Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Barbarians and Elves Part 7

Part 7
Lady Perr, Of High City

I stayed in the kitchen until the gardener procured a crutch from who knew where. I had the unhappy circumstance of being the only elven lady clumsy enough to fall down her own stairs. The gardener seemed a handy fellow, whoever he was. The barbarian diplomat seemed so familiar. Perhaps he was a descendant of Herrin Balthaar, one of the many from his numerous concubines no doubt. I rubbed my sides, still feeling his hands, calloused and rough, catching on the flimsy fabric. He spent a great deal of time working the land, or swinging a sword, instead of the gentle pads accustomed to holding a pen. Of course he was a barbarian. Perhaps he was both.

I hobbled up and down the passageway between the kitchen and the morning room, passing through sunbeams and motes of dust that carried the scent of faraway distant places. The very air had been stirred by the Barbarian's presence. When I realized that I had been focused for hours, not slipping out into the gentle oblivion that was customary to me, I paused, leaning against the cool pale stone wall.

Things were changing. Could it be for the better? Of course not. Nothing to do with Barbarians was good. I knew that much. I frowned and tried to focus on the new pain of my ankle, the sharp bright pain that would keep me from thinking of the old wounds that had never healed, but the gardener had done his work well. I frowned at him as he approached with the graceful, ageless walk of our kind. He seemed so familiar, almost like he’d been here forever, but that wasn’t possible was it? I would remember.

“When is the Convotion? How soon shall we leave?” I asked, testing my ankle with my weight.

"You remember about the Convotion?" he responded.

I frowned at him. "Apparently. What is your name? How long have you worked here?" I studied him as we walked beside him, barely using my crutch.

"I’m the gardener,” he replied, and gave me a slight smile, as mocking as my kind could get. “Is my lady Perr going to the Convotion in her present state of dress?”

His tone was one of complete condescension. At some times in my life that tone would have bothered me. I looked down at my dress, aged and worn, not exactly exalted. I glanced up at him and shrugged. I'd fallen down my own stairs. My dress matched the frame of my mind. “I don’t see why not. Is he ready?”

“He?” the gardener folded his arms over his chest, an overt sign that matched his flared nostrils and bared teeth.

“The Viceroy.”

“I thought he was an Ambassador.”
I frowned, biting my lip. “Yes, of course, the Ambassador. Pardon my error, errors..." I sighed. "Is the Ambassador prepared for the Convotion?"

"It has been moved to two days hence."

"Why?" I asked, stopping to stare at him full in the face.

"After the Ambassador's long journey, they assumed it would befit him to rest in your..."

"Nonsense." I cut him off, brushing past him, leaving my unnecessary crutch against the wall. "He must be greeted immediately by the High Precept unless this entire debacle is nothing but pretense. Why not tar and feather him at once if there is no intention of following protocol? And why in the name of the five magics have I been involved if not to use my experience as an actual guide of the Barbarian?"

"You take this small matter too..."

"Small matter?" I drew myself up to frown at him, wishing that my veils were not so clouded. "We are going to see the High Precept this evening whether they have prepared the Convotion or not. You may not realize the greatness of this slight, but I do. They should have called someone else to the duty if they didn't want it done according to tradition."

He stared at me, seeming at a loss for words. Finally he softly said, "I will inform the High Precept of your intent."

"Indeed," I said, stepping out of the hall and into the garden.

"The Barbarian is hardly likely to be here as an ambassador. Spy is more like," he said coolly.

"Obviously," I returned. "However, if we wish to be above Barbarians, we must treat them as we know we ought, instead of stooping to their level."

"Do you know their level? Do you realize how close we are to complete destruction?" His voice came out cold, emotionless, but when I looked in his eyes, I felt fear, his fear.

"Things that come into existence must pass out of it."

"I know the name, Belthaar, a general who leads his men fearlessly against us, knowing all our ways the better to destroy us. They say that he's killed so many Elves, he's taken on our immortality, which would explain how he's lived so long, spreading death and terror in an endless red parade. We should kill him while he is in our power."

I blanched at his easy sentence to one I'd been assigned guide. "If an execution order comes, you may take him away. Until then, we proceed with our guest according to custom. If you are uncomfortable with the Barbarian's presence, I will ask the High Precept to release you from your duty.”

"And leave you alone with the calloused murderer?"

I lifted my chin. "I am hardly defenseless."

He had the temerity to laugh. Elven laughter should hold joy and spread like a flame to those around us. His laughter tasted of acid, eating away at all it touched.

He bowed, one hand on his heart. When he straightened, the laughter had gone, replaced by elven calm.

"My Lady Perr has spoken."

"So, she has," I nodded, passing him to the fountain. His words seemed to echo in my ears. Murderer. Destruction. Hadn't there been a prophecy about that?

"How long have you been my gardener?” I smiled pleasantly, glad for a change of subject.

"Ever since I came from the hermitage up north. You know the Olbase.”

I nodded, frowning. The Olbase housed injured Elves, coaxing them back to full health. The gardener seemed too young and mentally whole to be a retired soldier. I’d hate to be in his way when he carried his pruning shears, if he had one of the enormous swords that the Rasha carried... I shuddered.

I could almost see him with a sword, dust rising around him as he smiled, sharp glistening teeth before he spun and brought the sword down. I blinked and the sound of metal clashing and men screaming, the smell of blood and dirt, sweat and fear was replaced by the sound of the fountain in the courtyard where the gardener stood calmly gazing into the distance.
I rubbed my temples, willing the scenes far away. I'd been asked to guide the Barbarian. So I would as long as the High Precept needed me.

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