Woe: A Collaborative Novel

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

A return to some of the other characters, with some new ones introduced.

Chapter 6 (v.1) - Meanwhile - by C. Allen Exline

Submitted: August 21, 2017

Reads: 252

Comments: 5

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 21, 2017




Most of the other girls her age had already been married-off. Kaela's father had betrothed her to a tanner. Yuck. Esper had been sent to live with a 35 year old woodsman, of all things, at the age of 14. And Alaera had wedded a cobbler. Although she sometimes feared that she might wind up an old maid, at the age of 16, Lunara was just as pleased that she had no father to arrange her matrimony. She rather preferred to choose her own husband on her own schedule.

She also preferred to establish herself within a profession. She did not need some old man slobbering over her, anyway. The boys were bad enough. With her flaxen hair, delicate features, and lithe physique she was at no loss for suitors. Nary a day went by that she did not receive some lewd, salacious comment at school--some manner of proposition or other indignity. It quite infuriated her. In fact it infuriated her enough to spend most of her leisure time pursuing a career, outside the walls of Damasc.

In a household of women, it could be difficult to retain one's...integrity...whilst providing for the family. Lunara accomplished this by staying in school, unlike many of her peers, and struggling to provide valuable services that did not degrade her character. In the summer months, when the school-house was closed for planting, she interned for Horace, the local apothecary. Aside from Harvest Season, she labored after school hours, as well, gathering what she could for various clients. Today was no different: she was to collect peat for her uncle's still. As a manufacturer of Damascan whiskey, her late father's brother needed a steady supply of the fuel to lend his libation the wonted flavor.

Having trudged well beyond the town's borders--it was colloquially called a town, though it was actually a city by any logical standard--she ventured into the bogs. The baskets she carried were large and cylyndrical, borne by a strap that rested across her forehead.

The men of Damasc felt that if women were going to do such a thing, they should improve their posture; they believed this contrivance would enhance her carriage and her capacity to bear children. The thought of it made her somewhat irate and caused her to shake her head in frustration. As though women were nothing but baby-factories! she fumed. As if we have nothing more to offer. The whole apparatus of society generally aggrieved her.

It doesn't matter, she told herself. I'll prove them all wrong. I'll become rich and influential all on my own. She spat onto the damp ground, having passed through the bog into the moors beyond. I'll do what the counsel says is impossible.

She veered into a low basin that was particularly peaty, aiming to fill the remaining space within her baskets; but, upon looking up, she saw what could only be described as an ambulatory tree. She almost could not believe her eyes. With the knuckles of her fists she tried to grind down her corneas, but the figment did not go away. It fairly approached her, for The Old Road, which had been built and maintained by humanity before the empire demanded tribute, ran towards Damasc.

She stopped immediately, gawking at the Eant.

"Hello there," said the tree.

"Hulloo," she said.

The barky-skinned Tree-man was coming directly toward her.


# # #


Gaff was desperate for a good meal. Aside from a couple of field mice he'd had no meat for days and was becoming weary and faint.

"This road," said Dendrus, "leads to Damasc."

"Do they have meat?"

Dendrus' creepy laugh rode the wind that whipped past the orc. "Yes, Green One, though I fully expected one of your complexion to derive adequate sustenance from the sun."

"I'm not a plant," Gaff said irritably.

"Ahoy, lookie yonder."

Seriously, thought the orc, who the hell says 'lookie yonder?' Gaff stopped and peered off in the direction indicated by the Eant. A human girl was standing, wide-eyed, in a small depression away from the road.

"Hello there," said Dendrus.

"Hulloo!" cried the girl in return.

The eant ventured off the old road into the peaty terrain without delay.


# # #


Damn the orcs! thought Coravlen, as he strode out of his father's court. And damn the Treefolk, too.

Sapharelda was awaiting him in the foyer, sitting prim and patient on a padded bench. She rose gracefully to her feet as he appeared. Her dress was of tight-fitting linen, bearing a flower print, and her hair spilled over the shoulder straps in a lustrous cascade.

"How did it go?" she asked.

"About like you'd expect," Coravlen snapped. "Every fief in the empire is in jeopardy. My father would miss the nose on his face were it not so large. We need to act, not dither about! The tottering old fool..."

"So impetuous, Coravlen."

"It seems a princess-to-be might do more to guard her tongue."

"It seems only a princess-to-be might speak with such brevity without finding a dagger in her ribs."


"To be quite direct, my betrothed: Is it war?"

"Yes, of course it's war. What else would it be?"

"But whatever shall we do?"

"We shall discuss it elsewhere, away from this foyer."

Sapharelda stated no response, simply pressing her lips together and nodding slightly, falling in step alongside the prince.

"I," Coravlen resumed, "am in need of my meditations. Perhaps we can address this matter after?"

"If that would suit you, My Prince, then so be it."

Coravlen paused for a moment, causing her to stop and turn back to look at him. "Why so formal?" he said.

"Don't be paranoid, Coravlen. For Heaven's sake."

"I'm not paranoid."

She regarded him skeptically. "You've nothing to fear, beloved."

"Oh, I'm 'beloved' now, am I?"

"Of course, Prince of Elves."

He harrumphed. "Come." Coravlen resumed his pace, strolling through airy hallways, the architecture of which was similar to that of the Treefolk but distinct in that the Treefolk's constructions were those of nature inviting in civilization, whereas the elves' labors were those of artifice inviting in nature. Quadrangles, cloisters, and courtyards proliferated within the boundaries of the palace, populated with manicured gardens, ponds, arbors, and the like. Each separate space possessed its own, unique character. His private garden was in the east wing: a little alcove of an affair that was part flower bed and part boulder field. The rocks were not gargantuan but neither were they particularly small--little larger than a human, and covered in thick layers of soft moss and flaky lichen. There was also a vine-laced trellis, a tea pagoda, and a fountain that issued a calming trickle into a small pool. Simply thinking of it eased Coravlen's anxieties, if only mildly.

"I can see it in your eyes, Coravlen."

"See what? What are you talking about?"

"Your apprehension."

"I'm not apprehensive. I am merely tired and frustrated."

"If you say so, beloved."

"I do say so."

"Very well. I shall leave you to your meditations."

"Thank you. I'll call on you once I have finished. Perhaps we can discuss current events over some tea?"

"That sounds lovely."

Coravlen watched as Sapharelda departed. Then he turned into his personal suite and entered the garden. Sunlight and birdsong streamed in through the open roof and he lowered himself to the soft earth, crossing his legs in the fashion of the elves: the lotus position.

He quickly sank into the peculiar trance that served his kind instead of sleep.


# # #


The seekers stepped into the throne-room. Sul'Ma Corr looked down upon them from his dais, saying: "Voynich, what have you discovered?"

The demon stepped forward, detaching himself from his four companions. He clutched a box, which he handed to his liege. "I believe we have found what you desire, Master," said Voynich. Sul'Ma Corr undid the latch, lifting the lid to stare at the treasure inside.

It was a tome. Gently he lifted it out of its case, setting the inlaid wooden box on the tiles beside his seat. Turning aside the leather-bound cover he was met with the ancient and forgotten script of Atlasia, the island-country of his birth. However, it was written in code: a cypher.

"It will have to be decrypted," said Voynich.

"So I see, demon."

"Yet there is a diagram you may wish to see."

"Where is it?"

Voynich told him and he rifled through the vellum leaves until he reached the appropriate illustration. Even the artwork was coded, but nevertheless he could perceive enough of its meaning to know that it was a schematic, a design for the portable generator that would allow him to leave the walls of his dark fortress.

© Copyright 2020 C.A. Exline. All rights reserved.


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