A long, stinking network of sewers stretches under the ruins of the once glorious city of Arashkan, now smoking in smoldering ruins. Though it is winter with cold, dirty-gray snow on the ground outside, down in these sewers, the temperature is mild. Less water than usual drains from the sewer tunnels now, as there is no populace left in the city. What’s there is mostly melted snow blotched with sticky and sickly reddish-brown color due to the seeping blood from the streets above and the settled soot, carrying away with lazy indifference, burnt and charred bits of wood, and every once in a while, a bloated corpse..
Through these tunnels, young Udoorin Shieldheart, Princess Lorna, and her cousin, Anglenna Sunsear, slink and sneak, and at times, fight their way to the magically cordoned and entombed area where years ago, the younger thief, Darly Dor, had stolen from Lady Felishia Fremeir, the prized gifts allegedly sent by Ri Grandaleren of Bari Na-ammen to the First Lord Kaladin of Arashkan;
THREE DOG CURSE..
This story is the continuation of the series;
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part 3/3)
“Three Dog Curse”.
It takes place on the same night as
We Are Not Your Dogs.
We Are Not Your Servants.
We Are Your Masters!
and shortly after
The young, burly man pulled the bloated Orken floating face down and slowly down the sewer with one of his long-shafted great axes, using its curving edge as a hook. With a low grunt, he grappled the huge creature ‘ashore’ and poked it to make sure it really was as dead as it seemed. Then, carefully, he turned it over and peered at it.
“A little light, please, Auntie Lenna?”, he rumbled.
“I would very much appreciate it if you would make up your mind, young Udoorin.”, said Anglenna mildly.
“Uhhmm.. I am not quite sure what you mean, ma’am?”, he said.
“Auntie H., Auntie Lenna, Ma’am? Make up your mind. I despair every time you call me something I was never called in all my one hundred and seventy-eight years on this earth! And why am I even your ‘Auntie’, anyway? There is no blood relation between us whatsoever, and although the age disparity between us is mild at best, I certainly am not old enough to be your aunt! And might I add that I am quite young by elf standards.”, she replied.
Princess Lorna snorted!
But perhaps because she was a girl of natural grace and ‘polite’ palace training, she had never had the opportunity to ‘snort’ enough to know how it was supposed to be done. Hence, what came out a bit like a.. well.. it came out like something, just not how a snort should be..
..out of her cute, elegant nose.
Udoorin, on the other hand, coughed.
“I wouldn’t have called, one hundred and sixty years difference, ‘mild at best’.. Wouldn’t ‘mild at best’ be like three or five years? Ten at most?”, he thought. Then he shrugged. Obviously, the numbers were different where elves were concerned and because his Lady Lorna might also be involved in said elf numbers, he decided not to even bring it up.
For men, age was just a number that marked the time passed between one’s birth and the current date —in terms of linear years. For women, maybe it meant other things.. Something along the lines of; ‘the time left until one died’, perhaps?
Udoorin shut the door to that particular thought and decided to never bring it up!
Young as he may be, Udoorin was wise like that.
“I.. don’t know the proper.. uhhmm.. protocol?.. To be perfectly honest.. Since you are somewhat elder to Lady Lorna, it seemed like, dunno, the polite way to refer to you was to call you ‘Auntie’..”, he mumbled.
“That’s what you figured, huh? To call a young elf girl, Auntie? And thought that was the polite thing to do, did you?”, asked Anglenna staring at him with one arched eyebrow.
“Can we.. sort of do this some other time, perhaps? Or you could just tell me what you would like me to call you? Please?”, Udoorin asked plainly.
“‘Anglenna’ will do. It is my name, after all, hence, I am bound to recognize it..”, said the elf girl, her tone amused.
“Impossible!”, said Udoorin, shaking his head.
The princess inadvertently smiled but hid it behind one of her slender and elegant hands.
“What? Why?”, Anglenna asked, a bit perplexed.
“Bad manners to call people who are older than me by their first name.”, the young, burly man said stiffly. “And also just rude!”
Lady Anglenna just stared at him.
“Young man, you are killing me!”, she said with despair.
“I certainly am not!”, Udoorin said indignantly.
“Did you ‘Auntie’ Lorna, here, too? When you first met? She is older than you as well, after all!”, Anglenna said, having a go at logic.
“I certainly did not!”, the young man said, even more hotly. “It is extremely rude to ask a girl or a lady, her age.. Which is why I never asked!”
“You mean to tell me, you did not even know the age of the girl you had decided to spend your life with?”, Anglenna stared at the young man astounded!
“It is a girl’s prerogative to reveal her age, along with any other things she feels she honestly has to mention. It is not nice to spring surprises on a man who loves you with unexpected and out-of-the-ordinary things, after all. I told Lady Lorna all my bad habits on the get-go and she told me all hers, along with her age before we decided to engage. Didn’t care then, don’t care now. Her beauty, her grace, her elegance, and her wisdom make what she thinks she lacks, very much irrelevant..”, mumbled Udoorin with a scowling face that said, he would argue this to the end of days!
“You have no idea how to talk to girls.. or women, do you?”, Anglenna asked, totally astonished now, but not unkindly, which was a bit, unlike her old self.
“I haven’t had many opportunities.”, admitted the young man. “Only had Laila and Bremorel as friends when it came to girls, but they were more like sisters. I mean, they never looked at me that way, and I knew Laila was interested in someone else and for Bree, it was always Thomas, though she never went and said it out loud.. Not that it mattered, since I just never saw them that way, either. After my mother died, it was just my father and myself, all of which is beside to point at this very moment, isn’t it?”
“I am at dire straights with you, young man. Call me Lady Anglenna, if that will make you feel any better. But should you want to make me happy, drop the ‘Lady’, and certainly the ‘ma’am’, and just call me by my name.. Bari Na-ammen is gone and I am a Lady no more. And every time you ‘Lady’ me, you remind me of my blood-relation to my mother. Something I would very much not be afflicted more than I already am.”
“Fair enough, ma’am.. uhhmm.. Auntie.. uhh.. Lady.. Anglenna..”, replied Udoorin a bit flustered. “Though I have never believed being a lady is in any way related to the existence of a certain place, as important to you and my Lady Lorna as it may be.. Now, if we could have some light, perhaps?”
Anglenna signed again. The boy was incredibly.. she refrained from saying, ‘dense’, possibly for her cousin’s sake.
She didn’t feel any animosity for him or anything. Quite the contrary, and contrary to her mother’s indoctrinated upbringing.. And he had made her cousin genuinely happy, and safe, and.. content.. and she seemed much more relaxed as opposed to her usual serious aura. But he did need to get over some of his habits if he was going to be a king someday. And the boy was just too.. plainly honest? A something she was sure her cousin, the princess, had found adorable, sure, but that kind of honesty just wouldn’t survive palace politics and she didn’t want him to suffer a ‘rude awakening’. It seemed, not only did she have to look out for the well-being of her future Rise, but she also had to train her future Ri/King from the ground up!
But, she thought, that could all wait for a little while longer.
Hence, with a small wave of her hand, the dark, stinking sewers lit, as a glowing orb of golden light appeared in long, slender fingers.
Udoorin squinted at the bright light and mumbled.
“I feel like a blind dwarf that’s just come out of his hole.”
“We don’t have to repeat I said that to Lady Magella, do we?”, he asked carefully. Then bent down and carefully inspected the bloated Orken.
“Hmmm..”, he mused. “Doesn’t seem to be one of our kills. No hack or cleave wounds, nor any burn marks. Only a little gash at the base of its skull, just where the spine ends —probably paralyzed it instantly. Then there is the puncture mark in its kidney. Only one person I know of would have done this kind of precision strikes and he is not here..”
“Who?”, asked Lorna, coming near the dead creature and looking at the wounds.
“Aager Fogstep.”, Udoorin said.
“Master Darly Dor? Perhaps?”, she offered. “Or maybe even Lady Lilly? They both are still here, in the city, after all. And they both have the skills for this kind of precision.”
“Possible, I suppose. Though Darly tends to be a bit too flamboyant and showy for this kind of delicacy. His would be a full thrust, through the ribs and into the heart, and all the way to the hilt, like he had something to prove.”
He paused again, though this time as if to gather his recollections.
“As for Lady Lilly, I do not know. I haven’t seen her in action enough to make any educated guesses, though I suspect her’s would be less like Dary’s and more like her brother’s, which stands to reason. They were both born and raised in Drashan and under constant threat of death. One tends to abandon theatrics when they know it will get them killed!”, he replied clinically.
“So, what does it all mean?”, asked Anglenna.
“It means, one; we are not alone down here, two; some of the Orken have managed to find alternative ways to enter the sewers, and three; someone down here is making sure the sewers stay off-limits of the Orken army above!”, he said as he slowly rose and took out his other great axe.
He paused for a third time, then added.
“Isn’t that true?”
There was a choked silence and for a moment, only the slow, sluggish sound of the draining sewer and the dripping of water was heard.
“Surprisingly astute.. for a country oaf..”, came a muffled, gravelly voice from the darkness.
“Awesome timing, I’d say..”, said the young, burly man grinning. “Made me look good!”
Princess Lorna also rose, turned in the opposite direction, and with a swift, beckoning gesture, summoned a pitch-black ‘darkness’ before her, and out of the darkness, she drew a nearly three-yard glaive with thirty-inch sharp steel.
Anglenna took a few, short steps back, giving herself and the two, some room to maneuver as she tossed the glowing globe of light into the air and started to draw energy. In a matter of seconds, she was almost glowing with an eerie, red, smoldering, and wroth fire.
“Well. Now that the ‘theatrics’ is out of the way.. “, rumbled Udoorin with a gruffness that would have made his father proud. “..show yourself if your intentions are honorable!”
“Odd choice of words, young Master.”, replied the muffled, gravelly voice. “Shall we hide, if our intentions are not honorable? How does that work, exactly? What happens if we are men of questionable honor?”
“I am not here to pass judgment on your honor. That isn’t really my problem. It is yours.. I am here on a specific mission. If you—”, he said.
“There are seven of them.”, whispered Lorna. “The one that’s speaking, two behind him, two to the far left and three to our far right, blocking our way.”
“—and yours have business elsewhere, by all means, we wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.”, continued the young man seamlessly. “It’s either that, or I swing my axes, the lady standing behind me cleaves with her glaive, and seeing as we have plenty of room, she will do so quite freely. And let me tell you, gentlemen, I just hack things and am not very particular as to where I really hit. Should she have a go at you though, you will lose everything you have between your legs, all the way up to your eyebrows. If that won’t be to your satisfaction, the other lady can incinerate what’s left of you down to pretty, sparkling cinders.”
“Your bargaining technics need some refining, but it does seem to save time.” replied the muffled voice. “We are not here for you, or yours. We were hired, as a guild, for a job far to the east of here, quite some months ago. We were, however, betrayed. The Whispers have a reputation to uphold. Hence we have come to this dead city, seeking for the one who betrayed us and caused the death of many of our brethren. He was last sighted near the great Orken pavilion propped at the north end of The Rundown. We have been using these sewers to get a closer glimpse at him. Close enough for a dagger or seven!”
Udoorin’s thick brows shot up.
“The Whispers?“, he asked tentatively.
“Our guild..”, said the gravelly voice as if that explained everything.
Udoorin tried from another angle.
“This.. job.. you mentioned.. The one you were hired for.. Was it perhaps in a town called Serenity Home?”
It seemed like the dark, stinking tunnel ‘stiffened’ for a moment.
“And you would know of this, how?”, asked the muffled voice, though it sounded like it had been asked through clenched teeth.
“Quite by chance, really.”, lied the young man glibly, possibly making Aager proud as well, had he been here. “Met a charming young man in an inn who claimed he was from that town. He’d gone too deep into his drink and didn’t know how to shut up! But if what he was telling me was actually true, didn’t that job end with nearly burning half the town and occur like, six months ago? You guys seem a tad lax on your pursuit and quite unprofessional at what you do. Burning half the town? Really, now.. Seems a tad accessive, don’t you think?”
“The burning of the town was not part of the job. We were misinformed about.. quite a number of things.. As for time, it is irrelevant and only gives the prey the false impression of ‘having gotten away’.. But since you seem so.. informed.. perhaps you may also know about the one we seek.”
“I doubt.”, replied Udoorin as he clenched his axes a bit more tightly. “Seeing as I am not really the ‘clandestine’ type. I mean, just look at me.. I have ‘country oaf’, written all over me!”
The man hidden in the dark was silent for another moment and this time, he seemed to juggle his options. For whatever the reasons were, however, he opted to take a risk and spoke, giving young Udoorin the impression that maybe the ‘muffled’ man in the dark was desperate for information.
“He is a man of slightly above average height, lean built, wears a heavy, deep brown robe, and always has his hood up.”
“That’s not much of a description, is it? Slightly above average is pretty much everyone who is not average. Brown robes are quite common, and I am not a historian for fashion, mind you, but I am guessing hoods have been around since Year One! The fact that his hood’s always up, makes him impossible to identify and makes him easier to blend as nobody will know who he is when the hood and robes are off, yes?”, he rumbled, not relaxing his hold on his axes.
“You three are not an ordinary lot, are you?”, the man’s muffled voice came.
“I doubt anyone ordinary is left in this city.”, Udoorin replied with an easy grin.
“Saw a pickney just yesterday. Wouldn’t have placed him more than six, down in these sewers..”
“Bet he was extraordinary, having survived what’s outside for all this time.”, said Udoorin carefully.
“Gave him some food and sent him off..”
“Guess that makes you extraordinary too..”, the young man said blandly.
“Is this verbal duel going to take any longer?”, fumed Lady Anglenna. “We do have a job to do ourselves, after all.”
“That we do, lady.”, agreed, Udoorin without taking his attention from the muffled voice. “This.. large pavilion.. you mentioned. I have seen it. Surrounded by, I suspect, at least two, maybe three thousand of the Orken. What is it? Do you know?”
“Yes. It’s the tent of no other than the Orken Mother, herself, which makes her the very top dog, or bitch, among the Orken, along with her head Orken Blood-Shaman. The infamous rebellion, the seeker of justice, and the backer of the poor, Gar Thalot is there too, though he isn’t seeking any justice, nor backing the poor, now. Guess he’s done with his rebellion.. The lady here can’t nuke that tent from far enough, can she? Would save the kingdom a lot of trouble, and avenge about a million or so people along the way, I think.”
“The nuking is not the problem.”, smiled Anglenna, giving the muffled voice a thousand-yard-stare. “The Orken, however, have rather thick hides. And I do not believe that tent to be unwarded.”
“You are a perceptive lady.”, the muffled, gravelly voice said, returning the smile. “The Blood-Shaman knows his works, I’ll give him that.”
“I did see..”, inserted Udoorin. “..a tall, skinny woman, skulking near the pavilion, though. Had white braids for hair. She was accompanying someone. It was dark and the torchlights of the Orken play games and cast false shadows, but it is possible the man you are looking for was the same man the tall woman was escorting. I couldn’t hazard a guess about the color of his robe, but he did wear a hood. A tall, deep hood. I mean, who wears his hood up at night? It’s not raining, nor snowing outside.. not at that moment, anyway. Perhaps his ears were cold. Or he had a face to hide..”
The seven men seemed to prick their ears like some old Basset Hounds at the mention of the tall, deep hood, as that was a detail they hadn’t revealed.
“I see.. Perhaps you have some ill feelings for the tall, skinny woman with the white braids and wish to use us against her?”, growled the muffled voice.
But his reply burned..
“I have ill feelings for many who sided with the Orken and slaughtered hundreds of thousands of civilians, brought devastation to a peaceful city, desecrated their lands, and mutilated what remained.. The Orken, I can understand, to a point. They want the land. Just the land, mind you.. Any elf, human, dwarf, or gnome who made it possible for them to attain their bloody slaughter, however, shall never suffer a moment’s peace.”
“Now I see.. better..”, said the muffled, gravelly voice and fell in silent contemplation. Then as if waking from a long, droning sleep, he spoke again and there was some, barely discernable heat in his voice as well. “Men such as we are beyond peace. But perhaps we may be of some use to you after all.. We have thus cleared most of the sewers as far as we have come. I suspect you have done the same from your end.”
A careful, metallic tingling echoed in the sewer tunnels and something glittered next to Udoorin’s feet.
“Take this, young Master. It is a token of our.. appreciation, per se.. I gather both of our time is short, but perhaps we can make better acquaintances at a lengthier time and atone for our end of the sins..”
That said, Udoorin heard a swift shuffling of silent feet and..
“They are gone..”, said Princess Lorna quietly.
“You.. handled that exceptionally well, young Udoorin.”, complimented Anglenna as she stared at the big, burly man with a slightly puzzled expression.
“I did?”, asked Udoorin, with a similarly puzzled face. Then his face lightened. “Yes. I suppose I did.. “
Then he bent down and carefully picked up the curiously glittering object thrown at his feet.
It was a round, coin-like object, though almost palm-sized and quite heavier as if molded by lead. It certainly looked like lead. And its edges were chiseled and while one side of the coin was flat and bare, the other side had a strange, almost symmetrical, rune-like shape on it. Udoorin had never seen a rune like this before, though that didn’t mean much. The young man had never been the scholarly type to begin with. But he got the impression that it wasn’t dwarfish, and certainly not elvish.
“Anyone seen one of these before?”, he asked.
Princess Lorna stared at it for a long time. Then, with her browns slightly frowned, she said, “I may have.. though years ago..”
“I did as well.. Any number of times.. Mother had one of these..”, said Anglenna quietly.
“She did?”, asked both Udoorin and the princess.
“Yes. Carried it with her at all times. I am surprised you saw it too. She was careful never to reveal it to anyone, let alone share a ‘look-at’ with you, of all people, cousin..”, she replied.
“But I didn’t see it from your mother, and neither did she show hers to me.”, said Lorna, frowning even more. “Auntie Angrellen was never.. very sharing with me.. I don’t suppose that has changed over the years.”
“No, dear. It hasn’t.”, replied Anglenna mutely. “Where did you see yours?”
“Inside a jewelry box.. My mother’s jewelry box!”
Udoorin stared at the princess with astonishment.
So did Anglenna.
“Huh!”, she said. “Seems Auntie Nadina Graciousward had her own share of secrets as well.. What would she be doing with one of these tokens, I wonder?”
“I don’t know, cousin. Nothing is as it seems anymore. Too many secrets. Dark ones too.”, Lorna replied.
“I am sure your mother had a good reason to have one of these. Hey, look, we got one as well, and we have a good reason too, though I have no idea as to what it may be..”, said Udoorin brightly. “Much like we do not know why Lady Nadina had hers, we also don’t know what these tokens are, really. For all we know, it could be a membership to some secret cheese tasting club!”
“Secret cheese tasting club?”, asked Anglenna, staring totally confused at the young, burly man.
“You have no idea about the kind of weird things one can overhear while undercover in various inns and taverns! I have a whole months’ worth of city gossip!”, replied Udoorin cheerily.
“That’s very kind of you to say, Dorin. But if you recall, when the Orken came and we were all running out of Bari Na-ammen, my mother took us through many secret passages. Passages I was never even aware of. How did she know them?”, said Lorna, her eyes filled with doubt and.. tears.
Udoorin looked down at the woman of his life.. and felt despair.. He then looked up at Anglenna, beseeching for her help.
Anglenna came up to her cousin, held her by her slender, narrow shoulders, and turned her around to look directly into her eyes.
“Princess Alor’Nadien ne. You will cease this line of thought, and you will do it now. I suspected the existence of possible secret passages leading in and out of the palace, but I was never told where they were, nor did I find any myself. It is quite possible, only the Ri and the Rise were to know of their existence and their whereabouts. Doesn’t make much sense if just anyone knows about them, does it? Yes, you are a princess, a Riserin, but from a strictly official point of view, that title does not hold any ruling power and is only a name in protocol. Much like many government intelligence and military secrets, only the Ri and the Rise would be made aware of said secrets or may have had access to them. Do not second guess things you do not know. You are the Rise now, as unofficial as that may be. You do not have the luxury to be so chivalrous with the lives and the deeds of others, nor to mope about it. Now gather yourself. I am sure we will have plenty of time to ask Auntie Nadina, just like I am sure she will have a good explanation for having one of these tokens. Then again, she might not. Either way, it might not even be our business to know. People have the right to their own privacy, and to be professionally honest about it, I doubt your mother had anything up her sleeves.”
“But.. how do you know?”, Lorna asked in despair.
“I understand, the events of this past year, particularly those that led to your leaving the palace and your home, and the horrible things you have seen thus far, and the destruction of Arashkan, then your home and your people at such a young age, and with your.. soft.. upbringing, has made you weary and worn out. Hence now you feel hard-pressed in trusting even those around you. I wouldn’t either.. But trust me when I say, had your mother truly did have some sinister plots of her own brewing behind the scenes, my mother would have found out about it and delightfully used it to besmirch her. She spent a considerable amount of her fortune, and her last thirty years seeking damning information about her. And when that failed, about you!”
“She did?”, asked Lorna even more downed.
“Yes, she did.”, said Anglenna. “Seeing as how I helped her get it!”
“I.. knew..”, Lorna whispered quietly. “All along.”
“Yet you chose to put your trust in me. And at first, I thought you were just as foolish as my mother perpetually said you were. But as time went by and you grew, I thought your trust in me would diminish. But it didn’t. Your trust grew with you. You opened up to me. You told me things that you shouldn’t have. And like the fool that I was, I passed all those secrets you divulged upon me in confidence, on to my mother, leading to the events that caused you to abandon your home and your rightful throne, just to avoid a conflict with your father, Ri Grandaleren. I.. am sorry, Lorna.. There is nothing I can possibly say to encapsulate just how sorry I really am for the things I did to you.”, Anglenna said, her beautiful face burning with shame. “And the bitter irony of it all is; I wanted to say all these to you, but in a better setting. Yet here we are, under a burning city, and in some stinking sewers.. Speaks quite loudly just exactly where I belong. But then, here you are as well, trying to fix what my mother did and still trusting me.. Know, though, I shall stay with you and your man for the rest of my life. I shall also be with your line, advising them and protecting them. My only consolidation is, one day, you truly will forgive me for all my transgressions against you, because at the end of the day, it wasn’t my mother who destroyed you, it was me.”
Lorna looked up at her very tall, regal cousin..
..and simply hugged her.
“It is so much easier to hate, my dear Lenna. I chose not to. Because you were always smart. And you would always play with me even though no one else would because I was a ‘half-breed’. And you always ate the horrible things I cooked. You were ‘blood’ and you were always my elder sister. And.. when you were with me, I noticed your grim face wasn’t grim. You laughed when we were together. I never saw you laugh any other time. The short few weeks we spent together on our way to High Spires and back, years ago, was one of my merrier days. I am happy you are with us, sister cousin, even though I can see you are sad, and how things turned out between you and your mother. I.. truly wished we could have made peace with her. But I am afraid she has her own agenda, and that agenda does not involve me, nor my people. As for you, my sister cousin, only two people in this world I would wish to always be with me, and both already are.”
“Do not fret about my mother, princess. I don’t. Not since I understood the extent of her ‘agenda’, which didn’t include me either. I was merely a backup plan for her. Nothing more. Part of her, ‘grand plan’, per se. And that plan was set before either of us even came to be. Like, by seven or eight hundred years.. It will take years, decades, possibly, for me to get over my mother and what she did to me. And likely centuries before I am not called to task any more because of her machinations and her betrayal.”, said Anglenna and hugged her cousin even tighter.
Udoorin coughed a bit uncomfortably.
“Uhhmm.. Ladies? Perhaps we should move on? We still have a bit of stinking ground to cover. And I don’t even know what we’ll do when we get there, or how we will get out of this city, once the deed is done. We have already used one of the two days that ARIS guy, Largo, gave us before they abandoned High Spires and the city.”
“Let’s get a move on indeed, then, young Udoorin.”, smiled Anglenna, and she seemed very much..
Such as she had never felt before.
That the once High Lady of Bari Na-ammen, Anglenna, had made her choice and faced her princess with her past sins. Also true that the details of said sins were not covered as yet, but where there had been uncertainty, there was now a steady, beating surety. And where there had been ominous doubt, there was now feather-light and elating trust.
She no longer saw only a dark, smothering future for herself.
She saw a dark future that failed to smother and was worth fighting for..
For she saw the bright existence of her Rise Alor’Nadien ne there.
And she would be sure to guard her and hers, no matter the cost.
✱ ✱ ✱
Still here, my darling?”, came the insinuating voice of the former High Lady Angrellen. “Makes one wonder, just what are you doing here, my little dove?”
“What do you want, mother? I would have thought our last conversation had covered pretty much everything I wanted to say to you.”, she finally replied after a fuming moment.
“Want? Nothing, my sweet baby girl. I am merely inquiring about your health, that’s all. This place is, under siege, after all. Well, it was, under siege. But the details of its current condition are a tad moot, don’t you think?”
“You really want to push this as far as it will go, don’t you, mother?”, grinded Anglenna.
“Why, whatever do you mean, daughter?”
“My darling? My little dove? My sweet baby girl? You have never called me any of those in the past one hundred and seventy-eight years, mother. Never once! And suddenly I am your darling? Your little dove? Your sweet baby girl? Your choice of pet names for me are not just believable, they are also grossly fake, crook, and fictitious, and just gross. The only thing you have been sincere thus far is how you truly perceive the world around you; moot!”, she said and did something she never wished to have done, ever since what she had seen in the dream of what had really happened in the Arena and had, conclusively, chosen her side, and chosen to change..
..at her mother.
“I am sorry you had to endure some minor hardships, my dear. You must understand, however, everything I did, I did for you..”, said Angrellen’s voice, a bit desperately.
“Minor? You call what you did to me, to Bar Na-ammen and to Arashkan, minor? You, mother, are walking over the corpses of people who were alive merely two weeks ago, and you call that minor? Mother, I am tempted to call you mad, but what truly is moot is me calling you that.. And no, mother, nothing you did was for me. Everything you did, you did for yourself. I was merely a part of your great scheme. A tool, an accessory, and no more. And you know what? No more, indeed. This day forth, you are my mother no more. You are a traitor and no more. You are the greatest unholy calamity this world has seen and no more. You, mother, are a butcher and no more.. This, you will understand in time, during your endless millennia of lonely and miserable immortality!”
“Darling. The road to greatness is always paved with ‘minor’ people. You must understand this. And given enough time, you will —when you have reached the end of your one thousand five hundred years of life.”, Angrellen said with a relaxed tone.
“And what will you accomplish in your immortality, now, mother? What will you do with it that you haven’t been able to do in your last one thousand five hundred years?”, her daughter asked acidly.
“Ow, I’ll think of something. I am totally free now. I can do anything, and whatever I want.”, Angrellen replied merrily.
“You will always be you, mother. And ‘Betrayer’ will follow you wherever you go.”, Anglenna said cooly.
“No, my daughter darling. Come next millennia or two, no one will remember Angrellen as a betrayer, for any and everyone who thinks so, shall long be dead!”, laughed her mother.
“No, mother. That particular aspect of you is there to stay and no amount of centuries or millennia will wash that off you.” Anglenna said quietly.
“Ow?”, her mother asked.
“Yes, mother. Because everyone and everything around you may change, but you are you, and that is also there to stay.”, Anglenna said and felt sad for the truth her words held.
“People do change, daughter mine.”, Angrellen said somewhat diffidently.
“You had a millennium and a half for that. Tell me, mother, how did that go for you?”, Anglenna asked with bitter shame.
There was a moment of silence and she felt, for the barest of moments, the tiniest flutter of regret in her mother.
“I wasn’t always like this, you know.. I was young too, once, and happy. I was the Riserin of my people. I was going to be their Rise. Then my father, the great and wise Lienierre Moonlight, saw fit to take that away from me. And gave it to my idiot and incompetent brother. What did my brother possess that I didn’t? Look what he did to our Bari Na-ammen? None of this would have happened had I been the Rise..”, she replied bitterly.
Anglenna didn’t wait to slap in her reply for she had no wish to reminisce with her mother..
“Grandaleren held nothing above you, mother. Whether he was an incompetent fool or not was irrelevant for he was never going to be the Ri, either. Selendenien Sindarin, your sister, the youngest of the three.. She was going to be the Rise, had she not been slain in the Themalsar War, leaving my grandfather to make a choice between a mad, psychotic, power-hungry daughter, and an incompetent fool of a son.
But you, mother, you wouldn’t have accepted her either, even though we both know, you would never have made a ruler as beloved and great as her. Just like you would never have bowed to Selendenien’s rule, you never had any inclinations to submit to Alor’Nadien ne, who is so much like her youngest aunt..
You used her ‘half-breed’ status as an excuse and milked it for all you were worth.. The outcome of your leadership would have been the same no matter how things turned out, for you would have ruled with a nefarious and bloody iron fist, and you would have used fear, terror, and carnage to your cause. In this aspect, you are the linear opposite of both your sister and your niece, which is why High Woods chose your sister, and after a thousand years, She chose your niece as its heart and never you, which is also why you let the Orken burn our forest. You couldn’t even bear the ‘soul-sight’ of an as sacred a being as High Woods.
You, mother, let those unholy beasts destroy the very being that defined who we were, out of spite!
Had you been in reign, you would have attacked Arashkan and consequently, and conclusively, brought the destruction of Bari Na-ammen, no matter what, because all the other cities; Vodgar, Durkahan, Koruxan, Palantine, Endless Watch, and even armies from as far as Malis, Kronor, and Devien would have banded against us, causing Solace and Tranquil elves to start a war against them in return, bringing the fatal destruction of Demon Wall and Heavens Hand at the hands of the hording demons they are guarding against, all of which would have started the end of our world and we both know this to be true..
You, mother, made pacts with the demons for the sake of your pathetic immortality!
You, mother, are a blight, and right there is the problem, sitting in plain sight and you never saw it, which is why my grandfather denied you your right to rule and the reason why High Woods never chose you as Her heart; neither High Woods, nor Her people are yours, mother. They are not your property or your possession nor are they your servants. Their existence is not for the benefit of your sufferance. They never were. Yet, you saw them as such even when you were a ‘happy’ little Riserin. You thought they were there for you to do as you pleased and that their lives belonged to you like they owed you their very existence.
Well, guess what, mother. They aren’t, and they don’t. Barely fifteen and Alor’Nadien ne saw this, knew this. And when she grew up to the mature, solemn woman that she is, she abandoned her title and her heritage for her people, hence there would never be a rift between them, should she dish out with her father. She knew, should she become the Rise of a divided people, she would be so for a mere century or two and believed her people deserved a better, longer, steadier, and a united reign.
But you, mother, you destroyed them all. You let our sacred forest be burned to the ground. You let our holiest place, our Bari Na-ammen be leveled to the ground because you thought you had such a right.
You, mother, were despicable then, you are despicable now. You did not change. Your follies, your arrogance, your murderous appetites, and your betrayals are indeed, there to stay, and no amount of millennia are going to wash those off you.
You, mother, killed your husband —my father, because you thought he had done his job and provided you with a toy you could mold as you pleased, then discarded him, selling his soul to the highest bidder!
You, mother, brainwashed me for one hundred and seventy years and made me help you as you destroyed our homes and our lands.
You, mother, have people no longer.. You have no home, you have no lands, you have no family, you have no children and no love.
You, mother, are all alone and will stay alone.
You, mother, are damned and will stay damned.
Back then, at least you were a High Lady, respected and honored, if not loved. Now you have neither, and will have neither. And by the Heavens, I shall make sure you are remembered as the mad, traitorous bitch that you are, always, even if I have write it down on every single bit of parchment, scratch it on every available stone, rock or pebble, or mark it on every tree from Rollins Woods to Tranquil Woods, just like I shall make sure the centuries and the millennia to come also remember you for what you are —and elves, as you very well know, mother, are excellent haters..
The only thing I wish for your is to live one thousand desolate years for every single life you caused to perish!”
Anglenna pulled just this side of total and hysterical raving.
But it sure felt good!
To have laid it all out, and without any reservation, nor having to tiptoe around her deranged mother anymore. True, it hurt her, and deeply. So much so that she felt her heart burn. But nothing she had said had missed their mark.
She knew, even as she’d spoken, that her mother, Angrellen, was now her mortal enemy, and one day, and in the not-too-distant-future, she knew she would have to face her..
..if she expected any form of peace for her cousin, Rise Alor’Nadien ne, her burly, young husband-to-be, Udoorin, and their possible line, if not for herself.
And just like that, she heard her voice.
Not her mother’s.
But that of someone else..
Someone.. big —at an existential level.
thus I accept your oath
you are the protector of mine heart
and thus are you
the guardian of her line also
Thus I accept your Oath,
You are The Protector of mine Heart.
And thus are you
The Guardian of Her line, also.
Anglenna Brightleaf heard the voice of Quarlani Ath Tel’Ora, the Spirit of High Woods, accepting her pledge as the protector and the guardian of Her Heart, Alor’Nadien ne, and her line to come..
And then, a vision She showed her..
Not of the past.
Not of the present.
But that of a fertile and pregnant future..
A vision, where Anglenna saw the image of her blushing cousin, looking demurely at her big, grumpy husband, who rampaged with mock wrath after a tiny, giggling boy and three squealing little girls pitter-pattering in the great halls of a new and bright Bari Na-ammen.
And that vision rocked Anglenna to the very foundations of her existence. Because right behind the princess, she saw herself, quite vividly, smiling at the sight of her cousin, blessed and content, her bearish husband, older now, grinning foolishly, with autumn leaves; green, orange, and yellow sweeping freely around them she saw their son, and three daughters —her nieces, as they stared at her, all happy, and all safe..
It is the lost hours of the night and three figures slink silently among the devastated remains of the once glorious city of Arashkan, deep in the dirty-gray snow.
Young Udoorin Shieldheart, the beautiful Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, and her regal cousin, High Lady Anglenna Sunsear ghost through the dead streets of the city, heading in a particular location; the old hideout of the Thieves Guild in search of a curse..
There are Orken warriors, scouts, hunters, and raiders everywhere, roaming the streets in platoons, seeking possible survivors. It is possible, there are more dangerous places in the world. From a ‘versus’ point of view, however, it is unlikely this place, at this moment, will fall short of the Citadel of Gullem the Damned!
Fate, it would seem, indeed has its own plans..
And an odd, dry sense of humor.
One might even call it ‘backhanded’..
For at this very moment, two Sunsear’s roam the carnage of this dead city; Mother and daughter, each working for quite opposite ends.
This story takes place on the evening of
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part 3/3)
“Three Dog Curse..”
and shortly after
We Are Not Your Dogs
We Are Not Your Servants
We Are Your Masters!
Here..”, said the large man as quietly as he could, though it mattered little. His ‘quiet’ was like a rumble at best, as he handed a not-so-clean, heavy fur cloak to the slim girl ghosting behind him. “..put this on, if you will, please.”
The slim girl, Princess Alor’Nadien ne stared at the filthy fur cloak questioningly.
“To cover your scent.”, Udoorin Shieldheart rumbled again.
Lorna Feymist arched her eyebrows in amusement.
“Do I smell, Sir Udoorin?”, she asked, the signs of mirth playing around her small, cherry-red mouth.
“I..”, stumbled the young man.
“I sense a nostalgic ‘Deja Vu, here.”, she smiled at him.
“You smell beautiful, my lady..”, he said with a flushed face, recalling his first, not conversation, per se, but interaction with the pretty princess, many months ago, in the depths of the ruins of Themalsar. “..which is the problem.”
“Do dig your own grave, young Udoorin.”, smirked High Lady Anglenna from somewhere in the darkness. “I have heard tell of how you destroyed our princess here, with a similar remark.”
“Please, Auntie H. I haven’t gotten over that particular blunder, yet. Princess Lorna smells wonderful. And anyone who gainsays that will do so only once. But the Orken have a keen sense of smell, unlike the dogs they are. Should they pick up her scent, there will be no getting rid of them.”, he tried to explain.
“Ahhh..”, said Anglenna with comprehension. “Though, for future reference, you should work on giving your reasons early on, preferably before telling us what to do —to fend off misunderstandings, yes?”
“Duly noted.”, Udoorin replied honestly. “Look. I am not good at.. interacting with ladies. I can’t claim any knowledge, nor experience in that area. A bit of understanding my way would be greatly appreciated.”
“Not good at interacting with ladies? I couldn’t disagree with a single sentiment more. You have garnered the affection, and the life-long bond of the heart of High Woods, young man. Suffice to say, ‘Not good with ladies’, is quite the understatement.”, she said with her own, stinging amusement.
So did the princess.
“So, where is my fur cloak, then? Or do I not smell wonderful, too?”, continued the high lady, causing the young man to squirm.
“I.. wouldn’t know, ma’am. You.. will have to find someone else to confirm that!”, Udoorin said with a cough.
“Cousin.”, said Lorna reprovingly, but with a small, quiet laugh. “Why don’t you take mine. I am sure we can find another from a dead Orken, as uncouth as that sounds.”
“No, no.. Young Udoorin here has selected that one specifically for you. We wouldn’t want to find any personal notes in it somewhere. That would really make us all blush, now, wouldn’t it?”, Anglenna teased in a tone, not at all like her usual self.
“I would not put any such notes that would embarrass Lady Lorna’s nor her reputation”, Udoorin said indignantly.
“Ow?”, asked Lorna a bit.. disappointed?
“I would tell it to her.”, mumbled the young man with a horribly failed straight face.
“Ow..”, Lorna said, with a failed straight face of her own.
Anglenna sighed in despair, turned around..
..and a sleety, frigid ray of frost stabbed out of her forefinger and something grunted in the dark. The high lady did not wait for a reaction. She sent a second beam..
..followed by a third, and a fourth!
And a large Orken stumbled out of the night and fell, face down, into the dirty-gray, slushy snow, with a burning-cold hole pierced right through its heart, its stomach, its forehead, and in one of its lungs..
Lorna dashed past her cousin and in black, swirling smoke, a glaive, nearly three yards long and ending in a thirty-inch blade with burning greenish chemical fire appeared in her hands, just as Udoorin rammed into another Orken and hacked it with his two, great battle-axes with unsuppressed fury.
“It would seem, the idea of covering our scents was a good one..”, said Anglenna as she sent a fist-sized bolt of fire flying right over Lorna’s shoulder and struck the Orken trying to come at the princess from her side. “..albeit a tad too late. The dogs are upon us.”
“Sir Udoorin..”, hissed Lorna as she swung her brutal glaive and struck the great Orken facing her, splitting it from groin to hairline, spun around as she ducked under the swing of the Orken that was trying to flank her, and jabbed it, belly first, then pushed the butt end of deadly glaive’s enchanted blade up and through its throat as it stumbled back. “..we had better finish this batch with haste. We lack the time to entertain ourselves with such frivolities.”
“Agreed.”, growled the huge young man, struck one Orken on its shoulder with one of his axes, opening a horrible, diagonal gash, as he head-butted the next, and brought down his other axe when it dropped on the ground. The creature had a bare moment to scream before it fell silent.
By the time they were done, Udoorin was holding Lorna’s hand and rushing down a long, dark alley, followed closely by Anglenna.
“I think we lost them.”, said Udoorin as he breathed harshly. It didn’t matter how strong you were. If you were not born in the wild Northern Tundras, running in full armor and through icy snow wore you down. Then he looked down at the slim girl, who was nursing her hand and wrist. “I am sorry if I was a bit abrupt with your person, Lady Lorna. We just had to get out of there and fast, before more of them arrived.”
“It is alright Dorin. It only hurt a little and only because I was taken by surprise when you grabbed my hand and started running.
“..and nearly dislocated her shoulder.”, added Anglenna with a clearly disapproving tone. “You are aware that the princess can run faster than you, right? Considering she is wearing lighter armor than you are, and because she is a feymist..”
“Uhhmm.. Yes.. She’s better than me in everything she does.. But I like to hold her hand when we run. We can’t get separated that way and it makes me feel she is safer that way. It’s a guy thing!”, said Udoorin a bit flustered.
“A guy thing? Young man, you can’t do your guy things around a princess. And you really should be a bit more gentle with her. The fact that you and she are now bonded and plan a life together, should not diminish that capacity in you, but enhance it, hmm?”
“It really is alright, cousin.”, Lorna tried to object.
“No, dear. It is not. Our young man here is strong. Neither of us has any doubts about that. But uncontrolled strength is harmful.. to your wrists if not to your dignity. One day this war will end, hopefully in our favor. We will then return to High Woods, replant our trees, and rebuild Bari Na-ammen. And young Udoorin here will be sitting next to you in his own throne as Ri.. or King.. I would hazard a guess, it would be rather disgraceful of him, if not awkward, should he manhandle you in public the way he just did, don’t you think?”
“The war is long from over, Anglenna.”, Lorna said quietly. “And we can think of such tender details when their appointed time arrives.”
“No, dear.”, repeated Anglenna and not unlike a harsh matron, who was dismantling a particularly pigheaded and foolish child. Or perhaps, quite like her own mother had done to her, when she, herself, had been particularly dimwitted. “Somethings must be put to practice as early as possible, hence they take hold and such embarrassing accidents are avoided because they never occur. You know what my mother thinks of humans, dear. You certainly know what your father felt about them despite his wife —your mother, and we both know their view was not all that uncommon among the elves of High Woods. Do not give your people any excuse to let your future husband and king besmirch himself, and you, by proxy.”
There was a moment of awkward silence.
“Auntie H. is right.”, came Udoorin’s voice from the darkness. “Personally, I do not care what anybody but you would think of me, one way or the other. But since you have your mind all set on making me a Ri.. or a king.. certain protocols must be observed, for your benefit, if nothing else. Like I said. I do not care what anybody thinks of me, other than you, but I will not have you accused of having a stupid Mox for husband, either.”
Anglenna stared at the large young man who favored big, brutal axes over longswords and rapiers, and whom she would have kindly described using words like ‘lump’, ‘oaf’, or even ‘boorish’.
Lorna also stared at him, but with elation.
“I could handle a bit of rough.”, she said with a small voice.
“In private, perhaps. And only if you want to. But you shouldn’t have to handle any ‘rough’ in public. You are what you are, love. And you shouldn’t be less than that to make me appear more. I should raise above, and make you more. When your people look at us, they should say, ‘They go well together and complete one another..'”
“Well.”, said Anglenna, with a voice that sounded surprised and a bit perplexed. “Very good, young man. It is decent of you to see what is right and proper for our princess and act accordingly.”
Young Udoorin grinned.
“But of course, Auntie H.. Henceforth, I shall grab the princess by the waist and carry her off whole! Less chance of wrist injuries that way.”
✱ ✱ ✱
The three stood still and silent as another platoon of heavily armed Orken trampled by. For the past near-six hours, they had made their way from High Spires to what was left of the Lights Temple where they had witnessed hundreds upon hundreds of civilians —men, women, and children— guards, priests, and temple guardians slaughtered and stacked into horrible and ghastly heaps. They had given a wide berth to the shattered and broken First Lord’s Palace where it seemed, some people had remained and were still willing to fight to the inevitable end. Though very much burned down and still smoking, they had traveled through Heaven Park, ran, snuck and cut their way past the totally destroyed Officers District, scathed through the looted Merchants District, and had just dashed past the collapsed Alls Temple where a very large boulder, possibly from an Orken mangonel had landed.
They had ended up backtracking their steps many times to find negotiable paths due to collapsed or still burning walls, homes, and towers, or because there were just too many of the savage Orken troops blocking their way.
The comparison to the many times they had wandered around in this city during their earlier stay as opposed to now was heartbreaking. For Udoorin, the besieging, and consequently, the capturing of a city was understandable and there was bound to be extensive damage to the city walls and some damage to the structures near the city walls due to stray catapult boulders. No one really blamed a catapult operator for being overtly accurate, after all, and when one spoke of mangonels, the word accuracy sort of became moot, as a boulder fired from a house-sized contraption not only crushed its mark but also leveled the block as well, which, by definition, was what ‘collateral damage’ pretty much meant.
This city, however, hadn’t been besieged. Not with the intention of subduing it for political, economical, or even some malignant ideological reasons, nor had there been any punitive intent behind it..
It had been utterly destroyed.
And with her people.
There were indeed no political, economical, and/or ideological reasons —or excuses— behind this destruction. The populace here had never discriminated, suppressed, or exploited the Orken, nor had they, in any way, tried to assimilate them —seeing as their whole existence had hardly even been known to the general populace, and those that did know about them were an extremely small and specific percentage of the said populace.
The Orken had come.
And the Orken had taken..
They had taken the land.
Not Arashkan, not High Woods, nor Bari Na-ammen.
Just the land.
The fact that over a million lives were already living there, and that they had families, homes, and fields had not even been of a moment’s shrug for the Orken.
The Orken had merely cleared the weeds..
..to phrase it in the most brutally inhumane and crude way!
Udoorin’s face turned black at the comprehension of that sinister attitude. And yes. That is exactly what it was. A purely sinister attitude.
Historically speaking, people with low self-esteem did have a tendency to claim a certain superiority in their existence by arrogantly attaching ideologies that always seemed to involve some form of divine favor on their part that, interestingly, never entailed honest, hard work, and then went ahead and tried to justify the whole debacle by way of buffing it further with some form of convoluted philosophies.
However the whole thing was laid out or phrased in a politically correct manner, and at the end of the day, it was a farce; a matter of not high ideals, but a matter of low self-esteems and attitude disorders.
The nuanced difference here was, although the Orken did what they did, and with very bloody and nearly impartial savagery, they hadn’t done it to elevate any such petty existential reasons as ‘low self-esteems’ on their part.
They had done it all with a certain attitude, sure. Just not for low self-esteem.
Udoorin found it quite difficult to correctly describe the difference mainly because it was just too inhuman. Had it been humans who had done this atrocity, he could have easily called it cruel and ‘inhumane’, but that was it, wasn’t it? The Orken was not human in any way to find a common, relatable point.
Which was why, he surmised, they looked upon humans —along with elves, dwarves, gnomes, and other races— as weeds..
True, that young Udoorin himself had entertained every encounter he faced with loosely controlled fury. And also true that he did have a tendency to cut down his opponents to quite a number of unnecessary pieces. But he never went as far as mindlessly chopping any and everyone down to indiscernible parts with such indiscriminate savagery.
For Udoorin, the defining line was clear; if anyone, or anything, came at him or his friends with drawn weapons, claws, or started shooting arrows, bolts, spells, and/or any other bodily or non-bodily parts, or they just needed to be stopped from causing harm to others, namely civilians, he butchered them..
..down to indiscernible parts.
And for the young man, that was quite a philosophical distinction; there was, after all, and obviously, a conflict of interest there, as he strongly believed that he was protecting humanity, and not limited to said race, per se, and that he also represented the law, as loosely as that actually was true.
“Let said blades, claws, or great axes, in his case, decide!”
For the Orken, however, none of such distinctions or definitions existed. They came, they swept the lands of its occupants by way of total and brutal economy and moved on!
Young Udoorin remembered their first true encounter, or rather, their first time being at the recipient end of an ambush by the Orken several months ago somewhere in Two Day Woods. He recalled what the last remaining Orken had said —spat, really— even though he’d been captured, disarmed, and bound by a spell Maser Gnine had cast. He had shown absolutely no fear whatsoever, but rabidly frothed at the mouth as he had cast his spiteful madness at them with pure, unadulterated hatred;
I shall rip out your arms, and shall I watch the face of your pain. Whilst I see, you have thus suffered enough, shall I tear off your legs and gnaw upon them even as you watch. And unto the day I have broken your will and your spirit, thus shall I cut the flesh off your bones! When you have witnessed how thoroughly we have risen above you and yours, shall I know, you are now truly broken. Then, and only then, shall I burn what remains of you, alive, and shall I allow you to die!
And he also remembered, subsequently, how the otherworldly girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu, had stabbed the creature where it lay on the ground with cold and deliberate precision, right through its heart, and very, very slowly.. as she’d explained, in succinct detail, just how these creatures, the Orken, perceived the world; not in black and white, but ONLY IN BLACK!
Udoorin scowled and tried not to show any of his findings on his face. The ladies were troubled enough as they were. Also, the finer points of it all were sort of moot at the moment anyway and the night was almost over. Either they would need to find a very secluded place to hide come dawn, which seemed unlikely, or they really needed to get to the old Thieves Guild’s entrance before said dawn.
Udoorin had never been much of a tracker, nor a pathfinder as he’d never had any such training. He had, however, visited many of the inns in the past months, while he had gone incognito, a bit on Aager’s ‘polite’ orders, trying to learn the whereabouts of the infamous rebellion, Gar Thalot. In the end, they had found the half-orc insurgent.. and played right into his bloody hands..
Pushing Gar Thalot aside, the young man did recognize the area even though it had been leveled downed and into the ground; they were very close to the inn they had stayed in, at The Rundown!
And the area was crawling with Orken..
..or rather trampling.. or even stampeding!
And in the dark, where he and the two ladies stood, silent and still, he rumbled to himself.
“Perhaps Gar Thalot need not be pushed aside..”
“Hmmm?”, asked Lorna whispered from right behind him.
“Gar Thalot.”, Udoorin whispered back. “Just saw him sulking off into that big tent where there is a lot of Orken.”
Both the princess and Anglenna looked at one another with grim, one-thousand-yard stares.
“Bad idea, love.”, inserted Udoorin hastily, showing unexpected wisdom, quite above his usual self. “I would like to hack at him with an axe or three myself, but I do not think it is practical, nor feasible. Not at the moment anyway.”
“If we can kill that murdering bastard..”, hissed Anglenna with vehement heat. “..we could avenge a whole city of people.”
“I very much agree with my cousin.”, added Lorna, her green eyes burning with an uncanny fire of her own.
“Or we could get butchered and neither avenge anyone nor be able to do what we came here to do.”, said Udoorin carefully.
“I think we should ambush him the moment he comes out of the tent.”, said Anglenna, her long, elegant fingers fidgeting with the urge to set something ablaze
“Sir Udoorin could charge him while I could feymist right behind him and skewer him like a stuck pig and cousin Anglenna can burn him where he stands, quite unmoving!”, hissed Lorna, as she summoned her great hexblade!
“Uhhhmm..”, the young man said somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of the two ladies.
“Yes.”, agreed, Anglenna looking eagerly at Lorna. “If you drop everything you got on him—”
“—I can. I am not one hundred percent at the moment but what I do have should suffice.”, said Lorna eagerly.
“Ladies..”, Udoorin said weakly as he scratched his head.
“Once you do skewer him, I can immolate the pig.”
“Nice.. While he burns, I can also curse him. He will be much more susceptible to attacks then!”
“If he still manages to live through that, I could always banish him. When he returns, we can rinse-repeat!”
“I can’t believe this!”, said Udoorin in a slightly freaked tone. “I, of all people, am calling both the ladies here to see reason! Really, now. There is no way we can catch him unawares and bring him down in time before anyone else notices us or he calls for backup. Girls, please!”
“I am slightly put out with you, young man.”, Anglenna said with pursed lips and frowned at him, slightly disappointed.
“As am I, dear Dorin. I would have thought you would shown a bit more brevity on your part.”, Lorna said, clearly heartbroken.
Udoorin’s face went red.
“That.. was very much uncalled for, Lorna. When have you ever seen the lack of courage or brevity on my part?”, he fumed angrily. “We are here to make sure this city becomes uninhabitable by the Orken, not to entertain ourselves by getting sidetracked. And you, Lady Anglenna, of all people, are supposed to be the voice of reason. I know you dislike being made a fool of, but Thalot did not deceive just you, he tricked everyone. Now. I am going to go and look for the entrance to the old Thieves Guild. I would much rather have the two of you come with me, and before dawn, which should happen in less than forty minutes by my estimation because I can’t get to, nor release that ‘Three Dog Curse’ without either of you. And we have yet to find the entrance!”
There was a moment of shameful silence as the two ladies stared at their own feet.
“I apologize, young man.”, Anglenna said after a while. “You are right and admirably task-oriented. We do have a job to do.”
With that, she turned around and silently started towards the alleged entrance to the old Thieves Guild.
“I have shamed myself by shaming you, my Rin. I will make up to you in whatever way I may.”, said Lorna softly and in a barely audible voice.
“Stay focused and stay alive, my Alor’Nadien ne. That is all I wish of you.”, said Udoorin.
Then, with an unexpected show of ‘brevity’, he reached down at the slim girl, and carefully bear-hugged her, and landed a kiss on her surprised, cherry-red mouth.
“And that..”, he said with a flushed face. “..was for questioning my courage!”
✱ ✱ ✱
You are not picking up your calls, daughter. You really shouldn’t ignore your mother..”, came the voice of High Lady Angrellen.
“I am not picking up your calls because you have shamed me, mother. You have shamed us all..”, fumed the high elf girl in silent wrath. “No. You have DAMNED us all, mother!”
“A fine, noblewoman such as yourself, does not get to talk to her mother like that, my daughter. Not after all the trouble, I went through in giving birth to you, raising you, and training you into becoming the strong woman that you are now..”, replied Angrellen with a slightly petulant tone.
“I am shunned and looked upon with spite, and a whole horde of people want me dead wherever I go at the best of times. You think you have given me a life to live for? No, mother. You have ruined everyone against me.”, Anglenna seethed.
“Don’t be naive, my daughter. You are a sorceress by birth because it was I, who chose the correct bloodline for you. You are what you are, because of my blood and because of the father I chose for you. I have made you independent and free of all yokes. You answer to no one, and that is my doing. You have an affinity to fire and that is because of my contacts and my contracts to the Lords of Hell. You blaze like the sun when you bring down your wrath, and that wrath is also my doing. I gave you my own profound knowledge of the arcane arts and made sure you received the best education Bari Na-ammen had to offer, and that too was my doing. You are barely a mature elf girl and look how far you have thus come. Tell me, my daughter, which of those were truly your own doing?”, the voice of Angrellen hissed in her daughter’s mind.
A long pause ensued after that, where Anglenna thought about a suitable answer.
Then it all came to her.
This was what her mother had done all her life.
She had made her feel like she owed everything she had done, every accomplishment and achievement she had attained to her. And she had made her feel like she was nothing, and would stay nothing had it not been for her.
Anglenna let go of her mother’s hook and line, for she woke up to the fact that she had made up her mind, and her choice and she was done with her mother and her machinations..
“Tell me, mother.”, she sent her thought quietly and calmly. “Did you kill my father?”
Apparently, this was not something the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen had expected to be confronted with.
“Let’s not go there, dear.”, replied Angrellen.
“We are there, mother. Did you kill my father?”, repeated Anglenna.
“Your father was a decent man, as men seldom are, my daughter. I think we should leave it at that, why don’t we?”
“No, mother. Let’s not leave it at that. Did you kill my father, or did you not?”
“You are not mature enough to face certain facts of life yet, dear girl. Suffice to say, he did his job giving me a progeny. Beyond that, he was quite useless, and would surely have become an obstacle for my plans..”, sniffed Angrellen.
“To which facts of life are you referring to, that I am not mature enough to face, mother? That you spent your last thousand years plotting and scheming against your own father, then against Alor’Nadien ne’s father —your King, and seeing as how you would refuse to answer a simple question and talk about him as an obstacle, I could safely assume you murdered my father as well because everyone knows what High Lady Angrellen does to things that get in her way.. You, mother, caused the ultimate ruination of High Woods and Bari Na-ammen, the sacred lands of the first high elves since Year One. You, mother, caused the destruction of our homes and our lives. You, mother, annihilated everything that which was sacred and holy and that mattered to us. You, mother, have forever damned the elf race with your selfish machinations. And thanks to you, mother, no one shall ever trust an elf ever again. We shall always be looked upon with mistrust and be forced to seclusion.. and die out alone in this world. You, mother, are a disgrace and an unholy traitor.”, Anglenna burned with hate.
“I would rather you did not talk to me in that tone, my daughter. Come far, you have, but you do not want me seeking you out and reminding you your manners.”, said her mother lightly, though she could not hide the ominous tone in her voice.
Angrellen was angry.
“No, mother. This is the only kind of manners you shall ever receive from me. You have destroyed and murdered everything I valued. From this day forth, my soul purpose shall be making sure the one person you wanted ‘gone’ the most, even more than Grandaleren, is alive, well, and happy. Should the day come and she faces you, I shall be there —between you and her!”
“Should that day come, you too shall die then, my daughter.”, Angrellen’s resigned voice came.
“Then it shall be a good death, for once I am dead, you truly will be alone, and in every sense possible, for whatever promises your demon lords gave, they shall not keep, because you are you and you will make a mistake that will bring their rebuke upon you..”, Anglenna said, trying very hard to stay calm but she couldn’t hide her own smoldering hate either.
Another pause ensued and for a moment, she thought her mother had cut the connection.
“This can all be fixed, you know?”, said Angrellen unexpectedly. “All you have to do is kill that pretty little creature for me.. You don’t even have to do it yourself. Accidents do happen, after all.”
“You are despicable, mother. That ‘pretty little creature’ saved my life knowing full well that it would end hers. That ‘pretty little creature’ has been the only person that has ever shown me honest and genuine affection, kindness, and friendship. People who would have killed me do not because that ‘pretty little creature’ demeaned herself and begged them not to.. I shall never betray her.”
“You misunderstand your relation with that half-elf mongrel, my daughter.”, Angrellen said. “The sheep serve. That is their sole purpose in life. And the lion does not owe to the sheep.”
“You are not a lion, mother.”, hissed her daughter.
“I beg to differ, my dear..”
“You, mother, are a jackal, and the last of the Sunsears shall die with you, for I have ceased to be a Sunsear. From this day forth, I shall be known as a Brightleaf, like my father before me.. You, and the line of Sunsears shall be abhorred wherever you go, but the line of Brightleaf shall be honored as the guardians of Rise Alor’Nadien ne Feymist and her line for as long as I live, and through me, for as long as my father’s line shall live..”
The silence that followed was vicious and Anglenna thought she heard her mother breathing harshly as if seething and couldn’t help but feel a certain, child-like elation. She would have given quite a bit to see her mother’s face just then, preferably from a far and safe distance.
“You really want me to come and find you, don’t you, dear?”, said Angrellen finally and it was very clear she was very, very angry now.
“Mother, why?”, asked Anglenna.
“To teach you some manners. Being away from the refined has apparently made you coarse. You really should be a bit pickier about the company you keep.”
“You misunderstand my question, mother.”, Anglenna said, reflecting her mother’s choice in words. “Why? Why have you done, what you have done? What was lacking in your life that you went thus far to destroy everything and everyone around you to achieve? You had a daughter who loved you. You had a husband who adored you. You had wealth and you had status par to Grandaleren.. What was it that was worth more than all of that?”
The high lady did not immediately give her answer. It seemed she weighed it against some possible weakness she might inadvertently reveal.
Then, as if giving an uncaring shrug, she spoke with calm and distant deliberation.
“Found it!”, came Udoorin’s rumbling voice from just ahead, and in the shallow, pre-dawn light.
We Are Not Your Dogs.
We Are Not Your Servants.
We Are Your Masters!
War comes as we speak.
The folk of Serenity Home, along with the refugees of the deceased Arashkan city and burned Bari Na-ammen work day and night, and desperately, through winter to prepare for what’s coming.
Where the enemy is, and what they are doing, however, remains a mystery..
..to those who do not know!
Rumour has it, a large chunk of it has..
The man in the deep, dark, hooded robes stared at the smoking ruins around him with mild disinterest. There wasn’t a foot’s length of flat, clear space to be seen anywhere. Mass rubble; broken bricks, shattered tiles, splintered and charred wood, glass shards of thousands of broken windows, bent and deformed metal shafts, and upheaved cobblestones littered the ground —all that once used to be houses and homes or public buildings and temples, inns, schools, restaurants, merchant stalls and artisan workshops, hospitals, and mansions —the things that made a great city, turned it all into something that was now sad and indiscernible, making it impossible for a foot to find any flat and clear landing.
The man in his deep, dark hood, raised the guttering torch in his hand, but not to much effect. Even the torch seems unable to breathe at the ghastly sight that went in every direction.. It would have been, he surmised, quite better had the Orken not done such a mess as they had. The brutes, he thought, did nothing without leaving a bloody carnage behind them. And they were despairingly independent and lacked base discipline.
The hooded man also thought perhaps he should count his blessings that they had all moved in the same general direction and that Arashkan just happened to get in the way of their general direction!..
..And that it was night ..and winter ..where slushy, filthy-gray snow covered everything and the darkness hid what the snow couldn’t, and the air was still filled with choking smoke, hiding the sight of thousands of butchered, mutilated, seared and bloated corpses that lay everywhere, and smothered their scent of rotting meat!
Had this been a regular army, he surmised, the city would have been intact, more or less, and they would have had many, many more live and able prisoners put to work fixing the city walls and made some of the buildings habitable again..
But then, had this been a regular army, in all likeliness, the once-great Arashkan would still be here, standing..
The brutality of the Orken was something one just couldn’t dismiss.
When horded together in tens of thousands, it would seem, their brutality was bested only by their savagely..
The hooded man held his steps as another platoon of the beasts trampled past him in harsh grunts, holding tall glaring torches of their own in one hand, jagged-edged axes, frightfully curving arakhs or seemingly similar, but hooked khopeshs in the other..
..and without so much as a cursory glance in his direction.. nor anything that resembled any form of a military salute.
The man in his deep, dark, hooded robes felt.. casually dismissed..
He had no doubt they had recognized him. Those they did not, were all dead, after all..
Not that he cared, but the city, this city had fallen due to his planning, his foresight, his machinations, and his secret, behind-the-scene political maneuvering, hence, being deliberately and so impudently ignored.. not so much bothered, but irritated him.
“Savage brutes..”, he fumed.
“Yes. They are.”, said a cold, imperious feminine voice from somewhere down a dark side-alley. “It would seem your planning has a lot of glaring holes in it.”
The hooded man held his breath for a still second, then breathed.
“High Lady Angrellen Sunsear..”, he said with unveiled disdain..
..and in long, dark blue velvet dress embroidered at its fringes with silver threads of curving and swirling designs, came out the very tall high elf woman, her white-blond hair braided and done up and into an intricate bun, behind and on top of her long, somewhat delicate face. A face that spoke many words varying from hunger that had little to do with nurturing, to lust that had nothing to do with passion.
Perhaps, once, some very, very long time ago, this tall, beautiful, regal woman might have been pretty, in terms of a soul. That soul, however, was long gone. Only said hungers and lusts etched the face of the very beautiful woman now..
“..Or should I just call you Angrellen the Betrayer? That is what you are, after all, aren’t you?”
“No more than you are.”, replied High Lady Angrellen as she strode out of the alley. “Or should I call you—?”
“—You are damned as it is, woman. Should you name me, you shall be dead as well!”, cut in the man in the deep hooded robe.
High Lady Angrellen paused.
But not for long.
As an evil and infuriating smile stretched across her, otherwise coldly beautiful face.
“I do not fear you, mortal.”, she hissed at the man.
“And I care that you do or don’t?”, replied the man with a barely veiled sneer. “Perhaps, by having sold out your own, causing thousands upon thousands of your kin to die and being the architect of the ruination of Bari Na-ammen and High Woods has gained you some small favor in the eyes of my Master, and quite unrestrained airs, apparently.. Should I remind you, however, a betrayer is, and always be just that; a betrayer. Never trusted, never reliable, and always loathed.”
“I have gained my immortality. Hence your petty remarks are just that; petty!”, retorted the high lady viciously.
“No, girl. You have merely gained longevity, not immortality. You can and will still die.. The outcome of your damned soul is sealed.. Do not despair, though. Your long centuries to come will, I am sure, give you much time to contemplate on your long line of betrayals.. I was against the idea of letting you live, and I still believe you should be summarily beheaded and everything about you should be burned with scourging Hell-Fire. I detest harlots!”
“I would have a care to what you say if I were you.”, said High Lady Angrellen ominously. “You are not indispensable.”
“And neither are you. I am ready to face my Master’s wrath. Are you?”, replied the hooded man, and not so diffidently. “Oh wait, you don’t have a master. You, my dear girl, are an ephemeral and glorified tool!“
“No, boy, we serve the same master!”, very nearly spat the high lady.
“I serve.. and as His High Priest, I might add. You, on the other hand, serve only yourself.”, said the man calmly and in a matter-of-fact voice.
Angrellen tried for a shrug, but it was apparent she was much taken by the man’s disgust.
“I can serve me more, should you test my tolerance any further. The Master has many priests, high or otherwise. He has, but only one of me.”, she fumed.
“With nothing more than the Orken —beasts one could hardly do anything that requires surgical precision, I have managed to orchestrate the downfall of the greatest city in the Kingdom of Isles, and in less than fifty years of effort. It was I, who created the whole Gar Thalot concept, his rebellion, and the civil unrest. It was I, who played the political animals of this city with my machinations to make sure the Arashkan army stayed in their own base instead of defending the city walls even though their ARIS had serious suspicions of the potential of an imminent attack. The destruction of their mangonels, the murdering of the First Lord Kaladin, his son and his daughters, and much more that I care to list here, were all my doing. You, on the other hand, had more than a thousand years to work with and unlimited personal funding at your disposal.. One would think you would have made yourself the Rise of Bari Na-ammen by then. But no.. You couldn’t rid your lands off a human strumpet that your Ri took for a wife. Not only did you fail to rid us of Grandaleren in time to be of any significance, but you also allowed his human whore to escape along with his daughter and her daughter’s companions.. You failed to even take High Spires under your command, resulting in thousands of Arashkan civilians and military assets to take refuge there and consequently escape the city via ships. No, wait, allow me to reiterate that for you; you had High Spires under your command, yet you let it get bested out of your hands by your niece —an eighteen-year-old girl! Dammit, woman, you were given a curse to lay waste this entire city, and you let that get stolen. You were supposed to have come to us with your own daughter, yet rumor has it she was sighted in the city —this city— in the company of a large, brute of a man and a certain Princess of Bari Na-ammen, no less, fighting the Orken! Not to mention, you had the one job here and that was to find the last surviving heir to Arashkan, an eight-year-old boy, Prince Korodin, and you botched that job as well, while he escaped right under your nose. I am trying very hard to come up with a polite way to phrase your consecutive, cumulative, and conclusive incompetence, but it just isn’t coming! So do tell me, high lady, to which unique aspect of yourself are you referring to? Other than being a monumental failure, I mean..”, said the man with his calm voice. Yet the loathe in that calm was so palpable, one could almost reach out and hold it.. Then, under his deep hood, he smiled. “Do not despair, though. Your long centuries to come will, I am sure, give you much time to contemplate on your long line of failures, also..”
The face of the once high lady turned dark and ugly. Her slender hands clenched into fists and dark shadows gathered around them.
“By all means, girl, try your ‘hands’ on me.. Succeed to slay me, and you shall fail when you face my Master while you try and explain why you slew His High Priest. Fail to slay me and you shall add ‘A Failure’ to your tombstone, right next to ‘The Betrayer Of Her Own Kin’.. And trust me when I say, I shall end up having to explain nothing to my Master should I smite you down and bring your broken corpse to him for display.. or your ashes.. To be honest, I don’t really care, which. Either will do fine. Or perhaps I shall keep you alive and take you to him barely breathing. I know for a fact, He does enjoy mortal wenches screaming bloody in his bed as he rips their legs apart!”, the man said, with barely contained mirth.
For a long, wrathful moment, High Lady Angrellen contemplated murder, High Priest or not.
Then, just like that, she calmed down.
“Your attempts to rile me shall have its consequences, High Priest. But I shall decide when and where.”, she said with an almost pleasant smile.
The hooded man grunted with open disgust.
“Coward.”, he spat.
“You are confusing planning ahead with cowardice.”, she replied with a shrug.
“No. I am not. You. Are. A. Coward..”, he seethed. “Something I truly wished you weren’t and actually did try your hand on me.. But I guess you are just another stupid elf bitch.”
“You really shouldn’t try so hard. You will strain something.. Now, if you are done, perhaps we can go and talk to the Orken Mother and tell her to stop butchering everything they find in this bloody city. We will need many mortal’s souls to summon some demons should we want to conquer the east coast of the kingdom, come spring, and that tends to work better when they are still alive before being sacrificed for the summoning rituals! It’s fine with me though. I gave the Master what he wished of me; High Woods and Bari Na-ammen, even though it took me a thousand years, as you say. My further contributions here are purely voluntary..”, Angrellen said, not reserving her infuriating smile.
“You never do anything that isn’t self-serving, Angrellen. So you can skip with the ‘voluntary’ nonsense.”, growled the man with the deep hood.
The high lady shrugged.
“Perhaps. But I guess you will never know, seeing as you will die of old age, if not in some stinking ditch, slain by your enemies.”, she sneered at him.
“I disliked elves before. I loath them just by knowing you, wench! But I know what you are truly after.. You want Gullem’s spot..”
“That information, I am afraid, is quite above your pay grade, priest. Now, you will either come with me and explain to the Orken Mother why she had better stop the butchery, or you can explain to your Master why we still haven’t started summoning his Infernal Troops into this world yet.”, she replied disdainfully.
“Why don’t you talk to her?”, asked the high priest, and not without spite. “I am sure that conversation will go perfectly well. I can just about imagine the Greater Orken Mother being extremely cordial with the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen.”
“Don’t be senile. I doubt she knows who I am, and I hardly think she will listen to me. You, on the other hand, she knows, and very much dislikes.”, said Angrellen viscously.
“And I need you why, then?”
“I am here merely as your.. how do you humans say? Wingman? Or was it back up?”, she said with an evil smile.
“You? You are going to back me?”, scoffed the hooded man.
“But, of course.. Not! I am here to watch you humiliate yourself!”, she said with lazy laughter.
✱ ✱ ✱
The human with the long talks, the demands, and the machinations is here, again, Mother.”, growled the huge Orken warrior with the many scars on his hands, arms, shoulders, and face. His one eye glared with an unholy light while his other eye, a milky, slashed, and dried mess, stared ahead, quite unmoving and petrified.
“Has he brought us any gifts?”, came the grating voice of the Greater Orken Mother, from the dim canopy of her tribal pavilion, set amongst the ruins of what was once an inn, and behind the shattered Alls Temple, in the slums of the decimated Arashkan city. The pavilion itself was quite large and wide, with many brazers burning fitfully here and there and thick, rich carpets that probably belonged to some fateless noble once, were rolled out on the cleared debris of the inn, and several divans and many colorful cushions gave the ‘tent’ a somewhat ‘deliberately’ over-done appearance.
“It is possible, Mother..”, replied the scared Orken. “..He does have a skinny elf loshka with him.”
“Huh.. Perhaps he thinks my appetites go that way.”, rumbled the voice of the Orken Mother. “Let him in. I tire of his demands and his machinations. But he has proven his mettle and has helped us conquer this great city.”
“You are hoping he will have outlived his ‘mettle’, Mother..”, grinned the milky-eyed Orken.
“Yes. Yes, I do..”, growled the Orken Mother from the dimness of her pavilion.
The scared Orken grinned again and left.
“Humans..”, snorted the Greater Orken Mother in disgust. “..And their endless demands like we owe them something.”
A few moments later, the scared Orken returned, pushing the pavilion’s heavy flaps aside with his large, powerful hands but did not hold them open for the ‘guests’.
The heavy leather flaps swung back and closed..
..right into the the hooded man’s ‘face’ and the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen just stared at the whole thing.
“The lack of base courtesy in your beasts is astounding.”, murmured Angrellen with the slightest sign of irritation.
The hooded man shrugged and pulled the flaps open..
..and let them drop right into the high lady’s face!
“Really? You will go that low?”, fumed Angrellen and pushed the flaps herself and entered the pavilion, seething at the clear disrespect. “This is intolerable.”
“And who gave this runt of an elf loshka, the leave to speak, I wonder?”, said the deep, rumbling voice from the depts of the tent. “I did not. Did you, Kadar’ka?”
“I did not either, Mother. Perhaps, a bit like the human, it too believes we owe it something.”, replied the scared Orken, staring at Angrellen with one glaring and one, milky-white, eye.
“Shall we ask it, then?”, said the Greater Orken Mother..
..and rose from her divan, pushing the lush cushions aside.
What came out of the dim end of the pavilion was..
A hugeness not merely in size, nor in the depth and breadth of her massive arms, shoulders, torso, and legs.
Her hugeness was in her eyes and what they telegraphed;
Unrefined brutality and primeval savagery untouched by anything remotely soft, nor civilized.
This was not a creature that took by the strength of her arms and will.
This was a creature that took.
And when she looked upon those around her with the uncanny intensity of her eyes, she told them, clearly as if by words, should they stand in her way, they would only contribute to ‘collateral damage’ and nothing bloody less.
Seeing as what she had done to Arashkan, a city that had stood for over a thousand years, and in under a week or two, she was probably right.
Angrellen Sunsear arched her brows and cooly gazed at the massive creature..
..and shut up!
The man in the deep, hooded robes coughed.
“Orken Mother. I have come to ask you to seize the butchering of civilians. We need them—”, he began.
“—Your needs are not mine, human.”, cut in the Orken Mother, showing little to no emotion on her brutish face. “We killed and we died to conquer this land. The lives of everything in it are now ours to do as we please. Thus we were promised. And thus shall we reap. Until then, you may either watch the slaughter or be part of it.”
“My Master has His orders given, Orken. Do not get above yourself. You conquered these lands because I willed it so. You won this city because I planed it so. Had you not been given the device to hide you and yours, and the city’s defenses downed, I doubt your victory would have been thus great. Must I remind you just who is in charge, here?”, gritted the man from inside his deep hood.
“And do you feel in charge? Perhaps you are under the misguided impression that because you did what you did, you own us?“, stared the Orken Mother balefully at him.
Then she rose to her full height and gave him, and the skinny elf loshka, her uncanny gaze.
A gaze that said, your lives shall depend on how well you listen..
“You must understand, human, for these are the words of I, Guntha’Shar, the Orken Mother;
We are not your dogs.
We are not your servants.
We are your Masters, now!
Should you want to test us, by all means, do.
Tell your master, the Orken are here to stay. Not here to be pawns. If he wants sacrifices for his rituals, perhaps he should overrun the Demon Wall and conquer his own lands. The humans here, however, are ours. We shall have them for pleasure, we shall work them for labor, or we shall slay them for food and for entertainment. They are all ours to do as we please. And come spring, we shall have more.. They shall see us coming and they shall not, and they shall despair, for we shall stretch from one horizon to the other, and we shall be around them, above them, behind them and among them, for we are!
I shall go forth and make my own and I shall leave a kingdom to rule for my son, Guntha’Gar..”
And a tall, well-built man and orc also stepped out of the dimness of the pavilion.
A man and orc made of harsh, tight, cord muscle, keen, cunning eyes, and a cruel, sinister face..
A man and orc, no other than Gar Thalot himself!
With his cunning gaze, he stared at the hooded man and the high elf noblewoman.
“Indeed.”, he said with his low, gravelly voice. “I believe we should add them to the pile of corpses we have prepared next to the First Lords shattered palace to match in height. I am sure the wench would make excellent tallow!”
“Have a care, Thalot.”, sneered Angrellen. “Should you raise your hand against me, you will find, I am not one of your usual easy marks.”
“It speaks. And it makes threats.”, Gar Thalot observed with mild amusement. And slowly drew a long, ugly-looking dagger from his belt.
“No, son..”, growled his mother quietly. “Its time will come, for it is shunned by all, disdained by all, and loathed by all.. and no matter where it runs, no matter where it hides, death will find it in due time.. It shall never have a tent to its own, it shall never have mates nor cubs, for its heart is dead and its womb is cold and the only thing that can come out of it are squirming, poisonous bastards. Little pity have I felt for any beast as I have felt for it, for it shall not even have a stone to mark its death. Such is the destiny of betrayers!”
Then she turned to the hooded man.
“I have said my piece, human. Should I want your counsel, I shall summon you.. Its counsel, I doubt even your master shall ever seek. Otherwise, should you and your loshka be here come dawn, you and it shall be tallow.”
For a long moment, the deep, hooded man in his robes stood silent.
When he finally spoke, it was in hushed tones.
“Very well.. I shall convey your words to my Master, Orken Mother.”
Then, without further due, he turned around and left, followed closely by the skinny elf loshka..
✱ ✱ ✱
You know, I disliked humans before. I loathed them after Nadina came to High Woods. Knowing you, I actually pity them now. Your lives are worth nothing, yet you walk this earth as if you own it. You stare at the horizon like it owes you something. And then you look at the heavens and make demands.. Your idiocy is bested only by your base arrogance.. And of all the humans I have thus met, I pity you the most..”
“..You punned me for my failures, but at least Nadina Graciousward was a power in her own right and had strong ties to many known and unknown, yet equally powerful allies all around the kingdom..”
“..And yes, I might have been bested by her eighteen-year-old daughter, back then, considering she comes from a human mother and an incompetent fool of a father, and hence, against all expectations, is in truth a girl of heightened grace, honest elegance, devote sincerely, an iron will, and, young as she may be, a woman of innate insight and wisdom for people.. When that girl speaks, people listen.. When she beckons, they follow.. She could have been the Rise of her people had she so much as sniffed in her father’s direction. But she chose to leave, rather than to confront, overthrow and disgrace him, and both the people and the nobles loved her for it, and so did my own daughter; tossed one hundred and seventy years of indoctrination aside and joined her.. I lost to that!”, the once high lady of Bari Na-Ammen, Angrellen Sunsear, said, openly admitting her failures.
Then she looked at the man in the deep, hooded robes with genuine pity.
“You? You got owned by an animal!”
Loshka: Orcish word for someone that has no home or clan, and hence, is subject to all forms of ridicule and use. It is also a word commonly used among Orcs and the Greater Orken for a whore.
Büyük Arashkan şehri alevler içerisinde yanmaktadır. Onun hemen dibindeki High Woods ve elflerin 7500 yıllık kadim Bari Na-ammen şehri de benzer bir kaderi paylaşmaktadır..
Serenity Home kahramanları bu vahim sahne ve Orken orduları karşısında krallığın birçok yerine dağılıp yardım ve müttefik bulmaya çalışacaklardır.
Bu küçük gruplardan bir diğeri de
Anglenna Sunsear, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist
ve Udoorin Shieldheart’dır..
The Malediction of ‘Rellen.. (Part One)
“All Out!” dan
sonra yer alır..
High Lady Agnlenna Sunsear! Sizi burada görmek gerçekten pek şaşırtıcı. Bir grup ‘insanın’ hayatını kurtarmak için kendinizi tehlikeye atıyor oluşunuz bir yana, burada, bu yanan şehirde hala bulunduğunuzu görmek ayrıca hayret verici. Sizi Bari Na-ammen’de, kendi şehrinizi müdafaa ederken bile düşünemiyorum..”, der on-on iki kişi kalmış küçük muhafız birliğinden biri.
Anglenna sesi tanır ve yüzü buz gibi bir ifadeye bürünür..
..buz gibi ve bıkkın.
“Bir bu eksikti..”, diye sessiz bir hışımla burnundan solur.
Muhafızlar tedirgin bir şekilde bir birlerine, aralarında kendisine ‘bir bu eksikti’ diye hitap edilen adama, ve az evvel —ve muhtemelen sonları olacak iki Orken mangasından birisini vahşi bir kıyımla doğrayan iri adam ve ince, ‘zarif’ kıza, diğerini ise harlayan bir ateş halkasında kül eden, uzun boylu, platin-sarısı saçlı high elf kadına bakarlar.. ve ivedilikle kenara çekilirler.
“Abla?”, diye meraklı bir ifadeyle sorar Lorna.
“Abla.. Size ‘abla’ diye hitap edip samimi saygı ve gerçek sevgi gösterebilecek sadece bir kişi düşünebiliyorum, ‘saygıdeğer’ High Lady Anglenna.. O da Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’dir.”, der sesin sahibi ve muhafızların açtığı aralıktan, hafif dalgalı altın saçlı, derin mavi gözleri, biçimli geometrik hatları ve kalın kaşları ile muhtemelen pek çok kadının kalbini kırmış bir adam öne çıkar.
Anglenna ise öne çıkan bu yakışıklı, yakıcı ve çarpıcı adamı şuracıkta kül etsem da uzun, anlamsız, vakit kaybı ve bıktırıcı bir konuşmayı, hiç başlamadan bitirsem mi acaba, der gibi süzer.
Ancak, “Efendi Largo..”, diye tekrar burnundan solumayı tercih eder.
“Haş Teyze?”, diye bu sefer de Udoorin sorar. “Kimdir bu adam?”
Anglenna’nın kendisine ‘Efendi Largo’ diye hitap ettiği adam, ‘Haş Teyze’ ifadesini duyunca yüzü mutlu bir şekil alır ve ‘fırk’lar.
“‘Haş Teyze’.. Bunun sizi ne denli çileden çıkardığını ancak tahmin edebiliyorum, Anglenna.. Görmek için para bile verirdim ve eminim her kuruşuna da değerdi.”, der Largo sırıtarak.
Udoorin ellerindeki baltaları daha sıkı kavrar ve çok hafif bir şekilde Anglenna ve Lorna’ya doğru meyleder ve onun bu hareketi, Largo denen adamın gözünden kaçmaz.
“Buna gerek olduğunu sanmıyorum, Efendi Udoorin. Yada size ‘Prens’ Udoorin diye mi hitap etmeliyim?”, diye bu sefer de genç adama sırıtır.
Udoorin’in bir kaşı kalkar.
“Prens olduğumun farkında değildim..”, der sessiz bir tehditle.
“Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’nin müstakbel nişanlısının, nihai olarak bir prens olacağı sonucuna varmak çok da zor bir çıkarım değil, genç Udoorin Shieldheart.. Baban nasıl? Sağlığı yerindedir, umarım..”, diye sakin bir üslupla konuşur Largo.
“Kimsin sen?”, diye sessizce gürler Udoorin.
“Bu adam..”, der Anglenna, “..Ajan Largo. Kendisi ARİS’ten.”
“Aaa.. Bu ayrıntıyı sizinle paylaştığımı hiç hatırlamıyorum saygıdeğer hanımefendi.”, der Largo alınmış bir sesle.
Anglenna adama uzun bir an bakar.
“Silah kaçakçısı?.. SİLAH KAÇAKÇISI?! Kendini bana bir silah kaçakçısı olarak tanıttığında buna gerçekten inanacağımı düşünecek kadar aptal olamazsın, Ajan Largo.”, diye gözlerini kısmış bir şekilde adamı süzer.
“Kişi umut edebilir, öyle değil mi?”, diye sırıtır Largo.
“Umut, sadece senin gibi ahmaklar içindir.”, diye tiksintisini hiç saklamadan ifade eder high elf kadın.
“Buna alındım.”, der Largo. “Nevarki, Arashkan’ın bu halini göz önünde bulundurursak, bir ahmak olduğum, sanıyorum isabetli bir tespit. Şimdi.. İsterseniz Orken manga ve timlerinin cirit attığı burada değil, daha makul ve tercihen kapalı bir yerde konuşalım isterseniz..”
“Ya istemezsek?”, diye kaşları çatılı bir şekilde hırlar Udoorin ve Anglenna’nın önüne geçer. “Bizim yapacak işlerimiz var ve gereksiz konuşmalarla harcayacak vaktimiz yok.”
Anglenna’nın iki kaşı da kalkar ve arkasında durduğu genç adamın kendisini sahiplenişi hayretle seyreder.
“Yapacak ‘işiniz’.. her ne ise bunu yardım olmaksızın yapma ihtimaliniz nedir, genç Udoorin. Siz bu adamları kurtardınız. Bundan dolayı müteşekkirim. Vakitli gelişiniz olmasaydı, muhtemelen hepsi şu anda ölmüş olurdu. Bizden size bir zarar gelmez. Ancak şehirden ivedilikle ayrılmanızdan sonra, sayınız azalmış olarak tekrar geri dönmüş olmanız, merak uyandırmıyor değil.”, der Largo. Sonra da, “Hele buradaki saygıdeğer Anglenna hanımefendiyle geri dönmüş olmanız.. bazı soruları da beraberinde getiriyor..”
Anglenna sesini çıkarmaz..
..ve Lorna’ya küçük bir bakış atar.
Largo’nun gözünden bu da kaçmaz ve ‘enteresan’ bulduğu bir cihaza, yada ‘zamazingo’ya bakar gibi, tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde Anglenna’ya bakar.
“İlginiz ve koşullar altındaki misafirperverliğinizden ötürü müteşekkiriz, Efendi Largo. Sizden tek dileğim, işimizin çok uzun sürmemesi, zira vakit hususunda kaçınılmaz bazı kısıtlamamız var.”, der Lorna samimi bir üslupla.
“Leydim. Anlayışınız ve zarafetiniz, hakkınızdaki söylentileri fakir bırakıyor. Eşsiz güzelliğiniz ise kelimelere sığmaz. Lütfen, bu taraftan..”, der Largo ve nazikçe onları ve muhafızlarla birlikte seri adımlarla yanan şehrin doğu yakasına doğru yönlendirir.
Giderlerken toz ve dumandan zorlukla seçilen, Arashkan şehrinin merkezindeki koca sarayı görürler.
Görebildikleri kısmı itibariyle sarayın duvarlarında ciddi hasar ve yarıklar mevcuttur ve kulelerinden bazıları da kapkara duman eşliğinde harlanarak yanmaktadır.
“Birinci Lord, Princeps Kaladin?”, diye sorar Lorna yüzünde samimi merak ve korkuyla.
“Kendisinden haber alamadık ancak öldürüldüğüne dair dedikodular var. Sizinle karşılaşmadan önce bizler saraya sızmaya çalışıyorduk ancak Orken’ler bölgeyi fena halde sarmış durumdalar ve içeriden gelen çatışma sesleri ve patlamalara bakılırsa, mücadele hala devam ediyor. Princeps Kaladin’in kendisi olmasa da, en azından ve hayatta kalan küçük yeğenini kurtarmayı umut ediyorduk.”, diye ciddi bir ifadeyle cevap verir Largo.
“Princeps Kaladin’in oğlu ve kızlarına ne oldu?”, diye solgun bir ifadeyle sorar prenses.
“Oğlu, babası Kaladin’den önce, saldırının başladığı gece öldürüldü. Kızları ise zehirlenerek öldürüldüler.. Gar Thalot’un kendisi tarafından. Bu da Arashkan tahtına varis olabilecek sadece iki isim bıraktı bize..”, der Largo ve gizleyemediği bir hiddetle Anglenna’ya bakar. “Biri pek hürmetkar, sevgi dolu bir hanımefendi olan Felisia Fremeir adındaki yeğeni ve Korodin adındaki diğer yeğeni.. Ne yazık ki Leydi Felishia Fremeir, bir kaç yıl önce evinde öldürülmüş olarak bulundu. Dolayısıyla Korodin tek varis ve kendisi daha sekiz yaşında..”
“Çok üzgünüm Efendi Largo. Princeps Kaladin’i şahsen tanımasamda, babam kendisi hakkında her zaman iyi şeyler söylerdi. Oğlu Haradith ile bir sefer karşılaşmışlığım oldu. Saygımı cezbeden, zeki ve umut vadeden bir gençti. Kendisi, kız kardeşleri Ariles ve Ylara ile beni, High Spires’a geçen gelişimde ziyaret etmişlerdi. Genç ve toy bir prensese, bu alicenap davranışlarıyla büyük nezaket göstermişlerdi.”, der Lorna esefle.
Largo sesini çıkarmaz.
Uzun ve sessiz bir yürüyüşten sonra Largo, yanındaki şehir muhafızlarıyla durur.
“High Spires?”, diye hayretle sorar Anglenna.
“Evet. An itibariyle şehirde en güvenli yer burası. High Spires’ın efendisi Philius’un burada bildiğimiz, üç bine yakın askeri var. İki bin dokuz yüz doksan sekiz, kesin konuşmak gerekirse. Kanunen kendisine izin verilen asker sayısı bu. Ancak içeride bunun en az iki katı askeri olduğunu biliyorum. Princeps Kaladin bu konuda sesini çıkarmamayı tercih etmişti, çünkü Ri Grandaleren’e, dolayısıyla da Philius’a güvendi. Dahası, High Spires büyülü korumalarla çevrili.”, diye cevap verir Largo mekanik bir şekilde.
“Efendi Largo..”, der Anglenna, çekimser bir sesle. “Ben..”
“Sizin High Spires’dan, Philius’un kararı üzerine men edildiğinizi biliyoruz, saygıdeğer Anglenna.. Nevarki koşullar değişmiş durumda ve Philius’un, eşi ve halkıyla Arashkan’dan sağ salim çıkarabilmesi için bizimle iş birliği yapması gerekliydi ve kendisi bu konuda onurlu bir şekilde de sözünü tuttu. Buraya kaçak olarak sızdırdığı asker ve okçuların büyük bir kısmı şu anda şehrin kuzeyindeki muhafız birliği kampına yardım için gönderdi. Oradaki sekiz bine yakın muhafızı ve o bölgede hayatta kalmış halkın rıhtıma kaçabilmeleri için bir güvenlik koridoru oluşturmayı umut ediyor.”, diye açıklar Largo, sonra dişlerini gıcırdatarak ekler, “İçiniz rahat etsin, hanımefendi. Hayatta sizin için en önemli şeye herhangi bir zarar gelmemesi için elimizden geleni yapacağız..”
“Hayatta benim için neyin en önemli olduğunu bildiğinizi pek sanmıyorum, Efendi Largo.”, diye serin bir şekilde cevap verir Anglenna.
“Aaaa.. sizi tanıyan herkes, hayatta sizin için en önemli şeyin ne olduğunu bilir, hanımefendi.”, der Largo ve high elf kadına nahoş bir şekilde sırıtır.
“Neymiş, bildiğinizi sandığınız şey?”, diye tek kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde sorar Anglenna.
Largo bir omzunu silker.
“Kendiniz, hanımefendi. Kendiniz..”, diye cevap verir.
“Bu da beni gerçekte ne kadar az tanıdığınızı gösteriyor, Efendi Largo..”, diye soğuk bir sesle hışmeder Anglenna.
Largo tekrar omzunu silker.
“Sizi ne kadar tanımış olmamın artık bir önemi yok, hanımefendi, ve açıkçası umrumda da değil. Arashkan varken bu önemliydi ve eğlenceliydi.. Ama Arashkan artık yok ve oyun da bitti.!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Udoorin hiçbir tereddüt göstermez.
Dev balatasını kaptığı gibi fırlatır ve balta ölümcül bir ark çizer..
..ve elf muhafızın göğsünü, omurgasına kadar açar..
Anglenna ise ondan sadece iki saniye kadar gecikir ve bir şeye uyanmış gibi aksi istikamete döner..
..ve silik yeşil gözlerinde vahşi bir kıvılcım çakar.
Kendi tarafından saldıran diğer elf hedefine iki adım kala birden çıra gibi alev alır, elindeki uzun, eğimli kılıcı düşürür ve kulak çınlatan bir çığlıkla yere yıkılır. Elf, bir dakika boyunca ağzından, gözlerinden, burnundan ve kulaklarından ateş kusar ve söndüğünde yerde sadece sıcaktan kuruyup çatırdamış kara kemikler ve bir yığın halinde kül kalmıştır!
Largo eşliğinde Prenses Lorna, Udoorin ve Anglenna, High Spires’ın girişine vardıklarında onları üç bine yakın tam teşkilatlı high elf asker karşılamış ve anında prenseslerini tanımışlardı.
Üç bine yakın elf asker, bir anda dizlerinin üstüne çökmüş ve sessiz bir saygı ile selama geçmişlerdi.
İlk ayağa kalkan, neredeyse bir ay önce karşılaştıkları manga komutanı Hariadin’den başkası değildi.
Hariadin, Prensesini saygıyla selamlamış ve kısa, keskin bir emirle askerleri, High Spires’a açılan bir ‘koridor’ oluşturmuşlardı.
Prenses, Udoorin, Anglenna, Largo ve şehir muhafızları High Spires’a girerken saldırı gerçekleşmişti..
Birliğinin içinden üç elf bir anda Prenses Lorna’ya saldırmıştı!
Sonuncusunu ise Largo, geçmiş yaşından beklenmedik bir çeviklik örneği göstererek elfin kılıcını, kolunu boydan boya yarması pahasına saptırır ve muhatabının adem elmasına yumruğunu indirir..
Elf yerinde bir and tökezler, sonra nefesi kesilmiş bir şekilde yere devrilir.
“HAYIR!“, diye kati bir sesle emreder Largo ve suikastçıya inmekte olan kılıçlar bir anda dururlar.
“Canlı.. Onu canlı istiyorum!”, der ajan, sıkılmış dişleri arasından.
“Manga komutanı Hariadin! Elflerinizin neden kutsal prensinizi hedef aldığını bana açıklamak ister misiniz?”, diye kapkara bir suratla hırlar Udoorin.
Kaşla göz arasında gerçekleşen saldırı ve karşıt saldırı karşısında bir an dona kalan Hariadin, olayın gerçek tekabülüne uyanıverir.
“Hanımım..”, diye zorlukla hiddetine hakim olur bir sesle konuşur. “Olanlardan dolayı sizden şahsen özür dilerim. Bu.. bu kabul edilemez bir durum.. Bu askerleri yıllardır tanıyorum. Üçü de fevkalade çalışkan, aklı başında, bu güne kadar hiçbir taşkınlıkları olmayan, emir komuta zincirine sadık adamlardı!”
“—Ve annemin de köstebekleriydiler..”, diye sessiz bir nefretle ekler Anglenna. “Prenses Alor’Nadien ne.. Sizin ivedilikle ana binaya girmeniz gerekiyor. Annemin verdiği son emri hatırlıyorsunuz, değil mi?”
Bütün olup bitenleri hayret ve sonrasını da kahrolmuş bir ifadeyle seyreden Lorna sesini çıkarmadan, bir elini Udoorin’in koluna yaslar ve High Spires’a girerler.
Onları şehir muhafızları, acı ve kan kaybından zorlukla ayakta duran Largo’nun diğer koluna girip destek olan Anglenna takip eder.
“Bu benim için biraz utanç verici bir durum.”, diye inler Efendi Largo.
“Neden? Eminim sarhoş halini taşıyan ilk kadın ben değilim.”, diye soğuk bir ifadeyle tıslar Anglenna.
“Sorun da orda. Ben hayatta asla sarhoş olmadım.”, der Largo sıkılmış dişleri arasından.
“Sorun nedir o zaman?”, diye sorar Anglenna, ama bir yandan da soluk gözleriyle etrafı süzer.
“Utanç verici olan, sizin beni taşıyor olmanız..”, der adam mutsuz bir ifadeyle.
“Kes sesini Largo. Bilmelisin ki senden hiç hoşlanmıyorum. Ve her Arashkan’a geldiğimde peşime köpeklerini takmandan da hiç hoşlanmamıştım.”, diye hışmeder elf kadın.
“O ‘köpekler’ sadece sadakatlerinin gereğini yapıyorlardı. Tıpkı senin gibi. Aradaki farkı açıklamama gerek var mı?”, der Largo sessizce ama sesinde pek az kin vardır artık.
Belli ki bilinçli bir şekilde yaptığı seçim, dolayısıyla da seçtiği ‘taraf’, o kadar kolay kabul görmeyecektir.
Açıkçası high elf asilzade bunu beklemiyor değildi, zira Anglenna Sunsear pratik, zeki ve hayata dair pek az hayalperest düşleri olan bir kızdır. Babası Selvius Brightleaf’in ani ve beklenmedik ölümü, ona bütün ‘mutlu’, ‘güzel’ ve ‘umut’ içeren düşünceleride yok etmişti ve annesi Angrellen’de bunun böyle kalması için elinden geleni ardına koymamıştı.
Yinede.. etrafındakilerin kendisine gösterdikleri kuşku, itibarsızlık ve neredeyse açık nefret, kızın canını yakıyordu.
Ve işin en ironik yanı ise, halen annesinin kuklası olduğu zamanlar da dahil, her zaman kendisine güvenen.. hayır, güvenmeyi seçen.. ve seven tek kişi, annesinin bütün husumetinin odağı olan kişinin kendisiydi;
Prenses Alor’Nadien ne..
..ve onun yanından ayrılmayan, daha bir ay öncesine kadar ‘aptal’ ve ‘hödük’ olarak gördüğü genç Udoorin.. Dorin.. Rin.. denen çocuktu!
‘Tencere-Kapak!’, diye mırıldanır Anglenna. ‘İkisi de ya kaçık, ya aptal, ya saf yada enayi..’
Sonra platin sarısı kaşları çatılır.
Kaçık? Belki.. Biraz.. Muhtemelen..
Özellikle de ikisinin mütemadiyen, ‘kol kola’ ve ürkütücü bir cesaretle en önden düşmanlarının arasına dalmaları göz önünde bulundurulduğunda..
Ama aptal, saf yada enayi değil.
Dürüst ve.. samimi..
..ve Anglenna birden High Woods’un neden bir yarı elfi ‘kalbi’ olarak seçtiğine ‘gerçekten’ anlayıverir..
..ve zincirleme kaza gibi Anglenna bir şeye daha ayılır..
High Woods’un, Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’yi ‘kalbi’ olarak seçmesiyle prensesin de Udoorin denen çocuğu ‘kalbi’ olarak seçmesinin altında yatan sebepler gerçekte aynıdır!
“İnanılır gibi değil!”, diye ünler Anglenna acı bir hayretle. “Bunca zamandır hep gözümün önündeydi ve ben göremedim bile..”
“Efendim?”, diye sorar Largo.
“Hiç hayatınızda, gözünüzün önünde olup da fark edemediğiniz muhteşem bir şey oldu mu, Efendi Largo?”, diye sorar Anglenna.
“Evet..”, der Largo kayıp bir ifadeyle.
Büyük Arashkan şehri alevler içerisinde yanmaktadır. Onun hemen dibindeki High Woods ve elflerin 7500 yıllık kadim Bari Na-ammen şehri de benzer bir kaderi paylaşmaktadır..
Serenity Home kahramanları bu vahim sahne karşısında krallığın birçok yerine dağılıp, Orken ordularına karşı yardım ve müttefik bulmak için küçük gruplar halinde dağılmıştır.
Bu küçük gruplardan biri de
Aager Fogstep ve Inshala ‘la fey’ Frostmane’dir.
Eski Efendim, Sahibim
ve Çok Daha Fazlası..‘dan
sonra yer alır..
Gecenin karanlığında, yoğun ağaç ve çalıların ardında hayal meyal parıldayan bir çift yeşil, cam gibi saydam göz, kısılmış bir şekilde yaşlı adamı takip etmektedir. Gözlerin sahibi, yetişkin bir insanı kapıp götürebilecek kadar güçlü ağzını açar ve uzun, ıslak, zımparamsı diliyle ağzın yanlarından aşağı doğru meyleden nerdeyse üçer karış uzunluğundaki hançer dişleri sessiz bir şapırtıyla yalar, sonra koca küt burnunu ıslatır, iyi göğsünün derinliklerinden, gök gürlemesini andıran bir hırıltı kaçar. Üç yüz küsür kiloluk muazzam cüssesine rağmen yine de yer çekimini inkar edercesine bir fısıltıyla dev patisini bir adım daha ileri atar ve tüm kasları sıçramaya hazır bir şekilde gerilir..
“Efendi Cathber..”, diye, hırıltılı, imalı bir ses duyulur ve yaşlı adamın yanında karalar içinde bir adam peyda oluverir. “..Sizi bulduğuma pek sevindim.”
Yaşlı ‘Efendi Cathber’ bir an irkilir, karalar içindeki sinsi adamı görünce temkinli bir şekilde rahatlar.
“Merhaba, genç..?”, diye vızıltıyı andıran kısık ve kırık bir sesle sorar yaşlı adam.
“Aager.. Aager Fogstep, efendim..”, diye tanıtır kendisini karalar içindeki sinsi görünümlü adam.
“Aaaa.. Efendi Aager. Saygı değer Şerif Standorin sizden bahsetmişti.”, diye dişlek bir şekilde sırıtır Efendi Cathber.
Aager Fogstep, Efendi Cathber’i farkındasız bir evhamla inceler. Yaşlı adam sadece yaşını geçmiş değil, yaşını geçeli yüz yıllar geçmiş biri gibidir zira kel kafasında saç kalmamış ve bu hali çok, ama çok uzun zaman önce gerçekleşecek kadar ‘güneş görmüş’tür. Uzun, ak sakalları neredeyse beline kadar inmiş ve çöp gibi kolları, yırtık cübbesinden görünen sıska bacakları ve kambur haliyle acınası bir haldedir.
Aager gördüklerine rağmen doğal temkini elden bırakmaz. Şerif Standorin, Serenity Home Belediye Başkanı Arthandos Yuleman ve iki İzci Efendileri, Devien ve Moorat’in bu yaşlı adam hakkında konuşurken gösterdikleri saygıya bakılırsa, söz konusu saygı adamın yaşı ile sınırlı değildir.
Aager rivayet ve dedikodulara özellikle kulak kabartan biri değildir. Sadece göz ardı edecek kadar ahmak ve kibirli değildir, o kadar.
Ve kümülatif rivayetlere de bakılırsa, bu iki büklüm görünümlü yaşlı adam, Themalsar Savaşında bulunmuştur.. sekiz yüz elli yıl önce!
“Şerif sizin geleceğinizi, ve belki de şahsım gibi muhabbet etmeyi pek seven birisinin varlığının sizi mutlu edeceğini düşündü.”, der Aager ve bunu söylerken hicvetmez, gülümsemez ve kaşlarını çatmaz.
Düz ve tam anlamıyla ifadesiz bir yüzle söyler.
O güne kadar o yüzde ‘mutlu’ herhangi bir ifade asla oluşmamış biri gibi..
..Ve kapkara gözleriyle ormanın karanlığını süzer.
“Standorin her zaman çok düşünceli bir çocuktu..”, diye sırıtır Efendi Cathber.
“Evet, efendim.”, diye onaylar Aager muallak bir şekilde. “İsterseniz yola koyulalım. Mesafe biraz uzun.”
“Hayırdır, genç Aager. Tedirgin gibisiniz.”, diye neşeli bir kıkırtıyla sorar Efendi Cathber.
“Emin değilim, efendim.”, diye cevap verir karalar içindeki adam, sözlerini, gözleri gibi kısmış bir şekilde.
“Endişelenmenize gerek yok Efendi Aager. Vahşi ve yırtıcı hayvanlar benim gibi yaşlı bir adama musallat olmazlar zira onların istediği şey bende yok; Et!”, der ve kıs kıs gülmeye başlar Cathber ve garip bir adınımla, hoplaya topallaya yürümeye başlar.
Aager Fogstep yaşlı adamın elli adım kadar ilerlemesine izin verir. Sonra sesiz, hırıltılı sesiyle tıslar.
“Her ne isen, çık ortaya. Orada olduğunu biliyorum!”
Karalar içindeki adam uzun bir süre kıpırdamadan öylece durur yerinde, ama ormandan herhangi bir cevap gelmez.
Efendi Cathber’e yetişmek için döndüğünde arkasından çok hafif, anca duyulur bir ses gelir.
Aager hayatını ölüm ile raks ederek geçirmiş biridir. Nevarki ölüme bu kadar yaklaşmış olduğunu bildiği sadece iki anısı vardır.
Arkasından duyduğu ses ise o iki anıdan tamamen farklı bir ölümdür zira bu insanî değil, tamamen vahşi, kural ve kuramlardan beri, göğsünü sıkıştıran, derin bir hırıltının sesidir.
Aager, yaşlı Cathber’in peşinden gitmeye başlar. Ancak, ve belli etmeden, belindeki keskin bıçaklardan bir tanesini, kınıyla birlikte yere ‘düşürür’..
..ve kendisine has sessiz adımlarla gözden kaybolur.
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Inshala ‘la fey’ Frostmane, yüzünde mutlu bir ifadeyle gözlerini açar. Saf ve şaşkın bir şekilde etrafına bakınır ancak beklediği gibi masmavi bir gökyüzünü göremez. Kaşları hafif çatılır ve başını döndürüp etrafına bakınınca kendisinin bir mağaranın içinde olduğuna ayılır ve küçük bir kedi gibi gerinirken yavaş yavaş neden bu mağarada olduğunu hatırlamaya başlar ve bir anda irkilir. Hafif panik içerisinde kalkar yerinden küçük, sıskası çıkmış kız.
“A.. Aager?”, diye hem tedirgin, hem de korkudan pır pır atan kalbini zapt etmeye çalışır bir telaşla seslenir.
“Buradayım, küçük bayan.”, diye Aager’in hırıltılı sesini duyar ve bir anda kızın içine su serpilmiş gibi rahatlar.
“Ben.. ben gittiğini sandım!”, deyi verir küçük kız.
“Sensiz nereye gidebilirim ki?”, diye ciddi bir şekilde cevap verir karalar içindeki Aager ve oturduğu ateşin başından kalkar ve küçük kıza döner. Elinde bir çubuğa saplanmış ve kötü bir şekilde de yakılmış patatesi ve hafif ezilmiş teneke bir bardağı kıza doğru uzatır. “Dikkat et. Patates sıcak. Adını telaffuz edemediğim ‘şeysi’ çayın da..”
Kız çok kısa bir anlığına, Aager’in gerçekten önünde olup olmadığına emin olmak istiyormuş gibi ona alık alık bakar, sonra yaptığı şeye ayılır ve kızarmış bir ifadeyle patatese uzanır..
..ve küçük bir ‘Ayy!’ sesiyle elini yakar.
Aager gülümser ama bunu sessizce yapar. Kızın ‘şeysi’ çayını onun yanına bırakır, ateşten kendisi de bi çöp yanık patates kapar, kıza bıraktığı teneke bardaktan daha da vahim bir halde olan bir başka bardağa acı kahve doldurur ve küçük kıza doğru meyledip onun yanına çömer.
“Bu ‘şeysi’ çayı değil ki ama. Tarçınlı kırmızı çalı çayı —Rooibos!”, diye düzeltir Inshala ister istemez ve ezik teneke bardaktan keyifle bir yudum hüpletir.
“Ve bunu benim ezberlememi bekliyor olman, hayret verici.”, diye sırıtır Aager.
“Neden olmasın ki?”, der ve soymaya çalıştığı sıcak patatesle elini tekrar yakar. “Uff.. çok sıcakmış ama.”
“Biraz beklersen yeterince soğur.”, der Aager.
“Ama çok acıktım!”, diye mızmızlanır küçük kız.
Aager sessizce uzanır ve sıcak patatesi alır, haşin bir-iki hareketle yanık kabukları yolar ve patatesi ikiye böler..
..ve ikiye bölünmüş patates bir anda soğur!
“Teşekkür ederim.”, der Inshala mutlu bir şekilde. “Ama bitkiler hakkında bilgilere nerede ne zaman ihtiyaç duyulur bilinmez, öyle değil mi Aager Fogstep?”
Aager bir anda eskiyi hatırlar. Çok eskiyi..
Drashan kadar eskiyi.
Aager, daha genç bir delikanlıyken yanında çalışmaya başladığı Primrose’u hatırlar.
“Simyanın kökü, sadece hangi maddeleri nelerle karıştırdığında ne elde edeceğini öğrenmek değil, her maddeyi, her bitkiyi ve her sıvıyı bilmeyi gerektirir. Bunu asla unutma delikanlı. Simya tehlikeli bir bilimdir ve ona gerekli saygıyı göstermezsen, seni öldürür..”
Primrose böyle başlamıştı ona verdiği ilk derse.
Ve gerçekte Aager kırmızı çalı çayına Rooibos denildiğini de bilir. Sadece Inshala’nın sesinde ona huzur veren bir tını vardır ve karalar içindeki adam o tınıyı duymaktan hoşlandığı için kıza itiraz etmektedir..
“Herkesin gittiğine hala inanamıyorum.”, der Inshala bir anda ve sesinden bu konuda mutsuz olduğu açıkça anlaşılmaktadır.
“Herkesin gitmesi gereken yerler var. Umarım akıllı davranırlar ve sağ salim, tek parça halinde tekrar görebiliriz onları.”, diye mırıldanır Aager.
“Tedirginsin.”, der küçük kız bir anda.
“Evet. Bu, Udoorin’i ilk defa tek başına bırakmışlığım olacak.”
“Udoorin abi senden çok şey öğrendi ama ki! Ve yanında Lorna ve Anglenna ablalar da var.”, diye teskin etmeye çalışır Inshala, Aager’i.
“Bakıyorum ‘Ördek Dudak’la aranı yapmışsın, küçük bayan.”, diye gülümser Aager.
“O ördek dudaklı değilmiş ki. Annesi yüzünden devamlı kızgınmış. Gitmeden önce uzun uzun konuştuk.. Ben onun saçlarını örerken. Çok güzel saçları varmış yaaa.. İpek gibi.. Ve çok uysal!”, diye kaşları hafif çatılı bir şekilde anlatır Inshala.
“Uysal mı? Anglenna mı uysal?”, diye biraz şaşırarak sorar karalar içindeki adam.
“Hayır yaa.. Saçları çok uysal! Elime aldığımda, nasıl örmek istiyorsam o yöne, sanki kendi kendilerine hareket ediyormuş gibi şekil alıyorlardı.”
“Bremorel ablanın saçları da çok güzel ama onunkiler biraz kendisi gibi; hırçın ve inatçı! Nasıl yaparsam yapayım, o şekle girmemek için çaba sarf ediyorlardı sanki. Zaten ördükten bir saat sonra da Bremorel abla devamlı saçlarıyla oynadığı için, çözülüyordu yine. Themalsar’dayken beni çileden çıkarmıştı!”, diye alt dudağını pörtleterek söylenir küçük kız.
“Anglenna ablanın annesinin onun saçlarını hiç örmediğini biliyor muydun? Pis cadaloz şey!”, diye hışmeder bir anda. “Benim bi kızım olsa, her gün örerdim onun saçlarını ki!”
Genç adam dayanamaz ve kıkırdar!
Küçük kız patatesini bitirdiğinde biraz kendisine gelmiş gibidir. Ilımaya başlamış tarçınlı kırmızı çalı çayını da bitirip kalkmaya meyleder ama Aager kızın eline bir tane daha yanık patateslerden tutuşturur!
Kız önce patatese bakar, sonra da Aager’e.
“Ama ben doydum ki!”, diye sevindirik bir şekilde sırıtır.
“İlkini kendin için yedin. Bunu ise benim için yiyeceksin.”, der Aager.
Kız alt dudağını tekrar pörtletir.
“Ama ben doydum ki yaaa..”, diye sızlanır.
“Lütfen, Inshala. Biraz kendine gelmen lazım artık.”, der karalar içindeki adam ciddi bir ifadeyle.
“Kendimdeyim ki!”, diye söylenir küçük kız.
“Inshala. Lütfen. Benim için yeyiver.”
“Ama.. ama bu çantaş!”, diye mızmızlanır Inshala.
“Çatnaj.. Şatnaç.. Jantaş..”, diye afallar ve kızın yüzü fena halde kızarır.
“Umm.. Şantaj?”, diye nazik bir şekilde önerir Aager.
“Evet, ondan işte!”, der kıpkırmızı suratla. “Çantaj! Senin yaptığın bu ama ki!”
“Pek sayılmaz, ama artık beraberiz ve bize bakacak bir Lady yok yanımızda. Zayıf düşmeni istemeyiz, öyle değil mi?”
“Düşersem beni tutarsın.”, der kız ve karalar içindeki adamın bir anda yüzünde oluşan ifadeden biraz korkar. O ifadeyi daha önce bir defa görmüştür ve tekrar görmek asla istez. Daha doğrusu, ‘sevgilimi’ olan bu adamın yüzünde o ifadenin bir daha oluşmasını istemez ve ivedilikle patatesin kabuklarını yolar ve büyük teşebbüsle hepsini ağzına tıkıştırmaya çalışır.
“Mfff mffım fıfafım fi!”, diye bir şeyler söyler.
Aager sesini çıkarmaz. Yavaşça kıza uzanır ve bir eliyle nazikçe kızı çenesinden tutarken, diğer eliyle de cebinden çıkardığı temiz bir bezle kızın yüzünü ve küçük dudaklarını temizler.
“Hepsini bir anda tıkıştırmamanı tercih ederdim. Seninle çok uzun bir hayatı paylaşmayı diliyorum, güzel Inshala. Ama bunun için sağlığına da biraz imtina göstermen gerekiyor. Bunu artık kendin için değil, bizim için yapmalısın.”, der sessizce, ve bunu da kendi gözlerini kızın muhteşem gözlerinden ayırmadan söyler.
Kızcağızın gözleri dolar.
Ve ağzına tıkıştırdığı patatesi zorlukla yutar.
“Ben.. ben özür dilerim. Üçüncü patates için hazırım ki!”
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Bir yerlerden at bulmamız gerekecek. Yolumuz oldukça uzun. Ta Durkahan’a kadar yürümeye kalkarsak oraya vardığımızda iş işten geçmiş olur.”, diye söylenir Aager. “Ve her yerde Orken sürüleri varken nereden nasıl at bulabileceğimizi bilmiyorum.”
“Ben.. ben hiç ata binmedim..”, der Inshala küçük bir sesle. “Düşersem her yerim kırılır ki.”
“Öğrenmesi çok da zor değil, küçük bayan. Olmadı almayı düşündüğümüz gibi iki at alırız, sen arkamda oturursun, at yorulduğunda diğerine geçeriz. Bu şekilde iki misli yol almayız ama yine de Orken’lerle aramızdaki mesafeyi ciddi bir şekilde de açmış oluruz.”, der karalar içindeki adam.
Inshala bir an durağanlaşır ve yüzünde mutsuz bir ifade belirir.
“Korkulacak bir şey yok. Ve yanlış bilmiyorsam sen atlarla konuşa da bilirsin.”, der Aager ve gülümser, ancak bunun küçük kızın üzerinde olumlu herhangi bir etkisini görmeyince biraz kafası karışır zira hayvanlar söz konusu olduğunda bu kızın çekinebileceğini düşünemez.
“Ne oldu, bebeğim? Sanıyorum ki sorun atlarla ilgili değil.”, diye düşünür küçük kızın zihninde.
Kız yine cevap vermeyince Aager onun yanına gider ve nazikçe kızı kendisine doğru döndürür.
“Sorun nedir? Bilmeden yanlış bir şey söyledim sanırım..”
“Sorun yok. Ve sen yanlış bir şey söylemedin Aager Fogstep.”, diye kızın sesini duyar zihninde Aager.
“Inshala. Seni rahatsız eden bir şey olduğunu hissedebiliyorum. Bir birimize açık olacaktık.”, der nazikçe kıza.
“Ben.. ben ne zaman ‘küçük bayan’ olmaktan kurtulacağım?”, diye bir anda ağlamaya başlar kız. “Beni hep küçük olarak mı göreceksin?”
Aager hayretle kıza bakar, sonra onu kollarına alır.
Sıskası çıkmış kız daha içli bir şekilde ağlar.
“Halbuki artık on altı yaşında bile değilim. Bari Na-ammen yolunda on yedime basmıştım!”, diye içli bir şekilde inler kız.
Aager kıza sarılmaya devam eder ama söyleyecek doğru bir şey bulamaz.
“Hep küçük olarak kalmak istemiyorum. Themalsar’dayken bana küçük muamelesi yapmıyordun halbuki. O kadar mı çirkinim artık?”, der boğuk bir sesle ve hıçkırmaya başlar.
“Inshala..”, diye kızı teskin etmeye çalışır Aager.
“O zaman bana dobraca ve denginmişim gibi bakıyordun. Şimdiyse bana küçük bir kıza bakar gibi bakıyorsun..”, diye inlemeye devam eder Inshala.
“Inshala..”, diye tekrar kıza seslenir Aager.
“Sıska olmam benim suçum değil ama ki.. Söz daha çok yemek için elimden geleni yapacağım. Sosyal şeysini de çok öğrendim ve o zaman ki gibi yabanî de değilim artık. Sebebini bir türlü anlayamasam da, sırf hoşuna gittiğini söylediğin için bu pis boynuzları bile gizlemiyorum.”
“Inshala..”, diye tekrarlar kendisini Aager.
“Daha ne yapmam gerekiyor benim küçük olmadığımı görebilmen için? Bilmediğim şeyleri yapamam ama ki! Beni hala küçük olarak görüyorsun ama büyük görmen için ne yapmam gerektiğini söylemiyorsun!”
“Inshala..”, diye cılız bir sesle dener şansını Aager.
“Kavgalarda da artık aptal bir dağ keçisi gibi dalmıyorum düşmanın arasına bile.. Lady abla diğerlerine nasıl kızıyorsa bana da aynısını kızıyor. Merisoul abla ise bana ‘cilve’ yapmam gerektiğini söyledi ama cilvenin ne olduğunu söylemedi. Sana aptal bir kız olduğumu söylemiştim. Bilmiyorum bir çok şeyi ama öğrenirim ki. Neyim eksik benim? Birileri size anlatmış her şeyi ama benim etrafımda anlatacak kimsem yoktu. Anlatmadığınız şeyleri nasıl bilebilirim ama ki?”
“INSHALA!”, diye sert bir şekilde seslenir Aager kıza en sonunda.
Kızın sesi bir anda kesilir Aager’in zihninde ve iri, dolu gözlerle öylece kendisini sarmış adama bakar.
“E.. Efendim..”, diye korkmuş bir şekilde kekeler kız.
“Sana, küçük bir kıza sarılıyor gibi mi sarılıyorum?”, diye çatılı kaşlarla sorar kıza karalar içindeki adam.
“Bi.. Bilmem.. Senin hiç başkasına sarıldığını görmedim ki..”, diye söylenir kız.
Aager hiçbir şey söylemez bunun üzerine. Kıza sadece, yüzünde beliren hafif ürkütücü gülümsemeyle bakar..
..ve Inshala bir anda ayılıverir.
“Ben başkalarına dokunmayı seven biri değilim, Inshala. Dahası, başkalarının da bana dokunmasından hoşlanmıyorum ve buna pek az tahammül gösterebiliyorum. Sebebini sorarsan, bilmiyorum. Belki de kimseye, onlara sarılacak kadar güvenmediğim içindir. Yada sadece huysuz adamın teki olduğum için.. Hayatımda karşılaştığım ve buna istisna gösterebildiğim, sadece bir kişi oldu ve o da sensin ve bunun sebebi de sadece sana güvenmemle sınırlı değil.
Tıpkı aptallara tahammül edemediğim, ama seninle beraber aptal olmak beni tahmin edemeyeceğin kadar mutlu ettiği gibi. Tıpkı dans etmekten hoşlanmadığım ve bu güne kadar hiç ilgilenmemiş olmama rağmen seninle dans etmenin bana ‘doğru’ gelmesi gibi.. Ben şarkı da dinlemem çünkü benim için şarkı sadece bir vakit kaybı ve şarkı söylenen ortamlar aynı zamanda gardımızı da indirmemize sebep olduğu için. Ama senin o mırıldandığın şarkı beni eritiyor ve beni uçuruyor..
Şimdi sana bunları ‘küçük’ bir kızla yapabileceğimi düşündüren nedir?
Seni Themalsar’dayken de küçük bir kız olarak görmedim, Themalsar sonrasında da, gerçek yaşını öğrendiğimde de..
Dahası, her ırkın olgunluğa ulaşmasının yaşı farklıdır. Bir elf on altı yaşındayken teknik olarak hala bir ‘bebek’tir. Yüz yaşına kadar da bir çocuktur.
Ben bir insanım ama çocuk olma lüksümü beş yaşımdayken çoktan geride bırakmıştım. Tahmin ediyorum, sen bundan bile önce terk etmek zorunda kaldın. Bununla beraber, içine doğduğumuz koşullar her ne olursa olsun, yine de hem bedensel, hem duygusal, hem de zihinsel olgunluğa ulaşmamız yine de yıllara dağılan bir süreç.
Ben bir çok kavgaya girdim. Çoğunu istemedim ama zorunlu bırakıldım çünkü kavga etmememin bir zayıflık olduğu sanılan bir ortamda doğdum. Aynı şekilde bir çok da can aldım, bir çokları da benim canımı almaya çalıştı. Dolayısıyla kavga etmeyi ve can almayı çok iyi beceren birisi oldum.
Peki bu beni olgun birisi mi yapıyor? Kız kardeşim için bir zamanlar canımı bile verirdim. Ama sana yaptığı şeyden sonra onu ellerimle öldürmek istedim ve üçümüz arasında olgun davranabilen bi sen vardın ve sen bana seni ‘küçük’ bir kız olarak gördüğümü sanıyorsun..
Hayır, Inshala. Seni bir çok muhteşem şey olarak görüyorum ama ‘küçük kız’ bunların arasında yer almıyor. Nevarki sen de benimle aynı kırık kaderi paylaşıyorsun. İkimiz de çok küçük yaşta, çok kötü şeylerle karşılaştık, daha da kötü şeylere maruz bırakıldık. Ama karşılaştığımız şeyler ikimizi de gerçekte olgunlaştırmadı. Sadece keskinleştirdi..”
Inshala başını karalara bürünmüş adamın göğsüne gömer ve utanmış bir şekilde söylenir.
“Ben.. Ben özür dilerim. Seni kızdırdım. Etrafımda olup biten bir çok şeyi daha anlamıyorum ve bunlardan bazılarını ise korkarım hiç anlamayacağım. Ama senin anlattıklarının bir kısmını anladım.. Sanırım.. Anlamadıklarımı zamanla anlayacağım, söz!.. Olgunlaşınca..”, der kız mutsuz bir sesle.
Aager kollarıyla sarıp sarmaladığı kıza nazikçe seslenir.
“Bana bak, Inshala.. Gözlerime bak..”
Kız utanç içerisinde omuzlarını silker ve başını gömdüğü yerden kaldırmaz.
Genç adam bir eliyle kızın çenesini avcunun içine alır ve yüzü kendisine doğru çevirir.
Kız buna ancak çok kısa bir anlığına mukavemet gösterir, sonra kendi rızasıyla başını kaldırır, ıslak gözler ve kızarmış yüzle can attığı ürkütücü adama bakar.
Aager yavaşça eğilir ve kızı öper.
Başta ne olduğunu anlayamaz Inshala..
..ama birden, belki de içsel bir dürtüyle ayılıverir.
Ve sıskası çıkmış, çöp gibi kollarından beklenmeyecek bir güçle karalar içindeki adamın boynuna sarılır.. ve o öpücüğe doğru erir..
Karalar içindeki adam, o öpücükte kızın ‘küçük’ görünümün ne denli yanıltıcı olduğunu anlar..
..ve kızın gözlerinin ardında fokurdayan fırtınanın kaynayıp taştığını duyar gibi olur.
O fırtınanın içinde, iki ay kadar önce Gemini ile bağlandığında ziyaret ettiği kızın ‘hayal dünyasında’ gördüğü ‘Sessiz Orman’daki kurbağaların büyük bir gürültüyle vırakladıklarını, ateş böceklerinin ise mutlu bir heyecanla bir oraya, bir buraya vızıldadıklarını görür.
‘Şafak Sahili’nde ise güneş çok daha parlak, çok daha ‘hayat dolu’ yükselmektedir sanki..
Ve yükselen altın şafakta manta balıklarının, çılgın raksına müşahede eder.
Denizin, bir pasta dilimi gibi bölündüğü sahilde ise, dev ‘Shala’nın muazzam bir ivme ile denizden fırlayıp, daha da muazzam bir coşkuyla kendisini tekrar denize salışını, akıl almaz bir hayretle seyreder.
Ve kızın, uçsuz bucaksız dağlarında, yüzlerce.. belki de binlerce flamingo, bir anda havalanır, ve bütün gök yüzünü kaplayan zarif bir daire halinde uçmalarını izler.
Kızın kendisini götürdüğü yerler arasında belki de en manidar değişim, mis gibi ‘temiz’ ve insan elinden beri olan buzullarda gerçekleşir.
Uçsuz bucaksız buz dağlarında, kulak çınlatan bir çatırdama sesi duyulur ve zirvelerden biri ortadan ikiye bölünür, muhteşem bir çığ eşliğinde, yeri göğü inleten bir homurtuyla çöker..
Inshala gözlerini açar ve kendisini hayetle izleyen adama bakar.
“Bu.. Bu beklediğim bir şey değildi sevgilimi Aager Fogstep.”, diye pespembe olmuş bir şekilde fısıldar.
Aager boğazını temizler.
Zira bu, kendisinin de beklediği bir şey değildir.
Aager’in içindeki ses, ona fena tehditkar bir şekilde tıslar.
“Sus! Sakın bir şey söyleyip bu anı batırma! Yaptığın şeyi yaparak tüm kontörlerini harcadın. Top, onda artık.”
Aager yutkunur ve kollarındaki kızın muhteşem gözlerindeki fırtınanın sanki biraz durağanlaştığını —hayır, durağanlaştığını değil, ‘sakinleştiğini’ görür gibi olur.
Kızın aralanmış, olgun çilek renkli küçük dudakları çok hafif yukarı doğru bükülür ve nefes nefese bir sesle fısıldar.
“Sanırım uçurma sırası bende Aager Fogstep..”
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Aager Fogstep burnundan soluyarak yaralı izci kızların kaldığı çadırdan çıkar ve içeriden gelen kıkırtılar da fokurdayan hışmına hiç yardımcı olmaz. Karalar içindeki adam yumruklarını sıkar ve gecenin karanlığına doğru haşin bir küfür savurur..
Şu anda Drashan’da olmuş olsa, ikisinin de gırtlağına bıçağını dayamış, saçma salak açıklamalar, bahaneler ve abuk sabuk şeyler dinlemek zorunda kalmış olmaz, tüm gerçeği, bütün çıplaklığı ile öğrenmiş olurdu.
Ama işin püf noktası da bu değil miydi zaten; burası Drashan değildi ve bu insanlar ‘özgür’dü. Onun işi de bu insanların özgür kalmaları sağlamak için çabalamaktı. Ve sağladığı söz konusu ‘özgürlük’lerin an itibariyle işine gelmemesi, kızması için yeterli bir sebep miydi?
Aager farkında olmadan, eski ‘marifetleri’ olmasa da, eski ‘perspektif’ini değiştirmesi gerektiğine ayılır.
Karalar içindeki adam başını kaldırır ve gecenin karanlığında göz kırpan yıldızlara bakar ve derin bir nefes alır.
Evet, Drashan onun geçmişidir. Ama geleceği değil.
Ve kendisi ya bu gerçeğe boyun eğecektir, yada inatla etrafındakilerle boynuz tokuşturacaktır.
Aager bir an geri dönüp, bir çift suçluyu sorguluyormuş gibi terletmeye çalıştığı yaralı izci kuzenlerden özür dilemeyi düşünür ama bundan vaz geçer.
Bu işi zamana bırakmayı tercih eder ve zaman aralarını ya düzeltecektir, yada düzeltmeyecektir.
Karalar içindeki genç adam bulgularını —yada bulmadıklarını— Şerif Standorin’le paylaşmak için, son yirmi küsur yıldır bu ormana musallat olan kurt müptelasından kurtulmuş olmanın verdiği mutluluk ve neşeyle herkesin toplandığı büyük kamp ateşine doğru meyleder..
..ancak ayağı ‘çın’layan bir şeye çarpar.
Aager gece karalığında neyi tekmelediğini tam olarak göremez.
Sessizce eğilir ve tekmelediğinde ‘çın’layan şeye bakar..
‘Huh!’, diye ünler.
kınıyla birlikte çadırın önüne bırakılmış..
178 yıl öncesinden itibaren..
Genelde bize sormaz.
Geldiğinde de istenmez.
Gelmiş ise, alışkanlıklarımızın hayatımızın kendisi olarak belirlediğimizi ve artık yerimizde saydığımızı bize anlatır.
Geçmişe fazla bağlanmışsak bizi kırar.
Geçmişimiz yok ise bizi yanıltır.
Geldiğinde itiraz ediyor, onu suçluyor, mukavemet gösteriyor, korkuyor ve ona karşı mücadele ediyorsak, bilinmeli ki gerçek sorumluyu aynada görebilirsin çünkü durduğumuz yer, hayatta olduğumuz halde çoktan gömüldüğümüz yerdir.
Yine mi gidiyorsun, Lenna?”, diye sorar, uzun boylu, yakışıklı high elf.
“Bunun seni ilgilendirdiğini hiç sanmıyorum, Armathelius Riverblade. Dahası, adımla samimi olabileceğin kadar arkadaş değiliz. Aslına bakılırsa, arkadaş bile değiliz.”, der, önünde duran elf kadar uzun boylu kız soğuk bir şekilde.
Armathelius, kendisinin ‘Lenna’ diye hitap ettiği, bir çoklarının ise ‘Buz Kraliçesi’ olarak lakaplandırdığı, fevkalade olduğu kadar, ‘erişilmez’ güzellikteki elf kıza uzun bir süre sessizce bakar. İçinde buruk bir kırıklık hissetse de bunu yüzüne yansıtmaz. Gerçekte yansıtıp yansıtmamasının da pek bir önemi yoktur zira kız onu umursamadığı gibi, ona bakma zahmetinde, yada nezaketinde, bile bulunmaz..
“Ri Grandaleren, kızının peşinden seni gönderdiğini duydum.”, der neşeli olmaya çalışan bir üslupla.
“Ri’mizin şahsıma verdiği herhangi bir özel emir varsa, bu tam olarak odur; ÖZEL! Ve ne seni, ne de bir başkasını ilgilendirir.”, der ‘Lenna’ adındaki kız, ve bunu söylerken de ne soğuk sesinden, ne de tavrından herhangi bir taviz vermez.
Genç Armathelius yine susar ve silik yeşil gözleriyle önünden umarsız bir eda ile süzülen muhteşem kızı seyreder.
“Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’yi sağ salim getir.”, der sessizce arkasından.
‘Lenna’ bir an durur.
“Prenses hazretlerine bir zarar vereceğimi düşünüyor olman çok ilginç, Armathelius. Ona ilgi duyduğunu bilmiyordum.”, der genç elfe buz gibi bir gülümseyişle.
“Prensesin sağlığı ve mutluluğu dışında, şahsına özel bir ilgim yok, Lenna.”, der elf sakin bir sesle.
Kız, adamın kendisine tekrar ‘Lenna’ diye hitap etmesinden dolayı kızar ve platin sarısı kaşlarını çatar.
“Beni ilgilendiren..”, der Armathelius, “..ona bir şey olması halinde, Prensesimizin saraydan ve Bari Na-ammen’den ayrılmasına kendisi sebep olmuş olmasına rağmen, Ri’mizin tez canlı davranması ve bundan seni sorumlu tutması.”
“Pek düşüncelisin, Lordum!”, diye hicveder ‘Lenna’.
Kaşlarını çatma sırası saki Armathelius’a geçmiştir.
“Annen sonsuza kadar yaşamayacak, Lenna. Daha ne kadar onun gölgesinde ve kuklası olarak kalacaksın? Kendi hayatını kendin idare etme zamanın gelmedi mi?”, diye sert bir şekilde cevap verir.
‘Lenna’ daha önce andırmıyor idiyse de, yüzünde beliren ifadeyle artık kesin olarak ‘Buz Kraliçesi’nin kendisi gibidir.
“Sanıyorum ki haddinizi aştınız, Lordum Armathelius. Dikkat edin. High Lady Angrellen hakkında konuşurken gösterdiğiniz saygısızlık, size çok pahalıya mal olabilir.”, diye burnundan soluyarak tıslar.
“Özür dilerim, High Lady Anglenna. Niyetim sizi üzmek değildi.”, der Armathelius aynı sert üslupla. “Bununla beraber, gitmeden önce bir şeyi size söylemeyi kendime görev bilirim.”
“Lütfen. Size ve ‘görevinize’ engel olmayayım, Lordum.”, diye nezaketsiz bir şekilde hırlar elf kızı.
“Annen evrenin merkezi değil.. Dahası, Bari Na-ammen’in kendisine borcu varmış gibi davranması ve bu güzel şehri yıkıcı tavırları ile bezdirmesi, korkarım gittiğinde seni de kendisi gibi yalnız bırakacak. Ve bir elfin yalnızlığı, bir insanın yalnızlığına benzemez, Lenna.”, der genç elf, ama bunu söylerken sesi az önceki gibi sert değildir artık.
“Sanıyorum, bu ‘bir şey’den daha fazla oldu, Lordum.”, diye buzul kırılmasını andıran bir şekilde karşılık verir High Lady Anglenna.
“Hayır, Lenna. Söylediğim şeylerin hepsi ‘bir’ şeydi.. Ve gerçekte de ‘aynı’ şeydi..”
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Lenna ayak seslerini çok geç fark eder ve bir anda, önünde duran devasa yaratık, içinde bulunduğu kanlı arena, ve bir türlü yaratığı devirmekten aciz kalan ‘ahmaklar’ gözleri önünden kayar..
Buna rağmen, her nasılsa ‘prenses’ Lorna’nın, fal taşı gibi açılmış gözlerle kendisine baktığını görüverir..
..nevarki Lorna’nın korkuyla kendisine bakışlarını geç fark ettiği gibi, arkasından gelen ayak seslerini de çok geç fark etmiştir.
Prensesin kendisine neden öyle baktığını da, ardından yaklaşan ayak seslerinin neye tekabül ettiğini de ancak büyük, içi doldurulamaz bir nefret ve tiksinti içeren tıslamayı duyduğunda anlar;
“FELISIA FREMERI’İ HATIRLA!”
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Bana adını ver, iblis tohumu. Bir iyilik istiyorsan karşılığını da vermen gerektiğini çok iyi biliyor olman gerekir.”, diye büyük bir hırsla tıslar High Lady Anglenna.
Uzun, buzullar kadar soğuk ve erişilmez bir güzelliğe sahip elf kızın önünde duran, ve yüzünde kayıp bir ifadeyle kendisini süzen ‘iblis tohumu’, sessizce ona cevap verir.
“Evet. Ben bir iblis tohumuyum. Kötülük doğamda var. Ben bununla doğdum ve öldüğümde de bu, kötülüğün elinden olacak. Peki senin bahanen ne?”, diye hüzünle cevap verir ‘iblis tohumu’.
“ADIN!”, diye hışımla fısıldar Anglenna.
“Sana adımı vereceğim. Ama bu bir iyilik karşılığında bir başka iyilik için olmayacak. Bu, bir kötülüğe engel olmak için yapılmış bir iyilik olacak..”
“ADINI VER!“, diye aynı tavizsiz sesle emreder High Lady.
Merisoul Xyrotwu, kendisine tepeden bakan elf kadına hüzünle, ve büyük bir kayıpla bakar.
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Hayattayken kibrimizle görmediğimiz, ihtişamımızda fark etmediğimiz, ve belki de en kötüsü; umursamadığımız şeyler, ölürken dikkatimizi çekiyor olması ne kadar ilginç.”
High Lady Anglenna’nın zihninden geçen son şey buydu.
Yanında durduğu derin, krater gibi çukurun içine düşmekte olan, High Spires’ın efendisi Philius’un, Prensesi korumaları için gönderdiği elflerden bir tanesinin, kan içerisindeki cesedi..
Devasa yaratığın yer sarsan kükreyişi ve etrafa kudurmuş bir şekilde bakan gözlerinden birisine, muhteşem bir zarafetle süzülerek saplanan, o izci çapulcusu kızın attığı ok..
..ve Anglenna’nın, öyle bir atışı Bari Na-ammen elflerinin bile gerçekleştiremeyeceği gerçeğini kendisine itiraf edişi..
Kendisine Aager diyen, karalar içindeki melun herifin, devasa yaratığın sırtında, düşmeden koşmasını..
O küçük, ne idüğü belirsiz aklı eksik kızın, “Gel, Snare! Bana gel! Gel güzelim.. Sen doğanın köküsün.. Sen varsın!”, diye kendisi gibi küçük ve cılız bir sesle arenanın ortasına çağırdığı muazzam ‘ağacın’ yerden yükselişini ve kalın, sarmaşıklı kollarıyla dev sürüngeni yakalayıp olduğu yere çakmasını..
Udoorin denen yeni yetmenin manyammış kahkahalarını..
Muhtemelen o terbiyesiz bücürün attığı, ve kızıl bir sabun köpüğü gibi genişleyen ateş topunu.
Parçalanmış cesetlerin başında uçuşan sineklerin vızıltılarını..
..Ve uzakta, cesetlerden bir tanesinin hareket edip altından çıkan uzun, esmer saçlı kızı..
High Lady Anglenna bu ayrıntıları etken olarak değil, tamamen bir seyirci olarak izlemişti.
Kendisini şaşırtan, gördüğü ayrıntılar değil, bunları fark etmiş olmasıydı.
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High Lady Anglenna, paylaştığı masada oturan diğerlerini, etrafındaki mutlu şöleni, çalgıcıları, koşuşturan çocukları, önündeki nefis yemekleri ve az ileride oturan kasaba şerifini umursamadan gözlerini diktiği kaçak kıza büyük bir hışımla tıslar..
“Bu senin için ‘Lenna abla’, değil, High Lady Anglenna!”
Lenna ‘ablasının’ karşısında, örülmüş up uzun sim siyah saçlı, içsel bir zarafetle oturan kız başını yere eğmiş, utanç içerisinde ve anca duyulur bir sesle cevap vermişti..
“Bu da beni sizin için, Prenses Alor’Nadien ne yapmıyor mu, abla?”
Anglenna kıp kırmızı olmuş bir şekilde öylece kalakalmıştı oturduğu masada.
Geriye dönüp baktığında, prensesin bir fısıltı kadar sessizce söylediği sözlerde hiçbir tereddüt, pısırıklık, eziklik, geri adım atma yada zayıflık duymamıştı. Buna rağmen söylediklerini ‘onun hayrına’ sessizce söylemişti.
Halbuki kendisi olayı, olabildiğince kamuya mal etmişti!
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Serin bir rüzgar, High Lady Anglenna’nın sırtını okşar ve uzun, selvi boylu kadın, arkasından gelen bir yük ile bir adım ileri tökezler.. Ve arkasından, neredeyse doğduğu günden itibaren bildiği bir kokuyu sezinler.
Bu koku kendisinde her zaman ve her nedense, ve ancak hayatın kendisine tekabül eden bir sıcaklığı, şefkati, aidiyet duygusunu, ve içsel bir koruma dürtüsü uyandıran, Prenses Alor’Nadien ne’nin kokusudur..
Ve nedense Prenses ona, Anglenna’ya, arkadan sarılmıştır..
..kanlı cesetlerle dolu arenanın ortasında!
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Lady Merisoul! Damda olduğunuzu ve beni duyduğunuzu biliyorum.”, diye seslenir Anglenna karanlığın içinden, ancak kendisine herhangi bir ses yada cevap gelmez. Zorlukla ayakta duran ‘Buz Kraliçesi’, sanki bir gecede erimiş ve yüzündeki solgun ifadeye bakılırsa da, gözü kararıp olduğu yerde yığılıp kalmasına ramak kalmıştır.
“..Lütfen.”, diye fısıldar High Lady.
“‘Lütfen’, her zaman işe yarar.”, diye mutlu bir cevap gelir damdan. “Ve bir ‘Lady’ seviyesine güncellendiğime göre benden bir şey istiyor olmalısın.”
“Evet. Korkarım yardımınıza ihtiyacım var.”, diye zorlukla cevap verir Anglenna ve başıyla kıpırdamadan sarkan koluna işaret eder.
“Nooldu sana böyle? Kumrular yarım saat önce döndüler. O şapşal çocuğun yüzündeki ifadeye bakılırsa sanıyorum mutlu bir akşam geçirmiş olmalılar. Prensesine sarılmasına bakılırsa, oldukça mutlu bir akşam!”
“Bir.. bir hanımefendi böyle şeyleri konuşmaz..”, der Anglenna, gergin ifadesiyle.
“Neyse ki ben ne bir ‘leydiyim’, ne de bir ‘hanımefendi’.. Ne olduğunu bana anlatacak mısın?”, diye High Lady’nin omzuna dokunur..
..ve dokunmasıyla, Anglenna’nın sıkılmış dişleri arasından boğuk bir inleme kaçar.
“Omzun ezilmiş ve kırılmış..”, der ve High Lady’nin solmuş yüzüne sırıtır. “Biliyor musun, hep senin bu pahalı elbiselerini parçalamak istemişimdir!”, diye ekler ve ani bir hareketle elf kızın elbisesini, omuz dikişlerinden söker!
“..Kolundaki morluklara bakılırsa, onun da en az üç yerinde çatlak var. Diğer elinle göğsünü tutuşuna bakılırsa, kırık kaburgalar, duruşuna bakılırsa, sırtında bana göstermediğin en az bir darbe, ve sanırım kalçanda da bi sorun var.. Ne yaptın sen? Kendini bir yaban domuzu sürüsünün önüne mi attın? Bu kendini öldürtmek için kötü bir tercih, zira başaramazsan.. Eh.. Bu hale gelirsin işte!”
“Eline düştüm ve beni iyileştirmene ihtiyacım var!”, diye inler High Lady sıkılmış gözleri arasından acı yaşlar dökülürken.
“Neden Lady Magella’ya gitmiyorsun? Yada küçük Inshala’ya? Lady seni beleşe tamir eder. Aslına bakılırsa Inshala’da.. Ama ona gidersen bundan sonra o kıza, olduğu insan gibi davranman gerekir ki, bu da o kadar büyük bir kayıp sayılmaz senin için..”, der Merisoul.
“İkisine de.. gidemem..”, diye cevap verir Anglenna, acı içerisinde.
Merisoul’un bal renkli kaşlarından biri kalkar.
“Neden?”, diye sorar açık bir merakla.
“Birincisi, küçük Inshala burada değil, Heaven Parkında.. Efendi Aager’le birlikte kırılmış bir şeyleri onarmaya çalışıyorlar! Lady’ye de gidemem çünkü.. çünkü ona gidersem Prenses bu halimi görür!”, diye zorlukla konuşur Anglenna.
“Görsün.. Seni ilk defa yaralanmış görmüyor ki. Ne oldu? Onları takip ettiğinden haberdar olmasını mı istemiyorsun yoksa? Sana bunun iyi bir fikir olmadığını ima etmeye çalışmıştım sanırım. Hemde daha bu gece!”
“Hayır, genç Merisoul. Onun üzülmesini istemiyorum..”, diye sessizce inler high elf asilzade..
“Bu senden duyabileceğim en muhteşem yala— doğru olsa gerek!”, diye ünler succubi melezi. “Sen gerçekten samimisin..”
“Bunun için sana ne borçlanacağım, küçük iblis?”, diye diş gıcırdatır Anglenna, artık kapadığı gözleriyle ekşittiği suratı, acısının sınıra ulaştığını göstermektedir.
“Aaa.. Acı.. Bunun ne olduğunu daha bildiğini sanmıyorum. Ama bu gece küçük sürprizler ve mutluluklarla dolu gibi görünüyor!”, der bir başka ses ve Anglenna sesin içinde hissettiği kini algılar ve gözlerini açar.
Merisoul’un arkasında o çocuk durmaktadır.. Dar—bişey! Ahmak Philius’un piçi!..
..ve adamın suratındaki katışıksız nefreti, ve elindeki uzun hançeri fark eder.
“Sevgili Soul, müsaadenle bu zevki bana bırakırsan pek mutlu olacağım..”, diye kindar bir fısıltıyla tıslar Darly Dor.
“DARLY!”, diye kamçı gibi emir verir Merisoul ve Darly olduğu yerde çakılır. “Sana maşa olmakla ilgili söylediklerimi bu kadar mı çabuk unuttun?”
“Çok kısa bir anlığına daha maşa kalabilirim..”, diye dişlerini gıcırdatır Darly vahşi bir ifadeyle.
“Senin.. Philius’un piçi olman dışında.. kim olduğunu.. bilmiyorum.. Benimle ne alıp veremediğini de.. bilmiyorum..”, diye zorlukla konuşur High Lady.
“Hayatın o kadar çok arkadaşlarla mı dolu ki can sıkıntısından kendine düşman arıyorsun, dişi elf!”, diye nahoş bir üslupla konuşur Merisoul. “Dahası, aşağılamaya çalıştığın o çocuk, Efendi Philius’un eşinden olma öz evladı ve adı da resmi kayıtlarda mevcut. Bunun da anlamı, teknik olarak bu çocuğun asilzadelik mertebesi seninkiyle aynı! Yanlış biliyor olabilirim ama kendisine yaptığın bu hakaret, ya onun kabul edeceği bir haraç ödemeni, ya da teke tek bir düello da onunla karşılaşmanı gerektirir! Şimdi, ikiniz de daha fazla ‘bana’ borçlanmak istemiyorsanız bu saçmalığa hemen bir son vereceksiniz. Şansını zorlamak isteyen varsa, lütfen, sizlere engel olmayayım. Ama şunu da söyleyeyim, ben haraç kabul etmem, düellolarla da uğraşmam. Benim fiyatım ‘ruhlarınız’dır!”
High Lady’de, Darly Dor’da susarlar.
“Darly, bıçağını koy yerine ve kendinden geçmek üzere olan High Lady’yi kucakla ve onu dama çıkarmama yardım et.”, diye emreder Merisoul.
“Asla! Bu şirret yılana—”, diye nefret dolu bir ifadeyle başlar Darly..
“—Anneni daha ne kadar utandıracaksın Darlius?”, diye tıslar Merisoul!
Darly sessizce Anglenna’ya yaklaşır, kırık omzunu kendisine sabitleyecek şekilde tutar, seri bir hareketle uzun boylu high elf kızı kucaklayıp kaldırır.
Anglenna’dan bir inleme duyulur.
“Kes sesini şirret yılan!”, diye neredeyse tükürür Darly.
“Seni.. gerçekten tanımıyorum.. benim ne yaptığımı düşünüyorsan da.. yapmadım.. benim bir yaptırım.. gücüm yok.”, diye acı dolu bir inleme daha duyulur High Lady’den sonra elf kız kendinden geçer.
“İşte bu yüzden sana ‘piyonlarla uğraşan maşa’ olma demiştim, ama sen biraz kalın kafalı çıktın. Babanın.. Philius’un evinde senin bir yaptırım gücün var mı? Kaçmamış olsaydın bile..”
Darly, istemsizce uzun boylu elf kadını biraz daha rahat edeceği şekilde kavrar.
“Hayır. Olmazdı. O gücü ancak Ri bana verebilirdi. Tıpkı babama verdiği gibi.”
“Anglenna da sadece bir maşa! Annesinin küçük, süslü, söz dinleyen, şirin maşası.. Bunu gerçekten anladığında, bir sonraki adım için gel bana, ama daha önce değil.. Şimdi, uzat kızı şuraya. Bu damda bi dükkan açmadığımız kaldı!”
. . .
“İyi misin?”, diye sorar Merisoul yorgun bir şekilde.
“Kolum acımıyor, rahat nefes alabiliyorum, kalçamda da sadece küçük bir sızı var o kadar.”, diye derin bir nefes alır High Lady Anglenna uzandığı yerden.
“Sırtından bunu çıkardım..”, der succubi melezi ve High Lady’ye yaklaşık üç karış uzunluğunda, baş parmak kalınlığında iki ucu da sivri bir ‘çivi’ gösterir. “Sanıyorum bunlardan bir tane daha önce görmüştüm.. Two-Day Woods’dan geçerken bize yapılan baskında!”
“Çocuk nerede?”, diye sorar Anglenna.
“Ehemmiyet sıralamanda ciddi sorunların var senin, kızım!”, der Merisoul hafif sırıtarak.
“Onun benim hakkımda bu denli yanlış şeyler düşünmesini istemen.”, der Anglenna donuk bir şekilde.
“Çevrendekilerin senin hakkında ‘yanlış’ düşüncelerin olabileceğine inanmakta zorluk çekiyorum..”, diye hicveder Merisoul. “..acaba neden?”
“Sana ne borçlandım?”, diye sorar High Lady usanmış bir sesle..
“Biliyor musun, ben bu iyilik denen şeysinin ne olduğunu ancak hayal meyal anlıyorum, ama senin HİÇBİR fikrin yok!”, der succubi melezi acı bir şekilde.
High Lady Anglenna uzandığı yerden tepesinde duran uhrevi güzellikteki kızı, koyu yeşil gözleriyle uzun bir an süzer. Neden sonra ona anlaşılması zor bir sesle konuşur.
“Sen sadece yedi yıl bir çukurda kaldın.. Bir asır ve yetmiş sekiz yıl.. Ve ben hala çukurdayım, genç Merisoul!”
Merisoul Xyrotwu sessizce High Lady’ye bakar. Ancak gördüğü, önünde uzanmış uzun boylu, platin sarısı saçlı yorgun elf kadın değildir. Succubi melezi, kızın içine bakar, ve onun kalbini görür. Gördüğü şey karşısında ise hayrete düşer zira burnu kalkık asilzadenin kırık vücudundan daha kötü durumda olan bir kalbi vardır.
“Anlat bana..”, der Merisoul sessizce. Ama sanki o sessizliğin içinde bükülmez, çelik gibi bir emir vardır. “..bana çukurunu anlat —ki ben de çıkmana yardım edeyim!”
✱ ✱ ✱
High Lady Anglenna hayatının belki de sonuna kadar bu sesi unutmayacaktır; altın zincirler arasından sıyrılarak et ve kemiğe saplanan uzun, keskin çeliğin ıslak sesi.. Kendisi hiçbir zaman pek de mücevher yada takı kullanan biri olmamıştı. Hele potansiyel olarak bir yerlere takılma ihtimali olan uzun, ince, işlemeli altın zincirler. Bu tür zincirleri bildiği sadece bir kişi kullanıyordu..
Prenses Alor’Nadien ne.
Anglenna birden içine düşen ateş ve korkuyla arkasını döndüğünde Prensesi kendisine sarılmış, gözleri acıyla kısılmış ve bir şeyler fısıldar bulmuştu.
“Üzgünüm abla.. Elimden ancak bu kadarı geldi.. Seni kurtaramadım.. Beni affet..”
✱ ✱ ✱
Alor’Nadien ne, tahtı sana bırakacak.”
High Lady Anglenna sessiz bir hayretle yarı uzanmış, yarı doğrulmuş olduğu damda, önünde duran uhrevi güzellikteki, kuzgun kanatlı meleze bakar.
“Bu.. kabul edilemez bir şey. Alor’Nadien ne o kadar sorumsuz olamaz!”, diye fısıldar Anglenna.
“Bu sorumsuzluk değil, babasıyla arasındaki sürtüşmenin sonucu olarak kendisine bırakılan seçenekler arasında en kansız olabileceğini düşündüğü şey olduğundan..”, diye konuşur Merisoul sessizce. “Ahmak babası yüzünden artık taht yolu ona kapandı. Bunu sen de pek âla biliyorsun. Şayet Lorna tahtı babasından almak istiyorsa, bunu onun elinden zorla ve ‘ezerek’ almalı ve ikimizde sevgili prensesin bunu yapmayacağını biliyoruz çünkü ezip geçmek onun ruhuna, karakterine ve kimliğine aykırı. Bu da tahtı, prenses dışında alabilecek geride sadece üç kişi bırakıyor.. İlki annen —ki buna Grandaleren hiçbir şart altında izin vermeyecektir ve annenin yaşı da taht için çok geç artık. Diğer seçenek ise sensin.”
Anglenna, önünde duran ve bu güne kadar en nazik bir ifadeyle ‘muallak’ olarak tanımlayabileceği kıza öylece bakakalır.
“Üç kişi dedin. Diğeri kim?”
“Diğerini ifşa etmek bana düşmez zira bu benim sırrım değil. Ve onun tahta geçmesi halinde bütün elf ırkının toplu sinir krizi geçireceğinden de eminim.”, diye kıkırdar Merisoul mutlu bir şekilde.
Anglenna başını kaldırır ve gecenin karanlığına ve yıldızlara uzun bir süre bakar. Sonra başını eğer ve sessizce konuşur.
“Ben.. ben tahtı istemiyorum. İsteyenlerin kendilerine ve etraflarındakilere ne kadar zarar verdiklerini açık bir şekilde görecek kadar uzun yaşadım.”
“Annen.. High Lady Angrellen.. bu cevabından pek de hoşlanmayacaktır.”
“Annemin bu güne kadar herhangi bir şeyden hoşlandığını görmüşlüğüm olmadı. Bir şeyden daha hoşlanmaması pek de büyük bir fark yaratmayacaktır. Eminim zamanla buna alışacaktır.”, diye hafife almaya çalışır uzun boylu elf kadın, ama içinin titremesine de engel olamaz.
“Cesurca.. ve ahmakça söylenmiş bir şey.”, der Mersioul düşünceli bir sesle.
Anglenna yorgun bir şekilde omuzlarını silker.
“Bugüne kadar Alor’Nadien ne’yi herkes yalnız bıraktı; annesi, babası, annem, ben ve halkı.. Ne kadar acı değil mi? Onu yalnız bırakmayanlar ise yabancılar oldu; elflere tahammül bile edemeyen bir yarı elf izci, bastı bacak bir cüce, Drashan’lı bir kesici, bir iblis tohumu, bir dwarf ve ne idüğü belirsiz, küçük, sıskası çıkmış bir kız.. Dahası, onu asla terk etmeyecek, yeni yetme, aptal bir insanoğlu!”, diye acı bir şekilde söylenir ve bunu söylerken ilk defa elf kadının ‘insanî’ duyguları olabileceğine dair bir belirti görünür; Anglenna Sunsear’ın gözleri dolar..
“Halbuki High Woods kalbi olarak onu seçmişti. Öyle görünüyor ki halkım bunun anlamını unutmuş durumda.”, diye devam eder elf kadın.
“Tarihimiz.. İlk Rise’miz.. Elorellen Feymist.. Adalar Krallığı ilk kurulduğunda üç kusal high elf kardeşten biri.. High Woods’a geldiğinde orman onu kalbi olarak seçmişti. Elorellen Feymist’de bu sebepten dolayı oraya yerleşti ve Bari Na-ammen’de bu yüzden orada kuruldu.
Ve ben High Woods’un kalbi değilim. Bari Na-ammen’de ne bir sevgilim, ne sevenim, ne de bir dostum var. Sahip olduğum tek şey düşmanlarım.. Ben kimin Rise’si olabilirim?
Alor’Nadien ne.. O gerçek bir sevgili. O sadece High Woods’un kalbi değil, genç Merisoul. O halkının da kalbi..
O.. Bari Na-ammen’in kalbi..
Evet. O kızı herkes yalnız bıraktı. Ama ben onu asla yalnız bırakmayacağım. Ne onu, ne de onun neslini..”
Merisoul, antika dükkanında ilginç bulduğu bir parçaya bakar gibi Anglenna’ya bakar.
“Annen buna izin vermeyecektir.”, diye sessizce uyarır elf kadını.
Anglenna başını doğrultur ve önünde duran kanatlı varlığa, Ad Ara’ya bakar. Tavrı az önceki hali ile aynıdır ancak yüzünde, herkesin kendisinden bildiği, ‘soğuk’ ifade yoktur. Sanki yerini, içinde biraz daha azim, kararlılık, inanç ve katilik içeren bambaşka bir.. ‘şeye’ bırakmıştır.
Anglenna Sunsear, hayatında belki de ilk defa kendisi üzerine yüklenen ‘Buz Kraliçesi’ kimliğini kırar ve yerini, içinde gerçek ve içten ‘ifadelerin’ olduğu bir kimliğe bırakır.
“BEN ONU ASLA YALNIZ BIRAKMAYACAĞIM..“
“NE ONU, NE DE ONUN NESLİNİ..“, diye yanarak tekrarlar kendisini.
“HER NE PAHASINA OLURSA..“
✱ ✱ ✱
Alor’Nadien ne.. Güzelim.. Bebeğim.. Neden? Hedef bendim, sen değil! Beni vurması gerekiyordu.. Neden..? Neden girdin araya?”, diye inler Anglenna ve hayatında ilk defa içinde bir şeylerin kırıldığını, ardından da parçalanıp, asla bir daha geri gelmeyecek şekilde, sele kapılmış cesetler gibi kendisinden uzaklaşarak gözden kaybolduğunu hisseder..
“Çün.. çünkü sen benim.. ablamsın..”, diye kanlı, fokurdayan bir sesle Lorna’nın cılız sesini duyar Anglenna..
..ve Udoorin belirir yanlarında.
Genç adamın yüzü mutlak bir kayıp ile buruşmuş, kan içerisindeki, kırılmış prensesini kucaklamış, utanmadan ağlamaktadır.
“Güzel.. Dorin.. ablam sana.. emanet. Onu.. onu kurtar. Ve.. Darly.. bu onun suçu değildi.. Lütfen..”, diye anca duyulur, kanlı bir fısıltıyla yalvarır Alor’Nadien ne..
..sonra, yüzünde mutlu bir ifade varmış gibi sessizce solup kaybolur..
✱ ✱ ✱
Gelin güzellerim, burası artık güvenli değil..”, diyerek Nadine, peşine taktığı kızını, yeğenini ve yoldaşlarını, sarayın gizli tünellerinden geçirirken karşılaştıkları elf muhafızlarına, arkalarında bıraktıkları taht salonunu işaret ederek “Hainler.. Hainler taht salonunda.. Hainleri yakalayın!”, diye emirler yağdırır ama ‘hainler’ derken kocasından mı, yoksa High Lady Angrellen’den mi, yoksa her ikisinden mi bahsediyor anlaşılmaz.
“Geldiğinizi ilk duyduğumda o kadar sevinmiştim ki.. Korkarım, sizler adına vermeyi düşündüğüm şöleni ertelememiz gerekecek zira burası artık güvenli değil.”, der nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde.
Rise’nin sözlerini tasdik edercesine, arkalarında büyük bir patlama olur ve her yer sarsılır.
Taht salonu yıldırımlar, ateş yağmurları ve mebus büyülerle sallanırken, her iki tarafın askerlerine ait kılıç şakırtılarına ölenlerin boğuk çığlıkları karşır..
Yan odalardan birine sızdıklarında bir anda Nadine, Lorna ve grubun etrafında elliye yakın elf muhafızı belirir ve her şey durur.
Gruptaki herkes bir anda gerilirken Udoorin’in yüzü kararır ve sessizce sevdiği kızın arkasına geçip devasa baltalarını kaldırır.
Muhafızların başı Rise’ye yaklaşır ve önünde, tek dizi üstüne düşer.
“Hanımım..”, der boğuk bir sesle. “Aramıza katıldığınızdan beri bizim için yaptıklarınızı bazılarımız gördü. Ri’mize baş kaldıramazdık ama prensesimize yapılanlara da göz yummadık.
Prensesimiz, Bari Na-ammen’in sükuneti için hakkı olan tahtından vazgeçişini ve ayrılışını gördük.. Hiçbir ırkın tarihinde görülmemiş bu fedakarlıktan sonra, burada bulunanlar ve dışarıda hazırda bekleyen bine yakın muhafız, aramızda ona gizli bir sadakat yemini ettik; geri geldiği gün, her ne olursa olsun onun önünde, yanında ve arkasında olacağımıza dair.
Öyle görünüyor ki andımızın sınanma zamanı geldi. Sayımız fazla değil, ama buradaki her elf’in canı sizindir.. Bir gün bize geri döneceğinize ve Bari Na-ammen’i tekrar yükselteceğinize dair inancımızdan dolayı bizler önden gideceğiz ve sizin için yolu açacağız zira High Lady Angrellen’in kişisel muhafızları her yerdeler ve prensesimizi gördükleri yerde öldürme emri aldılar.
Onları aştığımızda ise önümüze Orken sürüleri çıkacak çünkü buraya bir soykırım için geldiler ve şehir sarılmış durumda.”, der muhafızların başı. Sonra derin bir nefes alır, başını kaldırır ve Rise’sine bakar.. Alor’Nadien ne’ye.
“Bugün Bari Na-ammen’in son günü. Bugün, bu güzel ülke dünyaya veda ederken lütfen bizi iyilikle anın.”, diye çekilmiş bir ifadeyle Lorna’ya yalvarır.
Gözleri dolmuş olan Lorna’nın yüzünde en az önündeki muhafız kadar çekilmiş bir ifade mevcuttur. Prenses, yumuşak, boğuk ama kararlı bir sesle konuşur.
“Adın ne senin asker? Seni ve sadıklarımı anıp hatırlaya bilmem için bana isimlerinizi söyleyin.”, der.
Muhafızların başı, yavaşça elini göğüs zırhlığının içine sokar ve düzgünce katlanıp mühürlenmiş kalın bir papirüs çıkartır.
“Sadıklarınızın hepsi burada, hanımım.”, der ve ayağa kalkar. Kısa, kesin bir emir verir ve muhafızlar yek vücut haykırır.
“RİSE ALOR’NADİEN NE..”
“RİSE ALOR’NADİEN NE..”
“RİSE ALOR’NADİEN NE..”
Sonra hepsi kılıçlarını çeker ve dönüp seri adımlarla prensesleri için yolu açmaya başlarlar..
✱ ✱ ✱
Anglenna kendisini içi boş kırba gibi hissetmektedir. Ne kadar büyü reservi varsa hepsini bir kaç dakikada boşaltmış ve ancak bu şekilde hayatta kalmış olmanın verdiği gerçekte tatmin edici bir hazzı da yoktur.
Elf kadın, uzun, platin sarısı saçları dağılmış, üstü başı kan ve pislik içerisinde, etrafını çevreleyen iri cesetlere bakar; Orkenler!
Arashkan’ın ortasında, Heaven Parkta Orken’lerin ne işi olabilir, diye düşünmeye çalışır, ancak zihni kadar bedeni de boşalmış gibidir.
Belki dostarı vardır çekingesiyle, High Lady orada daha fazla oyalanmaması gerektiğini düşünür ve tam dönüp gidecekken hemen arkasında, kendisine meyletmiş cesedi fark eder.
“Bunu ben öldürmedim. Aslına bakılırsa, arkamdan geldiğini bile bilmiyordum.”, diye sessizce mırıldanır.
Anglenna zorlukla eğilip cesedi döndürdüğümde, koca Orken’in tam alnının ortasına saplanmış oku görür.. ve içsel bir çekim mi, yoksa doğal bir fakındalıktan mı, kız okun üstündeki elf işlemeleri fark eder.
“Huh!”, diye ünler kendi kendisine.
Elf kadın uzanır ve oku çekip çıkarmaya çalışır ancak ok, beklediği mukavemeti göstermez ve bir anda yaratığın kalın kafatasından kurtulunca Anglenna dengesini kaybeder ve biraz utanç verici bir şekilde kıçının üstüne düşer.
Anlaşılan bu gece şu, her şeyin yanlış gittiği gecelerden biridir..
Elf kadın, ‘bir gören oldu mu’, diye etrafına bakınmaz çünkü buna ayıracak ne gücü, ne de takati kalmıştır.
Bendensel olduğu kadar zihinsel bir çaba gösterek ayağa kalkar ve etrafına bakınır..
..ve az ileride, kendisine ait olmayan bir Orken cesedini daha görür.
Anglenna, Orken cesedine yaklaştığında, benzer ‘leş’lerin, tesbih taneleri gibi kendisine doğru sıralandığına ayılır..
..ve hepsinin ya alnının ortasında, yada kafalarının tam arkasında ilişmiş okları fark eder.
Anglenna, uzun bir süre tükenmiş haliyle varlıklarından bile haberdar olmadığı cesetlere bakar ve bu gece hala hayatta oluşunun tek mesulünün, kendisine çarpık bir sorumluluk duygusundan dolayı yardım etmiş, ancak konuşmak bile istemeyecek kadar da uyuz olan izci onbaşıyı düşünür.
Evet. Bu ‘leşler’ kesin olarak Laila’nın marifetidir zira o güne kadar tanıdığı ve bildiği, ‘headshot’ fetişi olan tek izci odur.
Elf kız, yorgun ve bitkin bir şekilde parktan ayrılmak için yürümeye başlar. Yürürken ister istemez parmaklarını, elindeki okun üzerindeki fevkalade ince yapılmış süsleme ve işlemelerin üzerinde gezdirir..
..ve bir şeye daha ayılıverir.
Anglenna oku göz hizasına getirir ve platin sarısı kaşları hayretle kalkar.
“Huh!”, diye gördüğü şey karşısında ünler.
“Bir kız bu kadar şanslı olabilir mi, yaa? Önce Silendenien en Eruanna, şimdi de bu! Nereden ve nasıl buldun bu kayıp mirası ki?”
Anglenna Sunsear, kendisini hiç bu kadar bedensel, zihinsel ve duygusal olarak yorgun, tükenmiş ve kötü hissettini hatırlayamaz.
Annesinin görmeyeceğinden emin olduğu zamanlarda olduğu gibi gözleri dolar..
..ve yine o zamanlarda olduğu gibi babasını, Selvius Brightleaf’i hatırlar..
Etrafındaki herkesin sarılabileceği, güvenebileceği, sırtını yaslayabileceği ve ağlayabileceği bir omzu vardır..
O karanlık, Drashan’lı kesicinin bile!
Kendisi dışında herkesin..
Evet.. Gerçekten bir elfin yalnızlığı, bir insanın yalnızlığına benzemiyormuş..
✱ ✱ ✱
Muhafızların başı, Rise Alor’Nadien ne’ye son bir defa daha bakar, sonra gözleri yavaşça bir başkasına kayar.. Genç, yakışıklı high elf muhafız nefesini tutmuş bir şekilde platin saçlı kızı süzer..
Armathelius Riverblade içinde hissettiği kırık sevgiyi.. ve hüznü.. gizlemeye çalışır.
Çok hafif bir şekilde ‘Lenna’ya başıyla veda eder..
..ve adamlarının peşinden koşar.
..ve gözden kaybolur.
Çok uzaklardan, ormanın derinliklerinden, tanıdık, iç ürpertici savaş borularının vahşi ulumaları duyulur..
Tıpkı Arashkan da olduğu gibi, efendileriyle beraber Orken sürüleri gelmiştir!
..ve onlarla beraber Themalsar’ın kehaneti gerçekleşir; neredeyse bin yıllık durağanlığın getirdiği uyuşukluk, ihtişam körlüğü ve entrika, meyvesini vermiştir.
Bari Na-ammen için hesap günü, nihai yıkım ile gelmiştir..
✱ ✱ ✱
Uzun boylu, platin saçlı high elf kız mutlak bir hezimet içerisinde, saklandıkları loş mağaranın bir köşesine çekilmiş, sessizce yüz yetmiş sekiz yıllık bir yalanı değerlendirmektedir; High Lady Anglenna Sunsear..
Ve geçmişe doğru baktığında, yaşadığı yalanı, annesi High Lady Angrellen’i ve..
Hayatında annesi ve onun kurguladığı yalan dışında hiçbir şey yoktur.
Ama kaybettiği şeylerin listesi o kadar uzundur ki..
Beraber geçirebilecekken kaçırdığı bir ömür dolusu Alor’Nadien ne, onun annesi Nadine, kendi babası Selvius Brightleaf, Armathelius Riverblade, potansiyel onca arkadaş, bu küçük grup, High Woods ve Bari Na-ammen..
İşin en acı yanı, kendisine yakınlık ve, çarpıkça da olsa, anlayış gösteren tek kişi, kendisinden zorla adını ‘yolduğu’ o iblis tohumudur.
Anglenna listeye kuzeni Lorna’yı eklemez çünkü o kızın kendisine olan akıl almaz düşkünlüğünün sebebini bir türlü anlayamaz. İronik bir şekilde, kendisi kendisiyle karşılaşmış olsa, kendisini ivedilikle ve arkadan bıçaklar, ve bundan dolayıda bi gıdım bile rahatsızlık hissetmeyeceğini kendi kendisine itiraf eder..
High elf kız, Anglenna yalanının gerçekte kendisini ne denli yalnız ve tekil anlamda boş kıldığını tüm çıplaklığı ile anlar ve gözleri dolar.
Saklandıkları loş mağaranın köşesinde sessizce ağlamaya başlar..
Anglenna ağlarken ne kadar vakit geçtiğini bilemez, ancak küçük bir şeyin sessizce eteğinin ucunu çekiştirdiğine ayılır.
Başını o yöne çeverdiğinde, Inshala adındaki küçük kızın, zarif el hareketleriyle eteğinin, muhtemelen High Woods’dan kaçarken yırtılmış kenarıyla bir şeyler yaptığını görür.
Anglenna hayretle küçük kıza bakar zira bu kızın elbisesini tamir etmeyi bırakın, kendisine yaklaştığını bile gören olmamıştır.
“Ne yapıyorsun sen?”, diye burnunu çekerek sorar kıza.
Kız başını kaldırmadan işine devam eder, ancak çok sessiz ve utangaç bir fısıltıyla, “Elbiseni yanlış giymişsin, abla. Onu tamir ediyorum.”, der.
Sonra yavaşça ayağa kalkar, kıpkırmızı olmuş bir suratla Anglenna’ya bakar..
..ve hayretle kendisine seyreden high elfe sarılır!
“Gerçek kaybı, ve bununla gelen acıyı hissettin. Artık bizdensin abla. Şimdi.. Saçlarının bu hali ne böyle? Bir High Lady’ye hiç yakışmıyor.”, diye ciddi bir ifadeyle söylenir Inshala.
“Bari Na-ammen artık yok ve ben de bir High Lady değilim.”, der Anglenna, dolu gözlerle.
“Bizi biz yapan, başkalarının bize taktıkları ya da yakıştırdıkları isimler ve sıfatlar değildir, abla. Bizleri sevenlerin bizi nasıl gördükleridir önemli olan. Bunu.. Bunu bana Aager Fogstep öğretti. Hadi gel.. Sen bana, bende saçlarını öreyim..!”
Silendenien en Eruanna: Silendenien’in Zarafeti, Gracious Warning.
Melethril Elandi: Lover’s Arrow.
Kırba: Genelde hayvan derisinden yapılma ve su taşımak için kullanılan bir nevi kese (water skin).
Quiet In The Library
Arcantonic and Brom slip silently into the night to do somethings that might very well break the prophecy they were sent for.
Adamant that she must do what she set out to do, Brom has little choice but to help accompany the ‘cute little demon’ of a gnomic girl.
THAT. WAS. AWSOOOOOME!“, Tonic half shrieked, half cackled with manic fervent and triumphant hysteria. “I can’t believe she held me.. No!.. She hugged me! The Riverin of High Woods, The Princess of Bari Na-ammen, the daughter of Ri Grandaleren and Rise Nadine Graciousward.. THE FUTURE QUEEN OF THE HIGH ELVES, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist herself, my twin sister by adoption, no less, and she hugged me! Oww my Gosh, she smelled so nice.. So warm.. And you know what? I think I will go visit her again, once this is all over. Just for more of that!”
“Girl.. She offered you the throne of Bari Na-Ammen, literally, and all you can think of is her hugs? I’ll be the first one to admit, she is a beauty, par to Wraiven, but really, now.. Your priorities are a tad eschewed.”, Brom said with a bemused tone.
“Look here, you little hobbit!”, she said pointing a tiny finger at him. “This here is the hair of a Princess. And not just any princes, but that of Alor’Nadien ne, herself! And not just a snippet, either. She gave me a whooooole strand!”
Her tiny finger, the one she was pointing at Brom, was nearly all black! Because her fingers were so small, and the Princess truly had had very long hair, flowing nearly all the way down to her feet. She had enlaced the hair around and around her finger until it had all but covered it.
And now, the little gnomic girl was skipping and hopping like she was the proud owner of one of the rarest wonders in the kingdom..
..which, she was!
“You are such a dork, Tonic.”, Brom smiled. “..And a fangirl!”
The two had left the huge Dorin guy and the beautiful, graceful, and pretty princess behind and were heading to their next, and hopefully, last stop for the evening; to the Great Arashkan Library.
Why was every officious building in the city named ‘Great’, Brom had wondered.
The Great Arashkan Courthouse, The Great Arashkan Library, The Great Arashkan Arena, The Great Spires, The Great First Lord Princeps Palace.. It wasn’t like there was another city just over the hill with a courthouse, a library, an arena, some spires nor another first lord that one would confuse, now, was there?
Or perhaps there was some ‘baby’ Arashkan courthouses, libraries, arenas, spires, and first lord palaces and hence, the ‘great’ ones had real and practical significance.
Brom couldn’t imagine a conversation where some stranger would ask; “Excuse me, mate, where’s the First Lord’s Palace?”, and get a reply, “Which one? I mean, we have so many!”.
Brom suspected, that conversation would devolve into something like;
“The ‘great’ one..”
“Yea, okay, but which one? We have a lot of ‘great’ first lords in Arashkan. You’ll have to be a bit more specific, mate!”
“How many First Lord’s do you have, in this city?”
“19,876 by the last count. We had a new First Lord spawn just the other day!”
Apparently, Brom’s live imagination was at play again!
But there was, however, some truth in his creative perception. All these ‘greats’ didn’t make the city anymore endearing.. Only pompous! No one, it seemed, was near-honestly humble like hobbits in this world. Hobbits lived in nice, quiet, rolling hills. They didn’t build giant monuments, nor put awesome statues to impress others. Seemed a little like too much work for no gain at all. Hobbits made their homes in the hills and.. well.. they lived in them.. Happily too!
The near-honestly was because hobbits were just unenthusiastically lazy to be bothered by such frivolities!
Elves, humans, gnomes, dwarves.. none of them ever seemed satisfied with what they already had. Always they would thrive for more..
..and still, be unhappy.
Just how stupid was that?
“Brom.”, Tonic said sternly. “I know what she offered. Think of my history. I know what power is. I lived with my uncle for years. And I know what power can do to you. My uncle.. He had power. Lots and lots of it. Even his demons feared him and it really is hard to instill fear in a demon. And look what it brought him. Banishment to the depths of hell he is never coming back from. It is possible he is still alive. And burning perpetually there.. And Heavens willing, he should burn for more, and then some.”
“I.. can’t say I admire his disposition. But why? Why did Nadine banish him and not just kill him and be done with? Death seems kinda more permanent, don’t you think?”, asked Brom a bit taken aback by the little gnomic girl’s savage tone.
“No. Death is not always thus permanent. Not for guys like my uncle..”, she replied, her tone much more subdued now than just a moment before.
“Ow? How do you mean?”
“My uncle, Arcanton.. He made many deals with many beings.. Outsiders.. Creatures that do not belong to our plane of existence. Planes where time and space get distorted. You literally can’t kill those creatures, Brom. You can only banish them from your own reality and hope some fool will not summon them back.. At least not in your lifetime!”, Tonic said quietly.
“Hmm.. So Arcanton made deals with things out of our plane of existence. But so did Wraiven, come to think of it, did she not? I mean, The Raven Queen doesn’t exactly belong to our plane of existence either, you know.”, Brom said carefully.
“Seressa did not make deals with the Raven Queen, Brom. Not in the sense that my uncle did. My pairs soul is her own. And belongs only to her. I doubt under any circumstance would she give up her soul to anyone.. or anything! Seressa is bonded with the Raven Queen via a pact. She does her bidding in return for her queen sharing a part of her power and knowledge with her. It is sort of a mutually beneficial agreement between two parties. She can, if she wanted, dissolve that bond. Yes, she will lose the Raven Queen’s favor and the power she imparts to her, but the fact remains; she can end the bond..”, Tonic tried to explain.
“So she can.. But I still don’t see the difference.”, said Brom as he squinted into the night.
“The difference is, unless you got more balls than brains, you literally can’t break the deals you make with Outsiders. Once the deal is done, your soul is on the market! It’s ‘Going.. Going.. Going.. Gone!’“, she said seriously.
“Well, that sucks.. I suppose. I like it that Seressa is free. I like her free. And she should always be free. Social rhetorics do her enough injustice and chain her as it is. She doesn’t need any more constraints.”, Brom said quietly.
The two walked on for some time in companionable silence. As it turned out, they ended up going the longest possible way around, taking the streets between the Officers District and Heaven Park, behind the Archery Military Camp, and by the Lights Temple. For some reason, the First Lords Palace and the streets surrounding it seemed to be teaming with burly, scowling patrols and neither Brom nor Tonic needed any complications or altercations with the city’s law enforcement’s that late, that night.
“Don’t.”, Brom said finally.
“Don’t what?”, asked Tonic, a bit surprised.
“Don’t ask the question you have been meaning to ask all night, Miss Tonic.”, he said with a destitute voice.
“Actually, I wasn’t going to ask anything.. And you really don’t need to ‘Miss’ me you know. Every time you say ‘Miss Tonic’, it sounds like ‘I miss Tonic!’ in my head, and that’s just weird.. and creepy!”, she said.
“Well, now. That is weird.. And creepy..”, mused Brom, but it seemed his mind was elsewhere.
“I did wonder though..”, Tonic began.
“And that.. is what I meant when I said, ‘don’t’!”, Brom frowned.
“You know. It isn’t fair you get to do all these psychoanalysis on me and then fend me off when I want to ask you some personal questions.”, she sniffed.
“I am not the one with the accumulated issues, Miss— Tonic.”, replied Brom, but there was no heat nor beration in his voice.
“So only people with decent backgrounds get to analyze others, then?”, asked Tonic mildly.
“No.. There just isn’t anything there to analyze.”, Brom replied allusively.
“Ahh.. I see.. So it’s perfectly alright if I did ask you a few personal questions, then?”, said Tonic with a victorious smirk.
“What? No.. How did you even get to that conclusion, girl?”, replied the hobbit feeling exasperated.
“Using awesome logic!”, smirked Tonic again.
“Using logic..”, snorted Brom. “You are not going to let this go, are you, girl?”
“Nope.”, replied Tonic happily. “So.. What do you see in Seressa?”
“Thought I already told you that. Just this evening. At least twice.”, frowned Brom.
“Yes, and no. Your description of her was a bit.. too intimate and heartfelt.. One could argue it’d make an excellent book cover, let’s say.”, said Tonic tentatively.
“I don’t know what kind of books you are into, girl, but I would suggest you read something that has actual literature in them.”, Brom scowled now.
“So you don’t like her, then?”, she blurted.
“Now why wouldn’t I like her? I mean, what is there not to like?”, replied Brom honestly.
“So you do like her..”
“Ow. My. Gosh, girl. You are going to push this in your direction whatever I say!”, exclaimed Brom, waving his hands.
“I just want you to give me an honest, and straight answer. Is that too much to ask? I mean, we are friends, right?”, persisted the gnomic girl.
“Just because we are friends, that doesn’t mean we share everything..”, said Brom exasperated.
“But you said, ‘We suffer. We mourn. We sing and we celebrate.. We do. And what we do, we share!‘. Your words, not mine.”
Brom ‘hoo boy’ed.
The little demon was persistent.. and she stuck on him..
..like a tick!
“That is possibly the worst misuse of a friendly conversation, Miss Tonic!”, Brom said angrily. “But I will tell you, just to get you off my back!”
“Yeshh!”, Tonic fisted her hand into the air. “Victory!”
“When I see your pair.. No.. When I see Wraiven, I sometimes wish I was a taller man. And better looking, perhaps. ‘Cooler’, so to speak. Maybe a bit more muscular.. You know, the type girls like to ogle at.
I love everything about her and she sees me only as something that she can, perhaps, cute into her coin purse. Not that I would mind being pursed by her, but that will still not make her see me in the light that I would rather have her see me.. If that makes any kind of sense to you.
We are so impossibly different, yet she makes me simply not care. Which is the core of the problem. She doesn’t see me that way, period. I mean, what am I to her, really, but a bushy little hobbit?”, said Brom then fell silent. This night had offered him many wonders. Just not the ones he would have wished for.
Tonic stared at the back of the hobbit as they once more fell silent.
She had been surprised by this unscrupulous hobbit a few too many times this evening. But this last bit gave her a whole new insight about him because he hadn’t been staring at her pair for the simple visual pleasure of having ogled at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure, counter-underlined by some macho male animal instinct, but for something more. Something that was intimate. Something that had real depth.
Tonic suddenly felt angry and jealous.
For all her pretense otherwise, she didn’t feel like sharing her pair with anyone, even though she had taken her pair a bit too much for granted.
Then she felt shame.
The hobbit —No! Not the hobbit.. ‘Brom’, had done nothing but give his best to help a cranky, cantankerous, contrary, grumpy and surly little girl his all, and not just that evening, but carefully, every day, ever since they had met. And for some reason, Tonic didn’t think he’d done any of it to gain favor with her pair, by proxy. For all his seeming indifference towards everything, lack of base enthusiasm, exasperation level of sloth, and blatantly unscrupulous attitudes, he was smart, cunning, always seemed to show unsolicited kindness, and he was loyal, educated, and well-spoken, even though he hadn’t been to an academy such as Melshieve and thus far, he’d more than pulled his weight in fights.
Much better than she had!
Hells bells, he’d also played that lyre like a siren! She remembered all the times she’d thought he was just staring at her pair’s butt, while he had persistently claimed he was composing a song.. in his mind!
And he had been telling the truth all along.
‘The Endless White’.
The tune he had played, back at the inn that very evening was something that was simply ‘mad’..
..and Tonic had loved it!
And now she didn’t want to share her pair with him?
Like her pair was hers to give or not..
Just how arrogant was that?
“Yes.”, inner Tonic said. “You really are selfish, you know.”
“Whose side are you anyway?”, blazed Tonic but her heart hadn’t really been in it. She’d flared more out of ‘muscle reflex’ than true intent.
“Does it matter? It was you, who wanted to try ‘this way for some..’, wasn’t it? Now you want to quit? I wasn’t aware it would be this short. Must have missed the memo. Had I known you’d be this fickle, I wouldn’t have fought against it so hard, knowing you’d come around on the morrow..”, inner Tonic said, and she didn’t even bother with the sarcasm.
Tonic shut up.
From the inside!
No. The hobbit was not just ogling at a very beautiful, proportionately curvy, comely buxom, life-inducingly vibrant, deservingly exhilarating, darkly mysterious, and honestly alluring figure.
Brom was staring at the heart of all that and desolately knew, he could never have it.
The ogling was just his way of fooling those around him..
“You could tell her.”, she braved mutely.
“To what end? There’s nothing neither of us can do about it, particularly if she doesn’t see me that way. If I tell her, all I will get is either the basic ‘You are my friend’, talk or the infamous ‘But I love you like a brother’, talk, which I would rather forgo and Heavens forbid, will never happen. However Seressa sees me, I never want her to love me like a ‘brother’..”, replied Brom, and not without a good dose of bitter disgust.
“So you are going to do nothing?”, asked Tonic incredulously.
“I never claimed to be a brave man, Tonic. As a matter of fact, I did say I was a coward, this very evening, I might add. Being refused by someone as awesome as Wraiven is not something I ever want to experience. I’d rather just ogle and make sure she sees me doing it.”, he said quietly.
“Make sure she sees you? Why? That doesn’t make sense.”, said Tonic befuddled.
“I don’t like sneak-peaking at her. Feels wrong. Feels like cheating.. Feels immoral —and yes, I am fully aware of the monumentally depraved irony there. That doesn’t change the way I feel, though.”, said Brom, frowning a bit.
“But.. but you are suffering and she doesn’t even know!”, bewailed Tonic.
“What’s got you so riled. It’s my problem. I’d rather look at that beautiful and wonderful, and beautifully wonderful girl with the impossible dream of a ‘chance’, than never to be able to look at her again when I get refused or be declared as ‘loved like a brother’!”, said Brom, gruffly.
Tonic ran up to Brom and stopped right in front of him and looked him in the eyes.
“That’s.. That’s just wrong, Brom.. and sad..”, she said with brimming eyes.
“Well. I am a sad sort of man. I got a problem, and I am using the cowardly way out. Nobody is feeling bad and no one is getting hurt..”, he said flatly.
“Accept you.”, she said quietly.
“Yea, well. There you have it. Chew on that psychoanalysis if you will, Miss Tonic.”, said Brom, brushed past the gnomic girl and with determined steps, started towards The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
Tell me again.”, said Brom with a mute, stoic voice. “What do I say to this Tinker-guy, again? And how in the blazes am I even going to get up to that window anyway? It must be at least fifty-five feet up there. Probably more, since this is a library. They would require higher ceilings to store all the books.”
Brom didn’t feel well. He had never wanted to divulge his feelings about the very tall, very dark girl to anyone. And certainly not to Tonic. Not because he thought she couldn’t keep the knowledge to herself, but perhaps, and because, he thought, she would keep it to herself.
“Damit.”, he thought. “Why now? Why tonight, of all nights?”
Had it been the tune he’d played to the audience that evening?
The one he’d named a tad grandly as; ‘The Endless White.‘
He knew he should have named it just ‘The White.‘.. or even ‘White.‘.. but white was just too generic.
Or perhaps it was the song he’d sang after that; Time.
In all honesty, Brom Bumblebrim knew, he just knew, it wasn’t him, who’d written that song. Unlike any other song he had written, this one had ‘come’ to him.. and in the most literal sense possible. Word by word, the song had written itself in his mind and heart during his two-year sojourn from Bowling Hills, all the way to Shakehands.. Which is when he’d met Cora. But tonight had been the first time he had actually put it on display, so to speak. And now, the song was out..
..and out of its ‘time’, Brom thought with a sardonic inner snort.
Or perhaps it was because of having met an angelic being.. or seen that dark, the very sinister-looking man he’d ended up feeling ‘distaste’ at best, then getting all his emotions totally eroded when he saw the same, sinister man looking at the sweet little skinny girl the way he had. And the look she had given him had been emotionally ruinous all by itself for Brom.
He was a bard, damit, and love was the bread and butter for all bards.. But the thing between those two.. he found he couldn’t define it..
..because he could not comprehend it.
It had been so.. nubile in its beauty..
So primevally intense.
There had been no decorum to it. Only base, raw, savage, and somehow, awe-inspiringly tender and desperately lonely longing in the look the two, very unlikely man and girl, were giving one another.
And they were giving it in a sense that was singularly unique! It made other people’s love seem like they were merely and briefly lending their hearts to others, while those two had already and literally given theirs.
So much so that what beat in one, was actually the heart of the other..
What man, woman —or bard— could truly comprehend that?
The intermixed irony that was put under the broad beam of a bright spotlight was not lost on Brom at all;
One, inhumane human, and one, infinitely humane, inhuman!
It was likely that very destitution the two had, that’d sparked the fire that had previously been a mere and happy little kindle..
..into searing pain.
Tonic gave Brom an even look.
Whether she surmised what was really going through the hobbit’s mind, she kept it to herself.
For now, at least.
Which was a grace, all by itself.
“I have seen you climb walls before, Brom. That cloak of yours will more than suffice. If you want, though, I can give you a potion that will make you climb pretty much any surface. Another for you to pass through any gap, or to safely float down. I can send a rope all the way up there.. The window is in range.”, she listed methodically. “I suppose, if you want, I can bring out Mechaber. He can give you a fifteen feet head-start sort of a jump. But I haven’t really had the opportunity to field test that. And I can’t promise a quiet landing. Likely, it will bring a lot of patrols upon us. I am guessing you’d rather avoid that.”
“I am guessing, you would rather avoid that!”, scowled Brom.
“Yes. Yes, I would.. Very much.. The technology behind Mechaber is not out yet, and I would rather it didn’t. Not yet, and not until it’s perfected and certainly not until I install the self-destruct unit in it.”, she said seriously.
“The self— what?”, asked Brom incredulously.
“Self-destruct unit.. You didn’t think I would artifice something as dangerous and deadly as Mechaber and then hand it over to the irresponsible humankind, or have it stolen, now did you? I designed it. I must make sure it never falls into wrong hands..”, Tonic said like she was paraphrasing from a blood-signed doctrine!
“Ooookay.. Good, we got that cleared, then.”, Brom said.
“Mechaber is serious business, Brom. Nothing to joke about. The fact that you have seen it, let alone know about it is a sign of how much Seressa trusts you because if it were up to me, you’d have never seen, nor heard mention of it.. Well.. not for some time, anyway.”
“Ooookay.. Good to know where we stand too, then.”, Brom said with the same tone.
“Look, just because you like someone, doesn’t mean you hand over the nuclear launch codes to them, alright!”, she said with an exasperated voice.
“The what lunch codes?”
“Never mind.”, said Tonic. “Read it in some silly futuristic sci-fi book.”
“Psychic-what? What are you talking about, girl? Just what the hell kind of books are you reading?”, Brom asked.
“Look, the story begins when a pretty Erossian spy falls in love with a mad and delusional Camerican nuclear scientist—”, the gnomic girl promptly began..
“Tonic!.. It’s late. I am tired and in all sorts of ways.. Let’s just get this over with, shall we? I am sure Cora and your pair have noticed we have been too quiet by now and gone to your room to check and see as to why! I think the story about some mad psychic-whatsit can wait, don’t you?”
“Right..”, said Tonic and blushed a bit. “Just tell him what I told you. Don’t loiter. Don’t chit-chat. Get in. Tell him. Get out. And..”
Brom cocked one eyebrow.
“..And, thank you. I made you do things tonight you would rather not have done.. At least not with me, nor for me.. So.. Thank you..”, she said with a small voice.
“You are welcome, Miss Tonic. And no, I wouldn’t have done any of this, not tonight, not ever, but not because of you. I just wouldn’t have done them because I would rather have taken a light snack, cleaned and tuned my lyre, and then went to sleep. Thanks to you, it is unlikely I will find any light snacks nor find the time to neither clean nor tune my lyre. And because it’s nearly the end of the night, I will not be getting any sleep either..”, Brom said.
Tonic frowned.. and felt a bit.. hurt..
“But I did do all the things I would rather have not, and I am now a better man for it.. All because of you.. So.. Thank you!”, he added with a smile.
Tonic’s eyes teared.
“Go.. Now.. Or I shall call you an ass and totally ruin the moment, Brom Bumblebrim!”, she sniffled.
Brom smirked, turned around, pulled his magic cloak around him..
..and started climbing up the side of The Great Arashkan Library like some odd lizard or possibly, an arachnid!
✱ ✱ ✱
Who is there?”, a slightly tenoric male voice whispered harshly in the darkness.
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, spoke Brom, with a hoarse, hollow voice as he produced a very high, very eerie, screaming tune from his lyre.
The poor antic instrument wept at her misuse.
Brom had found the ‘Tinker-guy’ with relative ease. The gnome was taller than Tonic but while the gnomic girl was proportionally slim, this gnome, the possible great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon was a bit on the stocky side. Though he looked quite young and robust and had keen, intelligent, and pursuing eyes.
Brom had thought of a dozen different ways of approaching the gnome, including stepping up to him and saying, “Hallo there, matie. Got somin te tell yer! Go there them Silent ‘ills an’ grab what’s there fer yer self and be quik ’bout tit! And while at tit, quit mawnin’ ’bout things ‘cuz non wuz yer falt! But I’d suggis yer watch yer arse cuz sum fellers wantsit!”
And now he was gnawing his knuckles, hiding a few rows, behind and above him, stuck on the ceiling!
“Whot?”, the gnome, Tinker-guy, said in a baffled and spooked voice.. And one of his hands formed claws as a huge ball of fire appeared in it!
“Ow crap!”, thought Brom. “A trigger happy fireballer!.. We are in a bloody library, damit! Who uses a fire hall in a library? That is a universal reason for contempt, almost akin to speaking aloud in a theater! Doesn’t he know there’s a special kind of hell for people like that? And this idiot is the heir to Silent Hills?”
He produced his own Wand of Ice, just in case the fool actually did fire his ball and he had to put out the fires!
And just then, they heard a monotonous, matronly voice echo.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, OR YOU WILL BE FINED! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the..”, said the gnome, Tinker-guy.
Brom snickered. Ow, this was going to be fun!
“It is I, The Ghost of Silent Hills Past, Present, and Future!”, he repeated, with the same hoarse, hollow voice.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 50 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And I have come to give you tidings from the beyond, young Tinker-guy!”, hallowed Brom.
The gnome, Tinker-guy, cocked an eyebrow, his face puzzled.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“What the hell?”, the Tinker-guy said.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 150 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom snickered, some more. If Tonic caught him doing this, she’d have his hide, and then some!
“You shall go to Silent Hills.. There you will find your kin..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must reclaim your heritage..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 250 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Ow. My. Gosh!”, exclaimed the Tinker-guy. “Can you please stop?!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t!”, moaned Brom.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 350 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 400 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..am the Ghost of Silent..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 450 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 500 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A WEEK. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..Present and Future!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 550 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop!”, cried the gnome!
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 600 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“And you shall do my bidding..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 650 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop. Just stop!”, shrieked the Tinker-guy in desperation.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 700 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“No. I can’t..”, repeated Brom, his eyes shut, his face flushed and he had started doing strange, snorting, bubbling noises.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 750 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BARRED FROM THE LIBRARY FOR A MONTH. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You shall go to Silent Hills, and into the Demon Fog to reclaim your birthright..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 800 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“You must also know, young Tinker-guy..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 850 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Stop! You are going to get me permanently..”, cried the gnome.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 900 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Brom could hardly breathe by now.
“..what befell you in the past..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 950 CREDITS! PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING CONDEMN LIMIT. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“..was not of your doing!”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1000 CREDITS! YOU ARE NOW BANNED FROM THE GREAT ARASHKAN LIBRARY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Whot?”, exclaimed the gnome and there appeared a haunted expression on his face. A face that bespoke of shame, self-loathing, relief, pain lived, and pain endured..
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1100 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Those who put your heritage into desolation sent their minions to slay ye and yer line..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1200 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
The gnome’s face paled. He tried to speak, but words utterly failed him.
“..to ensure, none would ever bring ‘voice’ to Silent Hills..”
And now, Brom wasn’t snickering anymore.
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1300 CREDITS! PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Hence an evil plan they hatched.. A heinous plan.. And they brought down your home and buried you, and yours..”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1400 CREDITS! PLEASE PLEASE BE ADVISED; YOU ARE NOW APPROACHING CIVIL RIGHTS LIMIT. STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
Tears appeared in the Tinkey-guy’s eyes and ran down shamelessly.
“My mother? My father? My brothers and sisters by the dozen? Terrah Doodlebellz? All my friends? My neighbors? —They all died because of me?”
“QUIET IN THE LIBRARY, 1500 CREDITS! THE CIVIC GUARDS ARE ON THEIR WAY. PLEASE STOP BY THE CASHIER FOR THE PAYMENT AND WAIT FOR DETENTION! THANK YOU AND HAVE A NICE DAY.”
“Nay, young Tinkerdome. They all died because someone slew them. They all died to kill your line. Make their sacrifice worth the world, young Tinkerdome..
Reclaim your Heritage.
Reclaim your Hills.
Reclaim your Kingdom.
Reclaim your Throne.
Reclaim your Destiny.
Reclaim your People.
And be a King!“
And with a job well done, Brom Bumblebrim silently climbed down the ceiling.
Quite as a mouse, he brushed past the devastated Prince Gnine Tinkerdome, the great, great, great-something grandson of Prince Gordigon, got out the window, and skimmed down the walls of The Great Arashkan Library..
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT DID YOU DO?!“, nearly shrieked Tonic in panic as she grabbed the hobbit and started running back the way they came. “The place is suddenly crawling with civic law enforcement!”
They ran past the Lights Temple, along the Archery Military Camp, and cut through the street between Heaven Park and Officers District.
“I said, just talk to him, say the things, and get out!”, spluttered the gnomic girl.
“Which is pretty much what I did, girl!”, panted Brom, his face flushed and he truly felt tired, both physically and emotionally. And he was scratching the upper end of one leg, near the buttock, just where he couldn’t see.
“What is the matter with you?”, Tonic asked, her eyes wild now.
“I got bit.. Again!..”, spat Brom, and mumbled to himself, “This is the last time I fall for a cute face!”, as they heard someone shout “HALT!“, from behind them.
“Never.. mind.. Not a story.. for now..”, Brom said with a harsh scowl.
“RUN, THEN!“, hissed Tonic. “WE CAN’T GET CAUGHT DAMIT! OW. MY. GOSH!“
Aaaand the gnomic girl was about to get hit with a full-blown panic now!
Something neither of them needed at that very moment.
“Calm.. down.. girl!”, said Brom harshly, as he huffed, and puffed.
The marching footsteps were getting closer.
“HALT! HALT I SAY! HALT IN THE NAME OF THE FIRST LORD!“, repeated the same voice from behind, but much closer now, than before.
“Can.. you.. disappear?”, Tonic gasped as she ran next to Brom.
“Umm.. Yes.. But only myself!”, breathed Brom heavily.
“Ok, then.. Go.. Shoo! Vanish! Scram!”, she said.
“NO! Not.. leaving you.. Not happening..!”, Brom breathed.
“I can.. take care of.. myself.. damit!”, snarled Tonic.
“Together.. or not.. happening.. I.. never want to.. face a Wraiven.. with you.. missing!”, he gasped.
“Damit!”, she said, produced two vials with green, vaporish something in them, and a tightly packed clay sphere out of her artificer’s satchel. “Here, drink this in ten!”, she said and handed one of the vials to Brom, as she tossed the clay sphere behind her.
“You know, disintegrating civic guards is not a good idea, Tonic..”, Brom said lightly.
There was a stunning bang, and the civic guards on their heels dropped to their knees and slumbered face down.
“Neat..”, admired Brom.
“Won’t keep them down for long. Now shut up and drink! The effects of this potion should last about an hour, possibly more. I am usually generous —or heavy-handed— with ingredients, depending on your point of view.. Meet you at the inn.”, she said and topped her own vial.. and suddenly, Tonic fell apart!
“I like you, Brom Bumblebrim.”, she said in a warbling, escaping, gaseous, and fading voice. “If you are so bent on martyring alone, I shall abide by your wishes. But you shouldn’t decide for Wraiven without bothering to ask her. That truly is cowardly. And not really any different than all the other animals out there who only see the pinks and never wonder what’s in it.. I made that mistake and it cost me—”
Whatever it had cost Arcantonic, she couldn’t say.
Her form drifted away in a hazy wisp of smoke!
Brom scowled after the now gone gnomic girl.
“Inserting the last word right before the disappearing act.. Cheap, Miss Tonic. Very cheap! Well, I am warning you now, girl, there’s a whole slew of pain coming your way..”, he said darkly and drank his own vial..
It was the strangest sensation he had ever felt.
It was like his whole body was flying apart into tiny, dust-sized bits! He felt the hair on his bushy head rise on their ends, accept he had no hair left either. Every part of him just.. puffed into smoke, and he got carried off with the slightest wind.
Now all he had to do was somehow steer himself in the general direction of the inn, preferably away from the scores of civic guards.
✱ ✱ ✱
Had a good evening, did you?” asked Cora as she stood in the hallway up the stairs to their rooms in the inn.
Her arms were crossed.
She was scowling at the little hobbit.
And her lips had that pout again.
Brom was smart enough not to comment on how cute Cora looked when she pouted.
Or rather, when she pouted while she was angry!
“Ummm.. Had a good evening yourself, did you?”, replied Brom, as he peered into their room.
The room was a wreck!
Everything, including bits of the floorboards, the windows, the window sills, the curtains, the flower pots, the walls, the feather bed, the nightstand, the lamps.. were either broken to bits or were cracked beyond repair. Feathers from the bed matres and the former pillows floated about and covered everywhere while food crumbs, empty and broken plates, bowls, and further cracked mugs and bottles were tossed and scattered haphazardly.
“This is not mere destruction.”, thought Brom in awe. “This is very nearly art! I could literally write an epic on this!”
“What did you do, Brom Bumblebrim?”, she fumed from her nose as she loomed over the hobbit, glaring down at him with her glacial blue eyes.
“Again with the ultimatum name use! What is it with my name and ultimatums, girl?”, asked Brom, frowning a bit. “And, I could ask you the same thing, Cora Sleet!.. What did you two do here?”
“We had a girls night. What does it look like? Seressa said we had to wreck the room at the end, so we did.. Was fun like I never had in my life!”, she replied seriously.
“And did you wear pinks too? I know for a fact, neither of you had pajamas!”, smirked Brom.
Cora’s eyes blazed and her face pinked.. just a little.. Barely visible, really, and if Brom hadn’t known the barbarian girl for as long as he had, he would have totally missed it.
“So.. how did you like it? The pinks, I mean..”, he asked blandly, and secretly kicked himself for having missed perhaps the only chance he would have ever gotten to see a Cora Sleet in Seressa’s mini pinks!
“It was a bit drafty but otherwise comfy!”, she replied with a straight face.
“Any chance for me to—?”, he asked.
“Never happen!”, Cora replied and now she really was scowling. “WHAT. DID. YOU. DO. BROM? We left you so you can calm Tonic. Not make her cry more!”
Brom sighed. He’d really wanted this to be kept between himself and the gnomic girl. Just to preserve her dignity, if nothing else. He didn’t want the cute little demon, as she at times became, to be seen as a ‘break down’ or a ‘cry baby’ and hence, an unreliable ‘loose end’, but there was no going around Cora when she got stubborn as she did now.
“Best way is to pull at it fast and sharp, and get it over with.”, he thought, took a deep breath, and spoke his piece.
“Before, she was crying for dubious and barely justifiable reasons.. I, on the other hand, gave her a genuine reason, so now, she is crying for real!”, said Brom and sure as he was a short, bushy-haired hobbit, his voice was now quite low, unsophisticated, and kind. “I am sorry Cora, but the current storm is inevitable. Once it blows, however, she will be done. She will then thank me because she will be feeling much, much better, and be stronger for it!”
Cora looked down at the hobbit. But the ice in her glacials were gone and she was looking at him, not with her looming glare, but with the one that said..
‘You and I..’
‘We are equals.’
“Something happened.”, she murmured softly.
“No.. Maybe..”, Brom replied evasively.
“Must I drag it out of you, my friend?”, she said with part annoyance, part amusement, and part.. wonder, perhaps?
“I’d rather you didn’t. This one isn’t about me, Cora.. Please.. Let this one go..”, he said without looking up at her.
“Grilled you, did she? Alright, then, go.. You look beat. Missed me in pinks, though.”, she smirked.
“Yea. Missed a lot in pinks tonight.”, he mumbled quietly and left for his room.
✱ ✱ ✱
Tonic, luv..”, said Seressa softly. “Do tell me what’s wrong. It pains me to see you thus.”
Seressa had silently entered the room they had planned on staying that evening like a whisper. She had skimmed the wooden floor, went over to the large, feather bed, scooped up her pair, and cuddled her in her arms.
And like a broken little girl, Tonic had clung onto her very tall, very dark pair and shook violently as she’d wept.
“Tell me, luv. I am your pair. We share.. Share me your hurt.. Please..”, she’d said into her ear.
Arcantonic Palecog clung to pair, spluttering with uncontrollable manic and desperate tears, unable to form words.
“He saved him.. He brought him back!”, was the only thing Seressa could discern out of her.
As to who had saved whom, or brought who back, Tonic’s comprehensibility had ended there.
Clutching something in one hand, she’d wept and wept until she’d slumbered right there in her pairs arms like a cotton doll, as the exhausting venture of the night, unbeknownst to her pair, had finally caught up to her.
Seressa had hugged her pair to her heart’s content, long, long past her slumber with all the love and compassion she could muster, then sighed, “My little luv. You mean the world to me. Please understand that.. And never cry. Be happy!“.
She got up, and lightly limped as she carried her pair, and slowly put her into her bed.
“Hmm..”, she frowned. “I could have sworn I had taken her shoes off before..”
Being careful with the left one, she unlaced her little, cup-sized boots, took them off, and put them down near the bed.
Then she went to the wardrobe and pulled down a heavy quilt and covered her pair with it. Tonic looked more like a sad little kitten, curled up the way she had. Even smaller, the way she slept in a feather bed six times her size and eight times her length.
Seressa walked up to the window and pulled the curtains and closed them. The sun would dawn soon and her pair needed sleep. So did she, for that matter.
The very tall, very dark girl wondered if her pair would mind if she curled right next to her. The feather bed was certainly big enough and the idea appealed to her.
It had been one hell of a night. If she’d known girls nights was this much fun, she’d have patronized Tonic into one, years ago. She did feel a bit guilty though. Her pair had been stuck here and crying all night while she and Cora had partied like there was no tomorrow. Seressa felt like she’d abandoned her pair at a moment of her dire need.
Then she inevitably smiled.
Damn, that barbarian girl knew how to party, though!
She thought she would also have to find a proper way to thank the hobbit, Brom, as well, for keeping Tonic company while she and Cora had dismantled a goodly part of the inn. Seressa loved her pair, but she was not totally blind to her shortcomings, either. She didn’t need to bet to guess her pair had probably made the hobbit’s life miserable during his stay with her.
Tonic sighed in her sleep and lost grip of the thing in her clutch. It rolled off the bed and dropped on the floor.
Seressa looked down and frowned.
It was a very, very old, tattered, and crumbled scroll now.
And it looked vaguely.. familiar somehow.
Seressa had a very good memory for things; what people said, their faces, and objects she’d seen, which was why she’d rarely bothered taking any notes back at the academy. She could recite the things her tutors and professors had said almost verbatim, and identify an innumerable variety of objects and readily label them.
It sure had drawn the envy of many of the other students to no end. Seressa had given them a good lesson on ‘humanity’ that being pretty and somewhat ‘silly’ and ‘honestly vain’, didn’t equivalate to ‘stupid’.
Seressa liked feeling ‘pretty’ and ‘beautiful’, and ‘pretty beautiful’, damit..
Deep down, though, she knew her appearance was mere ointment for the blunt void she felt at never to have felt the love she desperately wanted. The love she wanted had to emanate from a man like the heat from the core of an oven. Like it had to be something that was tangible.
The only problem with that was, the oven was there, men just weren’t emanating the fire.
Only.. temperamental and ephemeral sparks..
Men, it seemed, were definitely into her. And that’s about it. They were never interested in what went through her mind, nor her heart. And none of them wanted a dark, lumbering klutz of a girl with horns, a tail, and a fetish for pinks looming over them for a mate. Only as a plaything, at best..
Might as well be an obsidian doll!
Which is what she was now.
She didn’t mind the ‘play’ part. She was very nearly sure it’d be fun. But it was the ‘thing’ that turned the whole idea stale. She just refused to be a ‘thing’ for anyone.
And no one worthy should be seeing her as a thing anyway, right?
She’d gone after the pretty ones. When that failed, she’d gone after the smart ones.. Apparently, whether they were pretty or smart, neither equivalated to ‘heart’, where men were concerned.
But then, what did? What did really equivalate to a heart?
Seressa felt bitterly cheated in life.
And sorely confused.
She was given all these amenities.
They just weren’t of any use..
She perpetually felt like she was a beautiful flower who only attracted pests and wasps, but never the bumblebee..
She sighed, and silently she reached down and picked up the rather worn scroll and carefully, tenderly, even, she unrolled it, and with a shocked expression, she read the very old and tattered scroll that had somehow been preserved through centuries, persevered against impossible odds, and had traveled all the way from the depths of Ritual Forest, through a bloody, demon-infested war zone, to here, to find its way back to her pair..
“Dear, dear Bumblebrim..”, Seressa said softly with brimming eyes, and a curvy little smile, as she finally figured the ‘who’ in ‘whom’, and remembered too, when and where she had seen the old scroll before; some relative eight hundred years ago, when they were waiting for Tonic, and the Prince Gordigon had given this letter, rolled into a scroll, carelessly laced, but not cased, in the hopes that the ‘courier’ herself would read it!
“I have no idea how you did it, but you have given back my pair a life, and a world of joy.. Thank you, for you are truly, and inexplicably amazing, luv.”