The once high lady of the destroyed Bari Na-ammen, Anglenna Brightleaf struggles with those around her who mistrust or outright loath her.
As allies gather for the defense of the town, Anglenna confers with the only people who are impartial and unbiased against her as the whereabouts of the young man, Udoorin Shieldheart, and the last princess of Bari Na-ammen, Alor’Nadien ne Feymist, remains a mystery.
The events taking place in this
particular story also involves
A Bard’s Tale XIII – “Searing Perspective”
Anglenna felt miserable. The amount of pain she registered from the numerous cuts and bruises she had attained during her daring sojourn under the ruins of the glorious city of Arashkan had taken its toll on her. Once she had unleashed the Three Dog Curse upon the city, she had tried to get out, only to be lost, for days, under the extended sewer canals of the city. Hungry, thirsty, filthy, bloody, and constantly fighting her way through the Orken who had found their way down into the maze, and always trying to stay a step ahead of the curse she had unleashed. When she had finally found the time to get a decent rest to be able to teleport out of the burning city, she had crash-landed right through four rooms of the Serenity Home Guest House, adding to her already draining pain.
And now she lay, in a rickety bed, in some dormitory under the town’s temple, burning with fever, sweating profusely, and shivering at the same time. It seemed like the Heavens had ganged up against her and all at once.
Her current torment was bested only by the horrendous, jabbing, and jarring pain that kept stabbing up her broken arm, all the way up to the back of her skull, and it just wouldn’t stop.
Anglenna Brightleaf tilted over the side of her bed..
“I feel terrible.”, she moaned miserably, staring into the stinking, half-full bucket, standing next to her rickety bed.
“I don’t.”, said a soft, throaty voice heartlessly, and Bremorel Songsteel turned the page of the book she was reading without so much as a glance at the totally disheveled high lady from the simple chair she was sitting. “I feel good.. seeing you like this!”
“I.. suppose you do..”, gasped Anglenna as the pain from her cast arm jabbed at her again.
“You know, being a bitch at times does have its moments. But you? You are a very special kind of bitch. But then, you are that special snowflake kind of girl so it is somewhat understandable, I guess. “, she said calmly as she continued to read her book.
“It is possible I have been a bitch all my life. But I was brought up by Angrellen the Betrayer. What’s your excuse, little girl?”, the high elf said hoarsely as she continued to sweat.
“Nice one..”, grinned Bremorel.
“Why are you here? Other than to torment me, and take satisfaction in my suffering.”, Anglenna fell back onto her bed, exhausted.
“No reason. Other than to torment you and take satisfaction in your suffering..”, the ranger lieutenant replied, turning another page.
“Didn’t know you could read.”, snarked the high elf, as she pulled her blanket higher.
“Just looking at the bright illustrations. But I can’t seem to find them!”, Bremorel said smugly. Then added, “Girl, you are going to have to try better than that, if you want to insult me. I mean, come on, now. I don’t want to be forced to outright insult you but, really? That one was rather pathetic. When it comes to insults, it’s all about moderation and standards.”
“I wasn’t aware you had any standards.”, she said and turned into a fetal position as she started to shiver again.
“See? That was a tint better, now, wasn’t it?”, the ranger girl replied smiling, as turned the page over again, and threw an indiscernible glance at the shivering high elf.
“I can’t believe they let someone like you become a ranger. Apparently, this whole town lacks standards.”, Anglenna scoffed.
“Now, now. Let’s keep the insults running at a personnel level and not involve others, shall we? Or you might stink up this place. Oh, wait, you already have!”, Bremorel deadpanned.
..and retched again.
“Your mother never told you that drinking sewer water would make you ill, I suppose. But then, I heard she wasn’t much of a mother so your overwhelming ignorance of the world you live in is mildly acceptable, but not sensible nor reasonable since just about any idiot out there would know this.”, Bremorel mused.
“Why are you really here, Ranger Lieutenant? You can’t be as petty as you want me to believe you are.”, Anglenna wheezed exasperatedly and slumped back into the bed.
“‘As petty as you want me to believe you are?’ Wow, girl. You said that so smoothly. I almost lost track of it towards the end there, and I am a ranger and all. Got me a lieutenant’s medal, even..”, the ranger girl said, as she slowly rose from her chair and walked over to the door. She reached up and opened it, took the empty bucket sitting next to the door, and returned to switch it with the half-full one and put it outside.
“You must have better things to do that to change my filth.”, Anglenna said with shame, for she couldn’t remember being this embarrassed in her entire one hundred and seventy-eight years.
“I do. But I thought it’d be fun reducing you as low as I can on behalf of the peoples of Arashkan and High Woods while I had the chance. Turns out.. I am right. This is fun!”, Bremorel replied happily. “The other option was I drag you off into the woods and finish you off there and dump your ass in a pit where no one would ever find you. But Thomas is silly and kind and told me not to, so here we are, you in a sickbed, spewing all over the place, and me having fun.”
“If this is some convoluted plan to make me talk, it isn’t going to work. I was trained by the best of them.”, she said, rolling to her other side, as she pulled up her blanket again.
“If your mother is the measure of, the best of ’em, I shouldn’t have much trouble.”, grinned Bremorel.
“Very good, Lieutenant.”, the high lady said with mild appreciation. “Classy, even. Begs the question, why the bumkin act, though?”
“Dammit.”, Bremorel said merrily. “I just got me exposed.”
“In all candor, young Morel.”, Anglenna said, in pain. “That particular pose truly doesn’t suit you, and not at all convincing. Your eyes.. They are too bright..”
“Ow?”, said Bremorel, looking down at the miserable high lady.
“And young Thomas.. as creepy as his mindless obsession with you is, he does not strike me as a man who regrets his choice in his woman. And I got the impression, Thomas would never be happy with a bumkin. An educated man requires to converse with a woman of at least at his own level of intelligence or she must have some unique aspect or perspective that he can never have.”, the high lady said.
Then, with a green smile, she added, “Or she’s just that good in bed! I am guessing two out of those three, in your case.”
Bremorel’s face turned molten red.
“Why two?”, she blurted hotly.
“I was being polite.”, replied Anglenna. “Checkmate?”
The ranger lieutenant scowled at the sick high lady.
It was a good thing someone knocked at the door just then. Or perhaps not. Try though she might, young Bremorel just couldn’t come up with anything that had enough firepower. The condescending she-elf had nailed her with backhanded compliments she just couldn’t refute.
Not unless she wanted to admit she was stupid, had no perspective of her own, and had a very unsatisfied husband!
“Checkmate..”, she fumed grudgingly.
She scowled some more, then walked over to the door, swung it open, and shouted.
Right into the face of the leader of the High Woods Resistance Movement, Lord Armethelius Riverblade..
..And this day had started so well when she had found out she had been given the assignment of looking after/tormenting/punning the stupid high elf woman, dammit!
“Have I come at a wrong time, perhaps, Ranger Lieutenant Songsteel?”, Armethelius asked politely.
Burning brighter now, Morel just stared at the elf lord.
“What can I do for you Lorn Armethelius? Why have you come here? Don’t you have anything better to do, like running a resistance movement than wasting your time here?”
To give the young high elf lord credit, he didn’t take the ranger lieutenants tone to heart, nor did he take umbrage. He just smiled. Politely.
“I have come, merely to check up on the high lady. I believe I was given this permission, ‘as I saw fit’.. And the resistance is moving on just fine. For what it’s worth, I would be indebted to you, if you could tell the esteemed sheriff that he will be receiving fifty more of our trained elves to his disposal.”
Bremorel frowned at the high lord.
“That’s a hefty bribe just to see the high lady, my Lord. I am sure Tomas would have agreed for far less had you asked him.”
“The Senior Temple Guardian is a good and generous man, working diligently, day and night to keep the wellbeing of all the refugees, and quite impartially, I might add. There is no price we can satisfactorily pay for the service he does. But by giving more of our elves to keep the town, and the outlying lands and fields safe, at least we are able to pay him by proxy.”, Armethelius replied.
“And you get to impress the girl.”, smirked Bremorel.
“I can hear you!”, came Anglenna’s wheezy voice.
Lord Armethelius did a better job of suppressing his fluster than young Morel had ever done. He just looked at her with a very neutral and still expression.
“Very well. Gimme a few. Let me ask her if she’s available.”, Bremorel said..
..and shut the door.
On the high lord’s face.
“No.”, said Anglenna in a half panicked voice. “I look horrible. He doesn’t have to see me like this.”
“Girl, you are horrible. The fact that anyone has come to see you is an event, astounding on its own. That you also look horrible, is a moot point.”, Bremorel said with an amused expression.
“No.”, the high lady repeated stubbornly. “What’s remained of my world, only two people are left that have the slightest care and respect for me, and the other is my cousin.”
“Wow.”, the ranger girl said heartlessly. “That’s just sad. How did that happen? Ow, wait, you did it to yourself, yes, now I remember.”
“Just.. just tell him to go.. and never come back..”, Anglenna said, moaning in sick pain.
“Very well. You may rot in your lonely misery.”, she replied with a shrug, went back to the door, and to the high elf lord, she declared boldly;
“My Lord Armethelius, do please come in!”
✱ ✱ ✱
You are up a bit later than usual, love.”, said Perigren Ostlanna Temez. “I thought you’d be at the esteemed sheriff’s office by now. Is everything alright?”
Constance Alure Smithen sighed.
“I will be heading there now. I just drop in to ask you about the gift but thought I’d give you a few more moments to rest, dear. You have been working hard to find a solution for the lost Orken army.”, she said.
“Thank you, Alure. You were always thoughtful of others, even back in Hell, which I think was why Auntie Irine disliked you so much.”, smiled Temez a bit sadly.
“Irine disliked any number of us.”, Constance shrugged. “You and Merisoul the most. A gros mistake on her part, as things turned out.”
“How very true.”, agreed, Perigren. “Mind I ask, how things went last night? Between you and the esteemed sheriff?”
“I wouldn’t mind at all, though I am surprised the whole lot didn’t come flocking when.. Stan.. dropped me off.
“Stan?”, Temez asked a bit confused.
“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart insisted I call him that. At least in private.”, replied Constance deploringly.
“Ah. I have noticed this as well. Mortals cut and butcher one another’s names as much as they cut and butcher one another!”, Temez nodded with similar distress.
“Indeed. Though the disinterest of my kin in this matter is as depressing as it is refreshing.”, the tall half-born mused.
“It isn’t disinterest, love, I told them not to plague you.”
“True, we are all brothers and sisters, made by our mutual sufferings, but this involves a Mortal and two hearts, now, which makes it a private matter uniquely confidential and exclusive to you and him. I told them it would be fine only if you brought it up.”, Temez smiled. “After all, I did not send you to the Mortals as a liaison to capture the esteemed sheriff. I sent you there to get to know our allies, and for our allies to get to know us. Your private interest in the esteemed sheriff is a personal matter and we must all learn to respect that, even if some of us are burning with curiously.”
“Demelze hounded you all night, didn’t she?”, Constance said with exasperation.
“Yes. Yes, she did.”, sighed Perigren. “She knocked on my door with clock-work precision; Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez, Temez! —Suffice to say, it was a dreary and trying night and the Great Heavens tested my patience. I think I passed since she is still alive and I am sane.”
“That must have been.. irritating..”, Constance said lightly, trying very hard not to laugh.
“Painfully so. Hence, I wouldn’t mind if you could give me something to tell them. Nothing specific, mind you. Anything that would give me a breather, and keep her off my back. After all, we don’t want a pouting Demelze seething in an enclosed building, do we?”, Temez said pleadingly.
“No, dear, we don’t. Too many children in here.”, she said and paused for a moment. “We had a nice, quiet dinner together. Then the esteemed sheriff took me for a walk, out in the near woods. It was rather pleasant. I let him do the talking since the living conditions of Hell are quite the conversation killer. He was polite.”
“Polite is nice.”, Temez said, but when she saw her sister-kin’s face, she got suspicious. “How polite was he?”
Constance paused for another moment before she answered..
..with a long, exasperated sigh.
“Ow. That must have been quite annoying.”, replied Temez mirthfully.
“You have no idea, my dear.. In the end, I told him I was pleased to see how careful Mortal men were with their delicate dates and that it was a good thing I hadn’t brought my pike to defend myself to stave off his excessive interest.”
Perigren Ostlanna Temez belly-laughed.
“Priceless, love, priceless.”
“I rather liked it. Though the esteemed sheriff wasn’t very pleased. I suspect he wanted to keep things purely professional. But when I offered him to hold my hand whilst I slip and fall, not with the ground being uneven and frozen, and he be known as the unreliable man who let his brand-new liaison/date be damaged thus soon should I fall and hurt myself, he caved in.”
“You are awesome, love. Demelze could take pointers from you.”
Constance very nearly bloomed.
“It went a bit nicer after that. We talked some more. And I told him a bit about myself, our people, and our oaths, in particular, to put him at ease, which I think is important that he knows. All in all, it was pleasant, I think. I liked it that we only shared words and close proximity rather than anything overt and immediate. It truly is much more fulfilling this way; the exhilarating sense that makes you want to skip and hop like a fool just because the one you want is walking right next to you.. I believe Mortals have a word for this, and it made me.. tingle down to my very soul..”, she said with a very sweet little smile.
“Ow? Do tell!”, Temez asked eagerly.
Perigren’s eyes blurred.
“That is.. beautiful.”
“Much so, dear.”, agreed, Constance. “But I think he was also distracted and not only because of me. Something was bothering him down to his very core.”
“Hmmm.. What could it be?”, mused Temez, frowning a bit.
“I inquired Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel about it ere I came here to you if there was anything that would cause thus consternation for the esteemed sheriff. She said the list for that would be a very long one. But she told me what it would most likely be, as it was something she, herself, was very much worried.”
“What is it?”, Temez asked.
“It appears Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart’s son is missing. Our information on dear Merisoul’s companions and their whereabouts seem quite out of date. As things stand now, Merisoul Xyrotwu, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel’s cousin, Ranger Lieutenant Laila Wolvesbane, and Master Gnine Tinkerdome had gone to Silent Hills, and are still there. The first to arrive of their total company was one Lady Magella, who left for the Scowling Hills just west of here. Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep and Sir Aager Fogstep, the Winter Knight, had gone to the city of paladins, Durkahan and they have just recently returned. A High Lady Anglenna Sunsear, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart’s son, Udoorin Shieldheart, and a Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist of Bari Na-ammen had parted for the ruined and besieged city of Arashkan, but of the three, only this High Lady Anglenna Sunsear has thus returned. His son was supposed to have arrived with the princess many days ago, and before the high lady, but hasn’t. Apparently, the two of them were sent here via a teleportation spell but they missed their destination.”
“Mortals and their ignorant use of magic they do not understand.”
“We must find them!”, Constance said urgently, which told Perigren something about the tall, calm, serene young woman; that her care for the esteemed sheriff was quite genuine, for rarely did anything ruffle this beautiful, cool-headed woman’s feathers. She mused for a moment as options and possibilities crisscrossed her intricate mind, while Constance waited in silent anticipation.
“Let me think a bit more on this, for this is quite an important matter. You go and attend to your assignment, love. So far as we know, the esteemed sheriff very much dislikes impunctuality as much as he finds sloth to be distasteful.”
“That is true. Take care of us, dear. And say hi to Dar Derune for me, will you? It makes him happy when we say ‘hi’ by proxy.”
“That it does, love. That it does..”
✱ ✱ ✱
You look spry this morning, sir.”, growled Aager Fogstep, as the sheriff entered the building.
Sheriff Standorin gave the young man in dark leathers a sour look and wordlessly entered his office. He pulled the long blade off his broad back and leaned it on one of the many drawers lining up the small ‘cubicle’, behind his chair and slumped into it, quietly seething.
Aager followed him in and sat across the large sheriff and silently started sifting through the stack of papers on the table. He read every single one of them and thoroughly and split them in separate stacks according to their priority and relevance.
Apparently, his silence won over the sheriff’s fuming.
“This won’t work.”, the sheriff said darkly.
“What’s that, sir?”, asked Aager, not taking his eyes of the report in his hand.
“This, Liaison thing!”
“Ah. She hasn’t even started yet, and you want to dismiss it already?”, Aager replied.
“You know what I mean.”, fumed Standorin.
“I am sorry, sir. I don’t. Did something happen last night? Perhaps she said or did something out of turn? Though I doubt that’d be the case. She seemed like a very foresighted young woman.”
“That’s the point!”, snarled the sheriff.
“Her being foresighted is a problem? I don’t get it, sir. That’s something you have wished all the men and women under your command would have but sorely lack.”
“No, man. Young! Her being young!”
“Ah ha.. I didn’t know you were into older women, sir, though it’d be understandable if you were.”, the dark man said with a straight face.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”, asked Standorin harshly.
“I heard Lady Limnia was quite older than you.”
There was a moment of seething silence and Sheriff Standorin burned the young man with his gaze who just sat there silently grinning at him.
Aager put the paper down and looked at the fuming sheriff.
“Unlike my Inshala, who likes happy, smiling faces around her, I care very little for such facial expressions in others. But out of the debt I owe you for having saved my neck from a horribly painful ‘death-by-blunt-guillotine’, I have always made exceptions for you. Hence I will say my piece, though, at a price.”
Standorin cocked an eyebrow at the young man.
“Should you want to hear my harsh words, you must accept my price as well. Your call, sir.”
“What’s your advice and what will it cost me?”, the sheriff asked suspiciously.
“Ahh, no, sir. You will have to agree on the price before you get to hear the advice. Fear not. My rates are not very steep.”, Aager grinned at the fuming sheriff. “Otherwise you might outright refuse the advice and miss all the wisdom it shall bring you!”
“You are enjoying this, aren’t you?”, the sheriff scowled at him.
“Had it been some six months ago, sir, no, I wouldn’t have been enjoying this, you wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation with me, I wouldn’t be giving you any advice and things would have been dreary and boring as ever, sans the approaching Orken army out there!”, Aager replied calmly.
“Something tells me I will regret this but go ahead, Master Aager. Do give me your price.”
“You will regret a great many things, sir, just not this.”, smiled the young man..
..And with a polite knock, the door to the sheriff’s office opened, presenting Constance Alure Smithen.
“Good morning, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And you, Sir Aager Fogstep. I have read through your Criminal Laws and the laws pertaining to commerce and judicial matters, and also the local laws specific to Serenity Home town, in particular. I have noted that your current archives pertaining to said criminal reports are quite extensive, but both time-consuming to find when needed, and it would seem you have also run out of space. I have given it some thought and found a number of ways to optimize and address both problems for you.”
Sheriff Standorin just stared at the beautiful young woman. She was dressed in long, unrevealing dress skirts with little to no adornments. Other than a bright-red application to her pretty lips, she wore no makeup, nor any jewelry.
Aager didn’t say anything. He just sat quietly..
“I.. would very much like to hear your ideas on the matter of documentation and archives, Liaison Constance.”, Standorin stammered a bit as he rose from his chair. “Perhaps after the morning assignments are handed out?”
“But of course, sir.”, Constance replied calmly, then looked down at Aager with careful deliberation.
The sheriff left the office and headed out to the small courtyard where all the guards not currently on duty were already lined up.
“Sir Aager Fogstep.”, Constance began, after the sheriff had left.
“Just Aager will do, Liaison Constance. I do not qualify as a sir.”, he replied in his low growl.
“I believe you do, Sir.”, she said, putting the tiniest bit of implication to her words.
“As you wish.”, Aager shrugged without so much as turning a hair.
“I have brought.. a gift to you, Sir Aager Fogstep.”, she said a bit uncertainly.
“Totally unnecessary, Liaison Constance. Town guards do not take, nor accept gifts as they could constitute and be mistaken for a bribe. Perhaps you missed that in the Criminal Law’s book?”, the young man in dark leathers said quietly.
Constance paused for a breath’s length.
“The gift is to you, Sir. But not for you.”, she amended cooly.
Aager cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Please give these to your loved one. I am sure she will very much appreciate them.”, she said and produced two, heavy-looking, age-old daggers. “These are quite ancient blades, Sir, and are a pair. They are also enchanted in their own way.”
“I thank you for the gift, but I doubt Lady Inshala will have any use for them, as she very much dislikes the touch of iron. Perhaps you could give these to someone who would actually wield them?”, Aager declined, staring, but not touching the very, very sharp blades that appeared more like short swords, really.
“Ah. The confusion is understandable, and possibly due to my misphrasing. These blades would indeed be a bad choice of gifts for the esteemed Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep. These, are for your sister, Lady Lilly Venom as a wedding gift. We had heard of her happy union but were unable to attend as we weren’t sure if we would be welcome. She and Perigren Ostlanna Temez became somewhat acquainted, and Temez noticed her missing vital gear appropriate to her station.”, she replied calmly.
“Why give them to me, then? Wouldn’t it be better for Temez to give them to her?”
“Should Perigren Ostlanna Temez gift them to her in person, Lady Lilly Venom would feel obligated to return a gift of her own, and of equal or at least of similar value. I am afraid, however, she will sorely fail should she try, for these blades are unique and quite priceless. If you gifted them to her on our behalf, yet unbeknownst to her, she would happily accept them and feel no such obligation whatsoever. And since they are not for you, there is little reason for you to feel any similar obligation either.”
Perhaps it was time for Aager to fume.
But he did not.
He just stared at the tall young woman and smiled.
“I don’t do lackey, Liaison Constance. And as convenient as your reasoning for the gift was, these knives are a bribe. The only question is, what do you want in return? Let me warn you and your kin, though. The Winter Knight can not be bribed, bought, or swayed. I am tempted to stay as a neutral party where your kind are concerned because Merisoul Xyrotwu is my friend, and I owe her a debt of honor. She saved my Inshala, and burned for me! Should you test me though, I will bring Mab’s ire upon you. So.. I am very much hoping the answer to my question is a good one.”
Constance Alure Smithen stiffened a fraction.
“We have left Hell in hopes of finding sanction among elves and humans. We gave an oath, Winter Knight. An oath to sweat, to bleed, and to die for our Ascension. We may not break that oath.”, she said cooly, but not without honest fear, though what it was she feared, Aager couldn’t say.
“Admirable as that may be, you still haven’t answered my question, Liaison Constance.”, he replied in a wintery voice.
“We need your mate’s help.”, Constance said simply.
Aager did not say anything. He waited, silently.
“Some not too distant days ago, ere you and your mate’s arrival, the esteemed sheriff received news about one of the Orken armies having disappeared overnight. He and Mayor Arthandos Yuleman suspect they have used the device that they employed to ambush Arashkan. Fearing a possible recurrence, we were sent a note, by the sheriff himself, pertaining to the lost Orken army and possibly a way to counter-act this device, even temporarily, to avoid further, devastating ambushes. Perigren Ostlanna Temez and my brothers and sisters have worked diligently to find a way to reveal their presence, but we are, at the moment, at a standstill, on account of our ignorance of plants and herbs of this Mortal world. Your mate, Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep, on the other hand, has vast knowledge on this matter. We wished her help, and perhaps her friendship as well, as both her and my kin share common social drawbacks.”
Constance paused for a moment as if considering if she would say more. She must have decided to do so, for she did, but with a muted tone.
“And if we had her as a friend, we would worry less, should Mab want his knight to slay any of us, as the Ritual Guardian would intervene on our behalf. I speak this openly and honestly, Sir Knight.”
Again, she paused. But when she spoke this time, her voice was not cold, but it was brittle.
“I play you will not take my words as a threat, nor as eager warning, Sir, but you must understand, should your Queen indeed move against one of us, She will have moved against all of us. We did not escape Hell, just to be hunted here. We wish to live happy and be happy. I beg you will not take this surcease from us.”
“I have no desire to come after anyone, let alone you or your kin, Liaison. I would suggest you inform your kin to refrain using their skills, unique or otherwise, to avoid the notice of my Queen, and that is all the surety I will give you, as little as it may be.”
“Thank you, Sir Knight.”, Constance said, her voice calm again.
“Do not thank me, Liaison. For my surety is no surety!”
“Your unwillingness to come after us, Sir Knight, is our surety, as little as it may be. As for your suggestion, I shall convey it to Perigren Ostlanna Temez. In the meantime, I would officially ask your permission for Lady Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane Bolgrig Hooman Fogstep to join us in the temple.”
“You need not my permission for my Inshala. She is my mate, she is free. Should she wish it, she may come and go as she pleases, anywhere. I am merely the Winter Knight. She is the Ritual Guardian. You could ask my sister, Lilly, and her husband Largo to join in as well. They both have sharp minds and Largo in particular is good with strategy.”
“Very well, Sir. I shall convey this offer to Perigren Ostlanna Temez, as well.”, and she turned to go.
“There’s one thing I must ask, Liaison.”, Aager said and the young, beautiful woman paused.
“Please, do, Sir Knight.”
“What are your intentions in regard to Sheriff Standorin? I ask only because I have seen, first hand, and on any number of occasions, that he is a decent man. A decent, burned, scarred, and lonely man who dearly misses his deceased wife, Limnia Karya. I would hate to see him suffer more.”
Constance did not wait, nor think to reply.
When she did, her voice had changed, very slightly, giving it a certain, scared warmth.
“If he is indeed a decent, lonely man, burned and scarred, Sir Aager Fogstep, then he and I have much more in common than I ever hoped to have. I shall always be honest, kind, and gentle with him, and I shall be patient with him, also. Until he realizes I am not his lost Limnia Karya, I shall never be his lost Limnia Karya, I can never replace his lost Limnia Karya, and neither will my intentions ever be to replace his lost Limnia Karya, for every life is precious, unique, and irreplaceable. This, I think you already know.”
The Winter Knight mused for a moment before he spoke.
“Then, Liaison Constance, I shall not help you, but neither shall I hinder you. I shall, however, extract a price.”
“Whatever price you demand, I shall pay.”, Constance replied with a slight frown.
“You shall suffer a tryst with the sheriff and trice. The offers, however, must come from you. I shall not accept offers should they come from him. You may, or may not accept his offers, should he make them, but those offers shall not count as part of your debt.”
Constance stared at Aager, quite stupefied.
“I.. do not understand.”, she stammered.
“Your understanding is neither required nor is it part of the price, Liaison Constance.”, he growled.
“I.. will submit to this odd but favorable demand, Sir Knight.”, she stammered some more.
“Winter is not always bitter-cold and dreary, Liaison Constance. When summer comes, does it shine and bloom, and Mortals do spread and far across forest and field. Come winter, do they gather ’round their fires and gain strength and vigor from one another’s dear company. Come winter, does it tuck and veil the earth, quite warm under its shroud of white, ending plagues and wars. And does it mute the distractions of summer and her illustrious colors. Hence do Mortals learn to appreciate the world they walk and come summer and bloom again, they are they now wiser..”, Aager said, his growl gone, yet his voice seemed deeper and vast.
“We, Liaison Constance, are now in an agreement.”
✱ ✱ ✱
You can hide under the blanket, but can you at least remove the pillow? You are going to smother yourself, Lenna.”, Armethelius Riverblade said, stifling a smile, for he would never have guessed, the famous Frost Queen of Bari Na-ammen would be this embarrassed.. or even have the heart to be thus flustered.
Something muffled was heard from under the pillow, and the young high elf commander leaned over a bit to hear what the high lady was saying.
“I am sorry, Lenna. I wouldn’t catch that.”, he said with a bemused expression.
“Go away, Thelius.”, came Anglenna’s pleading muffles.
“I shall. As soon as I see how you are doing. Or see that it is actually you under the pillow.”
“You don’t have to see me like this. Or at all. I.. am not at my best, at the moment.”, she wheezed as she burned and shivered at the same time.
“I would like to be the judge of that, Lenna. Since your usual best would have stared me down already. You might say I want to savor the moment, as dishonorable as that sounds. But I am thinking that much of a dent in my honor will be worth it.” Armethelius replied. “I am going to pull this blanket off now. I really hope you have something on.”
“Don’t! Please!”, panicked Anglenna.
Without a second warning, the young high elf commander pulled off the blanket, ignored the horrified and screaming high lady, bent down, scooped her up, and sat her on the plain chair!
“Now, if you will, this bed is a mess and requires a change of sheets and pillow covers, and possibly a new blanket as well, seeing as how all of them are crumbled and wet! Not exactly a healthy environment, is it?”, he said, and with a swift display of elven agility and grace, he pulled off the sick sheets, the pillow covers, and tossed them, and the blanket over to the door, produced a new set of sheets, covers, and blanket and with practiced hands, did the bed with military accuracy as Anglenna, still burning and shivering, watched him with ogling, morose eyes.
When he was done, he turned around and looked down at the shivering girl, and not unkindly, he said, “I am sorry, Lenna, but this will hurt a bit. And on multiple levels..”
..And pulled the wet, burlap-colored, linen gown off her, from feet to head without giving her the time to gasp, or object, and with equal grace, he put another long gown on her, from head to feet..
Then picked her up, set her in the bed, and pulled the blanket all the way up to her chin!
“I apologize for that, Lenna, and you may reprimand me or even go as far as calling me upon it later, but I wasn’t into a long argument just now. I know these are not up to your usual standards, but the sheet, the pillow cover, and the gown are elf silk, and the blanket is elf wool. I have also brought some soap, a brush, and hairnets for you. A woman of your stature should always uphold certain standards. That said, I am afraid I must take my leave, now. I do not want to be missed for too long and be asked as to why I have been visiting the town thus often of late.”, he said and turned to leave.
Anglenna knew she was about to suffer a colossal shock at what had just happened. She felt it roaring her way and surmised she had only a short moment of coherence left to her. So she asked the only relevant question she could think of.
“I am safe, getting better, and should be up, once the fever is passed. You already know all this. So why are you constantly coming here, Thelius?”
Armethelius Riverblade looked back at the feverish and profusely sweating face of the high lady for a moment. Then spoke with his low, quiet voice.
“Of the two of us, I would have thought I would be the one to ever fall short and lacking.”, he said. “But I can’t believe how you can be this dense, Lenna!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Anglenna Brightleaf was smoldering in abject frustration and mortification. How dare he man-handle her thus unscrupulous and shamelessly! Perhaps picking her up was acceptable, she was feverish and not quite herself and the things going on around had been sort of hazy and vague. Even so, he should have at least asked for permission, if only perfunctorily. But no! He had grabbed her. Just like that! And not satisfied with his boorish manners, he had stripped her gown right off her! The nerve, the level of depravity, the.. the..
Anglenna spluttered as her mortified frustration saw no end.
“Is this a bad time?”, said a husky sort of voice from the door, and the high lady flared!
“GO! JUST GO AWAY AND LEAVE ME ALONE! HOW MANY TIMES MUST I GET HARASSED AND DEGRADED IN ONE DAY?!”
“I think it is a bad time.”, said another, a bubbling, cheery voice. “She is seething. I can feel it. And it is delicious!”
“We should go.”, said a third with a low, resonant voice. “Our stance with Mortal demands is unclear.”
“I think we should just hit her over the head until she cools off. Auntie Irine always did that to me and guess what? It worked!”, said a sharp, petulant fourth voice.
“But we need her concession. I do not think it will work otherwise.”, said a small, vague, fifth.
The door got pushed open and five people stumbled in, tripped, and fell flat and face down!
“Who pushed?”, asked one of them.
“I didn’t either.
“I can push. I totally can. Why didn’t I push?”
Anglenna stared at the oddest lot, entangled on the ground.
“Alright.”, she fumed. “I am officially brain-cooked with fever and have started seeing weird hallucinations now.”
“Hold it. Hold it, everyone.”, said the husky voice. “Hal Mali, love. Please take your hand out of my blouse.”
“Ow. Sorry, Temez. I thought that was Demelze!”
“You wish! I got Hamna Vir’s tail though!”, sneered the chirpy voice of Demelze.
“No, you don’t!”, scoffed Hamna Vir sharply.
“Uhhmm.. That’s not a tail, Demelze. But it could be!”, Hal Mali said a bit flustered.
“I like the bosom am I staring at. It’s so soft.”, said the small voice vaguely.
“Dar Derune, love. You are a bit too young to be staring at bosoms. Don’t you think?”, Temez sighed. “And Demelze does not wear a blouse, Hal Mali. She wears a drop waist.”
“It’s not a drop waist! It’s a bouffant.”, objected Demelze.
“A bouffant has a distinct waist, you dolt! That strip of gauzy cloth you call a dress does not.”, Hamna Vir scoffed again. Then her tone changed and she purred. “Like what you see, then, Dar Derune, baby?”
“Come on, Hamna Vir. He is too young to choose a mate. You know this!”, Hal Mali said with a resigned voice.
“I see her heart. It is a nice, warm place..”, the boy, Dar Derune, said dreamily.
Anglenna just stared at the entangled lot with this funny expression on her face.
“What the Hell kind of a temple is this?”, she said in horror.
And just like that, a choked hush fell on the room.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez freed herself out of the jumble and came at the high lady.
“Lady Anglenna Sunsear, please do not utter the name of that evil place thus freely. It is a name that suffers no fools.”
Hal Mali also disentangled himself and approached her.
“What she says is true, Lady Anglenna Sunsear. We must have care when we speak of certain names, be it a person, a being, or a place.”
“What he said.”, Demelze added, stiffly.
“She is much troubled and carries much worry and fear. She is living in her own Hell.”, Dar Derune said with the same dreamy voice.
“Dar Derune, dear. We agreed not to speak out of turn in front of strangers, did we not?”, reprimanded Hamna Vir as she got up and came at the boy’s side, but not unkindly.
“What is this? Who are you? What is going on here? Get me out! I can’t breathe.”, Anglenna flared as the culmination of the events of the last several days finally cracked her as her fever spiked and the dim, candle-lit room began to spin and a sharp, jarring pain stabbed her right up her arm..
“THIS IS YOUR END! THIS IS YOUR JUDGMENT!”
..croaked a voice waspishly.
..and the high lady dropped.. as darkness engulfed her!
“Hamna Vir..”, Hal Mali said in a reproving tone. “That was not funny, girl.”
“What? I thought it was funny. Always wanted to do that!”, Hamna Vir snickered.
“Look what you did. She’s out, now.”, the handsome half-born complained.
“I had nothing to do with that.”, snapped Hamna Vir.
“Demelze, love. Why don’t you take away her fever? You are the best with fire.”, Temez offered.
“I could. I suppose. But her fire is not the cause of her illness. It is the symptom. I must first burn her sick before I smother her fever.”, Demelze replied unhappily.
“What’s the problem, baby girl?”, Hal Mali asked.
“Do not call me that! I am not your baby girl, Hal Mali!”, spat Demelze. “She is Mortal and her mind is in chaos. Her heart is so full of hate, self-loathing, and fear. I can feel them without even touching her. And she has little to no love in her. I must hold her to burn her sick and take her fever away. And she is in an abhorrent amount of pain. I shall gather all of that.. in me!”
Silence settled in the room again.
“I can not ask you to do what you must, love.”, Temez said quietly. “It is you who must decide.”
Dar Derune came up to Demelze and hugged her.
“Is that what happened when Auntie Irine beat and burned me and you took it all away, Demelze?”, he asked with the first display of some coherent acknowledgment.
Demelze did not answer.
She just stood there with flushed tears running down her face.
Hamna Vir came up to her, and also hugged her from behind. “I love you Demelze. For what you did for my beautiful baby mate, Dar Derune. And I remember how much you hurt after that, and it nearly drow you mad. I shall stand by your decision. Whatever it may be.”
For a long moment, everyone stood where they were until Demelze sniffed loudly, and with a fear-stricken but determined face, she spoke.
“I shall do it. Everyone here cashed in their sweat, their blood, and their lives. I may not do less.”
“Then we shall share your pain, and suffer with you.”, Temez said and hugged her as well. Not you, Hal Mali. And you Dar Derune, love.”
“What? Why?”, Hal Mali asked.
“You will look after us, should we be downed. And Dar Derune mustn’t go through this again. Also, it is he, who must look into Lady Anglenna Sunsear to find the esteemed sheriff’s lost boy, and the lost princess.”
Hal Mali did not refuse, but he didn’t look happy either.
“Come, Dar Derune. Apparently, this is a girls-only thing. We must respect that.”
Dar Derune looked up at the stricken Demelze, then at the equally frightened Hamna Vir, and finally at Temez.
“You have a good heart, Perigren Ostlanna Temez. And never should you have been with us in Hell. My Hamna Vir and I followed you because of that. Demelze; a world without you would be a sad, and lonely place. Please hold on for me.”, he said.. then the vague, dreamy expression settled on his tiny face again.
Hal Mali took him by the shoulders and quietly steered him away..
..and Demelze reached down and grabbed the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen and took her into her embrace.
Her bewitching face contorted and she screamed.
And with her..
..and Temez also screamed!
✱ ✱ ✱
Well. That’s done.”, Sheriff Standorin said as he returned to the office from the small courtyard. “All the assignments have been passed out. I shall be happy when this war is over and we can return back to our scheduled assignments rather than delegating them randomly.”
“The idea of random assignments is a sound one, particularly during times of war. Adds one more level of security against bribed infiltrations.”, Aager mused approvingly. “By the way. We just received fifty more trained high elves from Lord Armethelius Riverblade. I split them into five groups and sent two of up north and northeast of Ritual Forest, one along the southern banks of Arashkan river, another down to the hills surrounding Tinker Hills, and the last one all the way to the edge of Silent Hills to search for possible Orken incursions and to find lost survivors.”
Standorin paused for a moment. Then rumbled, his face slightly flushed.
“Thank you. I know you are going out of your way to help find my son and my daughter-in-law. As I am aware this isn’t the first party you have sent in random directions ‘seeking possible Orken incursions and to find lost survivors.'”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, sir.”, grinned the young man in dark leathers. “Just making sure we don’t get any surprises from the Orken, and who wouldn’t help lost survivors?”
Standorin fumed with frustration.
“Where are they, dammit?”
“We will find them, sir. Which brings up an interesting point, the way Lord Armethelius has been so generous of late. Wonder why that is!”, Aager said blandly.
Standorin fumed again.
“He wants to take Lady Anglenna into their custody. Good luck with that. She is under high suspect and a person of interest. There are a lot of crimes listed against her including espionage, treachery, war crimes and high treason!”
“People change, sir. I wouldn’t know about her past felonies, but I am certain she is not part of any treason, nor is she in cahoots with her mother. Not since some months before the Orken attack on Arashkan and Bari Na-ammen. Much like I do not believe Lord Armethelius wants the esteemed high lady just to place her under elf custody.”
The sheriff stared at him.
“You can’t be serious!”
“I am always serious, sir. I think I have had that established quite firmly. As for Lord Armethelius’s interest in our esteemed high lady, I asked around a bit and found out, he and Lady Anglenna were childhood friends back in the day.. about a hundred and seventy years ago, that is. But when Lady Anglenna’s father, Selvius Brightleaf, died, or was murdered, things changed and the two went their separate ways; Armethelius went military and Anglenna went scheming! But things have changed again. And apparently, as much as Anglenna’s heart seems to have gone cold over the years, Armethelius’s interest in her has never quite dulled. Funny how that turned out!”
Standorin frowned a bit.
“Why don’t you go and visit her? She knows you. Or even Lady Inshala?”
“I will. Once she gets better. And coherent. I don’t want her current, feverish self to get the better of her. You might have noticed, sir, I am not exactly a very lovable person. And I do not want to expose my Inshala to her either. Until then, I am afraid there is nothing else we can do but to milk Lord Armethelius for more of his well-trained elves! Funny how that turned out too”
Standorin barked out a laugh.
“You are a devious man, Master Aager.”
“Thank you, sir. I rather liked it myself.”
“Uhhmm.. Where is Liaison Constance?”, the sheriff asked, looking around.
“She said she wanted to visit the carpenter’s workshop to put in some orders for new shelves, cabinets, drawers, and something called portable containers.. for our archives and filing system.”
“Dammit!”, Standorin said with frustration. “I said I would look into it. I never said I agreed to it!”
“Guess you are going to have to be more careful as to what you say to her, sir.”, Aager said blandly.
“She is a Liaison, for Heavens’ sake! She can’t do that kind of modification in our office!”, the sheriff said with a deploring voice.
“Apparently, she can. Don’t fret, sir. I asked her about her new filing system and it sounded quite plausible. She seems to have an extremely organized frame of mind.. among other things. I’d say just let her do it. She is going to do it anyway. This way, you get to be the agreeable man who sees reason. It will give her something to do and get her out of your hair for a bit. Thought you’d like that as well.”
“You said you had some good advice. Let’s hear it!”, he growled.
“Ahh.. that was then, sir. Now, my price has gone up!”
The sheriff just stared at him, and a vein started throbbing on his temple.
“You are blackmailing me, by doubling the price?”
“Tripling, sir. I am afraid double just won’t cut it.”, Aager replied with a sinister grin. “The price rises over time, sir. Further delays will only cost you more.”
Standorin Shieldheart gave him one of his, silence before the storm, gazes.
And with a wrathful snarl, he said, “Agreed, Master Aager. Know that I shall not forget this. Name your price!”
“You never forget anything, sir. That is why you are so good at what you do.”
“Flattery will not save you..”, seethed the sheriff.
“Very well, sir. I shall now name your price and you will agree to pay it upfront before you hear my advice. Agreed?”
“Agreed..”, Standorin growled grudgingly. “This had better be some very good advice, young man.”
“It is a deal-closer advice, sir. And destined to work! The price then; you, Standorin Shieldheart, shall go out for three more dates with the Liaison Constance!”
Standorin just stared at him.
“Furthermore, the offers to go out on said three dates must come from you. If she makes the proposal, it shall not be counted as part of the price, pain and done. When you have fulfilled all your dates, you shall have paid your debt in full and I shall hence disclose my advice. Now, I have some places to be, and some people to train.”
And just like that, Aager took off, leaving an extremely frustrated sheriff in his wake!
“That was awesome, my Aager.”, the young man heard the soft, whispering voice of Inshala in the depths of his mind.
“I liked it.”
“What do you think will happen in three dates, though?”
“Not three, love. Six. I am all but certain Liaison Constance will ask him out at least three times before our esteemed sheriff can muster the courage to ask her out once!”
“But what will six dates do?”
“Love. We danced just that one time and I savored every single moment of it. I absolutely fell in love with you then and there, and not only because of how pretty I thought you were, or how nice you smelled, or how long and soft your hair was, but because of how kind, caring, scared, and yet brave you were.. Just what do you think will happen when they have gone out on six dates?”
“The good sheriff saved the life of a young and foolish Drashan convict that he didn’t even know. He gave that stupid boy respect, a job, and a home. He trusted his only child with that Drashan and in no Hell or Heaven would I have done those for me! Yet he lived alone and suffered alone. True that half-born may be young, but their understanding of time is unlike ours. This, I learned from you, my Inshala. And you learned me just how lonely and dead my own heart was. By the end of those dates, he will come to me and demand his advice, for he shall think he as earned it, not knowing what he earned was better than my advice, which is going to be, ‘Sir, I advise you date her again before making any final or premature decisions, for life is harder alone..’ Funny how that’ll turn out!”
✱ ✱ ✱
A shrill chorus of screams ricocheted in the small dormitory under the temple and Demelze flared in fire! She shrieked and shrieked but held on tightly at the high elf girl lying unconsciously in her rickety bed as she sucked her burning fever and everything that ailed her..
..and with her, Hamna Vir and Perigren Ostlanna Temez burned as Hal Mali and Dar Derune watched with stricken faces.
Then Demezle stumbled back, and fell, as smoke lazily drifted out from her. Hamna Vir and Temez fell with her, one staring blankly and with glazed eyes, the other bleeding from her nose and ears!
Hal Mali jumped at the girls and scooped them all up into his powerful embrace, rocking back and forth.
Dar Derune gave them a sad, mournful look and turned to the, now peacefully, sleeping elf girl.
“Pretty elf lady. Please wake up!”, he said solemnly.
Anglenna did not budge.
After days of draining, fevered pain, she was just done in.
“Pretty elf lady. Please.. Do wake up!”, the boy implored. “We seek what you seek. We seek the boy and the pretty princess. We seek that which ails you.”
Perhaps it was the word ‘princess’, or maybe it was the desperate tone in the little boy’s voice, but something must have gotten through the haze of sweet clouds and blissful abandon, for Anglenna opened her pale green eyes and stared at the little boy with amber eyes and tiny little horns.
“Who.. who are you?”, she whispered.
“We are the free ones. The ones with choice, pretty elf lady. We are the half-born. The ones who escaped and we are here to help find that which is lost.. But I need access to your memories and see whom to seek. And for that, I must have your consent, whilst it be treachery and a violation of our oath.”
“You will find young Udoorin Shieldheart and my cousin, Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist?”, Anglenna stared up at the little boy with the first glimmer of painfully brittle hope.
“If possible and if they are on this side of Oblivion, I shall, pretty elf lady.”, the boy said in a small voice.
Then he paused for a moment and his face became sad and unhappy.
“I must warn you though. It might hurt, sifting through your memories. And confusing. It might leave you catatonic, unable to even feed yourself. I am sorry, but I am broken and unable to refine my skills.”
“It is alright, little one, for I have understood little of what you just said, but I am content, and I consent.”
The little boy, Dar Derune, reached down to the pretty elf girl and held her face with his small, kid-hands.
Anglenna Brightleaf yelped, and was lost in a whirling storm of painful memories!
✱ ✱ ✱
“I told you, should you go ahead with this ‘plan’, you would get yourself killed at the very least. Well, look at that; you are dying!”, says High Lady Anglenna, and stares down at the dying man coldly and with very much dislike.
The man on the ground has an arrow sticking out of his chest. He gurgles in excruciating pain as bloody bubbles spurt out of his mouth. He is drowning in his own blood for the arrow has punctured his lungs and torn deep into them at an odd angle.
Yet, he defies death and a wet, rattling sound escapes him.
“I don’t think so.”, says the high lady. “For your hare-brained and reckless plan has gotten our healer killed as well.”, and looks down at the three other men lying dead and nods at the one with the long, splintered spear in his belly.
Then she looks up at the horde of bandits running in her direction, swinging old, rusty swords. True, her face is cold, but she stares at the bandits with clinical detachment and calculates something that involves their current distance, their speed, a certain spherical radius, and the number Pi..
And quietly, she points somewhere in the center of the bandits and murmurs.
“And four, and three, and two, and one..”
A tiny mote of fire appears among the bandits, and Anglenna turns her pointing hand into a fist..
..and with a savage bloom, the mote explodes; a low, rumbling expansion.
Within the blink of an eye, the fire engulfs the bandits, and with a chorus of short-lived screams, incinerates them all!
With her dispassionate, dissatisfied, and cold stare, she looks down at the gurgling man and speaks, barely refraining a sneer.
“A plan should never be thus complicated. But I guess you shall never learn that.”
“Your.. healing potion.. give it to me.. please..”, the man begs with a wet, bloody whisper.
“Why? So you can live and afflict your stupidity upon others and get them killed as well?”, she very nearly hisses with contempt..
..and walks away.
“Not this one.”
• • •
“For four days, I have been watching this crystal ball without food, water, or rest, mother.”, Anglenna says, as her voice rattles like a rusty saw.
“And you believe this is a good reason for your total failure, do you? You were unable to scry upon my dear brother, Grandaleren, four days ago. Four days later, you are still unable to see him in the crystal ball. Seems to me like neither your hunger, your thirst nor your fatigue is part of the equation, but merely your bad excuse for your failure. One day, you shall be the Rise of Bari Na-ammen, my daughter. You must thus be better prepared for it.”, says the High Lady Angrellen.
“Bari Na-ammen already has a riserin, mother. A princess. It is she, who will become a Rise. Not I..”, replies Anglenna with a parched voice.
A sharp, sudden, and shocking clap is heard.
Anglenna hears a ringing sound in her ears and she sees tiny, yellow motes fly haphazardly as a smoldering pain spreads from one side of her face.
And she wakes up to the fact that her mother has just slapped her across her face.
“Never shall you bring that mongrel’s name, nor her presence, under my roof. Do you understand me, Lenna?”, hisses her mother with absolute loathing.
“Yes.. mother..”, says Anglenna in mortification.
The door to their room is knocked and someone, an elf woman with a blurry face, lost in time, enters, and with fear-induced accuracy, she bows before the mistress of the house.
“I apologize, my lady. Your niece, Princess Alor’Nadien ne has arrived and begs to see her cousin, High Lady Anglenna, and asks if she is available to play with her.”
High Lady Angrellen does not at all reflect her fel and seething feelings on her face. With cool detachment, she regards the shivering maid. What she truly feels upon the liberal use of the name of the princes under her roof, however, is etched quite clearly in her frigid eyes.
“Go, my daughter, go and game with the wee princess. It is apparent you are better at little else.”
“This one is sad.”
• • •
“I apologize, my Lady, the princess, Alor’Nedien ne has arrived and begs to speak with you.”, says the elf maid and bows deeply before the mistress of the house.
“Let her in.”, orders High Lady Angrellen and crows feet appear at the edge of her pale green eyes.
The elf maid retreats and returns with the princess, and lo..
Princess Alor’Nadien ne has grown to be everything she was blessed and promised and High Lady Angrellen very nearly chews on her own liver for the little wee ‘mongrel’ has matured into a beautiful, graceful, elegant, and extraordinary creature and Anglenna sees how her mother seethes with unmitigated spite, for she knows, try as she might, the princess has attained the kind of shining demeanor her mother has never had, and would never have.
True, the girl approaching them has gotten some of her beauty both from her mother and her father, but the air of maturity, the sincerity, the love, and the calming aura about her are all hers.
Her charcoal-black hair thickly woven and braided in a complex pattern climbs down her slim waist. There is a gleam of hidden mischief in her deep, fresh grass-green eyes, and barely discernable freckles pepper her elegant nose, and a small, cherry-red mouth adorns her face. With her not-yet-fully-grown breasts and her slender figure, Princess Alor’Nadien ne Feymist presents the very essence of life..
The princess smiles at the elf maid and thanks her kindly, then very politely she curtsies at the lady of the house, and with sincere gratitude, her soft, soothing voice echoes in the rooms.
“My dearest Auntie Angrellen..”
“This one is nice, but out of date.”
• • •
You leave again, Lenna.”, says the handsome, solemn high elf with deep-set eyes, long blonde hair, angular chin, and a distinct, outlined mouth.
“I very much doubt this is any of your business, Armethelius Riverblade. And whatever gave you the impression that we were friends enough for you to get familiar with my name. As I recall, we are not even friends..”, says the High Lady, Anglenna, gazing coldly at the young, high elf commander.
“No, no.. Not this one, either. Too much self-loathing. Too much hate. I can feel them all, and it hurts!”
• • •
High Lady Anglenna, sits alone on her side of the long table. It is evening somewhere and there is a festive air about, for others sit around other tables and they talk, eat, drink, and they laugh.. they share!
Children run around in shrill, chirping screams of joy as they chase one another around the tables loaded with delicious and happy food and a slow, enthralling music is playing somewhere nearby; a young, handsome half-elf is singing with his equally handsome baritone voice and another half-elf, this one she knows but hasn’t met yet, a boldly beautiful girl sings with him in her contralto voice.
The high lady ignores it all for she has found her query.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne, sitting across the town sheriff and looking down into her hands, her beautiful face burning with disgraced shame.. in this happy evening.
“And it is not dear cousin Lenna to you, Nadien ne, it is High Lady Anglenna!”, she hisses at the little princess.
With barely audible voice, and without looking up, the princess whispers..
“Would not that make me, Princess Alor’Nadien ne for you, then?”
“I like her. She is nice. And she has a quiet, unimposing will. The lighting here is low, though. I can’t see her face and she looks down with shame.”
• • •
A sound High Lady Anglenna knows she will never forget in her life. Even as her memories tumble and slash her to her very core like hundreds and thousands of paper cuts, this particular memory escapes her with a moan full of shame and self-loathing. It is the sound of the love her little princess feels for her, for it is also the sound of her ultimate sacrifice..
..it is the sound of sharp steel parting flesh, and scraping bone!
High Lady Anglenna spins around as Princess Alor’Nadien ne is hurled at her and collapses in her arms.
Anglenna tries to pick the foolish little princes, but she drifts down and down, until she is on the ground, still in her cousin’s arms, but with a long, ugly-looking dagger in her slender back.
And Anglenna watches in horror as the blood draining from the face of her little princess..
..is spilling and ebbing into the dirt.
Yet her cousin tries to smile at her as more blood trickles from her small lips. She clings to Anglenna and whispers, as the light of life fades from her beautiful grass-green eyes..
I.. am so sorry, Lenna.
I tried my best.. but I could not save you..
Please.. forgive me..
With another moan, Anglenna gasped, her face distorted and she trashed in her sickbed like a wild animal.
“NO. NO, BABY GIRL.. YOU SAVED ME! YOU SAVED ME FROM ME! YOU SAVED ME FROM MY OWN, ABOMINABLE AND WRETCHED SELF.. DON’T DIE.. PLEASE.. DON’T LEAVE ME. I AM SORRY! I AM SO SORRY FOR ALL THE THINGS I DID TO YOU.. FORGIVE ME.. PLEASE FORGIVE ME..”
“This one is not very recent, but it is as fresh and vivid as today! It burns.. And I see her very clearly. Yes. This one will do..”
✱ ✱ ✱
The small boy let go of the flailing high elf woman and Anglenna reeled back down on her bed and the memory of her cousin’s sacrifice came crashing in on her, all over again. At the time, she had thought her cousin was trying to save her from the dagger. Looking back, it had never been the dagger she had thought she had failed to save her from. It had been her mother, Angrellen, whom she had tried to save her from.. That was why she was pleading her forgiveness because she knew had just run out of time, and Anglenna would have to return back to her mother, and back to her life-long, depleting, and ousted captivity..
High Lady Anglenna broke..
..and cried like a heart-wrenched little girl, and with total lack of self-control, moderation, or decorum.
The boy left the traumatized elf women and looked down at his small hands to see they were red and blistered.
So.. the pretty elf lady had love in her after all.. and it was powerful enough to burn him even though he hadn’t tried to eat her soul.
Anglenna’s love for her sister-cousin was strong enough to burn a half-born bound by his own blood-oath!
He closed his eyes, frowned a bit, then opened them again and there was a deep, abyssal cast to them now.
He took a deep breath and slowly, he started to turn..
“Gotcha!”, he said suddenly and pointed east.
“Demons are not allowed here, little one..”, said a deep, rich, throaty voice — ⊗
“Oops!”, was all the little boy could say.
⊗ —and backhanded him.
Right across the room!
Dar Derune flew right over the rickety bed and slammed into the wall and slid down, his little face contorted with pain.
The girls gave out a collective of shrieks, abandoned their own seething pain, and jumped after the boy, followed closely by Hal Mali.
“Who? Who did this to you?”, cried Hamna Vir as she dropped on her knees and pulled the boy tightly into her arms.
“Tis alright Hamna Vir.”, said the boy groggily. “I should have been mindful of my manners.”
“Who did this?”, hissed Demelze. “I shall burn it to the ground!”
“And I shall dice and slice him open and wide.”, growled Hal Mali.
“Tell us, love. No one harms our Dar Derune!”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said fiercely.
“Please don’t be mad.”, the boy pleaded. “It was my fault, really. I shouldn’t have barged in, the way I did.”
“TELL US!”, they all chorused.
Dar Derune signed, took a step back, and stared at his brother and sisters, and spoke..
..in a tiny voice..
The people of Serenity Home work hard and diligently as war approaches. Though winter has settled severe, frigid, and deep, somewhat harsher than usual, the lands around the town live a milder cold. In groups and individuals, the peoples of the town work day and night.
The people of Serenity Home must know her allies, though, and respect them..
The tall, slim figure walked with quiet, serene dignity and very much ignored the people staring and ogling at her, for she was a creature of long, slender arms and legs in elegant dress skirts that reached down to her high pumps and swept behind her. It wasn’t that she didn’t care, nor did she think they were beneath her. She merely chose not to partake, or blush, for she knew precisely what she was, and how striking a figure she posed. And she chose to be quiet, and quietly, dignified about it, rather than flaunt her beauty; a beauty that comprised of rather alluring soft-eyes with flowing, silky black hair, and long, not-too-overtly curving figure, rather appealing breasts, and long, smooth, beautiful horns..
Of all the possible ways she could have gone, she had opted for ‘demure’..
“Yes”, she had thought. “Demure and dignified feels ‘right’ for me.”
Among all her kind, even Perigren Ostlanna Temez had bowed to her cool, silent, and serene aura, for where Temez had been beautiful and ravishing in a quite exhilarating way, she had been.. well.. cool, silent, and serene!
Or demure and dignified, as she herself preferred to correctly and accurately define herself.
Hence, she walked through the overcrowded town, and ignored the stares, even though it was the first time she had come out of the town’s temple since their arrival.. One would have expected anyone else to have looked around and perhaps gone sight seeing after having been stuck in a temple for weeks on end, but no. She had come out of the temple and as if on a mission, she had started for a very specific place in the town with slow, measured steps, as her high pumps click-clacked to her steady pace..
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart opened the door of the sheriff’s office upon hearing the polite knock.
One would also think some underling or guard would have reached for the door. But the sheriff did not have any ‘underlings’ and would likely have scoffed at anyone who would ask him why he didn’t. As for the guards, they were either at their appointed posts, out patrolling, or at lunch —a timing picked with care, and precise deliberation on the alluring young woman’s part.
“Good day, Lady Constance.”, the sheriff said politely and stepped aside for the alluring young women to enter. “Please. Take a seat, if you will.”
“You know my name.”, the young woman, Constance, said, not taken aback, precisely, but pleasantly surprised.. and pleased.. as she came in and sat in the rather blocky chair right across the small table where the sheriff himself took his seat.
“The young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas had introduced you and your kin, upon your arrival.”, politely reminded Sheriff Standorin. “I remember all your names.”
“Ah. I see.”, Constance said, with the slightest disappointment, though the fact that said introduction had been very brief and that there had been over a hundred of her kind there at the time, did not escape the alluring young woman.
“How may I be of assistance? I hope your stay here will be as comfortable as possible, though I must admit, Serenity Home Temple was never build to guest such a crowd over an extended period of time. If there is anything I could do, however, please feel free to inform us. I shall pass them up to the mayor.”
“Thank you for your sincere concern, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall convey this to my brothers and sisters, though I suspect their first and greatest demand will be..”, she said with a barely discernable, resigned blush and finished. “.. candy.”
“Ma’am?”, Standorin asked, a bit baffled.
“We.. never lived a childhood, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. And now, my kin are like children when it comes to games and food. They refuse to eat their broccoli but want only candy. Something that was never given to us in Hell.”, replied Constance, looking very slightly embarrassed.
“I see.”, said the sheriff, with a professionally straight face, and not because he was trying to avoid a snort, but because he was being professional. Sheriff Standorin never laughed at people who came to his office. Period.
“But this is not the reason why I have come, as busy as you are, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I have been assigned to you by Perigren Ostlanna Temez, the leader of the Escape, as a liaison between your office and my kin, to better know our Mortal neighbors and to help assist them in any way possible. In the light of the coming war, I believe a certain acquaintance might be in order. Getting to know one another would surely help better coordinate strategies, both in theory and application, and certainly help to get to know and understand one another. Capabilities and capacities unknown, after all, are quite useless, if they are unknown to our Mortal neighbors, wouldn’t you agree?”, she said in her demure and serene voice.
Sheriff Standorin frowned just a bit.
“Such coordination would indeed be beneficial.”, he agreed carefully.
“Very well. I shall arrive here at dawns, henceforth, and leave one hour before midnights to join my brothers and sisters for our daily prayers.”
The sheriff’s frown deepened.
“I would gladly guest you here. However, we do not really have the appropriate facilities to entertain a lady such as yourself.”, he said.
“I shall not be here for entertainment, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall be here to liaison and to observe. And should my advice be inquired, to offer, in the best of my capacity.”, replied Constance.
Standorin sought, very hard, to find a polite way to reject, or at the very least, to dissuade the alluring young women, but he just couldn’t come up with anything plausible.
“Do not despair, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I shall not distract your men. We, all of us, have taken a blood oath upon our lives; to fight and to bleed, and should it be necessary, to die to attain our Ascension. Tried though I have, I just can’t seem to find another practical way to know our Mortal neighbors. If it will make you feel slightly at ease, if at all, what I see, hear, and learn shall go only to Perigren Ostlanna Temez. It is she, who will decide what to relay to the rest of my kin, as to what is important and relevant, and what they must know about you and yours and what they are protecting, Also, methinks, for the people of this town to attain a certain familiarity to seeing our kind to defuse any future misunderstandings, particularly under the stress of war, when it arrives. We shall keep our numbers a secret, however, for obvious reasons. Only Serenity Home Temple Guardians, Ranger Lieutenant Bremorel Songsteel, your mayor, Arthandos Yuleman, and you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, shall know this.”, she explained calmly.
Standorin fumed a bit.
“Oh. I was also told to give you this.”, she said and produced a rather heavy pouch and placed it on the sheriff’s desk.
The pouch clinked.
The sheriff looked down at the pouch but did not touch it.
“What is this?”, he asked.
“A debt paid in full.”, Constance replied.
Standorin cocked an eyebrow.
“Some months ago, you chastised one of my kin, a Merisoul Xyrotwu, in this town. I was told the incident happened during a celebration but she was unable to settle her debt. She asked me if I would be kind enough to cover for her, thus I have..”, she said with a very small, demure smile.
Unbeknownst to the sheriff, and as small and brief as it had been, this was, in fact, the first smile Constance had displayed in a very, very long time.
“I.. see..”, the sheriff said, then pulled a thick notepad out of his shirt, flipped through its pages, found the one he was looking for, then wrote; PAID IN FULL.
He then pulled open the drawer of his desk and took out an old, brass stamp, and punched it twice on the page, ripped the bottom half, and placed it next to the heavy pouch.
“The receipt.”, he said shortly.
Constance stared at the torn piece of paper, then looked up at the sheriff a bit confused.
“What shall I do with it?”, she asked.
“Keep it.”, he said, still silently fuming.
“Yes. But what shall do with it?”, the alluring young woman repeated.
“It is the thing that proves Miss Merisoul’s debt has been paid in full, should anyone demand to know.”, the sheriff explained.
Constance stared at the big man, very much confounded, now.
“Word is not enough, among Mortals?”
“Sometimes it is. But words are not always definitive nor may they always be binding among mortals. And words unknown to others can not bind, particularly where laws are concerned. Laws, Lady Constance, deal with what is substantial. A receipt, such as this one, can be shown to any law enforcement officer who is unaware of your word, and be accepted.”, Standorin replied, a tad curtly.
“I see.”, Constance said. “Perhaps your laws are a good place for me, as a liaison, to start. Is there more of such laws and if so, where may I learn them?”
To give the sheriff credit, he did not sigh nor fume anymore. Slowly, he moved his chair back, got up and walked over to one of the many shelves, and pulled out a heavy, worn, and battered book that also had some long-dried and faded bloodstains on its spine. Apparently, one town sheriff in the past had made good, alternate use of the thick, heavy book by means of applying the law in a very literal sense.
Again, he did not give the book, but placed it on the table, next to the pouch, and the receipt.
“This book contains the King’s Laws pertaining only to my office; the Criminal Law. You may find similar books that deal with commerce and judicial matters in both the temple library or the town’s public library. For laws that are specific to Serenity Home, you may find in the mayor’s office.”, he explained.
Constance’s brows frowned very slightly.
“Very well.”, she said. “I shall study this book, and further study the other books that deal with your laws. After all, I may not liaison what I do not know.”
Gracefully, she rose from her chair and bent, very slightly, and without any implications or flaunting, reached down and took the small receipt and the heavy book, and started towards the door.
Standorin followed her and opened the door for her.
Constance paused at the door, just for a moment, and very slightly turned to the large man.
Standorin also paused.
“I can sense your distraught feelings, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. Have I perhaps done you wrong that I am not aware of?”
The sheriff stared at the very alluring young woman for a long moment as if trying to read her, or perhaps comprehend her. To give him further credit, never had he stared at the beautiful woman’s long, even horns, nor had he.. checked her out. With professional diligence, he had looked at her face, and only at her face..
“I apologize if I have given you any offense, Lady Constance Alure Smithen. It was never my intention. I am the sheriff of this town and for quite many years. Unlike the temple, this office rarely deals with the good in men. I might go as far as saying, I have seen every kind of foolish things mankind has had to offer, and rarely do people willingly come here, to my office, without some sort of private agendas. I feel a certain compulsion to remind you, and yours, that in this office, I don’t play games..”, he said, though not harshly.
Constance calmly looked at the sheriff.
“..and I do not like being ambushed.”, he finished.
Whatever crossed the alluring young woman’s head, she never showed it.
With her usual calm, cool, and dignified serenity, she gave the sheriff a very brief nod.
“I see you are a man of integrity, burned and scarred. I apologize if I have given you the impression of deception or possible subterfuge. Much like your kind have common traits, so do we. But much like your kind are also individually unique, so are we. As for me, I am precisely how I seem and have little use for deceptions, less so for lies. A mind cluttered with lies is a distracted mind.”
She paused for a brief moment, perhaps unsure whether to say more or not. She must have decided to go for the former because a decisive frown appeared on her beautiful face.
“About the ambush, it was done with deliberation on my part, but not with ill intent. I had to see if you truly were as intelligent as I surmised you were. Some of my kind told me to just reveal my.. certain aspects.. as men are often fooled and enthralled by them. I argued against it because I thought it to be too demeaning on your part.. and mine. I am the elected liaison, yes. But I would rather there be some mutual respect, than be seen as a mere, succubi half-born, for that is precisely why we were made, and also the precise reason why we escaped and what we left behind. I shall take my leave, now, and study the laws of Mortal crimes and the measures taken to prevent them and come morning, I shall be here to liaison.”
With that, she left, click-clacking calmly and demurely through the crowd of staring and ogling townsmen.
✱ ✱ ✱
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared after the tall, beautifully alluring woman as she swayed, gracefully, through the crowd like she had an invisible bubble around her. Where she went, people parted!
He shut the door with deliberate calmness.. then blew from his nose.
“Interesting.”, said a growling voice, and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs leading up to the roof of the sheriff’s office.
Standorin didn’t say anything for a full minute. Then he fumed again and growled in his own deep, rumbling voice.
“You would think so..”
Aager snorted. A something he would never have done before.. Inshala!
“She wants something.”, he said.
“Yes. I have been at this job long enough to recognize that.”, Standorin said.
“So she’s the new liaison, then?”, Aager stated, more than asked.
“A liaison is a good thing. Inshala performs a similar role among the druids of both Ritual Forest and among what remains of High Woods. They argued who would lead until they heard we’d arrived. Or rather, until they heard she’d arrived. They flocked around her, causing her to shy and causing me to very nearly killing them.. The idiots!”, Aager continued. “I suppose she will also be a liaison between us and the ogres, should they accept our offer to join us..”
“..As opposed to taking this opportunity for some long awaited payback!”, the sheriff finished.
“Well. We certainly didn’t treat them with courtesy. Not that they always behaved themselves. Though I must admit, the way my Inshala speaks about their chieftain, or Mother Ganiste, as she calls her, I would think she is exceptionally intelligent and..”, Aager said.
Then saw the young man in his black leathers was actually serious.
“Her words, sir. Not mine. Though I have yet to see her be mistaken when she looks into the souls of people.”, without any implications.
“Interesting.”, Standorin mused, giving the young man a side-long glance. “I wonder what she saw in you?”
“Never asked.”, Aager said simply.
The sheriff turned and stared at him, both eyebrows cocked!
“I was afraid, I might not like what she had to say about me.”, admitted Aager.
“No.”, said Standorin said sternly. “I think you were afraid you might like, what she would say about you.”
“Or that.”, Aager shrugged again. “I shall be at her side and keep her safe.. and happy.. for as long as she’ll have me. I am content with that.”
“You seem more than content, Master Aager. And from the way she appears now, as opposed to what she was, some months ago, I’d say she is more than content as well.”, Standorin said with light amusement. Then he paused for a short moment, then asked. “Perhaps she is expecting?”
“Great Heavens, man, a child!”, the sheriff said with an exasperated tone.
Aager did not reply for a long while.
When he did, his voice was muted.
“We.. haven’t gone there yet..”
Standorin just stared at him.
“We just.. cuddle.. I mean, she curls into this little ball when she sleeps and asks me to hug her, so I do. She wakes up with the best and happiest face I have ever seen, so I keep on doing that and likely keep on doing that because that happy face is worth the world to me. It’s a face to live, to fight, and to die for..”, Aager explained quietly.
“My man. You have missed your calling. You should have been a poet!”, Standorin said seriously.
“But.. why have you not explained.. things to her? She deserves to know the truth, man.”, the sheriff said with a somewhat fuming tone.
“What she deserves, is more than me, sir. Willy-nilly, she chose me. At the moment, she wakes up very happy. At the moment, that happy face fills me with joy I have seen in no other, and certainly never in my life. I feel drunk every morning! When she figures she wants more, I shall submit to her wishes, as I have before.”, the young man in dark leathers replied gruffly.
“You are killing me, young man!”, he said, totally exasperated now.
“Well. I would say that’s a good way to go, wouldn’t you agree?”, Aager grinned at him.
The sheriff sighed again, then returned back to the matter at hand.
“We have got to find a way to keep her out of our hair.”, he said with a scowl.
“Why? If you don’t mind me asking.”, Aager said looking at the sheriff.
“Master Aager.”, the sheriff said suddenly fuming again. “Perhaps you have lost all your senses, on account of your merry disposition..”
“..But did you see her? Honestly see her?”
“Yes. I did, sir. More so than you, I believe, from my inevitable vantage point!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
“Just exactly what do you think will happen when she comes in here? We don’t really have a shortage of young bachelors, you know, and seeing as how busy as we are, we don’t need distractions, either!”, the sheriff blazed.
“I doubt Constance has that sort of entertainment in mind, sir.”, Aager mused quietly. “She seemed much like an alpha lioness who would ignore the unproven cubs. Not when there’s an alpha lion in the den!”
Standorin gave him a very sour look.
“That would be Lady Constance, if you will, please, and I don’t need that sort of distraction either, young man!”, he said, gritting his teeth. “Not now. Not ever.”
“No sir. I am afraid it’s just Constance. ‘Lady’ means absolutely nothing for her or her kind. Not until you sit down and carefully explain it to them. As a matter of fact, they might even take it as an insult for denying them of who they are or refusing them their right to exist as they are by quantifying them into something acceptable in your mind, rather than theirs, no matter how polite you thing you are.. Also, ‘never’ and ‘ever’ are a long time in Mortal time, sheriff, but mean very little to them. This I learned the hard way, and it almost broke me. I wouldn’t advise you the same kind of landing, sir. It hurts!”, replied Aager, and a bare tint of something wintery appeared in his voice.
Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart stared at Aager for the young man had just confirmed something he had suspected for some time.. Ever since he had returned from the Ruins of Themalsar. More distinct with the appearance of the little girl, Inshala. But there was something else going on here.
True, the young lady had a way with people, and apparently, more so with Master Aager, here, as she had not quite attached herself to him, so much as given herself, truly, unequivocally, and selflessly to the young man, and in her unique, incomprehensible way. And she had done so not by bewitching, nor enthralling, but.. blooming? Sheriff Standorin couldn’t quite understand. Suffice to say, the chance in the young man was.. more!
As to what that ‘more’ was, or what it entailed, he didn’t know. But there it was..
“What do you advise then? Let her just flaunt herself here?”, Standorin asked steadily.
“I do not think she’s got ‘flaunting’ in mind, sir. She wants something, flaunting just isn’t it. One thing she said in particular, caught my attention, though.”
“The thing she said about all her kind having common traits, but also being individually unique..”, Aager said thoughtfully.
Aager stared at the sheriff for a moment before speaking.
“She wasn’t just quoting a cliché when she said that, sir. You were the sole recipient of the part about being individually unique.. while telling us something about her kind. I strongly believe, in her own way, she was complimenting you, sir..”
Standorin breathed from his nose.
“Just what I needed.”, he growled. “Being the subject of some young girl with an infatuation! Just which part of my behavior did she think was ‘nice’?”
“You are missing the higher point here, sir.”, Aager said with a slightly amused tone.
“Do tell, Master Aager. Seeing as how much you are enjoying this!”, the sheriff scowled.
The scowl bounced right off the young man like dry peas off a wall.
“I believe she was indeed the perfect choice among her kind to serve as a liaison, yes. And is likely very patient, observant, and intelligent. But she came here at a time where she would most likely have found you alone. Coincidence? Perhaps? But no one comes here willingly, to begin with, and certainly not during lunch hours as they will be told to go and come back during hours.. politely.. You thought she ambushed you on a political matter. True, that certainly was an ambush, but it wasn’t her ambush. I suspect that was Perigren’s idea. Constance, on the other hand, could have come here at any other time, but she chose to do it when you’d be alone, because everyone else tends to go home or to the inn for lunch, leaving you to guard your own office! Had I and Inshala been a regular couple with regular hours, not even I would have been here.”
Standorin thought about what the young man had just said for a few minutes before nodding in acquiescence.
“I felt something similar.. long ago..”, he said quietly. “When I was a young and foolish boy.”
He looked at Aager and pointedly said, “I would rather what I tell you stayed with you.”
Aager didn’t dawdle.
He simply nodded.
“Had a spat with my father. He wanted me to become something I didn’t want, so I ran. I wanted to see the world. I wanted to be an adventurer. So I became exactly that; a young and foolish boy with no destiny, only young and foolish daydreams. I did a lot of jobs during that time. Caravan guarding mostly, and even bounty hunting. A job not as fun and exciting as those hotheads in Palantine make it sound. Apprehended many felons and fugitives. Most came quietly. When ambushed or disarmed. Some didn’t though. The level of stupidity in men is truly astonishing —something I learned early in that job. In the end, I found out that I was fine with apprehending, not so much with being forced to kill an idiot.. Then, one day, some of my co-hunters warned me about some people who were looking for me, and that they didn’t seem to have good intentions. Suffice to say, I ran. Not really something I am proud of, really, but as I said, I was young and foolish back then. But my pursuers just wouldn’t give up! I don’t really know for how long I ran, really. I believe it was closer to four months. I must have been through every hill or forest from the north of Ritual Forest, all the way down to the south of Palantine City. I was so bloody scared because I was always just barely keeping a day or two ahead of them. It was like they enjoyed the chase more than to actually wanting to catch me. Finally, I decided to confront them and die on my own terms. So that final day, I carefully traveled one way, then doubled back and traveled in another, in the hopes of splitting their numbers. I remember, how proud I was of that plan. More so because the silly plan had actually worked! So I ambushed one. Again, not something I am proud of. We fought, and that day I learned the value of starting at a young age. After nearly two hours of swinging blades at one another, I finally downed him. Disarmed him, to be more precise. As much as I hated these people, I hated killing more. Yet, there he was, on the ground, weaponless, and just grinning at me. And let me tell you, he was one of the ugliest man I had ever seen and that grin of his.. was just evil! Then I heard a bow twang and an arrow very nearly caught me on the hip. And for your information, being shot in the arse is as degrading as it sounds. I was so disappointed because the ugly man had played me all along. He’d just taken his time until his partner had arrived and I’d fell for it. Then, to my greatest surprise, I heard a woman’s voice. ‘Had your fun, did you Moorat? Grow up, already!’ —her exact words. Turns out, they were the Senior Rangers of Serenity Home and had come looking for me to inform me that my father had passed away some six or eight months ago and that he had paid the rangers to find me in the hopes that I might come back home.. Ironic, isn’t it? Yes. One of those rangers was Moorat himself, Bremorel Songsteel’s ranger master and the other was no other than his elder sister, Limnia Karya.. my Limnia Karya; Udoorin’s mother and the most beautiful, cool-headed, luminous woman I had ever met..”
Standorin didn’t say anything else for a long time, again.
Then he sighed.
“The feeling I spoke of. The one I said I felt only once before.. It was something I felt during those four months.. the dire sense of being hunted!”
✱ ✱ ✱
How did the esteemed sheriff take the news?”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez asked when Constance Alure Smithen walked in, with her cool, serene pace..
..into one of the dormitory rooms in the Serenity Home Temple.
“I told you he was a capable man. Smart and scarred. Knew it the moment I saw him, dear Temez. He saw right through your ambush and did not appreciate it. But he agreed to it, I believe, though he will want to resist it for some time. Deep down, he knows this liaison job is a good offer, if not a good idea, particularly in the long run. It was the ambush part that he found quite distasteful. We should have asked the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood to have proposed the idea.”, Constance said calmly.
“No, dear Constance. that young man has done more than enough for us by providing a secure sanction, as it is and has many, many Mortals to look after, not to mention, he has to care, show affection, and spare time for his own woman. We must pick up and carry our own weight now, hence the ambush was inevitable. We couldn’t have opened it to a debate. He is a sturdy, reliable man who also sees us as a security risk, however, and possibility a potential threat. We do not need him to like us. But we do need him to respect us. If he does, so will the town and the elves, because they respect him and do not question his honor. When the war starts, that is when we must not be a distraction to the Mortals. Nor should they mistake us for foe and fire upon us. That would end quite horribly.. for them, and for us. And we need to find homes. And real jobs. We gave an oath and that oath is binding.”, Perigren Ostlanna Temez said quietly.
“You already have a home, dear girl. Why don’t you take your leave and go to your boy?”, asked Constance kindly.
Temez didn’t reply immediately.
When she did, her beautiful face was flushed with self-loathing and shame.
“I.. must earn my place in this Mortal world. And I must make sure my brothers and sisters are safe. That is what my oath entailed. That is the promise I gave to my sister and my BFF, Arezme Ara Serraphyn, and I will keep to my promise.”, she said, her words seething. “The Mortals must acknowledge us and include us in their fight. We must be part of their survival. That is how we will earn our place among them.”
“I do not question your reasons, dear. This path we walk will end with the loss of many of our kin.”, Constance reminded her.
“We are already dead, Constance. All of us are. That was decided before we were conceived. Now, some of us have the chance to die of old age and pass our heritage, without the shame, to our children, should we have them..”, Temez replied, still burning. “I.. wish to return to my boy so much, it is killing me alive, Constance. What I did to him.. was evil.. I must cleanse myself of this sin.. I must..”
“Yes, dear. All of us must. Why don’t you go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos, a bit? Praying always seems to help and it is nice and quiet there. Of all the half-borns, you can not break, dear. Not now, not ever.”, Constance said, as she bent down and embraced her sister-kin and whispered. “They all are playing like children now, and like children, they only want candy. Should you break, all that is gone, and we are left as broken demon-borns, again.”
The door to their dormitory opened and an extraordinarily handsome young man, a half-born, with pale hair and impressive, curving horns stepped in and spoke with a cool, rusty voice.
“Hey, Temez. Constance. How did it go at the esteemed sheriff’s office? Did we time it right for you?”, he asked with a brilliant grin.
Constance gave him one of her rare smiles —a very small one.
“You did excellent work Hal Mali Volent. Your ability to guestimate time was excelling, as always. No one was there.”, replied Constance.
“No. She was observed by another.”, said a small, somewhat vague voice from behind Hal Mali Volent, and a boy that seemed no more than six or eight, dragging what appeared to be a stuffed imp, walked into the dormitory.
“Dar Derune, sweetheart? What are you doing here?”, asked Temez leaving the embrace of Constance to kneel down before the boy, and gave her own hug to him. “Where’s Berete Hamna Vir?”
“Here..”, sighed a depressed voice followed by a girl with sharp features; sharp red lips, high cheekbones, a bold nose, a sharp, pointy chin, sharp amber-like eyes, and even sharper horns and a slim, curling tail. “..I told him to wait while I prepared some food Mortals call sam-wishes! Derune, love, you mustn’t wander off like that. We agreed on this.”
“Yes. We agreed and I apologize, Hamna Vir. But they had to know. The Winter Knight was there, up on the roof. He saw our serene Constance, and came down the roof and warned the esteemed sheriff. Then they talked about you, Constance. They still are and the Winter Knight is telling the esteemed sheriff about your private ambush, as we speak.”, the boy said with a similar vague tone.
A hush settled in the room as several whispers passed back and forth.
“The Winter Knight.”
“The Winter Queen’s hatchet man!”
“Will he interfere?”, asked Constance with consternation.
“Unknown.”, the boy replied quietly, as though he had been caught in the act by his tutor, and was admitting his to misdemeanors.. “But doubtful. We have done nothing to rile Her and both of our goals coincide at the moment. She might send Her knight against some of our kind, or She might not. The Queen of Air and Darkness does not like some of us for our unique skills.”
“Are you among those, she does not like?”, hissed the sharp girl, Hamna Vir.
“Yes.”, the boy replied vaguely.
Hanma Vir’s sharp features turned shaper and her hiss became vicious.
“If the Queen of Air and Darkness sends Her hatchet man on my Derune, I will summons demons, right here, right now, and right in the middle of this town. They will rampage wild and vile and slaughter the lot of them!”
“Vir. Please.”, said the handsome young man, Hal Mali. “We gave our oaths to the Senior Temple Guardian, Thomas Dimwoon. We may not break that oath.”
“We have the right to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Our oath does not take that right away from us!”, hissed Haman Vir, again.
“Chill, girl!”, they heard a voice, and yet another half-born quietly walked in, this one, a particularly bewitching girl with glowing red hair, mesmerizing eyes, pretty little horns and distinctly curving figure wearing expressly fashionable.. almost see-throughs and a credit to her name; Cee Lingerith Demelze!
“Ow, Constance is back! Nice..”, said the girl brightly. “Did you get you, your esteemed sheriff, yet? That was quick. Way to go, girl!
“No, Demelze.”, she said with a resigned voice. “I just got the job and will start tomorrow.”
“Did you show him your breasts? You have lovely breasts!”, Demelze said with a mischievous grin.
“Things don’t work like that here in the Mortal world.”, Constance tried to explain.
“I think it does. There are a lot of children in this temple that Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood looks after. I have been staring out the windows of the temple and I see many more children there. Tells me these Mortals do appreciate pretty breasts.. among other things..”, Demelze objected, smirking all the while.
Constance sighed again.
“Trying to explain things to you is like trying to teach an imp to jump hoops; pointless, and equally hazardous.”
“That’s vile, Constance. Take that back, right now!”
“You are a bit hyped today, Demelze.”, Temez said. “Would you like to come with me down to the crypts? It’s nice and serene down there. Should help cool your bosom. It does mine. We need to think about how we want to find the lost Orken army that the esteemed sheriff asked us to find. I believe I have an idea, but I will need your abilities.”
“Oww.. do I finally get to burn something?”, Demelze said happily.
“Not quite. Hal Mali, dear. I will need your expertise also.”, the leader of the Escape asked the handsome young half-born.
“Of course, Temez. Anything to help.”, replied Hal Mali.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez turned to the sharp girl, Hamna Vir, and the little boy. “You mustn’t look and listen to private conversations, dear. As much as I appreciate the help and the information, we do not want to raise the ire of the Queens. If the Winter Knight is here, there must be a Summer Knight too, now. Or will be soon. Alright, love?”
“Alright, Temez. But only because you asked nicely.”, replied the boy softly.
“I always ask you nicely, Derune.”, smiled Temez.
“You ask everyone nicely, Temez. But when you ask me nicely, that nice becomes my nice. I like to think my nice is a special nice.”, said the boy, Derune, and a shy smile appeared on his vague face.
“Your nice is always special, darling.”, Temez replied with blurry eyes.
Everyone stared down at the broken boy.
Perigren Ostlanna Temez, Constance Alure Smithen, and Cee Lingerith Demelze with tear-stricken faces.
Hal Mali Volent’s lips were tightly pressed together.
Berete Hamna Vir’s sharp features melted, and a lost expression appeared on her face. She stared at the boy with the kind of love only an elder sister could show to her little baby brother, though they shared no blood. But deep inside her eyes, demons, live and hungry, appeared.
Too bad the Erinyes, Auntie Irine, their defacto maker, was dead because, at that very moment, there was enough emotional rage to have killed her trice over for the things she had done to the little half-born boy, Dar Derune..
✱ ✱ ✱
INCOMING!”, one of the younger guards yelled gleefully as they all lined up in the small courtyard behind the sheriff’s office..
“..and she is one, buxom, chick!—”
“—Do show us exactly how educated and civilized you are, by referring to a young lady as you have, Guard Anderson..”, rumbled Sheriff Standorin as he too, stepped into the courtyard. “I am sure it will make us all look high and smart in front of one of our deadliest allies!”
The young guard, Anderson, shut up.. abruptly.
“Gentleman.. and ladies.. Today we are going to be meeting with one of the half-borns, assigned here as a liaison between our department and their people. Must I remind you that as ‘buxom’ as she may appear, kindly put by young Anderson, here, she is not here for entertainment, and seeing her as such will end in one of three ways; you making a further fool of yourself, running laps around the town until dusk, and/or your demise. Do I make myself clear? And do wipe that grin off your face, Mr. Harian. Must I also remind you all that there’s a war coming our way and that there is no ‘them’ and ‘us’ anymore? Elves, humans, dwarves, gnomes, half-borns, townsmen, or refugees.. are all of ‘us’, and the only ‘them’ is the true enemy coming our way. Our job is to sustain, coordinate and show said people exactly that.”
“Admirably put.”, said a cool, calm, and serene female voice, and Constance Alure Smithen entered the small courtyard with her tall, barely swaying walk. She was wearing another long dress skirt today, though it was closed at the throat, less revealing at the bosom, and did not sweep behind her. It did have a long cut on either side of her skirts, though her long legs were hidden under layers of filmy, semi-transparent fabric. And she held a three-yard-long polearm ending in two, fork-like blades, one slightly longer than the other; a pike!
Sheriff Standorin mused at the beautiful young woman and her pike, then at his guards.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”, he said in a declarative and somewhat stiff tone. “Our liaison between her people and the Sheriff’s Office. She is here to observe and if need be, advise us in varying matters to the best of her capacity.”
“Thank you, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for your warm welcome.”, Constance said in her demure voice and nodded at the secretary fuming sheriff then at the town’s guardsmen and women, sending a slight ripple down her long, black, silky hair.
“Perhaps the liaison can demonstrate her skills in her pike!”, came a voice from the guards; the young Mr. Anderson!
To give Sheriff Standorin credit, he did not scowl, nor did his eyes blaze at the misbehavior of his guardsman.
“By all means, let’s.”, he said cooly. “Make room for Mr. Anderson, here, and our liaison, Lady Constance.”
Guard Anderson stepped out of the line as the rest of the guardsmen and women spread in a wide circle.
Constance stared at the scene with a very slight frown and a confused expression on her face.
“Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart?”, she inquired politely.
“A challenge has been offered, Lady Constance. You against Mr. Anderson, here.”, he said in his very neutral voice.
“A fight? Is this perhaps part of being a liaison? If so, I was not made aware of it.”, she said, and her frown deepened just a fraction more and the cool, calm look she gave the sheriff was of.. disappointment, perhaps?
“It is not. But I suspect they want to see what you are capable of. Had you come here unarmed, such a challenge would not have been offered. But willy-nilly you did come here and with a deadly weapon. Town guards do not openly carry such weapons, Lady Constance. The ones we do carry are to help us subdue and apprehend felons. The only reason we all are carrying swords at the moment is due to the upcoming war.”, Standorin explained, again in his neutral voice.
“I.. see..”, Constance said cooly. “An appt explanation saying I brought this upon myself.”
The sheriff did not reply and the half-born did not wait for one. With the same cool, serene demeanor, she stepped into the circle and took her place before the young guard, Anderson.
“I have studied your customs carefully, ere I came.”, she said in her calm voice as she carefully sized down the young man holding a thick club in his hand. “Shouldn’t there be some betting afore we begin?”
An awkward silence settled in the courtyard.
“Can we?”, asked one of the sturdy women.
Standorin’s face went red.
“By all means do. Miss Daniella!”, Constance replied. “But a pike versus a stick, methinks, would make a poor bid.”
And with an incredible swing of her pike, she lopped the thick club Guard Anderson was holding, right off the middle!
A general gasp rippled through the guardsmen and women.
And bets started passing hands!
“As I said. A pike versus a stick is not a challenge. Do draw your sword, young bantam. I believe you wanted to see a ‘buxom chick’, ere I came. Well, this is your moment, though I find your metaphor quite inaccurate, faulty, and improper; I will not grow to become an egg-laying, flightless bird. Our kind does not lay eggs. We conceive and give birth very much like yours, though exponentially more painfully.
Guard Anderson turned to look at the sheriff as if to get his consent to draw his sword. But when he saw his stony face, he understood, he was on his own and he’d made one wisecrack too many. His face turned green as it dawned on him; he had offended a political office by offering physical violence.. and as a town’s guardsman, he was now drawing his sword at an unoffending, but highly offended, guest!
He gulped and stepped forward, his sword at the ready.
‘Die by your dignity.’, was all he had left for himself, possibly not at all in a metaphorical sense.
“Lady Constance.”, he said with a barely audible voice. “I whole-heartedly apologize for my misdemeanor. I am an Arashkan refugee and have a younger sister I must look after.”
And swung down his blade.
“Foolish enough to speak out of turn, wise enough to recognize his mistake and apologize.”, Constance replied..
..and caught the blade between the fork of her pike, twisted sharply and against grasping direction, and send the sword stabbing into the dirt, some twenty feet away! Seamlessly, and with feline agility, she spun her pike, quite unlike a martial artists quarterstaff and jabbed the butt end into Guard Anderson’s midriff, drawing a loud ‘Ohmff!’ out of the young man, hooked him high using her dashing momentum, and with a wide, graceful arc, slammed him down, flat on his back, and with a terrifying aerial screech, landed on top of him, her long, shapely legs sticking out of the sides of the slits of her skirt, and held the young man down as if kneeling for a prayer!
She wasn’t rushed, she wasn’t breathing with exertion, nor had she even broken a sweat.
She just knelt there, carefully jabbing the young man’s chin and throat with her knee, and keeping a steady pressure.
The guards stared at the scene, quite dumbfounded and thunderstruck.
“I believe the show’s over.”, Sheriff Standorin rumbled. “Everyone to their posts. Miss Daniella, do slap Mr. Anderson awake and send him in the general direction of the town’s gate. I believe he has a long day’s run waiting for him to get his stupidity out of his system.”
The guards quickly dismissed themselves and the young, sturdy woman walked up to the tall, kneeling half-born woman and the unconscious Mr. Anderson.
“My Lady. If you will?”, she asked politely.
Constance slowly rose from the unconscious young man and cooly nodded at her.
Daniella smirked at her and whispered, “Lady, I don’t know what just happened, but it was awesome!”
Constance arched her brows with mild surprise.
“You think so? I tried very hard to subdue than to kill. Your Criminal Laws in regard to your office seemed to prefer it.”, she said, carefully studying the young man.
“I apologize on behalf of Mr. Anderson. I too am an Arashkan refugee, but my family and I were able to escape by ship before the docks were overrun. Anderson, here, wasn’t so fortunate. He ended up watching his parents and his elderly grandmother getting slaughtered by the Orken. All he could do was to grab his twelve-year-old sister and run, which is why he does stupid things without thinking; he feels shame and thinks he has something to prove..”
“I understand, Miss Daniella, for shame is something I feel and know quite intimately.”, Constance said thoughtfully. “Please tell Mr. Anderson when he wakes, that I shall hold no rancor against him and that perhaps he could bring his sister to the town’s temple. My kin and I are stationed there and play games, have a lot of fun, and we have candy.”
Daniella grinned wider.
“What girl could refuse such offer, Lady Constance; fun games and candy!”
Constance walked over to the sheriff, who was stiffly holding his ground, though he very well knew, he had just messed up, by proxy.
“I believe an apology is in order, Lady Constance.”, he said gruffly.
“You may save your apology, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, for I came here in peace but was offered violence. I carry a pike because it is a weapon I am trained in, and very much for the same reason your guards carry swords. Now, I believe my work as a liaison here is done for today, and already. I shall be in the temple, and down in the crypts praying for the soul of Darling Demos and shall further contemplate on the sins of foolish men.”, replied Constance cooly and breezed away.
Standorin just stood there.
Verbally slapped and stupefied.
For he hadn’t just messed up, he had dropped the ‘political ball’..
..and felt very much like his young and foolish days.
He seethed and fumed certainly, but not for a moment did he try to justify his own stupidity.
Standorin Shieldheart was like that.
Harsh but fair.
He ran up to the cool and dignified young woman and stood before her.
Constance also stopped and stared at the flustered sheriff. She did not arch her eyebrows, she did not size him, up or down, nor did she give him the silent cold stare.
Quietly, she waited for him to speak.
“I.. “, Standorin stammered. “..mishandled this whole situation because I was frustrated. I very much agree a liaison between the two people is an excellent idea. I.. just didn’t appreciate the way it was slapped into my face. My reasons for my frustration may have been acceptable had I handled this a bit more maturely.”
“The idea of a liaison was not mine, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I was chosen for this job for my abilities to calmly assess any given situation and help defuse unnecessary aggressions. I tried to imply this to you less than twenty hours ago. I also told you, quite clearly, that I do not do lies. Yet, you chose to punish me, specifically and individually, by putting me in a situation where I was forced to display aggression, and still, I have thus defused it to the best of my abilities, and without bloodshed; I could have countered that boy and cut him forty-eight different ways, yet I chose to merely disarm and subdue him, something I would have had the flesh flogged off my back, had my old mentor seen this! I am trained to recognize the emotional nuances of Mortals, but it is possible I am missing some local customs here, hence I am tempted to ask; do you treat all your women like this, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart, or is your unreasonable and quite injudicious behavior limited to allies who were not forced out of their destroyed homes, but came to help you willingly at the cost of being hunted down and killed by their former masters?”
Standorin felt sick.
“I.. am..”, he began again, less with guilt about his political blunder, but more with shame because what the young woman had said was precisely what he had done. He had tried to take out his frustration on her. “Look. I am not a man of grace. You must have noticed that. But perhaps I can offer you an apology by some means you may find acceptable. Something that may be appropriate to your station and your, individually unique, person? Everything you said was true. Except the part about how I treated women or my allies.. I.. would very much appreciate it if I was given the chance to fix my blunder.”
Constance Alure Smithen stared at the sheriff for the duration of consideration. Then, a very small smile appeared on her pretty lips.
“Pick me up at eight!”, she said.
“Umm.. What?”, Standorin stammered.
“And do wear something that isn’t armor or work-related.”, she added with another smile and walked away, leaving a totally destroyed sheriff behind..
✱ ✱ ✱
I can’t believe you!”, exclaimed the ravishing half-born, Demelze. “You went there dressed up all pretty, and ended up beating some stupid bantam? Did you at least show him your—?”, she began, awfully frustrated.
“—No.”, finished Constance. “And I shall not. Not until the time is ripe, and not until he decides to be the only one to want them. That will be the ripe time!”
“What is wrong with you, girl?”, Demelze asked, with a freaked-out tone.
“Did you, Hal Mali, and Temez work out a solution for the lost Orken army?”
“Yes and no. Don’t change the subject Constance!”, Demelze said fiercely, causing the tall, serene woman to sigh again.
“Cee Lingerith Demelze. You must understand, we are no longer Hell’s sluts. We no longer live to attain that end, because that end was never ours. That was Auntie Irine’s wish and look what that bought her; to never be more than her own Master’s favored whore and to buy her own death at the hands of her own creation; Merisoul Xyrotwu, her Mortal friends, and getting mashed under a bug. Willy-nilly, we are free now, my dear Demelze.. We have a chance to be more than the price and the role that was placed upon our existence. And more is better than less because being just that always made us less. Perhaps you believe I do not enjoy what you very much do. But you could only be so wrong. What I am, however, is not my only trait and I shouldn’t be defined solely by being the scion of an incubus; always and only seeking flesh pleasures.. Thus we were looked upon in Hell, were we not? Remember how many times those vile demons pushed their wills and their bodies against ours, and without so much as a bother? I remember you enjoying the moment in wild abandon. I also remember your face once they were done with you. I know because it was the same face I had when they were done with me, my dear. I never want to be seen as such again. Not in this Mortal world, and not ever, do I want to see your beautiful face, marred and mutilated by absolute, abhorrent, and loathsome shame. Just like I never want my sisters and brothers to witness that face etched on me ever again. Hence, I do not want the Mortals to see me, or you, as a mere flesh toy; never to ask or wonder what you or I feel, or what you or I think, but to only want, want, want, and want only what our flesh and skin has to offer. Yes, that is pleasurable. But what I want, I want from only one person now and not from two, or five, or a hundred faceless men who will never ask nor remember my name but merely use and discard me, and the knowledge that the only thing they will remember about me was how soft and succulent I was, hurts! For once, we have a chance where we shall be asked whether we hurt, as opposed to, ‘did it hurt?’ No, baby girl, I now want that one person to be uniquely mine, and I want to be uniquely his. That is who I will show and give freely what I have and so should you, because as fiery as you are, you, my dear sister-kin, are also the most passionate amongst us and I envy you for it. Do you understand this?”
A long, painful silence ensued after that.
“Yes. I understand this.”, said Demelze mutely. “But.. my flesh burns with wont. I.. need..”
“As do I. Let’s go down to the crypts and pray for Darling Demos. Praying always helps. Then I need to prepare for a date.”, said Constance kindly.
“You have a date?”, Cee Lingerith Demelze blurted.
“I have a date.”, nodded Constance calmly.
“Well, why didn’t you say this from the get-go, girl! Tell me. Tell me all about it!”, Demelze fried with delight.
“You must.”, whispered Temez sternly, down in the depts of the Serenity Town Temple’s crypts. It was cold, and there was slushy snow outside. Here, it was merely cool, calm and a certain serenity spread from a particular tomb. The one at the very end of a long line of nearly five hundred years of past Senior Temple Guardians.
It was odd.
That being ‘great’ had little to do with wars and warriors but with life and those that cared for it.
“No. I do not want to.”, Constance replied, very nearly losing her cool, serene demeanor.
“Please, Constance. We must do this for them and he is the key to the Ritual Guardian!”, Perigren frowned.
“You already know her. Even played games with her, did you not? You, her, and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, a mere few days ago.”, Constance objected with a frown.
“Yes. I did. But that was games. We have not been formally introduced. And this is the way to get to know him and mayhap get him to know us, love us, care for us, and respect us..”, Temez replied earnestly.
Constance looked down at Temez.
“That is scheming, that is!”, she said disapprovingly.
“No, my dear. This is forming connections with the Mortals. If he likes us, it will make him that much harder to come after us, should the Queen of Air and Darkness send him upon us.”
“Should Mab sends him upon us, what he feels will mean very little, love. That is what being Mab’s hatchet man, means.”, Constance said, her frown deepening.
“True. However, he is also a Mortal and willy-nilly, he has a heart. He might not refuse or refute the call of his Mistress, but he will at least feel uneager to raise his hand against us. And being the Mortal that he is, it is possible he might use his cunning to wiggle his way out of a possible execution order!”, Temez replied even more earnestly.
“You think the cold-hearted Winter Knight will ‘like’ us and go up against his own Mistress at the expense of his own possible demise for the sake of some half-freak such as us? Temez, dear, you are holding on straws.”, Constance said to her sister-kin, but not unkindly.
“Straws are all I have, Alure. Please. Do this for us. You are The Liaison!”, Temez said with muted desperation.
She paused for a depressing moment. Then said, even more quietly.
“I wish my merry soul were here. She was always so much better at this than I ever was.”
“That is true, dear. And I will not gainsay you. But as much as we followed you to the Door because of how much we loved and respected her, we followed you.”, Constance replied as she reached down at the beautiful antler girl, Temez, and caressed her soft, tanned hair. “She was the spark. You are the flood, Perigren Ostlanna Temez. And you can not despair.”
Then she took a deep breath, making her bosom even more distinct and appealing.
“I shall do this for you. And for my kin. But I shall need a gift.”
“Yes. A gift to be given to the Winter Knight.”
“I doubt he will accept gifts from us, dear Constance.”
“The gift is to him, but not for him.”, the tall, serene girl replied.
“Ow? Oww..”, Temez said and her beautiful features lit with a happy cast. “That is cunning, that is.”
“I sort of liked it. Now, I would like to go and wash. I have a date.”
“So I heard. Well done, love.”, Temez said with brittle elation.
“Soon, dear. This war will be over soon, one way or another. Then you too can go to your boy.”, Constance said kindly and hugged her.
“I will send Hamna Vir and Dar Derune to do your hair. Hamna is the best with hair and horns, and Dar loves yours.”, Temez said with a better smile, once they parted.
“Would you?”, Constance asked a bit girlishly.
Temez smiled again and nodded.
Constance did not go immediately though. She looked, carefully, at the leader of the Escape.
“Dar Darune loves my hair. This is true. But he loves you whole, dear.”, she said softly.
“And I, he. But Dar has to grow yet. And in time, he will get over me and discover who truly loves him, and will eternally live, and mindlessly die for him.”, she said quietly.
“Yes. Hamna Vir..”
Temez nodded again.
“Come on, love. Go on and get cleaned up. And send your dress to Hal Mali so he makes sure it is clean and pressed.”
“Will do, will do.”, agreed, Constance, and left the cool, soothing darkness of the crypts under the temple.
Temez frowned with fear.
A date with the Sheriff of Serenity Home Town. This would either go very well or end quite horribly.
But Perigren Ostlanna Temez trusted Constance because.. well.. Constance Alure Smithen always lived up to her name. And she had seen how she’d looked at the esteemed sheriff when the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood had introduced them all to him.
True. Many of the other girls had looked at the good sheriff. But they had done so as they would have checked out any strong, healthy, male specimen. Constance, however, had looked at him with another kind of wont. The kind that she could not readily definite, but was right at the tip of her tongue, and it seemed somewhat akin to her own longing. And a bit like how the young Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood and his Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel looked at one another when they thought they were alone.. Which was possibly one of the reasons all the half-borns felt.. happily sedated here in this temple; the existence of a living, breathing, and ongoing love between those two —as creepy as that sounded! But that look had been closer to someone else’s look. The wonting, and happily exhilarated eyes of the little girl, Inshala ‘la Fey’ Frostmane, the Ritual Guardian, had given when they had been playing that game of catch against the obsessively competitive girl, Lilly Venom and her succulent man, and when the game had ended and the little girl’s ‘hubby’ had arrived; the Winter Knight himself.
The convoluted and intermixed irony in that hurt her brain!
Perigren Ostlanna Temez sighed.
They needed that same little girl now. And her wast knowledge of herbs and plants.
And she wondered, what her merry soul, her BFF, was doing at that very moment.
Temez thought she’d give anything to have her here now so she would tell her she was doing good and right for her kin.
✱ ✱ ✱
Standorin Shieldheart had just returned to his office for some final orders and to make sure everything was as it should be and that the town was faring well and not on fire.
He noticed the notes left on his desk and bent down to skim through them.
“A note on the standard confirmation of logistics moved up the river for the Arashkan militia stationed there from the ferriers. A note from Ranger Master Davien asking me what to do about the bandits camped east of Stinking Shacks. Dammit, man, just tell those idiots, they can either join us and fight the Orken and take whatever they can loot off the enemy at the end of the war, or kill them already. We don’t have such leisurely time for some lowly bandits who milk people at a time as dire as this! Hmm.. a note from the mayor demanding to know about the quarter of a harvest of sugar canes sent to the temple on my request —what the.. I made no such request and what is the heck is Thomas going to do with all that sugar cane, anyway?”
Then it dawned on him.
“Candy!”, he fumed. “But why did he put such a request on behalf of my office? He could have asked the mayor himself.”
Then it dawned on him. Again.
“Lady Constance!”, he said fuming some more. “Why would you not ask me and do this on my behalf so arbitrarily?”
“She didn’t. I did, sir.”, came a growling voice and Aager Fogstep came down the stairs from the roof. “By the way, the watchtower erected up on the roof is almost finished. At least that is what the carpenters and the construction crew are diligently assuring me. It should give us a good view of the town and with the use of flags, we should be able to direct the guards and the militia on the ground without needing to shout across town.”
“That’s good news. Now tell me about this order.”, said the sheriff.
“Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel came in earlier with the order, sir. For reasons I can not fathom, she seemed rather pleased with herself. Perhaps she expected me to object. I said I would give the order, which sort of disappointed her, only if she told me why the order was being addressed from this office, as opposed to being sent from the temple! She scowled at me and said, the need for the sugar canes was not directly related to the temple but with the newly appointed Liaison and the allies she represents. I told her I would put in the order when the said ‘newly appointed Liaison’ came here and asked for it herself, in her official capacity, rather than sending temple lackeys!”, Aager replied with a straight face.
Sheriff Standorin snorted.
“That was not nice, Master Aager. The ranger lieutenant is a good person and has high standing with the temple.”
“Well, it’s a good thing I am not a good person and don’t really care nor need any standing with the temple. I couldn’t speak for Lady Inshala, though, who is a good person and has extremely high standing with the temple.”, Aager smirked, then added. “You look dashing, sir. Never seen you out of armor before. Is that a new shirt?”
The sheriff glared at him.
“I… am… *muffled noises*..!”
“I am sorry, sir. Didn’t quite catch that.
The sheriff glared and him some more.
“I am going out.. on a *more muffed noises*..!”
“Come again, sir?”
“Dammit, man, a date! I am going out on a date!”, the sheriff very nearly spat.
“Ahh. I see. With whom, if you don’t mind me asking.”
He was going to be seen with his date in public soon enough and the word would spread like wildfire.
“Lady Constance Alure Smithen.”
“Ow? I got the impression you didn’t want her around. My bad.”, Aager said, his eyes quite mirthful.
“I didn’t ask her out.. But I’d messed up so horribly this morning and was trying to defuse a possible political fallout and she ambushed me, again, with a date, no less! I am so out of my debt, here.”, he admitted dejectedly.
“Want a stab of advice, sir?”, Aager asked honestly.
The sheriff grunted.
“Do you find her appealing, sir?”
“How do you mean?”, Standorin frowned.
“It isn’t a very complicated question, sir. Do you find her appealing?”
“Of course I find her appealing. She is a very cool-headed, calm, and immaculate young woman, and not in a dispassionate way. She is also very smart and always thinks before she speaks. A quality I find admirable in any man, let alone any woman.”
Standorin frowned a bit more.
“She’s.. pretty..”, he admitted grudgingly.
“You are a bit stingy on words, sir.. You can’t be thus miserly when it comes to women, you know..”
“My Limnia never—”, he began.
“—was and never will be Constance, sir. And neither could Constance ever cast a shadow over Lady Limnia. You can not, however, bring the past into play in this matter. And neither should you ever compare. That’s not only unfair to the deceased but unwarranted to the living. I never knew Lady Limnia, but I have watched you many nights, here, lost and alone in thoughts over her. And I watched Udoorin as well, and what that cost him. Leave her where she is, and treasure her as she is. And if you and Constance are agreeable, treasure Constance, now. You have lived the past long enough. Perhaps it’s time you lived the moment. And maybe even the future.. You, being seen with her kind, is a good step towards a steady, peaceful and harmonious town. Consider it as a sacrifice on your part, if you must. But I doubt it will stay a sacrifice because they have taken a blood oath. She will give her all, at all times for that oath. You are a decent man, sir. You made a decent man out of a Drashan cut-throat who actually cares for the people of a town he wasn’t even born into. She is a girl who escaped from somewhere far worse. She knows ‘bad’ in a sense where we need to use words like ‘intimately’, ‘infinitely’, and ‘ultimately’. Hence, she also knows what she must avoid. Take her out to dinner, then take her on a walk around town. Should be safe enough. You made it safe enough! That way, you won’t constantly be under public scrutiny, at least. Ow, and, give her this..”, he said, just as there was a small knock on the office door.
Aager didn’t pause but was at the door before the knock had ended. He opened the door and someone the sheriff couldn’t see was whispering softly at him. The man in dark leathers nodded once at the person standing outside and a pair of very skinny arms entangled themselves around the scary man’s neck for a long, passionate moment, then she was gone.
Aager stood at the door for a moment, staring after the little girl.
‘The wonderful, Lady Inshala!’, thought Standorin, as Aager quietly closed the door and returned back to where the sheriff was standing and gave him a bouquet of very lively-looking roses!
“What’s this?”, Standorin asked with one cocked eyebrow.
“A gift from my Inshala. She brought them for you but felt too shy to enter and face you, so she gave them to me. She told me to tell you that you are supposed to give them to Constance when you went to pick her.”, Aager smirked at the sheriff.
“How did she know about it? Who else knows? Does everyone know? And where in the blazes did she even get roses in the middle of winter?”, Standorin asked confounded.
“Didn’t ask, sir. You just can’t ask some things to girls. It is their prerogative. Not ours. Suffice to say, she knows, but I doubt anyone else does, and she will not repeat it. My Inshala has never quite grasped the concept of gossip.”
“I shall be a laughing stock and a merry source of amusement for the town.”, growled Standorin darkly.
Aager Fogstep looked at the sheriff for a moment.
Then went brutal on him..
..right for the jugular!
“Would you have cared, had she been Limnia, sir?”
Standorin stiffened as red, ugly blotches appeared on his face.
“That.. was uncalled for, Master Aager.”, he snarled.
“Yes. It was.”, agreed, Aager. “But so is the fact that you think being seen with Constance will somehow degrade your standing with the town, without giving it a moment’s thought on what she might think on this matter. Considering she is the Liaison, now, and must come here, be here, and work here, day and night, making her seem as your mistress, and consequently destroying her own standing with the town, and her station as a Liaison!”
Standorin fell silent.
“She is a woman, sir. And a quality one. Treat her like one. Share the big things in your life. And share the little ones. And let her treat you like the man she thinks you are, because, sir, she was assigned as a Liaison, certainly, but she was not assigned to you in person. That is a choice she made herself. Like I said yesterday. She is the alpha lioness. And an alpha lioness will only go for the alpha lion. That is base attraction. To her delight, the person she chose just happened to be the alpha lion.”
Aager grinned at the sheriff.
“That said, I am off. Inshala and I start for Oger’s Foot in a few days and have some preparation to make. Hopefully, and soon, I will finally get to meet this Mother Ganiste she speaks so fondly of.”
✱ ✱ ✱
Good evening sheriff.”, said the Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, from where he stood, atop the stairs and right in front of his temple.
“Good evening, Thomas.”, replied Standorin amiably, though with a slightly flustered face.
“That’s Senior Temple Guardian Thomas for you, sheriff.”, smirked a soft, feminine voice; Bremorel Songteel, from where she stood, arms crossed and leaning against the temple’s double doors.
“The robes are still on!”, Bremorel explained, still smirking.
“So, it is.”, the sheriff said slightly fuming.
“You can’t take what’s ours, sheriff.”, said Thomas solemnly. “Everyone under my roof gets to stay under my roof.”
“Yes. What he said.”, Bremorel smiled broadly.
“Eh? What?”, asked the sheriff with a confused expression on his face. “I was only going to ask for—”
“No means, no, sir.”, Thomas said. “If you want her so desperately, you are just going to have to get a writ from the mayor himself, and with the consent of at least three other council members.. Or a popular vote cast among all the council members.”
Standorin just stared at Thomas.
Bremorel snorted, but only because she was trying very hard not to laugh out loud.
“Is this some sort of a prank?”, the sheriff asked, his face flushing even more, though with anger now.
“This is the Temple of Light, sheriff. We don’t do pranks here.”, Thomas replied sternly.
For a moment, a very short and savage moment, Standorin became the young and foolish man of his youth and was just about to barge into the temple, right over Thomas, senior guardian or not!
“That was not nice, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood.”, a cool, serene voice was heard and Constance came gliding out of the temple. “You knew he came for me.”
“Dammit.”, scowled Bremorel. “And we had just started having fun!”
“Ahh. Constance. You are glowing this evening.”, smiled Thomas.
“You think so?”, she asked with a surprisingly girlish voice and spun around showing off her new skirt dress.
“It is lovely, my dear, and it compliments you.”, replied the young temple guardian. “You can ask Morel for confirmation if you like. She is much better at accuracy than I am.”
“Very true, on both accounts, Constance. You look awesome, girl.”, smiled Bremorel.
Sheriff Standorin, on the other hand, had kept his silence, possibly because he was dumbstruck.
He just stood there, not quite ogling, but unavoidably staring, at the tall half-born, as the words, dignified, regal, and very lady-like, skimmed past his mind, for many young women tended to reveal their.. uhh.. attributes.. Constance had gone quite the opposite direction and done her revealing by hiding said attributes; her dress skirts were long and down to the floor, even though, from the click-clacks, she was wearing high pumps. It was a very dark maroon-colored dress and seemed to be tailored from velvet that wrapped tightly around her slender throat, her long arms, her appealing bosom, slim waist, and long, shapely legs, and was carefully and not-so-overtly embroidered with gold threads. Much like her earlier dress, there were two slits running down the skirts, though there was no gauzy fabric this time. Instead, she had worn stockings a tone or two darker than her own pale skin. Her charcoal-black hair was also running long and straight, shading her face, and down her breasts and back, revealing her small, elf-like ears, though there was a single, thread-like, very carefully braided strand of her hair, not unlike a cat ladder, climbing down the right side of her very slightly blushing face, as her very soft, very alluring eyes seemed to glow with happiness and the only cosmetics seemed like the bright red application on her lightly smiling lips.
Constance looked memorably beautiful, and she had done nothing to hide, nor cover her long, slender horns.
“Good evening Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, she said politely and started down the stairs.
“Good.. evening, uhhmm, Liaison Constance..”, Standorin stammered.
“We will be leaving now, dear Senior Temple Guardian Thomas Dimwood, and thank you Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel for the sugar canes, though I suspect a pandemic of sugar sick boys and girls will infest your temple soon enough.”, Constance said demurely.
“We’ll make sure they chew on the sugar canes only after they have finished their cabbages and their broccoli.”, chuckled Bremorel.
Constance gave her one of her rare, brilliant smiles.
“I shall expect you to return our girl before midnight, sheriff.”, Thomas said firmly, though the crack at the side of his mouth said otherwise as he took Bremorel by the hand and disappeared into the temple.
“Yes!”, Standorin heard Bremorel say. “The kids are out! We have a whole night free to ourselves!”
There was a moment of awkward silence as Standorin stood, not knowing what to do.
“Shall we?”, asked Constance.
“I suppose so, but I must admit I didn’t—”, began Standorin.
“You look quite dashing tonight, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart.”, said Constance.
“I.. Do you think so?”, the sheriff asked a bit flabbergasted.
“I see, so.”, replied the tall, young woman. “And where shall you take me?”
“Uhhmm..”, Standorin began again, then paused before continuing and his frown had returned. “Look. I am just going to have to ask if it is alright with you.”
“I wouldn’t know if it’s alright with me, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. You haven’t asked your question yet.”, replied the girl calmly.
“Very true.”, Standorin agreed. Then he took a deep breath. “Just what is this?”, he asked honestly.
“What is what?”
“This. What are we doing, Liaison Constance.”
“It could be one of two things, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. One is, where you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your responsibilities, and myself and my responsibilities and how to better improve our relation regarding each other’s department and you pay-off for your morning’s blunder. The other option is where this is not a pay-off nor is it a task and you take me out to a nice dinner that involves a dim setting with candle lights followed by a slow-paced stroll around the town, or the woods, where we can have a few private moments to talk about you and your life, and myself and my life and how to better improve a mutual relation, together.”, she replied serenely, though Standorin sensed a bare trepidation in that calm voice and he was surprised for it.
And then it all came to him.
This young and beautiful woman was exactly that; a young and beautiful woman.. going out with a total stranger in the hopes that it would turn into a nice, memorable, and perhaps even a fruitful date and that was as far as her calm went. The rest was just as unknown to her as it was to him and she was terrified of it. More so than he was, because he was a ‘Mortal’ and dating was a natural, and even expected thing among Mortals.. as opposed to her kind, who had never lived a single date in their lives nor did they quite know what it even was. True that she was here in her Liaison capacity, or rather, it had been because of that capacity they were here now, but at that very moment, she wanted to be only herself, as Constance Alure Smithen and dearly hoped he would ignore the fact that she wasn’t quite human but a succubi half-born that possessed horns, treat her gently, kindly, perhaps even affectionately, and that he be just himself as a man and as Standorin Shieldheart only..
“It..”, he began. Then paused to clear his throat, and began again. “It could be a date. But I must warn you. I haven’t been on a date for a very, very long time.”
“It is alright, Sheriff Standorin Shieldheart. I haven’t been on a date at all. If this will be a date, it will also be my first and I have no idea what to expect, nor what to do. I was told many things I should do, or be doing, from both my brothers and sisters and Ranger Lieutenant Morel Songsteel, though when she said I should ‘make you sweat’, I do not believe she meant in a sensual way. Apparently, there is some sort of history between the two of you. Suffice to say, I am in your tender care, sir.”, she said with hopeful serenity.
“There is no history between young Morel and me, other than me having thrown her to jail for aggravated assault some six or seven years back.”, fumed Standorin.
“Aggravated assault. I know what this is. It was in the Criminal Law book you gave me.”, Constance said.
“You.. you actually read it?”, the sheriff asked somewhat surprised.
“Of course I read it. If I am expected to know about what you do, I should come armed with knowledge, and not just a pike.”
“That is a very long, and very boring read! I am not sure if I myself read the whole thing..”, exclaimed Standorin.
“It was rather entertaining, I think. The mind of Mortal criminals is amusing. I cited some of the laws pertaining to robbery and the use of drugs to my kin —because of our fondness for candy. It caused quite a bit of hilarious outbursts. The ones pertaining to rape and assault, however, did leave us in dismay, as we found the consequent reprimands and punishments rather petit and diminutive.”
Standorin frowned a bit.
“Perhaps we can start with names, then?”, he offered.
“Names? Am I perhaps not pronouncing yours correctly? Is this perhaps the reason for your dissatisfaction with my assignment?”, she asked a bit perturbed.
“Eh? What? No!”, Standorin stammered a bit more. “What I meant was, since we agreed this could be a date, you should call me Standorin.”
“Mortals cut and dissect names right and left, a matter that leaves us perpetually dismayed, for names hold power.”, she said a bit distressed.
“Maybe. I don’t know.”, Standorin said. “But Mortals, as you like to call us, do not refer to one another by their full names at all times. You may look upon it as a personal favor if you will and call me Standorin. Or just Stan. That’s what the few friends I have, call me.”
“I.. see..”, said the young woman. “I suppose you should call me Constance. Or Alure. But I would very much appreciate it if you didn’t cut my names in half. That is.. quite disorienting for my kind.”
“Perfectly acceptable, Lady Constance. I had arranged for the dining room prepared for us in the town’s guest house. Or rather, some busy boy and his happy little wife had it prepared for me. He certainly seemed mirthful when he told me about it. And.. uhhmm.. I believe these are for you..”, Standorin said a bit flushed and handed the bouquet of roses to the young woman.
“Ow! Mortal Roses! How very exquisitely beautiful and lovely, Sheri— Standorin Shield— Standorin—”, she stammered, confused and glowing with a beautifully bright blush and paused..
..for a long, deplorable sigh.
“Thank you.. Stan..”
“I believe this belonged to you..”
Whatever it may be.
Wherever it may be.
However, it may be.
It is the beginning of
Whether the deed is something
as earth-shaking, and likely damning as
hitting a ‘Red Button’ that will culminate
with the possible incineration of millions,
as dramatic as that may sound,
or something as mundane as picking up
a stray bit of trash and putting it in a bin,
it begins with a Choice, yes?
What makes a choice
Worthy, so the speak, however, is the Why!
The Why, in many cases, may very well end up
being irrelevant, from the size and depth
of the deed, or for the people involved.
But there always is a Why, because Why gives
us the ultimate answer to the reason,
or the excuse, for the Deed.
Now, from a ‘High Heavens’ point of view,
the relation between Why and Deed
becomes much more relevant.
Whether one believes there might,
or might not be a High Heaven(s),
is one’s personal flavor..
..or a matter of hubris.
At this distinct and isolated moment,
it doesn’t really matter what we refer to Heavens as;
be it the fields of Elysium,
the infinite gardens of Jannah,
the lush of Eden, Paradise, Pearly Gates, Shamayim,
Nirvana, the Halls of Valhalla, or simply,
Heaven, in singular or plural,
and in one form or another,
mankind has believed it since time immemorial,
and discarding the concept as a whole
out of tangible and rational wont of science
sounds a lot like arrogance, obstinacy..
..or sheer spite..
A something, methinks, is also hubris..
..however, that, in itself,
might be a matter of debate..
Much like ignoring it for the lack of proof, is.
Particularly when one expects tangibility
where ‘belief’ is concerned, since, what is tangible
can no longer be subjected to belief, for it is now
a concrete, doomed to petrify, ‘fact’, and an act
quite proportionally irrational in itself.
The point that is relevant to the
matter at hand is, much like there is
a relation, and perhaps,
a correlation between
Deed and Why
there is one between
Deed and Consequence.
“Choice” and “Consequence”..
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 soon after
“Mother, why?”, Vivid Visions
It must be noted that this story is also, in a way,
the ultimate conclusory ending of another story;
Neye bulaştın, Felishia? (18+)
(continued from the story; Temporal Insanity)
And this is why we don’t intermix spells, dear.”, Anglenna heard her mother’s voice in her head.
“Mother..”, she said with a resigned tone as she picked herself up, and careful not to step on her own retch, moved towards the sandbag barricade and the still-burning hall beyond it. “..don’t you have anything better to do?”
“Such as?”, asked the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen.
“I don’t know, cities to burn, atrocities to overwatch, clandestine meetings to attend, corners to skulk, conspiracies to orchestrate, schemes to deliberate, .. You know, people to betray?”, she replied with weary sarcasm.
“My dear daughter, I resent the fact that you would cast me as the evil boss cliché, though designating me as THE BOSS has a nice ring to it, which is what I am; YOUR BOSS, aside from being your mother..”, Angrellen replied happily.
Anglenna snorted as she peered into the furnacing fire, still burning savagely in the hall.
“You? Boss?”, she said. “This is bad even for a merry jester. No, mother, you are no boss. You are a TOOL!”
Her mother, however, did not reply.
“You.. you are actually serious!”, Anglenna exclaimed as let go of her hold on her fire spell, and the flames dimmed, diminished, and died, leaving a long, blackened, and smoking hall, leading somewhere off and away from the original sewers. “You actually believe in what you just said!”
“I don’t do jesters, my daughter. You MUST have noticed that in the past near-two-centuries you have been under my roof.“, her mother said, without any trace of merry in it.
“So I have, mother. The sick, psychotic woman that you are, you lack the inhibitions for any form of ‘merry’, which begs the question; why do all the things you did in hopes of living forever? If you can’t and won’t be happy, nor feel any merry in the end?”, her daughter asked, actually wondering just what kind of demented reply she would get, as she took a quick, mental inventory of all the spells she had left available to her, along with the items she had on her.
“Happy? Are you for real, girl? Have I taught you nothing at all? And here I thought I had learned you some realities of life.. We don’t live for ‘happy’, my daughter. We live for the satisfaction of destroying our enemies. This, you will understand in time.”, Angrellen said in a low, whispering hiss.
“Mother, you had no enemies.. You created them in your sick mind. Then you worked, day and night, and made them real. No, mother. People like you create enemies by way of your simple existence.”, Anglenna said, with her lips pressed together and checked her quarterstaff. She liked the old piece of oak. It didn’t really help her in any way when it came to casting her spells, nor infuse them with power. It certainly wasn’t much of a focusing item either.. and got in her way when she needed both hands where she would end up just letting it drop on the ground, much to her clattering dismay. But it had saved her life.. Once.. Nearly a century ago, when she’d gone out on her first ‘suffer the toils of real experience’, as her mother had called it.
Angrellen had always been like that; toss the chick off the nest. If it’s smart, it would fly. If it isn’t, well, there just wasn’t place for the stupid, the dull-witted, and the fool..
Not under Angrellen’s roof!
Her first encounter ever had been against one such dull-witted goblin, not that Anglenna herself had been any better; she had freaked and ran, with the goblin chasing after her. As slim and tall as she had always been, Anglenna had never done much in the way of physical exercise.
The goblin, who likely had hunted for a living all its life, apparently had had better endurance, catching up to the very young high lady of Bari Na-ammen. The too young, high elf girl had given one look behind, screamed in terror, tossed everything she had, and ran faster!
To her somewhat disgusted consternation and dismay, the staff she had tossed, had bounced off the ground with a sharp clap and landed in a mole hole, then tilted down to a low angle..
..catching the goblin in the groin!
Two things had happened that day;
One; the young, forty-two-year-old ‘teen’ Anglenna carried the, otherwise useless staff, around all the time after that, because, apparently, you never knew when a long, sturdy stick would come in handy,
Two; the goblin had returned to his tribe, limping and in pain, telling all his clan-mates about the new and evil weapon the pointy-eared elves had invented; The Groin Catcher!
“—then I asked him, ‘What is it you want from me?’ He just stared at me and said in his usual, calm, low, resonating voice, ‘Want? I have everything I want, Lady Angrellen. What I don’t have is you!’. The idiot. He just blurted it out like that!”, the high lady was saying.
“Eh? What?”, spluttered Anglenna.
“Told you, you weren’t listening. Men have always been your weak spot, my little darling. One mention of your father and you freeze in your place.”, said Angrellen with a light laugh.
“No, what? What are you talking about? And no, they are not!”, said Anglenna heatedly. “And you are not talking about any man, you are talking about my father.”
“Yes and no, daughter mine.”, laughed her mother.
“Did my father really say that to you?”, blurted Anglenna.
“Your father was a charming man, dear. And yes. He did say that to me, even after all my rebuffings and refusals.. The sentimental fool! Selvius never entered a battle he would lose, and never lost a battle he engaged.”, she heard her mother say in a dreamy, reminiscing tone.
“Accept you.”, Anglenna said bitterly.
“My dear girl, you were always good at ruining a good day.”, her mother signed.
“No, mother, nothing beats you at ruining everyone’s good day, and everything that’s good.”, sneered the younger Sunsear as she pulled out her other two items worth any significance. One was also an old friend of hers, a rod of sorts made from rare Fernian Ash Wood that helped her fire-based spells burn hotter, and the latest addition to her limited repertoire; a wand crafted by a half-elf artificer named Rimel Auburn, Philius Silveroak’s wife and that strange boy, Darly Dor’s mother. She wasn’t quite used to it yet but it did have a comfortable grip and helped her better focus her spells; A War Mage’s Wand, though Anglenna found that name a bit on the ostentatious side. She considered her options for a moment, then decided to take a leaf out of the big, burly boy, Udoorin’s book, as ironic as that sounded, and on any number of levels. She pulled a bit of rope out of her small backpack, and tied it to both ends of the staff, and flung it across her back, just to find out its upper end kept hitting her head!
“How in the blazes does that boy carry a kazillion axes on his back and still keep his head?”, she fumed as she nudged the staff into a more comfortable position, not that it helped. Then, with both the wand and the rod, one in either hand, she stepped into the still smoldering hall.
“You seem distracted, my daughter. Are you busy? Perhaps I should go and come back another time. You never did learn to multi-task!”, she heard her mother say.
“By all means, mother, do go.. Just never come back!”, seethed Anglenna as she moved forward with quick-step haste. For some reason, she felt a sense of dread coming her way and just didn’t want to wait for it to arrive.
“Now, now, my flower. Let’s not get nasty. We are merely talking like a pair of adults, here.”, her mother said.
“Mother..”, Anglenna said. “..what are you doing?”
“Doing?”, Angrellen asked a bit perturbed. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Really, mother, what are you doing? Why are you talking to me? What do you hope to gain? Perhaps you think, if you spammed me enough many times, I might fold and come to you?”, Anglenna asked.
“Ahh.. No, dear. As little as you like to think of me, I do care about your well-being. And with nothing to do at the moment, I merely wanted to have a civilized conversation.”, her mother said.
“The Orken are not giving you the courtesy you expected of them?”, asked Anglenna with a smile on her face.
“The beasts..”, scoffed Angrellen heatedly. “They are nothing but animals. They were strictly warned to leave certain areas in Bari Na-ammen untouched.”
“Ow, mother.. Did they bring down your precious ‘roof’ as well?”, laughed Anglenna.
“Yes. They did. They leveled the whole city and burned everything they could get their hands on. There were a lot of personal belongings I had and wanted to get out of there before I left the city for good.”, seethed her mother’s voice.
“Poor Angrellen the Betrayer. Her personal belongings were so much more important than the lives of over two hundred thousand high elves.. It must truly hurt to be you!”, snickered Anglenna coldly as she turned around the corner at the end of the hall, where she saw the corridor split, one heading to her left, the other heading right for about thirty yards then ending in another heavily barricaded door.
“I had a painting of your father among those personal belongings, dear.”, Angrellen said with quiet wrath. “I ended up burning two platoons of the beasts, just to make my point!”
“Mother. You killed my father. You SACRIFICED HIM to your demon lords. The fact that you kept a picture of him, is an insult to his memory!”, spat Anglenna hotly. Then she turned and started down the left corridor. Had young Udoorin been here, she would have preferred to have checked what was behind the barricaded door, but there was a small chance she could move all those very heavy sandbags and be able to hack the door. As seldom as she did, she looked on the bright side; at least nothing was going to be coming up from behind her.
“Just out of mild curiosity, dear, who told you this? No one was supposed to know about that. I understood the necessity, but I wasn’t happy about it. Your father, Selvius, was, after all, a fool, but a charming, sentimental and caring fool. Never got without giving first and always treated me like the high lady that I was. Those qualities in him, I do miss.”, sighed the former high lady.
“Why, then? Why did you kill him? He was the only man, or anyone for that matter, to have given love and respect to you, and would have been the only one that ever would!”, asked Anglenna with smoldering desperation.
“That was the price, my flower. You sacrifice what you love, or the innocent, for power. Much like you sacrifice your enemies for revenge.. That is how it works.”, said Angrellen in a clinical, tutorial voice. “Could have been you, but I chose him. Your father never hovered, and he let me be when I was in my study, but as sentimental as he was, he was also a brilliant tactician and Grandaleren’s childhood friend. Had I chosen you, he would have asked me.. certain uncomfortable questions.. eventually.. Or perhaps not.. But he would never have stopped pursuing an answer for the death of his little ‘princess’, and given enough time, he would have suspected me, if not found out.”
“Guess I will have to thank your scheming plans to be alive, then? And here I thought it was out of some motherly love.”, said Anglenna, though not bitterly, but sort of with a shrug. It was interesting for her to have recognized the lack of her mother’s love no longer bothered her.
“Don’t be obtuse, dear, of course I loved you. I still do. In my way. It is hard to give something you never had. But I gave mine anyway.”, her mother replied absently.
“I don’t think you know what love means, mother. You consider it as something expected of others to give to you as per their existence, then once they have, they can move aside, or preferably just die.. And I doubt my grandfather was a man without love, mother. I did have many long talks with my uncle, Grandaleren, when I was younger and from all his accounts, his father loved all his children. More so after his wife left for her journey to the Undying Strands.. Considering how you were his firstborn, you must have gotten the best of what he and my grandmother had.”, she said as she stepped up her pace. The corridor she was following had many twists and turns, and many other doors, all similarly barricaded. It was when she turned yet another corner they came at her. A whole murder of ghouls, wraiths and.. some other things.. came at her, either moaning or screeching.. or in total, dead silence.
“Well now.”, she said, smiling at death, right in the face. “Would be such a waste, the way you all are pretty much lined up as you have, in a narrow corridor..”
Her eyes blazed, but not with fire.
This time, she opted for something else. Something she hadn’t tried before, both because she had only recently gained this spell, and because she just hadn’t had the opportunity.
“Yes, I am sure he loved me.”, sneered her mother. “So much so that he ripped away what was rightfully mine, and gave it to his son!”
“I would never have given you the throne either, mother, had it been up to me. No one in their right mind would have. You would have made every good, bad, and every bad, worse, no matter what. But if it were truly up to me, I would have had you thoroughly executed, and your body burned down to unrecognizable and unredeemable soot, scattered it a pinch at a time, and salted the lands, ten miles in every direction!”, Anglenna said with heat.
Then, in her low, calm voice, she chanted..
Selvius, Father, though I carry your name
A leaf, bright, light and forgotten
For that, I know I am to blame
Father, beg, help me thwart this blight
For it cometh, an evil I must task
Dire in need on her moments plight
Soon shall I avenge and save your soul
Though it takes me mine life
Thus I pledge and make you whole
Selvius, Father, though I carry your name,
A leaf, bright, light and forgotten,
For that, I know I am to blame.
Father, I beg, help me thwart this blight,
For it cometh, an evil I must task
Dire in need on her moments plight.
Soon shall I avenge and save your soul,
Though it takes me mine life,
Thus I pledge and make you whole.
And pointed her wand at the oncoming slaughter.
One moment there was only moaning and shrieking darkness, the next, the whole corridor lit as if summer itself had been summoned there and a sixty-foot-long shaft of excruciatingly bright sunlight lit the dark, putrid corridor..
..and incinerated everything in its way!
The blinding shaft of light burned the oncoming horde of undead like hot iron would butter, and cremated every single one it touched.
✱ ✱ ✱
WHAT ARE YOU DOING, GIRL?”, she heard her mother’s voice scream with horrified chagrin. “Why have you summoned your father’s name? WHAT ARE YOU DOING, LENNA? DO NOT DABBLE IN THINGS YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND!”
“None of your business, mother. You no longer get to tell me what to do, or what NOT to do. You lost your rights to me the moment you rose your hand against your people.”, Anglenna spat, and sent another sixty-foot-long shaft of sunlight, pulverizing another crowd of undead running at her.
“YOU WILL STOP THIS NONSENSE AT ONCE!”, shrieked her mother. “YOU WILL NOT NAME YOUR FATHER EVER AGAIN!”
“No, mother, it is you who will never name my father ever again. You lost all your rights, all your claims to him the moment you slew him!”, Anglenna barked at her mother..
..and drilled another batch of undead with a third shaft of incinerating sunlight as she took a step forward, then another.
Soon, she was disintegrating her way through the dead as she smote and belly-danced between them.
Yet, the deeper she moved into the depts of the old Thieves Guild’s hideout, the more dead heaped upon her, and though she burned and withered them, she didn’t escape unscathed. Soon, her long robes and her elegant dress-skirts were torn, ripped, and shredded, her hair was a chaotic mess, she was bleeding from any number of wounds, and something was wrong with her left arm because it looked odd when she held up her Fernian Ash Wood rod. The rod seemed to persist at pointing down when she held her arm straight! Still, she gritted her teeth and charged on until she came to a door that was not barricaded but had many glowing runes on it.
Anglenna held her pace and looked back.
She thought she’d heard the echo of clacking footsteps, but there was no one there except heaps of black dust, skeletal things missing their upper bodies, or with gaping holes in their chest.
The sense of dread she had felt earlier, however, had come again. With haste born of desperation, she turned back to the door, and the runes.
When she’d said wards weren’t her forte to her sister-cousin, she’d been very honest about it. But as far as she could tell, they were meant specifically for undead creatures and possibly demons; to keep them out, or perhaps, to keep them in.. Wards had a tendency to go both ways, depending on how you laid them. After a few more desperate moments of inspection, she concluded there were two different sets of runes in play here, possibly laid by two different people. One was likely a priest or a temple guardian, and the other was possibly a druid of some sort. The only thing that tiny glimpse information told her was, the priest or temple guardian had placed his or her wards in hopes of keeping undead and/or demons in or out, as she had first suspected, and hoped, and the ones laid by the druid was ward against anything likely to cause ‘imbalance’. She’d heard, from that strange, skinny little girl, Inshala, speaking about the preservation of balance enough many times to assume that much.
“Time to cough up!”, she whispered with huffed strands of her unbraided and disheveled strands platinum-blonde hair, pulled a small knife out of her pack, and stabbed it into one of the wards.
The ward ‘buzzed’ for a moment, then died as its already faded glow winked, then that too died.
One by one, Anglenna stabbed, scratched, or carved long, gaping lines over every single ward she could find, took a deep breath, then slowly opened the door.
✱ ✱ ✱
Anglenna had expected a lot of things, mostly along the lines of, ‘more of the same’. Just not what she beheld.
The room beyond the door was not a very large one. Perhaps thirty feet wide and forty feet deep, but it was blotted with very old, black stains of what the young high elf girl could only assume, to her revolted horror, was blood, and the remains of a dried and mummified carnage splattered all across the room, including the walls and the ceiling.
Anglenna did not wait.
She burned the room, from wall to wall, floor to ceiling, the black bloodstains and the dried and the mummified carnage.. all of it.. with the last remaining power of her sun spell. Not quite satisfied, she stuck her wand into what remained of her robe, pushed out her hand, palm facing the floor and fingers spread, she also burned the room with good old normal fire.
By the time she was done, the room was still black, but from soot only, and both the bloodstains and the carnage were gone.
Then she walked into the room, and over to the heap of gifts, carefully prepared by no other than High Lady Angrellen, and sent to the Master of High Spires, Philius Silveroak, who had handed them to the Keeper of Antiquities and Gifts, Lady Felishia Fremeir, as per protocol, who would have presented them to the First Lord of Arashkan, Princeps Kaladin, under the impression that they had been sent by Ri Grandaleren of High Woods, but quite unintentionally been burglarized from her home that very night by Philius’s estranged son, Darly “Darlius” Dor and brought here.. all some five or six years ago..
The gifts had comprised of a number of very expensive items; an exquisitely crafted jewelry box containing a beautiful, yet ‘manly’ ring for the First Lord’s son, and two, bejeweled, elf-craft silver necklaces, one for each of his daughters, a very large and heavy, delicately embroidered tapestry, and a fragile-looking, ‘true work of art’ vase..
..or perhaps it was an urn.
Anglenna felt slightly bad about the tapestry, which would have covered the expenses of at least a score or so quivers of three-spark arrows, which she was sure would have closed the gaping distance between her and the esteemed Ranger Corporal Laila Wolvesbane, and still have enough to buy a decent wedding gift for her cousin, should and when the time came. The jewelry box had also been charred, but the contents had survived.
“A kingly ring for our future Ri.”, she said, deliberately ignoring the young man’s current condition. “An exquisite necklace for my sister-cousin, and the other, for the skinny little one, I think. I hope that sinister man is looking after her. That girl truly likes him, though I can’t figure as to why, so I’d hate to dismantle him.”
Without the slightest bit of shame, Anglenna pocketed the ring and the two necklaces, and the irony that the gifts her mother had prepared to start a war, would go to a ‘human’ who would become a Rise, and her much-hated ‘half breed’ niece.. and another ‘half something’.. She would make sure to have them all checked for possible curses and/or ill enchantments by some reputable wizard, or possibly a temple guardian first, though.
Then there was the urn..
Anglenna did not immediately open or even touch the cursed container. She circled around it, inspected it, quite meticulously, then carefully, she picked it up, wrapped it with what remained of her robes..
✱ ✱ ✱
And heard the echo of the clacking footstep again, much closer this time.
“Found me, have you?”, Anglenna said. “Took you long enough.. mother!”
There was a moment of resigned silence, then High Lady Angrellen appeared at the door of the room.
Her mother seemed about the same, though tired. She had deep, dark circles around her eyes, her skin was paler and her platinum-white hair was slightly disheveled. She had always been a slender figure before, but she seemed somewhat gaunt now. She was also wearing the same dress she had worn that day, when they had last seen her in the palace, back in Bari Na-ammen, about a week or two ago..
“How did you figure it out, darling?”, she asked, slightly perturbed.
“I had my suspicions for quite some time now, mother. All those years pushing me into trying to scry on my uncle, Grandaleren, was sort of a giveaway. A control freak such as yourself would always want to keep an eye on her own daughter, even against her knowledge or wishes, going as far as ignoring the ‘King’s Citizens Rights and Privacies Act’. But I suppose no life or law is sacred for you. And your high heels.. I could hear them from half a mile away. Only you would wear high heels in a war. Your demented choice of wardrobe aside, I am surprised you haven’t come to fetch me sooner, the way you have been perversing around me..”, Anglenna said calmly.
“I suppose I could have, though, in all candor, I was blocked by something.. or someone.. You have made uncommon friends in these past few months dear. I couldn’t scry on your cousin, the silly little half-breed, since she was no older than six. I suspect it had something to do with her being chosen as the Heart of High Woods. But she couldn’t keep me from watching you. All the information my informants brought to me about your little friends was quite extensive. Of all of them, only one man gave some trouble identifying. Turns out he’s a Drashan convict. Good choice of ensemble there, daughter. Not even I stooped that low. A Drashan convict? Really, now.. Sunsear’s do have standards, you know. Then there were the two odd girls. Other than a general description, they were able to find nothing about them. What they were, where they came from, who were they.. Nothing.. I am not sure which, but it must have been either of them. Yes, my daughter, one of them was strong enough to block all my attempts to scry on any of you. Otherwise, I could watch you any time I wanted. Up until late tonight, or perhaps I should say, early this morning. Since then, I couldn’t see you anymore, either. Begs the question, just who did you bind yourself to, girl?”, her mother asked, as she carefully scanned the room.
“I don’t do bondage, mother. That’s more like your thing.”, smiled Anglenna, though she too wondered who it was, that had protected the whole group without them knowing? The two girls her mother had been talking about were likely the skinny little girl, Inshala Frostmane, and the odd, mad girl, Merisoul Xyrotwu. She had heard, though not quite sure when and where, that Inshala was now the Ritual Guardian, a title not bestowed by mortal officials, but the Ritual Forest itself. Could that have been it? A side effect of being chosen by the spirit of something as vast as the Ritual Forest? A bit like how her cousin was chosen as the Heart of High Woods? As for Merisoul, all she had compiled about her was, though not all that willingly, she was bonded to some powerful celestial being —likely something that shouldn’t be messed with..
“Tell me, darling, what is this hideous place that you have brought me? And where are your little friends? Where’s the princess?”
“My friends are where they are supposed to be, and my sister is not here. She is far away, quite safe, and well out of your reach. I made sure of that. As for this place, it’s the old Arashkan Thieves Guild’s headquarters.”, Anglenna said with a shrug.
“The old Arashkan Thieves Guild’s HQ, is it?”, she said, still scanning the room, and it seemed like she was also listening for any sounds she might hear coming from behind her. “If you came here in hopes of hiding from me, my darling, it hasn’t seemed to have worked, obviously. If you came here to hide from the Orken, well, you seem to have run deep enough, though I suspect not for too long. Either they would have discovered these stinking sewers, eventually, or you’d run out of rations. If it was your intention to ambush me, daughter, you are outnumbered and now lack the element of surprise. And if you are telling the truth about your friends being elsewhere, and not hiding nearby, you truly are alone..
Perhaps you have that skulking Drashan cut-throat hiding to stab me in the back. One such idiot already tried that tonight. Didn’t really go his way. Of all those in your company, though, only the Drashanian,..
..the ranger girl and my niece would have had the skills to sneak up on me. Having had the opportunity to look at the mess you left behind, however, it’s all and only you, which begs the question, again, why are you here, my flower? What do you hope to gain by bringing me all the way down here?”
Anglenna snorted, though she did admire how well her mother had dissected, labeled, and shelved the situation.
“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to see your line of thought. You truly must think, nothing of significance can happen unless it revolves around you, mother. You really must think yourself to be the center of everything and everything just must be about you, doesn’t it? That may have been relatively true before, but you lost your grip on me the moment you made me betray my sister and divulge her secrets to you. Yes, Grandaleren was not a good Ri, and likely a fool. But he beat you at your game by sending me to find his daughter. It gave me the opportunity to escape from under your thumb and finally be free, mother. While you did everything to ruin and discredit his daughter, he made you lose yours. Too bad you killed him. I really owned him a thanks of gratitude.”
“Ow, I did more than just kill him, darling. Now, then.. Shall we start dancing, or would you like to come home quietly? Do come quietly, dear. I really do not wish to break you. You are my darling flower, after all. We can even assume none of these happened and give it a fresh start. You have so much potential and a whole life ahead of you. Together, mother and daughter, we can rule this world!”
Anglenna just stared at her mother.
And the phrase, ‘Mad as a Feynox’, sprang to her mind.
“I have no intentions of coming with you, mother, quietly or otherwise. I have made my choices, and I plan on sticking with them. But to answer your earlier question; I came here for this.”, she said..
..and produced the small urn from under her tattered and shredded robes.
“How did you come by that thing, Lenna?”, she asked and Anglenna got the fleeting satisfaction to see her mother freak out.
“How I came by it is quite irrelevant, mother. I am here. You are here. And your precious little curse is here.. The one you prepared to be gifted to First Lord, Princeps Kaladin, under the false impression that it had been sent here by Grandaleren, just to discredit him.. and to start a war between us and Arashkan. Your lust for power and blood never ceases to amaze me, mother.”
“Don’t you toy with that, Lenna.”, her mother hissed. “You are centuries away from understanding the workings of that curse. Put it down and carefully! NOW!”
Anglenna smiled at her.
“Why, mother, I have no desire to toy with it, but I do believe it belongs to you..”, she said pleasantly..
..and hurled the little urn..
..at her mother!
Angrellen gave a gasping shriek and moved to catch the arcing urn.
And her daughter was impressed.
A thousand and five hundred years old, and her mother, Angrellen, moved with the grace of a sea serpent.
Anglenna also moved but as tired and exhausted as she was, she didn’t bother with seas nor serpents, or perhaps because she just didn’t care..
The urn spun up..
..Anglenna hurled a fist-sized bolt of fire.
The urn reached the apex of its arc..
..Angrellen stared at her daughter, and at the fist of scorching fire coming at her and flinched again.
The urn came down..
..Anglenna mimed to cast another bolt of fire and her mother reacted.
For a bare instant, Angrellen was entombed in a thick, nearly impenetrable block of ice!
The fire bolt struck the ice and winked out without so much as marring it.
The urn smashed into the ice as well..
..and shattered into small, crumbling pieces.
Anglenna released her spell, but it wasn’t another bolt of her fisting fire. She had never intended to repeat the first, just as her first one had never been intended to do any harm to her mother, not that she would have minded, but she knew she was not ready to face her just yet, particularly as tired and juiced out as she was. The thing was, her mother didn’t know that. As a matter of fact, her mother only knew that her daughter had grown in strength and power, and quite exponentially during these last few months and away from her and because she had also been shielded from being scried, and hence, gone unobserved, leaving her mother ignorant of her daughter’s latest developments. Angrellen had expected a kaboom and reacted against a kaboom, but gotten a love tap instead, do to speak.
Always know your enemies, discern their weaknesses, and use them against them!
That was what Angrellen had taught her daughter, and that’s exactly what her daughter had done.
Hence, when Anglenna resealed her second spell, her mother was trapped in her own, defensive tomb of ice, and effectively incapacitated, unable to act or react!
Anglenna didn’t wait to see if her spell worked or not. Just like she had done when the princess had come at her during her moment of temporary madness, she twinned her spell..
..and Angrellen, her mother, all entombed in her own protective ice, vanished!
A black, sentient smoke slowly formed where the shattered pieces of the urn were scattered.
“Job done. Time to go.”, said Anglenna with grim satisfaction. “Nice chat, mother, but you really are a cliché villainess. Just need a witch’s hat on your head and a black cat sitting on your lap, and you’d be all set!”
With a spell she had taken from her sister-cousin’s own book, per se, she vanished herself and reappeared immediately on the other side of the black, seething smoke and in the corridor.
She didn’t wait to watch nor inspect the smoke.
As hard, as fast, and as far as she could, for what she had done to her mother was not a permanent banishment, but would last only a short minute or two.
“Thank you for learning me all your dirty trade secrets, mother..”, she gasped as she ran. “..to be professionally honest about it, I doubt I could have done it without you!”
Anglenna reached the first barricade without facing anything. Which made sense. She had cleared everything on her way in.
She did encounter a platoon of Orken by the time she reached the sewer juncture where they had faced the members of The Whispers, all the while trembling in exhaustion and something about her left arm was just wrong and kept stabbing her with excruciating pain. She dropped a furnacing ball of fire on them without so much as a ‘hello’, and kept on running.
She didn’t retract her steps back to the secret entrance where they had entered the sewers. That would be suicide now. She opted to take the tunnel where the members of The Whispers had come and dearly hoped it would lead to somewhere near High Spires, or the docks.. or at least to a secluded place where she could go into hiding for the duration of a few bites, check what was wrong with her arm, and a four-hour meditation. After that, she wouldn’t need the High Spires nor the docks.
Sunsear Brightleaf, the daughter of the former high lady of Bari Na-ammen, Angrellen the Betrayer, the Protector and the Guardian of the Heart of High Woods, Princess Alor’Nadien ne, her big, burly man, Sir Udoorin Shieldheart and their line to come, disappeared in the dark, stinking maze of sewers, under the burning ruins of the once glorious city of Arashkan..
..and from the shards of the small, ‘work-of-art’ urn, the pitch-black, sentient smoke spread. Slow at first, as if waking from unknown and forgotten cycles of slumber, then faster, yearning to own and consume everything and everyone in its path until nothing remaining..
The state of being temporarily
seriously mentally ill, a.k.a Temporal Madness,
possibly causing a loss in the ability to differentiate
absolute reality from the apparent..
The stink down in the Arashkan sewers has grown oppressive and barely breathable now and no longer carries the scent of feces, but that of something else. Something that reminds of moldering, stale sweat, and putrid meat..
..or perhaps half-cooked meat gone bad! Young Udoorin gags and coughs in discomfort as Princess Lorna sways at each step, her face sagging morosely while Lady Angrellen tries desperately to keep herself from topping over all the while keeping a steady hand on her cousin.
Death has been to this part of the city sewers and for quite some time. Long, long before the Orken and seems to spread on its own uncanny, sentient accord.
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 soon after
Careful..”, said the young, burly man gruffly. “And watch your step. We don’t want to fall into that.”, he added pointing at the black, oozing water sleazing down the tunnel.
“This place..”, gasped Anglenna. “..is evil!”
Princess Lorna refrained from saying anything. She just held her long, three-yard glaive in one hand and covered her nose and mouth with the other.
Young Udoorin looked back to check on her, grimaced, and held up his fist, signaling for a half.
“Alright. This isn’t working.”, he said, watching the love of his life wither under the awfully stink.
“Please. I will be.. fine..”, chocked the princess.
“My Life, I would hate to contradict you in public, but Lady Anglenna is family, so I suppose neither of you should mind that I do.. contradict you in public, I mean.”, he said. “You are not alright. I can barely stand up straight and apparently neither can either of you. I can see why Master Aager always wears that mask of his, now.”
“But we can’t stop here.”, Lorna chocked again.
“No, we can’t. And we won’t. Just.. gimme a second.”, he wheezed, then took off his very heavy backpack, put it on the ground, and started rummaging through it. Soon enough, he produced several thick rolls of white bandages and a tiny, elegant bottle with some rose-red liquid in it.
“Is that Rose Oil, young man?”, Anglenna asked with a muffled but amused voice.
“It is, and it is not!”, Udoorin replied with a red face.
“Ow?”, asked the tall high elf noblewoman.
“It has Rose Oil, yes. But also Lavender Oil, a very, very small amount of Clove Essence and triple amount of that in Cherry Blooms, a pinch of fresh earth gathered right after a November rain, a tiny sliver of new-mown grass, a needle from a Pine and a bit of bark chipped from an Oak —both powdered and..”, he said and stopped, blushing even more.
Anglenna arched her platinum brows.
“By all means, Master Udoorin. Let’s not stop now. Do give the rest of the recipe. We are dying in anticipation!”, she said, her lips pursed with mirth.
“And.. uhh.. a tear from a certain.. uhhmm.. Faerie!”
There was an astonishing moment of silence as both Lorna and Anglenna stared at the huge man.
“That is.. quite a potent potion you have there, young man.”, said the high lady, her brows arching even more. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say it’s a Love Potion! What is a man like you doing with a Love Potion?”
“It isn’t a Love Potion!”, Udoorin said hastily as he blushed furiously. “Well, it is.. I suppose.. when you think about it, but not for someone else. It’s for me!”
The two women stared at him again.
“Okay, that.. didn’t come out right.. It.. it’s the closest thing I found, well, ‘brewed’ actually, that comes anywhere near.. uhh.. umm..”, he said and faltered.
“Ow, let’s definitely not stop now, young man. Do go on..”, Anglenna said. “The suspense is killing us.”
“Lorna..”, finished the big, burly man, in a deflated voice.
“Me?”, asked the princess, totally confused.
“Lorna?”, asked the high lady in a similar tone.
“Look..”, said Udoorin in a voice that said he was about to die, and he knew it. “When I was going out during our stay here, in Arashkan, before the Orken attack, I mean, when we were still looking for that Gar Thalot, I had to visit many inns and taverns listening for various gossips and trying to overhear little bits and pieces of conversations, I needed something —sort of a pick-me-up because some of those places really stank. I made a remark about it once and apparently, our Merisoul overheard me. She asked me if I would want something that would help with ‘The stink of mortals’ —her exact words, and I said, yes, please. So she gave me a list of things I would need. I stared at the list and it made me think, ‘I am never going to be able to find these. I don’t even know what most of them are!’. Then I thought of Inshala. You know, her being a druid and all, she’d know, right? And I was right. She sent me to some apothecaries and herbalists to buy some of the items, which I must say, did cost me an arm and a leg, while she got me the others herself since they needed to be fresh. As for the.. uhh.. faerie tear, Merisoul got that. I asked from which faerie she got the tear because, well, we wouldn’t want to mess with the wrong faerie, now do we? Or end up owing to them, but she assured me said faerie was the best of her kind and that I should be more mindful of her and perhaps take her out for a dinner or two, or even a midnight stroll, every once in a while, if I didn’t want her to shed more tears! Then she went back up to her roof and brewed it all night and come morning, she gave me this little bottle and said, ‘This belongs to you, and only to you. Never let another man touch it. Open it in dire need and take one whiff and all your troubles will ease.’ Turns out, she was right. Though I have never needed it since we engaged because I get to smell the real faerie!”
Lady Anglenna stared at the young, burly man, and his earnest face.
Princess Alor’Nadien ne just.. burned!
“Is.. is that me? In a bottle?”, she stammered.
“Of course not.”, Udoorin said with a grin. “Only the closest thing to your scent!”
“This.. ‘smell thing’ the two of you got going..”, said Anglenna in despair, looking at the two. “..needs some serious addressing!”
“It’s already been addressed and, thanks to Lady Lorna, chalked off as a misunderstanding.”, Udoorin said happily.
“Dorin..”, said the princess in a small, waning voice. “Stop. Please. I don’t remember the last time I have been this.. embarrassed..”
“I am sorry, Lorna. It wasn’t intended to embarrass you. But she asked and put me under.. I don’t know, scrutiny? I never want you to have any doubts about me where you are concerned.. in any form..”, Udoorin said honestly.
“Don’t fret, cousin. Your man.. as brawny as he is, which I suppose, is a polite way to phrase it, is honest and sincere.”
“I never questioned your honesty, nor your sincerity, Dorin. It still is embarrassing though, don’t you think? Carrying a bottle of my scent around with you all the time.”, Lorna mumbled.
“Never felt happier, and never felt any embarrassment about it. You have no idea, the kind of power your presence gives me, my Lorna. It’s the only thing that’s kept me going ever since we met. I mean, people look at me and only see ‘brawny’ and possibly a dumb country oaf. It’s like I have no feelings or emotions. I do, you know. I just don’t have the face to project it, I think.”, he replied as he walked over to his princess, unrolled one of the thick bandages, uncorked the tiny bottle, carefully dripped a single drop of the rose-red liquid, corked it again, then said, “If you will, my Life?”
Lorna blushed even more as she turned around and the big, burly man tenderly wrapped the bandage around her cute, perky nose, her small, cherry-red mouth, her long, slender neck, and back again, several times over, then carefully knotted it off.
“Now, if you will too, Lady Anglenna? Or would you rather do it yourself?”, he asked.
“By all means, do, young man.”, smiled the high elf girl.
“Uhhmm.. Okay..”, said Udoorin a bit gruffly and repeated the process for the high lady, though with a certain sense of trepidation.
“You really should relax around women, you know. Considering what we have lived and suffered through, we aren’t as tender and fragile as you think we are.”, Anglenna said after her ‘bandages’ were done, and with a muffled voice.
“I am careful with the women around me, precisely because of what you have lived and suffered through, Lady Anglenna. And.. we all are tender and fragile, really.. I suspect life is..”, he mumbled as he wrapped his own face with the third roll of bandages.
“My..”, muffled the high lady. “That was quite poetic, young man. And I feel I must apologize for defining you as ‘brawny’. The careful indoctrination of my dear mother will take time to wash off. On this matter, I only ask for your patience, if not understanding.”
“Tis alright, really. I mean, how else are you going to define me? Udoorin the Delicate?”
A snort escaped from the ladies, though muffled.
“This.. scent.. truly smells like my cousin.”, Anglenna said while Udoorin carefully put the tiny bottle back it to his heavy backpack and did its buckles. “We should name it!”
“It already has a name.”, Udoorin’s muffled voice came as he picked up his pack and threw it over his shoulder.
✱ ✱ ✱
Alor’Na’s Bequest?”, Lorna asked, her deep green eyes elated, and what was visible of her face, bright red and muffled under her bandage mask!
Anglenna did not comment.
Her sharp, elven eyes did wrinkle at the corners too, though.
“What?”, asked Udoorin, a bit taken aback, and with some indignity and child-like stubbornness. “I liked it. Sounded perfectly fitting then, when I told Merisoul what I would call it. Sounds perfect and fitting now! Though she laughed at it too. Might have been laughing at me, I am not sure which. Asked her why she was laughing and whether it was overkill or something. Said it was fine, and that I overkilled everything anyway.. Then she laughed some more.. I didn’t say anything after that. She never laughs so I thought laughing was good for her. Makes her more like us ‘mortals’, as she likes to call us.”
“It is overdone, Dorin.. just a bit, mind you. And I am glad you made Merisoul laugh. She very much needs it.”, Lorna said, still smiling exuberantly with her eyes. “Take away the princess.. and the Heart of High Woods, though, I am just another girl; stubborn, impulsive, temperamentally impatient, and, at times, display frivolous behaviors and desires. You really shouldn’t see me more than what I am.”
“Take away the axes, the abs, the big burly chest, and the broad shoulders, but leave the scruffy beard, and I am just another midget!”
Anglenna hurt herself.
And so did Lorna.
“Well. How about that? I have managed to make both the ladies laugh at me. Am I good or what?”, Udoorin grinned.
Then he turned serious.
“As a side note, though, I would very much appreciate leaving how I see you, to me, Lorna. Please? It surprises me every morning since we.. opened up to one another.. that you find something you like.. in me.. But I do not question it, nor deny you your ‘likes’. I do this, not because I think I have anything lovable, but because you see something lovable. And, please let’s not take away your temperaments, nor your frivolous behaviors and desires. They are part of what makes you. Agreed?”
Lorna smiled again, at the big, burly man, but it was a different smile this time.
“Agreed.”, she said amiably.
“Alright.”, Udoorin said all business. “Shall we move on, then? If that fancy Darly-Kid was accurate in his description of the location of where they barricaded the curse, I believe we are close. Considering the change in the water, if we could call it that, and the smell, we must be very close.”
“I believe we are.”, she agreed again. “And thank you for the.. bandages.. They helped a lot. I can actually breathe fresh pine and oak.. among other things..”
Udoorin decided not to comment on that.
One day, perhaps he would.
When they were alone.
✱ ✱ ✱
Are you sure?”, Udoorin asked.
“No, not really. But we must get through these heaped sandbags and that barricaded door. Only then can I do something about the wards. I am not even sure how many of them there are —if any. To be professionally honest about it, wards are not my forte. Rise Nadina Graciousward would know, obviously. She is, after all, famed for them.” Anglenna whispered as she looked around cautiously. “And.. possibly that unwholesome little weasel!”, she added grudgingly.
“You mean Gnine?”, Udoorin said as he cracked a grin.
“And I didn’t even have to name him.”, Anglenna said in an amused tone.
“I can’t imagine he would know something that you wouldn’t.”, he said a bit surprised. “I mean, it’s Gnine we are talking about!”
“As irritating, annoying, irresponsible, and disrespectful as I find him, he is a study wizard. I am not. I am a sorceress. My magic is innate. It comes from within me. I was born with it. My studies were to learn more about how to better harness it and how versatile I could use it because our repertoire of spells is rather limited. Wizards are not born with magic. They are a bunch of delinquents with high IQs. They could be warriors, they could be temple guardians, they could be bards, or they could just be regular, honest, hard-working citizens, but no. They prefer to read books and formulate ways to work as little as possible. And basically cause problems, and eventually, become a problem for everyone else.”, she said with extreme distaste.. and disdain.
“You really must dislike the gnome.”, he said trying not to laugh.
“I think he is rather cute. And he has always been polite to me.”, smiled Lorna.
“Everyone is polite to you, love. You are just that nice.”, the young man said honestly. Then he grinned again and rumbled happily. “This is incredible! I actually have something genuinely in common with Lady Anglenna!”
“He is irritating, annoying, irresponsible, and disrespectful. What is there to not like! Do keep your voice down, by the way, would you, dear? I would rather we didn’t wake up anything that’s been dead in there since this place was cordoned off.”
“Uhhmm.. You are aware that I am going to have to heave all these petrified sandbags, then hack that door down, right? With my axes..”, he said carefully.
Anglenna gave the young burly man a long, thousand-yard glare and fumed.
“It isn’t nice when you become smart with me, and have something in common with the annoying gnome, Sir Udoorin.”, she said.
“I am sorry.”, Udoorin grinned. “I wasn’t trying to be smart. Merely stating a fact.”
It wasn’t clear what the princess was doing with her own face, but the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes did give the impression that she, too, was grinning.
“Ganging up against me, are you?”, Anglenna glared at her as well.
“No, no, dear Lenna. We would never!”, she replied hastily, with a bubbling, muffled voice.
“The sandbags, Sir Udoorin. And the door..”, Anglenna said, almost growling.
Udoorin coughed, then started heaving the heavy, nearly-forty-pound-each bags, carefully building a new wall two feet or so in front of the door.
“Why are you heaping them in front of the door?”, Anglenna asked a bit baffled when she noticed the sandbags were actually forming a real, structural wall, barely two feet away from the door.
“In case we have to make a hurried getaway.”, he replied in a muffled, heavily breathing voice.
“That doesn’t tell me much.”, she said with a slight frown.
Udoorin stopped what he was doing and whipped his sweat off his forehead.
“In case we face more than we can handle, I want a place we can fall back.. Something like a barricade that works in our favor. This way, Lady Lorna and I can stand between the door and the sandbags, each holding one side. Won’t be much for wider swings, what with the two feet and all, but plenty enough room for vertical strikes, hacks, and jabs, particularly when each of us is standing on either side of the door. Also, you can stand behind the barricade and nuke them head-on while informing us of whatever it is that’s coming.. If we are still overwhelmed, I can always run around the barricade and push the whole thing down and block the door altogether.”
Anglenna stared at the big, burly man for a moment.
“That.. is actually a sound plan!”, she admitted finally.
“Thought so, myself.”, grinned Udoorin and continued to work until all the sandbags were stacked two feet from the door and in a wall-like barricade. Then he took one of his great battle-axes and started on the door. Soon enough, large chunks of wood and splinter started flying every which way and the door was hacked down into rubble.
Then he took a step back, drew his other axe as well, and stared at the darkness beyond the door as Lorna took her place to his left and Anglenna stood behind the barricade drawing upon her sorcerous power.
It didn’t take too long for things to come pouring out!
The young man slammed the skeletal, ghoulish thing right back into the darkness, took a step to his right, and with methodical workmanship, both he and the princess started hacking and jabbing and basically dismantling anything that came through the door.
They were not all skeletal, however. Some were just gaunt and seemed like they had been slow-cooked in tar, while others had stringy, green-brown or petrified gray or sickly yellowish skins. The bloated ones were the worst, though, for they spewed forth horrible, retch-like, putrid whenever they were struck and spilled black, oozing blood. Udoorin had a strong stomach, but the smell of the vomit-blood nearly brought him down to his knees, penetrating right through their bandage masks.
“More are coming..”, said Anglenna, focused for a moment and sent fist-sized bolts of fire into the darkness, not so much as to do great damage, but to light up the hall behind the door and to buy the time her cousin and Udoorin would need to prepare for the undead that was about to come through.
“What are they?”, growled Udoorin as he rammed the full length of one axe right into the face of the thing that came out of the door. “They are persistent, resilient and some of them refuse to die!”
“Ghouls. Many of them. We downed a few Wraiths as well. The ones that shrieked like nails scratching porcelain plates.”, gasped Lorna as she stabbed her three-yard glaive into the side of the one Udoorin had struck, and together they pushed the undead back into the hall. “And Draugrs, I think.”
“If there are Draugrs, we might have a problem.”, Anglenna hissed. “Don’t let them catch a clear glimpse of you and don’t stare them in the eye.. They might.. do things to your mind.. Also, they will enrage and grow larger and become much, much stronger. Kill them as fast as you can!”
“Was doing that anyway. I don’t play with my food..”, rumbled Udoorin. Then added, “..in a manner of speaking!”, as he lopped the head of another that tried to enter the room.
“This is taking too long. And there is no end to them.”, Lorna said with the slightest worry tinting her otherwise cool voice. “I am going to blast them. Cover me please, Dorin.”
“Of course.”, said Udoorin and tackled a particularly large undead, blocking the door, and giving enough room for the princess.
“Lorna, no!”, shouted Anglenn from behind the barricade.
Things didn’t go quite as planned.
The large Draugr, Udoorin had tried to tackle, grabbed hold of his upper arm, swung him around, and with an incredible force, slammed him to the wall.
The young, burly man saw stars, then his vision started to darken as the Draugr roared with a mad, hallow, and brassy voice and..
..started to grow!
“NO!”, cried Lorna and stabbed at the, now huge creature drawing black, stinking blood from a long, deep gash.
The creatures roared again and turned towards the princes, and tiny, manic, greenish lights appeared in the hallows of its eye sockets.
The princess froze in her place, staring into the depths of those eyes as waves of malevolent madness washed over her.
“Nooo..”, groaned Udoorin as he picked himself and his axes and dove, straight at the Draugr, which had become nearly twice its former size, its bloated head scraping the ceiling of the hall. The burly man swung once and struck the undead on the hip, heard a satisfying crack, swung again, and the creature’s blobby chest caved in and more oozing black blood gushed out.
Then Lorna stabbed the point glaive, pushing half of the thirty-inch blade into the undead’s guts, and she..
“Lorna!”, shouted Udoorin and hacked at the nearly fifteen-foot creature. “Fall back! FALL BACK! I’LL COVER YOU!“
The creature dropped on one knee, its shattered hip unable to support it any longer giving the burly man the opportunity he’d been looking for. He spun around, taking full advantage of the length of his axes and used them as leverage, and slammed them both into the kneeling creature; one hitting right between its shoulder blades, the other chopping right into the base of its skull. The hall echoed with a sharp crack, and the top half of the creature’s head broke off, and landed six feet away, spraying everywhere with black, stinking blood.
Udoorin didn’t waste time.
He turned to the other undead, to buy time for his princess.
And felt pain.
A sharp, savage pain.
And suddenly, he felt his legs give away.
The big, burly man looked down and saw a bit of bloody steel sticking right out of his chest.
“Huh!”, he grunted. “I know this blade.”
Blood hushed out of his mouth and choked his words.
There were no stars this time.
Just the darkness.
Udoorin Shieldheart crashed, face down..
✱ ✱ ✱
Cousin. What did you do?”, whispered Anglenna in horror as she watched the young man stumble and fall, face down, onto the ground. Lorna drew her glaive out of the young man’s back and charged right into the oncoming undead, savagely swinging the deadly weapon and mowing them down.
Anglenna abandoned the barricade.
She ran around the wall of stacked sandbags and into the hall. The stench of death and rot here was overwhelming, but the former high lady snarled in defiance, pushed herself forward, and very nearly threw herself on young Udoorin.
“Good Heavens!”, she exclaimed, looking down at the still form of the young, burly man. “So much blood!”
“Get up, young man.”, she hissed at him, but Udoorin did not move. She looked up at where her cousin was and saw her, quite mindlessly hacking at the undead.
“I told them not to let the Draugrs get to them.”, she moaned then tried to pick the young man up, in hopes of moving him behind the barricade, at least. The man didn’t even nudge. “Why are you so heavy, boy? I can’t even move you an inch.”
Tendrils of panic started at her.
She had been at dire moments before, in her life. But she’d always planned for an escape. It was something her mother had taught her at a very early age.
“If things are overwhelming, leave. Sunsears do not die for fools!”
That’s what she had told her, over and over, until it had stuck.
She had abandoned others —many fools, before. A Sunsear didn’t do heroics, either. Heroes were dead people who just didn’t know it yet. But this..
This, she just couldn’t abandon.
And with a badly timed awakening, it dawned on her;
This was her first test.
It was she, who had given her oath to protect and to guard her cousin, this young man, and their line to come, hadn’t she?
With a sardonic smile, she murmured to herself.
“How did the humans say it? Ah, yes; Time to cough up!“
And with that, she calmed down and the tendrils of panic withdrew.
She focused for a moment, then touched the big, burly man..
..and picked him up!
Now, light as a feather, he carried the young man back into the room, behind the barricade, and lay him there. Hastily, she opened her own small pack, and pulled out her rolls of bandages, and pressured them into the young man’s gaping wounds. She knew it wouldn’t help much, for she wasn’t a healer and had no skills in that area. Her mother had never cared for the sufferings of others, and hence, had never bothered to teach her any healing beyond basic first aid.
“This is all I can do now. I’m sorry, young man, but I must go and get Lorna out of there.”, she said softly and got up.
Perhaps it was good timing, chance, or destiny, Anglenna never knew. Whatever it had been, one of them had worked in her favor, because the moment she got up, Lorna was there.
With black, oozing blood splattered all over her, and staring at her with mad, unrecognizing eyes, she brought down her three-yard-long glaive down..
Anglenna acted out of reflex.
Had she but a moment of contemplation, in all likeliness, she would have been dead.
She cast out her one hand, her fingers apart, and released a spell, didn’t wait to see the results, using skills unique to sorcerers, she twinned the same spell, and just like that..
✱ ✱ ✱
Where.. is.. the.. princess..”, gasped Udoorin as bright red blood trickled from his mouth.
“Not here, young man.”, replied Anglenna as she looked at the pale face of the man, then at the blood-soaked bandages she had pressed on his chest. “She’ll come around, soon enough. We have to change these and we don’t have much time. The undead will start pouring this way again and soon.”
“Is.. she.. safe?”, he whispered with a wet, gurgling voice.
“Boy, you are badly wounded and bleeding out as we speak, and you are worried about..”, fumed the high lady.
“..There is.. nothing.. else.. to worry, Lady.. Lenna.. I am.. fine.. Is she.. safe?”, wheezed Udoorin again.
“Lady Lenna? That’s a first. I like it.. And yes. Your princess is safe —as can be. Sir Udoorin, you must help me. We must get you out of this armor. As long as you are this contraption, I can’t properly apply any bandages on you. We must stop your bleeding or Lorna will only mourn your death when she returns.”
The big, burly man tried to move his arms, but they stayed, listlessly, at his sides. He coughed and more blood splattered out of his mouth and seeped from his wounds and then his eyes rolled back and he lay still.
Anglenna felt panic coming her way again.
She pressed her lips together and started unbuckling the tightly strapped armor, breaking her fingernails. She was halfway through when Lorna suddenly reappeared exactly where she’d vanished, stumbled, and collapsed on the ground, crying hysterically.
“It’s alright, dear. You’ll be fine. The Draugr carry the sins of their past lives and tend to project them upon those around them. You were struck by it, causing some kind of temporary madness. It will fade, given a bit of time.”, Anglenna said, as she continued to unbuckle to heavy plate armor.
“What.. what happened to him? What happened to Dorin?”, came Lorna’s shivering voice.
“Ahh, good. Your mind is back. As for him; he got too brave!”, replied Anglenna evasively. “Come help me. We must get him out of his armor and stop his bleeding.”
Lorna scurried near her cousin and started at the big, burly man’s armor, her hands still shaking and jabbing this way or that with uncontrolled spasms.
Finally, the armor was off.
And the two women saw the extent of the young man’s wounds.
A four-inch-long, razor gash spat blood from both his back and his chest, with a wet, disturbing spurt.
“This.. this is not a claw wound. The undead did not do this, cousin! This.. this is a direct, blade jab.. From behind!”, Lorna said with a horrified expression on her face. “WHAT DID I DO, COUSIN? WHAT DID I DO?“
“Not now, Lorna. You can do hysteria later. Give me all your bandages, along with what he has in his backpack.”, said Anglenna as she pressed down the bloodied bandage.
“I KILLED MY DORIN! I KILLED HIM! MY GREAT HEAVENS AND WOODS, COUSIN! WHAT DID I DO?“, shrieked Lorna and there was nothing but horror and loss in her voice. “WHAT DID I DO? WHAT DID I DO? WHAT DID I DO? I HAVE STRUCK HIM IN THE HEART! I KILLED HIS BEAUTIFUL HEART!“
“ALOR’NADIEN NE!“, barked Anglenna. “STOP IT! NOW! YOU HIT HIM IN THE HEART LONG BEFORE THIS!“
Lorna lost it!
With child-like despair, she howled the young man’s name and threw herself at him, beating her slender fists on his massive, unmoving chest, snaking him by the broad of his shoulders, or pulling and shredding at her own hair.
Anglenna screamed her name again and again but got no sentient reaction.
“Right.”, she said, both in panic and anger.
Never in all her life had she seen her solemn, calm, serious, and vigilant cousin in such a state of total breakdown. The Alor’Nadien ne Feymist she knew just didn’t do breakdowns. During the past several months they had been together, she had seen her go into a kind of silent rage, but those had merely been an extension of her iron will —or very stubborn temperament.
When someone or something went out of its way to anger the princess, she didn’t go into an emotional rampage but did this, barely discernable frown-thing as she pressed her small, cherry-red lips together. Then her bright, grass-green eyes would turn a few shades darker and seem like they were emanating their own light, as her slender shoulders would rise and draw back just a fraction while she would stand up straight and draw herself to her full height. If observed with care, one would also notice her slender figure tighten, much like that of a lynx and her elegant hands would make these little fists, though she would hide them behind her narrow hips out of base courtesy and so as not to display any provoking animosity, and then she would become silent and still.. all dictating any mildly observant person that they had not just made her angry, they had all but made her more, much more, determined.
On this, she and her cousin were quite alike, really.
But where she, Anglenna, became cold, or should she want to be honest with herself, frosty, even, as she was known back in Bari Na-ammen; The Frost Lady, before its destruction and she would also become distinctly distant if that was even possible..
Alor’Nadien ne, however, became cool and determined.
Apparently, though, her beloved princess did have a breaking point, after all, and after a long line of successive losses starting, or perhaps, staring, with the abandoning of the palace and her home to avoid friction and open conflict with her father, then witnessing the destruction of Arashkan, the burning of High Woods, followed by the total annihilation of Bari Na-ammen, the death of her father, Ri Grandaleren, without having made peace or at the very least, come to some form of resolution, and at the hands of no other than High Lady Angrellen, the murder of her people, and now, her love, young Udoorin, she’d just reached it!
Anglenna looked down at the bloody bandages discarded everywhere, and the ones she had pressed against the young man’s chest. She looks at the still form of the big, burly, young man, his face pale and listless, who had somehow given, not only love but a whole new ‘life’ to her cousin. Then she looked at Alor’Nadien ne, all in gore and covered with black, oozing blood, and who was now broken and sobbing in manic loss. It dawned on the young high lady that this one final blow to her cousin had been one blow too many and if there was going to be a new Bari Na-ammen ever again, at that very moment, it depended, not upon Princess Alor’Nadien ne, her future Rise and Queen, but whether the young, burly man lived or not because Anglenna knew, the broken could not rule. Alor’Nadiene’s father, Ri Grandaleren had been an excellent example for that. There had never been definitive proofs to it, but rumors had it that the much younger Grandaleren had never returned from the first Themalsar War as a whole. Something, or likely, many somethings had happened there, during the four-year, bloody battle, and the culmination of those events had permanently ‘broken’ the young elf.
It was then Anglenna heard the trampling of unsteady, undead feet coming their way, down the hall, just beyond the broken door.
“Right..”, she repeated. “..time to cough up, indeed. First things first!”
High Lady Anglenna rose to her very tall height, with a mere glance at the darkness beyond the broken and splintered door, she hurled her wrath. The one her mother had claimed was her doing!
The whole length of the long, putrid-stinking hall exploded!
A streak of charring wall of fire burst, as high as the ceiling, and stretched from the door, on and down the hall, as far as the eye could see..
Anglenna spared no expense!
The mindless shrieks of ‘things’ were all drowned in the roaring fire, along with the cracking of wood and stone!
The high lady did not let go of the fire.
With the clawing of her long, slender fingers, she gave it more fuel!
Then she looked down at her cousin and the young, unmoving man.
“Time’s up.”, she whispered to herself.
To her cousin, she said, “It is time, dear. Time for you to take your man and go. Find him one of three things; a surgeon, a temple guardian.. or a funeral conductor. Do try and remember some good things about me, dear, even though I can’t think any.. But the things I did, the ones that truly were my choices, I did them for you and in good faith, for I love you, my sister-cousin, my princess, my Rise, and my Queen, and have loved you from the day you were born.. You deserve more than what the fools of Bari Na-ammen offered you..”
Then, in the smoldering, angry, furnace-like, orange-red light of her burning fire, she looked up at the ceiling of the room they were in, and as if talking to someone up there, she snarled bitterly.
“I DID ALL I COULD FOR HER.. SHE IS YOUR HEART AND HE IS HERS! YOU PROMISED A LINE FOR HER! TIME FOR YOUR TO COUGH UP AS WELL; PROTECT HER! PROTECT YOUR HEART, AND PROTECT HER HEART!”
She didn’t wait for a reply but cast a spell on herself.
This would be tricky.
The ability to teleport herself and a limited number of people around her was something she had recently attained but never had had the opportunity to use. The spell itself was not a fault-proof spell, to begin with, but as long as the caster knew and had a good familiarity of the destination point of their intended location, the changes of.. mishaps were minimal..
The real problem was, the caster had to go with those he or she was teleporting!
The caster, Anglenna in this case, just couldn’t go.. Yet!
The job wasn’t done!
Arashkan was still under Orken occupation..
“Well, mother, you always did tell me to never leave a job unfinished. I couldn’t agree more. And I truly hope this one bites you in your tenders!”
And she cast her second spell.
Anglenna felt her body stretch as she started ‘fading’..
..just as her first spell kicked in.
And it kicked HARD!
With a wrenching pull, she was ripped away from her own teleportation spell and sent to a totally gray, filmy, semi-transparent place that stretched in every direction, as far as she could see.
To the Ethereal Plane!
Brief though it may be, Anglenna Sunsear gazed upon the unfathomable and the endless landscape of Ethereal Plane..
It was beautifully lonely, heart-breakingly silent, and obsessively desolate. So much so that she almost felt at home, here.
However the young high elf woman looked at it, the Ethereal Plane was much like her inner soul and seemed to reflect it quite perfectly..
“If that tiny little bottle is Alor’Na’s Bequest, this would be mine..”, she murmured..
And with another neck-wrenching pull, she reappeared back where she was..
Anglenna collapsed on her hands and knees.. and retched.
“Note.. to self..”, she said as she retched again.. then again.. Once she was sure there was nothing left to hurl, she wiped her mouth and croaked. “..never do that again.”
“And this is why we don’t intermix spells, dear.”
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 ‘properly’ 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, too, 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..”, the gravelly voice said shortly 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 Head Quarters of no other than the Orken Mother, herself, which makes her the very top dog, or bitch, among the Orken. It is she, who rules the Orken with her bloody fists and tells them which city to raze and which forest to burn! She also has her head Orken Blood-Shaman with her in there. And the infamous rebellion, the seeker of justice, and the backer of the poor, Gar Thalot, 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 such a ‘prestigious’ tent would be left unwarded.”
“You are a perceptive lady.”, the muffled, gravelly voice said, returning the smile. “The Blood-Shaman knows his trade, I’ll give him that. Slaughtered scores of men, women, and children to put up said wards..”
“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.. once.. 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, Alor’Na..”, she replied.
“But I didn’t see it from your mother, and neither did she show hers to me —if she had one.”, 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, Lenna. 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.
“My dear sister-cousin.. I understand that the events of this past year, particularly those that led to your leaving the palace and your home, the horrible things you have seen thus far, and the destruction of Arashkan, then your own home and your people at such a young age, and with your.. delicate 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 schemes 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, she did the same for 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, Alor’Na.. There is nothing I can possibly say to encapsulate just how truly sorry I 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 be Arael Tel’Lóna to your line and shall advise them, guide them, and protect them for centuries to come, thus shall I atone my sins to you and my only consolidation shall be that one day, you will truly understand my transgressions against you and still forgive me for them. Because, at the end of the day, it wasn’t my mother who destroyed you, Alor’Nadien ne, it was I.”
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 own 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 I want. I am now in a position to do 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 intentions 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 weakened 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 the sake of 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 you, mother, is that you live a thousand abandoned and desolate years, marred only by your mad and silent screams 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, Sir 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 now
and thus are you
the guardian of her line also
Thus I accept your Oath,
You are The Protector of mine Heart, now.
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. She saw her bearish husband, older now, grinning foolishly. And she witnessed their son and three daughters —her nieces, as they stared at her, all happy, and all safe, as beautiful autumn leaves; green, orange, and yellow swept freely around them..
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.
Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.
Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” V ‘in
11.11.7589 B.Y.S (-18 Yıl)
Ritual Ormanlarının güneyi..
Teşekkür ederim.”, der genç hobbit kayıp bir sesle, kocaman gagasını ona doğru eğmiş dev martıya ve elindeki küçük keseciği yeleğindeki pek az kullandığı iç cebe güvenli bir şekilde yerleştirir.
Martı sırtından inen küçük yaratığa yeni doğmakta olan güneşin silik ışığında kara gözlerle bakar, sonra başını göğe kaldırıp uzun, acıklı bir bando borazanını andıran sesle gaklar ve tekrar eğilip hobbit’e bakar.
Brom, her nasılsa martının o gaklamasında ve kocaman, kapkara gözlerinde esef ve hüzün görür ve ister istemez tekrar gözleri dolar ve omuzları hıçkırıklarla hoplamaya başlar.
Martı, önünde acınası bir kahırla duran küçük şeyi sessizce süzer, sonra gagasıyla onu nazikçe dürter.
“Hayır. İyi değilim ve iyi olmak gibi bir niyetim de yok. Ama bu da senin sorunun değil zaten..”, diye, göz yaşlarına karışmış hıçkırıkları arasında söylenir küçük hobbit. “Anneye, beni buraya getirmene izin verdiği için teşekkür ettiğimi söyle lütfen. Bir daha görüşür müyüz bilemiyorum. Belki bir gün.. Kızlara da kendi aralarında didişmeyi bırakmalarını tembih et. Hayat böyle çocukça şeyler için fazla kısa.. Ve.. .. o kadar, işte..”
Gulls Perch’e adını veren dev martı tekrar hüzünle gaklar, gagasının ucuyla ve nazikçe küçük hobbit’in başına iki kere ‘pıt pıt’lar, sonra döner, biraz uzaklaşır, neredeyse onar yardalık kanatlarını açar, bir kaç defa çırpar ve havalanır..
..ve güneye, evine, Gulls Perch’e doğru gözden kaybolur.
. . .
“Kes şunu!”, diye hırlar Brom ve kalçasının, tam da göremediği yerini sıvazlamaya başlar. “Benden ne istiyorsun bilmiyorum ve açıkçası artık umurumda da değil. Hayatımda bana verilmiş en güzel, en muhteşem şeyle tanıştırdın, sonra da aldın onu elimden.. Senden ne kadar nefret ettiğimi bilemezsin. Git ve bir başka salak bul kendini eğlendirecek. Senin yüzünden evimin mutluluğunu kaybettim.. Senin yüzünden hayatımda görmek istemediğim şeyler gördüm.. Senin yüzünden aklıma bile gelmeyecek korkular yaşadım.. Senin yüzünden en çok sevdiğim bir şeyimden oldum.. Senin yüzünden bu dünya hakkında ne kadar saf ve temiz düşüncem varsa hepsini kaybettim.. Ne bok istedin benden ki beni böyle sınayıp süründürdün? Kime ne yaptım? Kime ne zararım dokundu da beni seninle lanetlediler.. Defol git.. Ve beni bir daha da rahatsız etme..”
Brom Bumblebrim, Gulls Perch’den onu sırtında taşıyarak getiren dev martının gitmesinden sonra Ritual Ormanlarının güneyinde, Arashkan ırmağı kıyısında kamp kurmuş ve iki haftadır da burada öylece, amaçsız bir şekilde yatıp kalkmıştı. Gündüzleri ırmaktan balık avlamış, geceleri de küçük ateşinin başında oturmuş, elinde annesinin yadigar Lir’inden sabit iki nota dışında hiçbir şey çalmadan durmuş ve uykusuzluktan sızıncaya kadar öylece, kıpırdamadan, sessizce ağlamıştı..
..taki kalçasından, tam da göremediği yerden, tanıdığı sızıyı hissedinceye kadar.
Genç hobbit’in bu ani ve beklenmedik harlaması karşısında, beklenmedik yerlerde ve istenmeyen zamanlarda onu ısırıp duran ne idüğü belirsiz şeyden herhangi bir tepki gelmez.
Tepki gök yüzünden gelir!
Büyük, yer sarsıcı bir patlamayla homurdanır Ekim bulutları ve bir anda yağmur yağmaya başlar..
Yağmur, bardaktan boşalır gibi değil, dev bir fıçıdan boşalır gibi yağmaya başalar!
“Yağ lan!”, diye avazı çıktığı kadar çığlar Brom. “İstediğin kadar yağ, lanet olasıca şey! İstersen al ve götür beni sularında.. Ama sana bir daha boyun eğmeyeceğim..!”
“Canın bir şeye sıkılmışa benziyor, evlat.”, der tiz, paslı bir ses sırılsıklam gecenin karanlığından.
“Evet!.. Ne?.. Kim var orda?!”, diye bir elinde babasının eski kılıcı, diğerinde de amcasının küçük, antika gürzü olduğu hande fırlar ayağa genç Brom.
“Ahaa.. Haşin bir genç! Ama o silahlara gerek olacağını da pek sanmıyorum, delikanlı.. Benim kadar bükük ve yaşlı bir adamı korkutarak kendini utandırmak istemiyorsan, tabii..”, der adam ve Brom’un ateşi yağmurdan sönmüş kampına adamın ağır, topallayan ayak sesleri eşliğinde paslı kıkırtısını da duyar..
..ama yine de silahlarını indirmez.
“Yazık.”, der adam. “Birileri senin insanlığa olan inancını fena halde köreltmiş..”
Gece, yumuşak bir ışıkla aydınlanır ve Brom beş – altı yarda ilerisinde sesi kadar yaşlı bir adam bulur.
Adam ağır, temkinli hareketlerle kendi etrafında döner ve Brom’a gülümseyerek konuşur.
“Gördüğün gibi bu yamuk asa ve daha da yamuk beden dışında bir şeyim yok. Şimdi.. Senin gibi iyi giyimli bir hobbit’in buralarda ne işi var ve neden bu kadar kızgınsın?”, diye merakla sorar yaşlı adam.
Brom, uzun bir süre yağmur altında sessizce yaşlı adamı, bir elinde tuttuğu asasını ve diğer elinde duran puslu ışığı süzer.
Adamın kafası neredeyse keldir. Olan saçları, sakalları gibi aklaşmış, birbirine karışmış ve beline kadar da uzanmaktadır. Adamın üzerinde ise tiril, pejmürde bir cübbe ve bir kaç küçük kesenin tutuşturulduğu, kemer niyetine bağladığı sicim dışında herhangi bir mal varlığı yok gibidir.
Gök tekrar gürler.
Yağmur daha bir hışımla yağmaya başlar.
Yaşlı adam ise genç hobbit’in bir karar vermesini bekler..
“Kimsin sen?”, diye sorar Brom tekrar.
“Yaşlı ve mazbut bir adamım, o kadar. Ormanın bu taraflarında biraz işim vardı ve senin bağırtılarını duyunca belki bir yardımım dokunur diye geldim.”, der yaşlı adam.
“Bir fey gibi konuşuyorsun.”, der Brom kaşlarını çatarak. “Adını vermediğin gibi, muallak cevaplarla geçiştiriyorsun..”
“Aaaa.. Feylerden haberdar olacak kadar gezmiş ve görmüş bir delikanlı.. Yada ağzı yanacak kadar..”, der adam ve tekrar kıkırdar.
Brom sessizce ve ırkına hiç de yakışmayan bir huysuzlukla olduğu yerde durur.. ellerinde silahlarıyla..
“Öyle olsun bakalım, delikanlı.”, der yaşlı adam ve omuzlarını silker. “Sakıncası yoksa ben kendi işime bakacağım o zaman. Bu fırtınayı güvenli bir şekilde buraya çağırmam biraz zamanımı aldı ve boşa gitmesini istemem. Sen de istersen seyredebilirsin..”
Adam topallaya zıplaya garip bir yürüyüşle Brom’un ilerisinden geçer ve yaklaşık elli yarda sonra durur. Elindeki yamuk asayı aldığı gibi yere saplar..
..ama asa yerinde durmaz ve devrilir.
Adam zorlukla eğilir ve asayı yerden alır. Ikınarak tekrar yere saplamaya çalışır ama asa yine yerinde durmaz ve düşer.
Adam esefle asaya bakar.
“Evlat. Orada durup yaşlı bir adamın kendisini rezil etmesini daha ne kadar seyredeceksin?”, diye sorar, paslı sesiyle.
Brom adama bakar, sonrada uyuz bir ifadeyle ona doğru yürümeye başlar.
“Yaşlı bir adama gözlerini yuvarlamamalısın, delikanlı. Bu neredeyse bütün ırklarda ayıptır.”, der adam genç hobbit’e.
Brom ise burnundan soluyarak yerdeki asayı kapar, kılıcıyla yeri eşeler, asayı içine saplar, sonra asanın dibine yakında bulduğu taşlardan dizerek olduğu yerde durmasını sağlar ve “Hangi ırkta ayıp değil?”, diye sorar somurtarak.
“Bilmek istemezsin, delikanlı..”, diye cevap verir yaşlı adam.
“Gece karanlık. Gözlerimi yuvarladığımı bile görme ihtimalin yok!”, diye asabice söylenir Brom.
Yaşlı adam kıkırdar.
“Neredeyse bütün ırklardaki bütün gençler kendilerinden bir iş yapmaları istendiğinde gözlerini yuvarlarlar!”
Brom kaşlarını çatar.
“Ee.. naapıyoruz burada?”, diye sorar.
“Biz mi? Biz bi şey yapmıyoruz, delikanlı. Ama geri çekilsek iyi olur.. Biraz daha.. Evet.. Biraz daha.. Aslında çok daha gerilesek sanki daha iyi olur.. Kulaklarını da kapatırsan iyi olur.. Kulaklarını kapatıp ağzını açarsan pek daha iyi olur!”
Brom, yaşlı adamla yere saplanmış asanın neredeyse yüz yarda gerisinde, ağızları açık, kulakları tıkalı bir şekilde öylece yağmurun altında dururlar.
“Naapıyoz böyle yaa?!”, diye geçirir genç hobbit, içinden ve yaşlı adama, bir sonraki hamlesi ne olacağını kesitirilemez bir deliye bakar gibi onu yan yan süzer.
Gök bir daha gürler.
Gece bir ufuktan diğerine kadar aydınlanır.
Kapkara bulutların arasından çaprazlamasına tek dal bir yıldırım, müthiş bir hızla dikinine iner..
..ve göz harlatan bir kıvılcım yağmuruyla asayı vurur!
Brom, gözleri tamamen kamaşmış bir şekilde öylece dizlerinin üstüne çöker..
Tekrar görmeye başladığında yaşlı adam yanına çömelmiş, ona bir şeyler söylemektedir ama ne etrafında uçuşan parıltılardan adamı görebilir, ne de çınlayan kulaklarından söylediklerini duyar.
“Aaaaa.. Güzel.. Sanırım tekrar duymaya başladın.. İyi misin, delikanlı? Değilsen de zamanla olacaksın.. İşin püf noktası, üzerinde fazla düşünmemek ve yapacak kendine bir şeyler bulmak..”, der yaşlı adam genç hobbit’e gülümseyerek.
“Sen.. sen neden benim gibi sağır ve kör olmadın?”, diye boğuk bir sesle sorar, Brom.
“Yaşlılığın nadir avantajları, evlat.. Gözlerimi kapatmayı akıl edecek kadar bilge, ve senin kadar iyi duyamayacak kadar da sağır!”, der adam ve tekrar kıkırdar.
Brom yüzünü buruşturur..
Yaşlı berduşun her şeye verecek ‘kıkırtılı’ bir cevabı var gibidir.
“Kampın mahvolmuşa benziyor, genç efendi. Benimkisi hemen yakınlarda. İstersen bana misafir olabilirsin. Beğenmezsen de yarın tekrar buraya dönersin ama bunu tavsiye etmem.”, der yaşlı adam.
“Neden?”, diye sorar Brom temkinli bir şekilde.
“Korkarım bu şimşek ve sonrasında düşen yıldırım, hemen batımızda bulunan Serenity Home kasabasına bağlı izcileri ayartmış olacaktır. İzci Efendisi Davien’e tesadüf edersen sana bir kaç soru sorup bırakacaktır. Ancak Moorat’e tesadüf etmen halinde seni hayatından bezdireceğinden emin olabilirsin.”
Genç hobbit, bu iki izci efendilerinin isimlerini duymuştur. Genç hobbit bu iki izci efendisini, Serenity Home kasabası şerifiyle birlikte, bir kamp dolusu haydutu ortadan kaldırmalarını canlı olarak, oldukça da yakından seyretmiştir.
“Öyle olsun bakalım.”, der biraz huysuzca. “Bu gece için misafirin olurum ama yarın için söz veremem.”
“Yarın için ben de söz veremem.”, der yaşlı adam ve Brom, adamın pek de kamptan bahsetmediği izlenimine kapılır.
“Bu fırtınayı çağırmaktan bahsetmiştin..”, diye yoklar yaşlı adamı Brom.
“Öyle mi dedim?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam ve ormana, muhtemelen kendi kampı olan yere doğru yürümeye başlar.
Genç hobbit, sırt çantası, yıldırım dolayısıyla düşürdüğü silahlarını ve kampından geriye kalan ne varsa kapar ve garip, topallaya hoplaya yürüyen yaşlı adamın peşine takılır.
“Evet. Öyle dedin.”, der Brom kati bir sesle.
“Eh.. İlk akıl gidermiş, derler..”, der adam ve sırıtır.
“Eee?”, der Brom ve işin peşini bırakmaz.
Yaşlı adam temkinli bir şekilde etrafına bakınır, sonra da sıkılgan bir sesle konuşur..
“Heavens Hand nerededir, bilir misin, evlat?”, diye sorar.
“Evet.”, der Brom. “Durkahan’ın oldukça kuzeyinde, Korduba’s Watch’ı geçince..”
“Aaaaa.. Coğrafyasını bilen, okumuş bir delikanlı. Tarihini de bilebilirsen sana sorunun cevabını veririm..”, diye mutlu bir şekilde cevap verir yaşlı adam.
Brom tekrar kaşlarını çatar.
Yaşlı adamın sorulan sorulara bir türlü açık cevaplar vermeyişi, aslına bakılırsa, herhangi içerikli bir cevap vermeyişi, son bir ayda yaşadığı duygusal tahribattan sonra genç hobbit’te olağan dışı bir sabırsızlık, hatta tahammülsüzlük ve asabiyet oluşturmuştur.
“Neden sorduğum sorulara bir türlü cevap vermiyorsun?”, diye huysuzca sorar.
“Neden böyle bir beklenti içerisindesin?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.
“Kampına geldin, kim olduğunu, ne yaptığını ve fırtınayı sordum ama beni kör ve sağır etmen dışında da hiçbir cevap vermedin!”, diye neredeyse hırlar Brom.
“Aaa.. Birisi yanlış tarafından kalkmış sanırım.. biri-iki ay önce..”, der yaşlı adam sonra derin, sessiz bir soluk verir ve devam eder. “Öncelikle, kampına misafir yada davet edilmediğim için gerçekte misafirin de olmadım. Kendince muhtemel haklı sebeplerden ötürü de olsa, yine de bana silah çektin. Sana üzerimde silah olmadığını göstermiş olmama rağmen silahlarını indirmedin, dolayısıyla ben de kampının etrafından dolaştım. Sana adımı vermemi gerektirecek nezaket koşullarını bana sunmadığın için, ben de sana adımı verme gereği görmedim.
Sana bir hobbit’in burada ne işi olduğunu sordum, ama buna da bir cevap alamayınca, bende yapmaya geldiğim kendi işimle uğraşmaya karar verdim.
Seni kulaklarını kapatman ve ağzını da açman konusunda uyardım. Açıkçası bu uyarılardan sonra gözlerini açık bırakacağın aklımın ucundan bile geçmemişti.. Sanırım kulaklarını yeterince sıkı kapatmadığın için anlık sağır, gözlerini açık tuttuğun için anlık kör, ağzını da söylediğim gibi açmadığın için de kendi bedensel iç basıncın, yıldırımın oluşturduğu dış basınçla dengelenmedi ve tahmin et, hanginiz kazandınız?”, diye mutlu bir şekilde paslı sesiyle açıklar yaşlı adam.
Brom’un yüzü daha da kararır çünkü adam haklıdır. Teknik yada nezaket; her halükarda haklıdır.
“Brom.. Brom Bumblebrim..”, der neden sonra kaynayan bir sesle.
“Tanıştığımıza sevindim, Brom-Brom Bumblebrim..”, der yaşlı adam sırıtarak. “Benim adım da Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig.. Ama sen bana bunlardan sadece bir tanesini kullanarak hitap etsen de olur. Aslına bakılırsa öyle olmasını rica edeceğim.. Karşılaştığım bazı yaratıklar tamamını kullanmakta ısrar ediyorlar ve her defasında duyması, söylemesinden bile daha acıklı oluyor..”
“..Fey’ler gibi..”, diye sokuşturur araya Brom.
“Ahhaaa.. Evet, fey’ler gibi..”, der yaşlı Cathber ‘en sonunda anlayan birisini buldum’ der gibi!
“Asadan ve Heavens Hand’den bahsediyorduk.”, der Brom ve bu garip, tek düze hali kendisini bile biraz şaşırtır.
“Hayır, genç Brom, daha başlamamıştık. Ama merak etme, çok heyecanlı bir hikaye. Bununla birlikte, sanırım ikimizde bir gece için yeterince ıslandık. Önce biraz ısınıp kuruyalım, karnımızı da biraz doyuralım sonrasında hala ayık istek, sana anlatırım.. Ve işte geldik.”, der yaşlı adam ve tamamen çam dallarından örme, daha çok bir kunduz yuvasını andıran ve yaşlı adamın sadece beline kadar gelen küçük, kubbeli bir ‘şeyin’ yanına gelirler.
“Hmmm..”, diye sesli bir şekilde düşünür adam. “Pek de misafir beklemiyordum açıkçası. Sanırım bu ikimiz için biraz küçük. Ama merak etme. Sanıyorum bu konuda bir şeyler yapabilirim..”
Yaşlı adam ellerini kaldırır ve Brom’un çıkaramadığı bir dilde bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.
Aradan biraz zaman geçer.
“Hiç bi şey olmuyor..”, der Brom neden sonra.
“Hiç bir şey olmuyor da ne demek?”, diye sorar yaşlı adam.
“Her ne yapıyorsan, bi işe yaramıyor!”, diye açıklar Brom.
“Bu.. biraz utanç verici bir durum..”, der Cathber. “Bir de şunu deneyelim bakalım..”
Aradan biraz daha zaman geçer.
“Hala bir şey olmuyor..”, diye mırıldanır genç hobbit.
“Bu.. gerçekten beklenmedik bir durum. Normalde bunun işe yaramış olması lazımdı!”, der yaşlı adam alınmış bir sesle.
“Ne yaptığını bildiğinden emin misin?”, diye sorar Brom.
“Ne münasebet! Tabi ki ne yaptığımı biliyorum!”, der Cathber, tamamen alınmış bir sesle.
Sonra yine bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.
Aradan biraz daha vakit geçer ama yine bir şey olmaz.
“Bu.. gerçekten çok garip.”, der yaşlı adam hayretle kendi ellerine bakarak.
Brom acımasızca ‘fırk’lar.
Sonra sırt çantasını yere bırakır, içinden küçük, katlanabilir çadırını çıkartır ve kurmaya başlar.
Fena bozulmuş bir Cathber, kaşları çatılı bir şekilde küçük hobbit’in kendi çadırını kurmasını seyreder.
Sonra arkasını döner ve daha bir azimle tekrar bir şeyler mırıldanmaya başlar.
“Hayır!”, diye kendi kendisine söyleniyormuş gibi konuşur birden. “Anlaşmamız böyle değildi. Ben size olan yükümlülüklerimi yerine getirdim. Sizin de kendi payımıza düşeni— Ne demek koşullar değişti?! Hangi koşullar değiş—? Hayır, hayır tabiki size kızgın değilim. Neden size kızgın ola—? Aaaa.. sanırım şimdi anladım. Tamam, olur böyle şeyler.. Sorun değil, sorun değil.. Ateşi yakın bari.. Yaşlı bir adama yağmurlu bir havada kuru dal aratmakla uğraştırmayın..”
Brom, bir yandan bu ‘zır deli’ adamın söylediklerine kulak kabartırken, bir yandan da çadırını kurar. İşi bittiğinde yaşlı adamı, etrafı taşlarla çevrilmiş bir ateşin başında bulur. Ateşin hemen ilerisinde ise kayda değer bir miktarda ve düzgünce dizilmiş kuru dal ve odunlar durmaktadır.
Brom ister istemez ateşe yaklaşır.
Yanına geldiğinde yaşlı adamın ince çubuklara balık, patates, domates, patlıcan ve mısır geçirdiğini görür. Adam çubuklara geçirdiği yiyecekleri imtina ile ateşin yanına dizer, bunların bazılarının iyice kızarmalarını beklerken, bazılarının ise sadece hafif renklerinin değişmelerini bekleyecek kadar ısıtır.
Brom’un bir anda ağzı sulanır.
“Öylece durup seyir mi edeceksin, Efendi Hobbit? Yoksa gelip bunları yiyecek misin? Bu kadar şeyi tek başıma yersem sanırım bu benim yaşımdaki birisi için hazımsız bir gece olurdu..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam.
Brom ateşin başına çöker ve ellerini ısıtır biraz, sonrada kendisine uzatılan çubuklara geçirilmiş balıkları, patatesleri, domatesleri, patlıcanları ve son olarak da mısırları yer.
Yaşlı Cathber yemek boyunca sesini çıkarmaz ve kendisi de yaptığı yemeklerden tadımlık ısırıklar alır. Sonra biraz abartılı bir şekilde esner ve gözlerini ovuşturur.
“Aaaahh.. Bu yaşlı kemikler benden uyumamı talep ediyorlar. Sen istersen ateşin başında takılabilirsin.”, der ve hemen ileride duran kuru dal ve odunlara işaret ederek, “Gördüğün gibi gece seni sıcak tutacak kadar yakacak odunumuz var.”
“Ne?”, diye sorar Brom. “Bu kadar mı?”
“Anlayamadım? Doymadıysan şu sepetin içerisinde biraz daha var yiyecek bir şeyler.”, der Cathber ve odunların hemen yanında duran bir sepete işaret eder. “Ama korkarım çubuklarla geçirip pişirmeyi kendin yapmak zorunda kalacaksın..”
“Hayır, onu sormuyorum. Konuşacak bir şeylerimiz yok muydu?”, diye biraz asabîce sorar genç hobbit.
“Benim söyleyeceklerim bekleyebilir, Efendi Hobbit. Senin söyleyeceklerin ise bir barut fıçısının içinde ve patlamaya hazır gibi.. Sanıyorum patladığında ikimizin de orda olmamasını tercih edeceğim. Söylemeye hazır olduğunda, ben de dinlemeye hazır olmuş olacağım. Sen dinlemeye hazır olduğunda, ben de söylemiş olacağım..”, der Cathber ciddi bir gülümseyişle, sonra kalkar ve küçük, çam dallarından yapılmış kulübemsi çadırına gider.
Brom adamın arkasından sessizce kaynar.
“Kaçık, zır deli, yaşlı berduş!”, diye burnundan soluyarak söylenir.
Genç hobbit’in zihninin derinliklerindeki bir ses, Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig ismini bir yerlerde duymuş yada okumuş olduğunu ona hatırlatır ama o isimle bağdaşan sadece bir kişi vardır ve o kişi bir ‘insan’dır ve rivayetlere göre sekiz yüz küsur yıl önce gerçekleşen Themalsar adındaki kaçık bir papazın ordularına karşı yapılan savaşta bulunmuştur..
Brom inançsızca ‘fırk’lar.
Birincisi bu adam, yaşlı olmakla beraber bir insandır ve bırakın sekiz yüz küsur yıl yaşında olmayı, anca ayakta durabilmektedir. İkincisi ise orijinal Cathber’in kendisi de bir insandır ve onun da sekiz yüz küsur yıl yaşamış olması mümkün değildir. Brom, bu adamın, tanınmış birisinin adını alarak kendince şöhret peşinde koşan bir kaçık olduğunu düşünür.. yada ortada nesilden nesile geçen bir kült vardır ve her nesilde birisine bu isim bahşedilmesi dolayısıyla bu adamın adı, tarihi kişilik olan orijinal Cathber’in adıyla aynıdır.
“Çattık..”, diye homurdanır Brom ve kalkıp düzgün bir şekilde dizilmiş odunların yanında duran sepetin saman saplarından örülme kapağını açar ve içine bakar.
Sepetin içinde her şey ilginç bir şekilde ayrı ayrı kase yada bohçaların içinde durmaktadır; kapalı bir kasenin içinde tuzlanıp kurutulmuş bir düzine balık, ayrı ayrı bohçalanmış patatesler, patlıcanlar, domatesler, mantarlar, mısırlar, fasulyeler ve..
..Brom olduğu yerde çakılıp kalır..
Küçük bir çanak dolusu, kırmızı-pembe çilek..
Brom sepetin başında ne kadar durur bilemez zira zaman onun için durmuş gibidir..
“Hayır yaa..”, diye sessizce inler. “Unutmak üzereydim..”
Belli ki genç hobbit hiçbir şekilde unutmak üzere değildir..
Uzaklarda bir yerde gök tekrar gürler.
Orman kısa bir anlığına aydınlanır ve kendisini sessizce seyredenlere acıklı bir sahneyi sergiler.
Öylece, durduğu yerde, Brom Bumblebrim hıçkırıklarla ağlamaktadır..
✱ ✱ ✱
26.04.7591 B.Y.S (-16 Yıl)
Daha hızlı, daha hızlı, genç hobbit. Fırsatı kaçırmak üzereyiz!”, diye, bir yandan topallaya-zıplaya koşarken, bir yandan da paslı sesiyle seslenir yaşlı Cathber. “Bu fırtına biraz aceleci çıktı ve korkarım içini dökmek için sabırsızlanıyor..”
Brom yine sırılsıklam olmuş bir şekilde durmak bilmeyen yaşlı adamın peşinden, nefes nefese kalmış bir şekilde, elindeki yamuk asa ile koşturur. Genç hobbit, Ritual Ormanlarına geldiğinden beri devamlı ıslak gibidir sanki ve aklı başında herkes gibi kendisi de yağmur altında ‘terlemekten’ hoşlanmaz.
“Geliyorum, geliyorum..”, diye bağırır homurdanan kara bulutların altında koşarken.
Aslında gece olmasına daha saatler vardır ama hem bu ormanlığın yoğun ağaçları, hem de gök yüzünde yuvarlanan koyu bulutlar sayesinde genç hobbit açısından gece olsa da değişen bir şey olmazmış gibi gelir.
Brom tekrar gök yüzünden boğuk homurtuları duyulmaya başlar ve birkaç yüz yarda ileride yaşlı Cathber’in ona doğru, “Acele et, delikanlı.. Acele et, geliyor!”, diye elini salladığını görür.
Sırılsıklam olmuş hobbit, biraz daha hızlanır, yaşlı adamın yanına gelir, haftalar önce adamın kendisine verdiği çapayla yeri kazar, asayı açtığı deliğe saplar ve toprağa tesadüf eden ucunu iyice kapatıp yerine sabitler..
Genç hobbit, ilk tecrübesinden sonra aynı acemiliği tekrarlamak gibi bir niyeti yoktur ve kendisi gibi çoktan uzaklaşmış yaşlı Cathber’in yanına, kocaman bir çınarın arkasına pineklemiş, ellerini kulaklarına sımsıkı kapatmış ve ağzını da açabildiği kadar açmış bir şekilde bekler.
Gök yüzünden ve kapkara bulutların arasından duyulan homurtular şiddetlenir ve birden, sağır edecek bir şiddetle ‘hapşırır’..!
Brom koskocaman bir çınarın arkasında saklanmış, dahası gözlerini de sımsıkı kapatmış olmasına rağmen yine de ‘beyaz’ görür..
Tekrar gözlerini açtığında gündüz biraz aydınlanmış gibidir ve yukarından, gök yüzünden bir – iki defa daha hoşnutsuz homurtular duyulur, sonra yağmur başladığı gibi bir anda kesilir!
“Bunu daha ne kadar yapacağız?”, diye biraz bıkmış bir sesle söylenir Brom. “Neredeyse üç aydır ormanın güneyinde bir oraya, bir buraya koşturup fırtına avlıyoruz!”
“Fırtına avlamak.. Bu çok hoşuma gitti, genç Brom.. Sen gerçekten kelimeler için yaratılmış bir varlıksın, ve bu dünya için de bir zenginliksin!”, diye kıkırdar yaşlı adam.
Brom kaşlarını çatar..
Gerçekte Brom somurtkan biri değildir. Olur olmaz her şeye kaş çatan da bir hobbit olmamıştır hiç bir zaman. Aslına bakılırsa kaç çatmak, hobbit’lerde sık görülen bir mimik de değildir.
Bu kaş çatma olayı, onda sonradan peyda olmuş bir alışkanlıktır..
Bir kaç ay öncesinden itibaren..
..Gulls Perch’den ayrılmasından sonra..
..Sevgili, güzel, saf, temiz ve olağanüstü Aremela’sının ölümünden sonra.
“Asıl soruna dönersek, bu ‘fırtına avı’, gerçekten çok önemli. Sana anlattıklarımı hatırla. Heavens Hand, mebus iblislerle bizim aramızda duran tek şey. Evet, Tranquil elf’leri ve Dwarwick dwarf’ları da bu konuda Heavens Hand’e devamlı yardım ve destek gönderiyorlar ama, en nihayetinde, orada savaşıp hayatlarını veren insanlar krallığın gerisinde yaşayan diğer insan ve ırkları da koruyorlar. Onlar olmazsa yada bir gün orası düşerse, bu insanlığın sonu olur. Bizim de onlara birazcık olsun yardımlarımız dokunmalı, öyle değil mi?”, diye mutlu bir ciddiyetle anlatır yaşlı Cathber.
“O kısmını anladım da, bu yıldırımların ne işe yaradığını hala anlamış değilim. Dahası, bu lanet olasıca asa nasıl oluyor da bunca yıldırımdan sonra hala tek parça halinde durabiliyor?”, diye bıkmış bir ifadeyle sorar Brom.
Genç Brom, kaş çatma olayının yanı sıra, bir kaç başka yeni huy daha edinmiş gibidir; bıkkınlık, yılgınlık, hoşnutsuzluk, umarsızlık ve genel anlamda ciddi bir ‘bitse de gitsek’ tavrı içeren keyifsizlik ve buradaki ‘gitsek’ kısmı ise spesifik bir olayla sınırlı değil, sanki genç Brom bunu ‘hayatın kendisi’ için değerlendirmektedir..
“Nereye savurduğunu bilmeden lanet okumamalısın, genç Brom. Lanetler hafife alınacak şeyler değildirler..”, der Cathber nazikçe.. ama sesinde altı çizili bir ciddiyet de vardır sanki.
“Uhhmm.. özür dilerim. Lafın gelişi..”
“Korkarım, lanetlerde ‘lafın gelişi’ de olmaz, Efendi Hobbit.”, der yaşlı adam. “Bunu bir çoklarından fazla senin bilmen gerekir.”
“Ne demek istiyorsun?”, diye biraz fazla haşince sorar Brom.
“Asa parçalanmıyor çünkü bilge bazı şahıslar ve mucitlerin hazırladığı ve şahsımın bile anlamadığı karmaşık bazı kimsaysal solüsyonlarla yıkanarak yapısal olarak güçlendirilmiş bir asa bu. Yamuk oluşunun da keyfî değil, kondüktörel olarak bir gereklilik olduğu aynı şahıslar tarafınca ısrarlı bir şekilde tekrarlandı bana.”, der yaşlı Cathber ve genç hobbit’in haşin sorusunu harika bir şekilde saman altı eder. “Yıldırımların ne işe yaradığına gelirsek, bu bizim hiçbir işimize yaramayacak çünkü onları kendimiz için toplamıyoruz. Bana gelen haberlere göre ‘düşman’ saflarında beklenmedik ve olağan dışı bazı hareketlenmeler varmış. Heavens Hand efendileri, benim gibi mazbut ve naif olmakla beraber bazı özel becerileri olan şahsiyetlerden, Demons Wall’un müdafaası için böylesi yıldırım asalarının gerektiği konusunda isteklerde bulundular. Sanıyorum ki bu asalardan başka ormanlarda şahsım dışında yapanlar da var. Bu asaları İblis Duvarına yerleştirdiklerinde hem oradaki mevcut büyülü muhafazaları, devamlı insan gücü aratmaksızın besleyecekler, hem de yaklaşan iblisleri, benim tahminime göre en az iki bin yarda gibi etkili bir mesafeden vurabilecekler.”
Brom, iki bin yardayı duyunca ister istemez tırsar zira bu gerçekten fevkalade etkili ve bir o kadar da ürkütücü bir mesafedir. Bu, Endless Watch surlarındaki, uzun menzilli Drashan korsan gemileri için özellikle imal edilmiş anti-kalyon mancınıklarının bile etkili mesafesinin neredeyse iki buçuk katıdır!
“Oha!”, diye geçirir Brom içinden ve bir anda ıkınarak ve isteksizce yaptığı işin gerçek potansiyeline ayılıverir. Yaptıkları bu iş, teorik yada sonuçları itibariyle muallak ve idealistçe yapılan bir iş değil, Heavens Hand’deki bir demircinin, askerlerin kırılmış silahlarını yada zırhlarını tamir etmesi kadar ‘pratik’ sonuçları olan bir emektir..
Genç Brom yaptığı işin mutlak tekabülünü tam olarak kavramış olmasada duydukları, ona olan umarsız tavrını silmeye de yetecektir.
Cepheden aylarca mesafe uzaklıkta olmasına karşın, oradaki mücadeleyi birinci elden etkileyecek ve sayısız hayatı da kurtarma potansiyeli olan bu ‘basit’ gibi görünen ‘fırtına avı’, bir anda onun için yeni farkındalıklar ve beklenmedi bazı algı kapıları da açıverecektir.
Ve genç hobbit bu düşünce silsilesinin sonuna ve ilgili sonuçlarına vardığında, yaşlı Cathber’in ışıl ışıl gözlerle ve sessizce kendisini seyreder halde bulur.
Brom, bu adamın kim olduğu konusunda kati bir sonuca varamaz —hafif kaçık, daha çok da bir deli olması dışında..
..ama onun ‘normal’ bir deli olduğunu da düşünmez.
“Eee..? Sırada hangi fırtına var?”, diye sorar..
✱ ✱ ✱
Bunu takip eden aylar boyunca yaşlı Cathber, Brom’u, Ritual Ormanlarının etrafında, içinde, altında ve üstünde.. ve fırtına peşinde, durmaksızın koşturur. Genç hobbit’in yaşlı adam hakkında git gide artan kuşkuları, yeni bir fırtına peşinde koşarken tesadüf ettikleri Themalsar Harabelerine ulaştıklarında kesinleşir.
Yıldırım asasını topraktan söküp çıkartan Brom, Cathber’i yanında değil, onu orman sınırının dışında bulur. Yaşlı adam, kayıp bir ifadeyle kuzeye ve doğuya bakmaktadır..
..kıpırdamadan ve öylece.
“Cathber?”, diye soran bir ifadeyle yaklaşır Brom, yaşlı adamın yanına.
“Zaman, bazı şeyleri tahammül edilir hale getiriyor, genç Brom Bumblebrim. Ama asla silip atamıyor.”, der yaşlı Cathber.
Brom, bu lafın üzerine olduğu yerde kalakalır.
“Burası.”, der Cathber sessizce. “İşte tam burası.. ve 740 yıl, 6 ay ve 11 gün önce..”
“268,570 ve bu gün.. Eşimi kaybettiğim yer, ve üzerinden geçen zaman, delikanlı..”
Brom hayret yaşlı adama bakar.
“Bunca zaman sonra bile o kadar çıplak bir şekilde hatırlıyorum ki.. Themalar ve habis orduları, Grandeleren ve elflerini kuşatmıştı ve bizler —Arashkan ordusundan insanlar, Elder Hills’den dwarflar, Silent Hills’den gnomelar, bulup buluşturduğumuz ne kadar dost, fey, melek varsa canımızı dişimize takmış, elimizden gelen her şeyi yapıyorduk.. O gün bize Göklerin göndereceği bazı habercilerin geleceği söylenmişti. ‘Bir yanlışı düzeltmek için..’, dediler.. Bunun ne demek olduğunu yada ne anlama geldiğini hala çözebilmiş değilim ama emir yukardan.. çok yukardan.. Göklerden gelmişti ve bize gelecek olan haberciler için yol açmamız gerektiği söylendi.. Biz de açtık.
Bu.. bu bize çok pahalıya mal oldu.. Bir çok hayata.. Bir çok kadın dul kaldı o gün.. Bir çok erkek de yalnız.. O gün eşim ve sevgilim olan kadın da haberciler için yolu açanlar arasındaydı.. Halbuki Gökler onu bir melek olarak sıf benim için bu dünyaya indirmişlerdi!
Evet, Efendi Bumblebrim.
Aradan 268,570 ve bu gün geçti ve ben onu hala özlüyorum. Niyetimiz savaştan sonra yerleşip beraber bir hayat kurmaktı. İkimiz de çocukları çok seviyorduk. İkimiz de çocuklarımız olsun istiyorduk.. Ama Themalsar onu benden aldı ve aradan 740 yıl geçmiş olmasına rağmen asla çocuklarım olmadı..
Acısı dindi mi?
Bana yalnız geçireceğim 740 yılımı takas etmemi isteseler, onunla geçireceğim basit bir hayat için gözümü kırpmadan ‘Alın. Yüz yıllar sizin olsun. Bana onunla geçireceğim 40 yılı verin yeter.’, derdim.
İşin en acı.. ve güzel yanı nedir biliyor musun, genç Brom?
Yıllar geçtikçe onun yüzü, hatırası, dokunuşu ve dudaklarının tadı.. daha da güzelleşiyor olması..
Bunları neden sana anlattığımı merak ediyorsan söyleyeyim..
Benim yaptığım hatayı yapma..
Kayıplarımız kaçınılmazdır. Bir ölümlü olmanın en güzel yanıdır bu; bir ölümlü olmamız.. ve kayıplarımız..
Fey’lerin biz insanlara neden gıpta ettiklerinin sebebi de gerçekte budur; sınırlı olan zamanımızda yapabildiklerimiz.
Tok, açın halinden anlamaz.
Ölümsüz de ölümlünün yaşadığı sevgileri, tutuşan duyguları ve aldığı zevkleri asla tadamaz..”
Yaşlı Cathber ve Brom, sessizlik içerinde ormana geri dönerler..
..ve genç ozan aylar.. çok aylar sonra ilk defa Lir’ini tekrar eline alır.
Sessizce söylediği şarkının sözleri ona geliverir..
You cannot fight it,
you cannot resist it,
beat it, wound it nor slay it.
You can only yield to it..
It is cunning,
it is stingy, ruthless, pitiless
It turns a spark into a fire, and fire into ash.
It grinds mountains to dust.
It gathers trickles into oceans.
It gives birth to rebellions and liberties
and brings down empires..
It gives meaning to patience,
diligence, and vigilance.
It is the key to mortality
and the lock to eternity.
One day we are,
one day we are not.
It is hope and it is despair..
✱ ✱ ✱
Bu olaydan sonra Brom için ‘yaşlı adam’ birden ‘Efendi Cathber’ oluverir ve Efendi Cathber onu daha kuzeye, Büyük Kuzey Tundra’larının girişine kadar götürür ve ikisininde ıkınarak tırmandıkları bir dağın kıyısından bembeyaz tundraları gösterir, orada yaşayan barbar kabileleri ve sürülerinden, kocaman buz devlerinden, muazzam kar ayılarından, vaşaklarından, büyük, beyaz ejderlerden ve daha bir çok başka harikalardan bahseder.
Efendi Cathber, genç hobbit’i yıldırımların peşinde koştururken güneye, sonra çaprazlamasına tekrar kuzeye, sonra yine güneye indirir ve beraber Oger’s Foot denen yere getirir ve Brom bu süre içerisinde farkında olmadan günleri, haftaları ve ayları saymayı bırakıverir ve yaşlı adamla geçirdiği zamanı tekil ‘an’lar olarak ve hayatında daha önce hiç olmadığını kadar ‘ayık’ bir şekilde yaşar. Sanki zamanın geçişiyle ilgili kaybı, etrafında olup bitenlere karşı oluşan yepyeni bir farkındalıkla takas etmiştir.
Evet, zaman önemlidir zira geçişi, ve bu geçişe bağlı olarak, ‘bitti’ —gibi bazı kaçınılmaz sonuçları vardır. Ama genç hobbit için içerik ve algı, yüzeysel olarak kaybedilen zamana fazlasıyla değerdir..
“Evet, Efendi Hobbit.. burada dikkatli olmamız gerekecek..”, diye uyarır yaşlı Cathber.
“Neden ki?”, diye sorar Brom.
“Çünkü burası Oger’s Foot ve bu tepelerin sakinleri biraz heyecanlı.. aslında ‘tez canlı’ tiplerdir.”, der Cathber.
“Neden ki?”, diye tekrarlar genç hobbit.
“Çünkü burası Oger’s Foot.. Buranın sakinlerinin kim olduklarını konusunda bir tahmininde bulunabilirsin —ve ‘sakinleri’ derken bunu da olabilecek en geniş anlamda kullandığımı da ifade etmek isterim.”, diye sırıtarak açıklar yaşlı adam.
“Oger! Muhteşem Gökler adına.. Burada oger’ler mi yaşıyor?”, diye çığlar Brom.
“Çok uzun yüzyıllardır..”, der Cathber ve kıkırdak.
“Bu inanılır gibi değil.. Oger’lerin burada yaşamasına nasıl müsaade edebilirsiniz! Onlar fevkalade vahşi ve tehlikeliler..”, diye inler Brom ve bir anda korkuyla her yere bakmaya başlar.
“Müsaade, biraz kuvvetli bir ifade oldu, evlat. Hiç kimse, bir başkasının yaşam hakkı üzerinde ‘müsaade’ gücüne sahip olmamalı. Onlar çoğumuzdan önce buradaydılar.. Serenity Home’dan bile önce.. Geçinmeyi bilen.. ve isteyenler olduğu sürece de, genel olarak kaleme alınmamış bir barış da var insanlarla oger’ler arasında. Ve tabii, onları buradan atacak bir gücün olmayışının da söz konusu barışda bir etkisi vardır eminim.”, diye ekler yaşlı adam gülerek.
“Ama rivayetlere göre Themalsar Savaşından sonra gerçekleşen neredeyse tüm ayaklanmalarda oger’ler de yer almışlar.”, diye itiraz eder Brom.
“Aaaaa.. Ama söz konusu ayaklanmalarda insanlar da vardı.. Onlardan dolayı bütün insanları da mı suçlayalım?”
Brom buna da itiraz etmek ister.. Gulls Perch’de olanlardan sonra genç hobbit’in insanlara da, dwarf’lara da hiç bir inancı yada itimadı kalmadığı gibi, onlara karşı içsel, gizli ve pek de azımsanmayacak bir nefret de beslemiyor değildir —ki bu da bir hobbit için biraz hayret verici bir durumdur..
“Neyse ki yanımızda sizin gibi tanınmış, meşhur bir şahsiyet var..”, diye mırıldanır en sonunda.
Yaşlı Cathber buna kıkırdayarak karşılık verir.
“Bana olan inancın onure edici genç hobbit, ama eminim kaynayan bir kazanın içinde en az senin kadar iyi pişeceğimdir!”
Brom uzun bir zamandır yapmadığı, yapmaktan da imtina ettiği bir şeyi yapar..
.. kaşlarını çatar!
“Veee, sanırım fırtınamız da burada..”, der Cathber mutlu bir şekilde ve birden gök homurdanmaya başlar..
✱ ✱ ✱
Neden buraya fırtınalarını getirdin Kadber? Size saldırmadık. Sizlerden kimseyi kaçırıp yemedik.. Atalarımızın suçlarını çoktan bize ödettiniz!”, diye gürler neredeyse dört yarda boyundaki iri kaslı, iri omuzlu, iri göğüslü ve iri kafalı dişi oger, yüzünde fevkalade çirkin bir ifadeyle.
Bir düzine yarı-devin yeri göğü sarsarak varlıklarını gelmelerinden önce ilan edeceklerini sanırdınız.. En azından genç Brom’un kati beklentisi buydu. Fırtına ile gelen yıldırımı ‘topladıktan’ sonra birden ve hiçbir ön uyarı olmaksızın peyda oluvermişlerdi oger’ler; ellerinde kocaman kılıçlar, gürzler, taştan oyulmuş ‘sopalar’, beraberlerinde getirdikleri, her biri neredeyse yirmişer kiloluk ‘fırlatma’ taşlarlarıyla..
“Merhaba, Reise Grulganiste..”, der Efendi Cathber sakince. “Seni ve aileni böylesi harika bir günde görmek ne güzel.”
‘Reise Grulganiste’, Cathber’e fena pis bir bakış atar ve korku içerinde titreyen zavallı küçük hobbit, gerçek ve etkili ‘kaş çatmanın’ ne olduğunu anlayıverir.
Cathber bu manzara karşısında ivedilikle taktik değiştirir.
“Çağırdığım bu küçük fırtına ile sizi rahatsız ettiysem özür dilerim. Ama sizi temin ederim ki bunun sizinle bir ilgisi olmadığı gibi size karşı da yapılmış bir şey değildi..”
“Bunu göreceğiz, Kadber! Geçen yıllarda bize hep hediyelerle gelmemiş olsaydın, seni şuracıkta pişirirdim!”, diye kapkara bir ifadeyle hırlar ‘kadın’.
“Bunu yapmış olmanız hepimiz için acı bir gün olurdu..”, der yaşlı Cathber.
“Neden? Bunu yapmayacağımı mı düşünüyorsun bükük insan!”, diye kendi kişisel fırtınasıyla hırlar Reise Grulganiste.
“Aaaa.. hayır, efendim.. Benden et çıkmaz ve dişlerinizin arasına takılmış kemiklerim bütün gününüzü mahvederdi de ondan.”, der yaşlı adam kıkırdayarak.
Reise Grulganiste bu cevabı komik bulduysa da bu hiç bir şekilde yüzüne yansımaz!
“Peki, peki.. Belli ki bugün ters yanımızdan kalkmışız. Olur böyle şeyler.. Ama merak etmeyin, Yüce Reise.. size yine elim boş gelmiş değilim!”, diye deklere eder Efendi Cathber.
“Bize ne getirdin, bükük insan?”, diye burnundan solur Grulganiste.
“Saygıdeğer ve eşsiz namınıza yakışır bir hediye; size Efendi Ozan’ı getirdim!”
“Ne?!”, diye dehşetle küçük, korku dolu bir çığlık atar Brom!
“Bu mu? Bu yaşından sonra çocuk mu yaptın kendine bükük insan? Hangi kuş beyinli kadın senin gibi huysuz bir adamdan çocuk ister ki?”, diye horlayan bir sesle yaşlı adama bakar.
“Ben.. buna biraz alınmadım değil, doğrusu Ganiste! Benim peşimden koşturduğun zamanları hatırlıyorum! Bütün orman, benim için söylediğin ağıtlardan dolayı aylarca uyuyamamıştı!”, diye fena halde alınmış bir şekilde mızmızlanır yaşlı Cathber.
Reise Grulganiste buna sadece haşin ve acımasız bir kahkaha ile cevap verir.
“O üç yüz yıl önceydi, bükük insan! O zaman kafanda saç, bacaklarında da et vardı!”
Efendi Cathber, kıpkırmızı bir suratla burnundan solur.
“Bu çok acımasızca oldu, Ganiste! Senin kalibrendeki bir kadına hiç yakıştıramadım doğrusu..”
“Benim kalibremdeki kadınlar, kalibreli erkeklerden hoşlanırlar, Kadber!”, diye pis bir sırıtışla cevap verir Reise.
“Görüyorum ki ölümcül espri anlayışından hiçbir şey eksilmemiş, Ganiste.. Şimdi. Burada durup beni horlamaya devam mı edeceksin, yoksa işimize mi bakacağız?”, diye rezil olmuş bir ifadeyle konuşur, yaşlı adam.
“Ben devam etmeye meyilliyim, bükük adam..”, diye cevabı yapıştıtır koca oger.
“Meyilliyim..?”, diye hayretle ünler Brom bir anda.
Ortam bir anda sessizleşir.
Reise Grulganiste, kapkara olmuş bir suratla önce Brom’a, sonra Cathber’a, sonra da tekrar Brom’a bakar..
Brom yutkunur ve olduğundan daha da küçülmeye çalışır..
Koca ‘kadın’ arkasını dönmeden birkaç emir yağdırır ve yanındaki oger’ler birden kendilerine yapacak bir şeyler bulmaya giderler.
Grulganiste uzun bir süre burnundan soluyarak Brom’a ve Cathber’e yakıcı gözleriyle bakmaya devam eder.
“Nerden buldun bu küçük şeyi?”, diye hırlar kadın.
“Aslına bakılırsa, o beni buldu dersem daha isabetli olur —ki bu da uzun ve konumuzla pek de alakalı olmayan bir hikaye.”, der Cathber.
“Ne var? Nooluyo yaa?”, diye tiz bir sesle fısıldar Brom.
“Fark ettin.”, diye cevap verir Cathber.
“Fark ettim? Aslında sadece biraz yadırgadım, o kadar. ‘Meyletmek’, insanların bile günlük konuşmalarında kullandıkları bir ifade değil..”
“Ve sana göre ‘aptal oger’lerin’ hiç kullanmaması gereken bir şey bu, öyle mi?”, diye yüzünde nahoş bir ifadeyle bakar Grulganiste, küçük hobbite.
“Aptallık, ırklara özel bir şey değil, hanımefendi.. Kişisel tercihlere ve davranışların sonuçlarına özel bir hal..”, diye açıklar Brom.
“Gerçekten, nerden buldun bunu?”, diye tekrar sorar Reise.
Cathber omuzlarını silker.
“Dediğim gibi.. ikimiz de bir birimizi tanımıyorduk ve oldukça alakasız koşullar altında karşılaştık. Sonra Efendi Ozan bana nezaket gösterdi ve bana eşlik etmeye karar verdi.”
“Sana neden nezaket göstersin ki? Sen haşin, acımasız, duygusuz ve kalpsiz bir adamsın, Kadber!”, diye hışmeder Grulganiste.
“Alındım.”, der Cathber.
“Efendi Cathber?”, diye temkinli bir şekilde sorar Brom.
“Bu.. öhöm.. sorunun cevabını daha sonra konuşsak..”, diye bozuntuya vermemeye çalışarak cevap verir Cathber.
“Beni reddetti!”, diye hışmeder Reise Grulganiste. “Aylarca peşinden koşturdum, beraber ölümcül maceralara atıldık ve en sonunda beni terk edip gitti!”
“Bu.. biraz abartılı ve önemli bazı ayrıntıları eksik olan bir hikaye değil mi, Ganiste?”, diye alınmış bir ifadeyle konuşur yaşlı adam. “Sana hiç bir söz vermedim. Benimle gelmeni istediğimde, gelecek reise olarak Oger’s Foot dışındaki dünyayı daha yakinen görmeni ve tanımanı istedim, o kadar. Bu şekilde oger’lerin mütemadiyen başkalarının kötü emellerine alet edilmelerini, dolayısıyla da öldürülmelerini engellemeyi ummuştum. Sen potansiyeli olan, zeki, uyanık, karizmatik, gelecek vaadeden, fevkalade de çekici ve güzel bir kızdın —bana öyle bakma lütfen, genç hobbit. Her ırkın güzellik anlayışı ve standartları farklıdır. Onları yargılamadan önce onların standartlarını bilmen gerekir.. Lütfen bu elzem bilgilerden mahrum bir şekilde sen de aynı hatayı yapma..”, der Cathber biraz sinirlenmiş bir şekilde.
“Yapmam, efendim..”, der Brom ‘fırk’layarak.
Yaşlı Cathber esef dolu bir nefes verir.
“Seni reddetmedim, Ganiste. Kalbini de kırmak istemedim. Ama görmen gereken şeyleri de görmüş olman gerekiyordu.. Benden istediğinin sevigiyi sana vermedim çünkü o sevgim bir başkasına aitti. Sana o kötülüğü yapamazdım..”, der Cathber ve bunu söylerken de yüzünde hiçbir tereddüt yada utanç yoktur.
Reise Grulganiste yine uzun bir sessizlikle ikisini de süzer.
“Gelin benimle..”, der emri vaki bir üslupla. “Konuşacak şeylerimiz var.. ve bana getirdiğin bu küçük şeyin marifetlerini görmeye can atıyorum!”
Brom, tamamen tırsmış bir şekilde yaşlı Cathber’in peşine takılır ve ikisi de koca Reise Grulganiste’nin arkasından, Oger’s Foot tepelerinde yaşayan devlerin köyüne doğru yola koyulurlar..
✱ ✱ ✱
Neden beni bunlara veriyosun, Efendi Cathber?”, diye cılız bir sesle inler genç Brom. “Bende sanıldığı kadar et yok! Bu gördüklerinin çoğu tatsız koli köpüğü!”
“Ahhaaa..!”, diye mutlu bir ifadeyle ünler yaşlı adam. “Kendi lezzetini bu kadar hor görmemelisin, Efendi Hobbit.. Ve oger’ler iş yemeye gelince fazla nüans aramazlar!”
“Yok daha neler!”, diye homurdanır Reise Grulganiste. “Ben yemeklerimde nane, kekik, karabiber, zencefil, karanfil, çörek otu, susam ve safran kullanıyorum.”
“Bence aklına gelen bütün baharatları rastgele sıralıyorsun..”, diye kıkırdar Cathber.
“Bence şansını fazla zorlama istersen yaşlı adam..”, diye yapıştırır Reise..
“‘Bükük adama’ ne oldu?”, diye soru verir Brom birden.
“O seyredenler için kullandığım şey, zira ve gerçekte arkadaşın Cathber, bükük ötesi, sirke gibi bir adamdır!”, diye söylenir Reise Grulganiste.
Brom ister istemez kahkayı basar.
“Bu.. hayret verici bir durum!”
“Neden? Oger’lerin espri anlayışı olamaz mı?”, diye burnundan solur Grulganiste.
“Aaa.. Hayır.. Hayret verici olan, sayenizde Efendi Cathber hakkında öğrendiklerim..”, diye kıkırdayarak cevap verir Brom.
“Bu.. uhhmm.. hakkımda duyduklarını başka yerlerde tekrarlamazsan, pek sevineceğim, Efendi Hobbit.”, der Cathber esefli bir sesle.
“Bilmem. Karşılığında ne vereceğine bakar.”, der Brom sırıtarak.
Reise Grulganiste ‘fırk’lar.
“Sevdim bu küçük adamı, Cathber. Günün sonunda yemeyebilirim bile!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Neler oluyor Ganiste? Seni fazla tedirgin gördüm..”, siye sorar Cathber sessizce. “En son neredeyse 140 sene önce seni bu kadar tedirgin gördüm.. Ondan önce ise neredeyse iki asır oldu aynı tedirgin gözlerle bana bakıyordun.. İlk ayaklanmaya katılmayı reddettiğinde daha genç, ateşli bir kızdın ve dikkatimi çekmeyi de başarmıştın.. İkincisine katılmayı reddettiğinde ise senin farklı olduğunu anlamıştım..”
“Buraya eski anıları yad etmeye mi geldin, yaşlı adam..”, diye yukardan bakar Cathber’e dev kadın. “Olanlar oldu, ölenler de öldü.. Annem, babam, amcalarım, teyzelerim, erkek ve kız kardeşlerim.. Aileme dair hiç kimsem kalmadı o sefil papaz ve çağrıları yüzünden..”
Reise Grulganiste, yaşlı Cathber ve genç Brom’la birlike, insan standartlarına göre kocaman, hobbit standartlarına göre ise devasa oger köyüne geldikten sonra reise adamlarının bir kısmını tekrar devriyeye, bir kısmını nöbet yerlerine, daha sonra çağırdığı başkalarına da gerekli gördüğü bir düzine emirler verip göndermiş, sonra da üçü, Grulganiste’nin dev çadırına girmişlerdi.
Brom, bu kocaman kadının çatırını, ilginç bir şekilde ‘derli toplu’ bulmuştu. Çadır, yere atılmış ve çoğunluğu geometrik desenlerden oluşan hasırlar, kocaman, kalın yüylü kürkler, ocakta pişirilmiş, ve yine çoğunluğu geometrik desenlerle süslenmiş çanak ve çömlekler, çadırın ortasına gömülmüş, etrafı düzenli taşlarla çevrili büyük bir ateş çukur ve yere düzenli bir şekilde ‘atılmış’ minderler, ve kürklerden oluşan bir de yer yatağından oluşmaktadır.
“Hayret verici, öyle değil mi?”, diye Brom’un aklından geçenleri dillendirir yaşlı adam, çadırın içine girinceler.
Brom ise herhangi bir yorum yapmamayı tercih eder zira ‘ev sahipleri’ biraz alıngan biridir ve onu ezecek kadar da büyüktür!
“Benim klübemden bile daha temiz ve derli toplu..”, diye ekler Cathber.
“Senin, klube dediğin o acınası çöplükte ancak standartları olmayan fareler yaşar.”, diye horlar yaşlı adamı Grulganiste.
“Ganiste.. Lütfen..”, der Cathber. “Bu kadarı biraz fazla oldu artık. Hışmını birkaç kademe aşağı çeksen, diyorum. İkimizde yaptığım şeyleri neden yaptğımı, yapmamayı tercih ettiğim şeyleri de neden yapmadığımı biliyoruz. Beni yerin dibine geçirerek olmazlardan bir olur çıkmayacağını pek ala biliyorsun..”
Reise Grulganiste sessizce yanan bir ateşle Cathberi süzer.
Neden sonra burnundan soluyarak konuşur.
“Öyle olsun bakalım Cathber.. En azından şimdilik.. Ama bunun karşılığına ölümümün senin elinden olmasını isityorum!”, diye haşin bir sesle konuşur.
Brom hayretle önce Reise Grulganesti’ye, sonra da Efendi Cathber’a bakar.
“Kabul.”, der Cathber kısaca. “Şimdi.. bana neler olduğunu anlatacak mısın? İlk defa buralara yıldırım toplamak için gelmiyorum. Ama seni, beni bekler hande görmek, başlı başına mutlu bir karşılaşma olmakla beraber, beklendik değil.. Tahminim, fırtınanın geldiğini gördüğün anda fırladığın gibi, kısa zamanda bulabildiğin bütün adamlarınla geldin..”
“Bunu nereden bilebilirsin ki?”, diye oldukça hoşnutsuz bir ifadeyle sorar Reise.
“On iki? Gerçekten Ganesti.. Şimdi gerçekten alındım..”, der Cathber kızmış bir şekilde.
“Onlar sağlam adamlardır.”, diye itiraz eder Grulganesti.
“Buna şüphem yok.. Ama beni.. yakalamak için yeterli değiller ve bunu ikimiz de biliyoruz.”, der Cathber.
Brom ise kenarda durmuş, bu iki alakasız kişinin, biri yaşlı ve hafif kaçık, diğeri ise dev bir oger’in bu küçük, sözlü düellosunu izlemektedir.
Reise Grulganesti derin bir soluk verir.
“Beni yine mat etmeyi başardın, yaşlı adam.”, der hafif kızmış, hafif takdir eder bir ifadeyle.
“Seni mat etmekten asla keyif almadım, Ganiste. Öyle de bir niyetim olmadı hiç. Ve senin için söylediğim her şeyi de inanarak söyledim.”, der yaşlı Cathber sessizce.
“Öyle olsun, Cathber. Evet.. ‘Çağrı’ tekrar başladı..”, der Grulganesti ve bu sefer yüzünde belirgin bir korku peyda olur.
“Themalsar daha kaç bin can istiyor?”, diye burnundan solur Cathber.
“O değil.”, der Grulganesti.
Cathber’in bir kaşı kalkar.
“Bu.. başka bir şey..”, der Reise sessizce.
“Kim?”, diye sorar Efendi Cathber.
“Bilmiyorum. Sadece çağrısını duyuyorum.. Geceleri.. ve rüyalarımda.. Çok uzaklardan ve çok daha derinlerden..”, diye fısıldar dev kadın.
Cathber hayretle Reise Grulganiste’ye bakar.
“Bu sesin sahibi o kaçık papaz değil, Cathber. Bu.. çok daha tehlikeli.. Çok daha sinsi.. Çok daha karanlık..”, der Grulganesti korkuyla. “Ve..”
“Ve?”, diye sorar yaşlı Cathber.
“Ve çağırdığında, gerçekten çağırdığında reddedebileceğimi sanmıyorum, Cathber.”
“Reddetmelisin, Ganesti. Halkına neler olduğunu çok iyi biliyorsun..”
“Halkıma neler olduğun senden çok daha iyi biliyorum, yaşlı adam. Ama o sesi duyunca benim bile kanım kaynıyor.. Üstüme zırhlarımı geçirmek ve elime kılıçlarımı alıp kan dökesim geliyor, Cathber.. çok kan dökesim geliyor..”, diye dehşet içerisinde tıslar Oger’s Foot devlerinin Reisesi..
“Ve sen burada, o sese karşı gelmek istiyorsun..”, der bir başka ses..
..ve çadırın girişi aralanır.
Brom, hayatında görebileceği en büyük yaratıkla karşılaşır.
Oger’ler, yapı olarak ‘büyük’ yaratıklardır. Büyük, geniş, kalın, kaslı, yıkıcı ve oldukça da acımasız. Ama içeri giren oger, genç Brom’un daha önce gördüğü sayılı ogerleri ‘naif’ kılacak kadar iri cüsseli, kaslı, kalın ve acımasız suratlıdır!
“..dahası, bir de bu küçük sümüklü böceklerle iş birliği yapıyorsun..”, diye neredeyse tükürür gelen muazzam yaratık.
“Buraya izinsiz girebileceğini kim söyledi sana, Cabot? Çık dışarıya, yada benimle yüzleş.. Beni devirebileceğini düşünüyorsan, kafa diye taşıdığın o taşı seve seve omuzlarından ayırırım!”, diye hırlar Reise Grulganiste.
“Seninle yüzleşeceğim, Grulganiste. Ama bugün değil. Seninle yüzleştiğimde erkeklerin, benim kullarım olacak. Kızların benim kadınlarım olacak. Hayvanların da beni ve benim tebamı besleyecek. Ve o güzel kellende benim çadırımı süsleyecek.. Zamanın yaklaşıyor, Loşka—!”
—Cabot hangi ara çadırdan fırlatıldığını göremez.
Brom hiç görmez!
Elinde dev kılıcı olduğu halde koca oger’i gırtlağından tutup kaldırmış olan Reise Grulganiste, kılıcının kabzasıyla Cabot’un suratına bir.. iki.. üç.. dört.. beş..
Brom saymayı bırakır.
..vurur ve ağzı, burnu, kaşları yamulmuş ve kan içerisinde kalmış Cabot, Reise Grulganesiti’ye öylece, sırıtarak bakar.
“Hadisene, yaşlı kadın.. Yap şunu!”, diye ıslak hırıltıyla güler Cabot. “Ama yapmaktan acizsin, ve bu da senin sonun olacak!”
Reise Grulganesti, koca oger’i aldığı gibi yirmi yarda ileri fırlatır ve Cabot büyük bir gürültüyle yere çakılır. Etrafındaki diğer oger’lerin kahkahaları arasında yavaşça doğrulur, ve suratında oluşmuş çirkin bir sırıtışla oradan uzaklaşır..
Grulganiste çadırına geri döndüğünde Cathber sesini çıkarmaz. Dev kadın geometrik şekillerle süzlü bir kasede ellerine ve yüzüne bulaşmış kanı temizler, sonra sessizce başka çanaklardan, kaplardan ve sepetlerden çıkardığı et, sebze ve pirinçten, kendince bir şeyler hazırlamaya başlar. Hazırladıklarını koca bir kazanın içine boşaltır, onu da çadırın ortasındaki gömme ateş çukurunun üstüne yerleştirip seri hareketlerle ateşi yakar.
Cathber bütün bu süre içerisinde gıkını çıkarmaz. Sessizce konforlu bulduğu yastıkların üstüne bağdaş kurup oturur. Brom da ayak altında en az bulunabileceğini düşündüğü bir yere siner.
Kazandaki yemek kaynamaya başlayınca Grulganesti bir kaç tane küçük kase ile kazanın başına gelir ve kaselerin içinden aldığı bir şeyleri, koca çimçikleriyle yemeğin içine atmaya başlar.
“Nane ve kekikten koymazsan sevinirim.”, der Cathber.
Grulganiste, yaşlı adama bakar.
“Kekiğin sağlıklı olduğunu söyleyen sendin.. Naneyi de sevdiğini hatırlıyorum.”, der Reise tek kaşı kalmış bir şekilde.
“Naneye bayılırım. Kekik de sağlıdır.. Ama artık yiyemiyorum.”, der yaşlı adam.
“Röfle..”, der Cathber biraz utanarak. “Dokunuyor!”
Reise Grulganiste hayretle yaşlı adama bakar, sonra derin, gırtlaktan gelen, acımasız bir kahkaha atar.
“Muhteşem Cathber Gwet’chen Bolgrig röfleye mi yenik düştü?”, diye gülmeye devam eder.
“Hayır, sevgili Ganiste.. Her ölümlü gibi ben de yaşlılığa yenik düştüm, o kadar.”, diye alınmış bir şekilde burnunu çeker Cathber. “Ve sanıldığı kadar da ‘muhteşem’ biri değilim.”
“Evet.. değilsin..”, der Grulganiste sessizce. “Ama Rituel Ormanlarına çok faydan dokundu.. Bana ve halkıma da.. Çoğu bunu anlamamış, daha fazlası ise asla bilmeyecek olsalarda. Ve arkanda senin mirasını devam ettirecek bir çocuğun bile yok.. Sanırım en yazık olan kısmı da bu. Hayalinde ki bir kadın için nesilsiz gideceksin, Cathber.”
“Evet.”, der yaşlı adam benzer bir sessizlikle.
“Buna değdi mi peki?”, diye sorar Grulganesti.
“Hiçbir şey kaybettiğime değmedi, Ganesti. Sen.. sen benim seni terk ettiğimi düşündüğün için bana bunca zamandır kızgınsın.”
“Evet. Hala da kızgın olmaya devam ediyorum, yaşlı adam.”
“Ama ben seni asla terk etmedim. Zira hala buradayım. Seni her zaman korudum ve kolladım.. İnsanların buraya gelmelerine kaç defa engel olduğumu bile hatırlamıyorum. Bütün bunlara rağmen yine de kızgınsın.. Aradan 740 sene geçti.. Halbuki benim ne kadar kızgın olduğumu hiç soran olmadı..”, der Cathber.
Grulganesti buna bir şey demez.
Biraz sonra da çıkardığı geometrik desenli kil tabaklara, kazandaki yemekten boca eder ve önce Brom’a, sonra Cathber’a, en sonuncusunu da kendisine alır.
Gece boyunca Reise Grulganesti ve Cathber sessizce konuşurlar. Brom ise aralarında geçen konuşmaları hayretle takip eder. Sonra, Cathber’in ricası üzerine rahmetli annesinin Lir’ini çıkartır, seri bir şekilde tellerini ayarlar..
..ve çadırdaki herkesin özlemlerine ve kayıplarına hitap eden şarkılarından çalmaya başlar..
Demek farkı bildiğini sanıyorsun
Gökler ve cehennem,
Mavi gökyüzü ile acı arasındaki.
Yeşil tarlalar ile
Bir gülümseme ile duvağı?
Aralarındaki farkı söyleyebilir misin?
Ve sana takas etmeni söylediler mi?
Ağaçlarla sıcak külleri?
Serin rüzgarları sıcak havayla?
Değişimle soğuk konforu?
Ve sen tasas ettin mi
Savaşta rol almak için
Bir kafesin içinde başrolü oynamayı?
Ne kadar, ne kadar isterdim ki burada olasın.
Biz ikimiz de birer kayıp ruh idik
Küçük bir balık çanağında yüzen,
Art arda yıllarca,
Aynı hikayeyi yaşayarak.
Ne bulduk sonunda?
Aynı eski korkuları.
Keşke burada olsaydın.
✱ ✱ ✱
Neden geldik buraya? Gerçekten neden geldik? Bu devasa ormanların bir çok yerine gittik, bir çok yerinde fırtına avladık, ama Oger’s Foot gerçekten gerekli miydi?”, diye sorar Brom ertesi gün tekrar yola koyulduklarında. “Aslına bakılırsa yaptığımız işin ehemmiyetini kavramış olsam da, bütün ormanı neden dolaştığımızı hala anlamış değilim. Oturup bir yerde art arda fırtına yakalasak da olurdu gibime geliyor..”
Oger’s Foot’dan ayrılmalarından beri oldukça sessiz kalmayı tercih eden Efendi Cathber, yeni uykudan uyanmış gibi etrafına bakınır, “Hmmm..?”, diye söylenir, sonra “Aaaa.. Evet.. Nedenler ve nasıllar.. Öncelikle fırtına çağırdığımda kati varış noktası her zaman kestilemiyor. Dahası, bunlar naif fırtınalar değiller, Efendi Hobbit. Art arda aynı noktaya çağırılırlarsa hem orayı talan ederler, hem de erozyona ve sele sebep olurlar.”, diye açıklar.
“Ee olsunlar.. Boş bir ormanda bunun kime zararı var ki?”, diye sorar genç hobbit.
“Boş bir orman mı—?”, diye birden ağzı açık bir şekilde Brom’a bakar yaşlı adam. “Boş bir orman da ne demek? Bir orman asla boş olmaz. Ortada bir orman varsa, mutlaka orada yaşayan bir şeyler vardır, delikanlı! Ormandan beslenen ve ormanı besleyen.. Erozyon, ormanı ve orada yaşayan diğer canlıların uzun vadede ölmesine sebep olur. Sel ise her şeyi silip götürür.. Biz farklı yerlere fırtına çağırarak, bu hasarı engellemiş oluyoruz.. ve ormanın her yerini de sulamış oluyoruz. Sen bahçeni sularken tek bir noktasını saatlerce mi sularsın? Tabii ki hayır.. Her noktasını, gerekli olduğu kadar sularsın.. Boş bir ormanmış!”
Brom ağzını kapatır ve bunu yakip eden yarım saat, kırk beş dakika boyunca yaşlı adamın non-stop azarını dinler.
Adamcağız nefes almak için durduğunda ise araya giriverir.
“Ama hala neden Oger’s Foot’a geldiğimizi söylemedin..”
Yaşlı adam kaşlarını çatar.
“O kadar azarı boşuna mı yaptım şimdi?”, diye söylenir burnundan soluyarak.
“Hayır, efendim. Ama sorumdan saptırmaya da yaramadı..”, der Brom ve sırıtır.
Yaşlı adam tekar kaşlarını çatar ve fazla zeki hobbit’lerle, bundan dolayı başlarına gelebilecek belalar ve genel olarak saygısız gençler hakkında bir şeyler mırıldanır.
“Evet, sanırım oraya gitmemize gerek yoktu. Ama seninle ilk karşılaşmamızdan bir süre önce Ganesti.. Reise Grulganesti, beni görmek istediğine dair bir mesaj göndermişti. Kendisi, gördüğün üzere güçlü bir savaşçı olmasının yanı sıra aynı zamanda da bir shaman. Dolayısıyla ilginç bazı büyülere de hakimiyeti var. Ancak daha önce de bana benzer mesajlar gönderip beni gafil avlamaya çalıştığı için, ayağımı sürtmeyi tercih ettim. Ama yine de, eski günlerimiz hatırına ‘geçerken uğrayayım’, dedim.”
“Sana.. uhhmm.. özel bir ilgisi var gibi..”, der Brom ve gülmemek için çaba sarf eder.
“Bu hiç komik değil, delikanlı. İllaki bilmen gerekiyorsa, evet, onu ilk yanıma aldığımda genç, ateşli, atletik, inatçı, hırçın, gözü çabuk dönen, ama ilginç bir şekilde de şefkat dolu bir kızdı..”
“O dev kadına ‘kız’ diye hitap edince bu biraz garip olmuyor değil..”, der Brom kıkırdayarak.
“Ön yargılarının seni kör etmesine izin veriyorsun, Efendi Brom. Karşılaştığımız şeylerin kendi kişisel tanımlarımıza uymak gibi dertleri olmayabilir. Ganesti’yle ilk karşılaştığımda iki buçuk yardalık bir boyu vardı, haşindi, vahşiydi ve eline geçirdiği harcamayı seven bir kızdı.. Ama alternatifleri olabileceği kendisine gösterildiğinde, söz konusu alternetifleri seçmeyi kendisi tercih etti —ki bu da tanıdığım bir çok ‘insan’dan daha bilge biri yapıyor onu. Onunla bir çok maceraya, bir çok da zorlu kavgalara giriştik. Kendisi kaç defa hayatımı kurtardığını hatılamıyorum bile.. özellikle de yarı ölmüş halimi göz yaşları içerisinde defalarca taşımak zorunda kaldığını düşünürsek.”
“Ne oldu peki? Neden ayrıldınız?”, diye merakla sorar Brom.
“Hiçbir şey olmadı. O büyüdü.. ve fazla bağlandı bana. Bu, onun için iyi bir şey değildi. En azından o zamanlar ben öyle olmasını, onun için uygun görmedim.. Onun, kendi halkından kopmasını istemiyordum. Kendisi için uygun biriyle aile kurmasını istiyordum ve o kişi de ben değildim. Onu Oger’s Foot’a getirdim ve sonra da ayrıldım. Nevarki Ganesti inatçı bir kız. Ve çok duygusal.. Yıllar sonra, istemeyerek de olsa evlendi.. Ama beni tekrar bulmak için çaba sarf etmekten de asla vaz geçmedi. Geçen yıllarda da bunu bir kaç defa başardı ama yakalayamadı..”, der yaşlı adam.
“Peki senden talep ettiği şey.. O neydi? ‘Ölümümün senin elinden olmasını istiyorum..’, dediğinde..”
“Bu onların kültüründe bir nevi onurdur. Bir oger bunu sadece iki kişiden ister; onurlu düşmanından yada sevdiği kişiden.. Oger’ler yatakta, hasta ve yaşlanmış olarak ölmeyi acziyet ve zayıflık olarak görürler.”
Brom hayretle yaşlı adama bakar, ama ona, Reise Grulganesti’nin onurlu düşmanı mı, sevdiği kişi mi olduğunu sormaz.
“Cabot? Grulganesti’nin onu öldüreceğini sandım.. Ve açıkçası da bunu yapmasını bekliyordum.. ‘Loşka’ orkça bir kelime.. ve pek de hoş bir anlamı yok, yanlış hatırlamıyorsam..”, diye sorar.
“Yanlış hatırlamıyorsun, Efendi Hobbit. Loşka oldukça ağır bir hakaret.”, diye onaylar Cathber.
“Peki neden öldürmedi onu? Öldürmesi için elinden geleni yaptı gibi sanki..”
“Cabot, sadece Grulganesti’yi sınadı. Zayıflığını hem kendi gözleriyle görmek, hem de herkese göstermek için.. Ve korkarım bunu da başardı.”, der Cathber, düşünceli bir şekilde.
“O zaman sorumu tekrar sormak isterim; neden Reise Grulganesti, Cabot’u öldürmedi?”
“Ganesti, Cabot’u öldürmedi, genç Brom, çünkü Cabot onun oğlu!”
✱ ✱ ✱
Sessiz ol, Efendi Brom. Korkarım yine geliyorlar ve bu sefer kokumuzu da aldılar..”, diye fısıldar yaşlı Cathber, sonra kemer niyetine beline bağladığı sicime asılı küçük keselerden bir tanesinin bağcıklarını çözer ve onu yanında, kendisi gibi yoğun çalıların dibine sinmiş hobbit’e uzatır. “Al şunu, ellerine, kollarına, yüzüne, üstüne ve bacaklarına sür.”
“Nedir bu, Efendi Cathber? Çok kötü kokuyor.”, diye kesenin ağzını açmış, içine bakarak sorar Brom.
“Uhhmm.. bilmek istemezsin, delikanlı..”, diye geçiştirmeye çalışır yaşlı adam.
“Gerçekten.. Nedir bu? O kadar kötü kokuyor ki anlatamam..”, diye kokudan gözleri yaşarmış bir şekilde sorar genç hobbit.
“İllaki bilmen gerekiyorsa; kokarca pisliği, nezara böceği ve sahile vurmuş deniz kaplumbağası leşi..”, diye açıklar Cathber.
“Ve sen bunu her bi yerime sürmemi istiyorsun, doğru mu?”, diye hayretle sorar Brom.
“Seni, bilmek istemeyeceğin hususunda uyarmıştım, delikanlı.. Şimdi. Sür çabuk yoksa fırtına avlama günlerimiz bugün burada, acıklı bir şekilde sona erecek!”, diye keskin bir sesle fısıldar, Cathber.
Brom derin bir nefes alır, iki parmağını kesenin içine sokar, sonra da parmaklarına bulaşmış iğrenç kokulu ‘şeyi’ yüzüne, ellerine, kollarına, üstüne ve başına sürer ve bütün bunları yaparken de habire öğürüp durur.
“Ağzına ve gözüne deydirme sakın. Gözlerini yakar, tadı da.. hiç güzel değil.”, diye uyarır yaşlı adam.
“Bu.. bu gerçekten çok kötü kokuyor..”
“Öyle de olması gerekiyor, zira bu şekilde senin kokunu bastırmış olduk.”, der Cathber.
“Bu kadar kötü kokması gerekiyor muydu ama?”, diye inler genç hobbit.
“Aslına bakılırsa evet. O kokunun ne kadar kötü olduğunu düşünürken, bir de bu tarafa gelen kurtlar için ne kadar kötü kokacağını bir düşün. Bu kokuyu bir kere kokladıktan sonra, cehennemden kaçar gibi kaçacaklar burdan..”, der Cathber sırıtarak.
Brom, kesedeki iğrenç kokulu şeyle işi bitince onu Cathber’a geri uzatır. Yaşlı adam keseyi Brom’dan imtina ile alır, sonra da belindeki sicime geri bağlar.
“Eee.. sen sürmeyecek misin?”, diye sorar Brom.
“Ne? Neden benim de sürünmem gerekiyor ki?”, diye hayretle sorar yaşlı adam.
“Senin kokun ne olacak peki?”, der Brom.
“Benim kokum mu? Sen buradayken benim kokumu nasıl alsınlar ki?”, diye kıkırdar Cathber.
Brom kaşlarını çatar.
“Birimiz yeterliydi, delikanlı.. İkimizin de kötü kokması gerek miyor, öyle değil mi şimdi ama?”, diye kendisini açıklar masum bir sırıtışla.
“Madem bu kadar kötü kokuyor, neden onu hemen şuraya, çalıların önüne dökmedik?”, diye inleyerek söylenir genç hobbit.
“Ben.. uhhhmmm.. Bak bu aklıma hiç gelmedi işte!”, diye itiraf eder yaşlı adam. “Ama olaya bir de olumlu yanında bak.”
“Neymiş olumlu yanı?”
“Artık yıldırımımızı yakalarken rahatsız edilmeyeceğiz.”, der Cathber makul bir şekilde.
Brom biraz daha çatar kaşlarını.
“Kurtların kışın dağlardan indiğini duymuştum. Ama şu anda hava o kadar soğuk değil. Kar da yağmıyor. Bunların burada işi ne peki?”, diye sorar.
“Tam olara emin değilim.”, der Cathber. “Ama bu, onların zamansız dağlardan ilk defa inişleri değil. On.. Belki on iki yıl kadar önce başladı bunların dağlardan inmeleri. Sebebini daha çözemedim. Belki de bir şey onları kendi yerlerinden ettiği için, onlar da buraya gelmek zorunda kaldılar. Dağlarda yeterince yiyecek bulamadıkları için de devamlı aşağı, ormana inmeye başladılar. Bunu bir ara araştırmam lazım.. Sorun, inlerinin benim bölgemin dışında kalıyor olması..”
“Senin bölgen?”, diye sorar Brom..
..ve tekrar kusar!
“Sen iyi misin, evlat?”, der Cathber ve genç hobbit’in sırtını sıvazlar.
“Tabii ki.. iyi değilim..” der Brom..
..ve bir daha kusar!
“Nazik bir miden varmış.”, der yaşlı adam.
“Ben bir hobbit’im, Efendi Cathber. Benim her yerim naziktir!”, diye haşin bir şekilde cevap verir Brom.
“Shhh..”, diye birden uyarır Cathber. “Geliyorlar..”
İkisi de oldukları gibi kıpırdamadan, öylece dururlar çalılıkların arasında.
Uzaktan, belki iki yüz yardalık bir mesafeden uluma sesleri, gürleyen bulutların arasından duyulur.
“Hay shit..”, der Brom “Sanırım kokumuzu aldılar..”
“Çok ayıp, Efendi Hobbit, ama isabetli..”, diye onaylar yaşlı Cathber.
Uluma sesleri daha da yaklaşır..
Yüz elli yarda kadar..
Brom belinden babasının eski kılıcını çeker.
Brom sırt çantasına uzanır ve içinden amcasına ait küçük, antika gürzü de çıkartır.
“Bunların işe yarayacağını düşünüyor musun, delikanlı?”, diye merakla sorar yaşlı adam.
“Oger’lerin aksine, ben zamanım geldiğinde yatağımda ve huzurlu bir şekilde gitmek istiyorum, Efendi Cathber. Ne bir savaş alanında, ne de aç kurtlara yem olarak..”, der genç hobbit haşin bir ifadeyle..
..ve bir daha kusar!
“Evet.. sanırım bu sonuncusuydu, zira çıkaracak içimde başka bir şeyim de kalmadı artık!”
Kurtlar her bir yanı sarar..
Brom tek bakışta düşman sayısını belirleyebilecek, kestirebilecek yada değerlendirebilecek eğitimi almış bir izci değildir. Kendisi, yimser bir tahminle, ‘beş ile on yada onbeş arası’, gibi afaki ifadelerle yetinmeyi tercih eden bir ruhtur. Sayılar daha fazla ise ‘çok’.. biraz daha fazla ise, ‘o kadar çoklardı ki’, bunun üstünde ise, ‘ufuktan ufuğa uzanıyorlardı’, dibi dramatik ifadeler kullanbilecek kapasitesi de vardır çünkü, ve en nihayetinde Brom bir hobbit’tir ve aynı zamanda da lisanı abartı üzerine sanatlaştıran bir ozandır. Dolayısıyla etraflarını saran kurtların sayısı her ne kadar ‘ufuktan ufuğa kadar’, olmasada, ‘şimdi boku yedik’, diyebileceği sayıdadır!
Kurtlar büyük bir hevesle çalıların etrafında koşmaya başlarlar ve birden çalılar aralanır, koskoca bir kurt, kafasını çalılardan içeri sokar.
Brom evinden ayrılmasından sonra ödü neredeyse patlayacak kadar korkmuş olduğu anlar çok olmuştur. Ancak ölümle ‘burun buruna’ bu kadar literal anlamda geldiği hiç olmamıştır ve koca bir boz kurduyla ‘burun buruna’ gelmek bambaşka bir tecrübedir.
“Eeeeep!”, diye bir ses kaçar küçük hobbit’ten ve kurt ileri atılır ancak çalıları aşamaz ve burun buruna kaldığı küçük, yarım lokmalık hobbit’in kokusunu derin derin içine teneffüz etmek zorunda kalır.
Brom, içsel bir uyanışla kulaklarını kapatır.. ve bu da isabetli olur..
Kurt, avazı çıktığı kadar ve acıyla karışık, aşağılanmış bir çığlıkla kaçmaya çalışır, nevarki çalılara takılmış olduğu için bunu başaramaz.
Gece, bir kurdun dehşet vıyaklamalarıyla inler ve bir anda bütün sürüye yayılır.
✱ ✱ ✱
Efendi Brom. Bu inadınızı biraz yersiz ve —kusuruma bakmazsan— biraz da bağnazca bulduğumu ifade etmeliyim. Bütün ‘insanlar’ kötü değildir. Belli ki geçmişinde karşılaştığın bazıları kötü çıkmış olabilir. Ama bu hepsini kötü kılmaz ki..”, der yaşlı Cathber sabırla. “Muhteşem Gökler adına, ben de bir insanım.. En azından genel kanaat bu yönde!”
“Siz bir istisnasınız, Efendi Cathber.”, diye somurtarak mırıldanır Brom.
“Benim de demek istediğim bu işte. Yeni insanlarla karşılaşırsan, yeni istisnaların oluşmasına müsaade etmiş olursun. Kimin kime faydası dokunur, kimin kime yardımı olur hiç belli olmaz bu dünyada..”
“Yeni istisnalar istediğimi de kim söyledi? Size böyle bir isteğim olduğuna dair bir izlenimi ne zaman verdim?”, diye inatlaşır genç hobbit.
“İnatçı, aptal ve huysuz gençlerden çektiğim..”, diye söylenir yaşlı adam. “Öyle olsun bakalım, delikanlı. Benim işim ne kadar sürer bilemiyorum. Hazır bu civarda olduğumuz için, Dim Lodge’a bir kaç gün buralarda olacağımı bildiren, baykuşla bir mesaj göndermiştim. Odunculardan birisinin üstüne ağaç devrildiğini ve durumunun da kritik olduğunu söyleyen bir cevap yolladılar. Genç bir bayanın da doğumu yaklaşmış, lütfen gelip doğumu gerçekleştirip gerçekleştiremeyeceğimi sordular. Oduncuyu anlarım da, bir doğuma neden beni çağırırlar ki? Ben ebe değilim..”
“Eee? Gidecek misin? Doğuma yani..”, diye sorar Brom.
“Gideceğim tabii.. Çağırdıkları anda beni külfet altına sokmuş oldular ve bunun farkında bile değiller. Sen de gelsen iyi olurdu. Kemik nasıl yerleştirilir, doğum nasıl yaptırılır, bunları bilmek hayatı anlamak açısından çok önemli olabiliyor.”, der yaşlı adam.
“Beni oraya götürtmek için her türlü yöntem, taktik ve şantajı denemeye niyetlisin, öyle değil mi?”, diye sorar Brom uyuz bir ifadeyle.
“Tabii. Buna seni bir kurbağaya çevirip cebimde götürmek de dahil ama işin o noktaya gelmemesini tercih ederim. Ayrıca eminim bizi iyi besleyeceklerdir. Oduncular biraz kaba insanlardır ve batıl inançlıdırlar ama cömerttirler aynı zamanda. Hele senin gibi naif bir ozan onlar için büyük bir lüks. Eminim hayatlarında hiç ozan görmemişlerdir. Kendini onların bu fakir lüksünden esirgeyecek kadar mı büyük görüyorsun. Bende seni zengin ruhlu biri sanırdım!”, der Efendi Cathber.
Brom yaşlı adama fena pis bi bakış atar.
“Bu.. fevkalade bel altı bir taktikdi, Efendi Cathber..”, diye burnundan solur.
“Tamamen öyle idi!”, der Cathber sırıtarak.
Brom, Efendi Cathber’in acıdan kıvranan zavallı oduncunun yamulmuş omur iliğini iyileştirmesini hayretle izler. Yaşlı adam oduncunun yanına gelir gelmez elinin bir hareketiyle odada ne kadar mum varsa aydınlanmış, bir başka hareketiyle de yarı ölü oduncunun yanında bekleyen herkes sessizliğe bürünmüştü. Yaşlı adam sessiz bir mırıldanmayla dakikalarca ellerini yüzükoyun yatırılmış adamın kanlı sırtında gezdirirken, oduncunun sırtından iç gıcıklatan kemik çatırtıları gelmeye başlamış ve adam çığlıklar atarak kendinden geçmişti. Yaşlı Cathber işini bitirdiğinde kan izleri hala durmasına karşın, adamın parçalanmış sırtı pürüzsüz, omuriliği ise düzleşmiş olarak, sakin ve derin bir uykuya dalmıştı. Olayı seyredenler ise hayretle kala kalmış, önce yatan oduncuyu kontrol etmişler, sonra da ağlayarak yaşlı Cathber’e sarılmışlardı. Genç oduncunun eşi, ağabeyi ve annesi, art arda teşekkür etmişlerdi yaşlı adama.
Bir sonraki durak ise, genç hobbit’in görmek istediği bir şey değildi; bir doğum!
Avazı çıktığı kadar bağıran yeni bebek geldiğinde, genç hobbit’in yüzü kerpiç gibi olmuş, gözlerinden yaşlar akarak yaşlı adamla beraber evden ayrılmışlardı.
“Bunu gördükten sonra kadınlara acıdım doğrusu. Bu hayatımda gördüğüm en ürkütücü şeydi.”, der titrek bir sesle.
“Hepsi bu kadar zorlu olmuyor, delikanlı. Bebek ters dönmüş olduğu için biraz uğraştırdı. Ama özde haklısın. Her doğum, potansiyel iki ölümü de beraberinde getirir. Buna rağmen kadınlar çocuklarına aşk ötesi bir sevgiyle bağlanırlar. Tarifi olmayan bir sevgidir bu. Evet, Efendi Hobbit, Kadınlar, bambaşka varlıklardır.”, diye sessizce cevap verir yaşlı adam. “Hadi gel. Senin içine sıcak bir şeyler koyalım. Kendine gelmiş olursun..”
“Beni gerçekten, neden getirdin buraya?”, diye sorar Brom.
“Seni buraya özel planlar yaparak getirmedim, evlat. Ben buraya geliyordum ve gerçekleşen şeyleri muallak birer cümle olarak geçiştirmektense, senin de birinci elden görmeni istedim. Neredeyse bir yıla yakın bir süredir bu ormanlarda fırtına avlıyoruz. Bu başlı başına eğlenceli olmakla beraber, bizi dünyanın geri kalanından da biraz fazla koparabiliyor. Kafamızı dinlememiz ve belirli bir iç huzura kavuşabilmemiz açısında bu fevkalade faydalı bir şey. Ama aynı zamanda da yüzleşmemiz gereken duygularımızla hesaplaşmamıza da engel olmuş oluyor —ki bu da doğru değil, kendi akıl sağlığımız açısından.. Ve sen daha kaybınla yüzleşmiş değilsin, Efendi Hobbit.”
“Sana kaybım hakkında hiçbir şey anlatmadım. Nereden—?”, diye başlar genç hobbit.
“Efendi Brom Bumblebrim. Lütfen. Ben yaşlı olabilirim, ama bunak değilim. Kimse beni aşırı zeki olmakla övmedi. Ama aptal olmakla da suçlamadı. Fey’lerle iletişimi olan tek kişi de sen değilsin.”, der yaşlı adam nazikçe.
“Madem biliyorsun, neden soruyorsun?”, diye biraz huysuzca sorar Brom.
“Bildiğimi söylemedim ki.”, der Cathber.
“Fey’lerle konulabildiğini söyledin..”
“Fey’lerle konuşabiliyorum, evet. Aralarında senin başına gelenleri bilenlerin de olduğunu biliyorum. Ama hiçbirisine sormadım.”
“Neden?”, diye biraz şaşırmış bir şekilde sorar Brom.
“Çünkü, delikanlı, bu senin sırrın. Senin kaybın. Senin acın.. Onu anlatmaya hazır olduğunda, ben de dinlemeye hazır olacağımı, sanıyorum ilk karşılaşmamızda söylemiştim sana ve koşullar hala değişmiş değil. Senin derdini ve başına gelenleri merak etmiyor değilim. Ama arkandan iş çevirecek kadar değil. Bu hem hoş bir davranış değil, hem de doğru bir davranış değil.”
Brom buna cevap vermez. Sadece susar. Beraber geçirdikleri bir yıla yakın sürede yaşlı adama duyduğu saygı, bir anda katlanır.
İlginçtir ki bu yaşlı, muhtemelen de biraz deli olan adama duyduğu saygı, en nihayetinde adamın ‘hiçbir şey’ yapmayarak kazandığı bir saygıdır. Ama yaşlı adam o ‘hiçbir şeyi’, bilinçli olarak yapmamayı tercih etmiştir ve belli ki genç Brom’un ihtiyacı olan da budur..
Yaşlı adam bir elini genç hobbit’in omzuna koyar ve, “Haydi gel.”, der. “Önce bir şeyler yiyelim. Neredeyse ikiye bölünmüş bir omuriliğini iyileştirmek bunu beceremediyse, bir doğum beni acıktırmaya yetti!”
Brom ister istemez ‘fırk’lar.
Yaşlı Cathber, rastgele bir ev seçer ve yüzsüzce kapısını çalar. Yirmi beş yaşlarında, genç bir adam kapıyı açar, yaşlı adamı görünce yüzünde belirgin bir sırıtış peyda olur ve içeri girmesi için onu buyur eder.
“Efendi Cathber..”, der genç adam. “Evimi şereflendirdiniz. Lütfen, buyrun.. Seleina, misafirlerimiz var..”
“Teşekkür ederim genç Aramsis. Gecenin bu saatinde sizlere yük olduğumdan dolayı beni maruz görürsünüz diye umuyorum.”, diye gülümser yaşlı adam.
“Lafı bile olmaz, Efendi Cathber.. Sizlere kapımız her daim açıktır. Buyrun lütfen.”, der genç Aramsis ve her ikisini de içeri alıp ateşin hemen yanındaki masaya oturtur.
“Sevgili Cathber..”, der yumuşak bir ses ve uzun boylu, esmer güzeli, genç bir kadın gelir ve yaşlı adama sarılır. “Seni tekrar görmek ne güzel.”
“Sevgili Seleina. Bakıyorum her gördüğümde daha bir güzelleşiyorsun. Bu kurallara aykırı değil mi?”, diye sırıtır Cathber.
Seleina içten bir sesle güler.
Sonra Catherber’in arkasında saklanan Brom’u görür.
“Bir hobbit! Şimdi çok kızdım sevgili Cathber. Kendi gelişiniz hususunda bizi uyarmadığınız gibi, buraya bir hobbit getireceğinizi de söylemediniz. İkinizi birden nasıl ağırlayacağız şimdi? Bu fazla büyük bir onur!”, der kız gülümseyerek.
Brom.. buna biraz şaşırır.
“Bizi tanıştırmayacak mısın?”, diye imalı bir şekilde sorar Seleina.
“Aaaa.. tabii.. Aramsis, Seleina, bu gördüğünüz, fevkalade uzak yerlerden gelmiş, çok gezmiş, daha da çok görmüş, ırkının naif bir örneği, Efendi Brom Bumblebrim.. Efendi Brom, bunlarda benim pek sevdiğim Aramsis ve harika eşi Seleina.”, diye tanıtır Cathber.
“Uhh.. Menun oldum.”, der Brom biraz çekinerek.
“Bugün şanslı gününüzdesiniz, Efendi Cathber. Kül altı pişirilmiş harika bir hindimiz var.”, der Seleina.
“Ahhaa.. bunun şansla hiçbir ilgisi yok, sevgili Seleina. Bütün gün evinizi gözetledim, ve hindinin kokusunu alır almaz da geldim!”, der sırıtarak.
Buna Aramsis’de, Seleina’da kahkahalarla gülerler.
“CATHBER EBE GELMİŞ!”
..diye küçük bir ses çınlar odada ve Brom’un içmekte olduğu elma şırası burnundan fışkırır.
“Moreel..”, der Seleina, kıpkırmızı olmuş, gülmemek için çırpınan bir suratla. “Senin uyumuş olman gerekmiyor muydu?”
“Ama anne yaaa.. Cathber Ebe’nin sesini duydum ve uyandım!”, der miniminnacık, fevkalade şirin, iki yaşlarında, annesi gibi esmer saçlı bir kız.
“Moreel..”, diye gülmemek için neredeyse inleyerek söylenir Seleina. “Cathber amcaya, ‘Efendi Cathber’, diye hitap etmemiz gerekiyor.”
“Ama o benim ebem değil mi?”, diye saf bir şekilde sorar küçük kız.
Brom gülmemek için kıvranır.
Efendi Cathber ise bozuntuya vermemeye çalışır.
“Ama sen bana, onun seni de doğurttuğunu söylemedin mi?”, der küçük kız ve zincirleme bir kazayı da başlatmış olur.
“Ben..”, der Seleina, kıpkırmızı olmuş bir şekilde. “..elma turtalarını getireyim!”
Genç Brom yemekten sonra gece boyunca Efendi Cathber’in, Aramsis ve güzel eşi Seleina ile konuşmalarını dinler ve uzun saatlerden sonra bir şey dikkatini çeker.
Bu küçük aile, gerçekte fakir bir ailedir. Ancak genç Aramsis’in eşini ve küçük kızını deliler gibi sevdiği her halinden bellidir. Seleina’nın eşine ve kızına olan sevgisi ise ancak kendisinin buna ekleyebildiği kadarıyla baskın gelmektedir. Küçük Morel ise hayretle Brom’u seyretmiş, sonra kendi kafasında nasıl bir hesap yaptıysa, onu kendince ‘dengi’ olarak görmüş ve löp diye hobbit’in kucağına atlamıştı. Cathber-Aramsis-Seleina kendi aralarında bir üçlü oluştururken, gerçek muhabbet, Brom ile Morel adındaki o miniminnacık kız arasında geçmişti.
Küçük Morel, aklına gelen her şeyi, hiçbir moderasyon yapmaksızın, minik yüzünde ciddi bir ifadeyle genç Brom’a anlatmıştı. Sonra onu elinden tutup odasına, oyuncaklarıyla oynamaya götürmüştü. Gerçekte küçük kızın bütün oyuncakları ev yapımıdır ve bir oduncunun elinden çıkma olduğu açıkça görülmektedir. Buna rağmen kız onları Brom’a verip beraber oynarken, ikisi de engin hayal güçlerini devreye sokmuş ve kaba ahşap oyuncaklar bir anda perilere, şövalyelere, ejderhalara, prenslere ve prenseslere dönüşüvermişlerdi.
Kızın uykusu geldiğinde ise Brom’a sarılmış, onu sesli bir şekilde yanağından öpmüş, sonra da annesi eşliğinde yatağına gitmişti. Brom’un en son duyduğu şey, küçük kızın uykulu bir şekilde söylendiği mızmızı olmuştu..
“Ama anne yaa.. Hobim’e düş kapanımı göstermeyi unuttum ama ki!”
..yaşlı Cathber’in bahsettiği,
..duygularıyla hesaplaşma vaktinin yaklaştığının ilk habercisi olur.
Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları
A Bard’s Tale XIV “a Bit of a Bite” VII ile
Yıllar sonra artık İzci Yüzbaşı Bremorel Songsteel olarak bilinen küçük Morel, Brom Bumblebrim’le karşılaştığında onu hatırlayacak ve eşi Thomas Dimwood’a onu “Öptüğüm ilk erkekti!”, diye tanıtacaktır..
Yaşlı Cathber, eşinin ölümünden bahsederken, gerçekte bunun ‘ileriki’ bir zamandan, Themalsar Savaşında, bir yanlışı düzeltmek için gönderilecek olan Brom Bumblebrim ve arkadaşlarını güvenli bir şekilde o zamanlar bir prens olan Grandaleren’in yanına getirmek için düşman saflarında bir gedik açarken uğradıkları karşıt baskında öldürüleceğini bilmiyordu!
Bu hikaye, Brom Bumblebrim adındaki, Bowling Hill’de yaşayan kendi ırkının diğer bütün üyeleri gibi ‘normal’ ve hayatını olabildiğince keyifli ve tembel geçiren bir hobbit’in, beklenmedik bir şekilde ne idüğü belirsiz bir şey tarafından ısırılmasıyla başlar.
Genç hobbit’i her ne ısırdı ise, o günden sonra Brom bir türlü yerinde duramaz ve en sonunda, gecenin alakasız bir yarısında, eski arkadaşı ve aile dostu olan Gamwise Samgee’ye evini ve gülleri emanet ettiğine dair bir not bırakarak yollara koyulur. Uzun bir gece boyunca nereye gittiğini bilmeksizin, öylece, istikametsiz bir şekilde yürür durur..
A Bard’s Tale XIV, “a Bit of a Bite” IV ‘ün
07.09.7589 B.Y.S (-18 Yıl)
Brom Bumblebrim, Gulls Perch’in önünde mışıl bir berraklıkla şapırdıyan göletin kıyısında oturmuş, çıplak ayakları suyun içinde, omuzlarında ise havlu niyetine sarındığı battaniyesi olduğu halde, kenarda duran ıslak elbiselerinin kurumasını beklemektedir. Ağustos ayında olmaları dolayısıyla hava sıcaktır, ama burada, bu güzel orman, gölet ve hemen ilerisinde çınlayarak akan şelale sayesinde hava naif bir serinliktedir..
Brom göletin kenarına bırakılmış bir ahşap kase dolusu çileği, bir başka kase dolusu enfes görünümlü kirazları, hatta pürüzsüz ve lekesiz kıpkırmızı elmaları, sapsarı armutları, mis gibi kokan şeftalileri ve tam zamanında toplanmış üzümleri, yüzünde kararlı bir ifadeyle umursamaz.
Brom, mazbut yemini etmiş bir tapınak muhafızı gibi ileri ve uzaklardaki bir noktaya bakar sadece..
“Pssst!”, diye yumuşak sesli biri seslenir genç hobbit’e sessizce, ama Brom dişlerini sıkmış, inatla ufukta seçtiği noktaya odaklanır.
“Pssssst!”, diye tekrarlar kendini aynı ses.
“Neden ona ‘pssst’ diyorsun? Adı ‘Pssst’ mı?”, der bir başka yumuşak ses.
“Hayır kız, dikkatini çekmeye çalışıyorum.”, diye açıklar birinci sesin sahibi.
“Pek işe yaramıyor gibi. Sana hiç bakmadı bile, Yamara.”, der ikinci ses.
“Bence biraz aptal da ondan.”, der Yamara.
“Ona aptal dersen, tabi bakmaz.”
“E sen söyle o kadar biliyorsan, Temessa..”, der burnunu çekerek Yamara.
Temessa göletin içinde, görünen kısmı itibariyle çıplak omuzlarını silker.
“Ona adını sormalısın, bence. Onun cinsi, kızların kendilerine isimlerinin sorulmasından hoşlanırlar.”
“Huh!”, der Yamara. “Neden acaba? Adına ihtiyacım yok ki?”
“Bilmem. Dikkatimizi çektiklerini sandıkları içindir, her halde.”
“Pssst.. Bodur.. Adın ne senin?”
“Hayır, hayır. Bir erkeğe bodur, bücür, sıska, çiroz, çirkin, zayıf, şişko gibi fiziksel engellerini yüzlerine söyleyemezsin. Buna fena alınırlar.”
“Ama doğru. Bu şey bodur işte!”
Brom ufukta aradığı şeyi bulmak üzeredir ama bulmamayı tercih eder ve içinden mırıldanır.
“Ben bodur değilim yaa.. Hobbit’im! Bunun anlaşılması ne kadar zor olabilir ki?”
“Olsun. Onlara aptal olduklarını söylediğinde de alınırlar ama o kadar değil. Özellikle boylarıyla yada yüzleriyle ilgili şeylere daha çok alınırlar.”
“Bak bu konuda biraz haklısın..”
“Bu çok saçma.”
“Olabilir. Örneğin sen çok güzelsin Yamara.”
“Ama biraz aptalsın da..”
“İşte böyle. Sana aptal dediğimde alınmadın bile. Ama çirkin olduğunu söyleseydim hemen gider anneye şikayet ederdin.”
“Ederdim, tabii. Çünkü bana çirkin demen hiç hoş değil!”
“Şimdi anladın mı neden onlara da bodur diyemeyeceğini?”
“Senin yolun biraz uzun, kızım.”
“Verdiğim şeftalilere dokunmadı bile.”, diye fena alınmış bir sesle söylenir Yamara.
“Belki şeftaliyi sevmiyordur.”, diye önerir Temessa.
“Hayır, şeftaliye bayılırım. Eminim senin şeftalilerinde yumuşacık ve enfestir ama onlara dokunursam başıma gelecekleri bilmek bile istemiyorum.”
“Hmm.. Benim elmalarıma da dokunmamış.”, diye kendisi de alınmış bir ifadeyle söylenir Temessa.
“Elmalara da bayılırım. Bkz. yukarıdaki açıklama!”
“Cherriot’un kirazlarına, Shyad’in üzümlerine ve Kardenymp’in ayvalarına da dokunmamış.”, der Yamara.
“Evet. Aynı sebepten dolayı.”
“Veraminks’in çilekleri de olduğu gibi duruyor.”, diye ekler Temessa.
“Belki aptal Aremela’nın çilekleri midesini bozmuştur ve artık istemiyordur!”, der Yamara bir anda.
“Hayır, onun çilekleri muhteşemdi ve burada işim bitince anneden o çileklerin, varsa çekirdeklerinden isteyeceğim..”
“Senin karnın mı bozuk?”, diye sorar Yamara.
“Değil. Karnım bozuk değil.”
“Belki de şu dindar tiplerdendir. Hani bi sefer geldiydi de hiçbirimiz onu elde edenediydik..”
“Bilmem. Feyspeck miydi, Farstep miydi neydi!”
“..Aaa, evet hatırlıyorum. Anne ile konuşmaya geldiğini söylemişti. Anne onunla da konuştu ama bununla konuştuğu gibi konuşmadı onunla.. Çok daha ciddi ve resmi bi görüşme oldu. Sanırım M-Teyzeden haberler getirmişti.. Geldiğinde bizi gördü, pek güzelmişsiniz dedi, bize şeker verdi, sonra da gittiydi.”
“Canım şeker çekti!”
“Benimde. Anne şekerin bizim için zararlı olduğunu söyledi ama çok güzel tadı var şekerlerin!”
“Hay shit. Benimde çekti şimdi canım..”
“Siz ikiniz ne yapıyorsunuz burada?”, der bir üçüncü ses ve göletin içinden masmavi, ışıl ışıl parıldayan, upuzun saçları, yakıcı, gökyüzünü hafif çekik gözlerinde yakalamış, sahibesi olduğu çilekler gibi küçük, kırmızı-pembe dudaklarıyla Aremela belirir. “..Ve bunları kim koydu buraya?”
“Şeftalileri ben koydum.”, der Yamara.
“Elmaları da ben..”, der Teressa.
“Cherriot, kirazlarını getirdi, Shyad’de üzümlerini. Kardenymp de geri kalmamış olmak için armutlarını getirip bıraktı. Bu şey senin çileklerini yediği için, belki benimkileri de yer diye Veraminks’de kendi çileklerini getirdi.. Aptal kız.. Bu bodur şey çoktan çilek yedi ki!”
“Ama neden getirdiniz. Anne onu bana verdi zaten ki! Benim şeyimi çalmaya mı çalışıyorsunuz?”
“Öncelikle ben bi ‘şey’ değilim. Hobbit’im.. Ho-bit!”
“Hayır, Aremela. Anne seni ona verdi!”, der Yamara ve acımasızca güler.
“Ama onu da bana verdi. İkinizde oradaydınız ve duydunuz; yolda o da bana eşlik edecekmiş. Düşersem elimden tutup kaldıracakmış. Yaralanırsam, yaralarımı saracak, beni teskin etmek için bana şefkatini, anlayışını ve sevgisini verecekmiş..”, diye alt dudağını pörtleterek söylenir Aremela, ağlamaklı bir sesle.
“Ahahahahaaa..”, diye güler Yamara. “Ama önce senin onları bu şeye vermen gerekiyormuş! Duydum. Koşullar bunlardı.”
“Bence koşulları doğru yorumlamıyorsun, Yamara.”, der Temessa.
“Uhhmm.. Bence de doğru yorumlamıyorsun, Yamara..”
“Neymiş doğru yorumu peki?”
“Bilmem. Ama seninkisi yanlış bence.”
“Anne, Aremela’yı bu şeye kölesi olarak verdi.. İyi ki ilk ben görmemişim onu!”, diye mutlu bir şekilde sırıtır Yamara.
“Ben kimsenin kölesi değilim yaaa..”, diye titreyen gözlerle söylenir Aremela.
“Köle Aremela…”, diye acımasızca çekiştirir Yamara.
“Bence bu kadarı yeter, Yamara.”, der ciddi bir sesle Temessa.
“Bence de bu kadarı yeter, Yamara. Ağlattın kızı ve buna yapmana hiç gerek yoktu.”
“Neden? ‘İlk ben gördüm, ilk ben gördüm’, diye tekrarlarken sorun yoktu!”, diye cevap verir Yamara huysuzca.
“Güzel Aremela hanım..”
..deyi verir Brom birden ve üçü de dona kalır.
“Vadinizi kötü adamlardan temizlemenizde size eşlik etmeme izin verdiğiniz için teşekkür ederim. Yol boyunca herhangi bir şeye ihtiyacınız olursa, lütfen rica etmekten çekinmeyin..”
Brom oturduğu yerden kalkar, hiç bozuntuya vermeden battaniyesini iyice beline bağlar, “Bi dakka..”, der, kurumaları için serdiği elbiselerini toplar, en yakın çalıların arkasına gider, seri hareketlerle pantolonunu, gömleğini, yeleğini ve ceketini giyer, battaniyesini topak yapar ve sırt çantasına tıkar, sonra da hazır bir şekilde göletin kıyısına olabildiğince yaklaşır ve elini şirin kıza uzatır.
“Lütfen.”, der nazikçe. “Hazırsanız, yola çıkalım mı?”
“Bodur şey kıza elini uzattı!”, diye fısıldar Yamara. “Önce Aremela’nın ona elini uzatmış olması gerekiyordu. Annenin koyduğu kural böyleydi ama..”
“Tırstım!”, diye geri fısıldar Temessa. “Ama bence Aremela’yı ağlatarak bu şeyi kızdırdın.”
“Aremela onun kölesi. Neden kızsın ki?”
“Aremela hanım, benin kölem değil.”, der Brom ve sakin kalmak için elinden geleni yapar. “Anne onu bana köle olarak vermedi. Yolda çekebileceğim zorluklar karşısında bana yardım etmesi için ve bilgeliğini benimle paylaşması için verdi. Bana göz kulak olması için verdi anne onu bana ve sevgili Aremela hanımefendi de beni kırmayıp onurlandırdığı için kendisine müteşekkirim..”
Brom konuşurken de Aremela dışındaki kimseye bakmaz. Aremela ise hayret ve korkuyla ona bakar. Ona, ve kendisine uzatılan ele..
Neden sonra, kızın hayreti ve muhtemelen de merakı, korkusuna baskın çıkmış gibi kendisi de küçük, ince elini genç hobbit’e uzatır.
Brom elini tutan parmaklardan, garip, hayat dolu, tamamen doğadan gelen bir sıcaklık sezer. Bu sıcaklık, bildiği anlamda tensel bir sıcaklık değildir sanki. Daha çok, hayat olan her yerde hissedilebilecek, huzurlu bir sıcaklıktır. Sakin sulara ait, sakil bir sıcaklık..
Genç hobbit kızı göletten çıkartır, sonra efendi bir şekilde hafif öbür yöne bakar.
“Be.. beni kölen olarak görmediğin için, bende sana müteşekkirim.”, diye fısıldar Aremela çekingen bir sesle.
“Bi şey değil. Şimdi.. Yola çıkmadan önce üstüne giyebileceğin bir şeylerin var mı?”, diye sorar Brom nazikçe.
“Neden ki? Çirkin miyim? Onun için mi yüzünü çevirdin?”, diye biraz kırılmış bir sesle sorar Aremela.
“Aaa.. hayır, sevgili Aremela. Bilakis, çok.. nasıl desem bilemiyorum.. Gerçekten ne kadar güzel.. ve.. uhh.. dikkat dağıtıcı olduğunu hiç sana söyleyen oldu mu?”, diye kızarmış bir şekilde mırıldanır ve ister istemez gözlerini sımsıkı kapatır Brom.
Genç hobbit, bu sözlerinin kızın üzerindeki etkisi nedir bilmez çünkü ciddi bir eforla aksi istikamete kapalı gözlerle bakmakla meşguldür. Ama arkasından, sanki loş, engin bir mağarada yankılanan su damlalarını duyar gibi olur. Gözlerini tekrar açtığında kızı önünde durmuş, üstünde uzun, teniyle kontras yapacak kadar koyu, bir o kadar da canlı mavi, göğüslük ve etek olacak şekilde iki parçadan oluşan tiril bir elbise içerisinde bulur.
“Oldu mu? Şimdi de güzel miyim, Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”, diye sorar saf ve içten bir sesle.
“Uhhmm.. Evet.. kesinlikle..”, diye afallar Brom.
“Gidelim mi o zaman, Blom Bundlebim Hobim? Yolda sana eşlik etmeyi, düşersen elimi uzatmayı ve yaralanırsan da yaralarını sarmayı dört gözle bekliyorum.”
“Hadi yaa?”, der Brom biraz şaşırmış bir şekilde.
“Evet. Anne mutlu olabilmem için bunları yapmam gerektiğini söyledi. Bunları yaparsam sen de bana şefkatini, anlayışını ve sevgini verebilirmişsin, Blom Bundlebim Hobim!”
Brom hayretle kızın söylediklerini dinler ve bunları, Gulls Perch’e geldiğinde onunla ilk karşılaşmasından itibaren, o ve diğer kızların aralarında yaptıkları konuşmaları tekrar gözden geçirir ve belirgin bir sonuca varması, kendisi gibi bir ozan için çok da zor olmaz.
Bu kızların.. daha doğrusu bu fey’lerin her şeyi literal anlamda algıladıkları, dolayısıyla mecaz, deyim, ikincil anlamda kullanılan ifadeleri, yada genel anlamda atasözlerini, tam olarak anlamama olmasa da, algılayamadıklarını fark eder.
O ve hiç düşünmeden doğruyu söylediklerini..
Kızların, aralarında atışırken birisinin diğerini bir şeyle itham etmesi durumunda diğerinin anında ‘Evet.’, diye yaptığı şeyi kabul etmesinden bu açıkça görülmektedir. Brom, her nasılsa bu noktada bir nüansı yakalayıverir; kızlar doğruyu söylemeyi, ‘doğru-yanlış’ çerçevesinde değil, daha ziyade yalan söyleme kapasitelerinin olmayışından kaynaklandığına ayılır ve bunun da mecaz yada ikincil anlamlı ifadeleri algılayamamaları arasında bir alaka olduğunu düşünür.
Brom, bu durumun art niyetli insanlar tarafından nasıl kötüye kullanılabileceğini de tahmin eder ve muhtemelen söz konusu kötü insanların, fey’ler için belli ki neredeyse ‘kutsal’ olan Gulls Perch’e nasıl girebildiklerini de açıkladığını düşünür.
“Neden sustun, Blom Bundlebim Hobim, seni üzecek bi şey mi yaptım?”
Kızcağızın içten sorduğu soru karşısında Brom’un içinde bir şeyler kıpraşır. Ona acıması mı gerektiğini, yoksa kendisine sunulan fırsatı değerlendirmesi mi gerektiği konusunda ikileme düşer..
..ama sadece bir anlığına.
Brom bunlardan ikisini de yapmaz.
Annenin kendisine güvenerek teslim ettiği bu harikulade varlığı, aldığı gibi temiz ve canı acımamış bir şekilde de geri getirmeye karar verir.
Ve mütemadiyen adını yanlış telaffuz etmesinden dolayı da rahatsızlık duymadığı gibi, onu düzelterek kızı da üzmemeyi tercih eder.
“Hayır, Aremela hanım. Sadece düşünüyorum, o kadar.”
“Neden bana hanım diyorsun? Hanım nedir bilmiyorum ama ki?”, der kız.
“Ummm.. bizde bir çeşit saygı göstergesi gibi bir şeydir bu.”, diye açıklamaya çalışır Brom.
“Ama beni tanımıyorsun bile. Anne beni sana verdi. Bana saygı göstermen için hiçbir sebebin yok ki.”, der Aremela biraz aklı karışmış bir şekilde.
“Sebebe gerek de yok. Önümüzde tehlikeli bir yolculuk var. Zorlu ve kötü bazı kişilerle mücadele edeceğiz. Yanımda benimle bu mücadeleyi verecek, bana eşlik edecek, düştüğümde bana elini uzatacak, yaralandığımda da yaralarımı saracak genç ve güzel bir kıza saygı göstermek bana akıllıca bir davranış gibi geldi.”
“Genç ve güzel.. Sence ben gerçekten güzel miyim?”, diye merakla sorar kızcağız.
“Evet, Aremela. Gerçekten olağanüstü ve eşsiz bir güzelliğe sahipsin. Öyle ki hayatımda senin kadar güzel birisiyle daha hiç karşılaşmadım..”, der Brom fevkalade dürüstçe ve ister istemez kıza doğru bir bakış atar.. ve genç hobbit’in kalbi hoplayıverir.
“Off yaaa. gerçekten ne kadar şirin olduğunu bir bilsen!”, diye geçirir içinden..
..ve kızın yüzü bir anda aydınlanıverir.
Gerçekten aydınlanır; sanki derisinin altında birisi bir ışık yakmış gibi açık mavi bir renkle parlamaya başlar kız.
“Uhhmm.. parlıyorsun!”, diye hayretle bakar kıza Brom.
“Ben.. utandım da ondan. Ö.. özür dilerim. Daha önce kimse bana böyle bir şey söylemişti..”, der kız kekeleyerek.
“Onların kaybı.. ve benim!”, diye mırıldanır Brom sessizce..
✱ ✱ ✱
Aremela, Brom’u şelalenin arkasındaki gizli geçitten Gulls Perch’e sokmaz, çünkü herkesin sandığı gibi orada bir gizli geçit yoktur.. Aslına bakılırsa ortada herhangi bir gizli geçit yoktur. Fey’lerin kutsal vadisine giriş sadece bir fey’in müsaadesiyle ve eşliğinde, uzun, büyülü bir tünelden yürüyerek gerçekleşebilir ve Brom, ellerinde demir silahlarla buraya gelen kötü adamların bunu nasıl başardıkları üzerine çok fazla kafa yormaz zira yalan söyleyemeyen ve mecazdan da anlamayan bu garip varlıkları kandırmak, yeterince zeki biri için çok da zor olmayacağını düşünür ve bu düşünce nedense onu kızdırır. Genç hobbit, bir şekilde fey olmayan ama hem buranın önemini anlayan, hem de bu vadinin bekaretine saygı duyacak birilerini bulup onları buranın koruma altına alınması hususunda uyaracaktır. Brom bu konuda kime gitmesi gerektiğini merak ederken, Aremela sessizce onun elini tutar..
Brom önce ele, sonra da elin sahibine bakar ve kızın korkudan titrediğini farkeder.
“Ne oldu Aremela?”, diye sorar Brom.
“Ben.. daha önce hiç kavga etmedim.. Bizler aramızda tartışır ve didişiriz ama hiçbir zaman kavga etmeyiz. Şimdi ise ölümlülerin savaş dediği şeyi yapmaya gidiyoruz. Savaş kötü bi şey ama ki!”, der kız cılız bir sesle.
“Evet. Savaş kötü bir şey, sevgili Aremela. Ama bazen de gerekli bir şey. Ben Bowling Hills’den geldim. Buradan çok uzakta orası. Bizlerde savaşçı bir ırk değiliz. Ama kimsenin de gelip güzel tepelerimizi elimizden almasını istemeyiz, doğrusu.”
“Savaş.. ne zaman güzel olabilir ki?”, diye sorar kız, yüzünde korkulu bir ifadeyle.
“Ben, ‘savaş’ söz konusu olduğunda güzel kelimesini hiçbir zaman kullanmazdım. Daha ziyade, ‘gerekli’ kelimesini tercih ederdim.”, der Brom.
“Peki. Ne zaman gerekli?”
“Şimdi.”, der Brom kısaca.
“Anlamadım ama ki.”, diye aklı karışmış bir şekilde cevap verir Aremela.
“Senin olan bir şeyi, başkaları gelip senden izinsiz ve zorla almaya çalıştığı zaman gerekli. Eğer bu kötü adamları buradan atmazsak, bu vadiyi açtıkları delikler ve göllerinize döktükleri atıklarla öldürürler. Buna izin verilmemeli..”, der Brom.
“Sen neden bizim için savaşıyorsun o zaman? Bu vadi senin bile değil. En başta benim koşullarımı kabul etseydin, anne sana bu görevi yüklemezdi ve sen de mutlu olmuş olurdun, ben de..”, der kız somurtarak.
“Belki..”, der Brom. “..ama o zaman sadece.. uhh.. kısıtlı bir etkileşimimiz olurdu ve seninle konuşma fırsatım hiç olmazdı.”
“Konuşmak.. Siz ölümlüler bunu pek seviyorsunuz. Ben konuşmaktansa işi yapmayı seviyorum. Daha eğlenceli.”
“Peki.. uhhh.. sonra? Yani iki kişi birbirine hiç güzel sözler söylemiyor mu?”
Kız omuzlarını silker.
“Gerçekler sözden çok eylemdedir. Ölümlülerin sözleri nadiren gerçektir. Eylemlerle yalan söylemek ise o kadar kolay değildir.”
“Bu.. ürkütücü bir şekilde doğru.. Ama ben yine de çileklerini yerken hissettiğim mutluluğu sana anlatmak, anlatırken de sözlerimin senin yüzündeki etkisi seyretmek isterim.”, der Brom.
“Neden ki? Yüzüm çirkin mi oluyor o zaman?”
“Anlamıyorum. Sen zaten güzel olduğumu söyledin ki.”
“Güzel bir şey duymak, bizleri her zaman mutlu eder, Aremela. Ve mutlu bir yüz her zaman daha güzeldir.”
“Bence sen çok fazla düşünüyorsun, Blom Bundlebim Hobim.. ve bu şekilde bütün eğlenceyi de kaçırıyorsun. Yapmak her zaman çok düşünmekten daha eğlencelidir!”
Blom Bundlebim Hobim (!) buna bir şey demez.. Açıkçası söyleyecek, kendisinin bile inanabileceği bir şey de bulamaz.
Dolayısıyla taktik değiştirir!
“Aremela..”, der sakince.
“Efendim, Blom Bundlebim Hobim.”
“Beraber tehlikeli bir göreve gidiyoruz.”
“Evet, Blom Bundlebim Hobim..”
“Sormam da sakınca yoksa.. uhhmm.. sen tam olarak nesin?”, diye ıkınarak sorar genç hobbit.
“Sormanda bir sakınca yok, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Ama bu sorunun beni biraz üzdüğünü de itiraf etmeliyim.”, der Aremela kaşlarını hafif çatarak.
“Özür dilerim. Niyetim seni üzmek değildi.”, der Brom hemen.
“Sen.. ‘iyi’ birisine benziyorsun, Blom Bundlebim Hobim..”, der kız.
“Öyle olduğumu düşünmek isterim.”
“..dolayısıyla beni üzmek istemediğine inanmak istiyorum. Benim ne olduğumu bilmiyor olman biraz üzücü. Ama siz ölümlüler etrafınızda olup bitenlere ve kendiniz dışında yaşayan hayatlara karşı biraz umarsızsınız. Bu yüzden seni anlayışla karşılayasım var.”
“Evet. Sanırım biraz öyleyiz.”, diye makul bir şekilde kabul eder Brom.
“Ben.. Ben bir nymph’im.. Bir su nymph’iyim. Suda doğdum ve hayatta kalmak için suya ihtiyacım var.”, diye, sanki ayıp bir şeyi açıklıyormuş gibi utanarak, ve biraz da çekinerek açıklar Aremela.
“Uhhmm.. bu.. fevkalade bir şeye benziyor. Hepiniz mi su nymph’isiniz peki?”, diye hayretle karşık bir merakla sorar Brom.
“Tabii ki hayır. Yamara bir ateş nymph’i. Sanırım bu yüzden biraz hırslı ve çabuk sinirleniyor ve gördüğü her şeyi de istiyor. Ben sadece bir şeyi istediğimde onu istiyorum. Temessa ise bir dryan. Bu yüzden de hiçbir konuda karar veremiyor ama her konuda akıl yürütmeyi seviyor. Diğerleri de o veya bu şekilde, siz ölümlülerin ‘fey’ yada ‘peri’ dediği şeylerden biri..”
“Aaa.. bu bazı şeyleri açıklıyor, sanırım. Çileklerin.. senin için özel bir anlamı var gibi..”, diye aynı merakla sorar Brom.
Aremela buna cevap vermez. Ve uzun bir süre de cevap vermemeye devam eder. Neden sonra sessizce konuşur.
“Bu.. özel bir şey, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Belki bir gün, seninle mutlu olursam ve sende yanımda kalmaya karar verirsen bunu sana söyleyebilirim.”, der fısıltılı bir sesle.
“Sorun değil, Aremela. Özel şeylerinize burnumu sokmak istememiştim. Benimkisi sadece hakkında hiçbir şey bilmediğim şeyleri öğrenebilmek için sorulmuş sorular.. Ve merak, tabii..”
“Peki sen nesin?”, diye bu sefer Aremela sorar.
“Ben bir hobbit’im..”, der Brom kısaca, zira sorulan sorunun da cevabı budur.
“Hobbit, ben’im.. ve ben de bir hobbit’im.. Bizler yemek yapmayı ve yemeyi, şarkı söylemeyi, sessiz ve sakin yaşamayı, kitap okumayı ve bahçe ve tarlalarımızda meyve, sebze ve çiçeklerimizle ilgilenmeyi seven, sade bir ırkız. Savaşlardan ve kavgalardan uzak dururuz çünkü bizler için bunlar saçma ve mutsuz insanların yaptığı ve en nihayetinde de sadece daha da mutsuz olmak için yaptıkları saçma sapan bir şeyden ibarettir.”
“Hobim, senin adın değil mi yani? Anne sana ‘Blom’, ‘Bundlebim’ ve ‘Hobim’, diye hitap etti.”
“Dediğim gibi. Hobbit, ait olduğum ırkın adı. İnsanlar, elf’ler, gnome’lar ve dwarf’lar gibi.. Brom, benim adım. Bumblebrim ise içine doğduğum ailenin adı.”, diye açıklar Brom.
“Aile? Aile nedir?”
“Aile; anne, baba ve onların çocuklarından oluşan, bazen de anneanne, babaanne ve dedelerin, amcalar, dayılar, teyzeler, yengeler, kuzenler ve yiğenlerinde beraber yaşadığı bir bütünün adı..”
“Hiç bi şey anlamadım, Blom Bundlebim Hobim!”, der Aremela, kafası tamamen karışmış bir şekilde.
“Sorun değil, Aremela. Bana nasıl hitap etmek istiyorsan, o şekilde hitap edebilirsin.”, der Brom gülümseyerek.
Brom, Aremela eşliğinde Gulls Perch vadisine açılan büyülü tünelden çıktıklarında, güneş batmaz üzeredir.
Bir elinde anne Titania’nın verdiği sihirli asa, diğer elinde ise babasının eski kısa kılıcı olduğu halde Brom etrafına bakınır. Aremela ise onun arkasında durmuş tedirgin bir şekilde fısıldar.
“Ne görüyorsun, Blom Bundlebim Hobim? Kötü adamlardan var mı burada?”
“Yok gibi. Ama güneş batıyor ve vadinin etrafını çevreleyen yüksek dağların gölgesinden dolayı her yer şimdiden kararmış durumda. Pek bir şey göremiyorum.”
“Aaaa.. Sen elf’ler gibi karanlıkta göremiyor musun yoksa, Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”, diye şaşırmış bir şekilde sorar Aremela.
“Biz hobbit’ler, elf’lerden gelme değiliz. Dolayısıyla onların sahip olduğu hiçbir özelliğe de sahip değiliz.”, der Brom.
“Sizin ne özelliğiniz var, peki?”
“Uhhhmm.. Bizler.. şanslıyız!”, der Brom ve bir anda bunun kulağa ne kadar komik gelebileceğini düşünür.
“Şanslı? Bu bana pek de doğru gibi gelmedi, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Sadece buraya geldiğinden beri yakalandın, az daha boğuluyordun, annenin gazabına uğramak üzereydin ve bir birimizin kölesi haline getirildik.”, der Aremela hiç inanmamış bir tonla.
“Aaaa.. ama ‘güzel bir kız’ tarafından yakalandım, ‘az daha’ boğuluyordum, anne beni ‘neredeyse’ haşlamak üzereydi ve ‘seninle’ bir maceraya atıldım!”, der Brom sırıtarak!
“Yine çok düşündüren şeyler söylemeye başladın, Blom Bundlebim Hobim.”, diye mızmızlanır Aremela.
“Sen ne yapmamızı önerirsin, peki?”, diye sırıtarak sorar.
“Ben bi şey önermem ki, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Ben yaparım sadece. Su her zaman yokuş aşağı akar!”, diye fısıldar Aremela.
“O zaman bu akşam erkenden kamp kuralım ve güzel bir uyku çekelim. Sabah da erkenden kalkıp yola koyulalım. Bu vadi oldukça büyük. Sanıyorum bir ucundan diğerine gitmemiz günler sürecektir.”, diye önerir Brom.
“Az ileride, şu istikamette çalılar ve ağaçların yoğun olduğu bir yer var, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Orada saklanırsak bizi göremezler gibime geliyor. Sanıyorum kamp şeysini orada kurabilirsin ama ki..”, der Aremela muallak bir sesle.
Aremela, Brom’u peşine takarak, bahsettiği yoğun çalı ve ağaçlı yere götürür. Gittikleri yerde küçük de bir su birikintisi vardır. Brom kampı kurup ortasında anca görülür, kontrollü bir ateş yakarken Aremela da imtina ile birikintiyi inceler, neden sonra da suyun temiz ve içilebilir olduğunu söyler..
..ve bir anda kıyafetleri üzerinde su gibi akar ve kız, zarif ve kıvrak bir hareketle birikintinin içine atlar!
Brom kıza sadece alık alık bakar, gördüğü.. uhhhmm.. ‘manzara’ karşısında ateş basmış yüzünü, cebinden çıkardığı bir mendille siler, sonra tekrar ateşe ve üstünde koyduğu küçük kaptaki pişirmekte olduğu yemeğe odaklanır.
“Su harika. Gelmek istemez misin, Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”, der Aremela, suyun dışından sadece başı ve gözleri görünür bir şekilde.
“Aaaa.. uhhmm.. bugün yeterince ıslandığımı düşünüyorum, güzel Aremela.”, diye inatla küçük tencerenin içinde fokurdayan yemeğe bakarak.
Aremela’nın olduğu yerden küçük, mutlu bir kıkırdama sesi duyulur.
Kız, belinden itibaren sudan çıkar ve birikintinin kenarındaki çimenlere yastlanarak Brom’a harika bir gülümseme atar.
“Hadi ama ki.. Söz bi şey yapmıcam!”, der Aremela muzip gülümsemeyisle.
“Bence yemek yiyip sonrada uyusak daha iyi olur, gibime geliyor. Yarın zorlu bir gün olacak.”, diye boğazını temizleyerek, ciddi bir şekilde cevap verir genç hobbit.
“Ben bir su perisiyim, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Dinlendirtmesini çok iyi bilirim ama ki.”, diye mutlu bir şekile Brom’a doğru biraz daha meyleder..
“A.. Aremela.. lütfen.. bu işi benim için daha fazla zorlaştırma. Evet.. fevkalade güzelsin ve.. uhh.. çekicisin.. ama daha bir birimizi tanımıyoruz bile..”, diye tekrar terlemeye başlar Brom.
“Ama tanıştık zaten ki. Ben Aremela Berrybush, sen de Blom Bundlebim Hobim! Bana bakarsan eğer, benim hakkımda bilmek istediğin her şeyi görebilirsin ki!”, der Aremela.
“Sorun da orda zaten. Sana.. uhh.. bu halinle bakarsam, hiç bi şey düşünemez hale geleceğimden korkuyorum..”, diye itiraf eder Brom.
“Yine düşünme şeysi.. Ortada düşünülecek bişi yok ama ki.. Yapılacak bişi var, Blom Bundlebim Hobim.”
“Ben açım. Karnımı doyurup sonra da uyuyacağım. Sende.. uhh.. üstüne bir şeyler giyip gelirsen, seninde yemeni isterim.”, der kati bir sesle ve sırt çantasından yedekleriyle beraber iğreti teneke tabak, çatal ve kaşıklarını çıkartır, iki tabağa da pişmiş yemekten doldurur, sonra da inatla sadece yemeğine bakarak ateşin başına çömer.
Aradan uzun, sessiz birkaç dakika geçer. Neden sonra Brom arkasından derin, esef dolu bir soluk duyar ve Aremela, tekrar giyinmiş halde yanına çömer.
Kız, alt dudağını pörtletmiş, ağlamaklı bir şekilde kendi tabağını alır, bir kaç kaşık yedikten sonra neredeyse hıçkırıklı, saf bir sesle söylenir.
“Seni anlamıyorum, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Benim ‘fevkalade’ güzel olduğumu söylüyorsun. Hatta dikkatini bile dağıtacak kadar beni çekici bulduğunu itiraf ediyorsun, ama buna rağmen bu ikinci defa beni reddedişin!”
“Uhhmm.. ilki ne zamandı?”, diye sorar ister istemez Brom.
“İlki, ilk karşılaştığımızdaydı. Hem çileklerimi yiyerek beni istediğini kabul etmiş oldun, hem de Yamara’nın şeftalilerini, Temessa’nın elmalarını, Cherriot’un kirazlarını, Shyad’in üzümlerini, Kardenymp’in armutlarını, hatta Veraminks’in de çileklerini yemeyerek, onları değil, sadece beni istediğini açıkça hepsine söylemiş oldun. Se.. seni gerçekten anlamıyorum, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Bu gidişle nesilsiz öleceğim!”, der kızcağız ve ağlamaya başlar.
“Hay shit!”, diye geçirir Brom içinden. “Kültür farklılığı dedikleri bu olsa gerek. Aferin sana Brom, hayatında gördüğün en güzel ve en naif varlığı salaklığınla ağlatmayı başardın..”
Brom, kıza çileklerini bilmeden yediğini hatırlarak onu daha fazla üzmek istemez. Tabağını kenara koyar, sessizce ayağa kalkar ve kızın yanına gider.
Genç hobbit, yavaşça kıza doğru uzanır ve bir eliyle kızın yanağına dokunur ve elinin, ılık ile sıcak arası bir kap suyun içene sokmuş gibi bir hisse kapılır. Brom, kıza dokunduğunda hissettiği şeye hayret ederken, kızda onun dokunuşuna, yada belki de, onun kendisine dokunmuş olmasına hayret eder. İrileşmiş, şaşkın, utangaç ve ürkek gözlerle önünde durak ‘Hobim’e bakar.
“Ben.. asla seni üzmek istemedim, sevgili Aremela. Söylediklerinin neredeyse hepsinde haklısın, ama biz ölümlülerin dünyası biraz daha karmaşıktır. Ben sana, hem senin, hem de yaşadığın dünya hakkında sorular soruyorum, çünkü sizler hakkında neredeyse hiçbir şey bilmiyorum. Ama görüyorum ki sizler de ölümlüler hakkında pek az şey biliyorsunuz ve bazı ölümlüler bunu aleyhinize ve kötüye kullanarak sizin kutsal vadinize girdiler. Ben onların yaptığı kötülüğü yapmak istemiyorum. Lütfen.. Beni anlamaya çalış..”, der ve dolu gözlerle kendisine bakan kıza nazikçe sarılır.
Brom, kızın kendisinden istediği şeye rağmen, gerçekte, ve aynı zamanda ondan ne kadar korkutuğunu da o anda anlar, zira kollarındaki, etrafına ‘ılık ile sıcak’ arası bir sukünet hissi yayan bu harikulade varlık titriyordur..
“Se.. seni hala anlamıyorum, Blom Bundlebim Hobim, ama anlamak için çaba sarfedeceğim. Anne bunun kolay olmayabileceği konusunda beni uyarmıştı. Öyle olsun bakalım. Ama şunu bilesin ki su sabırlıdır.. Yüzlerce yıl bile geçse dağları aşındırır ve en sonunda da kendimize akacak bir gedik açarız. Ben de senin kalbine böyle bir gedik açacağım!”, diye kati bir ifadeyle deklere eder Aremela ve Brom, daha önce hapı yutmadıysa, kızın hırsını ve inadını ayartarak, şimdi gerçekten şapa oturduğuna ayılıverir!
✱ ✱ ✱
Genç hobbit dışarıda kamp yapmayı seven biridir. En azından bunun, evinde, sıcak şöminesinin karşısında oturmuş, elinde annesinin yadigar fincanlarından birisi ile sıcak bir fincan çayını yudumlarken ve mutfağındaki küçük taş fırınından daha yeni çıkmış mutlu kurabiyelerini kıtlatırken okuduğu hikayelerde romantize edildiği gibi olduğu sürece. Nevarki evinden ve adı geçen sıcak şöminesinden, annesinin yadigar fincanlarından ve mutlu kurabiyelerinden ayrıldıktan sonra, hikayelerinde okuduğu o kamp ateşini asla bulamamıştır ve bu genç hobbit’in içine işlemiş bir ukte olarak kalmıştır —ta ki Gulls Perch’de geçirdiği ilk kamp gecesine kadar.
Genç Brom hayatında geçirdiği en keyifli geceyi geçirir bu garip ve mistik ‘fey vadisinde’..
Tamamen dinlenmiş, tertemiz bir orman sabahına uyanır ve başını çevirdiğinde, yanında Aremela’nın da uyumakta olduğunu görür. Kızcağız, bir önceki akşam yaşadığı hayal kırıklığı ile kamp ateşinin diğer yanında kıvrılıp yatmışken, geceleyin bir şekilde genç hobbit’in yanına, farkında olmadan yuvarlanmış ve şimdi de başını onun göğsüne yaslamış, yüzünde mutlu bir ifadeyle mışıl mışıl uyumaktadır.
Brom uzun bir süre kızın sessizce nefes alıp vermesini seyrederken bir yandan da onun hangi halinin daha saf ve güzel olduğuna karar vermeye çalışır; ayıkken mi, böyle kendinden geçmiş, mutlu bir şekilde uyurken ki hali mi..
Genç hobbit bu konuda bir sonuca varamaz çünkü kızın iki halide farklı güzelliklerini vurgulamaktadır.
“Aremela.. Aremela, uyan, sabah oldu ve bizim gitmemiz lazım..”, diye yumuşak bir fısıltıyla kıza seslenir.
“Hmmm..?”, diye muallak bir ses çıkar kızdan ve ince vücudunu biraz da topak haline getirerek daha bi yerleşir..
“Uhhmm.. Aremela.. Uyanmalısın ama.. Bak, sabah oldu..”, diye tekrar fısıldar Brom.
“Ama neden?.. Çileklerimi besliyorum görmüyo musun ama kiii..”, diye mızmızlanır kız biraz.
“Hadi ama.. Lütfen..”, der Brom ve uzanıp kızın başını okşar.
Kızdan, “Mmmmm..”, diye kedi yavrusu gibi bir ses kaçar, sonra mayhoş bir şekilde gözlerini açar, Brom’la neredeyse burun buruna olduğunu görünce yüzü istemsizce biraz kızarır, küçük, çilek renkli dudaklarında utangaç bir gülümseyiş belirir.
“Günaydın, Blom Bundlebim Hobim..”, der sessiz bir nefesle ve Brom o nefesten kesinlikle çilek kokusu aldığını düşünür.
“Uhhmm.. Günaydın güzel hanımefendi..”, der genç hobbit ve kızın doğrulmasını bekler.
Aremela, kavanozundan ağır ağır süzülen balın pürüzsüz hareketiyle doğrulur, mutlu bir şekilde esner..
..ve aynı ağır ve pürüzsüz hareketle birikintinin içine dalar!
Brom kalkıp ateşi tekrar canlandırıp, sırt çantasından çıkardığı küçük tavada yaşlı gnome hancı Kimbletyne’in kendisine verdiği sucuk ve sosisleri kızartıp tabaklara aktarır, yanına da kaşardan biraz dilimleyip güzel bir kahvaltı hazırlar. Sonra da sabah çayı için suyun kaynamasını bekler.
Aremela yıkanmış ve pırıl pırıl parlayarak birikintiden çıkar ve gelip Brom’un yanına çömer.
Genç hobbit sessizce ona hazırladığı tabaklardan birisini uzatır.
Kız kendisine uzatılan tabağı nazikçe alır, sonra merakla ateşin üstünde duran çaydanlığa bakar.
“O küçük şeyde ne pişiriyorsun?”, diye sorar.
“Çay için sıcak su lazım. Suyun kaynamasını bekliyorum.”, der Brom.
“SU!.. Neden benden istemedin ama ki?”, diye alınmış bir ifadeyle sorar Aremela, sonra çaydanlığa uzanır, işaret parmağı ile küçük çaydanlığa dokunur. Aradan iki-üç saniye geçer ve çaydanlıktan buharlı bir ıslık çıkmaya başlar.
“Küçük çay şeysin ötmeye başladı!”, diye şaşırmış bir şekilde çaydanlığa bakar kız.
“Bu.. hayret vericiydi..!”, der Brom ve temkinli bir şekilde çaydanlığa uzanır ama çaydanlık, içinde sıcak su olduğunda ne kadar olması gerekiyorsa ancak o kadar sıcaktır.
Brom mutlu bir şekilde çaydanlığın içine kurutulmuş çay yapraklarını büzüştürerek atar, istediği demlik süresince bekler, sonra da olmuş çayı, sırt çantasından çıkardığı kupaların içine döker. Kupalardan birisini kıza uzatır, diğerini de kendisine alır.
Kız, bir kaşı kalkmış bir şekilde çayı burnuna yaklaştırır ve koklar. Ardından temkinli bir şekilde bir yudum alır ama anında yüzünü buruşturur.
“Bu.. bu çok acı ama ki! Nasıl içiyorsun bunu?”, diye hayretle sorar Aremela.
“Buna çay derler. Aslında içine biraz şeker atıp içmeyi tercih ediyorum ama ne yazık ki şekerim kalmadı.”, diye biraz utanarak itiraf eder Brom.
“Şeker? Ben şekeri çok severim ki!”, diye ünler Aremela.
“Sanırm hepiniz şekeri seviyorsunuz.”, der Brom gülüseyerek.
“Ama adı ‘şeker’ ki! Sevilmemesi mümkün değil!”, diye mutlu bir şekilde mayışıverir kız.
✱ ✱ ✱
Gördün mü, Blom Bundlebim Hobim? İlerideki o dönen kocaman makine şeysinin oradalar..”, diye fısıldar Aremela, Brom’la sindiği çalılıkların arkasından.
“Gördüm ve dört kişiler. Üçü insan, birisi de dwarf! Farklı ırkların bir araya gelip önemli görevlere gittiklerini duymuştum ama kaçak maden kazma işi için bir araya gelmiş olmaları bana biraz garip geldi.. “, diye sesli bir şekilde mırıldanır Brom.
“Ne fark eder ki? Hepsi kötü adam bunların, Blom Bundlebim Hobim!”, diye kaynar suyu andırır bir sesle tıslar Aremela kızmış bir şekilde.
“Sonuç itibariyle fark etmez, sanırım ama ne nedir ve kim kimdir açısından önemli olabilir..”, der Brom.
“Anne bizi bunların hepsini vadimizden göndermemiz, bu makine şeysilerini kırmamız ve sularımıza dökülen zehirleri durdurmamız için gönderdi. Ve medusaya dikkat etmemiz konusunda da bizi uyardı!”, diye cevap verir Aremela.
“Ne? Medusa mı?”, diye irkilir birden genç hobbit.
“Evet. Özür dilerim, bunu sana söylememi istemişti ama ben unuttum.”, der samimi bir şekilde kız.
“Hiç kimse bana bir medusadan bahsetmemişti ama!”, diye inler Brom.
“Sen elbiselerini kuruturken anne bazı tembihlerde bulunmak için beni yanına çağırmıştı.. Bana senin.. umm.. ölümlüler hakkında bazı şeyler anlattı. Karşılabileceğimiz tehlikerden konuştu. Asla seni terk edip kaçmamam hususunda beni uyardı —ki bu da benim aklımın ucundan bile geçmemişti.. Seni terk edip kaçmak, yani.. Kim, verildiği kişiyi terk edip kaçar ki? Sonra da seni medusa hususunda da temkinli olman gerektiğini söyledi. Sakın ola medusaya bulaşmamamızı, asayı kullanıp tüymemizi istedi.. Aslında asayı bütün kötü adamlar ve medusa üzerinde kullandıktan sonra kendisinin sularımızı temizlemek için geleceğini söylemişti..”
Brom derin, esef dolu bir nefes çeker.
Gökler adına, BİR MEDUSA!
“Peki bu medusa neredeymiş?”, diye sorar çökmüş bir şekilde.
“Annem onun ‘Perch’de olduğunu söyledi.”
Aremala küçük, ince işaret parmağı ile batıya..
..ve yukarıya işaret eder.. çok yukarıya!
“Perch, o koca kaya mı?”, diye hayretle sorar Brom.
“Evet.”, der Aremela. “Gulls Perch ismi oradan geliyor ama ki!”
Aremela’nın, Brom’a gösterdiği ‘kaya’ gerçekte temeli belki de yarım mil çapında, git gide incelen, tepesi kesilmiş taştan kabaca koni şeklinde oyulmuş gibi görünen bir dağdır ve neredeyse bir mil kadar da yüksekliktedir.
Brom derin suları sevmediği gibi yüksek, uçurumlu dağları da sevmez çünkü Brom toprağın derinliklerinde maden ve değerli taşlar arayan bir dwarf, her türlü manyakça şeyler yapabilme potansiyeli olan da bir gnome değildir.
Brom aklı başında, sakin ve tercihen deniz seviyesindeki toprakrağa ayak basmayı seven bir hobbit’tir, o kadar!
“Medusadan korkuyor musun, Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”, diye tedirgin bir sesle sorar su perisi.
“Güzel Aremela.. Aklı başında herkes bir medusadan korkar. Medusalar, bir ork mangasına yada goblin sürüsüne benzemez!”, diye dertlenir Brom.
“Geri dönmek mi istiyorsun, Blom Bundlebim Hobim? Geri dönmek istersen, eminim anne bunu anlayışla karşılayacaktır.”, der Aremela sessizce.
Genç hobbit kaşlarını çatar. Evet, gerçekte Brom asla kendisini ‘cesur’, ‘güçlü’ ve özellikle de bir ‘kahraman’ olarak görmemiştir. Ama gördüğü bir şey vardır..
“Anne anlayışla karşılayabilir, Aremela. Ama ben karşılayamam..”, der Brom, yüzünde kati bir ifadeyle.
“Ama neden ki?”, diye hayretle hobbit’e bakar kız.
“Çünkü, Aremela Berrybush, Blom Bundlebim Hobim verdiği zaman sözünde durur.”
Brom, gözlerinin içine bakan kızın, söylediği şeyi anlamadığını görür.
Ama buna rağmen belli ki hoşuna gitmiştir çünkü küçük, mutlu bir çığlıkla kendisini ona atar ve kıpkırmızı olmuş hobbit’e sarılır..
“Uhhmm.. Sessiz olursak iyi olur, sevgili Aremela. Dört kötü adam var hemen ileride..”, diye öksürerek boğazını temizler Brom.
Kız, yüzünde muhteşem bir gülümseyişle ona bakar, sonra “Haklısın, Blom Bundlebim Hobim.”, der.
“Ne yapıyoruz şimdi?”, diye sorar Brom.
“Ben onların dikkatini dağıtacağım. Onlar bana bakarken sen de annenin asasını kullanırsın..”, der Aremela.
“Uhh.. Bu tehlikeli olmaz mı senin için? Adamların elinde demir kılıçlar, uzun mızrakar ve okları var.”
“Ben bir su perisiyim.. Bende de büyü var ama ki!”, der Aremela ve genç hobbit herhangi bir başka itirazda bulunamadan saklandıkları çalının arkasından fırladığı gibi eliyle adamlardan birine işaret eder ve..
“Helka yéva rista -nya!”
Kızın işeret parmağından incecik, çivit mavisi-beyaz karışımı upuzun bir çizgi, müthiş bir devinimle adamlardan birine isabet eder..
Aremela sonucu beklemeden aynı büyüsünü bir daha tekrarlar ve ikinci bir adamı daha vurur..
..sonra da dönüp çaprazlamasına geriye ve bir başka çalılığın olduğu yere kaçar!
Aremela’nın ilk vurduğu adam canı fena halde yanmış gibi kanayan midesini tutmuş, yerde çırpınmaktadır. Kızın büyüsüyle vurulan diğer adam ise acı içerisinde bir bacağını tutmuş inlemektedir.
Ayaktaki son adam ve dwarf, hayretle yaralanmış adamlara bakarlar, sonra adam bir elinde kılıcı, diğer elinde ise mızrağıyla kızın peşine takılır. Dwarf ise kendi dilinde haşin bir küfür savurur, kendisi de bir elinde çirkin baltası, diğerinde ise kalkanı olduğu halde ve o da kızın peşine takılır..
Brom, Aremela’nın bu fevri fedakarlığını boşa harcamaz. Saklandığı çalıyı Titania’nın asasıyla aralar, dwarf’a işaret eder ve..
“Lende ar- Len Alende Nieliem Arlende!”
..diye fısıldar ve bunu yaparken de nedense içinde herhangi bir acıma hissetmez.
Dwarf koşarken tökezlemiş gibi öne doğru meyleder, sonra yere düşer. Yüzünde hayret ile dehşet karışımı garip bir ifadeyle eline bakar.
Dwarf’un eli kararmıştır..
Daha doğrusu; kurumuştur!
Belli ki Titania’nın laneti gerçektir ve şakası da yoktur..
Dwarf korkunç bir çığlık atar, baltasını da, kalkanını da terkeder ve Aremela’nın, Brom’u getirdiği büyülü tünele doğru koşmaya başlar!
Önden koşan adam, dwarf’un çığlığını çok geç farkeder..
Brom dwarf’tan sonra, Titania’nın lanetiyle onu da vurur!
Adam çivilenmiş gibi yerinde çakılıp kalır. Sonra onun da ellerinden silahları düşer, ve o da dehşet içerisinde kurumuş ellerine bakar, ardından korku yüklü bir çığlıkla o da büyülü tünele doğru koşmaya başlar.
Brom, kaşları çatılı ve yüzünde nahoş bir ifadeyle yaralı iki adama bakar..
..ve annenin lanetini onların da üzerine salar..
Karnından yaralı olan adam acı içerisinde sürünerek kaçarken, bacağından yaralanmış olanı ise hoplayarak gözden kaybolur..
“Annenin şakası yok..”, diye mırıldanır Brom.
“Anne şakalardan hiç hoşlanmaz zaten ki..”, der Aremela ciddi bir ifadeyle.
Brom arkasına baktığında kızın geri gelmiş ve hafif ürkmüş bir şekilde kaçan adamları seyreder halde bulur.
“Makineyi nasıl yok edeceğiz, Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”, diye sorar Aremela.
“Makineyi şimdi kırmayacağız.”, diye cevap verir Brom.
“Neden ama ki? Anne makinelerin yok edilmesi gerektiğini söylemişti..”
“Evet. Ama makineleri yok ettiğimizde ne olacağını bilmiyoruz.. İçimden bir ses onların büyük bir gürültüyle patlayabileceğini söylüyor.”
“Bu iyi değil mi? Büyük bir gürültüyle patlasınlar ama ki!”, der Aremela haşin bir sesle.
“Büyük bir gürültüyle patlarlarsa, diğerleri de bizim burada olduğumuzu duyarlar. Bizim burada olduğumuzu bilmedikleri sürece, hepsini gafil avlama ihtimalimiz var, şimdi olduğu gibi..”
Aremela bunu kafasında everir, çevirir ve en sonunda Brom’un ne demek istediğine ayılır.
“Anladım! Onlara pusu kuracağız! Sel gibi..”
“Evet, sel.. Bastığı zaman sel her zaman aniden ve hemen olur, ve her şeyi de alıp götürür!”
“Haklısın..”, der Brom. “..sel gibi.”
“O zaman gel, Blom Bundlebim Hobim. Önümüzde yapacağımız daha çok sel var!”, der Aremela mutlu bir şekilde ve Brom’u elinden kaptığı gibi bir sonraki makinenin olduğu yere götürür..
✱ ✱ ✱
Helka yéva rista -nya?”, diye sessizce mırıldanarak sorar Brom, Aremela ile saklandığı bir başla çalının arkasında. “Buzlar kırsın seni?”
“Buz kessin seni..”, diye düzeltir Aremela sessizce. Sonra da alınmış bir sesle, “Yüksek elfçe bildiğini unutmuşum, Blom Budlebim Hobim. Ama bir kızın sırlarını çalmaya kalkman hiç de hoş değil.”, diye söylenir.
“Ben.. özür dilerim. Niyetim büyünü yada sırlarını çalmak değildi. Sadece merakımı cezbetti, o kadar. Daha önce böylesi bir büyü yapıldığını görmemiştim. İtiraf edeyim, biraz ürkütücüydü. Ama etkili olduğunu da söyleyebilirim. Her ne kadar ölümcül olsa da, yinede büyün.. nasıl desem.. büyüleyiciydi!”, der Brom.
Kız bu cevabı tatmin edici bulmuşmudur bilinmez. Ama gülümseyişine bakılırsa hoşuna gitti bellidir.
Garip ikili yorgun bir şekilde, vadinin oldukça derinliklerinde kamp kurarlar o gece. Aremela ve Brom bütün gün, her birinde ‘kötü’ üç adam, bir de dwarf’un bulunduğu kampları vurmuş ve kız adamların dikkatini dağıtırken, Brom’da önce dwarf’dan başlayarak teker teker bütün adamları Titania’nın asasıyla lanetlemişti. Bu süre içerisinde Aremela tam iki defa neredeyse yakalanmış, Brom ise biraz fazla hırslı koşan adamların birine yetişmek için peşinden giderken fena halde düşmüş ve ayak bileğini burkmuştu. Brom’un adamı lanetleyebilmesinin tek sebebi ise kızın adama geniş bir daire çizdirerek tekrar ona getirmiş olmasıydı. Bu olay genç hobbit’i yeterince utandırmadıysa, kızın bir de ‘vah vah’ları arasında Brom’un tüylü hobbit ayağından tutup bileğini ılık suyla yıkanmış hissi veren bir büyü ile iyileştirmiş olması kesin utandırmaya yetmişti..
Kızcağız acı içerisinde kıvranan hobbit’e bakmış ve kendi canı yanıyormuş gibi dolu gözlerle onu teskin etmeye çalışmış, genç hobbit’in burkulmuş bileğini iyileştirdikten sonra da birden sevindirik olmuştu!
Kız, elde etmek istediği şey için sanki elinde ‘yapması gerekenler listesi’ vardır ve her ne kadar hobbit için hissettiklerinde samimi olsa da, listesindeki bir şeyi de yapmış olmanın mutluluğunu yaşamaktadır;
Aremela yüzünde ışıl ışıl bir gururla bulup getirdiği taze meyvelerden harika bir servis hazırlamış ve Brom’un önüne, çayıyla beraber sunmuş, sonra da sessizce onun yemesini seyretmişti.
“Sen yemeyecek misin?”, diye sorar Brom nazikçe ve biraz da kızarmış bir şekilde zira bu fevkalade güzel yaratığın kendisini yemek yemek kadar basit bir şeyi yaparken alık alık seyretmesinden tam olarak utanmasa da, yine de bunu biraz rahatsız edici bulur.
Yani.. Birisinin yemek yeyişi ne kadar ilginç olabilir di ki?
“Aaaa.. Tabii.. Unutmuşum..”, der Aremela, kendi yüzü de kızarmış bir şekilde ve mutlu bir gülümsemeyle dilimlenmiş şeftalileri, üzümleri, çilekler ve elmaları yemeye başlar.
Alık alık seyretme sırası kendisine geçmiş olmalı ki, bu sefer de Brom farkında olmadan kızın dilimleri küçük, kırmızı ağzına götürüp yeyişini seyre dalar..
..ve az evvel hissettiği ‘garip’liğin sebebini anlar.
Kişinin kendisini, özellikle yemek yemek kadar olağan şeyleri yaparken ilginç bulmaması, belli ki başları için geçerli değildir ve bu noktada da kendisinin değil, seyredenin düşünceleri önemlidir.
Brom yıllar önce okuduğu hikayelerden birinde, genç ve sorunlu bir delikanlı ile hekimi arasında geçen bir diyaloğu hatırlar..
Hekim: Sana aşkı sorardım ama sen sadece bir sonetten alıntı yapardın.
Sen hayatında asla bir kadına bakıp da onun karşısında kendinin tamamen aciz olduğunu hissetmedin.
Sadece bakarak seni yerle bir edebileceğini, Göklerin dünyaya bir melek olarak onu sırf senin için gönderdiğini ve seni cehennemin en habis derinliklerinden sadece onun seni kurtarabileceğini hissetmedin.
Ve senin de sadece onun için dünyaya indirilmiş meleği olabileceğin duygusunu yaşamadın..
Böyle bir kadının sevgisine, onun şefkatine, ve dokunuşlarına asla sahip olmadın..
Zekisin. Bunun aksini kimse iddia edemez.. ama en nihayetinde sen sadece korkudan ödü bokuna karışmış bir çocuksun, o kadar..
Brom, kendisinin nasıl algıladığı değil, o potansiyeli taşıyan kişinin sevigiyi nasıl algıladığının gerçekte önemli olduğuna ayılır..
“Yine çok düşüncelerdesin mi, Blom Bundlebim Hobim?”, diye sorar Aremela.
“Sanırım.”, der Brom.
“Ne düşünüyorsun, peki?”, diye sorar kız.
“Tam olarak emin değilim.”, diye geçiştirmeye çalışır Brom.
“Hem düşünüyorsun, hem de bana söylemek istemiyorsun.”, der kız mutsuz bir şekilde.
“Daha önce bildiğimi sandığım, ama gerçekte hiç bir şey bilmediğimi anladığım bir şeyi düşünüyordum.”, der Brom, sanki bu her şeyi açıklıyormuş gibi.
“Hiç bir şey anlamadım, Blom Bundlebim Hobim! Yoksa anlamamam için özellikle mi böyle karmaşıklaştırıyorsun?”, diye söylenir kız.
“Aaa.. Hayır, sevgili Aremela. Sadece kendim de daha anlamadığım bir şey bu o kadar. Anlamadığım için de, anlatmakta zorlanıyorum..”
“Anladığında bana söyleyecek misin, peki?”, diye saf bir şekilde sorar Aremela.
“Anladığımda söyleyeceğim, sevgili su perisi..”
“Ayağın nasıl oldu?”, diye sorar Aremela.
“Harika.. Sanki hiç burkulmamış gibi.. Çok.. ‘ılık’ bir dokunuşun var..”, diye yüzü biraz kızararak itiraf eder Brom.
“Ben, ‘ılık’ bir su perisiyim ama ki..”, diye mutlu bir şekilde cevap verir Aremela..
✱ ✱ ✱
Buldum!”, der Brom ertesi sabah uyandığında ve başını eğdiğinde, Aremela’nın uyurken yine farkında olmadan yanına sokulduğunu ve topak halinde başını onun göğsüne yaslamış olduğunu görür. Brom ister istemez gülümser. Bu.. daha önce asla hissetmediği ama gerçekte fevkalade güzel olduğunu düşündüğü bir duygudur.
“Hmmm..?, diye uykulu bir şekilde mırıldanır Aremela..
“Sabah oldu, sevgili Aremela, kalkmamız lazım.”, diye fısıldar Brom.
“Ama çok uykum var ki!”, diye söylenir kız uyuşuk bir sesle.
Kızın yüzünde yine mutlu bir ifade vardır ve rüyasında her ne görüyorsa, bu onun küçük dudaklarının da gülümsemesine sebep olmaktadır. Brom ister istemez, bir su perisinin rüyasında onu böylesi mutlu edecek şeyin ne olabileceğini merak eder.
“Aremela..”, diye tekrar seslenir Brom.
Kız yavaşça gözlerini açar ve uzun bir süre sessizce başını göğsüne yasladığı hobbit’in yüzünü ve yüzündeki ayrıntıları seyreder..
“Çillerin..”, der neden sonra. “Beni hiç rahatsız etmediklerine karar verdim, Blom Bundlebim Hobin!”
“Uhhmm.. Teşekkür ederim?”, diye biraz afallar Brom. “Fikrini değiştiren neydi?”
“Anne beni sana verince çok kızmıştım, çok da korkmuştum. Bundan dolayı da olduğum ılık su gibi değil, kaynayıp taşan aptal su gibi davrandım. Şimdi yine ılıdım ve sana bakınca çillerinin sana yakıştığını görüyorum.”, der Aremela mutlu bir ifadeyle.
Brom ister istemez sırıtır.
“Buldum, diye bağırdığını duydum sanki, uyurken..”, der Aremela. “Neyi buldun?”
“Aaaa.. Neden her gittiğimiz makine kampında bir dwarf ve üç adamın olduğunu buldum.. sanırım..”, diye açıklamaya başlar genç hobbit. “Dwarf, makineleri kontrol eden kişi —bir mühendis.. ve sanırım üç adam da sadece paralı asker.. yada ‘fedai’ de denebilir. Şimdiye kadar sekiz kampı bastık. Bu da sekiz dwarf, otuz iki tane de fedai eder. Bugün de benzer bir adet makine kampı basarsak, toplamda neredeyse yirmiye yakın dwarf mühendis, yetmişe yakın da fedai demek oluyor..”
“Bunların hiçbirisini anlamadım, Blom Bundlebim Hobin ama ki!”, diye alt dudağını pörtletmiş bir şekilde söylenir Aremela. “Çok düşünme şeysin karmaşık ve çetrefilli..”
“Bunun anlamı, ortada ciddi bir yatırımın olduğudur, sevgili Aremela. Fedai tutmak, sayıları az olduğunda külfet getirmez. Ama bu kadar çok olduğunda bunun günlük masrafı azımsanmayacak çok olacaktır. Dahası..”, diye açıklar Brom.
“Bunun bir de dahası mı var?”, diye mızmızlanır Aremela.
“Korkarım var.. Dahası, dwarf müfendisler fedailerden çok daha pahalıdırlar. Yirmi tanesinin günlük kirası fahiş bir fiyata gelir! İş değerli taş ve madenlere gelince, kimse bir dwarf’un aç gözlülüğünü geçemez. Ama buna rağmen dwarf’lar başka ırkların topraklarına girip böyle bir talanda da bulunmazlar.. Hele ‘fey’lere ait ‘kutsal’ vadilere..”
“Ama geldiler ve burayı delik deşik ediyorlar, Blom Bundlebim Hobin!”, diye inler kız.
“Evet, ediyorlar ve bunu yapıyor olmaları bana bir şey söylüyor..”
Kız, Brom’a hayretle bakar.
“Onlarla konuşabiliyor musun, Blom Bundlebim Hobin?”
“Aaaa.. Hayır, sevgili Aremela. Ama davranışlarını okuyabilirsen, akıllarından geçenleri de bulabilirsin..”, der Brom gülümseyerek.
Aremela derin, acıklı bir iç çeker.
“Ne okudun ve ne buldun peki, Blom Bundlebim Hobin? Çabuk söylesen iyi olur çünkü yine ‘aptal su’ gibi kaynamak üzereyim..”, der Aremela mutsuz bir ifadeyle.
“Tamam, tamam, kızma lütfen.”, der Brom. “Okuduğum ve anladığım şey, bu dwarfların muhtemelen kendi klanlerinden atılmış yada ihraç edilmiş dwarflar oldukları..”
“Peki bunun anlamı ne ama ki?”, diye sorar Aremela.
“Bunun anlamı, bu dwarfların hiç kimseye bir sadakatlerinin olmadığı ve hiç bir kutsala da saygı duymadıkları.. Bu onları normal herhangi bir dwarf’dan çok daha tehlikeli.. ve aç gözlü yapıyor. Ve nasıl oluyor da medusa gibi haşin bir yaratıkla iş birliği yapabildiklerini de açıklıyor.”, der Brom.
“Bu açıklamanın bir anlamı var mı, Blom Bundlebim Hobin? Yada bize bir faydası?”, diye sabrı tükenmek üzere olan bir üslupla sorar Aremela.
“Bunun bize bir faydası var mı bilemiyorum.. En azından şimdilik. Ama bir anlamı var; bu dwarf’lar buradan asla vaz geçmeyecekler ve şayet hayatta kalırlarsa da daha kalabalık bir şekilde geri gelecekleri..”, diye kaşları çatılı bir şekilde cevap verir genç hobbit.
“Annenin laneti onları buradan uzaklaştırıp geri gelmemelerini sağlayacak ama ki!”, der kız mutlu bir şekilde.
“Hayatta gördüğüm ve öğrendiğim bir şey varsa, o da asla bir şeyi tamamen kökünden kazıyamadığımızdır.. Buradan sadece bir tanesinin bile ‘kurtulması’, burası hakkında istenmeyen dedikoduların yayılmasına sebep olacaktır.”, diye açıklar Brom fevkalade ciddi bir şekilde.
“Sen.. sen onları öldürmemiz gerektiğini söylüyorsun, Blom Bundlebim Hobin..”, diye dehşetle genç hobbit’e bakar Aremela.
“Korkarım, evet. İşte buna savaş derler, sevgili Aremela.. Yapmak isteyip istememizin bazen hiç bir önemi yoktur. Sadece yapılması gerekli olduğu için yapmak zorunda kalırız.. Ama bize ait olan şeyler, yada sevdiklerimizi koruyabilmemiz için hiç beklenmedik bir anda gerekli oluverir.”, der Brom biraz acımasızca..
“Ama.. ama sen çok sakin, anlayışlı ve akıllı bir Hobim’sin ki!”, der kız ağlamaklı bir şekilde.
“Güzel Aremela.. Bunun benim ne kadar sakin, ne kadar sevgi dolu, ne kadar akıllı yada anlayışlı olmamla hiçbir ilgisi yok. Aslına bakılırsa, bunun benimle hiç bir ilgisi yok. Burası benim vadim değil. Burası sizin vadiniz ve bunun da böyle kalması için sizin onu korumanız gerek.. Ve her şeyi de anneden beklememeniz gerek..”, der Brom.
“Ama neden?”, diye hıçkırmaya başlar kız. “Anne her zaman bizi korur ki?”
“Anne bu olaya müdahale edemedi ama. Ve sizi de koruyamadı.. Buna gücü yetmediği için yada bunu beceremediği için değil, gücünün çok fazla olduğu içindi.. Şayet anne gelip buradaki kötü adamları yok etmeye kalkarsa, annenin hiddeti o kötü adamlarla sınırlı kalmaz, bütün bu vadi yok olabilir.. Bütün bu vadi ve size hiç bir zararları dokunmamış olan komşularınızı da yok etmiş olur. Hatırlasana.. anne bunu söylediğinde sizlerde oradaydınız..”
Brom gerçekte kızcağızı üzmek yada ağlatmak niyetinde değildir. Ama saf ve temiz olmak, her gelen kötü adam tarafından itilip kakılmak, yada daha kötüsü için iyi bir bahane değildir ve genç hobit kendisinin bir kahraman yada kurtarıcı olmadını bilecek kadar da iyi tanır. Dahası, gün geldiğinde buradan ayrılıp gitmesi gerekecektir. Gittiğinde bu garip, saf ve içten varlıkların kendi kendilerini koruyabilecek derecede hazırlıklı ve uyanık olmalarını ister.
Genç hobit yavaşça kıza yaklaşır ve onu kollarına alır.
Kız başını onun göğsüne gömer ve hüngür hüngür ağlamaya başlar.
“Ben.. biz öldürmeyiz ama ki, Blom Bundlebim Hobin.. Korkuturuz, ürkütürüz, büyüleriz, unuttururuz, gözlerini kamaştırırız, mutlu ederiz ve gelenleri geri göndeririz.. ama asla öldürmeyiz. Bu.. büyük bir kötülük ki!”, diye boğuk bir sesle hıçkırır Aremela.
Brom bir eliyle sessizce kızı tutarken, diğer eliyle kızın başını ve upuzun, masmavi, çivit, içsel bir ışıkla parıldayan saçlarını okşar.
“Üzgünüm sevgili Aremela. Ama bazen ürkütmek, korkutmak, unutturmak, büyülemek ve gözleri kamaştırmak yeterli değildir..”, diye kızın kuğına fısıldar. “Hadi gel. Bugün yapacak çok işimiz var.”
Brom cebinden temiz mendillerinden birisini çıkartır, kızın yüzünü hafifçe doğrultur, “Hadi.. Önce senin gözlerini bi silelim..”, der ve kızın yaşlarını siler. “Şimdi de burnunu..”, diye ekler ve mendille kızın küçük burnunu çok hafif çimçikleyip siler.
“Ufff.. Acıdı ama ki!”, diye mızmızlanır kız.
“Hadi..”, diye tekrar kızı teşvik eder.
Kız, kendisini tutan bu garip Hobim’e uzun uzun hayretle bakar.
“Sen.. çileklerimi hakkediyorsun, Blom Bundlebim Hobin!”, der neden sonra burnunu çekerek.
“Bunu duyduğuma sevindim, sevgili Aremela.. Hazır mısın?”, diye gülümseyerek sorar Brom.
“Hazırım, Blom Bundlebim Hobin.. Bu güne kadar kimseyi öldürmedim. Ama sel olmam gerekiyorsa, ölüm kaçınılmazdır.”, der Aremela küçük burnunu çekerek. Ardından genç hobbit’in kollarınadan kurtulur, arkasını döner ve o günkü ‘temizleyecekleri’ ilk makine kampına doğru koşmaya başlar.
✱ ✱ ✱
Brom nefes nefese kalmış ve korkuyla derin ormanın içinde koşar ve çığlığın geldiği yere varır.. ve orada, Aremela’yı yerde, karnına bir mızrak saplanmış olarak görür. Kız, tepesinde durmuş adama mutlak bir terörle bakarken fedai ise suratında çirkin bir sırıtışla yerde yığılıp kalmış kıza bakar. Adam bir eliyle kızın karnındaki mızrağı acımasız bir ağırlıkla sokmaya devam ederken, diğer eliylede belindeki kılıcı çekmektedir.
“Seni iki gündür izliyorduk, küçük sürtük.. Başımıza açtığın zararı, sana acı olarak fazlasıyla ödeteceğim!”, diye hırlar fedai.
“Hobim!”, diye cılız bir sesle inler kız..
..ve Brom fedainin arkasında belirir.
Brom hayatında kimseyi öldürmemiştir. Aslına bakılırsa, hayatında kimseye karşı silah bile çekmemiştir..
Rezil fedainin suratında hayretle karışık acı ifadesi belirir ve kendi karnından çıkmış sivri çeliğe bakar.
Brom adama arkasından yaklaşmış, babasının eski kılıcını yetişebildiği en yüksek yerine, adamın sırtının alt tarafına var gücüyle saplamış ve kılıç adamın zırhının delip karnından çıkmıştı. Genç hobbit kendisi de panik içerisinde sapladığı kılıca asılır ve kılıç adamın çığlıkları eşliğinde midesini, bağırsaklarını, sonrada apış arasını yararak çıkar!
Adam kan ve pis içerisinde yere yıkılır ve tiz çığlıklarla tepinmeye başlar ama Brom ona bakmaz bile.
Sessiz bir acıyla yüzünü buruşturmuş kızın yanına koşar ve korkuyla dibine çömelir.
“Hayır.. hayır, hayır, hayır, hayır..”, diye inler Brom. “Ölme.. lütfen ölme Aremela!”
“Mızrak.. onu çıkarmalısın, Hobim..”, diye fısıldar acı içerisinde Aremela..
“Onu çıkartırsam bu canını çok acıtır ama!”, diye çığlar genç hobbit korku içerisinde.
“Zaten acıtıyor.. Blom.. Bundlebim.. Hobim.. Mızrağın ucunda.. demir var.. yakıyor beni..”, diye inler Aremela sıktığı gözlerinden yaşlar akarken.
Brom dişlerini sıkar, yavaşça mızrağı hareket ettirmeden kavrar..
..ve seri bir hareketle kızın karnından çıkarır.
Genç hobbit hayatının sonuna kadar o mızrağı çekerken çıkardığı ıslak sesi unutmayacaktır.
Aremela’dan sessiz bir çığlık kurtulur ve kendinden geçer..
Brom ne yapması gerektiğini düşünmeye çalışırken ormanın muhtelif yerlerinden sesler duymaya başlar..
..ve son iki gündür yaptıkları baskınların fark edilmiş olduğuna ayılır.
Dwarf’lar ve paralı fedaileri kıza pusu kurmuşlardır!
Brom eğilir, yavaşça kan içerisindeki kızı kucaklar ve olabildiğince sarsmadan geldiği istikamete doğru koşmaya başlar çünkü ihtiyacı olduğunu düşündüğü şey oradadır.
Genç hobbit kız için hissettiği korku ve tarifsiz endişeyle, baskın yaptıkları en son makine kampına giderken yanından geçtikleri küçük göletin yanına gelir, sonra da kızı yavaşça suyun içine bırakır..
..ve Aremela ağır ağır göletin dibine çöker ve gözden kaybolur.
Brom kahırla suda kaybolan kıza bakar ve tahmininde haklı olduğunu umar. Sonra yüzünde daha önce görülmemiş kararlı ve haşin bir ifade belirir..
Genç hobbit kıza ve içinde kaybolduğu gölete arkasını döner ve ormanda kızı arayan dwarf ve fedailerin peşine takılır.
“Ahmaklar!”, diye burnundan soluyarak küfreder Brom. “Size pusu nasıl kurulur öğreteceğim. Hobbit’lerin iyi olduğu tek şey, sadece şanslı olmaları değildir..”
Brom Bumblebrim ipini koparmış vaşak gibi hırlar..
..ve kan avına çıkar!
✱ ✱ ✱
Blom.. Blom Bundlebim Hobin..”, diye ağlamaklı bir ses duyar Brom ama küçük bedeninin her bir yerinden gelen acıların arasında kaybolur duyduğunu sandığı ses..
“Lütfen Hobim.. Uyan artık.. Beni korkutuyorsun ki!”, diye yalvarır Aremela.
“Acıyor..”, diye inler Brom. “Her yerim acıyor..”
“Neden bensiz gittin, Blom Bundlebim Hobin? Anlaşmamız böyle değildi ama ki!”, diye koykuyla karışık söylenir kızcağız.
“Neden ölmek üzereydin, Aremela? Bu da anlaşmamız arasında yoktu!”, diye inlemeye devam eder genç hobbit.
“Ama bu isteyerek yaptığım bir şey değil di ki.. Sanırım bana pusu kurdular çünkü o mebus adamın geldiğini duymadım bile.. Koşarken mızrağını attı bana ve ben de çok geç gördüm!”
“Benimkisi ise isteyerek yaptığım bir şeydi, Aremela. Senin öldüğünü sandım ve onlara bunun cezasını vermeye karar verdim.”, der Brom ve yavaşça başını kaldırır. “Ne kadar yaralıyım?”
“Çok yaralısın, Blom Bundlebim Hobin! Kalçanda bi delik var. Mızrak deliğine benziyor. Kolunda bi kesik var. Sırtında da üç tane kesik var. Sırt çantana altı tane ok saplanmış. Başında da bi yarık var ve sanırım iki ayak parmağın da kırılmış durumda..”, der kız, sonra tıslayarak söylenir. “Sana bakmak benim bile canımı yakıyor, Blom Bundlebim Hobin!”
“Senin yaralandığını sandığımda da benim canım yanmıştı, işte..”, diye elini başındaki yarığa götürür ve acıyla gözlerini sıkarak elini tekrar indirir.
“Bütün yaralarını iyileştiremem, Blom Bundlebim Hobin. Burada değil.. Ama benimle suya gelirsen bunu yapabilirim.”, der Aremela.
“Seninle her yere gelirim sevgili Aremela. Canım o kadar acıyor ki!”, diye pes eder genç hobbit..
..yumuşak, ılık bir elin yüzüne dokunduğunu hisseder. Ilık, yumuşak başka bir elin onu kolundan tuttuğu farkeder.. İki el, nazikçe küçük hobbit’i kaldırmaya çalışır, ama bunu beceremez!
Brom, acı içerisinde olmasına rağmen ‘fırk’lar.
“Korkarım, göründüğümden daha ağırım, sevgili Aremela.”, der ve kıvranarak bir kere yuvarlanır ancak bu yeterli gelmez. Genç hobbit gözleri acıdan sımsıkı kapalı olduğu halde ıkınarak bir daha yuvarlanır..
..ve taş gibi suyun içine düşer!
Brom sadece çok kısa bir anlığına suyun şok edici etkisini yaşar zira etrafındaki çivit mavisi ışıltıyı farkeder. Az önce yüzünde hissettiği ılık parmakları tekrar yüzünde hissedince gözlerini tekrar açar ama suyun içinde Aremela’nın sadece masmavi gözlerini görür. Kızın gerisi yoktur!
Kızın gerisi.. ürkütücü bir şekilde Brom’un çevreleyen suyla bütünleşmiş gibidir ve hissettiği ılık parmaklar önce hobbit’in başındaki yarığın üstünde gezinir. Brom kafasının gıdıklandığını hisseder. Ilık parmaklar sırasıyla Brom’un kolundaki kesik, kalçasındaki delik, sırtındaki kesikler ve varlıklarının farkında bile olmadığı daha birçok küçük yara ve kesiklerin üzerinde dolanır. Brom vücudunun bu kadar yerinden gıdıklanabileceğini bile bilmezken, parmaklar en son ayaklarına dokunur.
‘Çıt!’ —Bir.. Kırık parmaklarından biri yerine oturur ve genç hobbit’in sadece bir anlığına canı yanar.
‘Çıt!’ —İki.. Brom diğer parmağınında yerine oturtulduğunu hisseder, ardından ayağından aynı gıdıklanma duygusu yayılır ve genç hobbit, yüzünde yorgun, mayhoş ve hafif kayık bir ifadeyle önünde bir bütün olarak duran kıza.. masmavi, içten çivit-beyaz bir ışıkla aydınlanıyormuş gibi parlayan saçları, iri ve hafif çekik canlı mavi gözleri, küçük, şirin burnu ve çilek kırmızı-pembesi şekilli dudaklarıyla hemen önünde duran Aremela’ya bakar.
“Se.. seni.. öpmek istiyorum, sevgili Aremela..”, deyi verir birden. “O kadar güzelsin ki!”
“Beni öpmeni istiyorum, Blom Bundlebim Hobin. Neyi bekliyorsun ki?”, diye fısıldar kız.
✱ ✱ ✱
Bu çok uzun bir tırmanış olacak..”, der Brom ve tekrar yukarı.. çok yukarı bakar. Genç hobbit, dibinde durduğu, yapı ve görünüş itibariyle taş bir sütunu andıran ‘dağa’ uzun uzun bakar zira bu ‘sütun’, temelinde neredeyse yarım mil çapındadır ve sonu bulutların arasında kaybolmuştur. Brom dağın etrafında sipiral şeklinde dolanarak çıkan üç adımlık, yer yer de taşa sırtını vererek devam etmesi gerekecek kadar daralan patikaya bakar ve tekrar esefle söylenir. “Bu gerçekten çok uzun bir tırmanış olacak..”
“O kadar da korkulacak bir yanı yok ama ki, Blom Bundlebim Hobin!”, der Aremela ışıl ışıl, mutlu bir ifadeyle.
Kız, bir gün önce gölde genç ‘Hobim’i iyileştirmesinden sonra her nedense enerji doludur ve gözlerinde farkındasız bir parıltı, yüzünde sevinç dolu bir gülücük ile yerinde zıp zıplayıp yürümektedir.
Brom ise güneşte fazla durmuş biri gibi kızarmış bir ifadeyle dolaşır ve her nasılsa kendisini ‘mutlu’ bir şekilde kandırılmış hisseder.
“Hayır, sevgili Aremela..”, diye itiraz eder genç hobbit. “..gerçekten korkulacak bir şey var. Şayet o yüksekten kayıp da düşersem, seke seke ta Bowling Hills’e kadar yuvarlanırım ve ben Bowling Hills’e geri döndüğümde bunu sekerek yada yuvarlanarak değil, efendi efendi yürüyerek yapmak istiyorum!”
Aremala mutlu bir şekilde kıkırdar.
“Elinden tutabilirim ama ki!”, diye önerir kız ve cevabını beklemeden Brom’u elinden kaptığı gibi patikadan yukarı doğru koşturmaya başlar.
Aremela ve Brom, saatlerce dağın etrafından dolanan patika boyunca yürürler ve bütün bu süre boyunca Brom yukarı çıktıklarında ne halt yiyeceklerini düşünür.. kara kara ve bir yandan da bu şeye neden dağ deyip durduklarını merak eder zira bu daha çok DEV bir minareye benzemektedir..
“Bir medusa.. Muhteşem Gökler adına minarenin tepesinde bir medusa var, geldiğimizi biliyor ve bizi bekliyor!”, diye için için inler genç hobbit.
Brom, yıllar önce okuduğu bir kitaptaki kahramanın bir medusa ile mücadelesini hatırlar ve ayna yüzeyli bir kalkanı nereden bulacağını düşünür.. yani.. gerçekçi olmak gerekirse, kimin ayna yüzeyli bir kalkan yapacağını merak eder.
“Her halde aynayı kalkana tutturan ahmak, aynanın gelen ilk ok ile kırılabileceğini düşünememiş!”, diye okuduğu zamanda saçma gelen hikaye ile tekrar dalga geçer..
“Yine derin düşünceler içinde kaybolmak üzeresin, Blom Bundlebim Hobin.. Sevinmelisin!”, der Aremela arkasından.
“Neden?”, diye sorar Brom.
“Derin düşüncelerinde kaybolmanı engellemek için yanında ben varım ama ki!”, diye kıkırdayarak cevap verir Alemela.
“Medusa konusunda ne yapacağımızı hala düşünebilmiş değilim, sevgili Aremela..”, diye itiraf eder Brom.
“Senin de yapacağın şey belli, benim de.. Ben dikkatlerini üzerime çekeceğim, onlar benimle uğraşırken, sende annenin asasıyla onların buradan uzaklaştıracaksın.”
“Sanırım bu tuzağa bir daha düşmeyeceklerdir zira birileri baskınlarımıza uyandı, üstüne bir de bize pusu kurdular..”, diye somurtarak itiraz eder genç hobbit ve bir anlığına, kızı ‘belki’ kurtulur umuduyla göle saldığı, gerçekte ise onun kati olarak öleceğini düşündüğü an’a geri döner.. ve içinde hissettiği hiddetten dolayı kızı arayan dwarf ve fedaileri üzerine ard arda ve acımasızca yağdırdığı Titania’nın lanetini hatırlar. Brom asanın nasıl çalıştığını bilmez, ama sanki ‘katliamın’ sonuna doğru lanet çok daha zalimce vurmaya başlamıştı hedeflerini.. Öyle ki, Brom lanetle vurduğu son iki adam ve dwarf haykırmaya bile fırsat bulamadan oracıkta ‘kurumuş’ sonra da kapkara bir toz yığını halinde yere ‘dökülmüşlerdi’..
Brom ileriki yıllarda.. bundan çok, çok uzun yıllar bile sonra hatırlamak istemeyecektir o adamlara yaptıklarını.
“Seni hiç yapmak istemediğin şeyleri yapmaya zorladım, Blom Bundlebim Hobin.. Bundan dolayı bütün kalbimle senden özür dilerim ve bir gün beni affedeceğini umuyorum.”, diye kızın cılız sesini duyar arkasından..
Brom durur ve hayretle peşinden gelen kıza bakar.
“Bana hiçbir şeyden dolayı özür dilemene gerek yok, sevgili Aremela. Onların sana yaptıklarından dolayı kızdım.. ve cezalarını verdim. Evet. Onlara yaptığım tam olarak buydu; CEZA! Onlardan öç almadım, onları cezalandırdım!”, diye boğuk ve haşin bir sesle cevap verir genç hobbit.
“Ama sen iyi bir Hobim’sin. Bu güne kadar kimseyi öldürmemiştin. Benim dikkatsizliğim yüzünden başıma gelenlerden dolayı ruhunun bu saflığının yok olmasına sebep oldum ama ki!”, diye daha da sessiz bir utançla mırıldanır Aremela.
Brom kızın söylediklerini düşünür —gerçekten düşünür, zira kız söylediklerini nezaket yada latife olsun diye dillendirmemiştir. Genç hobbit’in bu son bir kaç günde öğrendiği bir şey varsa, fey’lerin ruhlarla ve metafizik alemiyle ilişkileri, kendisi gibi ahmak ölümlülerden çok daha ‘berraktır’. Olduğu su perisi gibi, mecazları anlamakta çektikeri sıkıntıyı da göz önünde bulundurduğunda, kızın söylediği şey, bir anlamda ‘gerçektir’ aynı zamanda..
“Buna fazla üzülme, Aremela. Sanıyorum ki bu bir gün olacaktı zaten. Açıkçası beklediğimden çok daha fazla gecikmişti bile diyebilirim. Bu aşağılık adamların kan dökmeden buradan ayrılmayacakları da en başından belliydi. Sanıyorum annenin de, benim gibi bir ölümlünün buraya girmesine izin vermesinin sebebi de bu gereksinimdi. Özellikle de vadinize olanlardan sonra.. Beraberimde getirdiğim kendi demir silahlarıma da en başta el koymayışından bunu anlamış olmam gerekirdi..”
Aremela sessizce içi kanayan hobbit’e yaklaşır ve ona bütün varlığı ile sarılır.
“Sevgili Blom Bundlebim Hobin..”, diye fısıldar ona. “..suya küçük bir yaprak düşerse dalgalanır ve tümü hisseder o yaprağı.. İzin ver acın acım olsun..”
Brom Bumblebrim hayret ve hayranlıkla kendisine sarılan kızı tutar kollarında. Geri dönüp baktığında, unutmayı çok isteyeceği, ama asla unutamayacağı an’lardan bir tanesi de bu olacaktır.
Dev taş minarenin etrafında dolanan patika boyunca derin, hırçın bir şaklama sesi yankılanır ve Brom ne olduğunu bile anlayamadan Aremela onunla waltz eder gibi döner..
..ve kendi sırtını sesin geldiği yöne verecek şekilde hobbit’le yer değiştirir..
..ve ilkilir. Kendi küçük, güzel yüzü hüzünle karışık acıyla büzüşür..
..sonra da olduğu gibi hobbit’in kollarında yığılır.
Brom kızın az gerisindeki koyu kahve cübbeli adamı görür..
..ve elinde tuttuğu, daha çok yıldırım şeklindeki kurumuş bir dala benzeyen sihirli çubuğu görür.
Brom kollarında cansız bir şekilde salınan kıza bakar ve kaynayan gayzer gibi tüm kinini cübbeli adama yöneltir ve..
“Lende ar- Len Alende Nieliem Arlende!”
Cübbeli adam birden ne olacağına anlamış gibi korkuyla ona bakar ve haykırır.
“Mad Ussa, kaç!”
Adam birden olduğu yerde çalıkmış gibi irkilir ve dehşetle kararmaya başlayan ellerine bakar. Adamın elleri bin yıllık kurumuş ve kararmış mumya gibi sertleşip dökülmeye başalar ve toz halinde rüzgarda kaybolur. Ama annenin laneti orada bitmez çünkü Titania böyle buyurmuştur. Adam acıyla çığlık atmaya başlar ama bu da çok uzun sürmez zira adamın kuruyup uçuşan ellerinden sonra kolları, ardından göğsü, boğazı, suratı ve başı, sonrada bacakları.. hepsi art arda kararıp kurur ve simsiyah toz halinde dağılıp gider..
Brom patikanın biraz daha yukarısında, muazzam, kapkara sırhlar içerisinde bir dwarf görür ve onu gördüğü anda hiç sektirmeden tekrar bağırır..
“Lende ar- Len Alende Nieliem Arlende!”
..ama dwarf beklenmedik bir çeviklik örneği sergiler eliyle önünde seri bir daire işareti yapar. Brom gönderdiği lanetin, dwarf’un önündeki bir şeye çarptığını görür gibi olur. Kapkara zırhlar içerisindeki adam buna rağmen geri tökezler ve kendisini korumak için yaptığı büyü her ne ise, lanet onu karartıp yemeye başlar.
Dwarf büyük bir kinle küfreder..
..ve patikanın kenarından aşağı atlar!
Brom, dwarf’un ardından tekrar tekrar lanetler gönderir ama isabet edip etmediğini asla öğrenemez. Kapkara zırhları içerisindeki dwarf’un pelerini hayret verici bir şekilde açılır ve yarasa kanadı gibi çırpmaya başlar..
Dwarf nefretle küfürler savurarak gözden kaybolur!
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Brom Bumblebrim, kucağında hareketsiz duran kız olduğu halde taş minarenin tepsindedir ve ufku seyretmektedir. Genç hobbit, tepesinde durduğu taş minareye çıkmayı hiç istememişti. Ama çıkacaksa tepesinden manzarıyı bu kız ile —Aremela ile— seyretmek istemişti.. Ve şimdi ikisi de hareketsiz bir şekilde, hayatında gördüğü en güzel, en muhteşem ufku seyretmektedir..
“Kızım..”, der dolgun bir ses hemen yanında. “..benim küçük Aremela’m..”
Brom uzun süre yanında duran kadının varlığını umursamaz.
Neden sonra sessizce kaynayan bir sesle hırıldar.
“Neden.. neden onu bana verdin ki? Gelmeseydi hala hayatta olurdu..”
“Gelmeseydi sen ölmüş olurdun, sevgili Brom Bumblebrim.”, diye hüzünlü bir sükunetle cevap verir Titania.
“Ama o hayatta olurdu!”, diye bağırır genç hobbit.
“Onun çileklerini yedin, genç Brom. Onu sana ben bağlamadım. Onu kendine sen bağladın..”, der anne aynı hüzünlü sessizliği ile.
“Anlamıyorum.. keşke yemeseydim.. keşke buraya hiç gelmemiş olsaydım..”, diye birden hıçkırmaya başlar Brom.
“Hayır, Brom Bumblebrim. Böyle söyleyerek onun fedakarlığını da, anısını da küçültme.”, der Titania.
“Beni korumamış olsaydı hala hayatta olurdu!”, diye kahır dolu bir sesle hıçkırmaya devam eder Brom.
“Aaa.. Sen onun fedakarlığının, seni korumak için seninle yer değiştirmiş olduğunu mu sanıyorsun? Hayır, genç Brom. Onun gerçek fedakarlığı, ben onu sana verdiğimde, onun bunu kabul etmesindeydi.. Bunu yaparak bir ‘ölümlü’ olabilme ihtimalini göze almış oldu..”
“Ama neden? Neden böyle bir şey yaptı ki?”, diye dolu gözlerle kucağındaki cansız kıza daha da şiddetle sarılır.
“Çünkü, sevgili Brom, sen onun çileklerini yedin!”
Brom, farkındasız bir şekilde annenin aynı zamanda hem ‘sen’, hem de ‘onun’ kelimelerine vurgu yapmış olduğunu farkeder..
..ve ortaya çıkan her iki anlam da onu farklı kahreder.
“Ona üzüldüğün kadar da onun adına sevinmelisin, genç Brom.”, der Titania.
“Ortada sevinilebilecek bir şey varsa, bunu ben göremiyorum..”, diye inler Brom.
“Çünkü her ne kadar fey’ler olarak çok uzun yaşasak da, gerçekte ölümlülere her zaman gıpta ile bakarız. Onların davranışlarını taklit ederiz, onlar gibi konuşup onlar gibi davranmaya çalışırız. Onlar gibi oyunlar oynar, onlar gibi dans ederiz.. ve onlardan çocuklar yapmaya çalışırız.. Küçük Aremala’m ise çocuklarım arasında bir ölümlüye en çok yaklaşabilenimiz oldu.”
“Biz ölümlülerden çocuklarınız oluyormuş ama..”, diye itiraz eder Brom.
“O bir alış verişten ibaret. Bu dünyada istekli bir fey kızını reddedebilecek tanıdığın kaç ölümlü var, genç Brom?
Sen onun istediğini ona vermedin. Ama onu red de etmedin. Sen ondan hiçbir talepte bulunmadın. Bu yüzden o da senden istediğini talep edemedi çünkü almak için önce vermek lazım. Vermek için de ortada bir talep olması gerek. Denge ancak bu şekilde korunabilir. Buna rağmen sen onun için öldürdün. Onun için delirdin. Onun için üzüldün ve ağladın.. Sen onun için kahroldun.. Ve o da senin için başta sadece korku hissediyor olmasına rağmen yine de beni kırmadı. Bunu yapmaya hakkı vardı ama bu hakkını kullanmamayı seçti. Sen, bir ölümlü olarak onda beklenmedik bir merak ve ilgi uyandırdın. Dahası, senin sağlıklı ve hayatta kalabilmen için elinden geleni.. ve daha fazlasını yaptı, Brom Bumblebrim. Ve her ikiniz de hiçbir talepte bulunmamış olmanıza rağmen bunları yaptınız. Bu şekilde ‘mutlak dengesizliği’ oluşturmuş oldunuz.
Bir şeyi çok iyi anlamı istiyorum; feyler denge olmadığında fevkalade rahatız olurlar ve o denge için çırpınırlar. Aynı dengesizliğin devam etmesi halinde de solup giderler. Sizin aranızdaki dengesizlik, bir fey’de gerçekleşmez. Bu ancak ölümlülerin tahammül gösterebileceği bir durumdur. Sevgili Aremela’m senin için ölümlü olmayı göze almıştı.. çünkü onun çileklerini yedin.
Benimle konuştuktan sonra yüzeye geri döndüğünde ona bazı tembihlerde bulunmak için yanıma çağırdım çünkü sevgili Aremela’m ölümlüler hakkında hiçbir şey bilmiyordu. Ona benim isteğimi kabul etmeyebileceğini ısrarla tekrarlamama rağmen o ise bana sadece aynı şeyi söylemeyi tercih etti;
‘O benim çileklerimi yeni, anne..’
Bunları sana söylüyorum çünkü hissettiğin kahrın hakkını vermeni istiyorum.
Sen, Brom Bumblebrim, fey’lerde nadiren görülmüş bir şeyi gerçekleştirdin..
Sen bir fey’e takas değil, sevgiyi ve fedakârlığı göstermiş oldun..
✱ ✱ ✱
02.10.7589 B.Y.S (-18 Yıl)
Ritual Ormanlarının güneyi..
Brom Bumblebrim, Titania ile arasındaki konuşmadan sonra hayatında daha önce hiç hissetmediği bir acı ve boşlukla Gulls Perch’in batısındaki neredeyse bir mil yükseklikteki taş ‘minareden’ güneş batıncaya kadar ufku seyretmişti. Güneş batarken kucağında hareketsiz bir şekilde, uyuyormuş gibi duran Aremela’nın sessiz bedeni de yavaşça, buharlaşıyormuş gibi kaybolmaya başlamıştı.
Brom incelip kaybolan kıza biraz daha sıkı sarılırmış, ağzından hıçkırıklarla “Hayır.. biraz daha.. lütfen!”, diye kırık bir yalvarış kaçmıştı..
“Gitme zamanı geldi, genç Brom. Hem onun, hem de senin için..”, demişti ona anne Titania.
Gün battığında, Brom ruhundan da bir şeylerin gömüldüğünü hisseder çünkü masmavi, çivit-beyazı içsel bir ışıkla aydınlanan upuzun saçları, iri, hafif çekik, derin sulara ait gözleri, küçük, şirin burnu ve sahibesi olduğu çilek dudaklarıyla Aremela ona sessizce veda eder gibi kaybolmuştu.
Şimdiyse Brom, Titania annenin çağırdığı, Gulls Perch’e adını veren dev, bembeyaz bir martının sırtında, Rituel Ormanlarına doğru uçmaktadır.
Belki bir başka zaman olmuş olsa, Aremela ile hiç karşılaşmamış olduğu bir zaman da, Brom neredeyse yirmi yardalık kanat açıklığına sahip dev martının sırtında seyahat etmeyi hem hayret ötesi, hemde dehşet verici bir tecrübe olarak görebilirdi.
Şu anda ise Brom etrafına bile bakınmadan, öylece kuşun sırtında oturmuş, ölü gözlerle ileriyi, gece karanlığında sadece kendisinin görebildiği bir şeye bakmaktadır.
Brom, Gulls Perch’ten ayrılırken anneden hiçbir şey talep etmez, hiçbir şey de istemez. Brom, Gulls Perch’de geçirdiği süre boyunca hayatında isteyebileceği tek şeyi zaten kaybetmiştir.
Buna rağmen genç hobbit elindeki küçük şeyi sımsıkı tutar ve karmakarışık zihninde o şey her aklına geldiğinde gözleri yine dolar, ve yaşları dev martının uçarken oluşturduğu rüzgarda salınıp kaybolur..
Çünkü genç Brom Bumblebrim’in elinde sımsıkı tuttuğu şey, gerçekte küçük bir kesedir.
Kesenin içinde, Gulls Perch’den ayrılmadan hemen önce annenin ona verdiği, sevgili Aremela Berrybush’un çileklerine ait tohumlar vardır..
Brom Bumblebrim’in hayret verici maceraları
A Bard’s Tale XIV “a Bit of a Bite” VI ile