept them bound to each other. It was not dependence but a deep connection neither of them had felt before: a complete harmony of thought and emotion. Neither Enoïla nor Caphalor was willing to give that up in exchange for something less.

  He gently released her lips, taking her face in his hands. “Are you sure you don’t want to leave here?”

  “Not that again!” She sounded annoyed. “What would I want with living in the Star-Eye? It’s a den of decadence, boasting, and political intrigue. Here we’re left in peace. Even Tarlesa likes it and she has plenty of animals and slaves to try her skills out on.” She slipped out of his arms and gave him a swift kiss. “I’ve got things I must get on with. Don’t forget that Mórcass is expecting you this afternoon. He mentioned a surprise—I wonder what it is.”

  “I promise I won’t ask you again.” Caphalor bowed to her and waited till she had left, then he went to the outside staircase and hurried down.

  Going into the stables, he called for his night-mare to be saddled and when it was, climbed swiftly up and rode away, taking the road to the west. The beast’s hooves thundered along as they passed the fields and meadows, throwing up lightning sparks. The humans working in the fields sank down on their knees and pulled off their headgear, looking down at the ground until he had passed.

  They were his property—his slaves. Caphalor possessed 200 barbarians, three half-ogres and two trolls for the really heavy work. These had either been captured on the battlefield or selected on outings to Ishím Voróo. He had built them a camp complete with tents and huts seven miles away from his fields.

  He was pleased with the breeding program and the slaves’ performance record: the barbarians in particular were multiplying successfully—mostly because he ensured they were well fed—so there were always enough hands for the labor. The disadvantage of these lesser races, of course, was that they kept arguing amongst themselves about who had rights to whom when it came to mating. Some of the men would throw their weight around and harass the womenfolk, whether or not they were already spoken for. Fighting had broken out in the camps on several occasions when some of these young men had caused trouble. It did not make things any easier that the barbarians were keen to breed at any time of year. One name in particular kept cropping up: Grumson, a strong, possessive fellow. Perhaps he should have a few of the most aggressive ones castrated.

  His thoughts took a strange turn via the slaves and back to Dsôn.

  The question he had put to Enoïla had not come out of the blue: if Tarlesa turned out to be skilled at magic, she would have to go to an academy. The best one was in Dsôn, but his daughter was too young to be allowed into the snake pit by herself. Would she accept his protection or would she hate being mollycoddled?

  Caphalor prayed to Samusin—the god of the winds and of justice—that she would prove to be a perfectly ordinary älf-girl with no outstanding qualities. His sons were said to be exceptional, why did his daughter have to be, too? He would reduce her instruction in the älfar arts if it proved necessary.

  Toward midday he reached Herumôn—a settlement of perhaps five thousand älfar—where he was known to every man, woman, and child. Honored heroes would usually move to the center of the realm, to Dsôn itself, or to the Radial Arm Wèlèron, where other warriors tended to reside. But despite his power, riches, and fame, Caphalor had not turned his back on the ordinary people and the villagers loved and respected him for it. He had no airs or graces and could often be seen visiting the market, chatting to älfar less fortunate than himself.

  Herumôn was a classic älfar settlement for Radial Arm Shiimal. Families lived there with their slaves, who in turn provided the labor for agriculture. Unlike the slaves in Dsôn they enjoyed certain freedoms: they were not forced to wear masks or veils and their quiet lives were spent in service to the älfar. As a result, Shiimal had the highest birth rate in the whole state.

  However, there was one thing that stood out: the houses were built of black basalt instead of the native timbers—sigurdacia, nightwood, stonewood—and because of the weight of the stone, the buildings were low and not as extravagantly decorated as elsewhere in the radial arm. This was a legacy of the Ancestors’ remedial work: they had dug into the ground to straighten and strengthen the arms, and the resulting rock wastage had been used to build the houses. The locals had tried to lighten the oppressive effect of the black stone by means of refined murals and trompe l’oeil additions: creating the appearance of artificial arcades or extra windows, which meant that the whol
e of Herumôn was a trick for the eyes. If you were visiting for the first time, you might assume you were about to stride through a huge stone archway, but this, too, would be the work of a skilled painter. Many a bumped head had resulted from an unexpected meeting with the hard basalt.

  Caphalor rode through the streets. Tiny white pellets crunched under the night-mare’s hooves—gravel that had been formed from the ground bones of slaughtered enemies. This gave a muffled sound and a road surface that was softer on both hooves and feet. Bones of slaves and monsters could be used for the same purpose. If you looked closely at the colors and textures you might even be able to tell the age and race of the victim.

  He reached the marketplace.

  The people’s greetings were returned with a friendly nod and one of the merchants handed him a rare samu fruit as he rode past. He bit into it and relished the taste that was sweet, fruity, sour, and refreshing at one and the same time, his mouth tingled with it. As he rode on, he wondered what Mórcass wanted to talk to him about: he had bought corn from him in the past—perhaps he wanted to renegotiate the price for the next harvest?

  Caphalor finished off the samu fruit and came to a halt. Dismounting from the night-mare, he stood in front of the large barn where Mórcass lived and ran his business. Two human slaves emerged: one of them took charge of his mount, the other bowed, inviting him with a humble gesture to follow.

  Caphalor entered the property a little behind the slave and followed him through cool rooms and corridors. Eventually he came to a pair of doors that opened out on to a workshop Mórcass had never shown him before.

  The merchant was standing in front of a large cube that was draped with a blanket. He wore a long leather apron, similar to the ones worn by butchers, executioners, and slave bath attendants. He smiled, enjoying his business associate’s curiosity. Caphalor could hear a low snorting sound coming from under the cloth.

  “Welcome, noble Caphalor, Honor-Blessed hero of Dsôn Faïmon,” said Mórcass, stepping forward to greet him. As he did so, the small table behind him came into view. It was piled with an array of different tools, including pliers and saws.

  Caphalor’s curiosity increased. “Thank you,” he said, eyeing the tall cube. “What have I done to deserve this surprise?”

  Mórcass looked disappointed. “So Enoïla let on?”

  “Only to say there would be a surprise waiting.”

  The merchant’s face lit up. He called out some names and three muscular half-giants entered the barn. They were much taller than Caphalor, dressed in armor and equipped with leather helmets and tough gauntlets. A loud whinnying and the sound of metal chains rattling could be heard coming from the covered cube.

  “I confess I am very curious as to what you’re going to show me,” Caphalor said.

  Mórcass laughed. “First of all, I should like to thank you for the many divisions of unendingness we have done business together. In the hope that we shall continue to be good partners, I would like to offer a token of my esteem. I hope you will accept it.”

  Caphalor was aware that Mórcass was showing sound business acumen. If he accepted the gift the trader’s reputation in Herumôn would grow; the more valuable the present, the greater his fame.

  “It sounds like a horse.”

  “Better than that.”

  “A night-mare?” Caphalor wondered. If he had interpreted the snorting correctly, Mórcass had spent a great deal of money. Night-mares were desanctified unicorns and the best specimens were extremely expensive to buy and to keep: they needed large amounts of meat and were unpredictable if allowed to go hungry. Caphalor had been forced to kill one of his night-mares when the beast had attacked him, and before that it had devoured two slaves in a frenzy and four other slaves had been badly injured. He had no longer been able to trust it.

  “No, not a night-mare,” Mórcass replied, grinning.

  With a dramatic gesture he removed the cloth, revealing white, strained flanks and wide staring eyes. Caphalor caught his breath: a unicorn.

  It snorted and whinnied, and after catching sight of the älfar and the half-giants, it tried to break out of the cage, but it was tethered fast to iron rings at hooves and neck. It stopped straining and stared at the warrior, snorting. Mórcass indicated the unicorn. “Here you are. This is my gift to you.”

  Caphalor gave the animal a suspicious look. “It is said that they are dangerous; that they hate our kind so much they attack on sight. Even my daughter might not be able to tame it.”

  “That is probably true, but this unicorn won’t exist for much longer.”

  Now Caphalor had no idea what was going on.

  Mórcass gave some orders to the half-giants. They took the ends of the chains and pulled them tight, forcing the unicorn forward. The merchant opened a small door in the cage so the creature’s head and spiral horn could pass through, and one of the slaves moved the little table of tools nearer.

  Caphalor understood. “You want to turn it into a night-mare?”

  “One worthy of you: a thoroughbred, genuine night-mare—not one of the degenerate new interbred versions.” Mórcass selected a fine-toothed saw. “Collect some of your blood, we need it to effect the transformation and ensure the animal is bound to you.” The unicorn tossed its head, the tip of the horn narrowly missing the merchant’s right shoulder. “Wait, you white demon. Soon you will take to us,” he panted.

  Caphalor made a cut in his forearm and his black-red blood ran over his light skin, dripped down and filled a shallow dish one of the slaves was holding out. He covered up the wound with a bandage the slave handed him; the slight pain did not bother him.

  “How long will it take to change?” asked Caphalor. He knew it must have cost Mórcass a fortune: unicorns were very rare indeed and they were difficult to capture alive. If word got around that Caphalor had accepted such a grand gift, the merchant would soon be able to move to the center—to Dsôn itself if he should so choose.

  “There are differing theories in various books, not much is remembered,” Mórcass answered. “Sometimes it is said that the transformation is quick, a few heartbeats only, and sometimes that it might take a whole division of unendingness.”

  Caphalor stood next to Mórcass. “Let me help.”

  The merchant gave a sign to the half-giants and the chains were tightened again. The unicorn’s head was forced mercilessly against the lower edge of the cage opening; if it had to stay in that position for long it would suffocate. “I’ve got to cut the horn off and then you pour your blood on the stump.”

  “No special formula? No ritual?”

  “It seems not, your blood and the älfar power it holds should be enough.” Mórcass applied the saw. “But I won’t hide the fact that it might not survive the procedure. I read that, too.”

  The fine serrations of the saw made quick work of the horn as the creature tried desperately to escape mutilation. The muscles swelled under its coat and the half-giants renewed their stances, pulling harder on the ends of the chains and grunting with the effort. Even so, their rough shoes started to slip and dust clouds rose. Caphalor admired the creature’s enormous power.

  “Hold it fast, damn you!” Mórcass yelled, speeding up his work with the saw. The white splinters fell thick and fast; he was nearly halfway through. Caphalor held the dish ready.

  The unicorn went wild: bright red blood shot out of the horn, drenching the saw and Mórcass in its flow. One of the half-giants lost hold of the chain and it kicked its hind leg free, meeting the iron bars of the cage with an almighty crash. Then it bucked and hurled itself around violently, forcing the rest of the half-giants to let go.

  “Catch it!” Mórcass commanded, looking at his hand where the skin burned from contact with the unicorn blood. He put the saw down and took up a big hammer, intending to snap the horn off.

  He flailed for a moment as the animal bucked, but then the half-giants had control again, and as Mórcass hit out once more there was a loud crack and the horn splin
tered. More blood sprayed out and the unicorn screamed, a sound of pure agony; it pained Caphalor in his mind and in his soul to hear it.

  “Get ready,” said Mórcass, bringing the hammer down again. The animal pulled its head away and stabbed the merchant in the chest with the remains of its horn. When it pulled its head back the splintering ends of the horn got stuck in the älf’s ribs and he was shaken to and fro, then hurled against the iron bars with tremendous force. The horn snapped off; the merchant älf collapsed in front of the cage and did not move. A wide pool of blood formed under him.

  With great presence of mind, Caphalor tipped the contents of the dish over the stump. The unicorn whinnied again—a continuous, piercing sound, such that he thought he might go deaf. He bent to the merchant’s body, turning him over onto his back.

  There was nothing to be done, the horn was deep inside the gaping wound and the bones were shattered and bent, the lungs destroyed. The dying heart continued to pump blood out through torn arteries until it slowed and then finally stopped.

  The light went out of Mórcass’ eyes: the älf’s soul had been freed to join the unendingness—and this well before his time. Mórcass had not been old by älf standards.

  Caphalor looked at the unicorn collapsed against the sides of the cage. It kicked out desperately and gasped, its tongue lolling out. Bright red blood flowed out of its gullet and its teeth came loose and rolled over the workshop floor: sharp fangs took their place, erupting like blades through the gums. Its transformation had begun surprisingly rapidly.

  Caphalor got the slaves to carry the dead body of their master into the main house and told them to send for a healer. Even though this was a useless move now, he did not want to have to tell the merchant’s companion her partner was dead. Instead, he sat down by the cage and observed the changes the unicorn went through.

  The blood from the stump stopped flowing and the animal’s coat became dull, turning first gray and then black, its tail, mane, and the long hairs round its fetlocks all following: the magic in his älfar blood had destroyed the purity of the unicorn. Caphalor wished Enoïla could be there to sketch the process, she was better than he was at drawing and would have been able to capture the excitement of the transformation.

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