Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving! Barbarians and Elves Part 13

I am thankful for my wonderful readers and friends who make writing a bit less isolated.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Part 13

I felt awkward, standing at attention while my ankle throbbed. I disliked the way the Head Precept had separated me from my charge, gesturing with overlarge movements with his voice keyed up in barely checked excitement.  
“How’s the ankle,” the gardener asked me, leaning close, only a breath but I could feel his concern.
I shrugged and focused on the conversation before me.
The Barbarian spoke in smooth High Elven with barely a trace of accent. “High City is as beautiful as it was fabled to be, which I hadn’t thought possible. I haven’t had chance to foray much, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t more beautiful architecture populated by a lovelier people.” He kept a smile on his mouth as he spoke. I’d expected more grunting.
“I admit that it has a certain grandeur, which is to be expected when the rich heritage of our people spans millennia, but of course, it lacks charm of simplicity, as well as the wonder of modern architectural feats. From what I hear the Emperor has changed the face of his city dramatically.”
The Viceroy shrugged. “I haven’t been to the Emperor’s city for years. From what I hear the improvements have made it one of the cleanest, safest places known to man.”
“Very good. How do you like the wine?”
The conversation went on, Head Precept asking questions the Viceroy answered as perfectly and diplomatically as anyone could, while the rest of those on the dais grew bored. Eventually they left to dance, leaving me standing with the gardener feeling like everyone had forgotten me. It was strange that I hadn’t forgotten me too. I watched the Viceroy through the haze of gauze and felt irritated at the fabric for clouding my vision.
As I watched his face, it didn’t seem to shift much, nothing was revealed besides a politely bored expression that bothered me. Surely if I could see better I could catch twitches of emotion as they crossed his face.
“I find the relish from the south sea lands preferable to incubated duck eggs of Salaam,” on second though, there might be a reason he sounded bored. Apparently sheer magnificence and otherworldly beauty wasn’t interesting to the Viceroy.
At that moment some people brought out trays and torches. Good. Fire dancing would entertain even an old jaded man like the Viceroy. Dolores had abandoned her mint confection of a dress to take part with a small thread of fire that she made grow into a shimmering rose, flames chasing around the edges of the petals. She spun, throwing her flower into the air, twisting into a flip as the flower exploded in a bright pink puff. When the gardener took a turn brandishing flames, I stepped a little closer to the dais. He and Delores began juggling flaming balls to each other that came quite close to the Viceroy and the Head Precept.
The Viceroy remained impassive. Though he smiled and nodded at appropriate places he appeared less than impressed. Perhaps the hardened warrior in him made him immune to explosions. He would have seen all kinds of fire; the Emperor loved explosives. 
I watched him watch the fire dancers, feeling like an observer, not a part of either insider or outsider, not a part of anything at all, until my hat caught on fire.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Barbarians and Elves Part 12

Part 12

I shouldn't have danced with her, even if she were the only person who didn't wish to kill me. The other Elves showed more than disdain for her and distrust for me. When they saw her, they veered away as though she had a disease they did not wish to catch, a pariah.
Her gown and veil were not the end of her eccentricity. When the gardner interrupted our dance, I felt a slight shock when I realized that I'd almost forgotten about him as I engaged with the Lady.
 “Of course,” she'd said then led us like a small parade trailing through the staring dancers. She seemed to hesitate the closer we got to the dais that seemed suspended on strands of dew from the concave ceiling.
I knew I treaded through enemy territory, but I felt strangely relaxed as I stalked after my mad host through the ranks of vicious Elves.
"Perhaps..." Lady Perr murmured as she looked around worriedly. Had she only just realized the danger of our situation? If I were an elve, I would have mentioned the energy in the room, the wild excitement someone powerful struggled to dampen. Would the Precept behead me right in the middle of the ball? It would be a peculiar climax to the war I'd waged.
“Lady of Perr,” the High Precept said cheerfully coming forward with hands outstretched. I recognized him from the face imprinted in their coinage. Not gold, but stone. Elves had few uses for gold. “What a charming hat. I’m certain it will cause waves in the fashion world.”
A female on the dais in a gown that reminded me of whipped mint chiffon tittered at the Precept's words. Apparently the preferred fashion leaned towards pastry more than beekeeping. Pity.
“A Tsunami,” she whispered, the sort of court whisper that could be heard throughout the whole room. Her sharp toothed smile triggered an emotion that I did not have time for. All the same, I bared my teeth at her and spoke out of turn.  
“As a Barbaran I appreciate the effort for Lady Perr to adopt the customs of my people in order for me to feel more at home.”
You could have heard a pin drop as everyone stared at the me while I tried to keep my gaze firmly on the Head Precept.
“Quite.” Head Precept said as though there were nothing odd in my acknowledgment of an insult in a voice like a stringed instrument. He nodded to the musicians at the side to resume their playing. “Lady Perr is noted for her ability to make people feel at home.”
The mint pouf choked on her laughter, lifting her drink to camouflage her flagrant disrespect.
“How do you like High City?” Head Precept asked gesturing beside him for me to sit, waving for someone to bring us food and drink.
Lady Perr stood at the edge of the dancers who'd resumed their graceful cavorting with most of their attention clearly towards the dais. I could have killed him, strangled him with my hands, but the idea didn't appeal to me. I hadn't been directed to do anything other than spy out the lay of the land. Somehow, It felt as though I'd been hand-fed to the lions, however well polished they kept their teeth.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Barbarians and Elves Part 11

Part 11

The Mad Elve
We walked up the wide steps while flowers cascaded overhead filling the air with heavenly scent, that couldn’t quite cover the smell of decay that was bone deep in the city. I didn’t mind the decay; it was appropriate. It matched my hat.
Inside I didn’t pause at the door to gaze in awe at the beautiful scene that must have stunned the Barbarian . I glanced over at him, but he looked back dully, the same flat expression on his face. I looked back at the pink colored room where the very air was tinged in pink. The ladies, all equally beautiful motion, perfection in the arms of the immaculately dressed men moved in perfect time with the music, everything the precise rhythm of Head Precept’s heart beat.
The musicians took up the space to the left of the Precept's dais. I edged along the curved, pink wall in their direction instead of walking through the dancers. The words of the gardener came back to me, the warning about the fruits of my course of action. The Barbarian was the enemy, but he was also my guest.
A couple swayed near me and the male, the moss wearing Elve hissed at the sight of the Viceroy. When I stopped suddenly the Barbarian stepped on the back of my Great Aunt's dress forcing me to lose my balance as too much weight fell on my recently wounded ankle.
I heard the rip of my hem as the Barbarian gripped my waist, keeping me from falling on my face at the feet of the hissing Elve, a distant cousin who'd always expressed his disdain for my family's political views.
The rough hands pulled me upright while he stepped to my side in a classic clas-de-bough, turning me away from the offensive couple and into the dizzy whirling of the dance. He kept his hand on my waist as we moved until he moved to the more traditional quartre-fore position in front of me. His grace in the dance was surprising for someone who ripped people's dresses.
“What are you doing?” I asked, too loudly, but I was too surprised to think of manners.
“Dancing.” He spun me under his arm in a rush that had me stumbling towards him when I came out of it until my hands were resting on his shoulders. I meant to push against him, but his hands were promptly on my waist in a firm grasp that made me think I wasn’t going anywhere. Barbarians were so firm once they had you in their grip.
“You said you weren’t interested in dancing.”
“I’d rather dance with the shroud than with one of those creatures. Those teeth are positively frightening.”
I sniffed, and leaned away from him, but he only used my position as all the better for spinning me around dizzyingly, no doubt causing quite a sight with the flapping of my veil.
“I believe I mentioned that I don’t participate in the dancing.”
“I cannot believe that after your display on the trip. If you do not dance, I’m sure that’s simply for lack of partners. If I’m willing to humor myself, I don’t see why you shouldn’t show your gratitude,” he said with an aloof nod that had my mouth dropping open.
I tripped over his foot, sending a twinge through my ankle. I was glad to see the smile flicker. “I do beg your pardon sir. I’m not accustomed to being humored.”
“Excuse me,” the gardener’s voice broke in. “Head Precept would like you to introduce the viceroy to the court.”
I looked up at the fierce and furious Elve and felt a slight tightening of the Barbarians arms around me before he withdrew and nodded with polite boredom. I should have wondered what happened to him, but other than my still painful ankle, I'd forgotten everything in the dance.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Barbarians and Elves Part 10

Part 10
The Barbarian

She danced and sang ahead of us, sometimes in sing-song Elven, then switching to Barrabbas with the accent of a Diplomat. I'd picked the way least known to my kind but instead of mapping out the paths, I watched my guide, who appeared utterly caught up in her own aimless meanderings, darting here and there to snatch a flower, cradling it to her face before spinning then flinging it out, past the edge of the stone walkway to plummet to the ground, far below.
I had no doubt from the behavior of the so-called gardener, that my identity of general was well-known. They had me in their city, at their mercy, so why continue the charade? Every time she called me Viceroy, I flinched, but each time she came close to tumbling over the edge, I had to clench my hands into fists to keep from reaching out for her hand.
The gardener's glower cut into my back, clearly conveying his near outrage at my presence. I certainly wasn't defenseless, even without a sword at my side, but the feeling that I walked into a certain trap left my skin tight and my heart thumping rapidly.
It was her, the young ambassador I'd known so long before, known and foolishly thought I'd loved. The years hadn't been kind to either one of us. I'd expected to feel satisfied to see her in this state, that her betrayal of me, of us would have led to madness, but I felt nothing but sorrow and a ridiculous responsibility.
She'd needed my protection. I should have kept her safe, whether she'd wanted me to or not. I shouldn't have listened to her words, her eyes, her voice when she'd told me that she'd found an Elven lord who would suit her far more than a Barbarian.
None of that mattered. Time, almost a hundred years had passed while I destroyed her kind, brought them to the end of my sword at the Emperor's bidding. There I stood, in the luminously lit darkness, high above the earth on a stone bridge for the emperor. If my guide fell over the side from her madness, that left one fewer Elves for me to destroy, for the Emperor's army to decimate.
My duty, my responsibility would never be sworn again to an Elven Lady who pranced with unearthly grace in bare feet over the stones.