Woe: A Collaborative Novel

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: The Imaginarium


A chapter by C.A. Exline

Chapter 12 (v.1) - Woe Be Unto the Eant - by C.A. Exline

Submitted: September 25, 2017

Reads: 212

Comments: 6

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Submitted: September 25, 2017

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Soundtrack

Dusk was entrenching itself in the garden when Coravlen stirred from his trance. The stars, waking from their diurnal slumber, winked into renewed glory amid the darkling vault of the firmament.

Blinking momentarily, he blithely surveyed the lush peristyle. Shadows had grown long until the scene was bathed in twilight. The air was cooling, but still replete with the perfume of botanicals, and the last, frantic chorus of birdsong was complimented by an orchestra of insects. The Gloaming Blossoms were opening their petals, unfurling, to revel in the first, faint glimmerings of sidereal light.

Lifting his face, he basked beneath the twinkling Vesper—the elven star—the likeness of which graced the imperial standard; for that luminary was the celestial representation of Vess, goddess of twilight and divine progenitrix of the elven people.

With graceful deliberation, Coravlen rose, stretching mildly under the waxing starshine. Looking to the arcade that surrounded the courtyard, he saw a familiar outline—with an even more familiar aura—melding with the deepening shadows.

“Ogg,” he called softly.

The outline divested itself of the mounting darkness to shuffle forth under the open sky. “Yes, Master Coravlen?”

“Send for my fiancé.”

“At once, my prince.”

“Ogg,” Coravlen said incisively, “we shall require tea—at the gazebo—and see that the lanterns are lit.”

The old orc nodded respectfully: “Of course, your highness.” His eyebrows had grown long and gray, tracing their way over his temples to sprout into hoary tufts upon his jaw.

“There is more, Ogg.”

“Yes, Master?”

Coravlen said nothing, at first. His gaze lifted once more to Vesper, transfixing the twinkling point as though it might beam the words into his mind. Suddenly he turned to the orc and said: “War is coming...with your kind.”

“Forgive me, my prince, but have not our kin been at odds since time immemorial?”

“You are right, Ogg, we have. But this is different. Those petty skirmishes...” Coravlen waved dismissively, pausing ere he continued. “The orcish resistance has been of little concern for generations—Elven generations,” he clarified. “A true rebellion has been beyond contemplation—a true conflagration beyond possibility—and it has been a fairly trivial matter to suppress their disorganized harassments. Yet the treefolk join them now.”

“I am sorry to hear that, my prince.”

“Yes, I imagine you are,” Coravlen mumbled with sincerity. “But what of your charges? From now onward, you must take special care to monitor your underlings. We cannot allow the civil order to crumble beneath our feet. You must keep an ear to their murmurings.”

“I hate to think that one of our own—”

“One of your own, Ogg. One of yours. But do not feel bad; it does not reflect poorly on your service, your loyalty. I am entrusting you with this important duty. Do not fail me.”

Ogg bowed again, his tufts quivering in the slight breeze that smelled less of nectar, now, and more of the night.

“And there’s one more thing.”

“Yes, Master?”

“I want you to kill my father.”

# # #

The undertow carried her back, back into the bosom of the Whyart Sea.

This far north, the waters held a sharp chill that played over her sleek flesh. Nevertheless, Ouoma thrilled with the freedom offered her by the deep. Playfully she swam, darting and twirling as she drove herself onward, ever lower, toward The Sunken City.

Schools of sardines writhed like a beguiling silver hurricane in the bubble nets of a hunting porpoise pod. She slowed a few moments to watch the interplay—so like a dance, a force of nature, the fish moved as one organism while the dolphins coordinated their efforts with tactical precision.

Even they cannot escape it, she mused. The curse of struggle.

The water grew progressively colder as she dove, but it was somewhat refreshing after the strenuous battle—the battle with her erstwhile companion, a companion who had succumbed to the bittersweet allure of umbramancy.

It’s so ironic, thought she, that we so often become the very thing that we despise. That the best way to hunt demons is to risk becoming one in the process.

# # #

Most people just called it “the tavern.” But when it was referenced by its proper name—The Amble Inn—someone was sure to chime in with “Stumble Out.” It was one of the oldest jokes in town and Coranth wondered if the townsfolk would ever get bored with it.

Probably not, he decided.

Needless to say, he wasn’t really surprised that, when he’d said “why don’t we swing by The Amble Inn?” Garos had said, “as long as we can stumble out.” Coranth just rolled his eyes and said, “let’s go.”

Large as it was, it seemed like there was never much else to do in Damasc, anyway. Sure there was trade, but shopping was not their thing. It’s just another reason he spent so much time out in the woods. But now there was an Eant heading into town, and the inn was definitely the place for gossip, for society—especially after sunset. Even on a normal day it was a regular hotbed of rumor, speculation, hearsay, debauchery, and drunken embellishment. So sure, you had to take what you heard with a grain of salt, but when was that ever not the case?

The rain had spent itself pretty quickly and now all that was left were puddles and mud, though residue still dripped from the eaves and trickled into rain barrels. The street glistened in the rising moonlight; somehow that made it feel all that more deserted.

“Lunara, of all people,” Garos scoffed. “With an Eant.”

“She is into some pretty weird stuff...”

“Oh, yeah? What kind of weird stuff? Good weird or bad weird? I bet it’s bad weird, but in a good way...if you know what I mean.”

“I’m not sure that I do, but I’m afraid that I might.”

“Well, guess what I’d do to her if she wasn’t such a bit—”

Not that kind of weird stuff, Garos! And no, I don’t want to guess. I was talking about her plant fetish.”

Garos chuckled. “You’re right, Cor, that is weird. But that’s just it: I was going to say I’d give her a bouquet of roses.”

“Right, I’m sure that’s exactly what you were thinking about doing to her...giving her flowers.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“You’d be lucky if she didn’t take your hand off.”

“Could be worth the risk.”

“I doubt it. Besides, I thought you were into my mom?” Coranth said acerbically.

“Man, I was trying not to bring that up. Are you feeling okay?”

“You ever get that feeling that the whole world’s about to tumble down around you?”

“Yeah, like, pretty much every time I get wasted.”

Coranth stopped, staring sullenly at his best friend.

Garos halted and faced him. “Why are you so uptight all of a sudden?”

“It’s all this mess with the Elves.”

“Don’t worry about it. That’s between them and the tree-folk, anyway. And the orcs, too, I guess.”

“Not necessarily.”

“What do you mean?”

“What if Damasc gets involved?”

“So what if we do?”

“I think I need an exit strategy. I need to start thinking about getting out of town.”

“What are you talking about? We’ve got the Demon Corps., man. Nothing to worry about. And you’ve picked up on shadow magic in no time flat. They might even let you join up if a war starts.”

“That’s not it, Gar.”

“Well, what are you talking about then?”

Self-consciously, Coranth felt at his pointy ears. “What if Damasc sides with the Eants? What would that mean for me?”

# # #

His stomach felt like a rabid wolverine trapped in a burlap sack.

Gaff had been hungry many times before, but not often like this. With the stress and exertion he’d experienced lately, between the raid on his village, his subsequent capture, his narrow escape...then getting shot with an arrow and the strain of convalescence...He simply couldn’t go on without sustenance. His thoughts were becoming as murky as the horizon.

Daphodella had done what she could to feed him, but an orc could not live on bread alone. A vegetarian diet could not sustain him. He needed iron and he needed it quick.

His craving for red meat was so intense he was ready to lick the rust off an old sword.

“How much longer?” he grunted.

“We’re almost there,” Lunara responded. “The city’s just up ahead. If you look closely you can see the lanterns.”

Gaff could not see the lanterns. His vision was swimming. Torpor clutched at his legs; he was dragging his feet.

“We’ll go straight to The Amble Inn, get you something to eat,” Lunara said.

But Gaff wasn’t so sure he could make it. And the sudden storm that had blown in only made matters worse. Traipsing through the mud, soaking wet, was sapping the last of his reserves.

“I don’t have any money,” he said.

“Do not worry,” Dendrus interjected. “We have plenty with which to barter.” The Eant indicated the massive wicker basket that served him as a backpack. It was large enough that Gaff could easily have fit inside it, and he had no real knowledge of what it contained. “I would not let you go hungry, Orc.”

Gaff’s foot caught a rock, and he pitched forward onto the soggy road, sliding in the muck. Sighing, he merely lay there; making no effort to get up, he sprawled, limp, resting his head in the cool, sticky slop. He could not make it any farther.

Lunara turned with a hand over her face to hide her reaction. But Dendrus reached down, lifting Gaff in his rough arms. “Fear not, Green One. I shall carry you the rest of the way.”

# # #

The old orc trudged from the garden even as Coravlen strode to the gazebo. It was full night, now, moonlight pouring in through the open roof to illuminate the stair before him. The gazebo was placed upon a low shelf of rock with a few steps carved into it. Coravlen smoothly climbed them, taking a seat in the gazebo where he waited patiently for Sapharelda’s arrival.

Tea was brought in short order and his bride-to-be arrived shortly thereafter.

She had changed her attire since he had seen her earlier in the day. No longer did she wear the dress of flower-print linen; now she wore something altogether more salacious. It bordered on immodesty, even by elven standards.

“You look lovely this evening.”

Sapharelda smiled and said, “thank you, dearest, but there is no need for pleasantries. Besides, the evening is behind us now.”

“So it is. Please, sit,” Coravlen extended a palm towards the seat opposite him.

scintillant as the sky above. Her mouth, however, was drawn tautly downward—her way of expressing impatience.

“Tea, darling?”

“I am not a brute, Coravlen.”

“No, of course not,” he said softly, pouring her a cup before doing the same for himself.

For several minutes they sat, tacitly appreciating the libation. At length, Sapharelda said: “Betrothed, you were to apprise me of the situation.”

“Indeed I was.”

Coravlen sipped at his tea; meanwhile, Sapharelda became more impatient with every passing second.

“My plan,” he said at last, “is to exploit the Treefolk’s patience.”

“How so?” She lifted her porcelain cup to rubicund lips, peering at him with lustrous eyes that were more narrow than usual.

“The greatest—if not the only—advantage we can seize, beyond that of numerical superiority, is initiative.

“The treefolk are slow to act. By the time they convene their septs and deliberate, needlessly and profusely, we could already have the advantage: we could already be winning the war whilst they embroil themselves in divarication and minutiae.”

“Go on...”

“I desire to start tonight.”

“King Eldien...your father...he would never move so soon. Certainly he has not authorized this, not without a formal declaration of war. He will no doubt consider it rash, extemporaneous. ”

“We have a declaration. The message resounded loud and clear: ‘Woe be unto the Elf,’” Coravlen sneered.

“Be that as it may, presently that remains an isolated incident. Your father will likely first seek to enact sanctions against them, for, as you yourself have indicated, the Treefolk have yet to convoke their debates, much less conclude them.”

“Nevertheless, the outcome is indisputable: there shall be war between us. We have no time for formalities. There is no sense in us idling about while they waste their advantage with asinine persiflage.”

Sapharelda pursed her lips, crossing her arms. “King Eldien will not approve of it. Two-and-a-half millennia of life breeds contempt for spontaneity.”

“It is not up to him, my dear.”

“How is it not?”

“What is he going to do to stop me?” Coravlen scoffed. “He knows nothing of it.”

“He will be furious when he finds out.”

“Let me worry about that.” Coravlen gave her a wink. “What’s more important right now is strategizing...

“Ogg!” he called. “I wish to speak with Guard Captain Elondil, at once. Tell him to come unarmed.”

#

“You summoned me, Prince.”

“Yes, come,” Coravlen invited the captain into the gazebo.

Elondil ascended the steps with an animal grace: the sort of stoic fluidity that can only be achieved not simply by an elf, but one of great athletic prowess. “Greetings, my lady,” he said to Sapharelda, bowing.

“Sit,” Coravlen ordered.

With a modest bow to Coravlen, Elondil took his place across from the prince.

“Do you care for tea, Captain? Or would you prefer wine?”

“Wine. Thank you, your highness.”

“Wine it is. So...how goes it, Elondil?”

The captain hesitated before answering. “All is well, Prince.”

“Excellent. Then the suite’s defenses are in perfect order, I take it?”

“It has been a week since the last audit, Prince.”

“That must be rectified, but first I would have you do something for me.”

“Yes, Prince?”

“I want you to assemble a raiding party. I want you to do it tonight.”

“Very well,” Elondil said. “And what will we be raiding, if I may ask?”

“The augustwoods.”

“I beg your pardon, Prince?”

“You heard me.”

“Indeed, I did, Prince, which makes it all the more perplexing.”

“I want you to destroy the groves.”

“Which groves?”

“All of them. Start with those closest to Elorien and work your way outwards.”

“The Eants...they will be...”

“They will be what?”

“Incensed.”

“I’m sure they will be.”

“I shall have to solicit your father’s approval.”

“No, I don’t believe that will be necessary.”

“That is an act of war, Prince, and sacrilege, which requires—”

“It requires you to do what you’re told.”

“Yes, Prince, but the Emperor...”

“Are you not the captain of my personal guard?”

“I am.”

“Then are you not beholden to me, Elondil?”

“I am, Prince, yet my first allegiance is to the Elven Kingdom itself, and to the empire it commands; your protection is my responsibility, and that is a duty invested in me by the King of Elves.”

An orcish slave approached the table, placing three goblets of wine thereupon before withdrawing wordlessly.

“Think of me as the king, Captain.”

Elondil’s composure broke. A stricken look—was it horror?—contorted his face. His mouth was working, but no sound issued forth.

“Whatever is the matter, Captain?” To Sapharelda he said: “Why, my dear, I believe he has become apoplectic.”

“I believe you are correct, darling,” the elfmaiden said, lifting a goblet to already crimson lips.

“What say you, Elondil?”

“I...I...don’t know what to say, your highness. I must consult King Eldien, or, at the very least, my superiors.”

“Wrong answer, Captain.” Coravlen said with a subtle gesture. “It would seem we are finished here. A pity.”

Dumbfounded, Elondil began to rise.

Coravlen sprang to his feet, hurling a knife into the guard captain’s solar plexus.

An impotent wheeze was all that escaped Elondil’s lips before Ogg grasped him from behind, opening his throat with a dagger. A torrent of warm, viscous fluid gushed over the table.

“Such a waste...” Coravlen muttered.

“A waste of fine wine,” Sapharelda said, while checking her garments to ensure they had not been stained by the outpouring of blood.

“I’ll clean this up right away, Master.”

“No need,” Coravlen said. “Toss the body over there.”

Ogg threw down the corpse against the gazebo’s railing.

“Our next candidate shall be Elondil’s lieutenant. This war begins tonight.”

# # #

Aloriel was both elated and concerned. He had never before been summoned to a private meeting with the prince. His mind raced to make sense of it, to wrest some meaning from the request.

“Your sword, Lieutenant,” said the old orc.

“Ah, yes, very well,” Aloriel said, removing his belt and placing the scabbard in the orc’s waiting hand.

“You may proceed, Lieutenant.”

The gazebo was encircled by paper lanterns, glowing softly in the night. Although he could not clearly discern who awaited him, he knew the prince was not alone. Disregarding the slaves who stood nearby under cover of night, he read the aura of a she-elf within the gazebo.

He thought this was somewhat peculiar but dismissed the notion until he climbed the stairs. There, the scene that greeted him was ghastly, surreal. It was nigh unbelievable.

“Has there been an assault?” he blurted.

“Something of the sort, I suppose one could say,” the prince impassively told him. “Please, take a seat.”

Aloriel did as he was instructed.

The table in front of him was coated in curds of drying gore. The goblet of wine that was placed before him was carmine and thick, with coagulating blood clinging to the rim.

He said, “What...? What has happened here?” Before he remembered his decorum: “Your highness.”

“Your captain made a foolish decision,” said the prince. “I earnestly hope you will not do the same.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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