Belthaar General of Barrabas army and current ambassador/spy
My introduction to the High City was not at all as expected. The city itself was breathtakingly beautiful, rising from the river in waves of white broken by the green of trees and ivy. That wasn’t what surprised me, the reception I received did. I had expected cold looks, suspicion and barely veiled contempt. I was ready for rotten fruit to be thrown down on me, not flowers.
The long slender arms that stretched towards me were pale, tinted blue or pink, with silver nails. Their faces, their eyes, glowed with unnatural light not of this world, with smiles showing teeth made for ripping. And yet they smiled instead of ripped.
I forced a smile of my own, but knew it looked more like a grimace. I'd seen enough elves dripping silver blood off the end of my sword, watched the light fade from their eyes as they cursed me. I hadn't seen beauty in their features for a very long time. For a moment it seemed a woman gazed on me with eyes like amethyst, but instead, the purple fragmented into a pink gaze. I stared at her while she gazed back at me, warm and welcoming, an alien stranger.
I forced my heart to slow its beating. This mission may be my personal curse, but the Emperor's will was my own. I nodded to myself and straightened my shoulders, longing for the weight of my sword across my back. I had to use my long ago training as an acolyte to the Emperor before I'd taken up the sword. I could not think of these creatures as beauty, as anything other than those who would pass beneath the Emperor's way.
I gave up smiling as I walked, ignoring the ladies that hung above me from their windows, tried to block out the sound of their greetings, the song of their voices intertwining into a complicated melody that made my chest ache.
I walked unarmed into the heart of the Elven city, where magic seeped through the cracks in the stones beneath my feet, magic that I knew more than a Barbarian should know. Some said the Barbarians ignorance was their greatest strength, but since I'd led the soldiers, it was my acceptance of the Elves and their twisting of the fabric that had helped me turn the tide against them.
I wanted to be there, on the field instead of involved in a complicated infiltration to discover their weak points for the offensive to come, tentatively, in spring. I disliked the welcoming creatures whose blood would flow into these stones, cursing me eternally.
I shrugged. I'd lived with a curse for a hundred years. My very age was its own curse. I sweated more than I should have been beneath the cool canopy of trees. It bothered me that anyone who brushed up near me would catch my scent of fear, bad enough to smell it on myself.
I’d fought enough of the tall ones to know that while you could dismiss their ‘magics’ they still had inhuman senses and could fill you with irrational fear if they got the chance to look in your eyes. To have spent most of a century with a sword on the field made the change to viceroy a bitter blow. It didn’t feel honorable. I liked to look at them as the enemy, as simplistic as that was.
When we neared the house where I would reside, I looked back and realized that we were on the edge of the city. Most of my tall escort had abandoned me leaving only a few silent elves bearing my luggage, but their very silence seemed mocking.
I took a moment to grab the end of a trunk causing the bearer to raise an eyebrow in amusement at me. I grinned at him, nearly snarling. I was a barbarian after all. I'd be expected to have common manners like wanting to carry my own luggage. Of course, I couldn't carry it all, not the long train of trunks and cases, some filled with gifts, others with ridiculous outfits to wear in my performance as diplomat. I belonged on the field. I didn’t need a distraction like this at a time when my men would be preparing for the largest assault of their short lives; likely rendered shorter under someone else’s command.
I looked around the courtyard we finally entered, at the simple fountain tinkling musically, for the sight of the females so I could keep my distance. Oddly enough the only person was a gardener who didn’t look up for some time after I entered as the bearers stacked my luggage in piles behind me.
The gardener glanced at me then rose slowly only after the other elves had dispersed. I didn’t like the way he looked at me, like he knew me better than I knew myself. I gave him my most polite smile from my days as acolyte to the Emperor.
He didn’t act like a servant. He stood like a god, his silvery eyes giving me one last final look before he turned towards the house. The enormous, overpowering manse had a presence that demanded attention. I glanced up at the spiraling tower and elaborate stonework before I turned to the gardener.
He gestured me to follow him as he walked through a large passageway into the dim interior.
Inside it was darker, cool, and I felt myself sweating harder. They hadn't told me a great deal about my host, my interpreter, simply brought me to this ancient estate on the edge of the city. When my eyes adjusted and I walked towards the grand stairs, following the gardener's lead.
I stood at attention for some time before the creature graced me with her presence. It was a she, probably, but none of the other ladies of the city had so much as their arms covered much less the entire face, head and body like this creature swathed in white.
She was covered like one of the ladies of my country as if she was trying to respect my customs, but my mouth twitched at how badly she’d carried it out. Her eyed were completely obscuredso I had no idea how she traversed the stairs in safety.
She moved like a dream. I stared, entranced each time her foot touched a step. She descended with the ethereal grace none of my people would ever come near. It reminded me of amethyst eyes.
I thought I could see purple reflected behind the billowy gauze when she reached a few steps from me before she tripped falling into my arms with a solidity that belied her apparent weightlessness. She felt cold, like a bird hanging onto the last of its life after striking glass, heart thumping delicately in its feeble frame. Her eyes, amethyst, stared at me, half veiled through the mists of gauze.