The Stone Elves

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 4 (v.1) - Chapter Four

Submitted: June 11, 2019

Reads: 13

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Submitted: June 11, 2019

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CHAPTER FOUR


 

Deep beneath the fort lay a maze of ancient stone corridors, some of which had collapsed long ago, forcing several cell walls to be knocked through to make new passages for the guards. Green moss oozed from cracks in the stone, and ever was water dripping from somewhere though the whole place was damp and all visible puddles were stagnant until trodden in.

Knelt in the centre of his cell, hands chained and resting in his lap, Afinor held his eyes shut and listened deep. Beyond the constant drip there was Telfin’s laboured breath, the shifting of his feet and hands over the ground, the clink of chain. His fingers curled, feeling the cuffs that bound his own wrists, the coldness of the iron. He breathed in and out slowly, each breath tasting of dirt, damp, and mold.

Far from his and Telfin’s cells, the turning of a key in a heavy lock reached him as a faint echo, bouncing feebly from wall to wall, quickly overwhelmed by a great marching of armoured boots that swamped all other noise as it grew closer. Still Afinor did not open his eyes, not even when the odour of sweat and wet steel mixed in with the cell’s other smells. Then it hit him, a sickly sweet scent foreign to his nose, a muddle of flowers that he could not identify.

“It sleeps. Guard, wake it,” a thin, nasal voice commanded.

There was a moment’s hesitation, then the hiss of sharpened steel leaving a sheath. Before he could be prodded with a blade’s tip, Afinor opened his eyes and looked dead at the young man who stood before the bars of his cell door. Beside him was  a hulking figure in plate armour, hidden within a carapace of metal from head to toe, sword drawn. Upon realising that the elf was awake and had opened his eyes, the behemoth moved to sheath his blade.

“No,” the young man laid a hand on his arm. “Keep it drawn.”

“My Lord, the elf is of no threat. He is bound and locked behind bars.”

Turning to his knight, the young lord bared his teeth in a sneer and narrowed his dark eyes, hands resting on his hips. “I am not afraid of this pathetic creature, Gelland, we will need a sharp edge is all.”

The great helm turned a fraction, but said nothing more, he simply lowered his arm so that the sword’s tip hung a few inches above his armoured boot.

The lord turned his attention back to Afinor, examining him silently for a good while before his lips turned down in disgust and disappointment. “are the elf that bleeds silver?” He scoffed and raised an eyebrow at his knight.. “There is nought different about it on the surface at all. If not for the stains on its face, I would believe the overseers drunk. Open the scab, I want to see for myself.”

“Yes, my Lord,” Gelland responded, lifting the blade and sliding it between the bars.

The cell was too narrow to allow him to move far enough in any direction to escape the blade’s reach, so Afinor did the only thing that made sense: reaching up, he quickly peeled back the dark grey scab that ran across his cheek. Fresh blood, silver as silver could be, seeped out and ran down his face. A cold anger raged in his chest at the sight of himself in the sword’s mirror-like steel, and in a moment of red, much as he had attacked Telfin earlier, Afinor dragged his silvered fingers down the unbloodied side of his face, then smeared the rest across his bare upper arms.

Painted in lines of silver blood, Afinor put his feet beneath him and stood, staring down the young lord through the bars.

Dark eyes wide, he stepped back amongst the other guards gathered there. “Gelland, have this elf brought to the city.” Glancing at Afinor, a cruel smile spread his lips. “I want it trained for the pit. Have it wash first, I do not want the shame of a filthy slave.”

“Yes, my Lord.”

With his other guards in tow, the lord strolled through the dank corridors, paying no mind at all to Telfin as he passed the elf’s cell.

Gelland called for the jailer, who he promptly ordered to bring a bucket of water and fresh clothes. Sheathing his sword, the knight stood outside the cell door whilst Afinor washed, but did not watch him as he had expected, instead he turned his helmeted head aside. Once he had changed into the clean set of clothes, the hulking knight had the jailer unlock the cell door and then gestured to Afinor’s manacled wrists.

“The restraints as well.”

Eyebrows raised, he hesitated, but when the elf made no move toward either of them, the jailer hastily unlocked the manacles and stepped out of reach. Prying them open, Afinor let them drop to the floor and looked to Gelland for further instructions.

With hand and not sword, the knight beckoned him from the cell. “Walk before me, and do not try to run - Lord Hadred wants you in the pit, preferably with a fighting chance, but I don’t doubt he would order you punished if you try.”

Though his grisly paint was washed away, the emboldened state it had raised him into remained, and a fire burned behind his grim smile. “Did I offend him so greatly that he demands my blood?”

Laying a hand atop his sword’s hilt, the behemoth of steel tilted his head and watched closely as the elf stepped from his cell with hands unbound. “No. If anything, you impressed him - he had made the decision to send you to the pits almost on hearing of your silver blood. Now move, he is not patient so it’s in both our best interests not to waste time.”

“I see,” Afinor murmured, taking up position in front of the knight. The sword was not drawn behind his back, his ears would have picked up on it if it were, but he had little doubt that the plated man could draw it faster than he could turn, let alone the force it would take to throw him off balance, weighted as he was. So he walked ahead with no resistance, though glanced aside as he passed Telfin’s cell. Upon seeing him, the other elf leapt to his feet and staggered to the bars.

“Afinor!” He called out and then spoke in elfin, face still stained with smudges of red, eyes darting to Gelland. “Did my ears deceive me, or did I hear it right?”

“You did not hear falsely,” he replied.

Telfin lowered his head and brought his chained hands up, sweeping his fingers across his brow. “Then I am glad you can throw a solid punch, and hope it serves you well.”

Afinor wanted to ask more, but Gelland pushed at his back with a mailed hand, and instead carried on with a silent farewell nod.

“Keep moving, elf, or next it’ll be my sword.”

 

*

 

The ascent from the fort’s prison was done in near silence, the only sounds being the ever fainter dripping, their feet on the ragged stone, and Gelland’s breath hissing through the slits in his helmet’s mask. Aside from the servants who tended its upkeep, the fort itself was almost as empty as its prison with the majority of its occupants down in the mines or watching on the walls.

On the walk to the gates, Afinor swept his eyes across the small grounds in search. Of Sarriel he saw no sign, but as the gates loomed overhead, a worried face caught his gaze. Stood at one of the cookfires with a basket of tinder clutched in her arms, Solana watched after him, lips apart as if frozen in a shout.

“Goodbye, dear friend.” The words were whispered, spoken so that she could not read his lips, said aloud only so that Afinor could know he did say goodbye if the worst came to pass.

Beyond the gate he raised his head and looked out across the grassy plains at Silverness atop its steep rise, at the great white walls of the castle that gleamed in the iridescent light of the setting sun.

So, he had been done there for some fair hours. Had the young Lord Hadred not arrived with Gelland, would they have let him out at nightfall, or left him down there until morning? Certainly they would not have kept him from his work for more than a day, else it would look bad on them.

“Here,” Gelland broke him from his thoughts, a fisted hand offering the reigns of a small grey horse with wide and long ears.

Taking the reins, he looked sidelong at it. “I do not know how to ride a horse,” Afinor admitted, much to the knights amusement.

“This is no horse, it’s an ass,” Gelland laughed. Turning to his own horse, a great  beast that was hung with some sort of black draping from nose to rump, only through the holes for its eyes could Afinor see its fur was of the same chestnut brown as its tail. Stitched in white upon the horse’s brow and flanks was a rearing ram, head and forelegs tucked as if it were bearing down on an invisible foe. With little effort the plated knight raised himself up onto his own, settling with the reins in his hands. “She knows her duties well, elf. Take the reins and give her a gentle nudge and she’ll follow along nicely enough, and if she meanders, guide her straight. Gently, though, else she’s like to kick you off.”

With no small amount of trepidation, Afinor mounted the ass and waited until Gelland’s bunted horse started away to nudge her into motion. Unlike the horse, which walked with a spirited gait, the ass plodded along a few feet behind, ponderous in her movements. Even if he had been so bold as to consider escape in that moment, he would have had better chances fleeing on foot than in the beast’s back, as at least then he would have been agile enough to elude Gelland for a few turns before the horse outpaced him.

Busy as he was familiarizing himself with the ass and its reins, it took Afinor some time to notice that Gelland was following a narrow rutted path from the fort, not the road carved into the earth by the trundling wheels of wagons. The plated knight slowed his horse until it moved at a pace with the smaller beast, which it did not seem to appreciate from its snorting.

“When we reach the city, you’re to stay close to me, understand? And none of that elfin gibberish, either; city elves don’t speak that, and you’re like to get a beating from any Lord and his men who hear it. Lord Hadred is your owner now, but you’ll obey me when he’s not there, which will be all the damn time.  And you’ll no longer earn your keep making necklaces. You’re a pit fighter now, elf, and unless you want to be dead within the week, you’d best listen to me closely.” Gelland turned his helmeted head to look at him, and then softened his tone. “I assume you’ve got a name? What is it?”

Afinor glanced up at him, then turned his gaze back to the white towers that rose high into the greying skies. “Afinor,” he replied.

The knight grunted and nodded. “Likely to get called by something else by others, usually something nasty, so bear that in mind. Name’s Gelland.”  


© Copyright 2019 Charleen Langley (ClaireBearandMyrnin). All rights reserved.

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