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Righteous fury, p.7
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       Righteous Fury, p.7

           Markus Heitz
 

  “Hold your peace!” Sinthoras shouted, his arms half-raised, the black fury lines issuing from his right temple crisscrossing wildly. “You are a coward, a prevaricator: you live in the past, I live in the present and look to the future; my plan will make our state safe, your policy will land us in a never-ending battle on the banks of the river-moat until we run out of food and soldiers and Dsôn Faïmon falls.” He turned back to the Inextinguishables. “I beseech your graces, do not heed his words, they will bring total devastation. A waiting game would mean the destruction of our empire, we must make a preemptive strike and eradicate everything that threatens our existence.”

  Silence reigned.

  The siblings made no move.

  “There is something important missing,” said Nagsar Inàste finally, with a faint rebuke for Sinthoras in her voice that pleased Caphalor. “Something missing from your intelligence on Ishím Voróo. In the northwest, beyond the territory of the fflecx, a new being has taken up residence. It is said to have the appearance of a cloud of stardust.”

  “And it is reported to have extraordinary arts at its disposal; making it an excellent potential ally for us.” The brother had taken over so smoothly that there was no pause between the words of the two siblings. “We have many plans for the coming division of unendingness and to put it all into place we shall need to learn more about this creature. You have both shown courage in battle, intelligence and skill. You represent the extreme contrasts that destabilize Dsôn Faïmon.”

  “We are aware,” his partner went on, “that our subjects are sharply divided, and this is the reason we have chosen to entrust both of you with the task of traveling to the northwest to make contact with this being. We want you to negotiate with it and win it for our cause.”

  “So we are preparing an offensive?” Sinthoras asked, unable to contain his excitement.

  “Not in the way you mean,” said Nagsor Inàste.

  “Not in a way you could have imagined,” murmured the sovereign lady. “We plan to bring about the end of the elves.”

  Caphalor grew hot, to march on Tark Draan, the refuge of the elves, was an age-old dream of the älfar people. But the Stone Gateway—the entrance to the dwarf realm—had always stood in their way. Did this now mean the älfar had found a way around it? And, ultimately, did it mean that the Inextinguishables were giving up Dsôn Faïmon? He did not dare to ask his question.

  Sinthoras’ countenance had regained its normal color, with joy taking the place of anger. “You make me your happiest subject with this decision,” he cried passionately, sinking down on one knee and inclining his head. “I shall do all in my power to win this creature as an ally for our cause.”

  “And I shall do no less,” vowed Caphalor. “Will your graces tell us what special powers this creature has that make it so useful in war?”

  Nagsar Inàste sat up straight on her throne. “Only one: it has the ability to break the spell that protects the Gateway.” She raised her right arm and snapped her gloved fingers. Four servants stepped out of the shadows at the back of the hall. “You will be given whatever you need for the journey, but do not take a retinue. Make sure you travel alone. The way to the northwest is fraught with dangers you must go around rather than confront: your true mission must remain secret.”

  “Return successful or not at all,” her brother-partner told them, his voice ice-cold. “We don’t have to stress what responsibility you bear, or how heavy a weight lies on your shoulders.” He indicated the door. “Go with our good wishes.”

  The servants approached and made it clear that they were to be escorted out.

  Caphalor could see that Sinthoras was hesitating. He knew what the other älf was waiting for: he wanted Nagsor or Nagsar Inàste to award him the Honor-Blessing.

  The servants turned toward the door and strode off, taking Sinthoras and Caphalor in the middle: there was no mistaking the obligation to leave immediately if one did not want to risk gross impropriety.

  Caphalor gave a cool smile. Sinthoras would be accorded promotion only on completion of the mission; his traveling companion thus remained lower in status.

  This provided an excellent opportunity for Caphalor to score over his rival: he must be the one to persuade this mist-demon to enter an alliance. A few steps later, Caphalor’s idea had become a firm intention, not because he felt the same burning ambition as the obsessive Sinthoras, but because he wanted to prevent the warmongering Comet faction getting a shining icon for their warrior-leader.

  They left the hall in silence and went down the stairs of the Tower of Bones, at the base of which the four blind servants dismissed them.

  “A pity they did not give you the Honor-Blessing,” Caphalor began, innocently. “It is such a wonderful feeling to be touched by the Inextinguishables . . .”

  Sinthoras’ head snapped round, lines of anger marking his face. “Try to provoke me, it won’t work. Dsôn Faïmon will soon have three times, even four times as much land and neither you, nor anyone else, can stop that happening.”

  Caphalor turned and looked up at the Tower of Bones. “Oh yes? Are you the missing triplet for the Inextinguishable Siblings? The way you talk they’ll have to have a third throne made. Will you be sitting to the left or the right of Nagsar Inàste?”

  “Your way of thinking is very small-minded. Empires are not created by defending one’s borders,” Sinthoras replied haughtily.

  “We already have an empire,” Caphalor contradicted him. “You are just out for personal gain: win a few big battles, then come back home and advance a few rungs higher on the ladder.” He came closer. “You and your friends are forgetting one thing. We obey the Inextinguishable Ones, theirs are the laws we follow, not those of the Comets or the Constellations.”

  “Absolutely, but the rulers listened to my views before they give their orders,” a hostile Sinthoras replied. “Älfar like you deserve to be hounded out, Caphalor.” He grinned like a wild animal. “And that is exactly what I shall do, as soon as we get back.”

  “Now you are showing your true colors.” Caphalor wanted to say more, but one of the court servants came over and handed each of them a leather bag before turning and reentering the tower, leaving the two warriors to stand alone in the light of the setting sun.

  Caphalor remained silent and opened the catch to look inside the bag: it contained maps of the various regions in Ishím Voróo with their route clearly marked.

  He was particularly concerned about the journey through the territory of the fflecx: a gnomoid, dark-skinned race known for their skills in concocting poisons. They had a tailor-made toxin that killed instantly for every tribe and nation in Ishím Voróo. The alchemancers, as they called themselves, were experts in a wide range of substances and their kingdom was the only one besides Dsôn Faïmon that had never been conquered.

  “We shall be on this journey for a long time,” he murmured, turning to Sinthoras, but the älf had disappeared.

  Caphalor saw him fifty paces further down the steps that led to the base of the hill. “We ride in four days, at dawn,” Caphalor called out. “I’ll meet you on the fourth island at Wèlèron.”

  Sinthoras gave no sign that he had heard.

  Caphalor began the descent. There were 4,000 steps down to the plateau where his night-mare was waiting. He surveyed the landscape as he walked.

  In the north of Dsôn, set on an incline, there were many domed buildings, like countless eyes staring up at the sky from the crater floor. Only a few were brightly colored; most were black, white, silver or metallic. Some of the houses had been designed to glow at night, leaving the impression of smoldering coals. Between the Tower of Bones and these houses, there were slender towers that leaned against each other like reeds. In Dsôn itself it was so difficult to acquire land that people would build on a site the size of a handkerchief: the smaller the area, the more extravagant the tower.

  It occurred to Caphalor suddenly that it looked like a pincushion.

  The la
rgest, most elaborate, buildings were clustered around the hill he stood on; further away they were more conservative, getting more impressive again toward the edge of the crater.

  Caphalor was fascinated by some of the techniques used by Dsôn’s architects, and walking through the Star-Eye, he picked up a couple of ideas he thought he might try out on his own property, but to him, the capital city merely represented a nice change from the rural setting he lived in. He’d never want to live there.

  I’d end up having Sinthoras as a neighbor, he thought, grinning in spite of himself. Then the grin gave way to a frown: he had to obstruct his rival wherever he could. Sinthoras had declared war on him—so why should he show any restraint? From now on he would have to show the harder side of his nature, especially in regards to this mission.

  He had arrived at the platform where his night-mare stood.

  The animal was dancing about, wild still, as he attempted to get into the saddle, but he had never had a better mount. This night-mare of his was the genuine article, quite incomparable: Sardaî never tired and utterly relished a prolonged, hard gallop. His long black mane would stream out in the wind, and the only sign of exertion the beast would show was slightly heavier breathing. Caphalor looked forward to seeing the envy in Sinthoras’ eyes when he saw the animal in action: elegant, powerful, and fiery.

  On his way home, he wondered how he was going to break the news to Enoïla that he was going to have to leave. He would not be able to give her the slightest hint of his real mission.

  But one thing had to be tackled first: he did not want to leave a mess for his wife to cope with, so he would have to instruct the slaves to obey her during his absence. It was good that he had asked Tarlesa to meet him at the slave camp.

  It was dark before Caphalor reached the encampment. He could see from the shadows at the windows of the community house that the slaves were at supper, but there was no sign of his daughter.

  Caphalor dismounted and entered the house.

  “It is the master!” the overseer called, gesturing to the slaves to kneel.

  Men, women, and children all humbly showed respect, but it did not escape Caphalor’s attention that Grumson was taking his time about it: the look in his eyes told of suppressed rebelliousness. Caphalor’s visit was timely, he needed to remind the slaves whose grace they depended on.

  “Good evening, Father,” said Tarlesa behind him. “I’m sorry I’m late, I had to finish preparing some enali stems. I’m going to do a blood exchange on one of the slaves tomorrow.”

  “I’ve only just arrived myself. Is the slave worth all that trouble?”

  Tarlesa nodded. “He’s the best thresher and smith we have, and the others can learn a great deal from him. He was injured and the wound became infected, so we’re going to drain his blood and give him some from his brother instead.” When she smiled, she looked like her mother’s younger sister. Her features were a little sharper—he thought that was his own contribution—and she had his eyes, too. Today she was wearing a heavy leather apron over her light robe and thin gloves. A rolled bag lay on the rough floorboards beside her. She smoothed down her apron and picked up the bag. “This way I get plenty of practice. Dealing with the hollow enali stems is not easy. Now, which one is it that I’m to cure of his rebellion?”

  Caphalor pointed to Grumson and summoned him over.

  The barbarian stood up, barefoot, and walked slowly over. A prime example, indeed: tall, strongly built, with a simple face like most humans, no spark in the eyes. Many älfar did not believe the barbarians had souls, and he couldn’t blame them.

  “I’d like to try something different,” Tarlesa told Caphalor, using the Dark Language so the slaves would not understand.

  “Why?”

  “Castration robs them of their virility and they can put on a lot of weight, so I have devised another procedure.”

  His daughter ordered the man to lie down on the only table in the room. Food and drink were hastily pushed aside as he complied, looking apprehensive.

  “Hold him down,” Caphalor commanded. “Anyone who lets go will be killed.” Some of the slaves took hold of Grumson’s arms and legs and braced themselves. “Try anything you like,” he said to his daughter.

  “Thank you,” she beamed, unrolling the bag to reveal a set of surgical instruments: pliers, knives, blades, and metal prongs. A murmur went round the room.

  Tarlesa took the medallion from round her neck and swung it slowly to and fro in front of Grumson’s eyes, intoning as she did so a repetitive älfar chant.

  Caphalor watched his daughter with interest and pride. He saw the barbarian’s anger recede and his face relax and become expressionless, indifferent: she had paralyzed his mind.

  She put the amulet back round her neck. “I don’t know if this is going to work,” she warned her father, as she picked up a thin steel implement with a blade at the end. “I’ve got it wrong a few times, but I always learn from my mistakes.”

  “You never told me you’d practiced,” he said, surprised.

  Tarlesa smiled. “I wanted it to be a surprise. Mother knows, she bought the examples for me to practice on.”

  “How many?”

  “Eight so far, nothing of high value: the dealer was going to sell them to an artist to make wind chimes and storm flutes out of.” She held the barbarian’s eyelids open with her free hand before inserting the needle past the side of the eyeball and into his head. “I’ve reached the arch that separates the eye socket from the brain,” she said, explaining why she had paused. She selected a small hammer from the instrument roll. “It only takes a little tap and we’re through the thin layer of bone.”

  Tarlesa hit the end of the needle with the right degree of force and heard the light tock over the metal clink. There was a sharp intake of breath from the watching slaves.

  “Now I can manipulate the needle directly into the main part of the brain. It only needs to go in to the depth of about five fingertips. That was one of my mistakes: I kept pushing it too far in. I was able to observe that when I opened up the skull later on.” She introduced a second long needle through the other eye socket. Then she took hold of the ends of both needles and moved them gently from side to side.

  The watching humans groaned out loud, they did not know what the älf-woman was up to, but Caphalor was fascinated by the level of precision his daughter used. At the same time he listened to the noises made by the barbarians—should any of them decide to move against his express orders he would kill them on the spot, he could not let them get away with anything.

  “What I’m doing here is destroying the part of his mind that wants to rebel,” she explained. “According to my observations so far, this will cut the connection between perceptions and emotions: our barbarian will be a peaceful, friendly fellow when I wake him up.”

  “How on earth did you work all that out?” he asked.

  “I had been reading reports about the results of arrow wounds to the head: the victims’ personalities changed after their injuries, that’s what roused my curiosity.” Tarlesa drew the two needles out slowly, then she spoke three älfar words and clapped her hands. “You can let go now,” she told the other slaves holding the man down.

  Releasing the man’s limbs, they stood back, muttering to each other, wondering what the mistress had done to him.

  Grumson’s eyelids fluttered and he sat up, rubbing his temples and moaning a little.

  Caphalor heard the spectators sighing with relief. A glance at Grumson showed that he had kept his indifferent expression and his eyes remained dull.

  “Perfect!” Caphalor exclaimed. “Tarlesa, you have excelled yourself! I’m delighted.” He smiled at her. “What a clever daughter I have.” He sketched a bow in her direction and she blushed in response.

  Then he addressed the slaves: “Wildness does not pay. We have destroyed his soul and the same will happen to any of you if my wife or I hear of any fighting. If you want to keep your souls, serve us well.
Then he put his arm round Tarlesa’s shoulders while she put her instruments away and took off her apron. “Wait—would you like to try it on another one so they see we mean business? Take one of their young.”

  Tarlesa smiled happily.

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

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

  summer.

  The morning might have been made by Samusin for a propitious start to a journey. The air was chill and there was a slight fog hanging low over the defense moat that the sun was slowly burning off, making the island fort look as if it were floating on clouds. Under the mist, Caphalor’s excellent hearing registered the sounds of the river.

  He was enveloped in a gentle melancholy that he found as enjoyable as slight intoxication or a light kiss. He was sure he would be the one to set up the deal with the mist-demon; he’d trump Sinthoras in the eyes of the Inextinguishables. The thought brought a smile to his lips. He observed his surroundings and breathed the fresh air in.

  After a moment a frown creased his brow, why was there no sign of Sinthoras? It was not like the ambitious älf to be late for the departure. Unless . . .

  Caphalor sounded his bugle for the drawbridge to be lowered, stopping to question the guard.

  “Am I the first to cross today?”

  “Yes,” came the answer.

  Caphalor’s mind was not put at rest. “When did the last älf cross to Ishím Voróo?”

  “Yesterday,” he heard. “His name was Sinthoras.”

 
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